Me and the Mayor of Toronto (by CDU)
Looking back on the day, I can’t believe my parents let me do it. I was only twelve, a petite child, with zero street smarts. What was I doing downtown, all by myself, a tiny speck in that towering building with the very high ceilings known as City Hall?
So I should probably start at the beginning. I had never seen my mother cry. Or any other adult for that matter. But there was my mother’s friend, sitting in our living room, sobbing. A sensitive soul, my heart hurt just seeing that kind of pain.
As soon as she left, I asked my mother, “Mommy, why was she so sad? What happened?”
My mother, who never, ever gossiped, shared only that the woman, her husband and three children were about to be evicted. The apartment building in which they lived had suddenly changed policies: NO CHILDREN ALLOWED! Where were they to go? They had only recently moved to Toronto, and begun to acclimate. And now, another move? They only had three weeks!
What happened next impacted my life forever. To this day, I cannot stand by idly when another person is suffering – and I credit my parents for not snuffing out my natural desire to act when another person is in pain.
Who was in charge of these rules, I desperately wanted to know. Could we speak to them?
Turns out, it was the Mayor, Mayor Mel Lastman.
His secretary, intrigued, gave me an appointment for the following Friday! My parents agreed I could take the two subway trains there right after school.
And that’s how I found myself in City Hall, index cards prepared, for my well-rehearsed speech to the Mayor.
I was small for my age, but the courage that had not been suppressed in me was thriving, and I took the elevator upstairs, all by myself.
“Excuse me,” I said softly, barely visible over the tall desk. “I have an appointment with the Mayor?”
“Oh yes,” the secretary replied, smiling kindly.
I held my cards tightly.
“So…the Mayor is in a meeting right now…sorry dear.”
I was crestfallen. We had a date, planned in advance!
“Would you like to meet the Executive Mayor, Mr. Bob Sharp, instead?”
Not really, I thought disappointedly. Unless…
“Is that…like the Mayor?” I asked, tentatively.
“Oh yes,” she reassured me. “He is the Mayor’s helper.”
“Oh. Okay, yes.”
I was ushered into a fancy office. There were probably many impressive items in that office, but all I remember was a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge desk, and the underside of two large shoes, crossed comfortably atop the lacquered surface, facing me.
“Would you like a drink?” Bob offered. He has his own frig! I marveled. It’s a can of Coke, and he didn’t even have to buy it! I’d never liked soda, but I didn’t know what to do, so I nodded timidly.
“So…. I understand you wanted to meet today…”
The cards were in front of me, and I launched into my earnest plea, on behalf of my mother’s friend, and all families in this situation, to be allowed to stay. I suggested the Housing Law be adjusted to accommodate those for whom housing was so difficult to find…
If Mr. Bob Sharp was amused, he didn’t let on. Very somberly, he promised to do what he could. In the meantime he suggested I write a letter to the MP (Minister of Parliament) of my district, a Mr. Irving Chapley. I knew the name; I’d seen it on a dozen lawn posters.
I was floating on clouds, as I took the two trains home, getting home a few hours before Shabbos.
My parents were proud. As for me, I sent off that letter as soon as I possibly could, and waited.
I checked the newspaper stands daily for the headline: Young Girl Saves Family or Housing Laws Changing Immediately!
No news. Waiting for the results of my efforts felt endless. Then one day, all the telephones rang, and it was for me!
“Irving Chapley is on the phone for you!” My mother called, and my father picked up another extension to listen in.
“Chana, it’s Irving, and I received your lovely letter.”
I waited, not breathing.
“And I’m calling to say, Chana…” This was it! The moment I’d been waiting for! It was happening! The Housing Laws in Toronto would no longer be unfair.
“….that you have a very beautiful, neat handwriting.”
“Unfortunately, it is not under my jurisdiction to currently implement the suggested proposition of …”
He’d lost me with the details. All I understood was: NO. I was devastated, but thanked him politely as we said goodbye.
Even then, my parents praised me for doing all I could to help another Jew, never mocking me for my predictable failure.
And by allowing my compassion to flourish undiscouraged, my parents essentially taught me never to be a passive bystander to another’s pain. Outcome notwithstanding.
I have, of course, come across situations where the outcome is somewhat in the person’s control. It’s called Problem Resolution. The huge companies and small businesses that last the longest are the ones who listen with keen attention to the feedback and/or complaints of their clientele.
What comes to mind most vividly is the personal customer service of Florida Kosher Villas. In the kosher vacation rental business, and truthfully in any business, there is always that person who will magnify that microscopic fleck of dust, or actually even have an issue that requires attention from the management.
People like their concerns to be heard. The experienced Florida Kosher Vacation rental team will bend over backwards to make sure each guest has their best experience possible.
Because they listen.
And unlike the Irving Chapley who complimented the handwriting and ignored the actual message, concerns are addressed.
And that’s something to write home about.
Enjoy your vacation!