Who Are the People in Our Neighbourhood?

Howard “Shalom” Jerome Gomberg

A few months ago – how long it seems since the snow melted, the front yard of a home on Palmerston Ave just north of Follis featured a curious installation entitled “The Sideways door.”  The door was propped up by mounds of snow.  The inspiration for this sideways door came from the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, specifically the print entitled “Relativity” that depicts a
world in which the normal laws of gravity do not apply.

Sounds heady, save this is the same house that last winter offered up “Shark’s tears” which were, in fact, ice cubes, for a penny. This year, the artist known as Howard Jerome, took a door, embedded it in the snow and then invited children coming
home from school at 3:30 to enter his world of seemingly relative gravity and share a joke with him. Those jokes were recorded, transferred onto paper and then hung from the trees in front of his home to bring to life Howard’s wisdom stating that “At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities…”

It was joyful and deep all at the same time, much like the artist himself, Howard “Shalom” Jerome Gomberg, whom you also might know as the Rappin Rabbi: http://www.shalomjerome.ca/

Howard was born in Brooklyn and has lived in a number of places and countries throughout his life, but for more than 3 decades has called Seaton Village his home living here with his wife Alice. Many of you may recall Howard’s involvement in the Father’s Day picnics in Vermont Square Park, and others may have come to familiarize yourself with his wit and
wisdom during our past Mayoral election (http://gombergformayor.blogspot.com) when he declared himself the “perfect Zoomer candidate” for the position of mayor.

I met Howard many years ago at an SVRA meeting where he recited for us, quite spontaneously, which is the captivating way with Howard, his very well known verse from his Kabbalah Kabaret wherein he states “I have been buddhist, nudist, a
yogi on pogey. I have twirled with Dervishes and sat in Sweat Lodges with Natives…”  Howard is as fun as he is
wise, deeply spiritual as he is pragmatic, and, at 71, seemingly always on the go with people to meet from the Dalai Lama to Madonna and things to do – like exercising in Vermont Square Park, conducting Kaballah workshops, performing in a wide
variety of live theatre, many tv shows and films, presenting at the First International Festival of Poetry and Resistance, and well, running for mayor last fall with his “Wholey Campaign.”

It would appear that what Howard is most proud of though, is the Improv Olympix which he co- designed with David Shepherd in 1973. Adapted in Ottawa, the competition is now known as the Canadian Improv Games – it just celebrated its 33rd
year and is part of the curriculum in over 300 Canadian high Schools!

What Howard resonates – larger than his 6’ish frame, is how he engages with (his) life, his love of life, and his compassion for humankind. In his spiritual practice and professional endeavours shines his belief in community – his performing community, his spiritual community and his neighbourhood community.

If you you were at our May 11th 2011 AGM, then you would have been fortunate enought to have experienced Howard in action
and become equally smitten with him and his seemingly boundless energy. Howard graciously agreed to perform an opening “blessing” to get the meeting started on the right foot this year – it was fun and fantastic, reminding each of us why it is so great to live here in Seaton Village!  Thanks again, so much, Howard!

I asked Howard to share some of these sentiments with us on the website:

” i first moved here in 1981  i think. 8 of us lived together co-opy  quasi commune style .  over the years we went from renters to owners and for now  just my wife alice and i  live here. in fact if we were to win the lotto we would still choose to live here. i have come to believe that this neighborhood may be one of the best in the world. we get the kids parade at  least 4 times a day. in all weather .  our great little park reflecting the richness  of who we are. from the early morning free chinese exercise class. to kiddies in the wading pool. even my fingers are smiling as i type these words. to have the karma food co-op as our pantry, the
olive street celebration around the corner…delicious. so if you have to live in a city  toronto is not so bad .  and seaton village rocks. but don’t tell any body – let’s just keep it a secret between us.

 your neighbor howard”

Old rapper’s got great form

Performer, ex-commie jock and mayoral candidate Howard Gomberg moves to his own beat
This is an article taken from The Town Crier http://www.mytowncrier.ca/old-rappers-got-great-form.html#0
By Shawn Star January 25, 2011 Originally published in our Toronto Today (Midtown) print edition(s).

Meet Howard Jerome Gomberg, Through his own poems — and raps — he gives some insight on who he is, and how he got here.

HOWARD GOMBERG has seemingly done a little bit of everything in his time.

Subsection 1, Paragraph 3/ Item 9, Addendum D/“See above” – What do you know?/ It says up there to “See below”/ And that’s the way of the system

He’s done nearly everything in his life, but one thing he’s never been is an everyman. Born Aug. 16, 1939 in Brooklyn, N.Y., he has always done as he pleased, from his youthful days trying different career paths, to his nearly 100 TV and film credits, to a questionably successful run for mayor of Toronto.

Meet Howard Jerome Gomberg, Through his own poems — and raps — he gives some insight on who he is, and how he got
here.

This is the way we educate/ Guideline, administrate/ Back to basics, that’s the fad/ Bored to death? Isn’t it sad/ But that’s the school of the system
“I was one of the glorious dropouts of Thomas Jefferson high school,” says Gomberg, who is just as animated a character over the phone as he is in person. “I got what they call an equivalency thing a dozen years later. Gomberg said he was never one for the structured classroom setting, and left at age 16 to pursue his own interests. The schooling system, he feels, is too streamlined and only caters to one type of thinking, leaving some behind.“Even though you may be a genius at mechanics ­— fixing cars and toasters — you still have to learn American history or Canadian history, stuff  like that, and people fail at it.”

Yeah, I’m an old rapper/ word-trapper/mind-zapper/ finger-snapper/ toe-tapper/now look what’s happened/ and that’s no crap

Gomberg says coming out of school he had a bunch of interests — and he pursued them, whether it was wrestling, communism or football.

“I wrestled professionally for a couple years; I was Erich von Hess,” he said, before impersonating his old character. “ ‘Ein, zwei, drei dummkopf, I take you, I break you, I throw you from zee ring!’ That kind of guy.”

Then he tried politics — sort of.

“I was actually the troubadour, for the Socialist Labor Party in New York for the better part of a decade,” he said. “And I did play five years of semi-pro football and had a tryout with the New York Jets, so I was a commie-jock before I became an actor.”

Once he made the move to acting, Gomberg says his family breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that it was actually a step up from his prior endeavours. Now, over 40 years later, his acting credits include commercials, voiceovers, television and films, including a part in the recent film, Barney’s Version.

“It was a pleasure to be involved with a film of that calibre,” he said. “In making movies, I also got to work with Leonard Nimoy in a film called The Good Mother with Liam Neeson and Diane Keaton way back when. I also got to be in the (David) Cronenberg film Naked Lunch.”

The biggest notch in his belt though, Gomberg says, is being the founder of the Canadian Improv Games, a nationwide high school competition that’s seeing its 33rd year, and is continuing to grow.

“We have teams coming in from Australia now,” he said. “So if there’s a legacy that I have, that’s it — tens of thousands of young people learning the skill and art of improvisation.”

This is the way we pass a law/ To cover the way we screwed up before/
Form a committee, it’s ever such fun/ Form another to study that one/  And that’s the way of the system

FRANCIS CRESCIA/TOWN CRIER  MAYORAL RUN: During the 2010 municipal election campaign Gomberg’s umbrella was his main advertising medium.

Perhaps an underappreciated performance from Gomberg was his unsuccessful run for mayor this past fall. Though he had
his own “Gomberg 4 Mayor” umbrella, it wasn’t enough to sway the votes his way. He managed only 477, which put him 33rd out of 40.

Or did it?

“Rocco Rossi’s votes, I count them as mine since he endorsed me,” he said, referencing a televised debate where frontrunners at the time were asked to endorse another candidate. “He was the last voice heard, endorsing me, so I claim his votes as my own, coming in fourth place.”

Gomberg’s platform relied on creativity as a means of moving forward.

“The principle was a city of creativity, and not just creativity in the arts, but creativity in our financing, in our culture, our hospitals — creativity everywhere!” he said.  “That was the idea — to establish the world’s municipal university … a place where cities of the world come to learn how to be great cities.”

I’ve been a Buddhist/ a nudist/… I’ve whirled like a dervish/
I’ve worked with Ed Mirvish!/ I’ve sat in Indian sweats/ I mean, how weird can you get?/ And I love it all

Faith is also a major part of Gomberg’s life. He says while he used to speak very sternly against religion, now he can’t get enough of it.

“I’m a God intoxicant,” he said. “I love God in every manner, shape or form.

“I lived my own faith for 40 years, having been born and raised Jewish. First 20 years I was an atheist — hardcore, prosthelytizing, anti-god, anti-religion atheist. The next 20 years I was anything but Jewish.”

For the last 20 years, Gomberg says, he has returned to the faith of his birth through the study of Kabbalah. He then listed an array of faiths, teachers and mentors he has followed.

“I’ve studied the wisdoms of every culture in every time in history,” he said. “So I have a very rich and full spiritual life.

“How about you?”

To read more about Howard’s journey to be Toronto’s Mayor, please see below

http://gombergformayor.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html
Meeting the Toronto mayoral candidates: Howard Jerome Gomberg http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/298599

 

Celia Barker Lottridge

Celia Lottridge (with the lovely Lola) describes herself as a “loyal Seaton Village resident.”   Courtesy Fitzhenry and Whiteside

Many of us Seaton Village residents will know Celia Barker Lottridge as Lola’s guardian as they socialize in the park and stroll  the neighbourhood in their stylish outer wear, or as their neighbour on Vermont Ave and  the lady who tells wonderful stories for all to enjoy at the Vermont Ave Street party (formerly the Jubilee).  Celia, however, is also known to many as a celebrated author having published numerous, and incredibly varied stories for children of all ages to enjoy, and as one of the founders of The Mother Goose Program here in Toronto.

Celia  seems the perfect person to be our first Who Are the People in Our Neighbourhood? We asked Celia to reflect on her experiences living in Seaton Village and here’s what she has to say:

Seaton Village and me

I moved onto Vermont Avenue in November of 1979.  I liked my house (and I could afford it in those days) but I had only a vague idea of how lucky I was to be moving into the West Annex, which is what the real estate agent told me my new neighbourhood was called.  When spring came and people began to appear on the porches and sidewalks and in the park I began to feel what a good place I had come to.  It was lively and friendly and even though the grass in my front yard was terribly patchy and badly mowed, no one shunned me.

Over the years I have lived in Seaton Village I have also been fortunate to work nearby.  First at The Children’s Book Store when it was on Markham Street in Mirvish Village and later at the office of the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program which was on Bathurst just across from the end of Vermont Ave and later moved south to the building across from Central Tech.  And, of course, I have always worked at home, writing books and that is what I spend much of my time doing now.

Some of the things I especially like about Seaton Village are:

  • the small streets with people sitting on their front porches or tending to their front gardens (I now have a garden instead of grass and I tend it);
  • Vermont Square Park in the mornings before 9:30 when dog owners and dogs gather to run (the dogs) and socialize (people and dogs);
  • the Palmerston Branch Library, so well located and so well connected to my home computer;
  • the variety of stores around the edges of the neighbourhood;
  • the laneway along the south side of Vermont Ave in spring when magnificent lilacs and wisteria spill over the fences;
  • the street festivals that take place annually on many streets: Olive, Vermont, Palmerston Gardens and more;
  • the Jack-o-Lantern pathway on the day after Halloween;
  • the great variety of people who use St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club and the Bill Bolton Arena.

When I decided to write a book for young readers set in Toronto during the Depression it was easy to decide to set it in Seaton Village.  I walked around the neighbourhood with my dog, Lola, and thought about the children who lived in the houses seventy-five years ago.  A lot of them would be looking after themselves and their younger brothers and sisters while their parents were out struggling to earn a living.  There would be lots of vegetable gardens and chickens in the back yards and a lot of hop-scotch, rope skipping and ball playing up and down the streets.  Pretty soon specific characters began to emerge.  The result of all my imagining and some research, too, is The Listening Tree, a story I hope will be enjoyed by people living in our neighbourhood now.

As I said, I do feel lucky to live in Seaton Village, a real neighbourhood with history and with a very lively present.

Celia Lottridge.

 Local storyteller releases new children’s novel

From the Annex Gleaner January 19th, 2011

By Eddie Mumford

“Even though my neighbourhood has changed drastically, it still basically looks the same … so I thought it would be fun to think about what it was like in another time,” says storyteller group founder and writer Celia Lottridge, on why she set her new childrens’ book The Listening Tree in Seaton Village.

The Listening Tree features a young girl named Ellen Jackson, who, with her mother, is forced to re-locate to her aunt’s boarding house on Manning Avenue, after leaving their farm when their hometown is emptied by drought.

“I saw it as a time when life was full of practical problems—the majority of people were having to cope with the day-to-day of getting money … the Depression had a huge impact here in Canada, but I don’t think a lot of children or adults have any idea of how extremely hard it was. We like to forget about hard times,” she said.

This book creates a fictional yet realistic Toronto for children to learn from. “How can you learn about your country if you don’t have any fiction to read?” she said. “That’s what got me into writing, [the idea] that these books needed to be written.”

When asked if the character of Ellen was at all autobiographical, Lottridge said “Yes, in the sense that when I was a child my father changed jobs several times, so at least five times before I was 12 I had moved, [however], I’d say [Ellen’s] kind of extreme on the shy side.”

Lottridge has never left the greater Annex area since she moved to Toronto in 1975 and describes herself as a “loyal Seaton Village citizen.”

Ms. Lottridge is one of the founders of (and is now a trainer and consultant for) The Parent-Child Mother Goose Program (720 Bathurst St.), which began in 1986 as a not-for-profit organization that uses storytelling as a way to help nurture the bond between caregiver and child. “We still use the same pattern of how the program works—we still use the same training manual we wrote in 1989,” explained Lottridge, “As neighbourhoods changed and new groups moved in, we’ve learned how to incorporate material from different languages, and how to make people feel comfortable and part of a group.”

“Children who experience stories have a more complete experience of language, they learn about the emotional content, and they also learn that the stories have patterns. Even for small children, it’s like they tune into it, even though they don’t exactly understand the words.”

The Mother Goose Program is completely sound oriented, with no toys or other visual distractions involved. “We want the whole emphasis of it to be on activities the adult and the child can do together, so we don’t want another element there that is distracting,” said Lottridge, “we want the parents to be encouraged that they have within themselves the resources to make their child comfortable—that they don’t always have to have things.”

“Many, many people have a memory of their parent saying a rhyme to them or telling them a story… and when people have that memory it’s always a happy one.”

The program focuses on smaller groups of caregivers and children, rather than large assemblies, “We want to create groups where people feel comfortable and they know each other. It gives us time to help people relax.”

Likewise, cooperation plays a vital role in The Listening Tree, whose characters learn the value of community during hard-times, and its ability to affect positive change. The book itself is written for grade school audiences, whose Torontonian readers will get a chance to read about familiar landmarks like Casa Loma, which for a time was owned by the city and loosely guarded against neighbourhood kids playing hide-and-seek.

“As a story teller I tell lots of stories that are more fantasy-type, but when I write, I seem to be drawn to writing about young life the way it is, and also how all the different people you meet can make such a difference in your life.”

The Listening Tree is out in select bookstores this month. For more information on the Parent Child Mother Goose program visit http://www.nald.ca/mothergooseprogram or call (416) 588-5234.

I would like to sincerely thank Celia for ageeing to be our first featured neighbour on the WAPION page!

If you or someone you know who lives in Seaton Village might be a good candidate for  our “Who Are the People in Our Neighbourhood” page, please let us know by sending us a message at seatonvillagetoronto@gmail.com

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