Friday, March 29, 2013

Two inspiring cancer-related stories that deserve your attention

Cancer affects us all, both directly and indirectly, not to mention personally or to family members or friends who are close to you. Let's face it ... it's a horrible disease, no matter what it type it is, where it strikes and to whom it strikes. Although medical research and technology has allowed new innovations and treatments that have improved survival rates, the battle to conquer cancer still rages on. 

The following two stories, which have appeared in my Grapevine column in the West End Times this week, deal with cancer ... one who survived it and another who needs our help so that she can get on the road to recovery and survival. I hope you find these stories inspiring, give you hope, and hopefully take some action in the war against cancer. Thank you very much.


Ten years ago, William Brock was living a charmed life.

He was a successful lawyer for a major Montreal law firm, married with a son and a daughter. He was an avid photographer and every summer, would go on a kayaking trip with several of his close friends.

However, on September 21, 2004, William Brock’s charmed life came to a crashing halt.

Earlier that month, he went to the hospital complaining of chest and back pains, and was told it was more related to acid reflux than anything of a serious nature. When he returned from his annual kayaking trip (this time to Alaska), he felt constantly fatigued. He made a appointment at the Jewish General Hospital and on September 21, received the diagnosis of Acute Leukemia, with a critically low white blood count of 500 (which meant he had no immune system). He immediately went through two chemotherapy sessions, which resulted in complete remission.

However, in January of 2005, Brock went into a relapse, and nothing short of a bone marrow transplant could save him. He underwent that transplant on February 5 of that year and after a two-year recovery period is now cancer free.

Since his ordeal with leukemia, Brock has dedicated himself to launching initiatives that helps advance the cause of finding new treatments for blood cancers, including the establishment of the Fund for Research and Education. For his efforts in the fight against cancer, Brock will receive the Community Service Honorary Fellowship Award from the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) during its 36th annual gala, which is taking place on April 9 at Place des Arts. The gala will feature popular American comedians Paul Reiser and Rita Rudner, who will perform in a two-person comedy show called “He Said, She Said”.

Last Monday, Brock spoke to a grade 11 biology class (which studied cancer and cancer cells as part of their curriculum) at LaurenHill Academy in Ville St. Laurent (where he graduated in 1971, when it was known as Sir Winston Churchill High School). He related to the students his experiences dealing with Leukemia, how he survived, and the lessons he learned during his ordeal.

“Illness and cancer are not linear. Things don’t happen in a straight line, because there are always speed bumps along the way,” Brock said. “If you think it can’t get worse, it gets worse.”

He also credited the diligent research by his wife Maryse that led to them finding Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital as one of the major bone marrow transplant centres in the world, which is where he underwent that much vital transplant procedure.

“When I got that bone marrow transplant, it was ‘Day Zero” for me. It was the first day of the rest of my life,” he said.

While he was undergoing his recovery, Brock wondered what he was going to do next, besides returning to his law practice and re-establishing his daily routines. To celebrate his fifth anniversary of being cancer free, he went on a 35-day cycling tour of Europe that took him from the coast of France to Hungary.

Another project he undertook dealt with his passion of photography. In July of 2010, he began to compile stories of different Leukemia survivors (including former Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu) and photograph portraits that captured them in their element that they wanted to best associated with. The end result was “Portraits of Hope”, a handsome 208-page coffee table book that tells the stories of these selected survivors in words and pictures. The book – which is available in both English and French -- is distributed free to cancer patients in different Montreal area hospitals, and is also sold as a fundraiser for $60 a copy. He presented a copy of the book to LaurenHill Academy, and will available in the school’s library.

Brock concluded his presentation to the students by offering seven distinct lessons that he learned during his successful battle with Leukemia: cancer doesn’t have to be the end; cancer strikes without warning, so do something you really want to do; learn how important family and relationships are; your body is important; be proactive; science is real important because science saves lives; and cancer helps you understand the fragility of life.

For more information about the ICRF and its upcoming gala on April 9, go to For more information about William Brock’s book “Portraits of Hope”, go to

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During his presentation last week at LaurenHill Academy, Leukemia survivor William Brock urged the students that he was addressing to be more proactive. In particular, he urged them to register themselves at a bone marrow donor bank.

On April 3 and 4, those students and many others will get that chance to urgently help save a life at a special bone marrow registry drive that will be taking place at three separate locations in Montreal.

The person who needs our help is Jayden Emerson Roll, a four-year-old girl from Montreal who was recently diagnosed with MDS, a very rare disease that unfortunately develops into Acute Mylodysplastic Leukemia. In order to help stem the progression of this terrible disease, Jayden would require a bone marrow transplant. And now the call is going out to anyone who is between the ages of 18 and 60 and is in general good health to help Jayden and see if they are a match. All that is required of anyone who attends the drive is that they will get swabbed, which takes only a few seconds. As well, the eligible donors have to meet the required guidelines to be part of the registry, and are willing to donate their bone marrow not only to Jayden, but also to any other patient at any time around the world.

This special bone marrow registry drive will take place at the following places and times: the Hall Building of Concordia University, located at 1455 de Maisonneuve Boulevard West (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.); the Ben Weider JCC, located at 5400 Westbury Avenue (4 p.m. to 9 p.m.); and the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex of Concordia University, located at 7141 Sherbrooke Street West (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). For more information, contact Stephanie Kligman at

Friday, March 15, 2013

A brief conversation with Lee Hirsch, director of the documentary "Bully"

When I attended the B’nai Brith Youth Organization’s (BBYO) International Convention last year in Atlanta, I witnessed one of the main highlights for the more than 900 teens who gathered there last February. It was when director Lee Hirsch addressed them about his soon to be released documentary “The Bully Project” (the title was later shortened to “Bully”), and then proceeded to show them a 10-minute preview clip from the film. It’s not an easy thing to silence a group of 900 teens under one roof, but this small excerpt managed to do that. And as a result, the word was spread amongst the members of BBYO about how powerful and important “Bully” was to create widespread awareness of bullying amongst their peers and the devastating effects it can have upon them.

“The experience I had with the BBYO teens when I showed a part of the film to them in Atlanta was remarkable. As a result, “Bully” was shown to over 250,000 kids across North America,” Hirsch told the Grapevine last month, when he was in Montreal for the launch of the DVD of “Bully”, which took place at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ Bourgie Hall, and was held under the auspices of the Jasmin Roy Foundation.

“When they saw the film, many of them told me that as a result, they identified themselves as being bullied before and thanked me for telling their stories,” he said. “And then there were others who were silent witnesses who never realized that they were bullies themselves, and promised that they would never bully anyone again.”

“Bully” is a powerful, compelling 100 minute documentary that chronicles five teenagers across the U.S. who were subjected to a great deal of harsh psychological and physical bullying for a number of reasons, whether it be for the way they looked or for their sexual orientation. It also profiled two sets of parents who faced the tragic consequences of their children being bullied, and the action they took to make sure no one else’s children had to go through what their children endured. The DVD version, which is released by Alliance Films, not only contains the entire documentary, but also includes deleted scenes, a featurette dealing with the Bully Project at work, and updates on the people whose stories were told in the documentary.

Hirsch is proud of the impact “Bully” has had on teens across North America and the action they have taken to prevent any further bullying of their peers. “The film has managed to build a lot of valuable resources and the Bully Project is continually evolving,” he said. “The DVD will become part of an educational kit that is going to be distributed to schools and youth organizations, so that we can make the content of the project stronger, so that we can learn more and more about bullying, its devastating effects and what can be done to stop it altogether.”

This post originally appearing in my Grapevine column in the March 16, 2013 edition of The West End Times.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Moonlight Miles follows the footsteps of the Rolling Stones across America

Attached below is a book review that has been published in the latest issue of The West End Times that will surely please fans of the Rolling Stones. Author Chris Epting is a pop culture historian/enthusiast with a difference. He likes to travel widely across the U.S. to research, "dig up" and rediscover the known and unknown landmarks that have shaped American pop culture, and the result of his travels have been a series of fascinating books (and I've read quite a few of them, and they have never failed to both entertain and inform). So if you're a die hard fan of the Rolling Stones and one day would like to embark upon a unique road trip that would retrace the band's footsteps across America during their formative, turbulent years (1964-1981), then check out "Moonlight Miles".


Moonlight Miles by Chris Epting (Miniver Press, $2.99, e-book)

Author Chris Epting is a pop culture traveler.

For years, he has travelled the length and breadth of the United States, from coast to coast, in search of the still standing and disappeared landmarks of American pop culture. He searches for the places where its significant events happened, as well as where TV, movie and rock music stars performed, lived and died. 

And unlike the typical archaeologist whose concrete proof of his discoveries are the ancient artifacts that are dug up and ready for display in a museum, Epting’s discoveries are usually marked by photographs of these sites, along with thorough research of the stories behind these familiar and not-so-familiar pop culture landmarks. And his discoveries have transcended into a series of fascinating books that are like travel guides with a big difference, such as “James Dean Died Here” and “Roadside Baseball”.

In his latest book of this nature (which is exclusively available as an e-book), Epting retraces the steps that were made across America by the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band – the Rolling Stones – which is called “Moonlight Miles”. The book covers the period from their first visit to America as the antithesis to the Beatles in 1964, to their “Tattoo You” tour of 1981. And like his other books, Epting journeys across America to find the significant and insignificant sites, only this time he is in search of the places that shaped the tumultuous history of the Stones in America during their formative years.

He begins “Moonlight Miles” with a visit to an empty lot adjacent to the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino, California. The lot was once the site of the Swing Auditorium, which was torn down in 1981. Why the visit to this empty lot? Epting notes that it was at the former Swing Auditorium where the Rolling Stones played their very first live concert in the U.S. on the night of June 5, 1964. However, Epting writes an interesting footnote to the group’s first American concert in San Bernardino. The night before, during the Stones’ first American TV appearance on the ABC variety series “The Hollywood Palace”, singer Dean Martin, who also appeared on that week’s broadcast, pointed to the image of a man bouncing on a trampoline during the show and said rather insultingly (and on live TV in front of millions of viewers): “This is the father of the Rolling Stones. He's been trying to kill himself ever since.”

From there, we go on a cross-country guided tour of the Rolling Stones’ America. We visit the old Boston Garden, where during their turbulent 1972 tour, the group arrived with a police escort after they were arrested in Rhode Island for assault and obstructing police (and after opening act Stevie Wonder played an extended opening set at the Garden to keep the fans calm); there’s the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, where Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night with a guitar riff in his head, got his guitar, wrote down the riff’s notes and went back to sleep (that later became the famous opening riff of their first big hit “Satisfaction”); there’s 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive in Los Angeles, which is the site of the lake where the familiar fishing hole opening of “The Andy Griffith Show” was filmed in 1960 and six years later, the group held a photo session for an unreleased album that was to be called “Could You Walk On The Water?” (one of the photos was later used for the cover of their first greatest hits album called “Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)”); and of course, there’s Altamont … the Livermore, California raceway where the Stones’ most controversial concert took place that was supposed to be a free concert as a thank-you gesture by the Stones to their fans, but thanks to the miscalculation of using members of the Hell’s Angels as security, ended up with the violent death of 18-year-old spectator Meredith Hunter.

The book is filled with plenty of great research and never-heard-before anecdotes that further add to the legend that is the Rolling Stones, as they left their mark in America in more ways than one. There’s also plenty of “then and now” photos of some of the sites that Epting visited during the course of his research (including the empty lot that was once the Swing Auditorium, home of the Stones’ first U.S. concert), as well as play lists of selected Stones concerts throughout this 17-year period that’s covered in the book (for example, a typical play list from their inaugural 1964 American tour included cover versions of songs by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly).

“Moonlight Miles” is quite an entertaining pop culture road trip. Rolling Stones fans will certainly want to follow Epting’s example and discover the places where Mick, Keith, Brian, Charlie, Bill and Ron changed the face of rock music during their unique brand of the British Invasion of America. As a result, they’ll certainly get plenty of “satisfaction” reading this book.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mr. Nulman Goes to Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Every year around mid-February (President’s Day weekend in the U.S.), I take a six-day sojourn to a different city south of the border to participate as one of the many adult staff people at the annual International Convention of the B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO). This year, over 1,600 teenagers from 18 countries converged upon the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre in the Washington, DC suburb of National Harbor, Maryland (located across the Potomac River from the heart of DC and pictured below) to take part in the largest International Convention in the organization’s nearly 90-year history. Needless to say, the convention was enormous success, thanks to the hard work of everyone involved with its planning and implementation, especially coordinators Ryan Ladd and Hilit Jacobson and their amazing steering committee, plus Ian Kandel, Anita Blustein, Matt Grossman and their large army of dedicated professional and volunteer staff (of which I was a part of).

It was an amazing experience, and like any trip I take outside the boundaries of my hometown, I observed and noted many interesting things and happenings. Here is a selection of what I saw during my six days in Washington.

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BBYO’s International Convention had a great deal of special guests and guest appearances from the Beltway throughout its four days at the Gaylord. There was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice; the U.S. Marine Corps Band; the legendary satirical improv comedy troupe Capitol Steps; comedian, actor and commentator Ben Stein (remember him from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Win Ben Stein’s Money”?), who accepted the Sam Beber Alumnus of the Year Award; Judy Feld Carr, the Toronto housewife who bravely rescued Syria’s 3000 Jews from the oppressive regime of president Hafez el-Assad over a period of 28 years (and all under a veil of total secrecy); and Washington Nationals’ Racing Presidents, in which many of the teens clamoured to have their pictures taken with the very tall likenesses of former presidents Washington (pictured below left), Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

But perhaps the special guest that got the loudest, most enthusiastic reception was President Barack Obama, who addressed the convention body via pre-recorded message from the Oval Office (pictured below). President Obama praised the BBYO members for their kindness and their devoted service to the community that inspired others to make a difference.

“I am very proud of the work that you’re doing to encourage young people all around the world which honours their faith and serve their communities,” he said. “The future of this country depends on compassionate and encouraging kids like you, so keep up the great work.”

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Budget battle notwithstanding, President Obama is still quite a much loved and respected figure with the public in the DC area. Souvenir stores that I visited around the area still had plenty of memorabilia in which the 44th president and the First Family’s images are quite prevalent. And there was plenty of official Inauguration merchandise available (at half-price) for visitors to snatch up. I bought my share of Inauguration mugs, t-shirts, program books and yes, even a limited edition Presidential Inauguration chocolate bar.

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BBYO wasn’t the only group to hold a convention at the Gaylord that weekend. Katsucon, a three-day convention that celebrates the art and culture of the Japanese anime cartoon genre, held its 19th edition at the Gaylord as well (the fourth time it was taking place at that hotel). Besides the full schedule of music video screenings, art shows, panel discussions, seminars, dealer kiosks, video game demonstrations and plenty of impromptu photo sessions, the main attraction of Katsucon was the costumes. Practically every attendee was dressed up as their favorite character from the world of anime. It was amazing to see the incredible effort each one committed to the accuracy of their respective costumes. One costume that stood out was the person who dressed up as one of the Transformers. The mechanically inclined metal costume that took about six months to build, when raised to its fully transformed glory, measured nine feet in length (check it out on the right).
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The two Washington, DC landmarks that dominate the skyline no matter from what vantage point you see it are the Washington Monument (pictured on the left, which is also referred to as “the pencil”, for obvious reasons) and the U.S. Capitol. My friend Seth, who serves as BBYO’s city director in the Washington area, told me an interesting fact about why there are no high-rise skyscrapers in Washington, DC. He said that according to a federal government ordinance, it decreed that no building in Washington be taller than the Capitol. That way, it is seen symbolically as the building that represents the importance of a democratic government in the United States.

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On the final full day of the convention, the teens who were not voting delegates had the option of participating in three different outings within the Washington area. One of them was to go to the National Mall in the heart of DC and visit two of the Smithsonian’s most popular museums (American history and natural history), followed by a walking tour of some of the monuments that are part of the National Mall. Because it was a blustery, chilly day, many of the teens (and accompanying adult staff) opted for the indoor warmth of one or both of the museums.

I chose the National Museum of American History, which I first visited in 1989. It is currently undergoing a major renovation that is to be completed in 2015, yet its many exhibits and artifacts that were on display never fails to fascinate me. One permanent exhibit that caught my attention was called “The Price of Freedom: Americans At War”. Opened in 2004, the 18,200 square foot exhibition pays tribute to the men and women who fought and sacrificed for the United States in every war in the nation’s history from the American Revolution to Operation Iraqi Freedom. There are plenty of artifacts (including the George Washington’s military uniform  -- pictured on the right -- and a World War II jeep that’s suspended from the ceiling), video and film screenings and displays that effectively tell the story of how this country was shaped through the wars and battles it fought on home ground and foreign soil. You could easily make a whole day out of visiting this exhibition alone; it’s well worth it.

And best of all, admission to the National Museum of American History and all the Smithsonian museums is free of charge. For more information, go to

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Also, if you're a fan of British secret agent James Bond 007, the International Spy Museum, located on F Street (not far from the FBI Building), is paying tribute the colorful, maniacal villains, arch enemies
and nemeses that Bond has faced (and defeated) in 50 years' worth of movie adventures with an exhibition called "Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains".

Featuring over 100 movie artifacts from the archives of EON Productions, "Exquisitely Evil" looks into  the lairs, weapons and overly conquer-the-world schemes that those villains have plotted before James Bond faced them and quashed those diabolical plans. Galleries include a look at the life and career of Bond's creator Ian Fleming, villains who used the Cold War as a backdrop to their schemes, villains who wanted to take over the world in their own evil ways, villains who dealt in the drug trade and even a tribute to 007's longtime and most famous rival: Ernest Stavro Blofeld. For more information about the Spy Museum and its "Exquisitely Evil" exhibition, go to

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And one of the most unlikely places you will find a museum-style exhibition is at an airport ... in particular, the Baltimore International Airport (BWI). In the departures level, there is an impressive permanent exhibition set up in honor of the airport's namesake: the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve as a justice in the U.S. Supreme Court (he was appointed to the court by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967).

In words, pictures and artifacts, the mini exhibition at the airport tells of Marshall's brilliant legal career, from his championing of desegregation (which resulted in the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education in 1954) to his years in the Supreme Court (there is even a reproduction of one of the judicial robes he wore during his time as a Supreme Court justice, which is pictured above).

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Finally, I want to recommend a CD that I purchased during BBYO International Convention that you should give a listen to. For over three years, Eric Hunker has been serving BBYO as its main song leader. He travels around the U.S. to different BBYO regions to entertain and inspire through his musical talent during their own regional conventions, not to mention the organization’s summer leadership programs.

At this convention, Eric and his four fellow song leaders (pictured above, with Eric on the far left) certainly knew how to get over 1,600 teens into the spirit of the occasion through their music (which is quite an accomplishment), whether it be keeping them entertained before a major event, or to set the proper Sabbath (Shabbat) atmosphere on Friday night. Also, Eric was selling copies of his newly-released CD “All These Little Loves”, which I purchased at the kiosk he set up on the convention’s final night. After listening to it, I found “All These Little Loves” to be a very enjoyable album. Eric’s musical style is very buoyant and lively, and reminds me of Paul Simon during his early solo years (circa early and mid-1970s). And to gauge Eric’s popularity as a singer, the CD debuted on the iTunes Top 10 list for singer/songwriters. Give a listen and see why Eric Hunker is one musical talent who should get all the attention from fans and critics that he deserves. For more information, check out his website at