Our new prayerbook, Siddur Pirchei Kodesh, contains an essay by Professor Irving Abella, entitled, “A brief History of Holy Blossom Temple’s first 150 Years.” Professor Abella’s contribution of scholarship, his retelling of our story, is colourful and illuminating. Our history is now literally bound together with our prayers. This is unusual. I don’t know of any o ther prayerbook that contains the history of a congregation within it. Why does it seem so fitting here? Why are these eleven pages at the back of the siddur, so often found? As Toronto’s first synagogue, much of our identity and sense of mission is informed by our past. How does it drive us toward our future? How must our “shem tov” (good name) guide us at this moment? How do the prayers and actions of those who came before inspire our own prayers and actions today?
Abella’s concluding paragraph: “Holy Blossom Temple’s path of 150 years has not been straight nor easy. It faced enormous challenges and overcame them. From a tiny Orthodox synagogue of some two dozen men to the mightiest Reform congregation in Canada and one of the premier synagogues in the world – it has been a remarkable adventure. It has weathered weighty religious divisions and deep personal conflicts and yet it persevered. Its most consistent attribute – unusual for most centres of worship – has been its ability, perhaps even its need, to challenge itself, to learn from its mistakes, and to keep fighting for its ultimate goals: to bring Jews and Judaism into the mainstream of Canadian life, to contribute to improving that mainstream, and to strengthen its ties to Israel and world Jewry. It is a formidable task, but Holy Blossom Temple has proven to be a formidable synagogue.” (Siddur Pirchei Kodesh, page 586)
1950 Bathurst Street is the address. We gather to hear important words from important people. In three short weeks we will welcome the new Israeli Consul General, DJ Schneeweiss, for his inaugural address. The next week we will learn from Rabbi Rick Jacobs when he delivers his first address in Canada since becoming President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). We are proud to host them and proud to open our doors to the community at large, so all can benefit from hearing today’s leaders reflect on today’s Zionism and today’s Judaism.
1950 Bathurst Street is the address. We gather to do sacred deeds for a sacred purpose. In the next short weeks our teachers will come to prepare colourful bulletin boards and ready bright classrooms for bright students. The Temple Singers will rehearse every note to prepare the High Holyday liturgy. Congregants will gather for Shabbat morning Torah study to mine every sacred letter for meaning. Shiva service leaders will quietly go about the mitzvah of mapquesting directions to reach fellow congregants in mourning. Out of the Cold volunteers will humbly go about the mitzvah of washing the pots and organizing the pantry to receive this fall’s guests. Congregants will attend the daily minyan to publicly mark Yahrtzeit while privately remembering a loved one.
Jewish history may be written by figure heads and leaders of greatness. And thank God for them! But Jewish life is written by the small. Jewish life is constructed by unspectacular little deeds: saying a blessing before a meal, reading a Jewish book, lighting Shabbat candles, writing a small check. These are not dramatic, but they are powerful. These little deeds are where our loyalty to Judaism, God and the Jewish People takes hold. These little deeds are where the Jewish future is determined. These joyful, challenging, and gratifying little deeds are where the future of our congregation is secured.
Rabbi Leo Baeck taught: “Piety, especially Jewish piety, respects the little – the little man, the little matter, the little task, the little duty. Through the little, religion meets the greatness that lies behind.”
This is my prayer as we begin the month of Elul. As we prepare ourselves for the High Holy Days, let’s give big attention to the little things. As we begin the season of self-reflection and direction-setting for the coming year, let’s draw strength from the bold calls of the great shofar and let us listen carefully to “the still, small voice” within.