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By Rabbi Jordan Helfman.

I once mentioned in a sermon that I was still learning the words to O Canada, to have a congregant come up and tell me to get myself in gear.

So I studied and memorized, but at the Leo Baeck Day School graduation this past week, as O Canada was sung just before HaTikvah, I realized that I had been learning only one version of the anthem:

In English, do you sing, “in all thy sons command” or “in all of us command”?  And at what point to you learn the French and Cree, the other two languages in which O Canada is sung at my son’s TDSB school every morning?

This says so much about Canada –  the National Anthem is almost unknowable in all of its complexities, even as it is intoned around the country in a plethora of languages with divergent meanings.  The anthem reverberates as part of an ever-changing Canada.  The gender change in the English version of O Canada – currently in a bill in front of the Senate, shows that even that which is formed is able to reform.

And reforming while struggling with the past – in Canada and in Judaism – is life.

The Jewish community in Toronto , in its over 160 years of existence as a formal community, is itself a community that is constantly reforming.

One way of seeing this is through us, Toronto’s oldest Jewish community, Holy Blossom Temple.  Our current senior clergy have helped evolve our practice. Cantor Maissner has been in Toronto, at Holy Blossom Temple for nearly a quarter of our synagogue’s history.  Rabbi Splansky, one eighth.  Over that time our synagogue community has influenced Judaism in Canada, through outward initiatives like our refugee sponsorship, and through maintaining our Kehillah Kedosha.

Canada Day falls on Shabbat this year – our weekly time to celebrate in the context of our community.  As you are looking for the perfect way to celebrate, consider joining us for the 9 a.m. Torah Study and 10:30 a.m. Shacharit service.  Because engaging in Judaism and our unique rituals helps ground us in the constant struggle to define what it means to be a good Canadian.

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  • Alan Heavenrich
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    As to the words in “O Canada!”, I always sing (and sang in the classes that I led) “In all thy sons and daughters command”. It’s not hard to fit in and sounds quite nice though, quite appropriately, noticeable…

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