AGM Address (excerpted)
Rabbi Yael Splansky
Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5778
November 19, 2018
Today is a holiday, the half-festival of Rosh Chodesh. Today is the new month of Kislev, signaled by the new moon. You’d think we’d celebrate when the moon is full and bright, but no. We celebrate when that first sliver of light shows itself against the endless black sky. Why? Rosh Chodesh is a celebration of anticipation. Rosh Chodesh is the sanctification of growing potential, of light increasing, of brilliance in the process of becoming. And this is very Jewish. We celebrate not only what is, but also what can be, what ought to be, what might yet come into being if we will it. Rosh Chodesh is the celebration of the possible. Rosh Chodesh is the sanctification of impatient anticipation.
The Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 2:2-4) records that during the Second Temple period, two trained eyewitnesses would watch for the new moon. At first sighting they’d run to testify before the Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem, which would then declare the new month. Every village would wait for the signal, so as not to lose pace with Jerusalem, so as not to fall out of sync with the rest of the Jewish world. Bonfires would be lit from hilltop to hilltop, radiating out from Jerusalem, until the news of the new moon reached the communities throughout the Land of Israel. Messengers would be sent on horseback to bring the news to the further reaches of the Diaspora, so everyone would know to prepare for the light returning.
Today President Joan Garson and I and the many leaders of our congregation are like those eyewitnesses who have been trained to faithfully and impatiently watch for the light returning. We are testifying before you today that something new has taken hold at Holy Blossom Temple. And now you, please, set up the bonfires on your own hilltops to let it be known among your family and friends and colleagues that after much anticipation the first light of our Renewal of Space and Renewal of Spirit is upon us. And there is reason to celebrate.
Waxing and Waning
It is said that the Jewish People is like the moon – waxing and waning throughout the centuries of history. Today is a time of waxing for Jewish life in Israel. Despite the struggles, Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish People lives and flourishes in the land of our ancestors.
Is this a time of waning for Jewish life in the Diaspora? Perhaps. Time will tell. But today, thank God, we can say with confidence, it is a time of waxing for Holy Blossom Temple. Our young membership is growing. At a time when most synagogues are struggling to attract young families, we have a waitlist for Little Blossoms and our Early Childhood Centre is full. Our success in attracting young families has been noticed by the Union for Reform Judaism and we have been invited to teach what we’ve learned at the upcoming Biennial Convention in Boston so other Reform congregations across North America can benefit.
How else do we know it is a time of waxing for Holy Blossom? Earlier this year we earned international recognition for taking the lead on a grassroots response to the deadly shooting in a Quebec City mosque. We led synagogues, churches and secular citizens of the city, too, in forming Rings of Peace around seven mosques across the GTA. Representatives from every level of government, including the Prime Minister himself, called to thank us for this simple act of civic clarity and courage.
How else do we know light is growing for Holy Blossom? Well, there is our Renewal Project, too. Soon you’ll hear the full reports, but let me simply say, I cannot wait! After so many years of patience, I admit, I just got impatient. I can see how we will animate the new spaces and how our congregation will be animated by the new spaces. The generosity of our congregation is astounding. It must continue. Aleinu. It is upon us. Every one of us must reach down deep to make what is for us a meaningful contribution, so that when we cut the ribbon later this year, we can all point and say: “I did that. I built that to secure the Jewish future.”
Blessed by Strong Leadership
If any city is poised for vibrant Jewish life, it is Toronto. And if any congregation is poised for relevant, relational, and robust Jewish life, it is Holy Blossom Temple. It is a time of waxing, for growing brighter. It is our delight as it is our responsibility. As Toronto’s first synagogue, we have always worn the mantel of leadership to set the pace and raise the bar, to signal to the Jewish community across the city and beyond that there is urgency in our work. I know this congregation to be committed, capable, creative, and caring. I know our leadership to be remarkably generous with time, talent, and treasure.
Today we salute President Joan Garson. Joan leads with smarts. She has a great mind for strategizing, delegating, and organizing with a good measure of both patience and impatience. Joan leads with a moral compass. She will often stop in her tracks to come back to a foundational question of values. She’ll ask: What really matters here? Who are we and what do we stand for? These core questions always steer toward the right path. And Joan leads with a Jewish neshamah. She is a student of Hebrew and a regular chanter of Torah. She prays with the congregation each Shabbat, walking in her father’s footsteps as he could always be depended upon to help make the minyan in Halifax. Joan, I am personally grateful for your leadership. It has been my personal privilege to work with you, to learn from you, and to see our congregation to success together.
Judy Winberg, we are so lucky to have you as the next President of Holy Blossom Temple. You come to this position with your own set of experience and expertise. I promise your Presidency will be fulfilling in ways you can anticipate and in ways you can’t yet anticipate. The rewards will be many and we’ll have some fun along the way, too.
The new moon beckons us with a call to get to work and create some light of our own. So let us set up every lamp and light every light. Let our congregation continue to be a beacon for this city and all the world. Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, M’chadeish Chodashim. Praised are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, who faithfully renews the months and faithfully renews us, too. Amen.