Honouring Rabbi Helfman for Five Years of Leadership and Service
On Rosh Hashanah, I spoke about Jewish time — how past and future loom so large, time can easily play tricks on us. But the word “Hineini” cuts through with such clarity, suddenly we can recognize our own feet planted in the present.
It is hard to believe that Rabbi Helfman has already been with our congregation for five years. The day we made the match, he told me he could move his young family to Toronto early and begin anytime. He’s been saying “Hineini” ever since. I remember when I told my parents we found a terrific new rabbi, fresh from Hebrew Union College, they asked his name. “Helfman.” “Oh, good!” they said, “his very name tells how helpful he will be.” Indeed, Rabbi Helfman lives up to his namesake.
Jordan and Jemma have expanded their family since they arrived with little Toby five years ago. Now there is Molly, Henriette, and Dov, too. We thank them for increasing our Temple membership and strengthening the ranks of the Jewish People! Jemma has been instrumental in our Refugee Relief initiative and the kids light up our Early Childhood Centre, our Youth Education Centre, and Shabbat mornings, too.
Thanks to Rabbi Helfman, our Family Programming is second to none and our Terumah membership model has provided a meaningful and affordable way for young families to join us and lay down their own roots at Holy Blossom. Rabbi Helfman and Jemma lead a terrific Chavurah. This year, Rabbi Helfman will be teaching a Melton course to give parents the tools to raise their children with the Jewish values they claim for themselves. All this is evidence of his winning combination as a great organizer and as someone who believes in what we’ve come to call Relational Judaism.
These come as no surprise, but what you may not yet know is that Rabbi Helfman is also a community-builder beyond the village of Holy Blossom Temple. Through the relationships he cultivates among other young rabbis across the city and across the spectrum of Jewish life, he has created Lishmah a learning program for people in their 20s and 30s to meet one another over meaningful learning. Similarly, through the relationships he has cultivated through the Downtown Jewish Council and at the Miles Nadel JCC, Holy Blossom is part of the network of the Jewish communities to the south. As the TTC opens on Eglinton, we will become a more urban congregation and downtown Jews will have greater access to our renewed campus.
Rabbi Helfman contributes to the Reform Movement beyond Holy Blossom Temple in two significant ways. He is an active Board Member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), so ably led by our congregant Carole Sterling. And together with his classmate (and my cousin), Rabbi Ari Lorge, Rabbi Helfman has taken up an important research project. Reform Rabbis teach the teachings of rabbis from across the centuries, but we don’t have easy access to the teachings of our own leading lights. Rabbis Helfman and Lorge are working in collaboration with the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio to mine the gems of sermons and writings from the early Reform rabbis and to organize them according to the themes of the weekly Torah portions. When this collection is complete and published, students of Torah and history will be able to share the wisdom and historical perspective of some of the most influential Jewish figures of the last two hundred years. I can’t wait for this book to fill a gap in my own library.
When he isn’t riding his bike to work, having a trombone lesson over his lunch break, bouncing a baby in the middle of the night or teaching our B’nei Mitzvah class, you’ll find Rabbi Helfman at his cluttered desk, a sure sign of a creative and productive person. He is known for his sincerity and respected for his smarts. And now it is time to celebrate all he has brought and all that he will continue to bring to strengthen our congregation.