In lifeatholyblossom, stories

Dear Fellow Congregants:

On Saturday, November 3rd, as I sat in Holy Blossom’s sanctuary, many moments of my life passed before me. Ours is a four-generation Holy Blossom family. My mother was one of six young women and one young man who were confirmed at Holy Blossom on Bond Street in 1927.

Many poignant, personal memories of lifecycle events have taken place in that sanctuary: my consecration, confirmation, wedding; my parents’ funerals; the bat mitzvahs and weddings of my daughters and more recently baby-namings and bar/bat mitzvahs of my grandchildren.

Wendy Eisen

What I experienced that Shabbat morning evoked rare emotions that were not connected with my lifecycle events.  After what had been a heart-wrenching week, following the tragic massacre at the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh last Shabbat, I found solace in my spiritual home.

Although there had been an outpouring of condolences and support through the national media and a large community rally in Toronto, Jews everywhere were feeling vulnerable. In response to a longing to be together, members of the North American Jewish community were asked to #ShowupforShabbat. This clarion call impelled me, plus tens of thousands of Jews from all over the world, to flock to their synagogues that morning.

Those of us who approached the Temple that day viewed buses parked outside. The buses had carried many Muslims and Christians who were standing shoulder to shoulder, forming a ring of peace around our building. Tears flowed easily as I walked along the line, thanking people for coming, and now, as I re-live this moment, my eyes well up.

Once the service began, one looked around to see a sanctuary filled from the first to the very last row with Jews, all of whom wanted to be together.  Scattered among our members were many non-Jews, Muslims and Christians and some government leaders — tangible evidence of the outpouring of unity, solidarity and compassion for their Jewish brethren.

Rabbi Splansky has a unique gift. With heartfelt warmth, compassion and with touching words, she expressed what everyone was feeling. Though speaking with profound sadness about the previous week’s tragedy, she managed to uplift our spirits due to the outpouring of support by so many of those who wish us well.

Not only is our Rabbi a community builder, she builds bridges having initiated a “ring of peace” around a Toronto mosque last February, following the shooting at a mosque in Quebec. “Today’s gesture is not one of reciprocation,” she announced. “Men and women of different faiths are standing outside many Toronto synagogues doing what they believe to be right.” Osman Khan, a spokesperson for Imdadul Islamic Centre, addressed us briefly, expressing condolences on behalf of the Muslim community.

Among the eleven good men and women whose lives were taken last Shabbat, was Joyce Libman Fienberg, one of our own. Joyce was raised in Toronto at Holy Blossom. She was confirmed and married there before moving with her husband to Pittsburgh. Many of her cousins live in Toronto, including our Temple president, Judy Libman Winberg. Joyce’s memory was honoured when her cousins were called to the Bima for an Aliyah.

Emotions were further enhanced by the chanting of Torah by a Bat Mitzvah girl — the granddaughter of our beloved Cantor Maissner. Another teary moment came when Beny blessed this lovely child with a special song.

Upon leaving the sanctuary, I spoke with a Muslim gentleman who said that he had visited four synagogues that morning.  I left feeling emotionally drained. Some of the anguish of the Pittsburgh tragedy has been assuaged, replaced by a glimmer of hope. Hope that by promoting unity, understanding and respect, humankind will work toward a growing awareness of love and peace.

I also feel deeply proud. Proud that I belong to a synagogue whose leadership sets an example of the most profound and treasured Jewish values — and proud, that in this difficult age where Jews have many options, Holy Blossom is continuing to build for our children, our grandchildren and for those who follow.

Wendy Eisen


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