Past President, Judy Winberg is recovering well from spinal surgery early in November. These remarks were prepared for but not delivered at the AGM on November 17, 2019.
One year ago, we were still living in a construction zone. One year ago, our membership was at 1800 families, the largest Reform congregation in Canada. And one year ago, at the time of the AGM, we were stalled in an audit process for a year that had already ended six months prior.
My goodness. What a year this has been.
Chanukah 2018 saw the official Housewarming of the renewed Holy Blossom Temple. Cantor Maissner conducted the Temple Singers poised on the central staircase in the Hallelujah chorus and then led us all into the sanctuary. Rabbi Splansky and the sixth generation Holy Blossom Paul and Frances Hellen family lit the first candle of Chanukah. The 1000, yes, I repeat, the 1000 members and guests in attendance joyfully celebrated that thrilling moment in our Temple’s history.
In 1837 our great grandparents had the vision to build the Bond Street shul. In 1938 our grandparents took the huge leap of faith and moved north, away from the established Jewish neighbourhoods, to an empty hilltop on Bathurst Street. And in 2018 the renewed Holy Blossom Temple, as we know it today, was opened.
For years we have been calling this phase the Renewal of Space and Spirit and this perfectly captures the importance we attach not only to a physical building but to our spiritual and cultural home. Over this past year we had had many occasions to celebrate the physical progress but let me remind you of other events.
The Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative was launched with an evening program dedicated to increasing awareness of mental health issues and in memory of our beloved member, Luke Sklar z”l.
The Tailor Project saw a remarkable tribute to Max E. Enkin z” l. Past President and Honorary President, who organized the rescue of thousands of Jews from post-WWII Europe to Canada. Not only was this a significant event, but that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought an invitation to attend, made it that much more meaningful.
The success of our Out of the Cold program was celebrated with its first-ever fundraising event in the transformed Philip Smith Congregational Hall and foyer.
Throughout the winter and spring on many Sunday afternoons, we were graced with young performers from The Glenn Gould School of Music with the Sunday’s in the Atrium concerts.
From Hate to Hope, a discussion between two people directly impacted by the horrific acts of terrorism at a mosque in Quebec City and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh inspired us to take action in light of the rise in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other heinous acts of hate and terror.
To launch the High Holydays, at Selichot service we shared the first opportunity to highlight and honour our beloved Cantor Benjamin Maissner for his 41 years of service to Holy Blossom Temple.
We saw the installation of our remarkable archival display that features treasures cultivated by our in-house archivists, and the first living museum exhibit, the Tzedakah Centre and Sisterhood’s opening of the Judaica shop in the Schwartz Reisman Atrium.
The awarding of the Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award to Madame Justice Rosalie Abella on the afternoon of Yom Kippur provided our members and many guests with a rare opportunity to learn more about this accomplished Canadian.
The Five to Finish campaign was introduced on Kol Nidre when we were reminded of the need for each and every member of the Temple to participate by donating to the Renewal Fund to help reach our fundraising goal.
For the High Holydays our attendance peaks, but the daily Shacharit and Ma’ariv services, weekly Shabbat evening and morning services, special Tot and Family Shabbats, monthly Shabbat at the (Wychwood) Barns, and wintertime Havdalah services continue to offer opportunities for meaningful worship experiences for our congregation.
Over the course of my two-year term, we have seen revitalized Board committees charged with oversight for the Temple’s facilities, updated security protocols, and financial affairs. We have created an HBT Employee manual and revised the policy that addresses the diversity of our membership and updating individual and family membership definitions. The creation of YAD – the Young Adult Division – engages a vibrant group of Temple members in their 20s and 30s. And we saw the creation of a new cemetery, Beit Olam, a Garden for Interfaith families, and new cemetery by-laws for Brimley Road.
This past year has seen an increase in the number of young children enrolled in our Youth Education Centre at the level of junior kindergarten and an overall increase in Temple membership with the addition of 120 new member families. This is so encouraging.
To have served as the Temple President during this time of such rich programming and meaningful worship experiences will forever be a huge source of pride for me.
It is important to mention that the passing of Russ Joseph, Executive Director saddened us all and we remember fondly his commitment to the Temple and to the Renewal Project.
We conducted highly successful searches to bring on the Executive Director, Ron Polster, Director of Finance, Heidi Miller, ECC Director Wendy Himmel and Assistant Rabbi Zachary Goodman.
I would like to close by saying that serving as the President of Holy Blossom Temple since November 2017 has been a tremendous honour. I have met wonderful people, made new friends and learned so much. There were some difficult times when hard decisions were required and for their support and guidance I offer my thanks to the members of the Board, Rabbi Splansky and the clergy team, to the senior leadership professionals. I was privileged to work closely with many of the Temple staff whose dedication and loyalty to this congregation is deeply appreciated.
There were occasions over the past couple of years when I sought the wisdom of the Past Presidents and Wardens. I want to especially acknowledge the guidance and support of Past President Joan Garson. I thank you all very much.
When I look around the new spaces, I take great pride in all that we’ve accomplished and when I look at the Fall/Winter 5780 Program Guide which lists the upcoming events between September and December I am inspired.
We are a very special congregation. I am so proud to say that I am a member of Holy Blossom Temple.
Rabbi Splansky, you are a marvel. You bring so much to this congregation as a whole, and to so many congregants individually. You are wise and thoughtful. Your counsel is sought regularly and recognized widely. It has been such a privilege for me to serve as your partner. You inspire me and I thank you most sincerely.
To the members of the Board, I offer my thanks and pledge to do all that I can in my new role as Past President. To the new Vice Presidents, Ellen Cole, Aubrey Freedman and Les Rothschild and to new Board members, Rick Howard and Avram Musafija, welcome aboard. You are taking on important roles. I know that you will take your responsibilities seriously.
To Avra Rosen, I’ve told you repeatedly that I am so grateful to you for agreeing to stand for President. And now, you’ve been elected. You bring to the position both experience from your many years on this and previous Boards and a vision for the future. I can think of no one more qualified than you to lead us at this time.
Thank you all for the support you have given to me and this Board and for the friendship that you have extended to me personally. Life really does blossom here.