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This past weekend, I stood in a room packed with around five hundred participants – most of them families with school-aged children – packing backpacks with supplies, weaving waterproof mats out of recycled milk bags, and making blankets for those experiencing homelessness in our city in a powerful event run by our Jewish humanitarian organisation, Ve’ahavta.  While it is too early to think this far in the future, we hope to host their community Passover seder again this year.

This upcoming weekend, I will be standing in a room of a similar size, gathering to honour our synagogue’s Vice President of Tikkun Olam and Israel, Jill Witkin, who is among the honourees at the Women for Reform Judaism gala dinner, being recognized as one of those who “lift up the voices and improving the lives of women” through her dedication to social change and legal reform for women’s rights and her leadership in changing how victims are treated in the criminal justice system, and “working tirelessly to empower others.”  Both of these things only touch the surface of Jill’s caring and advocacy, from Out of the Cold to the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative, there is no more deserving honouree.

The WRJ Gala is part of the URJ’s Biennial conference (Thank you to our newly installed Rabbi Goodman for keeping things running smoothly, solo!) We have a delegation of around 20 HBT participants attending.  Among the many sessions that our Tikkun Olam lay leadership and professional staff are attending include sessions on Gender and Judaism, Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority, and Community Organising (though they spell it Organizing…).  I’m sure we will have many more learnings to share after this weekend.

Jill’s report to the AGM of our community’s current work was fulsome.

I want to raise up three items so you can be informed as to where these initiatives have developed since the AGM, and also offer a learning opportunity:

  1. Our Green / Sustainability committee is coming together under the leadership of Greg Coleman.  There is a shift towards a mindset of sustainability that our building and house committees already embody, and which is starting to permeate every aspect of Temple life.  For instance, even our salt this winter was selected for its more limited environmental impact.
  2. I was honoured to participate in the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Commission (ISARC)’s meetings at Queen’s Park, where faith leaders learned from and met with our provincial politicians and each other on issues of dignity.  Rabbi Shalom Shachter, who serves on the group’s executive, introduced me to Rabbi Satz’s aquaintances, so I can try to continue his good work.  As part of this work, I have begun some discussions around our housing crisis and been in touch with Richard Seligman, our chair of Micah Homes / Plaut Manor who has been very encouraging.  Watch this space.
  3. Our member, Kalman Green, was celebrated in the CJN https://www.cjnews.com/news/canada/jews-muslims-share-experiences-of-targeted-hate for his work building a coalition with our friends at the Imdadul Islamic Centre and many others as we gathered many members to fight hate through understanding.  Thank you to all of the congregants who made the drive for that important night!

And finally, the learning opportunity:  I just finished a six-week course through our 20s and 30s program on Faith Based Social Justice-  and will be running a three-week version of that course for our members interested in this incremental and frustrating and very rewarding work. Please lookout for this course in the upcoming program guide, and join me!

As Rabbi Tarfon teaches: It is not on us to complete the work  – but neither may we desist from it. (Pirkei Avot 2:21)

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