In Beny2020 Stories, Our Virtual Mishkan

L’Chaim: Holy Blossom Did It Together

By Joan Garson, Chair, Celebration Steering Committee


There are some events that change everything, that impact Holy Blossom Temple life for a generation. The L’Chaim for Cantor Beny Maissner is one of them.

As soon as Cantor Maissner announced his retirement, our Congregation began to wonder how to sufficiently honour and thank him for his unmatchable contribution to us over more than 40 years. In time, a Celebration Committee was established, led by Helena Fine and Susan Cohen, and supported by Cantorial Soloist Lindi Rivers. That Committee began our community’s year of celebration with two events last fall, Selichot and Music and Art: Living Memory. Gillian Rosenberg of that Committee created a robust, creative and engaging online presence for “Beny 2020”.

At the same time, the Celebration Committee worked very hard to develop an outstanding tribute event, planned to take place in our Sanctuary on June 10, 2020. This was coupled with an ambitious fundraising target to ensure Cantor Maissner’s musical legacy at Holy Blossom Temple will continue. And then came COVID.

In just a day or two, our Congregation moved out of our beloved building and into everyone’s living rooms, virtually. We did so much so fast; we innovated and thrived. But how could an online celebration capture our love for Beny? How could it move him, and us, enough?

Here is where the Holy Blossom magic happened.

Over a period of only a few weeks the extraordinarily talented and committed volunteers and staff of the Celebration Committee, supported by a Steering Committee of additional volunteers and staff, created the virtual L’Chaim to replace the celebration which had been planned and worked toward for so long. This transformative pivot was led by our member Alan Gordon, the volunteer producer of the evening.  The switch to an online event was one of love and commitment and a very big gamble. And it worked.

The Congregation demonstrated extraordinary support for Beny and the now-to-be virtual L’Chaim. Planners, participants and community, together we made the L’Chaim, itself less than 90 minutes long, a powerful celebration of Beny. We watched it and shared joy, gratitude and love. It was wonderful, and it surprised us all by how much it moved and connected us.

The L’Chaim reached thousands – more than we could possibly have included in our Sanctuary. It was a triumph for its creators and for the many, many supporters of Beny who participated. The online tribute book to come will be a record of the evening and will, thanks to the extraordinary work of Gillian Rosenberg and Director of Communications Deanna Levy, contain even more moments to treasure in pictures, words, video and song. Watch for it.

At the same time, a major gifts Fundraising Committee of volunteers led by Sam Sapera, together with a greetings team led by Sheila Smolkin and Les Rothschild, all supported by Development Associate Ellen Ostofsky, worked behind the scenes. That team has already raised more than $450,000 with the astonishing generosity of our congregation, and from a larger circle of friends and admirers of Beny. This will ensure that Holy Blossom remains a musical congregation, the ongoing legacy of Cantor Maissner.

There were at least four achievements of our L’Chaim which I want to name and honour

  1. Beny knows beyond question how much we treasure him. The evening (and the rest of our year of celebration) thanked him, not just within the limitations of Zoom technology, or as a second choice imposed on us by COVID, but beautifully and well.
  2. We came together in telling Beny how much we love him. Watching his event in our thousands, and sending him greetings and donations, were shared acts of love by Holy Blossom’s members. We had a positive, extraordinary experience as a Congregation from our living rooms, even as we included lovers of Beny from around the world.
  3. We met Cantor Rosen and watched how he honoured Beny and shared with us all. Very soon we will welcome him to Holy Blossom Temple.
  4. An extraordinary lay and staff partnership was created. In the strange spring of 2020, we were creative,  generous, thoughtful and engaged in the best tradition of Holy Blossom. Our celebration evening was led by  Helena Fine and Susan Cohen and their amazing and talented team of volunteers. The contribution of staff was largely invisible to the Congregation as a whole except on the night of the program, but the evening wouldn’t have happened without them. Many thanks to Cantorial Soloist Lindi Rivers, Executive Director Ron Polster, Director of Communications Deanna Levy, Development Associate Ellen Ostofsky, and Director of Membership Abigail  Carpenter-Winch. We benefitted from the steady support and leadership of Rabbi Splansky and President Avra Rosen. The many, many additional names of those we all want to thank will appear in the tribute book.

As Holy Blossom basks in the happiness of Wednesday evening, I want, as the chair of the Steering Committee that worked to support the evening, to honour the Celebration Committee, the Fundraising Committee, and the entire Steering Committee, the eloquent congregants, Rabbis and Cantors who spoke for all of us during the L’Chaim, the hundreds and hundreds of generous donors, and our Congregation. We are a community at Holy Blossom. We are inspired by our Rabbis and Cantors, our leadership and the bonds of common experience and future dreams. We accept responsibility for each other and we find and share the best in all of us.

Together, the Holy Blossom Temple community of members, staff, Rabbis and Cantors replaced our worry and isolation with shared love, thankfulness and joyful celebration. All of us will remember this June of 2020 as the time when we listened from our living rooms with tears in our eyes to Beny’s unforgettable Shehechiyanu. L’chaim!

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