Saturday, October 28, 2023
Friday, October 27, 2023
Inspirations & Installations
One of the most profound lessons I’ve gleaned from my beloved teacher, Rabbi Dvora Weisberg, is the transformative power of putting faith in people. As the head of the rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Weisberg has dedicated her life to shaping future generations of rabbis and educators. Her unwavering faith in her students, including myself, is a testament to her remarkable character. She has not only instilled in us a deep passion for academic inquiry but also exemplified radical compassion, empowering us to serve the Jewish People with authenticity and devotion.
Rabbi Weisberg’s belief in my potential has been instrumental in my ability to serve our community at Holy Blossom. In times when it’s been challenging to find reasons to smile, especially in the face of heart-wrenching stories from Israel, I often return to the sound pastoral advice she gave me: “It’s okay not to be okay.” In fact, it is important to acknowledge when we aren’t okay and honour the emotional space that entails. Nevertheless, we naturally seek bright spots and sources of solace. For me, one of the most sustaining sources of comfort has been uniting with my Holy Blossom community. Whether it’s through prayer, study, or simply coming together, “doing Jewish” with my fellow community members feels not only comforting but also essential, especially in these trying times.
It is with immense pride and gratitude, that I look forward to my installation at Holy Blossom Temple this upcoming Shabbat, November 3 and 4 where I have the great honour of introducing my beloved teacher, Rabbi Dvora Weisberg, to our incredible community. In my short time at Holy Blossom, I have often heard our members comment on what an enthusiastic presence I am; The simple truth is it is easy to serve our community with great joy and energy because I love this place. I love our people. However, the boundless energy and enthusiasm I have for Torah is directly pulled from my time studying with Rabbi Weisberg and the faith she placed in me.
Whether joining us for Kabbalat Shabbat and dinner, at Saturday morning Torah study, or for the special YAD: Next Gen Havdalah Saturday night, I do hope you will take the opportunity to come be inspired by her, too!
Details for Rabbi Baruchel’s installation can be found HERE.
For the YAD: Next Gen Havdalah please click HERE.
“Time and Light” by Sally Holcomb Blackman
October 23, 2023 – February 24, 2024, Lower Level Gallery @ HBT
Exhibition Curated by: Elizabeth Greisman
I am delighted to be showing my paintings at Holy Blossom. The use of the Lower Level Gallery is a mitzvah for the artistic community; we are always searching for a new venue to show our work. And I hope it is for Holy Blossom, an interesting and intriguing experience to see the world through the eyes of varied visual artists.
“Time and Light” is the title of my show of landscape paintings. The “time” refers to the years spent travelling in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia and in Italy and Israel. The actual painting process takes time, as well as the journey of thinking, learning and evolving my painting style.
The choice of photo out of the many photographs taken and the editing of the composition takes time. The editing omits details that are not important, leaving the essential feeling of that particular landscape.
“Light” refers to the light available due to the weather, season and time of day. To me, all the seasons are beautiful in their own way, from the austerity of winter light to the abundance of light in the spring and summer, including the overcast days that come with living in Ontario.
This exhibit is sponsored by the Yosef Wosk Family Foundation in loving memory of Essie Arnold, a longtime member and volunteer of Holy Blossom Temple.
Michael Cole Appointed Warden of The Congregation
Respectfully submitted by Sheila Smolkin
At Sukkot services, on October 30, Michael Cole was named “Warden” of the congregation, an honour he richly deserves. Having worked with Michael for many years in the Temple Archives, I know how passionate he is about our synagogue and its values. He has worked tirelessly to preserve our important stories and to find ways to share those stories with others.
While celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 1956, the congregation established the category of Warden as a way to honour individuals who have given long and devoted service to the synagogue. Members who have been named Warden include among others Hortense Geldsaeler, Marilyn Farber, Morris Vigoda, Leonard Levy and David Hart. Michael joins Mary Seldon and Gary Posen, the other two Temple members who currently hold this title.
When Michael accepted the honour of Warden, he delivered the following remarks:
Thank you, Rabbi Splansky; thank you to the Board of Trustees for this honour.
I am deeply moved by this tribute. It’s an honour to join our current Wardens, Mary Seldon and Gary Posen, who have been stalwarts of Holy Blossom Temple for many years. Mary is always with us at shacharit services, either in person or online. Gary, together with Bambi Katz, for many years has helped me host visiting groups to Temple.
I stand on the shoulders of many of the Wardens who have gone before me and, alas, are no longer with us. I became active in many of my pursuits at Temple because of their encouragement.
Over fifty years ago, David Hart brought me into Brotherhood and into interfaith work, and, years later, Sheila Smolkin, introduced me to the activities of our Archives.
Morris Cooper (not the past president of Holy Blossom) brought me into leading Shiva services. Morris was, I believe, the very first coordinator of what we then called the Mitzvah corps of Shiva readers.
During my bachelor days, over forty years ago, Morris Vigoda would wake me up at 7:30 on Sunday morning to join him in doing the rounds of Toronto’s bagel shops in preparation for that morning’s Breakfast Club. In those years, we had an interesting guest speaker every week at Breakfast Club, and Morris showed me how to persuade these people to come to Holy Blossom for the fee of a free bagel.
Marilyn Farber and Leonard Levy were good friends, and, along with David Hart, shared their memories of Bond Street in the first of our ongoing Archival Oral History interviews.
To all of them, and to all of you, Todah Rabbah for this great honour. I hope and pray that I prove worthy of it.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!
A most precious task: Polishing the silver
By Arlene Roth
Often people are astounded when I tell them that I volunteer to polish the silver at Holy Blossom. “You do what?” This task is considered a chore by many; however, for me polishing the silver is both an honour and privilege, and has deepened my connection to our synagogue.
Initially, I tentatively handled our holy pieces (klei kodesh): the yads, breastplates, crowns (keter), candelabras, candlesticks, kiddush cups, havdalah holder and spice box. Being up close and personal with our holy objects took getting used to. Not only because they adorn our cherished Torahs and are instrumental in helping us step away from our daily routine and bring us to a place of divine presence and reflection during Shabbat and festivals, but they are beautiful works of art created by extraordinarily skilled silversmiths. A few are close to a hundred years old. The older pieces are highly decorative. Some are adorned with a pair of lions, silver beading, a tier of bells and tablets which actually open. The more modern pieces are simpler in design, but graceful and adorned with gems.
All our silver pieces have been donated by devoted congregants who wanted to enhance our spiritual home. One such piece is the large decorative candelabra which we use during the High Holy Days. Under its base are the names of 12 women, likely from Sisterhood, who generously gifted this piece in loving memory of Pearl Enkin. They are Lilian Wolman, Vicki Toker, Kit Foster, Rae Allen, Mildred Loebel, Mary Spellman, Rae Taube, Hortense Geldsaler, Toba Birn, Marguerite Halsall, Etta Gerstein and Matty Bald. You may recognize a few of these family names, and, in fact, some of you are related to these women. A second remarkable piece of Judaica is the magnificent Hanukiah in the glass display case in the hallway leading to the Mishkan. It was donated by Sigmund Samuel in memory of his dear wife Leah May Samuel. The inscription reads that Leah was “born at Tamut, Australia 1869 and died in Toronto 1951. And to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of this Congregation by my parents.” The last item that has an inscription is a beautiful, large kiddish cup which was donated in loving memory of Lionel Roher R.C.A.F. June 28, 1941.
Recently, I noticed a display case of small silver objects beside the entrance to Jacob’s Tower on the third floor. It is filled with items for Havdalah from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. This collection was lovingly donated by Florence Hertzman in memory of her grandson Jacob. I look forward to polishing them in the near future.
As I am now at Holy Blossom during the week, I have had many opportunities to meet the clergy, administrative and facilities staff who work behind the scenes to help make our synagogue the special place it is. While polishing the silver in the kitchen off the Mishkan, I relish a break from work to chat with those who come in for a coffee, snack or ice cubes for their water bottles. The team is welcoming and hard-working, and are appreciative of my efforts.
One final note I’d like to make is something Rabbi Splansky said to me when I first started volunteering. It was late afternoon, and she asked what I was doing at Temple. When I told her, she smiled and said that I was doing what centuries of congregants had done in their quiet way, helping to bring joy and beauty to their congregations. Rabbi Splansky’s comment touched my heart, and for a moment, time was still yet encompassed all of those with whom I shared this precious task.
From the Archives: The Israel Window
By Susan Cohen, member, Holy Blossom Archives Committee
One of the most emotional symbols of Israel at Holy Blossom Temple is at the same time one of the smallest and most hidden.
Climb to the very top of the second floor above the Alice and Bernard Herman Chapel and you will see five small windows completing the stained glass series that makes the synagogue so distinctive. The artist Peter Haworth began the design in 1965 but it took eight years for the complete group to be developed and dedicated. These windows reflect the theme of ‘place‘: our hope for a universal world (a small rose window symbolizing the United Nations), our love of Canada, and two windows portraying our previous synagogues on Richmond St. and Bond St.
The Israel window is the fifth window on the south wall; it was one of the last to be dedicated (in 1972). Look closely and you will see a map of Israel and in the upper left in tiny form the country’s official state seal, along with the message in Hebrew: “Zot Ha-aretz l’Zarachah Etnennah”. (This is the land … I will give unto thy seed. Deuteronomy 34:4.)
Israel’s official seal is a menorah with two olive branches. The menorah is actually the same one depicted in the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. That arch celebrated Rome’s victory in the Jewish-Roman war 66 – 74 C.E. One of the carved reliefs depicts the menorah, part of the spoils of war, carried aloft by the Jewish captives. When the seal was being designed, some objected to using that specific menorah which they felt was a symbol of the Temple’s destruction, but the creators of the seal were motivated by a different vision, seeing it as representative of Israel’s rebirth.
As small as this window is, it reflects Holy Blossom’s long-standing interest in Israel. One of our earliest presidents, Alfred Benjamin, was a president of the first Zionist Society organized in Toronto in 1898. Temple’s influential Rabbi Solomon Jacobs appeared at a Zionist meeting in 1908 and declared his sympathy with the movement. The “firebrand” Rabbi Abraham Feinberg advocated for Israeli statehood and our Director of Education, Heinz Warschauer, gave our students textbooks with biographies of Theodore Herzl and Joseph Trumpeldor to read. Holy Blossom has held the land of Israel close to its heart for well over a century.
(The Archives Committee receives inquiries regularly. We invite you to contact us about this or other areas of interest at: [email protected] We are always interested in learning and sharing more about our remarkable history. We also encourage you to examine the archival displays in the Schwartz-Reisman Atrium.)
Reflections on Poland & Prague
By Cantor David Rosen
It is one thing to travel to Poland as a Jew when things are stable in the world. It is another to travel to Poland amidst the greatest attack on our people since the Shoah. I must admit that I was quite apprehensive about leaving my family and my Holy Blossom Community behind during this difficult time. It has become clear that we need each other more than ever as we see such an inflammatory response from various groups touting anti-Semitic slurs and propaganda against the Jewish people. And yet, despite my apprehensions, there was something telling me that my mission was important. And it was.
While I have travelled to Poland prior to this trip, I knew this time, it would be different. I was accompanied by 12 other cantorial colleagues along with members from various congregations across North America. I had been working behind the scenes as a co-chair on this mission for several months, planning various concerts and memorial services for our cantors and congregants to participate at some of our history’s most important monuments, landmarks and synagogues.
Our first stop was Krakow, a city where the semblance of Jewish life has once again blossomed with a steady and emerging Jewish population. While still insignificant compared to the 98% of Poles who identify as Catholic, a Jewish presence is visible and for the most part, they seem to live at peace with their neighbours. One of the most important institutions in Krakow is the JCC, in the heart of the Kashmiri district. The JCC received its support in the early part of this century with a visit from King Charles, then of course, Prince Charles at the time. He was so taken by the emergence of Jewish life in Poland, that he vowed to help the JCC raise money and occupy a building where they could provide programming, shelter, aid and much more for the Jewish Population in Krakow. Their Director, Jonathan Ornstein is a pillar of the Krakow Jewish community, not only welcoming visiting groups but reaching out to support Jewish refugees, Holocaust survivors and those who need a place to feel Jewish. The JCC organizes several events and fundraisers on an annual basis, notably, they run a bike ride from Auschwitz to Krakow, a symbolic ride mirroring the Jews’ exodus from what was one of the most horrific places on earth.
For those of you who have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau, you know that my words on a page will not do the experience of being there in person justice. It is one thing to envision or to see pictures of what the camp looked like, however, once you are there, and you are immersed in the haunting environment that killed so many, you realize the scale of precision and vastness of the Nazi’s ultimate vision. It is unfathomable. You walk in the path of many of our ancestors and feel the pain and anguish of their suffering. You ask yourself how this could have happened and somehow take comfort that this place still exists to show the world “Never again.”
As we entered Birkenau and walked more than half a mile to the end of the camp, I was handed an Israeli flag. There was something so powerful about that moment. Thinking of our homeland and the current situation and carrying that flag, representing the land that almost 80 years later we are still fighting for… More than ever, I could feel the connection between our past, our present and our future as a people and as a nation. Everything we have fought for, our survival, our existence was all wrapped within the fabric of the Blue and White. And sadly, it made me think that the idea of “never again” in many ways is right now.
After our gruelling tour of the camps, we ended our time there with a memorial service overlooking the entirety of Birkenau…with train tracks going off into the distance and remnants of barracks in over 80 football fields square, you are left with disbelief, seeing this barren wasteland that killed so many of our ancestors. I had the honour of chanting the El Malei Rachamim, our prayer for the departed in memory of the 6 million who perished in the Shoa, 1.1 million were exterminated on these very grounds. As I came to chant the words “Al Y’dei Ha’natzim v’ozreheim y’mach sh’ mam” (for those whose lives were taken by the hands of the Nazis, and their helpers, may their names be obliterated” I screamed the words, only to hear them echo off the walls of the few remaining physical structures. It was one of the most powerful memories for me, one that I will surely never forget.
Our big concert took place at the Cultural Jewish Centre in Krakow. In addition to the cantors that performed, we welcomed members of choirs from various synagogues, including the local JCC choir, who even had a Holocaust Survivor singing in the Soprano section. After our concert and Havdallah service, we left the next morning for our next and final city on the trip, Warsaw. The enormous city, with its European charm, culinary scene and unique architecture is both modern and stately. It is one of the cleanest cities I have visited outside of Canadian soil. The Warsaw Ghetto housed more than 450,000 Jews during World War II, and the city was virtually decimated in 1944 by the Nazis and with the exception of the Jewish cemetery and one synagogue (which was used as storage and a stable). Over time, the Jews of Warsaw were sent to be exterminated as they were shoved into cattle carts and shipped off to the various concentration or extermination plants in proximity to the city. Every day at a precise time the sound of the steam engines could be heard as they picked up their next group of Jews from the Umschlagplatz, a meeting place/station close to the perimeter of the ghetto. Some would even choose to work in the concentration camps over the deteriorating conditions of the shtetl as they were led to believe that in the camps, they would receive steady work, food and shelter.
The Polin Museum in Warsaw is the best resource to understand the history of the Jewish People of Poland. Throughout history, Jews were often on a roller coaster ride in terms of their status, waffling between living on Polish soil in prosperity among other religions and cultures or being persecuted and forced to live in dire conditions. Poland offered huge opportunities to Jews throughout the ages and at one time the Polish-Lithuanian borders housed more than 90% of all World Jewry. I highly recommend that you leave an entire day to peruse this incredible storybook landmark of our people. Outside of the museum, there is a beautiful monument that pays tribute to the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, many of whom took their lives when they saw there was no hope for the future of the Jewish people in Poland.
Our final concert occurred at the only remaining synagogue from the Jewish Ghetto of Warsaw, the Nozyk Synagogue. We welcomed others from the community and were addressed by the Israeli Ambassador to Poland, Ya’akov Livne. Mr. Livne was almost in tears as he spoke about the current situation in Israel and the plight of our people. He expressed how important it is for us to stand together. It is a time to raise our voices, to sing louder and to “be” visible; for if our history has taught us one thing, it is not to be silent.
As I said goodbye to my colleagues and other participants a few days ago, I was both excited to come home and grateful for the sacred work I had the opportunity to be a part of in Poland. Of the many things I learned on my trip, one thing really does hold true and that is that history does indeed repeat itself. It may not look exactly the same. It may not even be on the same land, but unfortunately humankind still too often favours cruelty over compassion.
It is my hope that we continue to learn from our past in our efforts to create a future that is better for present and future generations. We are at a crucial time in our history, where we must stand up for our beliefs, our identities, and be proud of who we are and where we come from.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor David Rosen
Saturday, October 21, 2023
Friday, October 20, 2023