“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
Learning together as a community. That has always been the way of the Jewish people. Starting with Moses and continuing through every generational link in our history; learning and growth have always been at the forefront of the Jewish communal experience.
One of my favourite learning communities that I have the privilege of being a part of here at Holy Blossom is the “Lishma: Jewish Learning Collective”. We are a community of learners in our 20s and 30s that consist of seasoned scholars as well as folks who are brand new to the pursuit of life-long Jewish education. This collective is presented in partnership by Holy Blossom Temple, Annex Shul, BASE, UJA Genesis, Miles Nadal JCC, and Beth Tzedec.
With community members representing different denominations, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and levels of physical and mental ability, this is one of the most inclusive spaces I have ever belonged to. The model goes like this:
Lishma hosts at least three semesters during the year and each semester consists of three different class options running concurrently:
- Hands-On Track; applied Jewish learning
- Judaism and Modernity Track; Judaism through a contemporary lens
- Text and Context Track; in-depth, expertly-led text study.
Each class runs for six weeks and is taught by a local Jewish community member, ranging anywhere from rabbis to social workers to amateur chefs. During the covid-19 pandemic, we moved this model online and have sold out every seat of every class! It is an incredible achievement that perfectly illustrates the desire of young Jewish professionals to engage in meaningful learning and community building.
I am excited to be offering a text-based course during our upcoming semester (beginning on April 21st) in which we will be exploring Pirkei Avot as well as a new publication entitled “The Illustrated Pirkei Avot” by Jessica Tamar Deutsch. I have even invited Jessica to guest lecture one of the six sessions and share some of her wisdom and writing process. This is still in the works, but promises to be an engaging and enriching course!
While we are committed to creating an inclusive space for all students, this learning collective is specifically designed for Jewish young adults. Many of the members of Holy Blossom’s YAD (Young Adult Division) are woven into the fabric of the Lishma community. If you are interested in exploring this option or know someone who may want to get involved, please connect with me at [email protected] or check out the Lishma website at lishma.ca.
I believe that good learning, and specifically Torah study, should be transformative. Meaning, that the material that we engage with changes us in some way; widening our perspective, challenging theological conceptions, or even inspiring us to change our behaviours. While “Torah Lishma” literally means Torah study for its own sake, I find that being in the Lishma community offers so much more than simply learning for learning’s sake. It offers a sense of growth, outlets for curiosity, camaraderie, an inclusive spirit, and much more.
Learning together as a community. Holy Blossom does this well. From our Little Blossoms to our members more advanced in years, we are committed to being a congregation of life-long learners. Our involvement as a partner organization of Lishma not only provides our YAD members with enriching educational opportunities, it also further establishes Holy Blossom as a community that lives out its stated values.
“Say not, ‘When I shall have leisure I shall study’; perhaps you will not have leisure!” – Pirkei Avot 2:4
Rabbi Yael Splansky
January 29, 2021
IHRA and Free Speech
“An almond tree blooming in Israel.”
In June 2019, the Government of Canada announced its adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as part of Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy. The “working definition” attempts to set parameters for what anti-semitism is and is not. CIJA (The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) has been leading the effort to have the IHRA definition affirmed by all three levels of government. See here for a helpful resource on IHRA in the Canadian context.
This week, in time for International Holocaust Education Week, the Union of Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization to which Holy Blossom Temple proudly belongs for one hundred years now, made its own statement affirming IHRA as a working definition of anti-semitism. You can read the full statement here.
I appreciate the URJ’s affirmation. And I was not surprised by how it included in its statement an expression of warning about how the definition may be used as a tool to chip away at freedom of speech. “Our commitment to principles of free speech and concerns about the potential abuse of the definition compel us to urge its use only as intended: as a guide and an awareness raising tool. The definition should not be codified into policy that would trigger potentially problematic punitive action to circumscribe speech, efforts which have been particularly aimed at college students and human rights activists. If the effect of application of the IHRA definition is to limit free speech, it threatens to divide the broad coalition needed to combat antisemitism.
I don’t believe the URJ’s affirmation needed to be couched with such concerns. I understand protection of Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment is bedrock in The United States. But it comes with a price.
I have come to appreciate Canada’s willingness to say that Hate Speech is definable and punishable. I remember during the tiki torch parade in Charlottesville, a Canadian participant was interviewed on CNN. When asked “Why are you here?” he answered simply, “I can’t say these things in Canada, so I came here to speak my mind.” And there was at least one Canadian flag seen flying during the recent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
The URJ leadership wants to ensure that the Jewish student activist campus is protected when she speaks out against demeaning checkpoints or unethical housing demolitions in the West Bank. I don’t believe the IHRA definition was created with her in mind. More than I fear it could be used to marginalize her, I fear a world where antisemitism has no margins. We know what can happen when hate speech goes unchecked.
The day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day was Tu BiShvat. Ecclesiastes asserts there is “A time to plant and a time to uproot what has been planted.” Let us plant ourselves in the good countries that shout down anti-semitism when they see it and uproot every form of bigotry and hatred wherever it festers.
Rabbi Yael Splansky
“The Power of Ritual”
January 22, 2021
Senator Jon Ossoff is sworn into office with his hand on a bible which belonged to civil rights activist, Rabbi Rothchild of The Temple in Atlanta. In his jacket pocket held copies of the manifests of the ships which brought his great grandparents from Europe. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
This week, while the world held its breath, we witnessed the transfer of power from President to President. There were visual cues: flags, lamps, colourful costumes. There were audible cues: brass and drums, predictable and unpredictable musical selections, and POETRY, oh the poetry. There was memory: of Past Presidents, of Biden’s son and Harris’ mother, of the 400, 000 American lives lost to Covid-19. And even with America’s commitment to separation of church and state, there were bibles for swearing upon, references from Psalms and Augustine, and plenty of “God bless America.”
All religious life knows the power of ritual. Ritual enables us to name the moment and sanctify it. Ritual signals when to grieve and when to celebrate. Through the power of ritual one’s status can be changed – from child to adult, from unmarried to married, from graduate student to authorized professional, from resident to citizen, from non-Jew to Jew.
What’s the difference between the pageantry of ritual and the performance of theatre? The power we give it. What’s the difference between the waters of the mikveh and the water of the swimming pool? The power we give it. What’s the difference between a mourner who wears the black ribbon and the one who doesn’t? The power we give it. What’s the difference between Cantor Rosen the day before the beautiful Installation Service last Shabbat and the day after? The power we give him. Ritual – especially communal ritual – is a power tool in the toolbox of the human experience.
If there is a milestone you wish to honour, a change you wish to acknowledge, a simcha you wish to celebrate, a loss you wish to commemorate, your Rabbis and Cantors can work with you to craft a ritual for the occasion. It may be private or with the family, in the home or in the sanctuary, simple or elaborate, spontaneous or planned. We are blessed with an impressive collection of sacred objects, sacred texts and melodies to create meaningful moments to lift the spirit, sanctify the passage of time, and affirm our place in God’s world. These rituals are yours for the taking.
Elliott Jacobson and Judy Malkin joined Holy Blossom Temple in 1983, and immediately were asked to join the New Leadership group that fall. Elliott first joined the Board of Directors in 1989 and became President in 1995. Under his leadership, the Out of the Cold program was established and he was also instrumental in the launch of the Temple Foundation. He has also served as the Chair of the Canadian Council of Reform Judaism (CCRJ) Board. Until the Covid lockdown, Elliott and Judy volunteered for Out of the Cold every Thursday afternoon from November through March in the Holy Blossom kitchen, where Elliott became known as “Mr. Potato Man.”
Elliott and Judy continue to be active and leading members of our congregation. Now they are asking for our help. Please read the following note they have circulated to a number of networks. The Holy Blossom community hopes to identify the special someone who can take up the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh, and extend Elliott’s lifetime, may he live to 120!
We have some difficult news to share with you.
My beloved husband, Elliott Jacobson, has been living with kidney disease for several years. He will likely need a kidney transplant sometime within the next 12 to 18 months.
Unfortunately, neither our daughters nor I are eligible donors. We are asking for your help in publicizing the need for a living kidney donor and hope you can spread the word among your contacts, especially via social media. Elliott is not on dialysis and we are hoping to avoid the need for it. A deceased donor transplant is available only to those already on dialysis, and the current wait time is over two years, hence the search for a living donor.
Julie Cissell is the clinical coordinator for the Donor Transplant team. She will be happy to answer any questions about the donor process. She can be reached at [email protected], or by phone at 416-340-4577.
In addition, information is available on the University Health Network website: https://www.uhn.ca/transplant. Please scroll down to see the links for donor information; there is a donor package you can download, as well as information for potential donors. There is a lengthy health history questionnaire and you need to submit a document showing your blood type. The donor information package asks if there is an intended recipient and, if so, the name, so feel free to put Elliott Jacobson’s name in anything you post. That’s the only way the donor team will know.
We have also reached out to Renewal.org, which tries to find matches for Jewish recipients from within the Jewish community. More information on living donor donations can be found on their main page.
Thank you for reading this far. We appreciate your love and support.
Judy and Elliott
As I reflect upon last Shabbat, I am still overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for the wonderful installation service that official welcomed be as the Senior Cantor and Music Director of Holy Blossom Temple.
At the senior leadership meeting this week, I reflected that it felt as if the service actually took place in person, with many of you there joining in this historic moment for my family and for this community. I am greatly moved by all the wonderful emails and messages I have received and I have found myself pressing the refresh button on the livestream at various times throughout the week.
I am grateful to everyone who took part in this service as well as members of the Cantorial Search Committee who sponsored this event.
In my remarks, I commented about “Middah K’neged Migdah,” or the idea of Jewish Karma. In essence it is the notion that the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence are viewed as deciding factors in their fate of future existences. Despite difficult circumstances during my transition, it is become increasingly more apparent to me that Holy Blossom has an incredible ability to rise to any occasion, despite the obstacles and to provide meaningful opportunities for us to engage together as a kehilah Kedosha; a holy community that works together to create extraordinary things. In essence, this is a part of the DNA of our congregation.
As we move forward together towards the hope of coming out of the darkness of this pandemic, I eagerly look forward to the many wonderful events and celebrations we will enjoy together in the years to come.
Cantor David Rosen
Senior Cantor and Music Director
When we announced to the congregation that Cantor David Rosen would be the Senior Cantor and Music Director at Holy Blossom Temple, we were very excited for the future. The future has already delighted us several times, and none more so than Cantor Rosen’s installation service. Cantor Rosen skillfully wove together a collection of beautiful music and collaboration with a meaningful worship experience. Seeing and hearing Cantor Rosen alongside Cantor Maissner, Cantorial Soloist Lindi Rivers, and the incredible clergy team served as a reminder that a fantastic match was made. Including guest Cantors and our choir was innovative and beautiful. We are blessed to have Cantor Rosen with us at HBT! We can’t wait to be part of many more experiences, especially when we can all gather together again for the amazing programs that Cantor Rosen has in store.
Rachel Malach & Jeff Denaburg
Co-Chairs, Senior Cantor Search Committee
The ECC continues to remain open and it was so nice to welcome staff and students back to school. We have many more holidays and celebrations to enjoy as well as many projects, exciting learning opportunities in the months ahead. With a relatively mild January, we are enjoying outdoor play and learning all about winter.
Our Mother’s Piano
Our Mother, Allie Herman, was born Alice Suroff in Toronto in 1911. She lived with her parents and six older siblings in a small home on Grace Street. As a child, she studied classical piano on her family’s modest upright piano and always hoped that one day she would have a piano of her own.
When she and our father purchased a home eight years after their marriage, the first piece of furniture she bought was an upright piano. Her dream of owning a Grand piano was realized eight years later when our family moved to a larger home.
Mother began studying piano again but this time it was popular music that became her music of choice. Scales and tunes played on that ebony Heintzman Grand were heard throughout our home as our Mother played and both of us practiced daily, in preparation for our weekly lessons.
After the passing of our parents, the seventy-year old piano became ours; however, its interior was in need of complete restoration. The Piano Technology Program at the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario completed the work. For the past six years, the piano has been on loan at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
We are delighted that our Mother’s piano has found its permanent home at Holy Blossom Temple. We believe this to be the ideal venue to honour her memory for she was confirmed at Holy Blossom’s Bond Street site in 1927. Now the fourth generation of our family will enjoy the music emanating from their great grandmother’s piano.
Wendy Eisen and Carole Zucker
I am excited and honoured to take on the new role of Principal of Youth Education and Family Engagement here at Holy Blossom. As a newly engaged couple, my husband Aaron and I joined Holy Blossom in 2001, and it wasn’t long before I began working as a grade 7 teacher in the Senior School. Over the past 13+ years, I have had the unique opportunity to work, pray, and raise our child in this congregation, allowing me the chance to develop meaningful and lasting relationships with many students and families, with whom I am blessed to count as friends. This is one of the many things that makes Holy Blossom such a unique and special place –it is a community, a family, and a home. Over the past few years through my role as the Director of Youth Engagement, one of my goals was to instil that feeling in our young people – for them to feel and see Holy Blossom as their home, and this congregation as their extended family.
As I begin my role as Principal, I am keenly aware of the many talented educators who have served, lead, and taught this congregation. They created lasting and meaningful experiences for students and families alike, developed engaging curriculum, and have created a community of lifelong Jewish learners. I am honoured to join this line of Jewish leaders and bring my own ideas and passions to create and energize new ways students and families can engage with Jewish learning and Jewish living.
I am on the tail end of completing my Masters in Jewish Educational Leadership at the Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion, where I have had the good fortune to study with many of the same teachers our own Holy Blossom rabbis have learned with. My courses have not only well-prepared me to take on this role, but they have also given me a stronger connection to why I am a Jewish Educator, as well as connecting me to a network of fellow educators with whom I can share and develop ideas, and keep up with best practices.
This pandemic has forced us all to live our lives in a whole new way. We have developed new and different ways of approaching our world, and have had to re-imagine and re-evaluate every step of the way. We have learned a whole new set of skills and tools for online learning, communication and connecting with one another. Even the way we use physical spaces to learn and gather in has shifted. I know that we are all wondering what the ‘new normal’ will look like when this pandemic is behind us. I am ready to work with my colleagues both within Holy Blossom and in the Jewish educational field, along with the committed and talented lay leadership, and you, our congregation’s families, to shape and create the next normal for Jewish Education and Family Engagement, here at Holy Blossom.
As we face more lockdown rules, extended school closures and the cold months ahead, we are fortunate that our Jewish calendar provides opportunities for celebration. I hope that families with younger age children will join us on Sunday, January 24, as we ‘Unbox Tu B’shevat’ together (from home)– as part of a new UJA initiative, Unboxing Jewish.
This Saturday night, January 16, join our HABSTY teens who will be leading our congregational Mincha/Havdallah service at the end of Shabbat. There is no better way to end Shabbat and welcome a new week, than with the voices of teens, and a little bit of guitar.
Looking ahead, the month of Adar is around the corner, which means Purim is fast approaching! Watch for different opportunities for families and children of all ages to perform the mitzvah of Michloach Manot together, bake delicious Hamentaschen, and be entertained during this joyful holiday.
I look forward to getting to know more of you, our Holy Blossom families, and to continue to strengthen the relationships I already have with many of you.
I am excited for the day that we can greet one another in our beautiful atrium, and for now, I look forward to connecting with you through phone calls, emails and, zoom meetings.
Lisa Isen Baumal
A message from Rabbi Jordan Helfman:
When I was in elementary school, I learned that the proper spelling of principal included the word ‘pal’. Lisa is many things – an inspiring Jewish educator, a big thinker willing to question the norms that surround our education systems, an advocate for the systemically disadvantaged, and a true relationship builder. From her time as our Director of Youth Engagement, she has many teens and young adults who look to her as a mentor and a guide, and I know that families will feel her magnetic pull, and be inspired to engage with Jewish education in new ways. In these next few years, I personally look forward to how Lisa Isen Baumal, as our principal, will shape our community. – Rabbi Jordan Helfman