With all the difficult news currently emerging from Israel, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what comfort means, and how it is manifesting for myself and for all of us at the moment.
It hasn’t been easy, but I’ll admit that the two conclusions I have come to are as follows: turning to words of our tradition, and to hope for the future.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the combination of tefillah and in seeing our children continue to make their spiritual homes here at Holy Blossom.
For me, this is on Sunday mornings in our Youth Chapel with our YEC. Did you know that we are now starting with worship, and inviting our parents to stay to model the values of Jewish prayer and community by participating?
There is something so deeply powerful about seeing children and parents sitting and singing in the pews, the words of the Shema leaving their lips and filling the space with their sweet sounds, their sweet voices.
There feels like no more poignant scene than to have our families together, affirming our collective faith as one People under one God, and sharing that chain of tradition from generation to generation. At a time when it is so easy to be afraid, it is truly impactful to see them joyously living Jewishly, and defiantly declaring: Hinenu, we are here, and we are proud.
We invite not just our YEC families (though they are included, too), but all of our families, to take advantage of not one, but two opportunities to create such memories in these coming weeks with our upcoming Family Services. Taking place on both November 11th and November 18th at 10:30 am, we welcome the whole family unit to bring their ruach (spirit) and enjoy the relaxed, interactive, camp-like environment. Joyful noise is encouraged, and we always have a wonderful time with snacks, stories, music and more! Further details can be found here.
These moments to bring our congregation together are what bring me comfort at this time, and are the way to ensure that we have the confidence and courage to ensure a bright future, whatever it may bring – proudly, joyfully, and Jewishly.
Welcome back to school, Holy Blossom parents, grandparents, and any teachers or carers of children among our congregation!
Whether summer felt long or short to you, we hope it has been fun and full of meaning, whether at camp, up at the cottage, here at home in Toronto, on vacation to somewhere exotic, or any combination of all of the above.
We know that this time of transition, is not easy, as our children start their new routines (new teachers, new schedule, new friends, new grade level), with so much to process and consider and adapt to.
It’s a good thing, then, that our tradition has wisdom for exactly this moment, teaching us in Proverbs 22:6:
Chanoch la’na’ar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenah
“Teach your child according to the way they ought to go, and even as they age they will not turn away from it”.
It’s an even better thing, then, that is also precisely the right time of year on the Jewish calendar, with Rosh Hashana on the horizon, to learn and create good Jewish values, habits, and memories, that will stay with them for a lifetime.
This Shabbat morning, September 9, at 10:30 am is our first Family Service for the season. Our Head Songleader Avishai Sol and I can’t wait to be with our youngest friends in the Youth Chapel
We are delighted to be welcoming back our YEC students on Sunday, September 9 and Monday, September 10. Come by on Sunday from 9:30 am for our Open House, where current students will have their Orientation, parents and prospective families can check out our incredible YEC, and all are invited to join in some Rosh Hashanah fun and games.
As we begin this new school year, at Holy Blossom, we know it takes a village to raise a Jewish child, and we are here to be your village.
We wish courage, success, happiness, strength and joy to our children and their families, and know they are in for a fantastic 5784. May their learning always be sweet as honey, and may they know that their Holy Blossom village always has their back.
We look forward to seeing you at any or all of these amazing upcoming opportunities for community connection, as we navigate the New Year together!
L’shalom and an early Shanah Tovah,
Rabbi Eliza McCarroll
As a camper of many years myself, and after having returned from visiting our HBT children up at URJ Camp George this past week, I’ve been thinking about how the magic of camp lies in those deep moments of connection, both big and small.
Whether it’s overlooking the stunning Maple Lake for a Pride Shabbat Service, working on prayer readings with a group of eight-year-olds, swimming in the lake, making pottery, riding bikes, sitting in the hallway preparing for the next program, chanting and singing loudly at mealtime, or simply hanging out in the cabins, each of these functions as an entry point to strong Jewish identity and Jewish friendships.
In turn, our campers are encouraged and enabled to live up to the injunction that is the namesake of this week’s parashah, Re’eh, which means “to see”.
They can see and discover who they are as their true and fullest selves, for all of their talents, their virtues and their potential.
They can see a Jewish way of life that is informal yet authentic, and learn through fun and lived experiences in an intensive and intentional community.
They can, as our parashah states, see habracha v’hak’lalah, “the blessing and the curse” (Deut 11:26), understand themselves and those around them at their highest and lowest points and choose for themselves the path of blessing.
It was a blessing to be at camp, and we are so fortunate that we have a number of ways to carry that spirit of blessing forward this coming year at Holy Blossom for our children and families, with that little bit of camp magic being found here on Bathurst Street as well, in deep connection to Jewish life, Jewish identity, and Jewish friends.
We start with Tot Shabbat this Friday evening, 11 August, at 5:30 pm.
We continue with our First Family Service of the season, Shabbat morning September 9, at 10:30 am.
Our YEC begins on Sunday morning 10 September (JK-Grade 5), and Monday night 11 September (Grade 6-Bagrut) respectively, and registration can be found here.
Then, of course, we have our many varied offerings for our families and for everyone over the High Holy Days of 5784, the details of which can be explored here.
May it be a year of magic, and may it be a year of connection, for our children and for all of us.
We are so fortunate to be part of a tradition which places emphasis on the value of wisdom.
As our Psalmist teaches, “from all who have taught me, I have gained understanding” (Psalm 119:99), which indicates to us that that wisdom is both a teaching and a learning process.
We embody this philosophy at Holy Blossom, through our honouring of our Wisdom Generation, as we believe that, particularly in later life stages, we acknowledge all that we have to learn from them, but also recognize that we are each active, thriving, creative lifelong learners at the same time, with much to discover and explore.
Our Rabbis, in Mishna Chagigah, outline their own unique way of discovering and exploring the wisdom of our texts, through their “PaRDeS” method of studying the Pardes, the rich and fruitful orchard, that is Torah.
פ (pey) stands for pshat, the simple interpretation, which indicates the literal meaning of the scriptural text. ר (reish) stands for remez, or hint, connoting that which is gleaned from allusions within the text. ד (daled) equals drash, the exposition, or the homiletic meaning of the text. Finally, ס (samech) is translated to sod, or secret, in which the mystical meaning of the text that leads us to God is illuminated.
In our valuing of wisdom, and of our Wisdom Generation, we hope that you will join us this Shabbat morning, 15 July, from 10:30 am, as Dorot presents their annual Summer Gathering It is an opportunity for all of us to gather for a special service and enhanced kiddush luncheon, with good food, good music, and, most of all, good company spanning all generations to learn from and be taught in turn. We look forward to welcoming you there!
Being currently in the biblical Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, I was recently reflecting on a well-known Midrashic adage inspired by its tales: shiv’im panim baTorah, “there are seventy faces to expound on Torah” (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15).
In other words, the ways that Torah, in the broadest sense – wisdom, learning, teaching, relationships, worship, and so on – is manifested in a community, is multi-faceted, because it can unfold in so many different, wonderful ways.
We can extend this to our outlook on Jewish life, as well, as we revel in its joys, it’s complexities, and it’s diversity, at all ages and stages.
If we look within our own sacred community, there is such a variety of ways coming up, even as the summer descends upon us, that we can glean Torah from one another.
Before that, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our spectacular Pride Shabbat this past Friday evening. The phenomenal community spirit of inclusion was deeply meaningful, and a sight to behold. We thank all who made it happen, particularly co-chairs Andrew Cohen and Daniel Penciner, our Director of Development Shira Lester, and Director of Membership and Community Engagement Abigail Nemzer. Check out all the fun postings on our Facebook page
On the horizon, we will be honouring our Shinshinit Ella Payorski, who has taught us so much about Israel and developed close bonds, particularly with our YEC children, over her time with us this past year in Canada. We are celebrating with her a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, a symbol of her own Jewish growth and learning, at our Family Service, and look forward to her being with us in the Main Sanctuary on June 24, before she heads to Camp George for part of the summer and returns to Israel to begin her army service in an elite intelligence unit. Truly remarkable.
Speaking of Camp George … we are looking forward to holding a fun Pop-Up Shabbat for our Holy Blossom Camp George families on June 23 before sending them off to Maple Lake.
Finally – our last major Dorot program for the 2022-2023 year, is taking place on June 20 and is a special collaboration with Gillian Helfield’s “What I’m Watching” film group. We’re so excited to explore the multiple iterations of the movie “A Star Is Born”, and to focus on its intergenerational appeal and unique Jewish flavour.
At Holy Blossom, Torah is always being taught, and always being learned, whether it’s from our youngest to our oldest, whether it’s through our relationships with each other and the values we espouse, or through the myriad of creative and dynamic opportunities on offer.
To seventy more faces, and to a wonderful summer!
L’chol z’man va’eit, l’chol chefetz tachat hashamayim …
“To everything there is a season, a time for every matter under the sun …”
These words from Kohelet have been on my mind in a different way lately, as the sun shines through and spring slowly but surely settles itself upon us, and this coming week leaves me filled with anticipation and emotion in thinking about the passage of time and all that comes with it.
It’s admittedly hitting me quite powerfully, for this Sunday, May 21, is the one-year anniversary of my rabbinic ordination. It is a day that will be forever cherished, in part because of the ceremony but mostly because of how I felt that morning: an overwhelming sense of joy and relief at finally reaching that milestone and at having my family there to celebrate.
Just a few days later, on June 4, I moved to Canada, which was Erev Shavuot. This festival always had a fond place in my heart because of the connection to Torah and learning, but even more so now that Shavuot was the first chag that Rabbi Kaye and I were lucky enough to join our sacred congregation as rabbis of Holy Blossom.
In other words, this festival of revelation is revealing to me the level and depth of change that has occurred since this time last year, when I went up to the bimah at Plum Street Temple as one person and came down the other side, then moved north of the border, as another.
Put differently, it is a season of renewal and reflection, and we have much to celebrate as a congregation, as look ahead to Shavuot next week, and shortly thereafter turn our minds to the summer, and to the next happy year.
We can reflect on all we’ve achieved. We can reflect on all we’ve learned. We can reflect on all we’ve become. We can reflect, in Rabbi Splansky’s words, to all we are becoming.
One of these elements is the ordination of another rabbi of Holy Blossom, Rabbi Taylor Baruchel, who just this past weekend was ordained in LA, and who we are so lucky to welcome to our professional staff as our new Director of Outreach and Next Generation Engagement. Mazal tov to her, and to all of us, and we know you will treat her kindly.
The second is to join our community for all of our wonderful Shavuot offerings, from Confirmation to a congregational dinner to Yom Tov services, which will include children’s breakout activities. Details can be found here.
May we always have milestones to celebrate together, and an early Chag Shavuot Sameach!
Dear Holy Blossom family,
Our Talmud teaches us that “the world is sustained by the breath of schoolchildren” (Shabbat 119b).
It is on that note that this week, I am including below an exciting note, from our wonderful Shinshinit Ella, about a new initiative for our schoolchildren to ensure that, no matter what Shabbat you are visiting us on, there will always be a breakout option for our families:
Hi, my name is Ella Payorski and I’m the UJA Shinshinit at Holy Blossom this year. I’m 18 years old and from Israel. I’m doing a gap year between high school and the army and came to volunteer here in the Toronto Jewish community.
Once a month, there is a Family Service at Holy Blossom Temple. Every Family Service, I’m planning a fun and engaging activity for the children that are coming to the service, and running it in a breakout room. These activities are for them to continue learning about Jewish values and Israel in a meaningful way that fits them.
I am happy to announce that the breakout room activities are now expanding their wings beyond the Family Service, and I will now be doing breakout rooms for children that are coming for the Main services every week, too.
I invite you to join HBT Main services with your children, this week (22 April), for a great learning experience for everyone.
We look forward to always being able to welcome our families, whether at Family Services or our Main Services, over each and every Shabbat!
Similarly, we are so fortunate to be including an additional piece of Israel in our Shabbat experience, especially as we look toward Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut this coming week. You can click here for more information about our congregational activities for these special occasions, too.
Whether you join us for Shabbat, for our Yom HaZikaron/Yom Ha’Atzmaut 5783 events, or whether you are heading to Israel to partake, we’ll see you soon at Holy Blossom to celebrate our Ahavat Yisrael with pride!
Simcha Rabah, simcha rabah, aviv higiyah, Pesach ba …
“With great joy, with great joy, Spring is arriving, and Pesach is coming!”
This well-known verse might be a familiar tune as we mercifully herald in the new season, watch the snow begin to melt, and feel the cold begin to lift.
With the entry of spring, we also turn our hearts and minds to the Pesach festival, in which we ultimately celebrate the opportunity for our renewal.
This is especially in light of the fact that the month of Nissan, in which Pesach falls, was the original first month of the Hebrew calendar.
Although we as Torontonians and Canadians might look to the blossoming of the trees and the blooming of flowers as our signal that Spring is here, as Jews we also have another symbol of the promise of the season’s cycle: the karpas (parsley or similar green vegetable) on our Seder plate.
The first ritual food we eat during the Seder, we recite the blessing “borei p’ri ha’adamah” (praising God as the Creator of the fruits of the earth) over it. This is unusual because we would normally recite this blessing only over foods – specifically, vegetables – that have been cooked, but of course, we eat the karpas raw.
Rabbi Naftali ben Shimon Hertz Ginzburg provides his interpretation of this question, writing his commentary on the Haggadah in Poland at the end of the 17th Century.
He teaches that instead, it is an allusion to the Midrash about the Israelite women giving birth in the fields, and the ground swallowing up these precious bundles to protect them from the Egyptians when they came to look. As such, “borei p’ri ha’adamah” is a reminder of this miracle, and the miracle of freedom we recall at this time in our Jewish calendar.
As the heavy grey of winter recedes to become less gloomy, there is a sense that our sacred congregation itself is feeling a weight lift from its shoulders, and feeling much freer as we face Pesach 5783.
We can feel our sacred congregation breaking through the (frozen) grounds and blossoming once more, with much to look forward to on the horizon, whether that is volunteer opportunities for our YAD 20s/30s, our meaningful Pesach services, including Yizkor, and our commemorations for the Israeli holidays. You should particularly take note of all our Pesach events HERE.
With so much happening during this season of our renewal, we encourage you to come along and participate. Check out the website. Join us on Shabbat. Ask your rabbis and cantors.
We look forward to welcoming you and keeping you up-to-date with all the latest details.
Subsequently, may all of your labour’s efforts to be involved be fruitful, full of blessing, and full of spring joy.
May it be a season of “simcha rabah”, and an early Chag Pesach Sameach!
There is an extraordinary exhibit in the Israel Museum called “The Synagogue Route”, which is a collection of synagogue sanctuaries from all around the world which has now been relocated to their permanent home in Jerusalem.
It is my favourite place on the entire planet, and some of my fondest memories involve wandering the little corridors between each structure and exploring their elaborate designs, from the gilded rooves of the Italian interior to the sand floors from Suriname to the heavy German wooden Ark doors.
This exhibit is a beautiful reminder of the commonalities that unite us as Jews across the world, and the unique twists that each community brings to their Judaism, which millions of Jews brought with them as they immigrated to the modern state of Israel over the last seven and a half decades. It is also symbolic of where we as Jews have come from, and what we have achieved in the face of adversity. Who would have thought 75 years ago that there would be a dedicated space, in Jerusalem, to keep these synagogues safe and preserve them, and that this small country would have developed into the “Start-up Nation”, with its own thriving culture, economy, and people?
The fond memories of this exhibit also ground me in our Holy Blossom Temple pillar of Ahavat Yisrael, love of Israel, reminding me that:
- Israel was the place I spent my childhood years working towards as part of a Reform Zionist youth movement.
- It was where I decided to become a rabbi, after spending a year at the Hebrew University.
- I would return there for another year to begin rabbinical school, living and breathing the Jewish calendar, from the sacredly quiet streets on Yom Kippur to joyful Kabbalat Shabbat music at the First Station to eating matzah by the beach at Pesach.
- That the last trip my family and I took before the pandemic was to Israel, to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday
- There is no place more magical to be at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon than Jerusalem, as the shops begin to close and the sun begins to set on the golden sandstone, signalling: “Shabbat is here”.
Yet, that exhibit – that meeting space between Diaspora and Promised Land – is also the exemplar of the question that Israeli-American journalist Yossi Klein HaLevi so eloquently articulates: is Israel a Jewish state, or a state for the Jewish people?
As literally hundreds of thousands of our Israeli brothers and sisters take to the streets to protest the government and the judicial reforms and other policies it is trying to introduce, there is no denying that this entity we love is indeed in pain, as these questions rise to the fore.
It is why the organizations which represent our values as Reform Jews on the ground, such as the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ – Israel’s Reform Movement) and the Israel Religious Advocacy Centre (IRAC – the legal advocacy arm) are so worthy of our support at this critical time, through the IMPJ Emergency Fund: https://holyblossom.org/impj-irac-emergency-campaign/.
The Israeli anthem is called HaTikvah (“The Hope”) for a reason; when I stand in those synagogues in the Israel Museum, and when I think of the IMPJ and IRAC, they represent the fervent hope of a future that we as Jews can build, in a home we can be proud to call a home for all Jews, and a country for all it’s citizens.
May we see a day in which this state we love is truly “reshit tzmichat geu’latenu” – the first flowering of our redemption – of our ultimate hope.