By Jacque Friedland, Chair, Holy Blossom Refugee Task Force
In the fall of 2015, more than 100 Holy Blossom members gathered in the Philip Smith auditorium to do what Holy Blossom members have done for decades – to make plans to welcome the stranger. At that time, the discussions were about Syrian refugees. The conversations were not that different from 40 years earlier when Holy Blossom members came together to plan for welcoming Vietnamese immigrants. Now, it is time to join together once more and plan for the arrival of new Canadians from Afghanistan in addition to planning for the support that will be needed to welcome the nine people for whom we already have signed documents and are awaiting final permissions to travel to Canada. These include an Iranian Jewish woman currently held as a refugee in Australia, a Yazidi family in Syria, and two men currently in Israel – one from Eritrea and one from Darfur.
We are able to build on the tremendous success of the past six years during which time we have partnered with JIAS [Jewish Immigrant Aid Services] to support multiple families – Syrian, Yazidi, Rwandan, Eritrean, and most recently Nicaraguan. Our volunteers help find new homes; donate furniture, household goods, and clothing; arrange for phones and internet service; drive our families to school, medical, and other appointments; visit on a regular basis; assist with learning English; and so much more.
At this time, we want to connect with all those who are interested in assisting. Assistance could include the sponsorship of an Afghan family (or families) – either through financial support, front-line support in resettlement, or both – as well as support for the families we have already committed to. There are numerous ways for you to be involved in addition to acting as a sponsor. And there is an immediate need to support the family from Nicaragua, particularly with winter clothing (see detailed list at the end of this message).
The primary purpose of this communication is to collect names and information from those who are interested in participating in a wide range of activities as we once again extend ourselves to assist newcomers to Canada. Please reach out to Jacqueline Friedland, Chair of the Holy Blossom Refugee Task Force, through Rabbi Helfman, at [email protected] or call (416) 789 3291 ext. 277.
Specific Requests for Nicaraguan family
Two Children (boy and girl, twins, 3-years old)
- 2 snow pants and snowsuits sizes 3 & 4
- Jogger pants
- Winter jackets size 4
- Snow boots sizes 8 & 9
- Leggins for boy and girl size 4
- Flannel pajamas size 4
- Flannel bed linen (twin size beds)
- Long sleeves shirts
- Long sleeves T-shirts
- Ice breaker (or windbreaker) clothing
Two Adults (1 female size “M” & 1 male size “XXL”)
- Fleece shirts
- Fleece jackets
- Ice breakers (or windbreaker) clothing
- Winter coats (down)
- Winter jackets (down)
- Snow boots (sizes 7 for female & 10 1/2 for male)
- Long johns base layer (female “M” and male “XXL”)
- Corduroy pants
- Snow pants
Health-related need – dentist for children in Toronto
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
Refugee Relief Update, Jacque Friedland
It’s been quite some time since I provided an update on our refugee resettlement activities, and I would like to share information on what’s happened over the past year and what’s ahead. I have organized this update into three sections: (1) our families in Canada, (2) our commitments to new families, and (3) mitzvah opportunities.
Our families in Canada
When the first COVID lock-down took place in March, we were in touch with all of our families – those who were still in the midst of their first year in Canada and those who arrived several years ago. In late March, we dropped off boxes of books and toys to ensure that the kids had some activities to keep them occupied at home in the early days. Later in the spring, we brought three pairs of rollerblades (with knee, elbow, and wrist guards) to one family with three young boys. We also arranged for virtual guitar and Zumba lessons for one of our newest families. We have had some lovely physically distanced visits over the summer. For some of our newer families, we set up volunteers to practice English, which was particularly important as many language programs were put on hold in the early months of COVID and through the summer. Finally, we ensured that kids who were returning to school (vs. virtual schooling) had masks.
Our commitments to new families
We still have applications outstanding for a large Yazidi family and a single Jewish woman in Australia. While these applications have been delayed due to the pandemic, there is still every expectation that these people will come to Toronto in the next year or two (hopefully!).
Many people are looking for safe and meaningful mitzvot now and will be grateful that Holy Blossom can provide these invitations. The first is related to one of our families in Toronto, and the other asks are for two new refugees who JIAS will help resettle in Toronto. For the family in Toronto, we are seeking all types of baby items. The baby is expected in March. We would love to provide as much as possible from donations. Please contact me so that I can start a list of available items. Ideally, you would be able to hold on to things until closer to her due date. If necessary, I may be able to store some things in my basement.
For the new refugees, these are two young African men, one from Sudan and one from Eritrea, who are in Israel. Funds are being provided by close friends of these men in Israel, and thus volunteers at HBT will be providing resettlement services. I am looking for two groups of five to sign the government-required documents and help support them once they arrive. The timing is likely not for a few years – JIAS is at the very beginning of the process, which is completing the necessary documents.
Please contact me at [email protected] if you can assist.
National Tikkun Olam Steering Group https://ccrj.ca/national-tikkun-olam-steering-group
Cultivating Leadership and Honouring our Out of The Cold Volunteers
Avra Rosen, Temple President
In our Statement of Identity, we describe Holy Blossom’s “courageous and compassionate leadership.” In our Strategic Plan, now in formation, we set “Developing our People” as a priority for the coming years. These were two guideposts directing the Holy Blossom Temple Board which recently passed several motions consistent with our Bylaws, such that unelected leadership at Holy Blossom Temple shall not have a term that exceeds 5 years; that positions of unelected leadership will be held by Holy Blossom members; and, that members will have priority for volunteer positions at Temple. The Motions allow for the discretion to extend the term or approve non-members in unelected leadership positions, where appropriate. The goal of the Motions is to create greater synergy amongst our diverse programs and give Temple members greater opportunities to volunteer and regularly cycle into leadership roles. This approach will serve our congregation well across all departments and committees. Interdepartmental collaboration is important for congregational relationships to develop and it is best practice for volunteer-led organizations to constantly recruit new leadership. We are blessed with many new congregants and young families who are also looking for ways to contribute to further strengthen Temple life. Meaningful and purposeful volunteerism is at the heart of what we mean when we say “Life can blossom here.”
Because of the thoughtful consideration of HBT Board members, the policy was carefully crafted with a ‘grandfather’ clause and an ability for exemptions to be made, so that long-time volunteers can continue while new leadership is identified, mentored, and trained. As well, recognizing the impact of COVID-19 on our ability to hold our many successful and vibrant programs in the upcoming year of 5781, I have advised applicable committee chairs that the grandfather clause as it applies to their programs will be extended into 2022.
Out of the Cold
Some volunteers of our Out of the Cold Program – members and non-members – were upset by this decision. I regret these hard feelings, as this was never our intention. We admire all who contribute precious time and talent to create such a life-affirming and community-building program.
We are grateful for the loyal and long-serving volunteers who make the Holy Blossom Temple site for Out of the Cold a lifeline for Torontonians living on the margins. Week in and week out, the kindness and compassion shown to our guests is nothing short of inspirational. To all who perform the mitzvot of feeding the hungry, providing shelter to the vulnerable, and warmly welcoming those who suffer from loneliness, we say Yasher Koach and Todah Rabah! Thanks to their efforts, Holy Blossom is known throughout the city for its open doors and open hearts.
The 2020-2021 OOTC Season and Beyond
We are thankful to the City of Toronto, and our City Councillor, Josh Matlow, for ensuring that the city will keep its word to make housing available for those in need this winter. Our program is not, however, ‘out of business’ as we hope it one day will be. The number of people at risk of falling under the poverty line is only growing. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the OOTC program cannot deliver services this year as it has in the past. Our very capable Out of the Cold Co-chairs, Ellen Howard, Andrea Katz, and Janet Shiner are working with other organizations and individuals across the city to find alternate ways to provide direct relief to those in need.
As President of Holy Blossom Temple, and Chair of its Board of Trustees, I want to reinforce the sincere invitation for all who wish to volunteer for our OOTC program to do so. Our commitment to cultivating additional opportunities for congregants and newcomers does not shut out our seasoned volunteers. In fact, their accumulated knowledge and know-how is invaluable to plan for how OOTC must evolve to a world now exposed to Covid-19. To those who choose to bring their skills and experience to strengthen other programs that serve the vulnerable of our city, I want to expressly thank you for your years of dedication.
Vice President of our Department for Tikkun Olam, Jill Witkin, and Rabbi Helfman, who together oversee our congregation’s social justice initiatives, are available to answer your questions about the impact of these Motions or speak to you about volunteering at OOTC. Please email [email protected] or call (416) 789-3291 ext. 277 to connect with either Jill or Rabbi Helfman.
I look forward to the good initiatives that will develop when we can return to Holy Blossom in-person.
Until then, I wish you a Shanah Tovah.
The Anti-Racism Group at Holy Blossom Temple was formed in June, 2020 in response to painful racist actions witnessed both in Canada and the United States, and the outpouring of demonstrations throughout North America calling for concerted action on the part of governments, communities, and individuals to deal effectively with this existential problem.
Our Sages debated the correlation between education and action.
קידושין מ׳ ב:ח׳
נשאלה שאילה זו בפניהם תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול נענה רבי טרפון ואמר מעשה גדול נענה ר”ע ואמר תלמוד גדול נענו כולם ואמרו תלמוד גדול שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה
This question was asked: Is study greater or is action greater? Rabbi Tarfon answered and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered and said: Study is greater. Everyone answered and said: Study is greater, but not as an independent value; rather, it is greater as study leads to action.
To contribute to the elimination of racism in Canada by enhancing our capacity to know ourselves, the roles we might unwittingly have played in maintaining an inequitable society, and the role we might play as anti-racists in focused actions to achieve an inclusive society.
Our Mission is to learn and then to act by:
Providing learning opportunities and resources to examine the privilege we have, the unconscious biases we may hold, and strategies for addressing those so that we become well prepared (or better able) to be anti-racists in a mutual quest for justice
Reaching into our synagogue community to current Holy Blossom families of colour to learn and understand their experiences of racism within the synagogue and in the broader community and together figure out “next steps”
Recommending resources (online and written) for those interested in learning about the history of Canadian and American racism, the lived lives of Black Canadians, Indigenous peoples and other racialized groups, issues around policing, and other themes where there is indicated interest
Building effective partnerships so that we are better able to contribute to concerted actions, working together to achieve mutual goals and dreams.
I didn’t know until I got there how important it was to show up. I was the only Rabbi on the panel of speakers and one of only two white faces. We must do whatever you can to show up. Call your friends, co-workers, and neighbours of colour, because they are suffering now. (And if you don’t have any, that tells you something about how segregated our society is. Ask yourself what you might do to change that.) The news has been triggering for many. Just as we gather around people in their hour of grief, we must reach out to hold the anger, the sadness, and the pain of those who fear they have lost their place in the world. We must reassure them that the only world we want to inhabit, includes them. (Rabbi Yael Splansky)
Holy Blossom Temple is committed to eliminate systemic racism and advocate for a more peaceful and just society.
Read articles published by our member, Tema Smith: Read her published works here
If you are interested in continuing the conversation to more deeply understand and then impact the structures of society which perpetuate racism in general, and specifically anti-black racism, please contact Rabbi Helfman at [email protected].
Call HaKavod: One call at a time
By: David Steinhouse
When one opportunity is put on pause, another one begins. I am truly grateful to be a member of Holy Blossom and this Call Hakavod initiative.
Hearing the appreciation and gratitude from those members and families that I have spoken with has impacted me at a deeper level and resulted in the greatest gift I could ever imagine. When you realize you are the conduit between congregants, the synagogue and Hashem during unprecedented times.
As a Levi, I’ve always felt deeply connected. My desire to be of service to our community is being fulfilled, one phone call and one family at a time.
Supporting our Community
By Lior Markus
As I am preparing for my bar mitzvah during this challenging time, I’ve been really thinking about how I can continue to contribute to society and Tikkun Olam. I came up with an idea, and I’m so proud that it was executed. The idea was to support small business in my area of regal heights, while at the same time addressing food insecurity. We created a campaign that encouraged customers of Cano to order a curbside takeout meal and to add $5 to their bill. With that donation, Cano would then cook a hot fresh meal, which we would then deliver to The Stop Community Food Centre. We’re targeting 250 meals, and I am confident that we will achieve it. Now more than ever, it’s extremely important that we all try to help those in need of food and necessities. It would be wonderful if we can figure out a way how to turn this into a longer-term initiative to support our community.