I’ve heard of a statistic. I don’t know if it’s true. It goes like this: If you are a North American Jew who would like to live in the same city as your grandchildren, Toronto is your best bet.
Many people lament that this isn’t as true today as it once was, but one of the things I still admire about the Toronto Jewish community, one of the things that makes Jewish life flourish here is that many people tend to stay – or go and come back. It is a key ingredient in Jewish continuity.
Longtime members of Holy Blossom Temple will remember when Friday Night Services were attended by hundreds of people. Like Reform congregations throughout North American, the late Friday evening service was the heartbeat of the Temple’s week. Then Rabbi Plaut did a very brave and unpopular thing. He announced to the congregation (and later to the Central Conference of American Rabbis) that we should have a simpler service at 6 pm to encourage families to be together for Shabbat dinner. He agreed with Ahad HaAm’s assertion that “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Rabbi Plaut knew that the Shabbat meal was an anchor for Jewish families throughout the ages. He was willing to give up some of the synagogue’s success for the sake of strengthening the family.
And I believe it worked. I hear of many generations and many wings of a family coming together weekly for Shabbat dinner. Friday night is family night in Toronto. This is, as we say, “Good for the Jews.” Now we have an inverted question before us. How do we draw the younger generations to know the rhythms and joys of being a part of a synagogue-community? Rabbi Moscowitz often says the two anchors in Jewish life have always been the Jewish Home and the Synagogue. We need both. The familial and the communal. The private and the public. The small and the great.
I know grandparents are playing a critical role in fostering Jewish identity in their grandchildren. It goes far beyond Shabbat and Yom Tov meals. Some bring their grandbabies and toddlers to our delightful “Little Blossoms” classes on Friday mornings or Tot Shabbat on Friday evenings. Some schlep their grandchildren to and from Holy Blossom for Nursery School, Religious School, Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutoring, and Senior School. Some bring their little ones to decorate the sukkah, to dress in costume and win a prize on Purim, to dance and wave a flag on Simchat Torah, to light the candles at our Chanukah Party. Some leave their regular seats in the Main Sanctuary on the High Holy Days in order to sit with their children and grandchildren in our Family Services. I promise, your effort is a worthy investment in nurturing a Jewish neshamah. Every one of these joyful memories is locked in the vault of Jewish identity – both for your grandchildren and for you.
The effort is not only of time and energy; it is also financial. I know many grandparents help to cover the significant costs of Jewish Day School, Jewish summer camp, and the lesser expense of congregational membership. Grandparents often help to host the Bris or Babynaming, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, a family trip to Israel. And while you do so happily — because what else is the money for if not for a simcha? — these conversations can be delicate. Our adult-children want to be independent. I wish Jewish life weren’t expensive, but somehow it is.
Holy Blossom Temple leadership is focused on young families now. We understand that the synagogue is an essential partner in raising Jewish children. We are also investing in them. Our new Terumah Model is designed specifically for families with children age 8 or younger. What is the best way to draw your children and grandchildren closer? Please tell us if you’d like for us to reach out to them directly or if you will extend the invitation. Don’t be shy. Speak from the heart: “It would mean a lot to me if you’d be with me at Holy Blossom. The Rabbis have young families of their own. I hear the Director of Youth Engagement is magic with kids and teens. And the building they are building is for you! Now is the perfect time to be a part of Holy Blossom and make it your own.”
I took a last stroll through the part of the building that is closed off for construction. It was strangely quiet. Like many of you, I have accumulated many years of memories in these halls. I came to the small rotunda where the Tree of Life used to be. The leaves carrying the names of donors had already been taken down and put into storage. All that remained were the words at the top: “L’Dor VaDor. From Generation to Generation.” With our joint efforts and with God’s blessing, it will be so.