Today is a moment in time to reflect on where we have been as a congregation, to pause and see where we are today, and to set the course for what’s next. Today is a very good day.
I remember very clearly standing before you one year ago, two years ago, three years ago, when the room was thick with worry. You remember it, too. Today is a very good day. We should be proud of how far we have come. In the business world, I believe, this is what’s called “a turn-around.” On this Rosh Chodesh Kislev, when we catch the first glimpse of the new moon and the first glimmer of Chanukah anticipation, we can call it a nes.
Not an “other-worldly kind of miracle of God’s creation,” but a “here-and-now kind of miracle,” which comes to be through human determination and commitment, inspired by holy purpose. The Maccabees rededicated their Temple; they forced the miracle. They, in partnership with God, brought it into being. There was blood, sweat, and tears and yet they called it miraculous. In Jewish life miracles are hard work.
David-Ben-Gurion famously said: “In order to be a realist in Israel, you have to believe in miracles.” Unfortunately that statement is becoming more true about Jewish life in the Diaspora, as well. “In order to be a realist, we have to believe in miracles.” Davka, during the week of a brutal attack on a synagogue in Har Nof we announce that we are putting a shovel in the ground. Davka, during the year of the Pew Report with its dreadful outlook on religious life in North America, we announce that we are investing millions in the Jewish future! Each of us must do our part to force a miracle of Jewish Revival. Each of us must consider: “What might I do – now – to spark a new spirit among Toronto Jewry?” As Toronto’s first synagogue, Holy Blossom Temple has always fulfilled this role and responsibility – to set the pace and raise the bar, to innovate and initiate, so that others can see what’s possible and take inspiration. We have no time to lose. The stakes are high. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us.
Space and Spirit.
1937 Toronto — deep economic depression, fierce anti-semitism, and Davka, two hundred families built this House of God on Bathurst Street. Miraculous. The story goes that a few men gathered around a kitchen table and crafted the plan. At that kitchen table there was enough conviction and commitment to the Jewish future that they provided us with a strong and beautiful house. Forgive me for saying so, however, it is not as strong or as beautiful as it once was. We have worn this building hard over seventy-five years – thousands of school-children, thousands of life cycle simchas and sorrows, thousands of holidays come and gone. We are grateful inheritors of a very large house in need of repair and restoration. We must attend to it.
Moreover, the task is also ours to turn this house into a true home. Our façade on Bathurst Street was designed to be imposing – with the lions of Judah standing guard. Our sanctuary was designed to be impressive – with its grand scale and heavy organ music. It was designed so that people would feel awe and humility before God. It was designed so people would feel they were a part of something larger and something important. It inspired great devotion and pride in public pursuits and we must continue that legacy, that responsibility. At the same time, today we must also make this house and home by becoming expert in the personal, the familial, the relational. I’ve been listening very carefully for more than sixteen years now. The needs of the community must always come first, but the individual family, the individual neshama must be acknowledged and attended to as well. This is what I mean when I say that Holy Blossom must grow bigger and smaller at the same time. This is what we mean when we speak the language of Rabbi Ron Wolfson, of “Relational Judaism.” This is what our future atrium will stand for – it will be the living room of the congregation, the comfortable and compelling place where we gather, where we see one another, where we linger in one another’s company, where sacred community comes to life.
For many years, it was called “The Renewal Project.” More recently we have expanded the language to be “Renewal of Space and Spirit” in order to clarify that, of course, mortar and brick alone will not get us where we need to be. Our ambitions are much greater than a beautiful edifice. (And it will be beautiful.) Our ambitions are first and foremost about what goes on inside. Our synagogue and school structures are vehicles, tools to help us become the kehillah kedoshah, the sacred community we long to be.
Let me be clear… Some people will be attracted to a Diamond-Schmitt building. Some will draw near because they want their simcha here in a wedding-worthy hall. Some will be attracted to the delicious coffee, comfy couches, and free wi-fi in our Atrium/Living Room. Some teens will want to hang out in our safe and fun Youth Group Lounge. But! More than people are attracted to a building, people are attracted to a community that builds! That energy, that optimism, that future-facing spirit is what everyone wants to be a part of!
Today is the day we begin to show ourselves to be that community: confident and capable and proud. No longer do we need to wonder if or when or how. Today, we say: We have arrived. Today, we say, as did Jacob in this week’s parashah…. When he woke up from that glorious dream, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, dusted himself off, looked all around with eyes now wide open and he declared: “Mah norah haMakom hazeh! How awesome is this place! Ein zeh ki im Beit Elohim. This is none other than the dwelling place of the Holy One. V’zeh shaar haShamayim. This is a gateway to Heaven itself.” (Genesis 28:17)
Now let’s begin.