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The Brothers Ben Jacob

Michael n. Bergman



The sages and the commentators have struggled through the millennia to explain the conduct of the sons of Jacob as being ultimately righteous, pious and ethical, notwithstanding the literal text of the parshiyot disclosing the narrative of their behaviour. A literal reading of these parshiyot show, to the modern reader, a dysfunctional family of fratricidal siblings, whose animosity cannot be mediated and only reconciled through circumstance. Explaining away the murderous thoughts of the nine brothers against Joseph and Joseph’s toying with his brothers when he is viceroy of Egypt is an exercise in theological gymnastics.


Missing from much of the commentary on these parshiyot is an appreciation of the larger predicament that the sons of Jacob find themselves irrevocably caught up in. The father, Jacob, grandfather, Isaac, and great-grandfather, Abraham, of the ten sons of Jacob are prophets, addressed by G-d, each informed of the covenant which binds G-d and the patriarchs and their progeny to this day. Whereas Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob bore on their shoulders alone their covenential relationship as the only carriers of the covenential relationship, the sons of Jacob carry the covenant together and are the first growth of Jewish people. They face a predicament: What does the covenant look like and how are they to live as a growing covenential population?


Nine of the brothers, other than Joseph, appear to believe that the covenential life is pastoral, herding animals and seeking pastures for the flock. Their lifestyle is ironically non-violent, contemplative and peaceful.


Joseph, on the other hand, appears as elitist, wearing makeup in the tradition of the Egyptian aristocracy and priests. His dreams are literally of a power and leadership.


The other brothers seems to believe that Joseph’s conduct is a negation of the covenant with G-d and that this negation must be stopped. They believe this conduct is contrary to the covenential life. Therefore, they take the route that Pinchas took at the time of Moses and justify themselves as zealots, permitting fratricide and then slavery for Joseph.


Joseph, as Viceroy of Egypt, faces his own covenential dilemma. Knowing the one G-d, how could he bow down to the idols of the Egyptians as expected of any Viceroy? Clearly, he must have refused to do so. This would put him at odds with the Egyptian aristocracy and priesthood. No doubt the Egyptian elites would be threatened by a Viceroy who held not only different beliefs, but was bound to the one G-d who would ultimately judge the Egyptians for their bogus theology. In short, Viceroy Joseph must have had many enemies, staved off by Pharaoh’s confidence in him. Joseph’s hoarding of grain for the years of famine came with a price for the landholding Egyptians who were obligated to cede part of their landholdings to Pharaoh in order to receive grain, strengthening the power of Pharaoh at the expense of the propertied class. The Egyptian elites must have seen Joseph and his monotheism as subversive, someone to eliminate once his patron Pharaoh was gone. This helps to explain why Joseph did not reach out to Jacob over his many years in Egypt. He feared for his father and his brothers that the Egyptians would kill them, given the opportunity, both to strike back at Joseph and to eliminate the covenant and the knowledge of the one true G-d.


No wonder that a new Pharaoh attempted to suppress the spread of a covenant which denied Egyptian pantheon of Gods and Egypt’s entire socio-political structure.




Torah of the Holocaust

steven korda


It was 1977. We were recently married and decided to take a trip and visit Gerry’s Aunt Rozsi from her father’s side, living under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, in the city of Kosice. A town with rich Jewish history and population before the war.


Aunt Rozsi lost her husband and two sons during the Holocaust. Remarried to another survivor who passed away after 15 years of marriage, she met Zoltan.  He was also a widower with a similar background having lost his wife and much of his family in the war.


Zoltan was a retired Supreme Court Justice in Kosice with impressive knowledge of the law, philosophy and history.  A true Renaissance man.  They were both very excited by our visit but Zoltan was particularly excited to meet his ‘new’ nephew and to be able to discuss international law (although we did have to whisper so that the neighbors would not hear).


We spent three wonderful days together constantly talking about wide ranging subjects as well as the past, present and his fears and aspirations of a bleak future behind the Iron Curtain.


On our last day, Zoltan took out a small Torah he was hiding in their apartment and relayed its sad story.


During the war Zoltan became a prisoner of war and worked in a forced labour camp with many other Jews. They were present when the Germans decided to burn down a synagogue. On an impulse, Zoltan ran into the burning structure and took a small Torah and hid it inside his coat; then ran out before the building collapsed.  He became inseparable from the Torah, he used it as a pillow and had it with him constantly.  Zoltan ended up on the front lines of the battlefield and as the bullets were flying between the German and Russian lines, he ran as fast as he could to the Russian side, with hailing bullets all around him, but constantly holding the Torah close to his chest.


While Zoltan originally wanted to save the Torah from destruction, he became convinced that, in fact, the Torah saved his life.


Then, on the last day of our visit, he asked us to take the Torah with us in order to rescue it from destruction upon his eventual passing.


Regardless of the fact that owning a Torah and taking it out of the country was illegal and against all regulations at that time behind the Iron Curtain, we decided to risk it.


We put the Torah on one side of our largest suitcase while filling it to its rim with clothing and photographs of our trip.  We were travelling from Czechoslovakia to Hungary in a rented car.


As we approached the border crossing with trepidation, the guard asked to see the luggage in the trunk.  Since I speak Hungarian, I was able to distract him with a lot of questions and nonsense talking about our travels.  The guard ignored me and stuck his hand in the middle of the clothing right to the bottom, somehow missing the Torah.  I took a deep breath and obliged him when he asked me to pack it up and move since I’m holding up the line.


Thus we managed to bring the Torah to Montreal.  Upon examination we were told that either serious repairs were required to make it Kosher or we must give it an appropriate burial.  It took over two years to make the Torah kosher and usable, as it was before the war.  It has been used by the Shaar Hashomayim ever since.


Three years ago in 2016 we were told that some of the letters were chipping and therefore we had to either bury it, put it in a museum or, alternatively, put it through extensive repairs of reconstruction.


We took the Torah to Israel in order to do everything possible to make the Torah Kosher once again. We found a wonderful scribe, Mr. Jamie Shear, an Ex-Montrealer living in Israel. He and his team undertook to reconstruct and repair our Torah.


Almost 3 years later, the Friday before the ninth of Av of this year, our son Justin and daughter-in-law Yael, along with their 3 children living in Israel, came to visit and brought the finished Torah with them.


Our daughter Andrea and our son-in-law Jonathan, and their daughter also came in from Edmonton in order for our family to be together.


On Tisha B’Av, the Torah was returned to its rightful place at the Shaar Hashomayim, with its red cover and six stripes signifying the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust.  I had the privilege to get the first Aliyah on that Sunday morning, the saddest day of the history of our people.




Tisha b'Av





Tisha B’Av is a national day of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and other tragedies.  We refrain from physical pleasures - eating, drinking, bathing, intimate relations, and the use of lotions - to mark the day as a day of mourning.


This year, Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, and so we push the fast off by one day. The fast will begin on Saturday night, August 10 at sundown - 8:09 PM. This is a little unusual because it is still Shabbat as we begin to fast. For those joining us at the Shaar for Tisha B’Av on Saturday night, here is the procedure:


Saturday Mincha services will take place at 7:00 PM. Following Mincha, we will have a small Se'udah Mafseket, final meal, before the fast. This will be a light meal, so if you plan to fast on Tisha B’Av, I suggest you eat something at home beforehand, to make sure you’ve had enough to eat. We will conclude the meal before the fast begins at 8:09 PM, and then will spend some time studying some ideas related to the themes of the day, as wait for nightfall. At 9:00 PM, as Shabbat concludes, we will pray Ma’ariv. At this point we will don our non-leather shoes for Tisha B’av. If you’ll be able to, it is preferable to bring these shoes to the synagogue on Friday before Shabbat begins. The Ma’ariv service will include the reading of the book of Eicha (Lamentations).


On Sunday morning, Shacharit will begin at 8:30 AM. Tallit and Tefillin are not worn at Shacharit. The regular Shacharit service will be followed by the recitation of many Kinnot, liturgical poems of mourning and lamentation related to the tragic events of the destruction of the Temple, as well as many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. The Kinnot recitation will last about an hour.


Over the course of the day of Tisha B’av, it is appropriate to read somber books, or study topics related to the themes of the day. It is also a day to focus on improving our interpersonal relationships. According to Jewish tradition, the Temple was destroyed because of hatred between Jews. This is a day to rededicate ourselves to Jewish unity, and to the ethic of compassion and kindness. May we merit to see a rebuilt Jerusalem, with peace for Israel and all nations.





Wedding Season at the Shaar

Alex Hillcoat




As the season of sunshine and vacations unfolds, the entire city has begun to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet. However, even in these warm weather months, the Shaar is abuzz with activity. Within just eight days, we will be hosting five weddings, and behind the scenes is a whirlwind of activity dedicated to ensuring that each one is a magical and meaningful experience.


Vendors and suppliers for every event of the week must be carefully scheduled to allow time for setup and cleanup of the Sanctuary and halls. Everything from tables and chairs, dishes and tablecloths, to drapes, bars, and dance floors must be shipped in, assembled, disassembled, and shipped out, often in less than 24 hours. In order to achieve this, the comings, goings, setup, and dismantling of every single item must be carefully monitored and planned in an astounding feat of coordination. Every part of the process is meticulously organized and extremely demanding, and during wedding season at the Shaar we have staff working during all hours of the day and night to prepare the hall, set up the Sanctuary, and make sure that everything is perfect in preparation for the arrival of hundreds of guests.


Everybody wants a summer wedding, but days are in short supply. In order to keep up with the demand, everything must be done as efficiently and quickly as possible, erasing any trace of the night before by morning and building an entirely new setup by evening. Without the hard work that our staff put in, both in terms of coordination and labour, we would be unable to host such brilliant events, and we are thankful for everything they do.


Mazel Tov to our newlyweds, and good wishes for the future.



A New Kensington Entrance

Alex hillcoat





Almost 100 years ago, our beautiful and majestic synagogue was built, and it has continued to be a testament to the strength and devotion of our congregation ever since. Thanks to its unique architecture and rich history of religious practice in Montreal, it has been recognized as a Heritage building by the Quebec government. As the need for repairs and modifications has grown, we have instituted a multi-stage plan to preserve as much of the original architecture and its historic and cultural significance as possible while ensuring that the building meets our members’ needs. One important step was to improve the accessibility of the building, and several months ago we moved forward with renovations on the Kensington Avenue entrance. The stonework, made of materials matching the original stone, has now been finished and will soon be supplemented with elegant bronze railings surrounded by rich vegetation and landscaping.


As a synagogue and community centre, we believe that it is of the utmost importance that all who wish to join us can, and ensuring access to a wider range of people is vital in achieving that goal. Featuring broad steps and a gently sloping ramp, the new entrance was designed with comfort and ease in mind. “Public buildings should be accessible to the physically handicapped,” stressed Peter Jacobs, chair of the Architectural Committee. The hope is to eventually renovate the Metcalfe entrance in pursuit of the same goal.


Every decision in the process carefully considered the architectural significance and style of the building, as explained by landscape architect, Sophie Robitaille. The design of the stairs and ramp correspond with the original entrance, reflecting the style of the original design. Although it is not quite complete, we are certain that the structure’s elegance will remain preserved while ensuring that everyone can enjoy it. We are proud to have made this step towards universal accessibility.  




Podcast Recommendation - #YourTorah

maharat rachel kohl finegold



If you have been hoping to study some of the foundational texts of the Jewish tradition, but have not yet found an easy and accessible way to do so, have I got a podcast for you!


The podcast is having its moment. This new form of media is becoming more and more popular. Perhaps you already have a favorite podcast that you listen to, during your commute, or as you run errands. As we head into winter vacations, you may have more time on your hands to listen. I am excited to tell you about a new podcast, to which I recently contributed, which I hope will become one of your favorites.


YourTorah was created by my colleague Dina Brawer, who is set to be ordained by Yeshivat Maharat this spring. YourTorah is designed as an introduction to the 63 tractates (books) of Mishnah. The Mishnah is the earliest compilation of Judaism’s oral law, so it gives you a sense of some of the fundamentals of Jewish law and life. In each 18 minute podcast you'll find the overview of one tractate, with a sample Mishnah and a practical take-away. 


There’s one more angle here: each podcast episode is taught by a woman. YourTorah is a project of JOFA’s (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) UK branch. It is designed as a special invitation to women and girls to engage in regular Torah study - though men are of course welcome to join too. In fact, it was a male Shaar member who recently told me that he has been listening to the podcast regularly. And if you make it to episode 14, you’ll hear the voice of a familiar Maharat…


Click here to find out more about the podcast, and to download episodes on your regular podcast player. I look forward to hearing your reflections. Share your ideas or find other comments on social media by using the hashtag #YourTorah.


Happy Chanukah and Happy listening and learning!



Highlights from our High Holy Day concert

rabbi adam scheier



What an amazing concert/”machzor launch” last night! The songs and sounds of the High Holy Days, celebrating the arrival of the Shaar Hashomayim Edition of the Koren Sacks Machzor, a game-changing work of prayers and commentary.


A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Isaacs Kiddush cup. It’s a beautiful item, with a remarkable story:


In 1860, Shaar Hashomayim – then a 14-year-old congregation – consecrated its new building at 41 St. Constant Street (today’s Rue de Bouillon, corner of Viger). To celebrate the moment, the congregation turned to New York’s Rabbi Samuel Myer Isaacs. Rabbi Isaacs was one of most prominent rabbis in the mid-19th Century United States. He was born in Holland, raised in London, and was a widely-respected minister and journalist.

Rabbi Isaacs accepted the Shaar’s invitation and travelled to Montreal, but he refused remuneration for his services. Instead of paying him money, the congregation commissioned a silver Kiddush cup to offer as a gift. (From the inimitably-articulate minute book of the congregation, as recorded in Rabbi Shuchat's book, "The Gate of Heaven": "It having been ascertained that the Rev. Isaacs declined to receive anything in the shape of money for his expenses, it was moved by D. Moss Esq. and seconded by A. Hoffnung that a suitable testimonial in silver be ordered to be made and presented to that gentlemen.")


Recently, it came to our attention that – 157 years later – this very Kiddush cup was up for auction at Sotheby's in New York. We are grateful that Shaar member Alvin Segal purchased this precious ritual object; and we are grateful that, last night, he presented the cup to the congregation.


The inscription: "Presented By the Trustees of the German & Polish Congregation Montreal to the Rev'd SM Isaacs on the occasion of his consecrating their synagogue, 1st Sivan 5620."


Kol haKavod to Roï AzoulayCantor Gideon ZelermyerRachel Kohl Finegold, and Joseph Even-Hen for an outstanding collaboration; we are uniquely blessed at the Shaar!


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Coming Together Through Music

ROI azoulay



The more one experiences making music with others, the greater one’s appreciation, love and understanding of this uniquely uplifting art form. Whether you are an amateur or professional, it is when making music with others that you get to experience the pleasure and joy of communicating with each other at a higher, spiritual level. This has nothing to do with the level or degree of musical skills, but more to do with the personal experience of each individual.


Even growing up with music since childhood, it fascinated me how chamber musicians could communicate with each other through their playing, in a sense conversing through their playing. This can be a powerful force and source of joy and fulfillment in one’s life.

I was really inspired to when I discovered the phenomenon known as Choir! Choir! Choir! It was started by Daveed Goldman, son of Shaar members Sandra and Dr. Hy Goldman, the founder of Klezkanada. Daveed simply wanted to give people the chance to experience mass music-making, so he came up with the format of putting together an “ad-hoc” choir which rehearses just once a week, singing simple arrangements not requiring preparation at home. You just come, enjoy singing en masse with others who love music and the pleasure of communication results from it.


After working hard and expanding his project, Daveed decided to gather his big choral group in Toronto, and in collaboration with Rufus Wainwright as soloist, perform Leonard Cohen’s iconic song Hallelujah. Watch it here


This powerful idea and project of Goldman’s makes me feel that even in today’s world with all its craziness, there is still hope for our present and future generations. We should all make music this way, together. As Jews we have always played a big role in this world, renewing hope through the arts, sciences and the idea of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Music can most definitely play a role in this.


I would love to see a project like Choir! Choir! Choir! in Montreal, and it is my intention to make it happen. If you are interested in taking part, contact me and I will add you to the list of people who have already shown interest.


A quote that has always inspired me was one I read in an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It is by the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Milke:

Words still go softly out towards the unsayable.
And music always new, from palpitating stones
Builds in useless space its godly home.

Watch this space for upcoming information about this newborn project, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.


Wishing you all a wonderful and joyful summer,


Roï Azoulay
Music Director





Anything Can Happen

maharat rachel kohl finegold

Recently, I spent an intensive four days at a rabbinic retreat, which was the completion of my participation in a two-year program as a CLI Fellow. I joined rabbis from across the ideological and geographical spectrum to learn how to bring innovation and positive change to synagogue communities. I always love being in the company of a diverse group of Jews. This experience was especially enlightening and enriching, because this was a group of rabbis (and one Maharat!). It is amazing to see that all of us, whether Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal or Orthodox leaders, are grappling with similar questions from our own corners of the Jewish world. How do we find the delicate balance between tradition and innovation? How do we stay rooted in our Jewish past, while expanding what is possible as we move into the future? How do we help people access Judaism to enrich their sense of meaning and purpose?


Having spent the past two years learning the most current wisdom in innovation and change, one thing I gained is what we might call an “experimental mindset”. It is the freedom to try new things, to open doors to new possibilities. To have an experimental mindset is to be ready to experience failures and missteps, but ultimately to have an open mind. The most instructive sentence I learned last week was this: “Nothing has to happen. Anything can happen.”


Especially in religious communities, get stuck in what “has to” happen: what a Chanukah event “must” look like, or what “must” be served at a Shabbat dinner. As an Orthodox Jew, I find myself doing this all the time. Our religion is filled with “must-do’s”, guidelines which we call Mitzvot, and boundaries presented by Halacha, Jewish law.


But there are so many places where we can drop the “has to” without compromising our commitment to tradition. For example, must we make Kiddush out of a silver cup? Artists have found new ways to design this beautiful ritual object. Must a Shabbat service always use the same tunes? Jews have been composing new tunes to old liturgy for as long as Jewish prayer has been around.


One area where I am excited to use this experimental mindset is in our youth offerings on the High Holidays. I have begun working with a committed group of parents, to ask ourselves what is we can offer our children in the synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Our goal is to create an engaging experience, which will connect children and their families to the messages of the Jewish New Year: growth, repentance and renewal. Stay tuned for a new and exciting family service in the chapel on the High Holidays this fall!

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Rabbi David Woolfson’s Sermon – Parashat Shlach


Most people I know have dreamt of retirement and everything it would bring us: leisure time, travel time and time for recreational activities.

Common wisdom says that 70 is the new 50. We have taken this for granted because we have come to expect that modern medicine enables us to live a more active and longer life.


I love the quip I read recently: “inside of every older person is younger person wondering what the heck happened.”

Even the word “emeritus” come from two Latin words: e from egress or exit, and meritus from thank god.

Our retirement “tee-off” time is either here or just around the corner. On that date and from then on, you will be able to tee-off at any hour you so choose.

A story is told about an avid golfer who had recently retired, came to his rabbi and said, “you know how much I love to play golf. One of these days I am going to die and I would like to know when that happens, if I will be able to play a round of golf with the creator himself. If you can grant me the knowledge, I will give $250,000 to the synagogue.Not wanting to pass up such a generous gift, the rabbi replied that he must search out relevant passages in the bible and well as pray for an answer. Two days later, the rabbi calls back and announces, “I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that I prayed and prayed and read the bible twice over, and I have it on good authority that when you die, indeed you will play the first round of golf with the creator himself. The bad news is that your tee-off time is next Tuesday at 10:00 am.”


This morning, we read from the Torah about the spies, the meraglim who were sent to check out the promised land.

Let me tell you my spy story. It began when I moved from Ottawa to Montreal. I was advised by some people not to go to the Shaar; it is not your kind of synagogue. I am not really sure what that meant.


For the longest time, each Friday afternoon, I stayed with a family in Cote St. Luc and attended Beth Zion on Shabbat. I became very friendly with Rabbi Shoham and enjoyed attending that synagogue. One wintery Friday afternoon years later, I decided that i would stay home, I lived on Olivier at the time, and maybe I would venture over to the Shaar and “spy out the land.” Well, the first person I met was a Mr. Bernard Dubow who was the welcoming committee at the Shaar. I was totally surprised at the service – it was just identical to the synagogue I attended in Ottawa. Something that morning touched my heart and my soul, and that something is still here – it is tradition, it is heritage. I immediately felt at home.

Heritage really implies a measure of continuity and of permanence, of commitment to a cherished religious and cultural tradition that is transmitted from one generation to the next, each contributing to its survival by protecting it and enhancing it. That has been the history of the Shaar.

Rabbi Shuchat was the Rabbi, Robert Sutnick was the Assistant Rabbi, Joseph Gross was the Cantor, and Herman Muller was the Chazan Sheini. Very impressive indeed. And let me not forget Yossi Milo who was the Choir Director.


One Shabbat morning, I had an Aliya, it could have been hagbaha or gelila. I was sitting on the Bimah and said to Herman – "you read the Torah beautifully". Now if you remember Herman and how he could shoot back a very sharp comment, he said – “what would you know about that?”. So I replied, "trust me, I know". He invited me back for Mincha that day, to do the Torah reading and, I will add, except for a brief time, I have been doing it at the Shaar ever since.


Another Shabbat morning, Rabbi Shuchat announced that help was needed in making the daily minyan and asked people to attend when possible. At the Kiddush, I asked him, rabbi, tell me, was that am or pm. He just smiled; I got the message. So I became a regular at the Shaar, mostly in the morning. What a great place to come for breakfast! Some of you may remember Leona and David Krakower who arranged these breakfasts. When Rabbi Sutnick moved on, Rabbi Allen Nadler became the Assistant Rabbi, then the Associate Rabbi, and then Rabbi of the Shaar. Those were memorable days for me, and Allen and I became close friends. When Cantor gross left, Sid Dworkin became the cantor. Over the years, there has been a lot of changes. Check out the following: When Rabbi Nadler moved on, the pulpit was occupied by several rabbis: Ira Grussgott, Barry Gelman, Emanuel Forman as interim, and now Adam Scheier along with Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold. We had Rabbis Schachar Orenstein and Yonah Berman as Assistant Rabbis as well.

Yossi Milo left and Stephen Glass became the Director of Music. When Cantor Dworkin left, Gideon Zelermyer became the Cantor. At this time, the Music of the Shaar became very well known worldwide. Stephen Glass was here for many years and added so much to the repertoire of the Shaar. When he left, Roï Azoulay came on the scene and, together with the Shaar choir, we have never missed a beat.


I will say that some of my happiest moments in my life were here at the Shaar. Being part of the clergy and the Shaar community has been so rewarding.

Norma and I were married by Rabbi Grussgott in the rose garden on a hot summer day in July of 1994. This was truly the best memory of the Shaar and the best day of my life.


I would also acknowledge several people that I worked with regularly, namely, the Parnassim: Clarence Schneiderman, Ian Rudnikoff, Dr. Adrian Langleben, and now David Abrams. Over the years, I have put in many systems that make the job of Ritual Director effective and organized. With the addition of Yosi Even-Hen to the clergy team, I am certain that he will fit in perfectly.


I have shared some clergy history of the Shaar with you. I would like to add that this congregation follows the customs and traditions of the Frankfurt-am-mein community. The Shaar was also influenced by the Great Synagogue of London now called the Bayswater Synagogue, and also the Spanish-Portuguese community. From these three cultures, we have time-honoured customs at the Shaar which go back centuries. This is the legacy and heritage left to us by the founders of this prestigious congregation. In the last few months, I have compiled a book called Minhagim, customs, rituals and procedures of the Shaar Hashomayim. It is a complete book listing all the details of our religious services because the Shaar is such a unique synagogue.  We should all be proud that the Shaar has taken a stand against current trends – and that is to hold on to tradition – to respect the initiatives of its founders. The Shaar is what I call – a halachically correct synagogue. Over the years, the leadership has acted admirably and responsibly in holding on to its time-honoured traditions.


It is certainly comforting to come to the Shaar, majestic in all its glory, and see that all the traditions, traditions that go back thousands of years are in place. The Shaar has never lowered its standards to meet the people. The people are encouraged to meet the standards of the Shaar.

There is a great comparison that can be made. As you know, we use the Artscroll siddur for daily and for Shabbat and festival services. This unique siddur contains such a wealth of information – it is in fact an encyclopedia! So too, is the Shaar – an encyclopedia – we have everything in place, everything is here. Every person who comes here should feel comfortable. Everyone may pick and choose what they wish to follow – and nothing has been watered down. This picking and choosing, I like to call “à la carte Judaism”. Just as in a restaurant, you may pick and choose what you want, so too, you may pick and choose here at the Shaar from a full menu.


It has truly been a great and memorable experience working with the rabbis and cantors over all these years. I have learned so much from them and I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life. I remember Rabbi Forman pushing me to go further. He would tell me that you have studied with various rabbis for the longest time and it is time to become a rabbi. He was responsible for hooking me up with rabbis in Lakewood and, after several years, it became a reality. I enjoyed working with each Parnass over the years and devising methods for giving out the honours, especially over the high holy days. It is a very difficult task and it is hard to please everyone.


There are so many people that i have worked with that i would like to acknowledge and thank: Penni Kolb who constantly listens, Sheri Bercovic whom I have known for more than twenty years, Stephanie, Orit, Christina, Carly, Michael the troubleshooter, Robyn, Oxana, Peisei, Marty, Carol Abramson, Carole Rocklin, Susan, Pamela and Brenda (who is so meticulous about everything and I will miss our 3 pm pre-Shabbat telephone calls). And then, my great friend Jose together with Tanya, Armando, Tony, Carlos, Chiquita and Scoobie, and so many more that have made life easier. The Shaar is a very active synagogue and social centre that is really fortunate to have such responsible and caring employees. It is these employees that make the Shaar the success that it is.


I would like to thank my family – my wife Norma, Bryan together with Stephanie and Josh, and my friend and father-in-law Gaby and Andree for their support, their encouragement, and their understanding, and for putting up with my long hours spent here.


I would like to offer a suggestion that I have been thinking about for some time. I glance around at my home library, and wonder how many young people have read any of these books. Some of the most inspiring, beautiful passages in the English language appear in the Hebrew bible, in the daily and Sabbath prayer book, and in the High Holy Day Machzor.


In addition, I have had the occasion over the years to talk to Bar and Bat Mitzvah students who know their parts perfectly. They are all primed up for the big day. And yet, some will ask questions concerning their belief in god. The ritual part they know, the basic principles of our religion, they don’t know.

I usually relate a classic story to them. “if you were all alone in this world, walking in the desert and you came upon a watch and it was ticking, what would you think? Would you think it had come there by itself? Or would you think someone made it and brought it there? And if so, does it not follow that the world, which is infinitely more complex than a watch, also has a maker. “ We need to spend a lot more time teaching “why be Jewish” rather than how to be Jewish. Children should learn why they are having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, not just how to chant or perform for the ceremony.


The message we must pass on is that Judaism is relevant and valuable. We have ethics, we have spirituality, and we have peoplehood. Judaism is made up of three components: the land, the people, and the religion. You can’t have one without the other. These are the ingredients that will hold us together forever. And for this to work, parents must be supportive and reinforce this at home. To be a Jew means to enjoy life, to be ethical, to learn and teach and set an example, to be kind and compassionate, peaceful and hospitable, and continue during, all of one’s life, to make this world a better place.

And finally, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to each and every member of the congregation for your warmth, your friendship, and your thoughtfulness.


Shabbat shalom


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Rabbi to Rabbi: Making Exceptions to the Rules

Rabbi Adam Scheier

When considering special requests that push halachic boundaries, rabbis must weigh whether they will set precedents that may not fit communal needs. Read more…
Rabbi Cutler: During the first half of the 20th century, synagogues from all three major denominations offered a late Friday night service. Recognizing that in the winter months, their congregants would still be working past the onset of Shabbat, these congregations insti-tuted services – sometimes traditional, sometimes not – that generally began at 8 p.m., well past the prescribed sunset start time.
Some viewed the services positively, understanding that while they were not ideal, if they were not offered, many Jews would never attend synagogue. In contrast, Rabbi Isadore Goodman, Rabbi Scheier: Whether congregants request music during the Omer, prayers outside established prayer times, foods that challenge kashrut standards or chan-ges to Shabbat protocol (requests for photographers, valet parking, etc.), there are often difficult moments of explaining the nuances of Jewish law that might not be familiar or logical to our parishioners. In confronting these fr quent requests, I keep two prin-ciples in mind. The first is the Mishna in Avot (2:4), which says, “Make that [God’s] will should be your will.” That is, the initial instinct should be to ask, “What is the correct approach in accordance with the halachic standards that I and my community have committed to uphold?” The second principle relates to your point. I think of the model of Jacob, who was wounded after wresting with the angel (Genesis 32). As he limps away from the violent encounter, the Torah describes him as shalem, whole. Things need not be perfect. In fact, they seldom are. Rather, even as we limp, we can achieve a peaceful existence.
Rabbi Cutler: I am especially sensitive to issues of pikuach nefesh (saving a life), kvod habriyot (human dignity), mamonam shel yisrael (monetary cost) and chillulHaShem (desecration of the Divine name). While there is no perfect formula into which one can plug the variables and receive a correct policy or halachic deci-sion, these four areas, for me, are especially weighty in making any determination.
I try, however, not to be afraid of creating a precedent. We know that once we do something for one family or try a service at a non-standard time, the future will only bring similar requests. But we can only deal with the situation that is presented before us. Tomorrow is another day.
Rabbi Scheier: In rabbinical school, we learned the process of psak – analyzing complicated scenarios and determining the correct approach according to Jewish law. We were taught to “pasken the she’ayla and the shoel,” to consider both the question and the question-er. That is, the answer to a question can have a subject-ive component. Halachah is deeply nuanced. There is a story told about Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook. When he was a community rabbi in London during World War I, he was often approached by community members with questions about the kashrut of slaughtered chickens. When he would determine that a chicken was not kosher, he would send the question-er away with charity funds sufficient to purchase a new chicken. He knew that if someone was making the effort to verify a chicken, that they were financially stressed and could only afford that one animal for their Shabbat meal. In other words, when entertaining a question about Hala-chah, he would hear the bigger picture of that person’s life.
The challenge in setting community policy based on an approach that sees the individual within the halachic question is that some answers are, indeed, catered for a specific individual. Of course, there are times when moral instincts empower me to be bold. However, knowing that any halachic decision has the capacity to establish pre-cedent, I do often find myself pausing and considering the implications for my broader community.


Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly

Reviewed by Jonathan Boretsky
Our Shaar Family
What do Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, TV personality Chuck Todd, Natan Sharansky and I all have in common? Last week, we were all at the Hilton in Washington, D.C. for the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. The JFNA General Assembly is an annual gathering of Jewish community professionals and lay and student leaders who come together to learn about and engage with the work of the Jewish Federations of communities across North America and partner organizations across the sea.
Throughout the three day conference, I had the opportunity to attend many lectures and plenary addresses, on topics ranging from International Jewish relief to American politics to the significance of Jewish food. One session which I particularly enjoyed featured a panel of community leaders who shared with us the innovative programs their federations have organized to promote the Israeli South. Some programs really stood out to me and, I think, highlighted the versatility, diversity and reach of the work done by Federation. For instance, Miami has invested heavily in the robotics program in schools in their sister city of Yerucham, which has very quickly become a global powerhouse in the field, inventing tools of their very own and representing Israel in global competitions. Greater Metrowest has invested in building bonds between their youth and Southern Israeli youth through the creation of a number of “Living Bridges” programs which connect people around a shared hobby, like yoga or basketball.
Our very own Federation here in Montreal shared how it practices Healthy Placemaking in Be’er Sheva, creating spaces in the city which make it natural and easy to live and eat healthily. I was surprised and heavily impressed by just this small sample of the work Federation does for the Global Jewish community.
These are just some of the many inspiring and enlightening sessions I took part in. I would need much more space to list all my favorite moments and memories, but I can try to provide some highlights: Hearing from a young Ethiopian man who came to Israel on Operation Solomon. Witnessing Natan Sharansky delivering a speech while surrounded by two hundred of the Israeli shlichim whose presence here in North America is due largely to him. A Skype address from the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu. A speech in English, Hebrew and Arabic, given by two classmates and best friends, one a Jew and the other a Muslim, who joined us all the way from Morocco. And, perhaps most importantly, numerous tales of lives saved by intervention of Federation and its partner, the JDC, in some of the parts of the world where it is most difficult for Jews to live, such as Yemen and some of the poorer areas of Estonia.
All in all, what I took away from the conference was bountiful new knowledge and awe for the power that we wield, as a community. The work that Federation and its partners regularly do around the world, and the number of lives they impact each and every hour, really blew me away. This conference helped expand my view of Federation from a local philanthropic and charitable organization to the much more true-to-life collection of powerful and diverse initiatives which work to better the lives of Jewish individuals everywhere on this globe.
I am very thankful to Hillel International for helping finance my own participation in the conference, as well as approximately 100 other college students, allowing us to experience a pinnacle of Jewish North American community life while also ensuring that the student voice is not lost in the big wide world of Jewish organizations and charities.


Remembering… Leonard Cohen

Rabbi Adam Scheier
Last weekend, during our Shabbat services, Shaar Hashomayim recited a special prayer in memory of Leonard Cohen. Our congregational family feels a special sense of pride in Leonard’s achievements, and a corresponding sense of loss in his passing.
Our pride was not simply that a child of the congregation grew up to be successful and famous; rather, it was that Leonard took the Jewish themes and concepts that he learned at The Shaar and gave them new and inspired expression in his poetry and his songs. It was at The Shaar that Leonard first encountered the liturgy of “Who By Fire,” the praise of “Hallelujah,” and the reverence of “Hineni, I’m ready, my Lord.”
Leonard once said in an interview that there was an important lesson he learned at synagogue: the power and importance of words, because – in synagogue – every word is said with meaning.
Cantor Gideon Zelermyer, accompanied by our Synagogue Choir and conducted by Music Director Roï Azoulay, chanted Keil Malei Rachamim, the memorial prayer, in Leonard’s memory. The Cantor and choir softly and gently sang the words “b’gan eden t’hei m’nuchato—may his repose be in paradise” to the famous refrain of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” As we recited the prayer, there were many tears in the congregation. Amongst those crying were members of Leonard’s extended family, a few of his childhood friends and schoolmates, and some who came, even from far distances, just to connect to Leonard’s legacy.
In this week of Leonard Cohen’s shiva, we pray that the memory of Eliezer ben Nisan Hakohein u’Masha be a blessing.
This photograph depicts the graduation registry of the 1949 Shaar Hashomayim Hebrew School. The second signatory, a 14-year-old Leonard Cohen, is – 67 years later – mourned by his congregation.
Saturday, February 29, 2020 4 Adar 5780