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sept
7
thurs

 

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!

 

View our gallery

 

 
 

 
 
 
jul
6
thurs

 

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

 
 

 

 

jun
29
thurs

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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jun
20
tue

Rabbi David Woolfson’s Sermon – Parashat Shlach

Rabbi DAVID WOOLFSON
 

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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mar
2
THU

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 ADAM CUTLER, BETH TZEDEC CONGREGATION, TORONTO
RABBI ADAM SCHEIER, CONGREGATION SHAAR HASHOMAYIM, MONTREAL
 
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.
 

NOV
24
THU

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.
 

NOV
17
THU

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.
 

 
OCT
06
THU

Rabbi to Rabbi: How to inspire lasting repentance

Rabbi Adam Scheier
 
A conversation with Rabbi Adam Cutler of Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto and Rabbi Adam Scheier
 
 
How do we translate formulaic legal steps into authentic character development?
It requires a combination of Halachah, compelling narratives and inspiring anecdotes.
 
Rabbi Cutler: The Israeli scholar and philosopher Moshe Halbertal recently delivered a lecture at my shul in which he argued that the talmudic narratives about repentance serve not as examples to buttress the laws of tshuvah, but rather as subversive tales demonstrating the limits of legislating the act of forgiveness.
 
Though guidelines for repentance are useful, a mechanistic process rarely brings about the relationship transformation that is so desired. A rabbi could conceivably replace the Yom Kippur sermon with a read-through of Maimonides’ laws of repentance, followed by the exhortation, “Go out and do it.” But I doubt that would be effective. How do you demonstrate a recognition of the difficulties of tshuvah while encouraging congregants to wade beyond the formal legal requirements and into the murkier waters of genuine contrition, forgiveness and ultimate renewal?
 
Rabbi Scheier: Recently, my daughter – a Grade 5 student – was reviewing Maimonides’ four conditions for repentance – recognition of the sin, verbal confession, regret, and determining never to repeat the sin – in preparation for a test. I wondered: how do we translate these formulaic steps into authentic character development? Of course, as rabbis we strive to find ways to inspire our modern communities to embrace these ancient values. But you are correct that Maimonides’ words alone would likely not inspire the masses to implement the legal framework of repentance. Perhaps the answer is that we find a balanced formula to convey a message that combines the laws of repentance with compelling human narratives and inspiring anecdotes.
 
Alternatively, maybe the answer is that the experience of gathering in synagogue as a community for a shared purpose – repentance/self-improvement – is sufficient to inspire, and the rabbis’ words and exhortations underscore, but do not create, the inherent power of Yom Kippur. As the Talmud says, “The essence of the day atones.” As we think about crafting the synagogue experience on this powerful day, are there ways, aside from the essential ingredients of beautiful prayer and inspiring sermons, that synagogues can communicate and deepen the experience of Yom Kippur?
 
Rabbi Cutler: While fasting on Yom Kippur is a method by which we fulfil the biblical Yom Kippur mandate to afflict one’s soul (Leviticus 16:31), I find that fasting’s primary function is to allow me to focus my mental energy away from “when’s my lunch break, and what should I cook for dinner” and onto more important matters. Similarly, while I don’t think it would work for all (talking in shul being an assumed God-given right), I wonder if a community-wide ta’anit dibbur, cessation of speaking, even for a couple of hours, would enable Jews to let their minds settle on atonement and reconciliation. My shul offers a wide variety of Yom Kippur experiences, from meditative reflection to conversations on suffering at the end of life, all of which are designed to deepen Jews’ integration of the day’s themes. Our new Kehillah Inclusion Service for children with special needs and their families is another non-standard entry point for many into Yom Kippur. Beyond music, liturgy and spoken words, how do you instil the Yom Kippur messages?
 
Rabbi Scheier: One way in which my congregation deepens the Yom Kippur experience is through a community program called the “Yom Kippur Teach-In.” It takes place prior to the concluding prayer of Neilah and features a panel discussion with members of the congregation. The teach-in tackles topics of importance to the Jewish identity of the congregants, and the multiple viewpoints presented create debate and engagement. Ultimately, our objective is not only to emphasize the importance of the day, but to inspire for the sake of deeper engagement beyond Yom Kippur. I’m reminded of the teaching of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who interpreted Neilah in a very creative way. He said the traditional understanding of Neilah, which literally means “closure,” is that the gates of Heaven that are open to our Yom Kippur prayers are slowly closing as the day wanes. However, the prayer can also be understood as our saying, “God, don’t shut us in! Allow us to take these themes of repentance and growth and apply them to our lives outside of Yom Kippur and outside of the synagogue! As the gates close to our prayers, open the doors of the synagogue and let us out!”
 

SEP
29
THU

Scheier Family Honey Page

Rabbi Adam Scheier
For dipping Challah we might use this hassidic wish
“May God create yeast in your soul, causing you to ferment, and mature,
possibilities, to reach your highest self”.
 

SEP
01
THU

Reflections on Diller Teen Israel Experience

Shaar Teens

By Ian Langleben
 
I had an incredible experience on the Diller Israel Summer Seminar this year. I was able to meet Jewish teenagers from around the world (including Australia and South Africa) and talk with them about what we had in common in terms of everyday life and Judaism, and also about the interesting differences that there were between us. Our group spent the second week out of three in Be’er Sheva with the group of Israeli teenagers that had come to stay with us this winter. It was amazing to see them again and to spend even more time with them. It was also very interesting to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other political and social elements of Israel’s society through the educational programs that Diller prepared for us.
 
Fri, November 24 2017 6 Kislev 5778