May 2023 / Iyyar 5783
From Our Executive Director
During Hol HaMoed, I traveled to Israel. The purpose of the trip was to take part in the World Zionist Organization Extraordinary Congress.
By now, many of you have heard of some of the details of the Congress. It was certainly a memorable event. Rather than focus on some of those details, I would like to look at the Congress as a whole and to see it as a reminder of the State of Israel, and, more importantly, the people who live there.
One of the speakers spoke of Israel as a melting pot. The term itself dates back to the United States in the 19th century. Titus Munson Coan writes in A New Country that “the individuality of the immigrant, almost even his traits of race and religion, fuse down in the democratic alembic like chips of brass thrown into the melting pot.” As those chips melt together, they become indistinguishable from each other.
I respectfully disagree with the speaker. Having eaten the foods of Yemen, Ethiopia, and New York, having heard spoken Hebrew with the affect of so many accents, it is not a melting pot that comes to mind. I think of cholent. I think of that Shabbat stew, present with different names, different ingredients, and different flavours in so many Jewish communities. In each pot, it is easy to see the individual parts that come together to adorn our Shabbat tables. Those individual parts do not melt together, not at all.
We are looking forward now to the holiday of Shavuot. Tradition teaches us that we were all at Mt. Sinai. 600,000 Jews were present as God gave the Torah. They said in one voice נעשה ונשמע – we will do and we will understand. That is likely the first and certainly the last time that the Jewish community ever spoke with one voice. We became that cholent. We became like that stew, with the individual ingredients clearly visible, but all joining to create a larger entity.
Rav Sean Gorman
From Our President
There are days when one can feel that they have been part of great things and other days where one is overwhelmed by the futility of our actions to stop those bent on destroying our way of life.
Yes, it sounds dramatic, but over the course of the last three weeks we have seen both ends of these emotions.
The largest MERCAZ-Canada delegation ever attended the WZO’s Extraordinary Zionist Congress to mark the 75th anniversary of the independence of the State of Israel in Jerusalem from April 19th to 21st. Our group included Rabbis Jennifer Gorman, Sean Gorman, Phil Scheim and Steve Wernick, along with CFMJ President Charles Wrock, Kyla Hershoran and myself.
We were joined by close to 50 other Masorti Movement delegates from around the world, and for the first time ever, the majority, while slim, of the delegates were not from the USA. We are truly a world wide movement!
Our delegates came to Israel from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, France, Hungary, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK, Uruguay and Canada and the US.
We worked with the other “progressive” movements at the WZO to ensure that the the WZO and by extension the Israeli government followed the precepts of the Jerusalem Program, which promotes a democratic inclusive and exemplary State of Israel that is equal, welcoming and open to all Jews regardless of their religious practices.
At the Congress we were incredibly successful, having promoted 15 separate resolutions that honoured our principals.
We have never hidden our agenda. We believe in the basic premise of the 13th paragraph of Israel’s Declaration of Independence,
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
We have always worked towards the day when this statement will indeed ring true.
Not everyone shares our belief in “complete equality.”
The Congress was disrupted several times by those led by the radical religious right as headed by “Eretz HaKodesh” who are closely aligned with the Netanyahu government. Both are now committed to denying civil rights to those who are not of their side of the religious or political divide.
They have consistently denied religious rights to anyone other than the Orthodox.
They worked to delay and disrupt the proceedings of the Congress to the point where voting on the accepted resolutions will not take place until nearly a month after the end of the “official” Congress.
This is unprecedented.
It is also unprecedented that Erertz HaKodesh, which currently is not represented “officially” in Canada was allied with both Mizrahi Canada and the Canadian Russian Jewish Forum, neither of which have ever disclosed their close and almost supplicant relationship with the “radical right.”
Israel is currently in the midst of a political upheaval spurred by a prime minister who is using every possible means to extend his term. He has again and again given more and more to the radical right, giving a minister who has been convicted of “assisting terrorism” his own private army. The Prime Minster and the cabinet just passed a budget that gives an additional NIS 13.7 billion ($5.5 billion CDN) to the Haredi, nearly a 4% increase in the State budget, much of it at the insistence of a Shas party member who was twice convicted of tax evasion.
We cannot lose our faith in Zionism or that there will be corrections in the upcoming months as Netanyahu’s own bribery trials begin.
The current coalition is fragile; the Prime Minster is constantly “buying” support as he ignores the needs of the majority.
This is why we proudly joined the weekly protests in Israel. With literally hundreds of thousands of people peacefully protesting this hijacking of democracy all over the country, these demonstrations have forced Netanyahu to retrench and reward his supporters to keep them in the coalition.
These are not the darkest of times for Israeli democracy.
Our support of MERCAZ and Masorti are helping to move the needle back to the centre. Israelis were extremely grateful and appreciate our support.
We must not let them down.
In Our Homes
Shavuot - Musings and a Recipe
Shavuot holds a double purpose in the Jewish liturgical year. It commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai, during the long sojourn in the wilderness. This aspect of the holiday is often celebrated by the preparation and eating of dairy dishes. There are several reasons given for this tradition, including the symbolism of the journey to the Land of Milk and Honey, the gematria (numerology) that equates the value of the word for milk (chalav – חָלָב) with the forty days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, and the need to eat only dairy food while waiting for the dietary laws concerning meat. Also, the Torah, like milk, is a complete nourishment for the people. Just as a baby thrives on its mother’s milk, so the people thrive on the words of Torah. Other explanations abound, and for every person you ask, you will likely get two or three answers. Personally, I don’t think we need a reason for cheesecake. It is a reason all by itself! But I digress.
Shavuot is also the Festival of First Fruits, when people could first bring their offerings from the first harvest to the temple. My main memory of Shavuot from when I was a child in Israel was a school-wide celebration, with all the children dressed in white, adorned with flowers in our hair, carrying baskets of fruit. I can still see the flames from the small braziers set up around the school grounds for the evening ceremony and feel the warm breezes coming off the Mediterranean, just a few short blocks away. This image is vivid, where others have faded.
When I began thinking about what treats I wanted to make this year for Shavuot, both of these aspects of the holiday came to mind. I will certainly make a cheesecake, because, well, cheesecake! But there are so many other treats and delights for the taste buds, and I always love exploring foods from around the world.
Here is a creamy and delicious version of mahliabi, a Middle Eastern milk custard. You can use dairy milk and cream, but it is delicious and light--and pareve--with coconut products instead. The pile of fruit on top is a nod to the agricultural side of Shavuot, and the maple syrup I like to drizzle over the whole gives it a Canadian twist. You can, of course, keep it Israeli with silan (date syrup) instead.
Mahlabi Custard with Fresh Fruit
For the custard:
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 850ml coconut milk (or dairy milk or almond milk or …)
- 1 can coconut milk or cream (or 400ml heavy dairy cream or other non-dairy cream)
- 1 TBSP vanilla
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 TBSP orange blossom water (you can also use rose water)
- In a medium saucepan, mix the cornstarch with a small amount of the milk until it is smooth and there are no lumps of cornstarch remaining. Cornstarch is stubborn. Don’t let it win.
- When it is all dissolved, add the remaining ingredients and stir well. I use a whisk.
- Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens and just begins to boil, stirring constantly. This can take a while, so be patient.
- When thick, pour the mixture into small cups or a serving bowl, leaving plenty of room on top for the fruit. Let cool. Cover any larger bowls immediately with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. When cool, refrigerate till ready to serve.
This part doesn’t come with a recipe. Use whatever delicious fruits you love and chop them into small enough pieces that they’ll sit beautifully on top of your custard. I used raspberries, kiwis, blueberries, grapes and melon for my fruit salad. Mango would be delicious. Pomegranate would be most appropriate too, as it is closely associated with the Torah.
Just before serving, top your custard with a healthy serving of the fruit you’ve chosen. If you wish, drizzle the entire dessert with silan (date syrup), or for a distinctly Canadian flavour, maple syrup, and serve.
From Our Members
Devorah Gillard, one of our people out in Halifax, just came back from Israel after spending several months at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. She wrote a short reflection on her time there, which we are delighted to share with you.
Spending time in Israel has been life-changing for me. Studying in a Yeshiva has enhanced my study and love of Torah. My former knowledge of Torah was confirmed, challenged, and expounded upon. The atmosphere of learning about all things Jewish was one of respect, joy, inclusiveness and hope for the growth and acceptance of the Conservative movement; these students have such commitment to Halacha and Justice will find its place into every circumstance of life.
Building on these foundations has helped me gain confidence I never knew existed, helping me actually discover my self esteem and my place in the Jewish narrative among the scared texts and through the acceptance of my teachers and colleagues.
I leyned Torah for my very first time and having Rabbi Sean Gorman been gabbai Rishon was such a blessing !!!
The geography and history just gripped my heart and soul and left me at times elated and other times heartbroken for what has been, and what will be a long and difficult to task to re-establish. The desert may indeed be blooming like a rose but until the fallow grounds of politically-hardened hearts are ploughed anew, the idea of real peace is elusive, both from within our nation and from the enemies of our physical lives. Seeing Israel’s problems firsthand has helped me gain a new perspective on her national struggles.
I so appreciate the scholarship from Mercaz/ Masoriti Judaism in helping me fulfill a 20-year dream. Jerusalem is indeed a place not just for learning but experiencing, I am so blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to study in such an historical and holy place.
In Our Communities
The Lodzer Centre Congregation, Toronto
The Lodzer Centre Congregation will be holding a concert on June 14th, 2023. This will be a wonderful evening of Broadway, opera and cantorial music performed by our accomplished cantors, choir, and musicians. This event will be an important fundraiser as our synagogue enters our 70th year. Our fundraising efforts will ensure the continuation of the legacy of our dear founders while we continue to support our members and community.
For information: https://www.lodzer.ca/cantorial-concert
From Shaarey Zedek, Winnipeg
Shaarey Zedek has a some interesting programs coming up soon.
Tikun Leil Shavuot Program on Thursday, May 25th in partnership with Temple Shalom with Rabbi Alan Green, Rabbi Allan Finkel and Rabbi Anibal Mass.
Rabbi Green Scholar-In-Residence Weekend, May 26-27 including a special Kabbalat Shabbat and Dinner, Shabbat Morning service, lunch and learning.
Please click on the links or the posters to find out more.
From The Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs
Israeli Focus at the FJMC International Convention, June 29 to July 2, 2023
MERCAZ-Canada, working with MERCAZ-Olami and the Masorti Movement in Israel, was able to create an Israeli themed programme at the upcoming FJMC International Convention in Philadelphia at the end of June. We have arranged for a number of incredible speakers, including WZO Vice Chair Dr Yizhar Hess, Rakefet Ginzberg, the CEO of Masorti in Israel, Gadi Perl, Vice Chair of KKL/JNF, all coming from Israel for this event. Each will be speaking and you will have time for one on one with all!
Also joining us for the Israeli programme will be Rabbi/Hazzan Jeffery Myers, the rabbi at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Rabbi Myers was instrumental in saving lives during the terrible shootings at Tree of Life, as well as providing leadership to his congregation during the days, months and years since that terrible day in October of 2018.
The convention is open to everyone, and our MERCAZ-Canada treasurer, Rick Wronzberg, is the convention chairman. If you have any questions, please contact Rick at (647) 222-5995 or email@example.com
More details on the convention website, https://fjmcconvention.org/
From Netzach Israel, Ashkelon
In honor of Yom HaShoa, the English speaking Ashkelon Community Theater group performed a staged radio play reading of “The Day of the Shadow” at Netzach Israel Ashkelon. The audience of over 50 people watched and listened to this simulated broadcast about Displaced Persons Camps which was first aired on NBC radio in November 1945.
With an opening of an old newsreel followed by music, sound effects and five excellent actors, the performance was followed with an interactive discussion.
You can read more of what MERCAZ and Masorti are doing at our website:
You can contribute to our efforts by joining MERCAZ-Canada and by donating to the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism.
Membership is only $18 a year for adults, $9 for youth up to age 25.
mercaz.ca/join-mercaz at the bottom of the page
Donations to CFMJ are eligible for a tax receipt.