A few words . . .

Presented by MERCAZ-Canada

The following letters, essays and speeches have been presented by MERCAZ-Canada.

About Canada's Federal Election, September 20, 2021

As we all know, there is a federal election taking place in Canada on September 20th.

We hope that all of our thousands of members will take part. Each of our members will be participating in different ways: some as candidates, some working for candidates, others working for Elections Canada, and all participating as voters in this important event in the democratic life of our nation.

We hope that each of our members will take this opportunity to vote and join in building the future of our country. Each of us will make our own decisions about how to vote. We will all make our choices for any number of reasons.

As a Zionist organization, MERCAZ-Canada asks that you consider another factor in your choice: how will your candidate look at Israel and our Jewish life. If you have any questions about a candidate or political party, call the candidate’s office or check the party’s website, they all have information about their policies. Additional information and links to statements and parties can be found through CJPac or CIJA.

We wish our next government every success and hope that they, along with our global community has a much easier future than these past 18 months have given us.

Please vote, participate in your ridings and in our country. Voting is a special right that many in our world do not yet know, while others who once had this right, have had it taken from them.

Let us not take for granted the opportunity to express ourselves and our hopes for our nation.

On behalf of the MERCAZ Canada Executive and Board, I wish you a shanah tovah,
Stan Greenspan, MERCAZ Canada President

Na'aseh V'Nishma, Yom Kippur 5782 - Rabbi Jennifer Gorman

Shanah tovah.

I began writing this while listening to a daf yomi podcast. I was preparing to finish Masechet Shabbat, almost an entire year behind in my daily studies. I could look at this as a tremendous setback. A year behind, how could I possibly catch up? Or, I could focus on the joy of completing a masechet of Talmud.

It is the season of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, the beginning of a new year. Everything in front of us is new. Given the difficulties of the past two years, it would be easy to turn in on ourselves, to wonder how we can possibly move forward.

Just a few months ago we celebrated the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is a holiday of contradictions. As the day on which we celebrate the giving of the Torah, it should be the highlight of the Shalosh Regalim. Furthermore, it takes almost no preparation. There’s no changing of dishes, no building projects. It’s short, only two days. The weather is always good. It is a holiday for eating ice cream and cheesecake, and Tikkunei Leyl Shavuot, all night study sessions, which encourage children to stay up late and give teens reasons to stay out all night with friends.

Yet, instead of being the most beloved, the day on which we accepted our brit, our covenant with God, it is a bit of a forgotten holiday. Why is this when you consider what I’ve already mentioned? I have a few thoughts on that. It comes when we’re distracted. The school year is winding down. Afternoon Hebrew school students may have even finished their studies for the year. Sometimes it coincides with the May Two-Four weekend. We’re thinking about summer vacations and working in our yards and gardens. We’re focused on all the things we didn’t get done during the long winter, and how much there is to do in the spring. Without building a sukkah or seders and changing dishes, we don’t have to focus and plan days or even weeks in advance. Even in our tradition going back 2000 years, Shavuot contains contradictions.

Midrash teaches that before coming to the Israelites, God offered the Torah to other nations. Each time, the people would say, “Tell us what’s in it.” When God would begin to tell them, they would say, “Oh no. We don’t want to follow those rules.” Over and over this occurred. But, when God came to the Israelites, they, along with Jewish souls past and future, proclaimed, “Na’aseh v’nishmah. We will do [everything you ask, and [later] we will come to understand.”

Midrash also teaches that, after the Israelites complained all the way to Mount Sinai, they too rejected God’s covenant. Camping, as the Torah says, “tachat hahar,” under the mountain, became literal as God lifted Har Sinai above their heads, and threatened to drop it, forever burying our people and ending the covenant made with Avraham and Sarah centuries before.

How can both these truths exist simultaneously? That we accepted Torah wholeheartedly and without reservation while also rejecting it. They can exist because truth is subjective. Midrash is not history. We will never know if Avraham smashed his father’s idols or if Pharaoh placed bowls of gems and glowing coals in front of baby Moshe to see if he was the one prophesied to lead the Israelites. Yet, these are true for us because they inform us about our ancestry. They lead us on the path to being the Jewish People and to fulfilling God’s mission for us in the world.

Our world has had a hard year, more than a year. Throughout it, so many of us have felt sadness and frustration, hope and gratitude, loneliness, compassion, depression, anxiety and more. We have emerged, and we have retreated back. We have, at times literally, stepped into the sun, and then been forced back inside by the dark shadow of covid. This has left us eagerly waiting to embrace others, while, at the same time, scared to move forward.

But for many there were positive moments and lessons. Some families recreated multigenerational homes - grandparents, parents, and children. Flex time and remote work are a reality where they weren’t before. Communities came out to support essential and front line workers. New rituals emerged. The quiet in the world allowed us to see that damage to our environment can be reversed. New bonds and relationships were formed through Zoom, Google, and Teams. These moments contradict our understandable anger, fear, and frustration. It is difficult to embrace the positives when we have loved ones and acquaintances dealing with long covid, where others have lost their health or their lives, where the daily anxiety has taken its toll.

As a result of these continuing contradictions, we are changed. Individuals. Families. Friends. Communities. Cultures. Countries. We are all changed. Whether it is how we use technology or our heightened knowledge of the importance of human contact, from the youngest to the oldest, the generations alive now are forever changed.

We are survivors. We are that people that stood under the threat of a mountain landslide and cried out, “Na’aseh v’nishmah;” We will accept and do this now, and we will come to understand later. We will inhabit these contradictions as they inhabit us. We will accept the words we recited on Rosh Hashanah, Mi yichyeh umi yamoot? Who will live and who will die? Who will LIVE? By fire. By water. By sword or beast. By hunger or thirst. By earthquake or plague. The Unetane Tokef is not merely a list of the ways lives are shortened. It is also a message about how to live. We may live at peace or we may be troubled. We may be serene or disturbed. Some will be brought low while others are raised up.

This year, let us all choose life. In doing so, we will accept and embrace the contradictions of our world. We will allow ourselves to appreciate the chaos that led us to pray outdoors in this beautiful setting. We will thank God for the blessing of science. We will accept that in a world that is tearing itself apart due to racism, antisemitism, and other prejudices, that we can act for the better. During the past year and a half, people sang on their balconies to amuse neighbours. Graduations, b’nei mitzvah, weddings and even funerals on live stream and Zoom allowed people to attend and participate from around the world. Even as covid separated and isolated us, it also brought us together, making the world smaller, more intimate.

As we move forward into 5782, let us ask…

Who will live in loneliness and who will respond to it?

Who will despair at the state of the world and who will work to make it a better place?

Who will be brought low and who will raise those people up?

We can use our power for good, instead of evil, and influence the world in positive ways. We can raise people up. We can work to heal the environment. We can keep in touch with family and friends, reminding them of their great value in our lives. We can be present and positive for others, and reach out to our loved ones when we need someone to be present and positive for us.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a colleague and friend wrote a short song for his daughter, who was born right after 9/11/2001. It’s about reaching for hope in the future. I’d like to share it with you. The words are olam hesed yibaneh, about building a world of steadfast lovingkindness. Please join in if you’re comfortable.

Ooo, ooo, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die (2x)

Olam hesed yibaneh, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die (4x)

I will build this world from love, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die.

And you must build this world from love, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die.

And if we build this world from love, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die

Then God will build this world from love, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die

Olam hesed yibaneh, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die (4x)

Ooo, ooo, [BREATHE] yada die, die, die, die, die (2x)

There was a mountain hanging over our heads. We stepped up. Na’aseh. Now, it’s time we move forward. Nishma.

Shanah tovah u’metukah tikateivu u’tichateimu. May we all be written and sealed for a good and sweet year.

Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, Yom Kippur 5782 / September 15, 2021

Advice for Monday Morning (or A New Year) - Rabbi Jennifer Gorman

About a month ago, a colleague and friend asked a question on social media. “What’s the best advice you’ve received?” In less than a day, there were over 75 unique responses. Some were things we’ve all heard before, “Don't sweat the small stuff, and most everything is small stuff.” Some were from favourite books, “Never spit when on a roller coaster,” and “When your Dad is mad and asks ‘do I look stupid,' don’t answer him!”
There were a surprising number of suggestions connected to hygiene and the toilet. Here are just a few:

  • Floss at least twice a day.
  • Always check for toilet paper before you sit down.
  • Stay in bed as long as possible, unless you have to go to the bathroom.

The list included the requisite advice from celebrities real and fictional. “Always make your bed,” from Admiral Craven, offered in a 2014 graduation speech at University of Texas, Austin. President Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” Kenny Rogers, via one person’s attorney father, "You gotta know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em." And, Mr. Spock’s “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
This time of year, we talk a lot about teshuvah. We speak of it as repentance, but the word means turning. It’s about examining who we are and deciding who we want to be. How will we turn into this new year so it will be better than the last? How will we live our lives so when faced with situations in which we’ve made wrong decisions, or even decisions we simply don’t like, we will turn in a new direction?
Most of the time, when we speak about teshuvah, we use it as a remedy to het, to sin or wrongdoing. But here too, English limits us. Het is not sin. It is missing the mark. Perhaps we’ve really veered off course, but, perhaps we’re still on target, even if we couldn’t hit the bullseye.
Teshuvah requires that we honestly confront and acknowledge het. What do we think about our actions of the past year, and how do we want to move forward?
Now I realize with all this talk of het and teshuvah, this is beginning to sound like a Yom Kippur sermon. But today is the start of Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah.
Rabbi Israel Salanter, often called the father of the mussar or ethical movement, once said,

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town, so, as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize that the only thing I can change is myself. And suddenly I realize that if, long ago, I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family could have made an impact on our town. The town's impact could have changed the nation, and I could indeed have changed the world."

When we do teshuvah, we hope that when faced with the same situation, we will act and react differently. Part of being able to act differently comes from not finding ourselves in the same situation again because we, through the act of teshuvah, have changed.
How do we get there? We could follow some more of that good advice given to my friend, Rabbi Raysh Weiss.

  • Remember that very few decisions are irrevocable.
  • Rav Sean’s favourite - greet every person with a smile, phrased as rub sunshine on your face.
  • Read or watch something, every day, that will make you laugh.
  • It’s okay to take it easy.
  • Pick your battles.
  • Don't reply to the email.
  • Let good enough be good enough, and finished is better than perfect, or, in other words, don't let perfect be the enemy of good.
  • If it’s not on fire or running into traffic, it can wait ten minutes for your response - Rav Sean’s and my version of this is “an emergency involves blood, death, or the threat thereof.” (That led to some interesting bedtime conversations with the kids, specifically Jesse, who wanted to know if a tree made a hole in the roof would that be an emergency. The answer is yes.)
  • Don’t read the comments, which aligns nicely with, take care of yourself, and be yourself. It's who you do best!
    Walk in like you own the joint.
  • Your life is in the hands of any fool who makes you lose your temper.
  • Drop subjects you don’t enjoy or do well. It’s okay to close some doors.

One piece of advice I heard was given in reference to marriage, and not to me personally. It's one of the best pieces of advice I've heard. It’s also particularly apropos just now- Just because you're having a bad year, doesn't mean your marriage, job, situation, or life is bad. I think this goes well with gam zeh ya’avr, this too shall pass. I've thought of these often during the pandemic. They give me hope. Having hope is important.
Those who know me well know I am an eternal optimist, but during the past few years, it’s been hard to hold on to optimism. But hope is a different thing. Hope is not optimism. Hope is aspiration. It is a dream combined with inclination.
Hope is people in Tel Aviv going outside en mass to sing Mah Nishtanah so no one should feel completely alone for Pesach during covid.
It is remembering, on this 20th anniversary, the civilians who went to ground zero after 9/11 to help, and the first responders who never gave up. It is the first responders and front line and essential workers who have continued to work throughout Covid.
Hope is the Arab lumber company who delivered all the lumber needed after arson destroyed much of Kehillat Moriah, the Masorti synagogue in Haifa, and then refused to take payment.
It is people rushing to the sites of the apartment collapse in Surfside and the earthquakes in Haiti to try to save their neighbours and others they didn’t know.
Hope is Israel being reestablished after 1800 years.
Hope is what raises our eyes to look for the helpers in the darkest of times. And hope is listening for the still, small voice of the Divine, even when our ears are ringing and our minds in chaos.
Hope is where the Yamim Noraim take us. It is Avraham’s ram in the thicket. It is Hagar’s well, and it is Hannah’s prayer. Hope is people returning to shul and to outdoor services. It is finding new ways to keep Judaism alive even in the darkest times, and then to do it again. Hope is the belief that, despite how optimistic or pessimistic we may feel, our community will survive.
Hope is sending a request out into the world for a Monday morning pick-me-up and hoping that colleagues and friends will rise to the challenge, no matter how small. And so, I will finish with the following pieces of advice…

  • Never try to baptize a cat.
  • Don’t eat yellow snow.
  • Regarding food, if it’s “bad” for you physically, it’s probably good for your soul.
  • Don’t back down just cause they laugh at you.
  • Always check for pebbles before putting on your shoes.
  • You can't fix crazy so don't waste your time trying.
  • Pay yourself first. This I learned from my father.
  • When someone has suffered a loss, your job isn’t to try to make them feel better — just be with them.
  • Perspective is different from every angle, learn to see others’ aka multiple things can be true at once.
    And finally,
  • Just call it Tuesday until you have your coffee and davened, it doesn’t hurt as much.

So Shanah Tovah and happy Tuesday. Here’s hoping that 5782 will be ever-improving. May we all have a year of increasing health and happiness, contentment and peace.

Rabbi Jennifer Gorman, Rosh Hashannah 5782 / September 7, 2021