Connecting to Israel and the Jewish People
Apr 24th 2014

With the winter weather continuing, Purim just behind us and Pesaẖ sneaking up, I hope you are keeping warm and looking forward to the eventual arrival of spring.

Another Incredible Visit to Israel
Last year at this time, I wrote about our meaningful family trip to Israel, my first visit there after 20 years. I was recently privileged to return to Israel to participate in the selection of next year’s Shinshinim on behalf of Beth Tzedec. The Shinshinim program has taken hold in Toronto in a unique and special way. This year, a group of more than 50 from our community travelled to Israel as part of the annual UJA Israel Engagement trip. Our primary mission was to select 22 Israeli high school seniors who will spend a gap year in Toronto, sharing their love and appreciation of their country with us and our children, and making meaningful connections which will undoubtedly continue long past their time spent here.

There were two main things that struck me about my Israel experience. First, each of the trip participants—who included Rabbis, Day School Principals and Senior Educators, Camp Directors, Youth Directors and committed volunteers from all of the participating organizations—demonstrated strength, diversity, depth and commitment to a common vision of innovating to help the people and institutions of Jewish Toronto find more personal, complex, contemporary and active connections with Israelis and Israeli society. Second, the group of Israeli young adults who applied to be Shinshinim in Toronto (through the Jewish Agency for Israel) were extremely impressive. They embody commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. The spirit of volunteerism is deeply ingrained in them, along with a passion for leadership and practical experience as youth leading youth. Toronto is so fortunate to have these young Israelis join our community.

I was so pleased to share this experience with Aily Leibtag and Rav Adam Cutler, who were our professional Beth Tzedec representatives (Rav Adam luckily having planned to be in Jerusalem to study at the Shalom Hartman Institute around the same time), and with Claire Sumerlus (Head of School) and Sylvia Eilath (Principal) of Robbins Hebrew Academy, our partner institution in Israel Engagement. Currently, we are the only partners whose Shinshinim work in the same building—a convenience for them and a real benefit to us, as it allows us all to experience them more frequently.

The well-organized trip was coordinated by UJA Federation’s Israel Engagement Committee, including our members Adam Joseph (incoming chair of that committee) and Lianne Leboff (chair of the Shinshinim Committee). One of the core themes of the trip was building Israel Engagement through partnerships. We not only worked with our direct partner, RHA, to choose a dynamic team of Shinshinim, but we also used our time to explore ways for Beth Tzedec to work with other Toronto organizations to develop new types of Israel-related programming and activities, leveraging our Shinshinim. In addition, we were introduced to various Israeli institutions and were challenged to find meaningful ways to partner with them.

After choosing our two fantastic Shinshinim for 2014/15 (see page 25 to learn about Or Klein and Ofir Hoory and your opportunities to host them), we enjoyed a reunion dinner with past Shinshinim. Nine out of 10 of these alumni from our Congregation joined us, and many participated in interview day, coaching the candidates (and our team) through the process. As we came together in Jerusalem, it was especially meaningful to have them all around one table with us and to hear about the impact that their year in Canada has had on their lives long after their return to Israel. Other highlights included the time we spent in Toronto’s partnership region of Eilat/Eilot where we met with a group of “Diller Teen Fellows” who are involved in a UJA-sponsored high school leadership training program in partnership with Toronto students (including Beth Tzedec members in Grades 10 and 11), and a hands-on gardening outing at an elementary school where we worked alongside Israeli children who greeted us warmly, waving Canadian flags. As the short week rushed to a close, we spent Shabbat with our newly-selected Shinshinim and met their families, concluding with a spirited Havdalah.

Thanks to the continuing generosity of the Weisdorf family, Or and Ofir will soon be the seventh pair of warm, energetic and engaging Israeli Young Emissaries to come to Beth Tzedec. We are very fortunate to have been involved in this program almost since its inception. Our current Shinshinim, Barak Tal and Maya Schwartz, are with us until June. In addition to working with our children in our Congregational School, Bar/Bat Mitzvah program and Youth and Family activities, they continue to offer the popular bi-weekly adashot program for our teens (where, like many Israelis do, they simply meet at Aroma to discuss Israeli current events) and adult educational programs, such as the upcoming “Israel Is Real” course and ongoing Israeli movie/TV nights. If you haven’t already done so, please take the opportunity to experience Israel today through Maya and Barak.

Our 60th Anniversary Celebrations
In anticipation of Beth Tzedec celebrating its Jubilee in 2015, marking 60 years since our magnificent Sanctuary was dedicated, I’m pleased to announce that the Board recently struck a 60th Anniversary Committee, to be chaired by two enthusiastic Past Presidents of our Congregation: Marvin Miller and Paul Rothstein.

Paul and Marvin will soon be assembling a team of volunteers to plan for this auspicious occasion, honouring our past and celebrating our future. If you would like to offer your help, please be in touch with the Synagogue office.

Connecting With You
Thanks to those of you who came to the recent Town Halls to hear about our plans for the renewal of our building. We appreciated your questions and input, which will inform our ongoing planning. If you missed these sessions and would like to hear more, please be in touch with me at And on the subject of being in touch, be sure you are receiving our new weekly E-Newsletter, The Week Ahead. If your email address is not on file with us, please remedy that by sending a note to Last but not least, we are about to launch a survey to help us understand how you engage with Israel, and how we can broaden and deepen Israel’s role in our synagogue programming. A link will be provided in an upcoming edition of The Week Ahead; if you would prefer a paper copy of the survey, please contact the office. We hope you will take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us.

Wishing you a speedy end to winter, a mild and sunny spring, and a ag Pesaẖ kasher v’samea.