The18th century rabbi and mystic Yisroel ben Eliezer, lovingly known as the Ba'al Shem Tov, referred to the Jewish people as a living Torah. He explained that a Torah that is missing even just one letter is considered pasul, invalid, and no longer fit to be used until it is corrected. Similarly, if even one Jewish person feels like an outsider, unwelcome and not part of our collective whole, then it is as if the entire Jewish people is invalid and void. It was with that spirit, and with that belief in the inherent value of each and every person that he came across, that the Ba’al Shem Tov built his community of inspired Jews.
I moved to Toronto in August 2007. In the eight years since, I have driven by Beth Tzedec thousands of times, only stopping in on a handful of occasions, mostly for meetings with the rabbis. That, of course, changed this summer when, after a six year tenure as the spiritual leader of the Annex Shul, I joined the Beth Tzedec team as the Director of Community Building and Spiritual Engagement.
I have always been impressed by the calibre of events being offered, but stayed away as I never quite felt that they were for me. Though I am comfortable in large crowds, like many, I find myself happiest in smaller, more intimate settings and conversations. That, too, likely affected my past participation in Beth Tzedec experiences. How could one possibly feel a sense of belonging, a sense of warmth and collective purpose, in a shul community of thousands of people?
When interviewing for this position, the answer to this question quickly became clear both through interacting with various leaders involved in the process and in the discussion about of my potential role. Led by Rav Baruch, a rabbi with a Ba’al Shem Tov-like focus on each and every individual from eight days to 108 years old, and who strives to know each and every of the 5,000 plus members by name, this congregation exudes warmth. In the short period of time that I have been here, I have spent valuable time with the incredibly inspiring klei kodesh, creative education and programming team, and the caring and patient administrative staff. I have also met with dozens of forward thinking and passionate lay leaders, as well as those who are happy to be “regular” participants. There is no denying that Beth Tzedec is made up thousands of members who feel a sense of pride and connection to what is clearly among the most important Jewish institutions in Canada. Even during the sleepy summer, there is incredible energy in the vast halls of this building.
My many encounters have also included some deep conversations with my peers who are in their 20s and 30s and who have expressed a strong affinity to the shul even if they only participate a few times each year. So let me share with each of you the goal and vision behind my hard to remember job title. While feeling a sense of family ties to an institution and a sense of pride is important, it is also not enough. I am here to build a community within this community, of inspired and actively engaged people in their 20s & 30s, both for singles, newly coupled off and for those with young children. Together with a team of empowered 20s and 30s, millennials, young adults or any other word that inclusively describes this cohort, our plan is to develop social, educational and spiritual community building experiences that will increase active participation; and most crucially, that will be warm, relevant, inviting and thought provoking, and perpetuate the belief in the importance of each and every individual in this community.
Over the next few months, as our plans take shape, there will be opportunities for you to contribute your ideas, your energy and your talents. When you hear from me—and you will—I hope you will take me up on my offer to connect and to get to know one another. I also invite you to reach out to me and share your vision for the future of Beth Tzedec. Together, let’s ask big questions, party hard, grow together and celebrate this incredible and awe inspiring Jewish community.
Shanah Tovah, and may we all have the sweetest of new years.