A number of years ago, I hired a delightful woman, born and raised in Ireland. She always wore a smile and her work ethic was positively motivating. Though not Jewish, she remarked on how similar the Jewish people were to the Irish in our attitudes towards family and the significance of life. We traded stories about grandparents, family gatherings (there was always food involved) and even religious struggle. She told stories of her father and how he had a makom kavuah, a regular place, in the town square, where he sat; greeting those who strolled by, offering his wisdom to those who were interested. In her community, as in ours, there was a feeling of family and a comfort in the consistency of seeing and being seen by a “regular”. It is also reminiscent of the feeling of coming to minyan and seeing the regulars, who unofficially check-up and check-in with members and friends.
When Audrey retired, she gave me her brakhah, the “Irish proverb” that headlines this article. These few words capture, so eloquently and simply, how important it is to nurture and cherish the human relationships in our lives. We spend so much time working together, or learning or praying together, that when things are right, we become connected through a shared purpose. In our homes or our workplaces, when we are “well matched”, there can be shalom in the house and our relationships and our achievements can reach gold medal status. Our Jewish values guide the way we live our lives and contribute to finding the state of shalom, of peace. Audrey’s Irish proverb reminds me to look at what I do and with whom I do it and to strive to embrace each person for the individual that they are. Of course, we all have our foibles, our “pimples and clay feet”, as my old friend Rupert Shriarz”l used to say, but we all have the spark of Hashem and the inherent potential to do good by each other.
When I came to Beth Tzedec three years ago, I challenged myself to create a personal ‘mission statement’ to guide me and our staff in our work. I read the history of our two congregations, how various personalities came together, how the community and then the synagogue merged and migrated up the Bathurst corridor. I reread stories that I knew about from my USY years—about the unique professional and lay personalities who shaped the congregation and who have had an impact on the entire Toronto community. From B’nei Yisrael to Am Yisrael—like the “children of Israel”, who grew to become the “nation of Israel”, the Beth Tzedec story is a history of the lives and experiences of the people who make up the congregation. Then as now, it is the lives of the people, who connect through the shul. We come to this holy place where we gather, pray, eat, cry, laugh, sing and learn. It is where “I” as an individual come, grow and become the “we” that makes up a congregation.
While our “house”, the physical plant, demands daily attention, it must be our mission to embrace our people, who make this their second home. When the big arms of Beth Tzedec, as represented by the leadership, membership, klei kodesh and staff, can embrace our people, wherever they are, for whatever they may need, then we continue to be a kehillah kedoshah, a sacred congregation, just as our ancestors dreamed we would be.
Embracing Our People remains my mission statement and has been adopted by many in our office. It feels right in its message, reminding us that, at home or at shul, no matter what we look like on the outside, it is who we are on the inside and how we deal with each other that defines who we really are.
So while I spend so much of my
time practically ensuring that our roof is “well thatched”, what is most
important and the thing that drives me every day, is to do what I can do to
ensure that the people inside are “well matched”. To make a gift that will
strengthen our Synagogue, please contact me at 416-781-3514 ext. 211 or