President's Kol Nidrei Speech 2013/5774
Sep 16th 2013

Good evening. Good Yom Tov. Shabbat Shalom. I am honoured to have the opportunity tonight to address you as the President of this wonderful congregation, one last time.

When I was a child, in the thick of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Circuit, on several occasions, I heard the senior rabbi at Temple Sinai, Jordan Pearlson (alav hashalom) open the service the same way every Friday night, saying:  “We are all like gerbils on the treadmill of life, spinning round and round and round. But each week, we must step off the treadmill, and into the realm of the Shabbat.”  This seems especially apt on this Friday night as we begin Yom Kippur, the Shabbat of Shabbats, as it is called.

Through the whirlwind of all that goes on in this building on a daily and weekly basis, all of the details, appointments, programs, and prayer services, sometimes it’s important to step back and think about why we are here. For me, it’s about connection: to the roots of my family, to our community, to Judaism and to Israel.

When our family visited Israel last December, our tour began with a visit to the Museum of the Diaspora (Beit Hatfutsot). I was struck by the role the synagogue has played world-wide, as part of the 4,000 year-old story of the Jewish people, as the key institution for preserving the essence of the Jewish culture and faith.

I know many of you have also found those moments of connection here at Beth Tzedec. For some of you, it involved dealing with the loss of a loved one – finding pastoral support from our Klei Kodesh, and fellow kindred spirits who offered comfort while you said kaddish together. For some of you, it involved more frequent attendance at shul, and even learning to lead part of the service, in anticipation of your child’s becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. For some of you, it involved supporting a family member embarking on a conversion process, and for others, honouring a relative for whom this synagogue and community are or were especially meaningful. And, happily for many of you, it has involved a life cycle celebration.

Whatever the impetus, it is clear that those of you who have taken advantage of these opportunities to connect here have had your lives enhanced by those experiences. You have found positive reasons to make Beth Tzedec a personal destination, to build spiritual, cultural and social connections here that are relevant to you.

During the time in which I have been privileged to serve on the Board of our shul, the most rewarding part has been my contact with you, as individual members of this very special Beth Tzedec community. You should know that every success we’ve had has been a direct result of the input you have given, as conversations (whether compliments or complaints – we do get both) sparked ideas for new programs and services and approaches. For example, in the past year, some of you have shared that you were searching to create new opportunities for connection, chances for you and your children to do hesed and tikkun olam projects together, or for you to study with your kids, or to have an adult Bat Mitzvah.

Once again, you will see your ideas reflected in the programs outlined in the Annual Program Guide for Adults, Families and Youth which is in your seats tonight. This year’s programs include a greater focus on hesed and tikkun olam as well as several new initiatives designed to help multiple generations learn together, including our new Jews in Sports series, our Parent-Teen Film Club and our History of Old Jewish Toronto program. These are in addition to the returning programs your families have already enjoyed in the past, such as Friday Night Lives, Family Dinners, music events and our annual Mother’s Day Chai Tea & Fashion Show, just to name a few. For up-to-date information, please visit our fabulous new website – I hope you have already checked it out.  You will soon be invited to personalize your communication preferences.  Please send us your email: It is the only way for us to connect with you in a relevant and timely way.

You will also continue to see a wide variety of activities and programs, panels and lectures (some fun, some serious) which allow you to engage with Israel.  As part of our commitment to supporting Israel in the shul and in our lives, we will soon be launching a survey about your and your family’s connections to Israel – please watch for it, and please participate.

I am especially thrilled to announce that we will be partnering with The Canadian Shaare Zedek Hospital Foundation to co-host a special fundraising event jointly benefiting Beth Tzedec and Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital. This extraordinary evening, called From the Heart, will take place on Thursday, November 21st here at Beth Tzedec.

On that night, we will welcome guest speaker Gideon Raff, Executive Producer and writer of the television show HOMELAND and director and writer of Israel’s television show Hatufim (Prisoners of War) on which HOMELAND is based. In addition, that evening, we will be presenting The Hon. Irwin Cotler with the inaugural Kurt and Edith Rothschild Humanitarian Award.

We hope you will all join us on November 21st for this exceptional and unique event. This initiative is consistent with our goals of creating strong, engaging programs, nurturing strategic partnerships with other local organizations and supporting Israel, as we continue to build our reputation as a Community Destination for Jewish Living. The net proceeds of this event will support the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Clinic at Shaare Zedek Medical Center which also serves as a peacetime military hospital, annually treating more than 12,000 soldiers. For Beth Tzedec, the proceeds will be designated to fund our launch of the physical renewal of our Synagogue building. 

It is our intent to use the funds raised from this evening to initiate the renovation of the Mezzanine level of our almost 60 year old structure, as a step in a comprehensive holistic plan for renewal, as I shared with you last year at this time. We are currently in the process of assembling the full suite of renovation plans and illustrations, with a view to bringing them to the congregation for consultation and review before the end of this calendar year. Those plans will incorporate critical input obtained from our key strategic partners, Robbins Hebrew Academy and Applause Catering, about how to make the space we share work best for all of us.

Our intention, as you know, is to refresh the building, adapting it to meet our current needs, and ensuring that we have flexible, up-to-date spaces within it, for the foreseeable future. All this, while maintaining the key historic and architectural features and qualities of our mid-century landmark. This is consistent with how we approached the design and construction of the new accessibility ramp in the hall leading from the parking lot which finally replaces the “temporary” ramp that was installed almost 25 years ago. In addition, over the coming months, thanks to the efforts of our House Committee and staff, you will see some cosmetic improvements made to the Hendeles Chapel. These interim measures are intended to make this spiritual space (which is used more than any other in our building) more pleasant and comfortable until we are ready to move forward with a full and still-needed structural renovation of this area.

As we pause to reflect on the year that has just ended, I would like to say thank you to our incomparable Klei Kodesh through whose efforts we continue to flourish, as a congregation and a community: Our Rabbis, Baruch Frydman-Kohl and Adam Cutler, our Cantors, Simon Spiro and Sidney Ezer, and our Ritual Director, Lorne Hanick, each of whom serves our Congregation devotedly and tirelessly, supporting, encouraging and inspiring all of us, each in his own unique way.

I thank all of them, along with Howard Black, the Beth Tzedec Singers and Andre Ivory, who has returned once again to lead the Family Services this year, for leading us so beautifully in our prayers, as well as our Educational Director, Daniel Silverman, and our Youth Director, Aily Leibtag, for coordinating our youth and family services and programming, and all the volunteers who have been leading this year’s fantastic Hot Topics! Sessions over these High Holy Days.

A huge thank you goes to all of our dedicated Synagogue staff who work so hard all year and especially so in the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days (which, this year, meant all summer), working closely with our Executive Director, Randy Spiegel, who watches over what he sometimes refers to as the small city that is Beth Tzedec. Thanks also to our Property Manager, Brian Dias and his team – Bill and Gus Petrov, Mikko Vahala and Frank Sao Bento, whose collective years of service to Beth Tzedec now exceed 100 – for keeping the building humming along. And thanks to our tremendous office, accounting and programming staff. In particular, I extend a warm welcome to our new Membership Coordinator, Sheri Federman, who will continue to be a key point of contact for our members (and Sheri is the person you will be hearing from soon if you tabbed down your Rosh Hashanah ticket!).

I extend my personal, heartfelt thanks to our Board, our new Chair, Dena Libman, who I’m so pleased to be working with, and the rest of our Executive Committee for your hard work and partnership. On behalf of Dena and myself and the rest of the Board, I offer our sincere thanks to all of the donors, sponsors, committee chairs, members and other volunteers who made it possible to mount our myriad of programs and events, as well as all of the people who attended and supported these programs. We are indebted to all of you. Through your collective efforts, over the past year we served our members, broadened participation and attracted people from the larger Jewish community to Beth Tzedec, to pray, learn, celebrate and enjoy with us, as we continue to build on our tradition of excellence, adding to our appeal, relevance and reputation, both inside and outside of these walls. That’s our commitment to you: to provide opportunities for creating and deepening connections. That’s what we mean when we say we are building Beth Tzedec as a Community Destination for Jewish Living.

On a personal note, I am proud and pleased to have had the opportunity to serve you all as President of Beth Tzedec. As I’ve said before, I grew up in this shul, as many of you did (with my grandparents having been members of Beit Hadmidrash Hagadol – the McCaul Street shul), and the last few years have taken me on a wonderful journey. It’s a long time since I had my first trips to the bimah as a Torah reader at age 13, which were the first steps for me in making our grand sanctuary become a more comfortable, spiritual home.

As we begin this new year, on this solemn night, I hope and pray for our continued strength as a congregation. I hope you will all take more moments, over the coming year, to step off the treadmill, to seek – and find – relevant opportunities to connect, to a part of yourself, to Judaism, to Israel and to Beth Tzedec, even in some small way. We’re here to help you do that.

I wish you a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah. May you be blessed with a healthy, peaceful and sweet new year, a year of new connections and a meaningful fast – G’mar hatimah tovah.