The Once and Future Shul
Sep 9th 2013

A new future King of England has been born in the country of my birth. I am English, although I haven’t lived full-time in the UK in decades. Since 1980, I have traveled the world as a singer and as a cantor, and in the words of Johnny Mercer, “There’s such a lot of world to see.”

I have lived in Canada since 2005. After repeatedly renewing my work permit, I am now in the process of applying for Landed Immigrant status. Soon, hopefully, I will become a Canadian citizen.

Canada is a very special country and there are many reasons to be happy here. I love knowing that 60 percent of the world’s lakes are within Canada’s borders, and this summer I had a chance to see some of these beautiful lakeside areas while visiting Beth Tzedec friends in cottage country. Statistically, Canada has the most educated populace in the world, with 50 percent of its population having been educated at the post-secondary level. That’s a very nice statistic to boast (and FYI, second place goes to Israel at 45 percent).

This wonderful city of Toronto has a lot to offer everyone, and I can’t think of a city outside of Israel where it is so easy, so comfortable, and so convenient to live a traditional Jewish life. Our out-of-town visitors this summer kept commenting on the abundance of Jewish events and festivals here. The fact that we have the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, the Ashkenaz Festival, Jewish Music Week in Toronto, Holocaust Education Week and the Toronto Jewish Book Festival speaks volumes about the strong Jewish identities and Jewish values of Torontonians. It’s no wonder that after growing up here, so many of you choose to settle down and make your homes in this city as adults.

A marvelous benefit of having a large, educated and vibrant Jewish population such as this—and I believe most Torontonians take this for granted—is that there is a wide choice of synagogues to suit different personal tastes. Beth Tzedec is the largest, and I am honoured to be a part of it and be able to create so many exciting programs to share with you. Of course, we all have something to say about how to improve our shul (we’re human, we’re Jewish), but I challenge you to complain about the amount of activities available to you here at Beth Tzedec, regardless of your personal interests. If you sift through the new Program Guide, you will see the wonderful things we have in store this year. I hope that you will make time to get involved.

This past year saw the debut of Beth Tzedec’s Voices of Tomorrow children’s choir, one of the most uplifting things anyone can imagine. Ten small children singing their hearts out on the bimah on Shabbat morning is something you shouldn’t miss. I guarantee that you will be affected by their spirit and energy.I know that I am moved whenever I hear them.

With this New Year comes a meaningful change for me at Beth Tzedec. Dr. Roger Goldstein, one of the first people I met here in Toronto, was responsible, along with our past president Charles Simon, in bringing me to Beth Tzedec. He has served as Chair of the Music Committee since my arrival. Roger is now stepping down from that position and I do not have enough words to thank him for all he has done. From the start, he shared my musical and artistic vision, and did all within his power to help me raise the caliber of musical events at Beth Tzedec to a new level. He understood the significance of turning a synagogue Purim shpiel into the amazing Beth Tzedec Purim Family Musicals that have become so memorable for the community.

It was with his help (and that of Charles Simon, too) that we presented a fantastic concert series featuring the late Marvin Hamlisch, Neil Sedaka and the late Bruce Adler. Mounting the enormous productions (and enormously successful productions) of the past three years— Halleluyah Israel Song Festival Concert, 100 Years of Jewish Hollywood, and this year’s spectacular Great American Jewish Songbook at the Toronto Centre for the Arts—could not have been done without Roger’s steady and consistent support. Beth Tzedec has most definitely become The Music Synagogue of Toronto, and I must acknowledge the years of dedication that Roger gave to this end.

While I am thanking, I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful generosity of Mary Ellen Herman, who graciously sponsored the Songbook Concert’s VIP Intermission Reception, in memory of Elizabeth and Michael Herman z”l. In my revelry at that moment of the evening, I inadvertently left out her name when publicly thanking all the generous donors who made this concert possible. My apologies to Mary Ellen for omitting her at the time, and I extend my utmost gratitude to her and to the rest of the marvelous, music-loving sponsors of the evening.

In getting to know this city, I am only now discovering the exquisite beautiful original synagogues of Toronto. Most of you know these hidden gems, and many of you had parents who davened there when the shuls were first built (and a few of you even davened there as children yourselves). Well, I am now getting ready to participate in something very exciting. The Golden Synagogue Series is being presented to the Toronto community through Doors Open Toronto and Jewish Music Week. Next spring, following Pesaẖ, I will be leading three special weeknight choral concert Ma’ariv and Sefirat HaOmer services in three of Toronto’s oldest synagogues. This is an opportunity for Torontonians to experience the shuls as they were originally experienced, to recreate a time gone by. It is a golden opportunity indeed.

I am so proud of this country, this city and our shul, and I am excited about the year ahead. Just as we hope the new future king will be everything he can be (notwithstanding his father, grandfather and great grandmother live “tzu langer yuhren”), we also hope that our wonderful Synagogue, Beth Tzedec, will continue to grow, evolve and live up to all its potential.

Aliza and I wish you and your families, a Shanah Tovah U’metukah, a year of health, sweetness and spiritual growth.