Writings from the Rabbis

A Passover Message — 18 April 2019 ~ 13 Nisan 5779
Apr 18th 2019

The central ritual of Passover is the Hagaddah, the telling of our Master Story; how slaves became free people and how a band of disparate tribes became a people. Myjewishlearning.com explains that there are three essential elements of the seder’s retelling of the Exodus: “the family, the individual, and the nation. As a home event involving the full family as well as guests, the seder draws together all age groups. It requires the participation of the old and the young.” In the telling and retelling of the story of the Exodus, and the inclusion of our personal stories of redemption, each generation fulfills the commandment to see themselves as if they personally were redeemed from Egypt. 

Since arriving to Beth Tzedec from my mini exodus from New Jersey, I have had the privilege to meet and greet and listen to your stories; the stories of our Beth Tzedec community. You’ve shared with me your meaningful experiences as part of this sacred community, your ideas for increasing the impact of those experiences for others and your ideas for new initiatives, programs and priorities.  In the past six (6) weeks we have met in parlour meetings, more than 30 one on one or couple engagements, during Shabbat, programs, funerals, hospital visits, home visits and more. Together we have engaged about 10 percent of our community or more than 500 people so far.

I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned:

  • Beth Tzedec means a lot to us. It’s where our family has always been a member. This is the place where we have celebrated our meaningful life-cycle events and where we’ve turned to for support at moments of crisis. 

  • It’s about relationships: connecting with spiritual leaders, friends, family and the Jewish experience.  When we reflect on what has been most meaningful to us we do not speak of programs or the building, we speak of each other; people. Hinei ma tov u’ma nai’im shevet achim gam yachad – How good and pleasing it is when we all dwell together. 

  • There are a lot of terrific people who are part of our community. We have dedicated lay leaders and a talented professional staff who care tremendously about the Jewish people and Beth Tzedec.

  • We share an anxiety about the future and the synagogue engagement of our children and grandchildren. We want Beth Tzedec to be a place of dynamic, relevant Jewish engagement for ourselves and our future generations.

  • We want Beth Tzedec to be more radically welcoming of the diversity of our Jewish people, specifically of the LGBTQ+ community, Jews of colour, and to the people of other faiths or no faith connected to us through marriage.

  • We want to be more spiritually accessible to all. We want more thoughtfulness and kavanah (mindfulness) in our religious experiences, transliterations more readily available, more English and more participatory singing in our prayer experiences. We also want them to be shorter. And we want them to be authentic experiences rooted in and informed by our tradition.

Emerging from the telling of our stories is this central question we have begun to ask as we plan for the future: how can Beth Tzedec support me, my family, and my peers in our Jewish journey? How can we engage Jewish wisdom and practice, deepened in community, which leads to well-being. In Hebrew, to shelaymut

Through this process the following priorities have been identified for us to work on in the (Jewish) year ahead:

  • Launch the Centre for Spiritual Well-Being to provide a new framework through which Beth Tzedec focuses on a mindful, transformational Jewish engagement with our members and the greater Toronto area.  We will focus on wellness of mind, body and spirit, through a Jewish context, to increase human flourishing.

  • Focus on developing a strategy for personal engagement through multiple smaller, caring communities.  Specific emphasis will be on young family engagement (defined as having one (1) child 10 years old or younger), adults in their 20s and 30s and the B’nei Mitzvah experience.

  • Complete our search processes and onboard a new associate rabbi and hazzan who have strong relational and community building skills.

  • Build a collaborative team of lay, spiritual and professional leaders committed to refining and implementing our vision, mission, values and strategy. 

  • Experiment with different modalities of prayer to increase the relevancy and meaning of Jewish prayer and spiritual experiences while keeping them to reasonable time frames. 

These priorities will form the basis of our Beth Tzedec hagaddah, the stories we will tell each other in the years ahead. I am excited by them and I hope that you are too! Let me know what you think about them and how you want to partner with us to achieve these goals. And please, let’s continue to meet.  Especially now as the weather is warming up! I look forward to cycling, walking the dog, grabbing a coffee and sitting outside and sharing Shabbat and holidays together.


Rabbi Steve Wernick