Rabbi’s notes

Remembrance Day remarks 2013

Rabbi Aaron made the following remarks at UofT’s Remembrance Day ceremony on Monday November 11, 2013:

In Judaism, it is customary to append the Hebrew phrase “zeikher livrakhah”—“May his or her memory be a blessing”—after saying the name of someone who has died.  Through these few words, we affirm that not only was the person’s life a blessing, but even our memory of her or his life continues to be a blessing for us.

On Remembrance Day, we, as a national community, commemorate those whose lives were a blessing for the world, those who fought and died to keep it free and safe.  Zikhronam livrakhah—remembering them is our blessing.

I’ll now recite a brief memorial prayer in Hebrew and then English:

O God, full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant perfect rest in Your sheltering Presence, in the lofty levels among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, for the souls of all those soldiers and innocent civilians who went on to their world in Canada’s wars.  May their resting place be in the Garden of Eden.  Thus may the Compassionate One shelter them in God’s sheltering Presence for eternity, and may God bind their souls in the bond of life.  The Eternal is their inheritance, and may they repose in peace on their resting places.  And let us say: Amen.

Rosh Hashana 5772

As we stand at the cusp of a new year, let’s each take some time to reflect on the highs and lows of our past year, as well as our plans and aspirations for the coming one.

As a community, we have had a 5771 with elements of profound loss and grief as well as deep joy and celebration.  Makom has continued to grow by all measures.  In two-and-a-half years, we have doubled our creative, meaningful, and diverse programming, with an average of 4 programs per month in 2009, 5 per month in 2010, and 8 per month thus far in 2011.  We have also seen increases in participation, website visits, Facebook group members, and Twitter followers.  Our email list currently has 936 subscribers.

This past summer, we launched Makom Families, monthly programming geared toward kids and families in order to create community among downtown Jewish families with kids and to provide quality Jewish activities at family-friendly times.  The Downtown Jewish Play School began earlier this month with its first cohort of 6 children, meeting five days a week for Hebrew immersion play and creative Jewish content for ages three to seven.

We continue to receive overwhelmingly positive qualitative feedback from many of you on your experiences with Makom, along with constructive criticism that helps us improve.  We recently surveyed our community with a comprehensive questionnaire and received 175 responses (thank you!), the results of which we’ll analyze and share in the coming months.  We received donations from 107 individuals in our community, as well as grants from Natan, YCT Rabbinical School, BYFI Alumni Venture Fund, and Live Green Toronto.  We appreciate this support immensely.

We have an amazing and ambitious line up of programs and services in Tishrei, the first month of the new year; I hope you’ll join us for them (details below).  Further ahead, we’re looking forward to Makom’s first Annual General Meeting, expanded avenues for volunteering for and giving to Makom, and increased organizational strength as we continue to grow and meet the needs of our diverse downtown community.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in Makom; we’re building this community together.  I look forward to making Makom soar with you in 5772.

Warmest wishes for a shanah tovah um-tukah – a sublime and sweet new year,

Aaron & the Makom Leadership Team (Andrea, Felicia, Louise, Miriam, Ruth, Sarah, and Tema)

Remembering Jack Layton

The day after Jack Layton’s death, Rabbi Aaron shared this in the weekly newsletter and on Facebook. Thank you to our friends at the Glebe Shul in Ottawa and at Koffler Centre of the Arts for sharing Aaron’s story:

Dear friends,

As a community, we join the rest of Canada in mourning the death of Jack Layton, Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, former Toronto city councillor, and our neighbour in downtown Toronto. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends.

I had the privilege of meeting Jack last summer. Although not Jewish, he and his partner Olivia Chow had kept up the mezuzah that was already on the doorway of their home, where a rabbi lived in the early twentieth century.  Jack was curious as to the mezuzah’s contents and, connected through a friend in common, asked me to teach him about it.  I biked over with a Hebrew-English humash (Torah book) and we spoke at length about the meanings of the mezuzah, which we temporarily removed from the doorframe for closer inspection, along with the histories of his home and downtown Toronto, and our personal stories.  I came away with a deep respect for Jack and his spiritual sensitivity, inquisitiveness, down-to-earth friendliness, and ethics.

Jack’s inspiring parting words summon us to repair our world:

Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity…  My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

May his memory be a blessing.

Looking back on 5770 & forward to 5771

(From Rosh Hashana 5771/fall 2010)

In the year and a half since its founding, Makom has come a long way, from a few conversations about the possibility of creating a new downtown Jewish community to an active, innovative, and diverse Jewish community that has brought new Jewish life and spirituality into a beautiful, historic synagogue, as well as into hundreds of Jews’ lives.

Makom currently has more than 750 individuals on our e-mail list (if you’re not on it and would like to be, Email us!), nearly 300 members of our Facebook group, and nearly 150 people following Makom on Twitter. Our community has come together for 40 bi-weekly, soulful Friday night services and 50 arts, learning, and social and environmental activism programs. Yes, that’s nearly 100 events in just a year and a half and with minimal resources!

Makom’s positive effects radiate beyond our actual programs. We are a leader in the revitalization of downtown Jewish life and were a key partner in launching the Downtown Tikkun Leil Shavuot that attracted more than 300 people. Makom has become a hub for convening the people, ideas, and actions to change the landscape of downtown Toronto’s Jewish life and its possibilities.

Support Makom

As Makom scales up from a fledging organization with a shoestring budget, entirely volunteer-run, to a financially-sustainable organization with the staffing and resources to meet the needs of our growing community, we’re looking for your support!

We still need to raise $25,000 in order to meet our budget for 2010. Please make a generous tax-deductible donation to Makom and give back to your creative, downtown Jewish community.

Visit our “Donate” page for information on how you can help.

Looking forward

As always, we invite you to share your ideas, critiques, and aspirations for Makom with us. Based on the success of our first community conversation last month, we will convene an expanded series of facilitated discussions to solicit the input of a broader base of our community in envisioning the future of Makom. Look for those later in the fall.

As we enter a new year and forge ahead in co-creating our community’s exciting future enmeshed in the old spaces of Jewish tradition and downtown Toronto, I am reminded of a phrase Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, wrote in a letter in 1910. He envisioned a world in which “Ha-yashan yithadeish ve-he-hadash yitkadeish” – “The old becomes new and the new becomes holy.”

We’re looking forward to celebrating the fall Jewish holidays as a community in so many creative and meaningful ways together with you. See below and the sidebar for details.