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High Holiday Sermons 2023


Please note: For Yom Kippur, both the text and video links will be uploaded 


Rosh Hashana Day 1 and 2  - YouTube Links

You can hear Rabbi Goldstein's sermon for Rosh Hashanah Day 1 on video here: 

Day 1 - click HERE

Day 2 - no video link, text is below



Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur, Neilan  - YouTube Links

You can hear Rabbi Goldstein's sermons on video here: 

Kol Nidre - click HERE                    Kol Nidre Sermon starts at TBD

Yom Kippur - click HERE               Kol Nidre Yom Kippur Morning Sermon starts at TBD

Neilah - click HERE                        (no sermon, this is a link to the service)



Rabbi Goldstein's sermons are below:


Rosh Hashana Day 1

My homiletics teacher in seminary, Rabbi Lenny Kravitz (not the singer!) had a saying which has stayed with me all through my 40 years in the Rabbinate. He told us “Boys… (yes he started every class that way even with the 9 women in my class) “every Rabbi really has within them, for their entire Rabbinate, only three sermons to give. So make sure those three are good.”

Now that's true for me, I’ve only given 3 sermons: the one I wanted to give, the one I actually gave, and the one I wished I had given!

Looking over my files, I found that I had another type of three sermons— the handwritten kind (show), the typewriter kind (show), and the computer kind (show). I’m retiring just in time I think not to have the ChatGPT kind. And that’s good because according to a recent German research study, it was found that ChatGPT, like most Rabbis, uses the same 25 jokes over and over.

Rabbi Kravitz, I really did give just three sermons in 40 years. I hope they were good, 'cause I’m gonna give them again, right now, right here, in honour of my last Rosh Hashana at City Shul.

Three things that I’ve pitched all my Rabbinic career, three ideas that are the very essence of Rosh Hashana and the very essence of my Rabbinate. They are from Pirke Avot chapter 1 Mishnah 2 : Al shlosha devarim ha-olam omed: On three things the world stands: on Torah, on worship, and on acts of compassion.

Three tools to ensure not just the survival of the Jewish people but also our vibrancy. Three tools for personal growth and our human responsibility as members of a civilized society. Torah as the time-tested wisdom of our people, worthy of study; worship as the meaningful and joyful way we form community, worthy of participation; and acts of compassion— Tikkun Olam which repairs the broken world, worthy of action.

Three types of Jews who will ensure our continuity:


Literate Jews. Spiritual Jews. Compassionate Jews.

Jews who know something. Jews who feel something. And Jews who do something.

Head. Heart. Hands.

That’s it, you can all go home now! (Just kidding!)

Not everyone can manage to pursue three goals with equal passion, Torah and worship and Tikkun Olam; it’s healthy for a community to have different individuals who focus on one more than the other two, or one at one time and the others at another time. We are not all equally drawn to study, or prayer, or social action. But with all three kinds of Jews each sharpening their own tool, the Jewish people will move forward into a future worth working for.

First: Judaism is essentially a religion of skill, a how-to of rituals and observances. That's why we need literate Jews, cerebral Jews who understand that we are not a religion of belief and doctrine where all you need to do is say a creedal formula or express a personal belief to be “in”. That’s why it’s so hard and also so meaningful to convert to Judaism; it takes study and practice to figure out how to light the Chanukah menorah and why the challah gets covered and when next year’s Rosh Hashana will fall and where to find the portion for your kid’s B'Mitzvah.

Literate Jews study Torah, and I mean all the kinds of Torah there are in the Jewish world, and so their study engenders the flowering of even more creative ways of understanding Torah. They study the Torah of Jewish literature and the Torah of Jewish music; the Torah of Jewish movies and the Torah of current events; the Torah of Jewish philosophy and the Torah of Jewish history; the Torah of Jewish feminism and the Torah of queer Jewish thinking; the Torah of Reform Judaism and the Torah of traditional Judaism. Literate Jews can answer their Christian and Muslim and Hindu and Sikh friends and family’s questions without embarrassment. Literate Jews can write letters to the editor and decry anti-semitism and denounce anti-democratic measures and meet ignorance with facts and depth and self-confidence.

Literate Jews are able to successfully hold tradition while changing tradition. They know enough to figure out how to challenge and when to remold and what to renew and why to hold on. Challenges to tradition from Jewish literacy are not based on convenience or personal preference or individual personal needs and wants, but from knowing and pondering and comparing and researching and exploring.

Literate Jews can find G-d in study. As Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, the late Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary once said,  “When I pray, I speak to G-d; when I study, G-d speaks to me.”

This year, perhaps your Jewish path will lead you to become a more literate Jew. Maybe you’ll take a class with me or come to hear a speaker who will challenge you or read one Jewish book and discuss it with our Book Club. Make it a priority to go to the Jewish film festival or Holocaust Education Week. You’ll visit the new Holocaust Museum up at the Prosserman JCC or you’ll book a trip with me to Jewish Croatia (sorry for the shameless plug.) You’ll subscribe to Haaretz or the Jerusalem Post and keep informed about Israel as frustrating as that will be. You’ll subscribe to a weekly dvar Torah—or maybe you’ll challenge yourself to give a dvar Torah. And then, may you hear Gd speaking to you through study.

Second: Since synagogues are the best place to practice the art of praying, the joy of singing, the depth of practicing rituals and the demands of being in community, we need Spiritual Jews, emotive Jews who elevate our prayer experience with their open hearts;. Spiritual Jews build spiritual synagogues which consider themselves to be first and foremost a meeting place for the heart and soul; which choose relational over transactional behaviours and have covenantal trust in their congregants and their staff.

Now some folks prefer to call themselves SBNR— Spiritual. But not Religious. I understand folks who don’t want to identify with any organized religion— don’t worry, Judaism is a very disorganized religion!— and I understand that organized religions can be repressive or even oppressive. Indeed right-wing religion has taken centre stage over left-wing religion, and being the spokesperson for religious values, that old-time religion has hurt people and abandoned them and marginalized them. But the life of the spirit is just as healthy as the life of the body. The same serotonin and dopamine which decreases depression and anxiety sticks around in your brain for a couple of hours after you exercise and equally for a couple of hours after a service.  Maybe you hated your Bar Mitzvah a hundred years ago or you remember painfully what some Rabbi in your childhood said or did that offended you, or maybe you are that non-Jewish spouse whose Jewish mother -in-law is pushing you in or out— our shul offers a sophisticated, mature Judaism that can actually help you heal, make you feel whole and valued and help you see the sacredness in every day life.

The Kotzker rebbe was once asked “Why does it say in the Shema: ‘These words shall be on your heart’? Why ‘on’ and not ‘in’?” He answered: “The heart is not always open. Therefore the Torah says: Lay these words on your heart, so that when your heart opens, they will be there, ready to fall in.”

This year, perhaps your Jewish path will lead you to become a more spiritual Jew. Maybe you’ll come to Shabbat services and close your eyes and sing your heart out even if you don’t understand the words or believe in them or even if you were told that you don’t have a good voice. You’ll start a hike with a blessing. You’ll start lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night or hosting a Friday night dinner at your place. Maybe you’ll take up a mindfulness practice online with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality or you’ll start G-d wrestling, thinking deeply about your own beliefs.  And then, may you find G-d’s indefinable Presence through the presence of a community at prayer.

Third, the meaning of the word compassion, from the Latin, is “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress, together with a desire to alleviate it.”  That’s why we need Compassionate Jews, activist Jews who live the Yom Kippur morning haftarah of Isaiah and challenge us to live it too.  “…To unlock fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke To let the oppressed go free; To break off every share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to ignore your own kin.”

Compassionate Jews pray with their feet when they hearken to the words we say after the Aleynu at every service: לְתַקֵּן עוֹלָם בְּמַלְכוּת שַׁדַּי To repair the world through establishing Gd's presence”… They understand that Hesed is not a description of a feeling, but of conduct.

They live in a way which reduces harm to others and to the environment. Because Judaism commands us, in the book of Genesis, to steward this planet— l’ovdah u’l’shomrah (to serve and preserve)—as an act of tikkun olam.

Compassionate Jews see injustice against any fellow human being as an affront to God and to Judaism which asserts that every person is b’tzelem Elohim, created in Gd’s image. They take risks and hold unpopular views when they defend the underdog and quote Torah to help them. In the words of author Jonathan Krasner: “tikkun olam is supposed to challenge us to move out of our comfort zone. If it becomes little more than a vaguely Jewish way of embodying politically progressive orthodoxies, it loses its meaning.”

This year, perhaps your Jewish path will lead you to become a more compassionate Jew. Perhaps this winter you’ll stock the back seat of your car with socks and gloves to give out to homeless folks as they approach your car on the highway ramps. You’ll support our food drive on Yom Kippur. You’ll pester people at kiddush to mindfully recycle their cans. Maybe you’ll join our Mitzvah group to make or deliver soup and visit our ill and bereaved. You’ll give tzedakah regularly and cyclically, not just at the end of December at tax time. And then may you will feel the push of Gd’s hand—HaRachaman, the Compassionate One—moving you to action.

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, used to teach that these three pillars— Torah, Worship and Gemilut Chasadim, acts of compassion— can be thought of as three directions: Inward, Upward and Outward. Torah (point in) Avodah (point up) and Gemilut Chasadim (point out).

There you have it.  A Judaism that goes Inward, Upward and Outward. A Judaism of the Head, the Heart, and the Hands. Jews moved by Mind, Spirit, and Action. A Judaism that enriches us personally, communally, and globally. Literate Jews, Spiritual Jews and Compassionate Jews who will move us ever forward because they know something, they feel something, and they do something.

The 16th century Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew, teaches on these three pillars: “In order to acquire the true level of tov, of Divine goodness planted within us on the day of creation of humanity in the Garden of Eden, humans must perfect three different facets of existence: 1) our potential within ourselves 2) our potential with our Creator, with something greater than ourselves; and 3) our potential with our fellow human beings, fulfilling our responsibilities to the people with whom God has surrounded us. Torah perfects our inner potential; worship perfects our relationship with the Divine, and acts of compassion perfect our relationship with all our fellow human beings. With these three pillars – Torah, Avodah and G’milut Chasadim – we become complete, we fulfill our purpose as Jews in this world.”

Thats my three. Dr Kravitz—I hope I’ve made you proud.

Shana Tova.




Rosh Hashana Day 2

(Klezmer band plays opening bar to “Tradition” from Fiddler, invite people to sing)

When Tevye sings these words “tradition, tradition” he isn’t actually talking about Shabbat or kashrut. He doesn’t sing “Shabbat, Shabbat” or “Pesach, the Matzah!” He’s actually singing about gender roles (“the son…the son”) and the cultural ways the Ashkenazi shtetl lives. In his world, as in much of the Orthodox world, tradition encompasses just about everything you do and gives it an aura of authority and gravitas. You wear a large fur hat from the 1800’s in Poland?  “Tradition”! Women can’t be Rabbis? “Tradition”! 

There’s plenty of Jewish law to govern us, believe me. It’s actually the idea of tradition that sometimes binds us in, as much as it expands us out.

While there are scores of words in the Torah for law— chok, chukkah, mishpat, mitzvah, the word “minhag” which we use for custom appears only once in II Kings and there it means “to drive a chariot” in fact it means to recklessly drive a chariot! And the word “masoret” which we use for tradition only appears once in Ezekiel, and there it is paired with “brit” to mean “the bond of the covenant.” Not having any Torah foundation to rest upon in their creation of customs, the Rabbis of the Talmud interpreted and innovated and even changed the older traditions on which they drew, but then their innovations became set and are now almost immutable, like lighting candles on Friday night, or having a Seder on Pesach. The Torah only says “tell your children” but not do it in a 4 hour marathon meal where you get to eat at only the last hour!  The Talmud in Beitzah 4b calls this “Minhag avotenu b’yadenu”—the customs of our ancestors are what we do today—and it governs for example, the Conservative movement retaining the 2nd day of holidays even though we all have digital calendars which tell us exactly when the new moon is and there’s no danger anymore at all of celebrating Sukkot or Shavuot on the wrong day. The same phrase governs the Reform movement, for example, when we choose not to blow the shofar on Shabbat.

So we as Reform Jews sometimes do things cause they’ve always been done that way and that feels familiar and good. And sometimes we do things to be “in step” with the rest of the community, to not deviate and cause more fractiousness in the Jewish world even though and even when we could do things differently. In the Talmud Pesachim 51-52 we learn:

מִפְּנֵי שִׁינּוּי הַמַּחְלוֹקֶת..

Changes cause disagreement. “…Rav Safra said to Rabbi Abba: Communities in a situation like us, who, based on calculations, already know the determination of the month and are no longer concerned lest the Festival be observed on the wrong day, clearly, on the second day of a Festival, we still do not perform labor…due to the need to avoid deviation that causes dispute…”

No the Reform movement in the US is full of deviations that caused and continue to cause dispute. Here in Canada the Reform movement for example chose not to deviate on patrilineal descent and then that caused dispute within our own movement! But when the Reform movement followed the Conservative movement to allow the eating of legumes (kitniyot) on Passover we all danced the hora! That didn’t seem to cause any disputes and just made alot of Ashkenazic people very happy.  Enough to drive even Tevye crazy.

We are constantly on the tightrope between the words of  Proverbs 22:28

אַל־תַּ֭סֵּג גְּב֣וּל עוֹלָ֑ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עָשׂ֣וּ אֲבוֹתֶֽיךָ׃

Do not remove the ancient boundary stone that your ancestors set up” and the need for 21st century Judaism to reflect 21st century values and thus moving these boundary stones to make room for women, LGBTQ, interfaith families, spiritual questioners and modern interpretations and ideas. 

So we invent “new traditions.”  I love that phrase “new tradition.”  It’s so odd if you think about it. But we do continually create traditions, just as our ancestors did. The Torah doesn’t say to light Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sundown. And it doesn’t say to eat a braided egg bread on Shabbat. What makes a tradition “stick” and then after how many years does it have the “weight of tradition”? Babynamings for girls is a great example. It was a very new tradition I had a hand in creating 30 years ago. Today its an established tradition in all the Jewish denominations.

Some new traditions are born out of necessity. Like this service at Palais Royale. It was started because of COVID and not being able to be inside and yet wanting to have a second day service. A service that had to be shortened out of necessity. Then Jeff Cipin in his expansive creativity said hey lets blow more than one shofar when people can really hear it not on zoom, and our surround-sound shofar was born.  And now, it’s (sing) “tradition, tradition!”

Taking a breath during V’shamru? Tradition! Instruments for Psalm 150 Halleluyah? Tradition! A scotch l’chayim before Birkat Hamazon? Tradition, unless you change it to tequila, then its a “new tradition!”

And there are customs which differ from eidah to eidah (Jewish background subgroups like Sephardi, Ashkanazi, Mizrachi, Roma, Greek) like whether or not you name a child after a living or a deceased relative or whether or not you eat rice on Pesach. These are born out of food culture, like eating dairy on Shavuot or hiding a key in the first challah after Pesach or making honey cake for Rosh Hashana. They are born out of local culture, like Yemenite Torah trope which uses an Arabic modality. They are born from a certain point in history—like the celebration of Yom Ha’atmaut, Israeli Independence Day; or the observance of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And they are born from the ideas of a community’s Rabbi, like sharing Modim moments during the repetition of the Amidah. These “new customs” also change through time and space and place, and they run the risk of becoming as stale as the old ones when they become too rarified in a community. You know the joke about the community where the person carrying the Torah around always bent down during the Torah processional just as the Torah reached the middle pew. No one knew why but Shabbos in and Shabbos out the person carrying the Torah bent down as the Torah reached the middle pew. The new Rabbi comes and wants to understand this very specific tradition. So they call the oldest member of the shul and he explains: oh thats because in the old building there was a low beam right about the middle row; the guy carrying the Torah had to bend so as not to hit his head! I guess now we just kept doing it!”

It’s like our Chazzanit always tell us: the “traditional” tune you love may be traditional only in the shul you grew up in, and it’s not traditional for the person sitting next to you who converted. It’s not traditional for the person sitting next to you who grew up Sephardic or even who grew up in a reform synagogue in the US.

There’s a mythical bird in Ghanian tradition called the Sankofa. The word Sankofa literally means to turn around to retrieve something and the Sankofa bird is depicted with its head turned backwards to symbolically capture an egg above its back while it’s flying forward. The bird literally flies forward with its head turned backward. I can’t think of a better symbol for us as Jews. We fly forward with our heads turned back all the time.  That sometimes makes for a bit of a balance problem; and sometimes we will crash because we are not looking ahead; but we will always know from whence we came and it gives us direction.

So this year, as we hear the “traditional” surround-sound shofar at this ”traditional” 2nd day Shofarpalooza; let’s think about what City Shul traditions we will hold as our own into the future, which we will “inscribe as law” as it were; and which we be willing to change or alter or even discard as “well thats the way Rabbi Goldstein did it…” so that the new Rabbi can create and innovate and try things that will, when I come back to visit and pray as a member of this congregation, be “new traditions” that are beloved.

Shana Tova!






Kol Nidre - to be uploaded on Sept 26



Yom Kippur - to be uploaded on Sept 26



Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784