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Launch Speeches

Jonathan Wyman, on behalf of the Leadership Team:
It is a real honour for me to speak on behalf of the leadership team of City Shul.  They are a creative and hardworking group of people who believe in a vision -"a Jewish Heart in the heart of the city" and are dedicating their time to bring it to fruition.  I'd like to introduce them to you now and ask them to stand for a moment.

We, leadership team, and the members of City Shul are honoured today by the attendance of so many rabbis, cantors, clergy from a variety of religions, leaders of other synagogues, community organizations and institutions.  You've chosen to be here to today to show your support of our endeavour and we are very  grateful for your presence.

And on behalf of the leadership team I'd like to thank Marsha Slivka and Sylvia Solomon, who have done incredible work in organizing this event.

I'd like to share a few very personal synagogue moments with you:

In 2006 I visited the Sinagoga del Transito in Toledo, Spain.  The synagogue was built in 1357 by Shmuel ha-Levi Abulafia.  They say that he imported cedar lumber from Lebanon for the building's construction. In the centuries following the expulsion of Jews from Spain, the building was used as a hospice, a church, a monastery, and a barracks during the Napoleonic wars.  In 1877 the building, due to its origin as a synagogue,  was declared a Spanish National Monument, and in the 1960s the building was extensively renovated and restored and a Sephardi Museum was established.  

So here's my moment - standing in the sanctuary of the restored synagogue, looking up at the clearly legible words written on the wall over 650 years ago:  Ashrei yoshvei veitecha, od yehalelucha selah.

In 2007 I was in Curacao and visited Mikveh Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which claims to be the oldest synagogue in continuous use in North America.  The style is remarkably similar to the Sinagoga del Transito, and I learned that it was built by Jews, originally from Spain and Portugal who had emigrated first to the Netherlands and then crossed the Atlantic with Dutch traders.

And here's my moment - listening to my niece Kate read Torah on her Bat Mitzvah in a building that's housed Shabbat services every week for nearly 300 years.

And here's my moment - reading Torah on Rosh Hashanah at Kolel, 12 years ago, holding a Torah pointer in my right hand, and holding my infant daughter Noa in my left hand.

And here's my moment - speaking to you today about the establishment of City Shul, where that same daughter Noa will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah this coming year.

Since our first member officially joined City Shul in April of this year, we've attracted 140 members and member families.  I'd like to tell you a bit about us:

We are:
Jews by birth
Jews by choice
On our way to becoming Jewish
Our members and their partners  have diverse backgrounds:
Israeli Jewish, which is apparently a separate category
Many who haven't belonged to a synagogue since childhood
Native to Toronto
Immigrants from within Canada and from other countries
Newly married
parents of our birth children
parents of adopted children
parents of our spouse's children
parents of kids with learning  disabilities and autism
single parents
Bereaved parents
bereaved children
Interfaith families
Same sex families
Committed volunteers
non-joiners, who want to dip one toe in
Financially stable
Financially struggling
those who know what their Judaism is about
and those who ache to find out what their Judaism is about

And (I didn't make this up) in the "other skills" section of our membership form we have a member who apparently does an excellent job of slicing brisket.

We are all here to build an inclusive and welcoming community where we can 
find tikkun hanefesh
contribute to tikkun olam
celebrate our similarities
explore & understand our differences
a place for our children to learn about their family ancestry, history and traditions

We aim to be a congregation caring for each other, the wider community, and for the planet
To be a place of intellectual discourse, vibrant spirituality

To conduct services filled with joyful prayer and singing, where active participation is the norm. 
To be a place where every member contributes to the success of the congregation. 

To be a place where we can mourn our losses and celebrate our simchas.

The driving force behind creating  the vision, and behind translating the vision to reality, is of course Rabbi Elyse Goldstein.  Her passion, her deep knowledge, her intense spirituality and indomitable energy will lead us, as we create a place for us and our children to learn and re-learn to love Judaism.

Paul Leszner, President, Canadian Council for Reform Judaism:
First allow me to thank your leadership team for inviting me here today on this joyous occasion. It gives me great pleasure to speak to you about the Union for Reform Judaism and our Reform Movement in Canada.  The Union for Reform Judaism is a family of  900 congregations and 1.5 million families, including 25 Canadian Congregations. We are the largest denomination of Affiliated Jews in North America. 

This past June at our Board of Trustees meeting Rabbi Rick Jacobs was installed as the 4th President of the Union for Reform Judaism.  Rabbi Jacobs is committed to building a culture of excellence in our synagogues.  His goal is to catalyze congregational change, to expand our reach by appealing to the uninspired and to excite the next generation through our new Youth Engagment Commitment, a focused, strategic effort to involve more of our teenagers and young adults. Allow me to take this opportunity to invite all of you to share a Shabbat evening with Rabbi Jacobs during his upcoming visit to Toronto.  He will be speaking at Temple Emanu-El on Friday November 2nd. I warmly welcome you to attend services on November 2nd at 8PM. 

The URJ’s key role is to offer real expertise to our congregations and to do for congregations what they are unable to for themselves. We provide access to leading professional experts through our Union’s Congregational Consulting Group and our new Knowledge Network.  Our goal is to ensure the success of all our congregations and that Reform Judaism flourishes in every community. We produce and develop new religious education cirricula such as our new digital mitkadem Hebrew program. We organize specialized conferences such as the Sheidt and Shindler seminars that  offer training  to New Presidents and Membership Committes and of course our international biennials which provide our Reform movement with opportunites for learning, prayer, networking and worship. 

Most importantly we provide opportunities for our Youth, the future of Reform Judaism. This incudes attending one of our 14 URJ summer camps such as Camp George in Parry Sound. Our camps are critical to growing Reform Judaism and building Jewish identity. Jewish camp alumni are 50% more likely to join a synagogue in their lifetime and  65% of  our Rabbi’s Cantors and Educators are alumni of our  Jewish Camps, a noteable one being Rabbi Elyse Goldstein.

We provide Israel programming for our Youth including  EIE,a high school semester in Israel, or a 6 week summer course where our teens can obtain one high school credit. We have eight-ten day confirmation trips in the winter and spring and numerous gatherings throughout the year. For our College age kids there are Reform Birthright trips, or Netzer, a gap year program that allows recent high school graduates to volunteer in Israel  as they learn Hebrew, study, travel and mature as Jewish leaders. And of course being part of the National Federation of Temple Youth where our young can gain a lifelong commitment to Reform Jewish values and traditions. I am extremely proud to share with you that this past summer we had over 10,000 kids attend our camps and Israel programs. 

Our Union supports the Hebrew Union College Institution of Religion the educational facility that trains our  Reform Rabbis, Cantors, Educators, Scholars and other Jewish Professionals who are so critical to our Reform Movements success and future.

The Religious Action Center which is now 50 years old and headed by Rabbi David Sapperstein is our voice for advocating Jewish values and promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding. For 50 years, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity. The RAC educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating for economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, for the state of Israel and more. It pursues public policies that reflect the Jewish values of social justice that form the core of our Reform Movements  mandate. In addition they have partnered with our National Social Action Committee in Canada to train our members in Social Advocacy.  This year Our Canadian Social Action Committee in Canada has been focusing their efforts on working with Native peoples across our country.

The Canadian Council for Reform Judaism and the  Union for Reform Judaism Canada Steering Committee are  responsible for collection of our Congregational Union dues, issuing tax receipts and working with new congregations, such as yours, that are interested in joining our Canadian Reform Movement. In addition we provide support to our Canadian congregations through our affiliates and committees.  

Allow me to say a few words about a few of our committees and affiliates.

One of our committees is The Task Force to define Reform Judaism in Canada for the 21st century. Our goal is to increase awareness of Reform Judaism within the Canadian community at large and to reach out to those who are unaffiliated with an especially strong emphasis on attracting the 20 -35 year old age group into our congregations.

Of course our Movement is strongly committed to the state of Israel. Through our affiliates ARZA Canada and the Canadian Friends of World Union we work to support democracy and to ensure that Israel is a place that embraces Jews of all backgrounds and streams in a pluralistic environment. We partner with the Israeli Movement for Progressive to support the growth of the Reform movement in Israel. Many of you in this congregation supported Rabbi Goldstein on the Ride4Reform this past March as we raised money to build Reform preschools throughout Israel.

In closing let me say that as we look to the future it is my sincerest  hope and  my sincerest desire that your congregation, the City Shul, chooses to avail yourself of all the Union for Reform Judaism has to offer. I look forward to working with your leadership team as we begin the application process for membership. I look forward to the day hopefully in the not to distant future when you will be a strong and vibrant partner in our Reform family. 

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek. Be strong be strong and together may we be strengthened.

Rabbi Danny Gottlieb, Investing Rabbi Goldstein
It is really a pleasure for me to be with you on this special occasion in the life of the City Shul.  It is no coincidence that this moment in your congregation’s life comes immediately upon the heals of the reading of Parashat Bereshit yesterday morning, as this is, most especially a celebration of beginnings—the beginning of this new kehilah kedosha, this new synagogue community, and the beginning of the relationship between the City Shul and your new rabbi, my colleague and my dear friend, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein.

Now, the installation of a rabbi in her new shul usually happens as the result of a lengthy process of search and selection of the rabbi by the congregation. But as we all know, Rabbi Goldstein is not your “usual” rabbi, and so we find ourselves here after a lengthy process in which Rabbi Goldstein did the searching and found all of you. In an act of mutual trust, you have selected one another to begin this venture—your own “bereshit” moment, in which you are creating together a sacred community.

In preparing for this d'var torah, I searched for a text that would challenge us to think about the relationship between a rabbi and her community.  And I was drawn to the words of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya of the town of Arbel in the lower Galilee, one of the masters of the Sanhedrin in the last century before the Common Era, words found in the Mishna in Pirke Avot, chapter 1, mishna 6:

"Aseh l'cha rav, u-k'neh l'cha chaver" which is most often translated:"Get yourself a rabbi, and acquire a friend".

Having chosen to partner with Rabbi Goldstein in the creation of this community, I believe that you will discover, if you have not already done so, that you have accomplished both of the tasks set out in this passage.

Rabbi Goldstein comes to you as an accomplished writer, teacher and scholar whose reputation is well-known throughout the Jewish world.  She brings to this new adventure a wide range of experience and leadership skills that have enriched the Greater Toronto Jewish community for more than twenty years.  I first met Elyse when she was the assistant rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple from 1983-1985.  It was there that she first revealed her talents as a master teacher and a loving and compassionate congregational rabbi who was certain to make a significant contribution and a lasting impression on this community.  But it was a few years later, when Elyse was serving as rabbi at Temple Beth David of the South Shore, in Canton, MA (a congregation that I will visit next month when my daughter Emma will be installed as Beth David’s new rabbi...) that our paths would cross once again, and she would become not only my colleague once again but a dear and cherished friend.   

At the time, I was the Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, and one of a small circle of Reform Jewish leaders involved in visioning a Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning to provide substantive adult Jewish study opportunities in Toronto.  Early on in the visioning stage, we came to the unanimous opinion that Rabbi Elyse Goldstein was the person to develop and grow the Learning Centre, if only we could get her to come back to Toronto.  Well, the Holy One must have been smiling on us back then, because Elyse jumped at the opportunity—and Kolel was born—and for twenty years it was the premiere institution of liberal Jewish Learning in this community...a “game changer” if you will...raising the level of Jewish literacy and Jewish learning for a whole generation...bringing Jewish adults in from the margins to the centre of Jewish life, introducing them to new ideas and religious practices, and helping them to find their own places in synagogues throughout the city.  I was privileged to teach in Kolel over the years, and to work with Elyse for the ten summer Kallot that Kolel offered in partnership with the Canadian Council, touching hearts and minds, doing the real work of keruv—drawing hundreds upon hundreds of souls nearer to God.  They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and so when you are in New York and you go to the Kollel there, or to the one in Washington, or the Learhaus in San Francisco where I live now, you will find community agencies and programs modelled after the one that Elyse fashioned here.

Psalm 90 reminds us that “we live our years like a tale that is told,” and it is true for most of us that our lives are lived like a story, with distinct chapters.  And those who know me know that I believe that, from time to time, we identify moments in which a chapter must be brought to a close and a new one must begin, in order for us to find personal happiness and professional growth and challenge.   Such a moment came in the life of my friend Elyse, and Kolel is no more.  It’s success remains a part of this community’s shared past, and, like each of the chapters of her rabbinic life—Hebrew Union College, Temple Beth Or for the Deaf, Holy Blossom and Temple Beth David, Kolel’s success remains with her as well.  And as it is with any character in a good story, the experiences of the prior chapters inform the person whom we encounter in the current one.

And so Rabbi Goldstein comes to you with her own particular combination of talent, knowledge, and instinct, borne of her journeys near and far.  She is an engaging teacher and a wise counsellor, with that “New York” personality and that big public presence that has defined her, and endeared her to us all. But more than that, she has a deep and abiding love of Judaism, and a way of challenging us to see things in ways that we might not have seen them before, to experiment, to dream, and to envision and create new realities--all in the process of enriching our Jewish lives.

This is what it means to "get yourself a rabbi".

But with Rabbi Goldstein, you have also given yourselves the opportunity to acquire a friend.  And I can tell you personally, that Elyse can be a wonderful friend.  She cares about people.  She has always befriended those who were most in need of friendship and support, those who were vulnerable and disenfranchised.  She has the gift of being able to really listen, and she has the ability to help other people to see themselves.  She knows how to be there when you need her, and how to not be there when you don't.  Take the time and get to know her.  Give her the opportunity to let you see the beautiful person that she is.  

This is what it means to "acquire a friend".

In his commentary on Pirke Avot, Rabbi Joseph Hertz, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, described a friend as "one to whom you can reveal all your secrets."  Trust, confidence, and respect will lay the foundation for such friendships.  Rabbi Goldstein is well deserving of such trust, confidence and respect, and I know that you will come to cherish her in such a way.

Now, of course, we know that choosing a rabbi is not always easy...nor is being a rabbi, for that matter.  The realities of congregational life, the demands that are placed upon both professional and lay leaders, manifold and diverse expectations often combine to put pressure on the relationship between rabbis and congregants.  So it is good for us to remember that the best relationships are two-way relationships, and that a successful partnership between rabbi and congregation calls upon the congregation to be supportive of their rabbi, sensitive to the demands of the profession, aware of the rabbi's personal needs and the needs of her family, and to be ever mindful of a rabbi's human imperfections.  For no rabbi is perfect, and, in my experience, the mashiach always seems to work in a different town.

Let me take a moment to talk about Elyse’s family.

When you get Elyse Goldstein as your rabbi, you get so much more.  Although they are now spread out across the continent, you will no doubt get to know her boys—Noam, Carmi and Micah—each unique and wonderful in their own right, and each firmly connected to their Jewish identities and Jewish lives in ways that invite you to think about your own.  And then there is Baruch—the sweetest and most mentschlich rebbetziner that you could ever know.  In his quiet and deeply thoughtful way, Baruch is present behind Elyse in all aspects of her work. A brilliant thinker and teacher himself, Baruch will add a depth and a richness to The City Shul.  He’s the bonus!

But enough about Elyse, let’s talk about the shul.

I believe that the synagogue is the central institution in Jewish religious life.  Complimented by religious life in the Jewish home, it is the guardian of Jewish continuity and growth.  I believe that the synagogue must also be a democratic institution, in which rabbi and congregation work in partnership to achieve its full potential in the present, and to chart the course for its future.

A synagogue is known by three names in Hebrew:  Beit  Midrash, Beit T'fillah and Beit Knesset.  

As Beit Midrash---a House of Study---it must be a place of learning.  For Jews of all ages, from pre-school to those of later years, there must be opportunities for ever increasing knowledge.  The primary role of the rabbi is to teach, and as I have already mentioned, this is the role in which Elyse excels.  She has always understood her rabbinate to be about teaching Jews and others about our way of life. Throughout her rabbinate, she has seen herself as a teacher first and foremost.    

As Beit T'fillah---a House of Prayer---a synagogue must be a place filled with the joy of worship and blessing.  And if you were among the five hundred souls who attended High Holy Day services at the City Shul this year, or if you have had the opportunity to attend one of her services at a Kallah or on an Israel trip, you can testify that Rabbi Goldstein is a particularly gifted pulpit rabbi  Your rabbi is exceptionally talented and innovative in this regard, and she is recognized throughout our movement for her special abilities to lead a community of worshippers in a celebration of their spirituality and connection with the Holy Blessed One.  

As Beit Knesset---a House of Communal Assembly---a synagogue must be a truly caring community.  Aware of the diverse needs of its members, it must become like an extended family to them.  Welcoming others, being tolerant of individual differences, and affirming each person's value, are hallmarks of a true community.   

You are most fortunate to have with you a rabbi who is committed to creating a community such as this, the latest addition to the fabric of Toronto’s Reform Jewish community—a place in which God can reside.  In such a place as this, you can know with certainty that it is possible to meet God here.

Bereshit...the creation of a brand new synagogue.  All avenues are open.  Your rabbi will have some new ideas, and new ways of doing things, as some of you have already discovered.  Your rabbi will always try to challenge you, as a community, to grow individually and collectively through openness and experimentation.  And through partnership and interaction with you, the members of the City Shul, I know that she, too, will continue to grow and change, thus insuring not only the vibrancy and dynamism she is seeking for her rabbinate, but a vibrancy and dynamism of community as well.

"Aseh l'cha rav, u-k'neh l'cha chaver"

Let us now consider a slightly different translation.  "Aseh l'cha rav", which we had earlier translated, "Get yourself a rabbi", can also be read, "Make yourself a rabbi".  This reminds us that you have a big part to play in the development and growth of your rabbi.  You must challenge Elyse as she will challenge you.  You must allow her to learn from you as you learn from her.  You must share with her, adding new insights and new dimensions to her rabbinate, and to your community.  

That is what it can mean to "Make yourself a rabbi".

And "k'neh l'cha chaver", which we translated "acquire a friend", can also be read, "acquire a partner", like a "chaver kibbutz" in Israel is a "full partner" in the life of the kibbutz—a partner in both its enterprise and its destiny.  This reminds us that rabbis are not merely employees, but partners in our mutual endeavour.  Their contribution to the partnership is drawn from their expert knowledge of our tradition, and their ability to impart it to us, so that we can incorporate it into the fabric of our community, as we engage in the sacred work of the synagogue.  You must welcome your new rabbi, not as an employee, but as a "chaver".  You must respect the expertise that comes from her scholarship and experience, and give her the opportunity to contribute to the community from that special and unique resource that she embodies.  

That's what it can mean to "acquire a partner". 

In his commentary on Pirke Avot, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that a "chaver" is a "friend and companion in life, who is a helper and counsellor at our side in our work and our endeavours.  "Teacher" and "Friend", says Hirsch, "These appellations represent the highest level on which we can cherish another human being and, as a rule, there are only a few whom we are able to designate as such."

And so we welcome Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, and bestow upon her these honoured titles,“Rav “ and Chaver”—"Teacher" and "Friend".  Elyse, it is our collective prayer that you will be blessed with wisdom and strength to teach and lead this new congregation, that they might better understand Torah, and be drawn to live by its precepts.  It is our prayer that you will help them to see and hear and feel the beauty of our heritage, that they will come to know that the experience of our ancestors is our experience, the God of Abraham and Sarah our God, and the Torah our way of life. May they draw themselves ever nearer to the Holy Blessed One.

May God bless the work of your hands, my friend.  The work of your hands, may God bless.  

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein:
“If you build it, they will come.” Long before Kevin Costner spoke those words, the Torah tells us that G-d said something similar in Exodus chapter 25: “Build for Me a holy place, and I will dwell among them.” It is in the synagogue that the Divine Presence finds us. Not necessarily that we find the Divine Presence—too many of us come to services with too high and too unrealistic an expectation that we will have a transformative earth-shaking experience each and every time we come to shul and when we don’t we come away disappointed. But it is in synagogue that, sometimes when we least expect it, the Divine Presence finds us: a sense of something bigger and grander than us, a deep sense of gratefulness and blessing and beauty creeps up and grabs hold of our heart in an inexplicable way. Maybe during some beautiful chanting, or during some harmonies being sung; maybe during a moving dvar Torah. Maybe in a quiet moment sitting next to someone you really care about. Maybe under the chupah or maybe watching the kid you knew as a baby come up to read the Torah for the first time. Maybe even during the shmoozing before, after or during the service.Whatever else a synagogue can do— teach us Torah and explain to us rituals, teach our kids, give us meaningful volunteer work, celebrate our joys and hold our hands in our sorrows, and give us community— above all, a synagogue unlike any other place in our secular lives can give us a glimpse of holiness and help us reach for it. “If you build it,” God says, “I will come.”

Yesterday we read the very first portion of the Torah- Bereshit, and the week before at Simchat Torah we read the last portion of the Torah, V’zot Habracha. I feel today that I am personally standing in between Deuteronomy and Genesis. I have closed the scroll of Kolel, 20 years of fantastic and meaningful Rabbinic work, a project I believe changed the landscape of Jewish adult education, and what brought me back to Toronto in 1991. Kolel was a bracha in every sense of the word. And I am opening the scroll of City Shul, looking into Creation. 

On the word bara-create-in the first line of Genesis, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, Mei Hashiloach teaches the following: “the word bara—create—is the language of strength; that is to say that even before creation there must be strong foundations... A king who builds a palace must first have a good foundation so that the walls and roof can rest upon it securely.” I am in almost constant astonishment at the strong foundation we have already created for City Shul. A foundation of the Leadership Team who are wise, patient, dedicated and passionate about City Shul even before we existed. Families who have entrusted their kids—40 of them in our first year— to our brand-new school and our eager and talented new Teen and Youth Engagement Coordinator Tessa Robinson. Pioneering new members—140 households as of today—who have put trust and finances in a shul that was just an idea a few months ago. Volunteers who have come forward at every moment with willing spirits and open hearts. Colleagues who have supported us, given us hope, and encouraged us to become the unique congregation that we will be. And my family, who have always been the foundation upon which I can build anything, especially my husband and soulmate Baruch, with whom yesterday, Oct. 13, I celebrated our 27th anniversary.

It is an honour to be invested as the Rabbi of City Shul by my friend Rabbi Danny Gottlieb. Every Rabbi needs a Rabbi, and he has been one of my Rabbis for 20 years. It was Rabbi Gottlieb who envisioned Kolel with me 20 years ago and who— along with the incredible support of my colleagues who are here today, Rabbi Dow Marmur, Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, and Stephen Morrison and my former staff who are also here today, Helen Kopstick, Shirley Herman and Karen Goldstein— helped make it a reality. And it was Rabbi Gottlieb who, a year ago after talking with my family and my dearest friend Adrienne Rosen about the crazy idea of leaving Kolel to start a new downtown Reform congregation said to me the infamous words, “what took you so long? Go talk to Paul Leszner and make it happen...” They all took my hand, as I stepped off the cliff and took a very large Rabbinic leap of faith. And I feel great— I landed safely.

I stand in awe of creation today, of the Bereshit of City Shul. I cannot wait to start unrolling the rest of our story, together with all of you. Thank you all.

Thu, January 28 2021 15 Sh'vat 5781