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City Shul: Downtown Reform Synagogue

Downtown. Spiritual. Community. Creative. Welcoming. Warm. Intellectual. Musical. Inclusive. Finally!

These are the words we use to describe ourselves, and the words others use to describe us.

Click here to see our full Mission.

Click here to read our anti-racism statement.

If you are interested in learning more about City Shul or attending one of our Shabbat services click here.

Rabbi Goldstein's August Message: In Tribute

My friend. colleague and teacher Rabbi Dow Marmur passed away in Jerusalem at the end of July. I think it fitting that I tell you about his influence on me, because it will help you understand how I became the Rabbi I now am, and thus, how City Shul developed into what it now is.

One Monday in 1983, there appeared a sealed, handwritten letter on my desk as Assistant Rabbi at Holy Blossom. I recognized the small, precise fountain-pen ink handwriting on the envelope immediately. The envelope was addressed simply: Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. I began to tremble. Dow Marmur was an exacting and demanding senior Rabbi, but always fair and always inspirational. He was my first senior and I, his first assistant at Holy Blossom. We were both “newbies” but he had years of experience and wisdom over mine. What did I do wrong or right to warrant a handwritten note? (This was of course the days before email, but until his death Dow always wrote handwritten notes.) Written inside, one simple sentence I have never forgotten: “Saturday was Shabbat Mevarchim. Best, Dow. ” I had left out the announcement of the new moon at services. For all my years in the Rabbinate following that note, I have not neglected to announce it ever again.

Rabbi Marmur was my first and most important rabbinic mentor, but more than that.  At a time when this town was not-quite-ready for the kind of feminist presence I was, and at a time when being a female rabbi was still strange, exotic and suspect (especially among my Conservative and Orthodox "colleagues" who didn't quite know what to do with me) Dow became my unwavering champion and advocate. He insisted, much before it was popular or expected, that a congregant could not choose or ask for a male colleague in place of me (and there were 2 men at Holy B with me at the time, an associate and an educator, so it would have been easy to pass me over.) He encouraged me to grow, to experiment, to bring feminist changes.

His insistence on preparation, on excellence and on scholarship became my personal benchmarks.

In my long Rabbinate since then, I still ask myself in many situations: WWDD, What Would Dow Do? He taught me how to insist that congregants take responsibility for their own programming, and thus you now understand why my first response to "why doesn't City Shul do x, y or z?" is always "let me know when you've organized that. I am here to support you." He taught me that the Rabbi-congregation relationship is one of covenant and not of contract; that the trust a congregation has in its rabbi is a measure of the trust the rabbi has in them as well. It was Dow I turned to for sage advice when I left the congregational rabbinate to start Kolel, and then again when I returned to it to start City Shul. He watched City Shul from a distance and always had a good word to say about what we were doing.

His integrity, ethics, and critiques of a sloppy rabbinate and a lacklustre congregation, plus his ideal vision of what makes a good Reform Jew, live on in my own practice.

In Pirke Avot 4:17, Rabbi Shimon teaches that the crown of a good name is above all other crowns. I have seen Dow defend other people’s good names, and it is he who inspired me to create one for myself. It is his good name which will live on forever through the Rabbis he mentored and inspired. 

I visited Rabbi Marmur every winter I Israel; one of the highlights always of my time there. We would laugh at the foibles of that early rabbinate and reflect on its current and future directions. This is my last photo with him in Jerusalem. I asked him to smile at the camera. He said, with that dry British accent, "I AM smiling." Oh so Classic Dow. יהי זכרו ברוך. May his memory be a blessing.

Announcing Shirat Halev:
The City Shul Community Prayerbook

(Mock up of actual bookplate)

Shirat Halev is our story: the narrative of our history as a community, and a reminder in perpetuity of how we continue to grow as Jews and as human beings.

If you are interested in inscribing a book used in our synagogue in memory of a loved one, in honour of someone, or to celebrate an event— or just in support— click here

The week we launched our incredible new Siddur was Parshat Kedoshim, the crown of Leviticus, which begins: Kedoshim tihiyu, you shall be holy.  Kedoshim: You in the plural. Tihiyu, will be, in the future.

This command, to be holy in community, and to insure holiness for the future, animated me for four years in the creation of this prayerbook which we now hold in our hands. It animated Baruch Sienna in the design, in every detail of every page of the Siddur. It animated every Task Force member, and every discussion we had, from what colour the cover should be to whether we would retain the words M’chaye Hameitim, who revives the dead.

In the list of sacrifices, this fantastic one word appears in Leviticus 19:5: כִ֧י תִזְבְּח֛וּ זֶ֥בַח שְׁלָמִ֖ים לַיהֹוָ֑ה לִֽרְצֹנְכֶ֖ם תִּזְבָּחֻֽהוּ׃

“When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to יהוה, sacrifice it on your own behalf, or literally— offer because you desire to offer."

The Hasidic commentator Sfat Emet says on that word לִֽרְצֹנְכֶ֖ם (desire):

וזה עצמו הנדבה– הרצון

And thats the offering itself: our desire to be in relationship with G-d.

This Siddur holds our desire to be in relationship with G-d, and with each other; to be in relationship with something bigger than ourselves, with our history, with our future. Our Ratzon, our desire to offer, is inked into the pages of this book.

Our community  created its own Siddur with 10—a minyan!—of Task Forces and the input of over 75 congregants in various capacities.Our Siddur holds our communal desire.

Netivot Shalom, another Hasidic commentator writes on our opening verse You shall be holy as G-d is holy:  “How can we ever be as holy as G-d? G-d is asking of us only this: to strive to be better than we think we can be.” This Siddur will make us more communal than we thought we could be, more inclusive than we thought we could be, more learned, more reflective, more prayerful. In short, Shirat HaLev will make us holier than we thought we could be.

May Shirat Halev lift our hearts in joy and song together!

Shabbat Services

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Online Learning

All Event Info can be found here.

Our Services are live and concurrently live-streamed.


Wed, August 10 2022 13 Av 5782