September 26, 2005

 

11 Tishrei 5765

 

 

Dear Wonder Ones,

 

 

With Neilah still echoing in my ears and resonating down to my bones, I want to begin this first day after Yom Kippur by honouring Reb Yoni Gordis's call for us to shift from a mindset of 'I lack, therefore I am', to 'I am grateful, I am blessed, therefore I am.' The High Holy Davening that we just experienced was the result of so many hearts, hands and minds that I hesitate to thank people by name, but I feel the need so strongly to fulfill the mitzvah of 'tov l'hodot', (it is good to give thanks) that I apologize in advance for any hard working people I may have inadvertently leave out of this note.

 

 

So many people worked to transform an auditorium into a Holy of Holies. The shlepping and setting up with consciousness, love and dedication created a space into which we could all step (dive?) into with all our hearts. Among the many, of course, were Fran Ritch, Frank Segal and Bette Thompson, and God-willing, I should have as much energy, strength and kindness in me when I reach their stages of retirement. Sandy Wheller, our holy flower picker/designer brings the natural world into a building of cement and this softens our hearts. All of the people who took time from work and play to set up and take down the chairs, tables, etc, etc. etc.

 

 

The 'meeters and greeters' who welcomed people at the door were like Abraham and Sarah who were renowned for their hospitality open-hearted greetings to all who came through our doors. Every single person was met with warmth and with a smile. I honestly believe that our davening begins with these people who help to create a transition from the 'outside' to the 'inside' in more ways than one. Your job at he doors may the jobs of the daveners inside that much easier. I know that Bette Thompson and Pat Gill were instrumental in organizing this part of our service and I thank them and their cast of thousands. And there is Mary Adlersberg but more about her later.

 

 

(And was it my imagination or did not have the Security Guards with the greatest smiles - what shaynah punim they had - and the highest level of respect for what we were there to do. As our 'malachei ha'sharet', our servicing angels, they, too, helped to create an environment of safety and comfort, even when they asked to take off my hat and looked inside my tallis bag.)

 

 

Soooooooooo many daveners and Torah readers, each one with their own distinctive voice and soul. Jan Fishman brought in the Yom Tov by blessing the candles and saying Kiddush the first night of Rosh HaShanah which was led by Susan Polsky. Susan also led Shaharit and read Torah for us over our 3-day journey. In everything she does, Susan serves as model for all of us. Ever since I known Susan (21 years) she has been incredibly dedicated to Or Shalom's davening life and that dedication has manifested itself in countless hours of committee work and the details of making sure our davening works. More than that, though, is her continuing path of learning, growing, developing as a davener and as a spiritual leader. She has pursued Jewish learning in Vancouver and at Eilat Chayim and she shares with us the bounty of her learning.

 

 

Our daveners for Pesukei D'zimra over the three days helped us, in very different and beautiful ways, to slowly test the waters of davening and giving us reassurance that it was accessible and comforting. Our brother Lorne Mallin certainly davens to the beat of a different drummer and it has been such a delight to watch Lorne as well nurture and nourish his own spiritual growth by going to the Aleph Kallah many times, chanting workshops and learning with the leaders of Jewish renewal. When he led Pesukei D'zimra with his daughter Lisa, we were filled with love and awe for this family's commitment to Torah.

 

 

Lisa Shatzky, the Chief Rabbi of Bowen Island, also wove for us a beautiful tapestry of song, poetry and davening in her Pesukei D'zimra. Gentle but forceful, quiet but present, mystical and conscious of the holy in every day life and nature, Lisa is a wonderful gift and we continue to look forward to her words of Torah, her insights and her sense of 'chen' which translates approximately as 'graciousness.'

 

 

Then of course, is the leadership and voices of WendySallyNomi. I write it that way because that is the way I hear their davening: a blend, a weaving, an unveiling of colours and sounds I didn't know existed. Within the mystery of their harmonies Wendy Rubin, Sally Thorne and Nomi Fenson bring their own unique and incredible sensitivities and they serve as our tuning fork by resonating with echoes of the divine. And when Wendy added to this with her stunningly beautiful Haftara on Yom Kippur, she called us back from our fasting and weariness to the powerful and beautiful presence of the haunting words of our prophets.

 

 

Cameo appearances by numerous individuals added sparkle and light to the davening. Nancy Newman, Kymn Goodman, Harriet Frost, Carol Ann Fried and Gil Yaron at different points of the davening drew us closer to the davening through the words and intentions of the beautiful songs/prayers they shared with us from their hearts. I received Nici Solomons' beautiful poem the day before Kol NIdre when I was struggling with the dvar Torah on Darfur. As soon as I read the poem I knew that it had to be read at Kol Nidre, right before the mourner's Kaddish. My apologies to Kymn as she had prepared other contributions as well but in the continuing flow of davening I simply forgot that she had taken up my invitation to share two other songs she had written. And in her own very special category, I thank Celia Freed for joining us all the way from Halifax, again, and for sharing with us her inspiring John Phillip Sousa version of 'HaYom'!

 

 

What do we love more? Debby Fenson's davening or her incredibly inclusive and joyful smile, not to mention the wonderful laughter she shares with us? That's an easy question, but all of Debby is part of her davening and her davening always brings us all of Debby. How can she make davening and Torah reading sound so effortless yet so powerful? So important and so accessible? We haven't truly can acknowledged Debby's visible and invisible gifts to Or Shalom which include davening and leyning on long and short notice and for the loving way she teaches the many, many bar/bat mitzvah students in Or Shalom. It's time that we start and continue to publicly acknowledge and thank her.

 

 

MyrnaMyrnaMyrnaMyrnaMyrnaMyrnaMyrnaMyrna. What more can I say? God is hiring Myrna this year to give lessons to the angels in heaven because they can't quite reach her level of intention and expression in the davening. She takes us to places that we didn't know existed, places with no names but, nonetheless, places calm our soul and open our hearts.

 

 

It's with affection, delight and deep thanks that I welcome Harley Rothstein back into his role as a Major Pillar Of Or Shalom's Davening. I don't know if that title would fit onto his business; if it doesn't Harley, get a bigger business card. A good friend (I was going to say and an 'old friend' but why emphasize age?)  I have had the pleasure of experiencing Harley's davening which is both deeper and higher every year. His davening comes from a deep place and he takes us to the highest places. And every year there is more nuance, greater attention to detail, and a fuller and more engaging voice. Harley is generous with his gifts and I know I have learned a huge amount from him over the many and wonderful years I have known him.

 

 

Voices and voices; clarity and mystery; warmth and caring. I am experimenting with different words for what Reva Robinson and Joi Freed-Garrod give to us at those strategic times in the davening when our hearts are asking questions we can't even articulate and which Reva's and Joi's voices help us to find the answer. And there is another beautiful thing about their harmonies. They always bring me to the first time I heard them daven with Reb Daniel Siegel and my davenin gets infused with warmth with thought and gratitude to Daniel and Hanna Siegel for creating in Or Shalom a place for our hearts to dwell.

 

 

Torah readers deserve an extra yasher koach for studying and mastering the difficult and haunting special trop (notes) that we hear on the high holy days. Sandi Moussadji, Myrna Rabinowitz, Susan Polsky Shamash, Debbie Fenson, Sharna Searle and Rabbi Dina-Hasida Mercy let us hear both letters, the words and the white spaces between the words. Late on Yom Kippur afternoon when concentration is difficult and the body is tired, the Torah reading by David Fainsilber, Sheryl Sorokin, Roz Kunin and Debby Fenson gave us a transfusion of Torah energy just when we needed it.

 

 

A special word of thanks to Rabbi Dina-Hasida Mercy for inspiring and leading so many people who are on their own - often challenging - paths to Yiddishkeit. She gives so much to Or Shalom community with her teaching, davening and leyning and by also living a life of study and commitment to Torah. The broader Jewish community also owes her a huge debt of gratitude for loving guidance of the L'Chaim Adult Care Centre (I hope I got the name right). In that role Reb Dina-Hasida give so many of elders a life of dignity, respect and engagement with the world. And this is the blessing for Rabbi Dina-Hasida: L'Chaim! To life!

 

 

Not a lot of people in Or Shalom know the special trop for chanting the Haftara, the selections from the prophets that we read after the Torah reading. And so I am especially grateful to Sheryl Sorokin, Wendy Rubin, Nomi Fenson, Sandi Moussadji, Reva Robinson and Debby Fenson for bringing us the haunting and powerful voices and their timeless message. ThankyouThankyouThankyou.

 

 

And the Shofar blowing. Words can't describe what the Shofar does to us and for us every year and I very much want to thank that individual who blows Shofar for us with intention, dedication, skill and heart. You know who I'm talking about: Effi Markovich, Joe and Leah's son. Watching Effi's efforts and successes at blowing Shofar gives us the understanding that we, too, can master a difficult task with enough work and practice. Thank you, Effi.

 

 

Fran Goldberg's Shofar blowing is like clockwork: year in and year out we hear her Shofar with all of the precision and clarity she puts into. Personally, I don't know of any other financial planners who blow Shofar, but if the High Holy Days are indeed the time when our 'accounts' with God are open and our spiritual assets and deficits are being tabulated I am very VERY grateful that Fran is on our side.

 

 

I think I'm leaving someone out, someone else who blows Shofar for us. Let's see, let me think. . .

 

 

Right, Reb Mordehai: You are such a gift for us. You blow Shofar in all four worlds: the physical world, the emotional world, the intellectual world and the spiritual world. And that is within each and every blast of the Shofar. Mordehai, I hope I can say this right; you have made the Shofar an extension of your own voice and your own neshama. Your Shofar blasts are like life itself: mysterious and wonderful, raising us up to the highest heights from which we can better see a landscape of our own realities; you teach us that we too can soar and take flight. You teach us continually how much can be learned and taught simply by attending to the mystery of our own breath. And most of all, thanks for backing up Effi.

 

 

Ancient, present and future. Ancient, present and future. Ancient, present and future. When the Levites in our community wash the hands of the Kohanim (priests) and the Kohanim go up and intone the blessing that was giving by God to Aaron, the first High priest, I am transported back in time to power and invocation of that blessing that was centre piece of our practice in the holy city of Jerusalem. And the chant brings right into the present moment where the sense of blessing and the imminence of God are palpable. And the blessing gives us comfort that in our continuing paths of our lives there is blessing in the future waiting to be discovered by. I know I don't the names of all of the Levi'im but I'll ask the High Levi, Frank Segal, to pass my thanks to his dedicated crew. I don't know all of the Kohanim either (how could I? We're not supposed to look!), but somehow I sense the priestly presence of Andy Katz, Jeremiah Katz and if I'm not mistaken Joseph Kahn-Tietze. Thank you all and bless you all.

 

 

Midrash teaches us that there are 70 gates to the Torah. Gloria Levi, David Fainsilber, Yoni Gordis and Devorah Robinson opened for their gates of splendour and insight through their respective Divrei Torah. Through their eyes and minds we were able to see familiar stories and understandings with new eyes. It was clear that we were receiving the benefits of the many hours they devoted to reading, thinking, wondering and writing. Once again I'm reminded that while we are working hard on our davening and prayer, we also need to devote more time and energy to learning and studying. In these four individuals - and the many folks who give Divrei Torah throughout the year - we have a wonderful core of teachers.

 

 

[Memo from Hillel to Avi: Lets' make sure the Divrei Torah are posted on the website this year.]

 

[Memo from Avi to Hillel:  I'd love to. They'd go on the Teachings From Our Rabbis and Friends section.  But only if folks actually send me the stuff]

 

 

Gates of words, gates of silence. Once again Evelyn Neaman shared with us her deep insights into the Torah that is meditation and the meditation that is Torah. Evelyn led a beautiful meditation session during the break on Yom Kippur and, like the Torah, Yoga and Teshuvah sessions she led with Steve Herman, she shared with us her gifts for entering into silence and letting the silence enter into us.

 

 

The Yom Kippur meditation walk, and invention brought back to us, I believe by Mary Adlersberg and Gloria Levi, has become a most powerful experience in which we physically enter into the mystery and compassion of Yom HaKipurim. Through music, sound, light, poetry and fragrance our entire beings were escorted into a holy space of davening and reflection. To Mary, Gloria and all of their colleagues, thank you.

 

 

God could only have rested on the 7th day if Martha Barker was there to help during the first 6 days of creation, feeding God, tidying up, making sure the animals were looked after and that there was a vase of nice flowers on the table. Martha, quite simply, is always there. She has the simple elegance (or is it elegant simplicity) that shines upon all of us and that reminds us that it is the infinite number of tiny, easy-to-miss, actions that keep the world turning in the right direction. This time it was making sure we had apples, honey, water and challah to break our fast. One more act in a long and continuing sequence of holy actions.

 

 

I began planning this year's davening after reading letters I had received from Avi Dolgin after High Holy Days over the past 2 years. Avi took the time to give me some excellent feedback on the davening, what worked and what could be improved. I value his feedback tremendously and took it seriously. I also have to thank Avi for agreeing on very short notice to do the Tashlich service for us on the 1st day of Rosh Hashanah.  'And, for the sin that I committed by not letting Avi Dolgin do his entire, well-planned, shpiel reminding us to put away chairs and clean up the space.' I made a last minute judgment call that will haunt me the rest of my life that given the lateness of the hour and the prohibition against extending the fast beyond the required time, I asked Avi to make his shpiel short and sweet. Thank you and my apologies, Avi.

 

 

Clearly, there would be no Or Shalom to celebrate the High Holy Days without the tireless work of the entire Or Shalom Board. They meet once a month on Thursday evenings but in truth they work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every week of every month. That they do this with grace, intention and open-ness allows the rest of us to live in the shelter of this community with comfort and reassurance. To our leaders on the Board, Hana Wosk, Lorne Greenberg and John Fuerst, very simply, Todah Rabbah.

 

 

Mary Adlersberg serves the role of my left hemisphere during the High Holy Days. This allows me to attend to emotional, spiritual and davening climate of the services. We have also developed a strangely telepathic relationship over the years in which even before I can think of something to ask her, she has already starting doing it. She makes sure that Torahs are rolled, tables are moved, the ark is opened and closed at the right time, that water is there on Rosh haShanah, that Havadalah is there on Yom Kippur and that all of the little teeny-tiny details in the physical world are looked after so that we can feel free to explore the spiritual worlds within and around us.

 

 

Again, our High Levi, Frank Segal also helped out by continuing to make sure that the speaker system worked, that people could speak and be heard. As it says, 'The voice is the voice the daveners, but the hands are the hands of Frank Segal.'

 

 

Over the summer months a number of diligent souls worked very hard to prepare the brochures, pamphlets, Keren Or issues, Website updates and other vital pieces of information that told us all what was happening and when. I don't know all the names of folks who did this but I do know that Pauline Leah Rankin (Keren Or, the e-mail list); Avi Dolgin (the website); Naomi Rozenberg (brochures, pamphlets) worked overtime to make sure the information was put out on time. And, as always, Fran Ritch began the whole process early in the summer when everyone else was at the beach or in the mountains. Fran oversees this important role, even when she is busy becoming the grandmother of twins.

 

 

Hal Siden and Anne Gorsuch continue to serve the community by organizing high quality children's services during the holidays. This is an incredibly important and challenging task and I know that the kids get a lot of out of these services and that the parents of kids of all ages appreciate their efforts as well.

 

 

Many, many people have thanked me for might my role and I am very moved by these expressions of thanks. Or Shalom continues to nurture and nourish me and has been a major contributor to my own learning and growth. I am forever in the community's debt. People have commented on my apparent 'energy' during Neilah. Truth is, I am as tired as everyone else. But perhaps in our own version of 'hot fusion' we actually generate our own spiritual energy simply (?) through our davening and it is that energy that sustains me and lifts me up during Neilah.

 

 

No doubt the minute I press the 'send' button on this e-mail my mind will be flooded with the names of many others who deserve to be thanked. It is not that your contributions that are forgotten. The hard drive of my brain is seriously over-loaded and no doubt as it begins to regain a semblance of normalcy, your names will once again spring brilliantly in consciousness. Apologies any and all possible oversights

 

 

It is so clear to me, and it should be clear to everyone else after this long list of credits, that the quality of our davening is not dependent on any one person. The fact that I can call upon and rely upon such a large and wonderful group of 'klay kodesh' (vessels of holiness), each of whom contributes in her or his own unique and loving way. To these vessels I can only say, once again, Thank You.

 

 

I'm not done yet. I am more and more aware of the beauty and preciousness of our beloved kahal, our community. When the Torah speaks of the Jewish people as 'agudah achat', one unit it doesn't mean that are formed into one formless, homogeneous whole. It means that coming together in holiness, reflection, humour and dedication we can do the holy work that we were born to do. A loving term I've begun to use in some of my conversations around Or Shalom is the term 'amcha'. 'Amcha' carries the most inclusive, positive, loving and compassionate nuances of the words, 'the people.' It reminds all of us that our basic job description in life is just that: to be people, in the fullest, most blessed and joyful way possible.

 

 

As we move into the holy day of Sukkot, may the world itself, all of the greater 'amcha' that makes up this planet, create a Sukkat Shalom, a canopy of peace, for all humanity. Amen v'amen, Ken Yihee Ratzon, My it be God's will.

 

 

B'shalom,

 

 

Hillel

 

 

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