Greetings on the occasion of Or Shalom's 36th Anniversary, from Rabbi Daniel Siegel, co-founder of Or Shalom

It is hard to believe that almost 36 years ago, in the Fall of 1978, a few of us began to davven together at the Hillel House on the UBC campus. We met once a month on Friday evening and Shabbat morning. We called ourselves “The Hillel Minyan.”

The following year, we moved “The Minyan” into a small house on West 22nd Avenue that Hanna and I bought, which had a large living room and kitchen. We began to meet every second week on Shabbat morning. The service focused on learning skills for prayer, Torah reading and offering a D’var Torah and was followed by a potluck lunch. Sitting around the table, we learned about each other and grew close like a family.

Eventually we changed our name to "Havurat Sim Shalom." We decided to share the responsibility of providing the prayer space among four families - the Siegels, the Dolgins, the Rabinowitz’s, and the Layes. As the community grew, we moved to a church on West 12th Avenue and from there to a large rented house on Douglas Crescent. While at Douglas Crescent, we began to meet every week. So many people attended that we soon reached the limit of what that space could hold and we moved to the JCC.

While we had our disagreements, we were always unanimous in our commitment to full egalitarianism, which soon expanded to include gay individuals and couples. We were clear that we were a davvenen community first and administrative titles were only a way for individuals to declare their willingness to help guide the business of what we now called “Or Shalom.” We were clear that we had a deep respect for our inherited practices and liturgy as well as a deep respect for the tradition of innovation and the search for personal meaning in both prayer and mitzvot.

Or Shalom is now also a part of the growing movement of Jewish Renewal. For me, as the former Rabbinic Director of ALEPH and now ALEPH Canada, Or Shalom's most visible connection has been Reb Laura. She was a member of the Vaad, which was brought together to guide students through the academic portion of their rabbinical studies. She was our first Dean of Students and is a deeply respected and powerful teacher. We have been in awe of the spirituality of her intellect, her gifts as a teacher, and the breadth and depth of her knowledge. We, like you, have respect for her need to establish boundaries within which she can continue to share her gifts while caring for herself.

Or Shalom has been committed to breaking new ground as well as introducing people to the ancient ways. To the best of my knowledge, Reb Laura is the first woman to be a senior congregational rabbi in Vancouver. Laura and Charles make an amazing rabbinical couple in ways which both remind me of how Hanna and I served as well as going far beyond us in many ways.

From my current distance, feeling a little like a ghostly voice from the past, I look forward to seeing what challenges Or Shalom decides to take on in the next phase of its development. There is much to be grateful for in the willingness of Or Shalom to be on the growing edge of the Vancouver Jewish Community. It will be exciting to watch how that will manifest in the coming years.

Mazal Tov, from Hanna and me and on behalf of the board of ALEPH Canada, on the first 36 years. Many blessings to Laura and Charles as they discover their own next steps. May you all go from strength to strength!