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Rabbi's Message Nov/Dec 2017

A Blessed Presence
November –December 2017
Rabbi Bill S. Tepper


I sometimes wonder how I would fill my days were I to be hospitalized or homebound due to illness or injury.
I’d read a lot of books and newspapers, catch-up on email and watch Netflix on my laptop. I might take up assembling model cars. As well, I’d likely sleep – or slumber – a good deal more than usual.
And I would welcome visitors who arrive to spend time with me. Of all the activity undertaken while bed-ridden, greeting visitors would - arguably - be most vital to my healing. It would allow me to connect with the ‘healthy’ world. I would remain up-to-date on life beyond hospital or home. The visits would provide the incentive to recover as promptly as possible and resume the normal routine of my life. And in keeping with our Jewish view of the world, I would be gifting those who visit the knowledge that she/he has fulfilled the mitzvah, and among the most important of middot – Jewish values: bikkur cholim - visiting the ill and injured.
In Bereshit – the Torah’s Book of Genesis – and as interpreted by our rabbinic sages of the Talmud [Sotah 14a and Bava Metzia 86b], we learn bikkur cholim through the example set by God, who visits our ancestor Abraham as he recovers from b’rit milah – the covenant of circumcision.
Also in the Talmud [Nedarim 39b] we are taught that one who engages in bikkur cholim has the capacity to remove one-sixtieth of a patient’s illness. And according to the great Jewish philosopher – and physician – Maimonides, ‘one who visits the ill is considered to have taken away a portion of his or her illness, thus rendering the illness [or injury] less severe.’ [Laws of Mourning 14:4] Simply put, to visit one who is ill or injured is to be a blessed presence.
If they were able, rabbis would spend all their waking hours visiting those in need of healing. But because we must respond to an array of congregational and communal tasks, we look to a corps of committed laypersons with whom to share the mitzvah of bikkur cholim. We are reaching out then to Temple Shalom members with time, energy and desire to make a difference in the lives of those who have been rendered vulnerable and will welcome the blessed presence of visitors.
In The Wisdom of Judaism: An Introduction to the Values of the Talmud [2007], Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins writes:
Compassion is a trait that covers a multitude of moral and honorable qualities. Someone who is compassionate is empathic, caring, and loving…in the Jewish heritage, action is primary; thus compassion must include a strong component of reaching out and doing concrete acts of caring and helping, not just feeling good thoughts in the heart [p. 16].
In the coming months, I [Rabbi Bill S. Tepper] along with Temple Shalom lay leaders and health professionals, will endeavour to conduct a workshop the purpose of which will be to guide others towards becoming part of a bikkur cholim team. An abundance of resources are available to us. We will explore the what, when, who, where and how of this valued task. We will organize ourselves. We will make a difference. And we will be a blessed presence.

Rabbi's Message Sept/Oct 2017


Don’t separate yourself from the community...don’t judge another until you have been in his/her place...and don’t say ‘when I have leisure I will learn,’ [for] perhaps you will never have that leisure. [from Pirke Avot/Wisdom of our Ancestors 2:4]

As I write these words, the temperature outdoors is cooler, stores are holding back-to-school sales, and I am into High Holy Day preparation all signs that the summer days of 2017 and 5777 are nearing their conclusion. Challenges and difficulties among us remain; ideally however, we can look back on a summer of rest and enjoyment in the company of family, friends and colleagues.

The road ahead the new Jewish year 5778 - is one of promise; promise that we must ensure comes to pass. The High Holy Days, beginning with Erev Rosh Hashanah on September 20, will be a time of reflection, emotion and the gathering of our Jewish community in hope and inspiration. We will renew our devotion to the God of Israel, Torah and Jewish living. And we will pledge ourselves to taking care of one another.

We will begin our annual observance of the Jewish calendar. How blessed we are to possess not only the January-December calendar, but one incorporating our special days: Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Hanukkah and all those that follow. May we continue to imbue these sacred times with the spirit of which they are deserving.

We will continue to learn from and teach one another: involving ourselves and our children in the array of Jewish educational opportunities at Temple Shalom and the larger community. We will commit ourselves to lifelong learning. In this way, we become better Jews and better persons, as we facilitate the unfolding of a better world.

We will take a compassionate interest in other people’s lives. We will visit the homebound and hospitalized. We will assist those in need of meals and/or transportation. We will make phone calls and send emails. We will endeavour to the best of our ability to ensuring that none in our community are overlooked. This is hesed kindness in its purest and holiest form.

We will join together for Jewish lifecycle events: the naming of children, Bat and Bar Mitzvah, Conversions to Judaism, marriages and funerals. We will celebrate when we must and grieve when required. We will be present for both moments of joy and sadness. We will schedule our time accordingly irrespective of last-minute adjustments assuring fellow members of our community that we are with them when needed.

We will participate in the life of the Temple and larger Jewish community as well. We will strive to be present for worship, learning, and socializing, volunteering our bounty of skills and gifts for the good of congregational and communal life, while creating new and lasting friendships as we do so. All contributions - large and larger will be valued.

We will be forgiving of others and ourselves.

And in keeping with Judaism’s Golden Rule: we will love our others, as we do ourselves.
It is a good road ahead. And beginning with
Rosh Hashanah, we will undertake to travel it together.

Rabbi's Message July/Aug. 2017


The revered Rabbi Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus, long-time [seventy years!] Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati - and founder of the American Jewish Archives - remarked in his address to newly-ordained colleagues: …without learning there is no Judaism. Count that day lost in which you have not opened a Jewish book…[The Larger Task, June 1974, p. 7]. Such are words that I endeavour, notwithstanding life’s frequently-hectic pace, to take to heart. Each day I strive to learn from a book incorporating Jewish themes, ideas and sensibilities. The task requires diligence. But it is a task from which I might emerge – in the best of possible worlds – as a better rabbi and person.

In anticipation of summer and more-leisurely days, listed below is a selection of literature, films and music from which might flow a more-profound understanding of our Jewish view of the world.


The Sacrifice by Adele Wiseman: A heart-rending portrait of the Jewish immigrant experience in Canada. Winner of the Governor-General’s Award.

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud: A compelling story of one’s transformation to Judaism. From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Fixer.

The Hill of Evil Counsel by Amos Oz: A stirring autobiographical narrative of a young boy in pre-state Israel by one of that country’s greatest writers.


Response to Modernity by Michael A. Meyer: Arguably the best current history of the Reform Movement in Judaism.

A History of Israel by Howard M. Sachar: An outstanding chronicle of the Jewish homeland, beginning with Theodore Herzl and the Zionist Movement.

Growing Up Jewish - Canadians Tell Their Own Stories: Edited by Rosalie Sharp, Irving Abella and Edwin Goodman: Memoirs of the Canadian-Jewish experience; includes many photographs.



Night by Elie Wiesel: The great work by the‘guardian’ of Holocaust memory.

Jewish Living

Three valuable texts, representing the major persuasions of Judaism – and that I consult regularly:

Jewish Living: A Guide to Reform Jewish Practice by Mark Washofsky - Reform

A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice by Isaac Klein – Conservative

To Be A Jew by Hayim Halevy Donin – Orthodox


Two indispensables:

The Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh

The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Edited by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut


Crimes and Misdemeanors: Woody Allen’s unique blend of comedy and drama, imbued with a provocative Jewish viewpoint. With Martin Landau, Angelica Huston, Jerry Orbach and Alan Alda.

Judgment at Nuremberg: A riveting cinematic rendering of the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell and Judy Garland at their best.

The Music Box: Jessica Lange in an emotional drama about guilt, reconciliation, and the burden of one’s past.

Gentleman’s Agreement: Gregory Peck, Dorothy Maguire and John Garfield in the landmark Hollywood film that dared to pull back the curtain on anti-semitism in 20th century America.


All are valuable additions to one’s library of Jewish music and song:

Leonard Cohen; Debbie Friedman; David Broza; Noa; Craig Taubman; Matisyahu

These works of literature, film and music, however arbitrarily selected, will arouse one’s imagination, while allowing for many summertime [and beyond!] hours of learning and reward. And like the most-enduring examples of our culture, they will both broaden and deepen our Jewish view of the world.

Rabbi's Message May/June 2017

Passing the Baton

Temple Shalom – May/June 2017 Bulletin

Rabbi Bill S. Tepper


Among the highlights of being a spectator at a track-and-field meet is the relay race, where a baton is passed

from one runner to another. It’s a competition during which – for some reason – I find myself rooting for every

runner on every team. How we groan when witnessing one of the batons inadvertently fall to the ground. I

suppose I’m one of those rare sports fans who – when it comes to the relay race - wishes that every team might


However, my most recent visit to Temple Shalom as your rabbi provided us in the congregation with winning

experiences in passing the baton and successful endeavours in extending our beautiful traditions of worship,

learning and Jewish living to the up-and-coming generation of community members and leaders.

On Friday evening April 21, prior to the regular Kabbalat/Erev Shabbat service, students representing both

Sunday morning’s Irma Penn School of Jewish Learning and Wednesday’s Hebrew school participated in a

special ‘PJ Shabbat Service’ involving their recitation of our liturgy, singing our songs and presenting – with

enthusiastic performance skills – a Jewish story to each other and their parents. The event was a memorable

experience in sharing the Judaism we love.

On Sunday morning April 23, I attended the Irma Penn School to assist students in preparing for another

opportunity to inherit our tradition of welcoming Shabbat: the Youth Shabbat Service taking place at Temple

Shalom on June 2. On that evening Irma Penn and Hebrew school students, in addition to the post-B’nai

Mitzvah adolescents, will participate in our evening service. They will guide us through the siddur, lead us in

song, and offer their commentaries/reflections pertaining to Shabbat, Torah, being Jewish and the celebration of


And passing the baton continued into the Sunday afternoon of my visit. During an enjoyable lunch [at one of

Winnipeg’s many excellent dining locales!], the post-B’nai Mitzvah adolescents and I discussed affliating with

NFTY – the North American Federation of Temple Youth. As I know from my son Max’s experience, this is an

important step for our adolescents. Through NFTY, they will connect with their peers in Reform Jewish

communities throughout Canada and the United States. They will engage over issues of concern within the

Reform Movement and of importance to both Jews and non-Jews everywhere. And they will set the stage for

their future roles as leaders and exemplars of Jewish community life.

I cannot overstate the magnitude of encouraging the future generations of our Jewish community; of providing

the best of conditions wherein our youth will learn, grow and assume positions of responsibility, and of ‘relaying’

to them all that is sacred and valued in our Judaism. It means passing the baton in the most winning of ways.

Rabbi Bill Tepper was live with Nadai Kidwai of CBC Radio Winnipeg. Enjoy the story of our "Flying Rabbi"...




If you can not see this chirbit, listen to it here
Check this out on Chirbit

Rabbi's Message March/April 2017

Welcome Mats
Temple Shalom Newsletter March 2017 - Rabbi Bill S. Tepper

Whenever Deborah, Max and I have invited others to join us for a meal and social gathering, I have always found myself hovering by the front door or peering out the window in anticipation of the moment our guests arrive. Even now, living in a high-rise apartment, I am quick to open our front door and wait in the hall to greet our guests as they emerge from the elevator.

I’m no Abraham of the Torah’s book of Genesis; but just as our revered ancestor enthusiastically welcomed three unnamed messengers from God who had journeyed to inform him and Sarah of the impending birth of their son I too am joyful whenever the opportunity presents itself to welcome family, friends or newcomers into my home.

At Temple Shalom we take pride in the gift and skill with which we welcome long-time members and first-timers into our sacred confines. We take pleasure in breaking bread and worshiping together. We experience satisfaction in coming to know one another better each time we meet. It’s who we are as custodians and stakeholders of our exceptional Jewish house of study, prayer and socialization.

But at the same time, we cannot take the fervour with which we welcome others for granted. The last words any Temple member, lay leader or rabbi wishes to hear from a visitor are ‘no one spoke to me all evening.’ That being said, we cannot allow our passion to lapse, nor can we become complacent. The spirit of embracing must never diminish. The welcome mat over which we warmly usher others into Temple Shalom and by extension, into our hearts must remain in pristine condition, irrespective of how many persons tread across it. It must always be an object of pride.

And we must be sensitive to the larger picture: those visiting Temple Shalom for the first time - or the first time in a long while - may be apprehensive. In choosing to join with us, they do not want to feel they are strangers. All the more reason for us to share the best of ourselves. Kindness, gratitude and generosity: these are the qualities with which we imbue the spirit of welcoming.

We want people to return to the Temple, and to know they have friends and a spiritual home here. We want people to become involved, and to stay involved. We want them to enjoy being with us for meals, worship services, learning programs and cultural activities. And we want them to bring others along, especially their children, who in the best of all possible worlds will become honoured learners at our Irma Penn School of Jewish Learning.

It’s OK to be shy. It’s alright to be nervous when reaching out to others for the first time. But when we can go that extra mile and maintain the immaculate condition of our welcome mats, there are plenty of blessings to go around.



Rabbi Bill Tepper was live with Nadai Kidwai of CBC Radio Winnipeg. Enjoy the story of our "Flying Rabbi"...




If you can not see this chirbit, listen to it here
Check this out on Chirbit

Rabbi's Message January/February 2017

Leaving the Light On

Temple Shalom

Rabbi Bill S. Tepper


As I write these words, the dining room of our home is being prepared for Hanukkah: several boxes of candles [we will light a number of our hanukiyot, all acquired in different places over the years; hence the need for an abundance of candles] have been purchased and are waiting to be lit.  The hanukiyot themselves – one of hammered metal in the shape of a moose, with antlers for candleholders, and amazingly discovered in a second-hand store in rural Georgia - have been taken from their shelves, cleaned of last year’s wax, and are ready to display in our window.  There are the obligatory chocolate coins in gold foil.  Meanwhile, the kitchen will shortly begin to emit the familiar and gratifying aroma [soon to spread throughout our entire home] of potato latkes frying in oil.  


Though not ordained in the Torah, nor anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, Hanukkah is among our Jewish tradition’s most-beloved of holidays: candle lighting, songs, delicious foods and the gathering of families and communities in celebration.  And what are we celebrating?  It is at this time of year, as we experience the least amount of daylight, that we rejoice in the eight-day glow of Hanukkah candles.  The warmth of the candles stirs our hearts and spirits; it stirs our love and affection for Judaism. It reminds us of where we came from, where we are now and who we aspire to become as participants in the strengthening of both our Jewish and larger non-Jewish communities.


And Hanukkah is also about remembrance, remembrance being imperative to our Jewish view of the world. As taught in the Talmud and Apocryphal Book of Maccabees – the sources of the Hanukkah story – our ancestors in the Second Century BCE overcame forces of oppression, restored the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated themselves – ‘dedication’ being the English translation of Hanukkah – and their sacred building to serving the God of Israel and perpetuating Jewish life.  In other words, instructing the rest of us, their descendents, that long after the eight days of Hanukkah conclude, the light of our Judaism remains on.


We must leave the light on, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year: the light of our cherished Jewish traditions and rituals. The light of our wonderful Jewish calendar with its many special days. The light of learning, both Jewish and otherwise. The light of our beautiful Hebrew language, the voice uniting Jewish people everywhere. The light of love and affection for the people and land of Israel, our once and forever Jewish homeland. And the light of memory: the recollection of our most despairing tragedies and extraordinary successes.  


Ensure then, that the light of Judaism in your life – and within the lives of those with whom you share the blessings of Temple Shalom and the Winnipeg Jewish community – remains on year-round.  Celebrate and commemorate at every opportunity.  Teach your children – and keep learning yourselves, too. Maintain an open mind, heart and spirit at all times.  And embrace the glow and warmth of the Hanukkah light with the love of which it so deserving.

Rabbi's Message November/December 2016

In Our Jewish DNA



Rabbi Bill S. Tepper

Just prior to writing this article, I finished reading Michael Chabon’s imaginative though disturbing ‘alternate Jewish history’ The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Passionate reader that I am, I need to read like I need to eat! Fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, the daily newspaper, and in particular, works the subject matter of which is Jewish. Forever imprinted on my conscience are the words of the great teacher, historian and rabbi at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Jacob Rader Marcus: ‘Count the day lost when you have not opened a Jewish book.’

From reading there flow new stories to experience, new worlds to discover, and much that awaits to be learned. Within a day or two of finishing a book, a new one - or if not new, one that has been sitting on my shelf for some time - has made its way into my hands. As one of my rabbis instructed me years ago when I was preparing to enter rabbinical school: ‘Read, and then read some more.’

And how rarely do any of us complete our reading of a book before immediately commencing to read it all over again? As Jews we have such a book – five books, actually – that we begin to re-read as soon as we have finished it: the Torah. No sooner have we heard the final words of Deuteronomy do we then proceed to immerse ourselves in Genesis: the creation story is created again; our ancestors and their relationship with the God of Israel emerges once more. As the year unfolds, we learn and re-learn – though never in the same way - who we were, who we are, and who we aspire to be as the Jewish people.  

Though the tenor of the words Talmud Torah conjure up visions of childhood religious school, the expression has – in our day – come to imply Jewish learning in its entirety, not only Torah and Law Codes. This includes Jewish fiction, poetry, essays, drama and history. We may even, if we wish, include Jewish music, the inspiration for which might well be the narratives of our sacred Jewish texts.

It is with pride that Temple Shalom places a premium on Jewish learning: Torah Study, Adult Education Programs and the Irma Penn School of Jewish Learning.   Learning through which we broaden our intellectual, emotional and spiritual horizons, establish and nurture enriching relationships with one another, and enhance the quality of congregational and community life. Cutting to the chase: learning is embedded in our Jewish DNA.

So please share with me what books you recommend, where your interests lie and what you wish to see happen as it pertains to Jewish learning. It is with enthusiasm that I look forward to joining you in our Temple Shalom community of learners.

Rabbi's Message Sept/Oct 2016

Homes Away From Home

Temple Shalom Newsletter

September 2016 / Av-Elul 5776

Rabbi Bill S. Tepper



Beyond the brick-and-mortar homes in which we live, and where in the best of possible worlds we experience measures of comfort, reassurance and peace, there are few other places where we Jews find ourselves more at home then in our houses of worship, learning and assembly. There are few other institutions where we are instantly embraced by the spirit of welcoming and within which we re-connect with and affirm our precious Jewish traditions, rituals, stories and sacred occasions. For the Jewish people, the Temple, Synagogue and Shul have been and shall always be homes-away-from-home.

For we who are proud Reform Jews it is at the Temple where through an array of social programming we encounter friends both new and newer. It is where by way of classes, workshops and special speakers we enhance our knowledge of Judaism. It is where upon attending and participating in High Holy Days and other moedim – the appointed times that grace our beautiful Jewish calendar – that we acknowledge the Jewish sense of time. And in being present for life cycle moments both festive and sad, it is where we honor those with whom we share our Jewish community. Truly, it is within the holy confines of the Temple that our Jewish view of the world is nurtured and strengthened.

As I write these words I have yet to undertake my first visit to Temple Shalom. But I already know that I shall be part of a special community, a community blessed with wonderful music and song, inspiring services, dedicated leadership, dynamic learning for persons of all age groups, bridge, coffee houses, guest lecturers, community health programs… the list goes on! Clearly, Temple Shalom cherishes its Judaism, and cherishes each individual member. It is a community that greets all who enter its doors with open arms and hearts. It is a community that understands the premium we Jews place upon Talmud Torah – lifelong Jewish learning. It is a community imbued with the spirit of hesed – kindness – and the guiding force of tikkun olam – the balm we apply towards the healing of our perpetually-wounded world.

As a congregational rabbi it is my blessing to have established warm friendships with the members of my Temple and the larger Jewish and non-Jewish communities as well: to be of service in their instances of both joy and grief, to have consoled them as they struggled with illness and/or injury; to share the remarkable intellectual, emotional and spiritual transformation that flows from Jewish learning, to have been welcomed into their homes to enjoy conversation [and many a good meal, too] and to have been a resource/guide during the pivotal moments when Jews raise aloft the banner of tzedek – justice. Such are the communities I have been privileged to care for, knowing that my family and I are cared for in return.

In the Midrash we read:

I sleep, nevertheless my heart is awake [Song of Songs 5:2]. The people of Israel said to God: “Eternal of the Universe, I am asleep for lack of the Temple [in Jerusalem], yet my heart is awake in the houses of prayer and study.” [Song of Songs Rabbah 5:2, Sec. 1]

In fullness of heart, I look forward to being with everyone this year at Temple Shalom.


Torah Commentary