Rabbi’s Message Jan/Feb 2020

Welcome to a new year and a new decade! It would be fair to say that the past year has been a tumultuous one, as huge events on the world stage seem almost overwhelming, waves hitting at us incessantly. Where to start: What is happening with our neighbours to the south, Hong Kong and Europe/Brexit; terrible weather events triggered by climate change and the ongoing inability of world leaders to respond meaningfully; political correctness replaced by the language of hate and divisiveness with the rise of the politics of populism and nativism; new trade wars; increasing intolerance towards minorities everywhere as well as anti-Semitism both at the state level and individual acts of violence and desecration aimed at our people; and the political and cultural turbulence in Israel. We can’t avoid this stuff – they spill over into our psyches and into our lives here in Canada, and so they should, as they affect our security and our well-being. And of course, here in Canada, we have our own issues as well – a whole array of social ills arising from income disparity and mental health and a history of cultural genocide and privilege, and a growing unease as we see and feel many of those world trends finding traction here too.

It is easy to choose despair, but I prefer hope. Our history shows us that there are very few years and decades that weren’t tumultuous. Our advantage (or disadvantage) is that the internet has democratized our access to information from everywhere, so for the first time, we are seeing it all, live and in technicolour.

Our challenge — and our opportunity — is for us to do what we always have done as Jews – to step forward, to live ethically, and to embrace and practice tikkun olam, the repair of the world through acts small and large, each of us according to our skills, capabilities and means.

Hope, for me as a Jew, is fueled by inspiration. That is something that we can experience alone (a walk in nature or a great book), but these are also things that we can plan, that often involve others. Think of how much better we feel, spiritually, during and after our Friday night services as we gather as a community and let our beautiful prayers and music wash over us. And for anyone who has ever visited Israel, think back to how you felt when you first stepped off the plane at Lod Airport, never mind the intense experiences of the days that followed.

Those trips to Israel have always been the “bucket list” item for Jews living in the Diaspora. But I recently discovered that we can find amazing Jewish bucket list experiences closer to home. Our Reform movement holds its URJ Biennial, well, every two years and I have just returned from my first, in Chicago simply overflowing in inspiration, joining up with 5,000 like-minded progressive Jews happy to share experiences and new ideas of what modern Judaism feels like. At any time of the day, we could choose between maybe 15 different sessions, some educational and topical, some congregational, some musical. And every day, we could find multiple and alternative styles of worship services, great musical experiences, and a plenary session. And then, then there were Shabbat services with 5,000 in attendance, raising their voices together.

For me, the URJ Biennial has to be THE top “Diaspora Jewish Experience” imaginable for any Reform Jew, and I would encourage you to add it to your bucket list as well. Put these dates in your calendar – December 8-11, 2021, Washington, DC – and we’ll see you there. We had five members of Temple Shalom in Chicago this time around. Let’s bring a whole lot more the next time!

The key to our survival and more importantly, our thriving as Jews is to remember that we each individually hold in our own hands those decisions regarding our spirituality, our hope, our inspiration and our actions. May the year 2020 and may the decade of 2020’s be all that and more for you. As we have always done, may we each actively seek inspiration, may we choose hope over despair, and may we always continue to push for what is right, as this has always been our way.

Rabbi Allan Finkel