PESACH MESSAGE FROM RABBI GOLDBERG

I am sure that for all of you, as well as for my family and me, this is going to be one of the most memorable and odd celebrations of our lifetimes. Joining  Zoom seders with a synagogue online, Houseparty virtual seders with family and friends, Facetime celebrations with contacts from near and far or having your own way to recognize Passover: all will be much different from our usual way of commemorating this important spring festival. Yet, perhaps now we will have the time to truly consider the lessons of Passover and its relevance, very real relevance to us today. We are asked to not merely tell the history of the Exodus and recite the Haggadah , the story of Pesach by rote but rather “ we are obliged to recount the story of Passover and to see ourselves as if we too had been slaves in Egypt and gone forth to freedom .” To use a word that we are all too familiar with today, we are to virtually experience this story as if we are there now, in this very present time.

A couple of days ago, a good friend who works as a lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and I were talking about the anxiety we were each feeling about COVID 19, and just as we were about to hang up she said, “you know Aviva the re may be a silver lining that can be found in this terrible cloud. It could be that the governments of the world will now realize that they are working for all of us and not the other way around – that laws have to be enacted for all the people, proper insurance and benefits to enable the unemployed and low income families to find housing, to have the means to pay for rent and food and not merely scrape by. That in all countries of the world medical care must be a given and no one will ever be refused treatment for lack of insurance or funds.”

When we got off the phone, I considered my friend’s words and how they related to Passover. Whether the Exodus happened exactly as it was written in the Torah, whether the plagues are mythic or factual, whether the wandering in the desert took place or not is irrelevant, though they are wonderful stories to relate! What is most important is the main theme and concept of this holiday that we are celebrating on Wednesday evening, these words from the book of Leviticus to “ LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF ”. These are the words repeated in one form or another FIFTY-TWO times in the Torah! Over and over and over again, we are reminded, and commanded to “not persecute an alien and not oppress them because you were aliens in the land of Egypt, to love them as yourself, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt, and to not oppress the alien since you know the alien’s soul, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt!” As Rabbi Richard Friedman notes, this is an emphasis unique to the Hebrew law codes and found nowhere else in the laws of the ancient Near Eastern world. Simply put, we are obligated to one another.

Today, when no country is immune from this pandemic, no one is a stranger, no one an alien. We are all united in a plague of unbelievable proportions. Surely now is the time to finally put into practice the essential message of Passover and our scriptures. We are one. We are responsible for one another. We are a global community that must share all our respective resources, medical, intellectual and technological innovations.

Stay safe, observe physical distancing, have hope, for this too shall pass and we will come out of this mitzrayim (the narrow straits of Egypt) transformed, not only as Jews but as a world ready to implement social, economic, and political change for all humankind. Then the words of Genesis will come to fruition and all the families of earth will be blessed. Amen. 

My best to all, 
Aviva


A LETTER FROM THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Dear Shir Libeynu Congregants,

We hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

As a new board, we were full of ideas and plans and hope. And we faced some extraordinary challenges—finding a new spiritual leader and eventually, a new venue for High Holy Day services. We met twice and then, the pandemic changed all our lives.

We are still full of ideas and hope, but planning has become more difficult, not just for us, of course, but for people, organizations and communities around the globe. While it was always true that no one can predict the future, it seems even truer now. When will we be able to meet again for Shabbat? Will we be able to congregate for the High Holy Days in the fall?

We are trying to find answers to these questions and are in touch with the Downtown Jewish Community Council (DJCC) to learn what other congregations are thinking and planning. The DJCC is compiling a list of resources and events in Toronto that people can access online. You can find it here: https://shirlibeynu.ca/?p=19048 . You may also want to look at the Jewish Toronto Calendar: https://jewishtoronto.com/calendar . We will add Shir Libeynu events as we schedule them and keep you updated. Later in the spring, we may reach out to you with a short survey to seek your feedback.

The board has been meeting virtually and discussing what we can offer and how we can stay connected during this time. Although we must be physically distant, how can we be spiritually close? Perhaps more than ever, being part of the Shir Libeynu community might give us a greater sense of connection, community and strength.

We have been talking to individual members to see if there is something they might wish to offer the congregation virtually, such as music, storytelling, analysis and discussion of texts, presentations or prayers. Daniela Gesundheit’s video message https://vimeo.com/399292954 and Paula Wolfson’s live Shabbat singalong https://youtu.be/AVtTnPV8 have already showed us that this is possible. Heartfelt thanks to both of them. If you wish to offer to do something, or if you’re a technical genius and can advise us on virtual platforms, please let us know. It would be wonderful to have more congregants involved.

In March, Aviva spoke about Passover as being one of the four New Years that we celebrate as Jews. This year is very different from many we have marked in the past. Still, Passover is the beginning of spring, of renewal, rebirth, reawakening of the earth. We see much more green now on our walks and in the gardens we pass. Luckily, it is also a holiday that involved a lot of hand washing, so we’re good there.

While we can’t be together, we offer some thoughts to help us stay positive and strong. The following is from Marge Piercy’s poem, The Seven of Pentacles :

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
A thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us 
Interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
Reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
For every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting,
After the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

This won’t last forever, but it will be a strange, maybe unique Passover. To help you celebrate, if you choose to do so, we are including a recipe for charoseth . This Turkish-style charoseth is not the usual apples, nuts and wine.

1 cup pitted dates, halved
1 cup dark or light raisins
1 large apple, peeled, cored and cut into large pieces
½ cup blanched slivered almonds
1 medium-sized naval orange, peeled and cut into chunks (you can add more wine instead and put the orange on your seder plate to represent all those who are often left out of the story)
2 or more tablespoons of sweet red wine

Put all ingredients except the wine into food processor. Add wine and mix. Result is a soft, slightly coarse mixture. Refrigerate and serve chilled. Enjoy!

Wishing you a good Passover, Happy Holiday ( chag sameach ), good health and a measure of peace in this unsettling time.

Board of Directors
Shir Libeynu
Congregation Shir Libeynu