Rabbi Susan Shamash began a fellowship with Rabbis Without Borders this month. (photo from Susan Shamash)
“Rabbis Without Borders addresses borders within Judaism,” said Rabbi Susan Shamash, one of two Canadian rabbis who began a fellowship with Rabbis Without Borders (RWB) this month. “The fellowship aims to span denominations and to break down barriers between rabbis of different denominations, so that they can cross the borders and collaborate.”
While at a Shabbaton led by RWB when she was a rabbinical student, Shamash became interested in the Clal fellowship. Established in 1974 by Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Elie Wiesel, Clal’s “mission has been to help prepare the Jewish people for the unprecedented freedom and openness of North America,” notes the announcement of Shamash’s acceptance into the competitive program, which began in 2008.
Shamash told the Independent that RWB tries to develop rabbis who are able to think and work outside the box while working inside specific communities. Although based in the United States, Clal welcomes Canadian rabbis to its fellowship and, this year, Rabbi Denise Handlarski of Toronto’s Oraynu, a secular humanist congregation, was also accepted.
Shamash completed her rabbinical training in January 2017, obtaining semichah (ordination) from Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, after a decades-long career as an administrative law judge. Shamash received semichah with four others at that year’s Ohalah conference in Boulder, Colo., from a large number of rabbis, 10 of whom signed her certificate. Her training was overseen, as are all Aleph rabbinic trainings, by a committee of three. In her case, it was Rabbi Victor Gross, Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel (one of the founders of Vancouver’s Or Shalom) and Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan (formerly spiritual leader of Or Shalom, now on the faculty of Vancouver School of Theology).
Shamash has been involved with Or Shalom since it started and counts the founding teachers, Siegel and her husband Daniel, among her mentors, as well as Duhan Kaplan, who is delighted to have her aboard. “As a longtime member of the RWB network, I’m delighted that Rabbi Susan Shamash will join us,” Duhan Kaplan told the Independent. “We need more Canadian voices like Rabbi Susan, willing to creatively address emerging issues in our religious and cultural life.”
“I am excited to join Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan and [Or Shalom] Rabbi Hannah Dresner in bringing the deep wisdom of this fellowship to Metropolitan Vancouver,” said Shamash.
“I went into law school because I needed a professional skill, and it was a wonderful and rewarding career,” she explained. “I met Rabbi Daniel Siegel while at school – he was a Hillel director at the time and just founding Or Shalom. I learned a lot under his and Hanna Tiferet’s mentoring.”
Although Shamash enjoyed her judicial career, she said she is deeply satisfied with her transition to a second career. “In some ways, I came home, even though I really loved the law,” she said. “I might have become a rabbi for my first career but, at that time, it was not at all encouraged [for a woman]. I was very interested in the study and the prayer life as a kid.”
Primary areas of interest for Shamash include interfaith ceremonies and outreach to underserved Jewish communities, both of which she thinks the fellowship will help equip her for. “The fellowship will inform the work that I do with interfaith families or marriages between observant Jews and unaffiliated Jews or non-Jews, as well as working with people who want some Yiddishkeit for ‘hatching, matching and dispatching,’ as they say, the cycles of life, but want that outside of synagogues and institutions,” she said. “I would also like to take Judaism [beyond] the Lower Mainland and bring Jewish experience to smaller communities in B.C.”
She said there is a lack of diverse offerings for Jews outside of major urban centres, and she would like to help fill that gap.
Shamash currently teaches Talmud at Or Shalom, where she delights in making the study available to people who might otherwise not have access to it. She is hoping, over the years to come, to collaborate with others in the Jewish community to increase the options for serious adult yeshivah-style learning for the non-Orthodox.
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
The Or Shalom board of directors with Rabbi Hannah Dresner, second from the left in the front row. (photo by David Kauffman)
Most Jews would agree that usually rabbis do the bulk of the talking and congregants the listening. That’s been reversed for the Listening Tour currently underway among rabbis of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. The tour is making 13 stops in North America, as well as listening via video and Skype to Renewal communities all around the world. On March 25, the tour stopped in Vancouver, where it was hosted by Or Shalom.
Rabbis Rachel Barenblat and David Markus, ALEPH co-chairs, have embarked on the tour to hear from the breadth and depth of the community, including those not technically affiliated with the Renewal community but “aligned in method, intention and heart.”
“Every stop on the ALEPH: Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is different, and every one has been amazing in its own way. But I suspect that our weekend in Vancouver may stand out in memory as one of the most memorable experiences in a year-plus of remarkable experiences,” wrote Barenblat on her blog, the Velveteen Rabbi.
“Maybe that’s in part because we traveled such a very long way to be there. Maybe it’s in part because we were visiting such a storied community, one of the largest and longest-standing Jewish Renewal communities in the world. Maybe that’s in part because the people at Or Shalom welcomed us with such open hearts.”
“When ALEPH decided to go on a listening tour, it initially was to take the pulse of the Jewish Renewal movement, but it has come to mean for us and for stakeholders in the broader renewing of Jewish life so much more than that,” said Markus. “There is a yearning in Jewish life today that reaches through all the denominations … we are seeing a global consciousness arise about the need to reconnect Jews with the heart and soul of tradition, to experience the riches of spiritual life, and to address emerging social and ecological challenges.”
Markus explained that Jewish Renewal has grown organically, and was not created on the basis of strategy or design. “The time has come,” he said, “to introduce an element of design.” How should the Renewal movement take its rightful place in ecosystem of Jewish life? What does Jewish life need now? How to meet the needs of millennials? Summing up, Markus said, “How are we relevant for the 21st century and beyond?”
Speaking of the tour in a recent Or Shalom newsletter, the congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Hannah Dresner, wrote, “They were here to gather information for their own discernment as they shape the next iteration of the ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. But we had a bit of our own agenda, and that was to speak and hear the stories, challenges and hopes of Or Shalomniks for the flourishing of our home community and for our collective and personal senses of belonging, contentment and inspiration…. I listened very carefully, and my heart ached with the poignancy and beauty of the nostalgia, the hurts, the longings and the aspiration I heard spoken.”
On the Friday evening, the visit commenced with davening, followed by dinner, after which those gathered heard some of the origin stories and histories from Or Shalom’s almost 40 years of existence, starting with the early years as a chavurah in Rabbi Daniel Siegel and Rebbetzin Hanna Tiferet Siegel’s living room.
On the Shabbat, there were diverse sessions of listening at which different segments of the community were invited to speak and be heard. Younger members of the community expressed their desire for open, free dialogue, deep ecumenicism and freedom from xenophobia; members of the community who felt marginalized had a chance to tell their stories; elder members spoke of their desire to keep the best of Or Shalom alive and their anxiety to pass the torch to the next generation. Many other voices were heard, and the rabbis listened. “By being listened to,” Markus told the Independent, “people feel empowered to do the work that this era demands.”
Dresner was particularly moved around finding solutions for those who feel marginalized. “What can we do to optimize a young mother’s spiritual experience when she comes to shul with very small children?” she asked. “And how can we create a cohort for her? How can we offer community to individuals who remain single as couples form and begin to have babies? What will it take to go beyond friendliness in developing a deeper queer consciousness?”
The weekend unfolded over what Barenblat called “meetings and meals and meetings over meals,” including a trip on Sunday to the Vancouver vegetarian institution that is the Naam restaurant.
The Vancouver leg of the tour wound down Sunday evening, and so came to an end the ninth stop the rabbis have made so far. “It’s an honor and a privilege,” wrote Barenblat on her blog, “to get to sit with people and hear their yearnings and hopes for what ALEPH and Jewish Renewal might become.”
Matthew Gindinis a Vancouver freelance writer and journalist. He blogs on spirituality and social justice at seeking her voice (hashkata.com)and has been published in the Forward, Tikkun, Elephant Journal and elsewhere.
I was 15 during the summer of 1962 when a visiting Lubavitcher rabbi named Zalman Schachter came to Camp Ramah. He sang his soft and expressive melody for the first blessing of the Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals), which I remember to this day. It was the first time this yeshivah boy had experienced a different way of giving thanks for the gift of nourishing food, one that focused on the Source of the food. In a sense, I became his chassid that summer, although I didn’t know it at the time.
Six years later, while visiting a friend in Boston, we attended Shabbat services at Havurat Shalom and I moved closer to knowing that I was his chassid when I heard him sing “Eyl Adon,” the Shabbat poem in praise of the many realms of light, to the Yiddish folksong “Donna Donna.” And, four years after that, searching for a spiritual practice that affirmed the first 25 years of my life, and immersion in Jewish practice and study, I wrote him from the B.C. Interior and asked to learn with him, consciously becoming his chassid.
Reb Zalman always said that a chassid must have a rebbe and one becomes a rebbe only when one has a chassid. When he asked me if I would accept semichah (ordination) from him, we created new possibilities for others with what has become the movement for the spiritual renewal of Judaism and a current ordination program of 80 students. He offered me a semichah that I could accept and, as he put it, I gave him permission to begin a lineage which is both new and old.
On July, 3, 2014, I was teaching at our Semichah Week summer gathering at a retreat centre outside of Portland, when one of our students opened the door to my classroom. After waiting politely for a break in the conversation, he said that he had the sad duty of informing us that our beloved rebbe had peacefully passed into the next world that morning. Supported by my students and dear friends, together we affirmed Reb Zalman’s death with the traditional words, “Baruch Dayan HaEmet (Blessed be the True Judge).”
Memories and images passed before me, arising from the years of learning and friendship that we had shared. In the summer of 1971, my life partner, Hanna Tiferet, and I immigrated to British Columbia and settled in the Kootenays. It was a year of living in harmony with the earth and seeking spiritual meaning. Our first son, Noah, was born the following summer, after our house burned down. I had written Zalman for spiritual guidance. He was living in Winnipeg at the time and teaching at the University of Manitoba. He invited me to come to Winnipeg. After Hanna and Noah were settled, I hitchhiked 1,500 miles there and back to officially meet and begin my studies with my rebbe.
In 1976-77, Hanna and I lived in Philadelphia with Reb Zalman, learning how the rebbe “tied his shoelaces.” Mordecai and Hana Wosk visited him that year and they encouraged me to apply for both the University of British Columbia Hillel director position and to become Congregation Beth Tikvah’s first rabbi. This provided the opportunity for us to bring this new-old form of Judaism to a place we loved in a country where I, as the son of a Toronto-born Jewish pioneer, felt at home.
Inspired by the havurah movement and Reb Zalman’s mystical teachings, we slowly gathered people to form the Hillel Minyan, which became “The Minyan,” then Havurat Sim Shalom, which is now Or Shalom. I served the Vancouver Jewish community for 10 years and then went back to the United States to work as the rabbi at Dartmouth College. After another 10 years, we settled in Boston, where I became the director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and, eventually, a teacher in the rabbinic program. Reb Zalman’s teachings became my life’s work and I worked closely with him to translate and transcribe his thought in several books and manuals, including Credo of a Modern Kabbalist, The Kabbalah of Tikkun Olam, Renewal Is Judaism Now, and Integral Halachah.
Reb Zalman revealed to us a Judaism that is open and inclusive. He said that, once we were witness to the profound image of the earth from outer space, we could begin to comprehend the oneness of all life beyond the limitations of national borders. How could we then separate the fate of the Jewish people from that of all people, or the fate of humanity from the condition of all of life on this planet? He taught about deep ecumenism and showed us how to relate to Christians, Muslims, Hindus and First Nations people, embracing and respecting the holiness in each tradition. His mission was to maintain the integrity of Klal Yisrael while also embracing the shared truth in all the spiritual and ethical paths present in our world. Inspired by him, we opened spiritual leadership to women, created services that others could help lead as they developed their skills, designed tallitot that were colorful and beautiful, included gays and lesbians and then all the wonderful and various expressions of identity in our growing communities.
Reb Zalman, together with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, had a spiritual assignment to redeem the Jewish people after the Holocaust. These two shlichim (messengers) from Chabad revitalized Judaism and sparked the renewal of spirituality in every facet of Jewish life.
When I received and accepted semichah from Reb Zalman in 1974 in the Winnipeg home of Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose, I was the first and only member of this new lineage. Now, there are more than 100 ordained as a Renewal rabbi, chazzan or rabbinic pastor, and students keep arriving, though we don’t advertise or recruit. Meditation, retreats, ecstatic prayer, new music, poetry, art and movement are now available options everywhere that Jews gather to pray. So much of this results from the vision, intelligence and spiritual depth of this one man, whose life we celebrate and whose presence on this earth plane we will miss so deeply.
With gratitude for the blessing of his presence in my own life these past 52 years, I say my own Kaddish for my rebbe and spiritual father, Meshullam Zalman Chiyya ben Chayah Gittel v’Shlomo haKohen, z”l. May his memory be a blessing and awaken in us the deep desire to live in peace and harmony with all of creation.
Dr. Charles Kaplan and Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. (photo from Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan)
The small group meeting to pray and learn in living-rooms in the late 1970s and early 1980s couldn’t have known for certain that their community would survive to grow into a 200-family congregation, but they did know that they’d helped start something special. That much was apparent from the start.
This year, Or Shalom, the outgrowth of that small group, celebrates 36 years, but will also say goodbye to its current spiritual leader, Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. She and her husband, Charles Kaplan, arrived in Vancouver in 2005, encountering a vibrant and energetic Jewish Renewal congregation, with a permanent home on East 10th at Fraser Street – and an already storied history.
Rabbi Daniel Siegel who co-founded Or Shalom with his wife and partner, Hanna Tiferet Siegel, was in 1974 the first person to receive smicha (rabbinic ordination) from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement. Today, Siegel is director of spiritual resources for ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, where he also serves as associate dean of the ordination programs, chair of the rabbinic texts department and rabbinic director of ALEPH Canada. From his Gulf Island home, Siegel described the congregation’s early evolution, and what makes Renewal’s approach resonate today.
“We consciously chose Vancouver, Hanna and I, as a place to move to because we wanted to start a congregation and we wanted to see whether the things that made us newly excited about our Judaism were things that other people would respond to, other people who were also disenchanted or disconnected, so we were looking for a place to do that.”
About a year after arriving here, the Siegels’ vision took root. “We started the second year that we lived in Richmond, in 1978. We started what was then called the Hillel Minyan, and we would meet once a month on Friday night and the following Shabbos morning,” he said.
With help from friends, the Siegels were able to put a down payment on a home on West 22nd Avenue and started leading Shabbat morning services in their living-room. The name was changed to Havurat Sim Shalom. Over the next several years, services were held in participants’ living-rooms, rented homes and on the University of British Columbia campus. The Siegels worked in partnership, Daniel taking leadership of more traditional aspects, he recalled, and Hanna Tiferet on the creative expressions. In that way, there were various access points for participants.
“The intention was that we wanted to create something that gave ownership to people very quickly,” he explained. “So, Torah discussions, which could be done in English, and pesukei d’zimrah, which could basically be some melodies bridged by reading … were open to almost anybody as soon as they wanted to try it. And then there was leading shacharit and reading Torah, which required traditional skills, which meant that people had to decide to improve their Hebrew or whatever they needed to do. I think that was always intentional…. The motto of Havurat Sim Shalom was ‘traditional, egalitarian, creative,’ that’s what we called it.”
Harley Rothstein was a member of the young community. In an essay he wrote in 2000 about the history of Or Shalom, he shared some of those experiences. “I attended the minyan for the first time in January 1980. Entering the Siegels’ house on 22nd Avenue I was instantly struck by the enthusiastic participation. I enjoyed the meditative quality of the service in which some prayers were highlighted and certain lines repeated. I noticed a number of beautiful and unfamiliar melodies. I appreciated the depth of thought and extent of participation in the Torah discussion. I was surprised by the leadership shown by the women (I learned later that I had walked into a special women’s Shabbat). The physical layout was fascinating. Almost all participants were sitting on the floor, crowded into a limited space (Hanna’s enormous loom took up about one third of the living-room). I was delighted by the potluck lunch afterwards with the kind of vegetarian and whole foods that I had eaten for years. I was impressed by the energy and spirit of this small group and immediately became a regular participant.”
“The early days of Or Shalom were an adventure for those who were involved. Many of us were discovering a Judaism [that] we didn’t imagine could be so rich and meaningful. We were young and these were, for the most part, uncharted waters.”
Later he wrote, “The early days of Or Shalom were an adventure for those who were involved. Many of us were discovering a Judaism [that] we didn’t imagine could be so rich and meaningful. We were young and these were, for the most part, uncharted waters. We were drawn together as friends and held together by inspired leadership. What made it work was that we honored the centuries-old wisdom of the Jewish tradition while at the same time honoring our own creativity and insight, as well as our commitment to deeply held political values, such as gender equality, social justice and peace.”
By the time the Siegels left for Hanover, N.H., in 1987, Or Shalom was already on firm footing and, though it was still small and mostly consisting of friends, its early success encouraged mainstream congregations to reconsider some of what they wanted to offer. “I think Or Shalom served the function of being a kind of presence that encouraged a bit of ferment in the community, which I think was good because supposedly people cared about the fact that so many young people were not connecting … and they wanted them to connect,” Siegel said. “When we actually got them to connect, I think people had mixed feelings about that success.”
The tension between tradition and creativity was the defining feature. “The most important thing in my mind about what Hanna and I were trying to set up was a community that would be experimental and traditional at the same time,” he explained. “What Zalman called ‘backwards compatibility.’ The creativity that we do is compatible with what we inherited. That still is a very important thing to me. That’s why I do halachic thinking…. In my mind, what was really innovative about Or Shalom as we envisioned it was that combination of a creativity [that] was backwards compatibility, which was loyal to the tradition … both in the sense that we respected what we inherited and we also respected that we inherited a tradition of creativity…. I would say that was the challenge that we faced when we started it, and it would be the challenge that I would hope Or Shalom would look to finding ways to face and play with over the next 36 years.”
“Renewal does not seek to be a denomination. And that’s a big difference. We’re more like an association of like-minded people whose primary relationship to Judaism is through an unfolding relationship with the Divine. And so we don’t have creedal or halachic requirements for belonging, we don’t have any exclusionary clauses – like if you belong to us you can’t belong to something else – so that our clergy association has in it rabbis from all across the Jewish spectrum.”
Today, Renewal communities have sprung up all over North America – and beyond, Siegel said. “We have strong connections in Brazil, we have some people in Costa Rica now, we have a small hevre in Germany and in Amsterdam and in Stockholm, less so in England. And in Israel.” This growth can be attributed to the fact that “Renewal does not seek to be a denomination. And that’s a big difference. We’re more like an association of like-minded people whose primary relationship to Judaism is through an unfolding relationship with the Divine. And so we don’t have creedal or halachic requirements for belonging, we don’t have any exclusionary clauses – like if you belong to us you can’t belong to something else – so that our clergy association has in it rabbis from all across the Jewish spectrum.”
Duhan Kaplan, who has now been Or Shalom’s spiritual leader for nearly a decade, warmly described her first days with Or Shalom and her plans to continue participating in the congregation and wider Jewish community. “When Charles and I first came to Vancouver, we fell utterly, totally in love with Or Shalom – and East Vancouver. None of that has changed; if anything, it has intensified. Every week day, I appreciate Vancouver’s combination of natural beauty, access to urban services and perpetually green foliage. I especially love the winter mist and fresh air. With every Shabbat gathering at Or Shalom, I get cumulatively more relaxed. I worry less about logistics, and appreciate more deeply the way that singing, studying, shmoozing and celebrating life events together creates spiritual community. Leading the service has become a spiritual high for me; I take note of who is there, try to connect with them in thought and feeling, and help uplift the group with words and music.”
Growing up in New York, Duhan Kaplan said her “childhood experiences of Judaism were all positive: a large social circle, Orthodox synagogue, Conservative Jewish day school and Hebrew-speaking summer camp.” A self-described book addict, she graduated from university with plans to be an educator.
“My own education is ongoing; I’m in love with school,” she said. “I have a BA in philosophy from Brandeis, an MEd in adult education from Cambridge College Institute of Open Education, a two-year certificate in ayurvedic yoga from the New Life Centre, a PhD in philosophy and education from Claremont Graduate University, rabbinic ordination from ALEPH … a graduate certificate in spiritual direction from Vancouver School of Theology; and I’m currently taking graduate courses in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Honestly, I’m pretty tired: for 33 years, I’ve been working full time, going to school and raising children – without nannies or extended family, but with a great marital partnership and an organized household.”
After spending several years as a philosophy professor, Duhan Kaplan said she was looking for something new. “My leadership role in our local havurah and my powerful dreams and conversations with God led me to deeper Jewish study. I found [ALEPH]’s ordination program, a hybrid distance-learning/residential program, with an emphasis on kabbalah, just right for a philosopher juggling work, family and school. In 2005, I received smicha, moved to Vancouver and started to work at Or Shalom.”
She is inspired by and proud of her accomplishments during her tenure, including the year-long Exploring Judaism course, her experiences working closely with bar and bat mitzvah students and the more “personal moments in pastoral care, where I witness people’s reserves of strength and courage. I may be exhausted a lot of the time, but I never, ever feel my work lacks meaning.”
“Our founder, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, was a master at using creative techniques to disrupt routine thinking and engage the whole person in discovery. He urges us to respond to changing social questions using traditional Jewish resources, recognizing how diverse and evolutionary Judaism has always been. As a teacher, he has empowered Jewish intellectuals, artists, environmental activists and more; his influence can be felt across all Jewish movements.”
Renewal’s orientation towards Judaism and life provides a vehicle to chart a satisfying course, she noted. “Renewal is spiritual and socially liberal. Following the early Chassidic teachers, we explore the inner spiritual journey of Jewish life. We take seriously life’s existential questions and we fully expect Judaism to help us answer them. To stimulate our souls, we study, sing, make art and have fun. Our founder, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, was a master at using creative techniques to disrupt routine thinking and engage the whole person in discovery. He urges us to respond to changing social questions using traditional Jewish resources, recognizing how diverse and evolutionary Judaism has always been. As a teacher, he has empowered Jewish intellectuals, artists, environmental activists and more; his influence can be felt across all Jewish movements.”
Judaism’s evolutionary character resonates with those who haven’t fit into more mainstream Jewish life. “Or Shalom is really a community of seekers. Our members are deeply committed to Judaism, but they don’t participate out of a sense of obligation,” she explained. “Each person is genuinely and self-consciously on a path of spiritual and moral growth. Of course, we are all at different places on our path. But this self-awareness really makes working relationships easier; people reflect, reach out across conflict, and grow the community.”
Though the time has come to move on from synagogue leadership, Duhan Kaplan doesn’t plan to stop being a teacher. “Charles keeps reminding me to take some down time, but my normal way of living is to be working, going to school and volunteering. Next year, I’ll be working part time, teaching three graduate courses each at the ALEPH seminary and the Vancouver School of Theology. I’ll continue to take courses in Jungian psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and I have agreed to a big volunteer project for Ohalah: Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal. I hope to do some cat transportation for VOKRA, Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue. Yes, I’ll still be blogging! And I hope to put the finishing touches on the animal book.
“Of all the roles I play, educator still resonates most deeply,” she continued. “When I’m teaching, I can be scholar, deep listener and interpersonal facilitator all at once. I have to be well prepared and flexible at the same time. And I get to play with different learning modalities, as we explore really deep ideas in ways that work for the learners.
“Or Shalom is a wonderfully musical community and the congregational singing (without musical instruments) on Shabbos morning is utterly awe inspiring! It has been a joy to introduce new melodies to this community because they will join in with enthusiasm in singing absolutely anything, even adding beautiful harmonies.”
A Pittsburgh native who grew up in “a relatively non-observant, culturally Jewish-identified home,” Charles Kaplan said that he “began to rediscover and explore my Jewish (religious) roots in my 30s and this accelerated exponentially after Laura and I met.” A multi-instrumentalist, he and his wife have continued the tradition of making music a large part of the service. “Or Shalom is a wonderfully musical community and the congregational singing (without musical instruments) on Shabbos morning is utterly awe inspiring! It has been a joy to introduce new melodies to this community because they will join in with enthusiasm in singing absolutely anything, even adding beautiful harmonies,” he said.
And though he often gets asked by others about being the rabbi’s husband, he said “Or Shalomniks are far too comfortable with egalitarianism to even think the question! Usually, it’s asked with a clever smile, ‘You know the wife of the rabbi is the rebbetzin. What do they call the husband of the rabbi?’ My standard answer is ‘Around here they call me “the hubbetzen!”’ In all seriousness, supporting the rabbi’s work as a spouse is a challenging responsibility regardless of gender.” Among other contributions, “I’ve gotten myself involved in davening, musical events, ritual committee and even building maintenance! All with ‘ivdu et Hashem b’simcha!’”
Pat Gill and David Kauffman are co-chairs of the board of directors, and spoke to the JI about reaching the double-chai milestone. Or Shalom “occupies a unique place in Vancouver Jewish life,” said Kauffman, who first discovered the congregation in 1985. “Firmly committed to inclusiveness, we make efforts to invite and engage everyone who wants to explore, or return to Jewish life and Jewish community, regardless of their background…. As a participatory shul, most Shabbat services are different each week, portions of davening and reading Torah and Haftorah by a significant percentage of the congregation.”
Gill said she heard about Or Shalom “20 years ago when my husband and I were planning to move here from Seattle. A friend said we should check it out; we’d like it. She was so right. Our first event was High Holidays, 1994, and we were hooked!”
Both agree that Duhan Kaplan has “set the bar high” for the next rabbi. “Reb Laura has brought to Or Shalom a high level of insight, analysis of text, and ability to teach,” said Gill. “As well, her davening and leyning are exceptionally musical and beautiful…. I believe Reb Laura was the first female congregational rabbi in B.C. Her knowledge, intellect and desire to work with the greater Jewish community in Vancouver have earned respect for her and, I believe, for female rabbis in general, as women become more accepted in the role of pulpit rabbi.”
Kauffman seconded that praise. “Reb Laura has brought the aspects of Jewish life that Or Shalom dreamed of in a rabbi. Teaching that draws from rabbinic tradition and modern philosophy, davening that reflects musical influences both traditional and more recent, such as those taught by Reb Shlomo Carlebach and others. For the greater Vancouver Jewish community, Reb Laura is known for her courses all around the Lower Mainland, including Talmud Torah, Vancouver School of Theology, Melton Institute and the most recent Limmud Vancouver. We expect that Reb Laura will continue to teach in her many ways in and around Vancouver even after she leaves the role of Or Shalom’s full-time spiritual leader.”
For now, the search for an interim rabbi continues. “We’ve embarked on a rabbi search mission, one based on the thorough process that gave us such excellent results 10 years ago,” said Kauffman. “We’re looking for an interim rabbi for about a year, and posting a larger search for a full-time rabbi to start in the summer of 2015. Our process will eventually bring the committee’s three top choices to Vancouver for Shabbaton-like interviews, after which a community process will help us find the best match.”
Or Shalom’s 36th anniversary celebration features entertainment by Tzimmes and Grand Trine, on March 1, 7:30 p.m., at VanDusen Botanical Garden. Tickets at 604-872-1614 or [email protected].