I am here in Toronto this weekend attending the Biennal Convention of the movement of Reform Judaism. Having grown up in the movement, I knew I would meet some old friends and acquaintances. And I knew I would see all my friends from my old Toronto congregation. But what happened yesterday was unexpected. And I don’t fully understand it.
It all started as expected. I was volunteering with Michael Cincinnatus and his wife Phyllis (formerly Brown). I grew up with them at Temple Har Zion in the 1970s. From that group, I also ran into Miriam (formerly Gotlib), Judy (formerly Benjamin) and her entire family (Ellen, Arthur and Sandra, but not David), Richard Bernstein, Rabbi Danny Gottlieb, Wilfred and Marjorie Grosman.
Of course, I saw a large number of my Temple Emanu-El congregants who were also volunteering and/or participating: Paul and Robin Leszner, Helene and Phil Rudolph, Joe Goodbaum, Marlene Myerson, Rabbi Debra Landsberg and Adam Roberts (and the triplets), Betty and Marshall Cohen, Andrew and Monika Simon, Cheryl Shuster. These were the people I expected to see. And then the Jewish geography started. One of the Emanu-El folks knew the Litmans in Edmonton, whose son and daughter-in-law are the parents of one of Ben and Ella’s classmates.
In the evening, I was accompanied to the Shabbat services, dinner and song sessions by Paula, David and Lisa Kent. I figured Paula would meet some people from days gone by. She recognized Michael Zelding, long-time Emanu-El member and teacher to Liora at the Paul Penna School last year and partner of Emanu-El cantor Anna Trubashnik. She also met a couple of old camp friends, one of whom turned out to be the mother of our new rabbi, Carmit Harari, in Edmonton. More branches winding their way through our lives, connecting people in our past to people in our future.
But the strangest small, Jewish world connection of all happened at our Shabbat dinner table. We sat with Rabbi Landsberg and her gang and were joined there by another couple from London, Ontario whose daughter Aviva is a cantorial solist around Toronto. Avinoam and I struck up a conversation and a few minutes into it, he asked if my mother had lived in London. It turns out that I was sitting next to the man who I spoke with on the phone on that Friday afternoon after my mother passed away as I was driving back from London. I was looking for some Jews in London who could perform the Tahara rituals for my mother. (Tahara involves the ritual cleaning of the deceased and then wrapping the body in a shroud. Volunteers also watch over the body from death until burial.) Avinoam was the volunteer in the London Jewish community who was helping me. I had never met him, nor any of the volunteers who helped us in London. But they performed a service in a time of great need and for which we are extremely grateful.
These connections say a lot to me. They tell me that I am home here in this movement. I am among family here. Not in Toronto per se, but among progressive, communally conscious Jews where ever they are.
But I also feel like I am being called back from my past to serve this community. I have felt this as I got more and more involved in Temple Emanu-El in Toronto over the past several years. And I feel its pull growing. Beyond the obvious (join a shul and get involved) I don’t know if there is another way in which I am being called. But I am listening.
Shabbat Shalom from Toronto.