Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 21

O Canada!

July 1, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

O Canada! Dear Holy Friends, I hope you are all doing well and beginning to enjoy the summer months. In advance, allow me to wish you all a Happy 4th of July. Now, while I hope you will accept these wishes for a meaningful celebration of our country, please indulge me as I also overstep the tradition of “Ein Maarivin Simcha B’Simcha” (one should not mix two celebrations at the same time). I add this disclaimer because today, as I type this article, I am celebrating Canada Day with my family!

Canada Day is a national holiday celebrated in all provinces and territories in Canada. Towns across the country hold a wide range of events, parades, carnivals, concerts, and of course, even firework displays. Canada Day came into existence as a result of the signing of the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act), which was enacted July 1, 1867, joining together The Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This marked the day Canada, as a nation, was created.

Seen through a Jewish lens, Toronto, my home town, is a vibrant and unique community. Historically, Jews began residing in Toronto in the early 19th century and since the 1970s, the city has been the home to the largest Jewish population in Canada. Today, Toronto remains the center of Jewish Canadian culture.

I am probably not alone in having fond memories of my place of birth and the community in which I grew up.

In my opinion, Toronto has always been a remarkably traditional Jewish community. In the neighborhood where I grew up, there were five large Conservative synagogues, all within a six-mile radius. Each of these shuls boasted a membership of over 1200 families, they had intensive Jewish supplementary schools, and synagogue attendance was always robust. In fact, the Conservative shuls offered liturgy and prayer services that looked identical to an Orthodox davening, except for the use of microphones and mixed seating.

These days, when I run up to Toronto to visit my mother and brother, the main streets are plastered with billboards advertising synagogue activities, learning opportunities, yeshivoth, and Jewish events. There exists a plethora of Kosher restaurants, although I must say, I don’t find them particularly exceptional.

While the Conservative shuls continue to maintain their large memberships, the Orthodox community has demographically exploded. I like to joke that if I am there on Shabbat and walking to shul, I have to have my elbows out in order to navigate the pedestrian traffic. And while the Conservative shuls have now embraced a stronger egalitarian mindset, the Orthodox shuls have become increasingly right-wing in terms of practice and theology.

For fun, and in the spirit of celebrating Canada Day and our own Jewish heritage, here is a short list of some famous Canadian Jews:

  • Lorne Michaels (creator of Saturday Night Live)
  • William Shatner (roles too numerous to mention)
  • Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock from Star Trek, who made famous the sign of the Kohanim, but used the language “live long and prosper” in Vulcan.)
  • Drake (Grammy award-winning rapper)
  • Howie Mandel (host of America’s Got Talent)
  • Paul Shaffer (David Letterman’s band leader for over thirty years)
  • Leonard Cohen (poet and singer)

Homework Assignment: As we continue to get to know each other, I would love to hear from you about your stories of origin and the Jewish communities in which you grew up. Together, we can honor our collective past, while we plan for our bright future as a community and Kehillah at CBIOTP.

Whether you are celebrating Canada Day, July 4th, a birthday or an anniversary, may this month be filled with enriching memories, happiness, joy, health and peace!


Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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