Cantor’s Corner

hand book

Photo: Dahlia Katz Photography

Our Spiritual Leader, Cantor Wunch, writes a piece for our monthly newsletter, “Milibeynu” (from our heart). Her writings are collected here.

The bitter month?

November 2022

Now that the High Holy Days have ended, we have officially entered the month of Cheshvan. Traditionally, this month is referred to as Mar Cheshvan or Bitter Cheshvan – a name given to the month because, other than Shabbat, it has no festivals or holy days. The next special event in the Jewish calendar is Chanukah – which comes on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. It is a long stretch of time between Simchat Torah and Chanukah – about 9 weeks.

This is the longest period in our calendar where there is nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Nine weeks to get back into routine, 9 weeks to live our daily lives before the next celebration. It’s understandable that many would consider this to be a sad time, a bitter time. 

But, this is actually a very narrow way of viewing our calendar. There is, in fact, a holiday that falls during the month of Cheshvan – it’s just not one that many of us whose families originated in Eastern Europe, or even in Spain, know about. It’s an Ethiopian Jewish Holy Day called Sigd. 

Sigd is a festival that is held 50 days after Yom Kippur, on the 29th day of Cheshvan which is traditionally thought to be the date in the Torah on which God appeared to Moses. On this holy day, the Ethiopian Jewish community expresses their longing for Jerusalem. It is both a solemn and joyous occasion, with both fasting and feasting. In recent years, since Operations Moses and Solomon, Ethiopian Jewish communities in Israel have celebrated Sigd, and in 2008 it was declared a national holiday for all of Israel. To read a summary of the significance of this holiday, please click on this link.

My Jewish Self, My Community, The World

This year in our B’mitzvah class, we will be learning about some of the holidays that are celebrated in Jewish communities around the world.

We have 15 students enrolled in our class, and together we have begun to explore their Jewish identities and the myriad ways that Judaism can play a role in their lives.

Our first unit is “My Jewish Self” which will be followed in a few weeks by “My Jewish Community.” In this unit we will be learning about when Jews first came to Toronto, how the Jewish community here has grown and evolved, and about our neighbours in the downtown area. Our final unit will be “My Jewish World,” during which we will learn about Jewish communities in India, China, The Caribbean, and many other locations, as well as wonderful holidays like Sigd. 

I’m looking forward to keeping all of you up-to-date on our class and celebrating these wonderful students with all of you at their simchas in the next couple of years.

B’ahavah,

Cantor C. Wunch

Thank You!
October 11, 2022
 

To the beautiful Shir Libeynu Community:

I am writing this note to you 2 days after Yom Kippur, 1 day after receiving my Bivalent booster shot, and amidst a mental and physical haze that I can certainly attribute to both. 

While there will be plenty of time to reflect and share my thoughts with all of you about the High Holy Days that just passed, what I need to say right now is simply thank you. 

Thank you for showing up in person and on Zoom. 

Thank you for sharing your hearts, your words, your wisdom, and your voices. 

Thank you for volunteering your time, your resources, and your energy. 

Thank you for trusting in us as we made difficult decisions regarding location, technology, and safety protocols. 

Thank you for trusting in me to lead you in prayer. Thank you for praying with me. 

All of you – new members, longtime members, volunteers, and leaders – have created a holy, radiant congregation, and I thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.

Here’s to a 5783 filled with joy, love, blessings, and more time together in this sacred community.

B’ahavah,

Cantor C. Wunch

Elul: a time for self-reflection and for cheshbon hanefesh
September 6, 2022
 
The month of Elul has begun and our preparations for the High Holy Days are well underway. Elul is a time for self-reflection, for cheshbon hanefesh – taking account of our souls. We are instructed to spend these weeks looking inward and really considering who we have been this past year as we ready ourselves for a new year, a new opportunity to try again.

As we continue to navigate the ever-changing pandemic, we – your board of directors and I, have been reflecting, taking account, making plans, and changing plans. If there’s one thing that we’ve all learned over the past 2.5 years, it’s that nothing ever goes according to plan and we have to be able to adapt. With that in mind, I would like to share with you a message from our beloved Chazzan Daniela:

Dear Shir Libeynu Members and Friends,

For Jewish clergy, summer is the season of High Holy Day planning and preparation. As difficult as it often is to transport ourselves mentally and spiritually to the fall, to the Days of Awe, to the spirit of teshuvah, it is on our minds, even as we enjoy the pleasures of summer. 

This year, my fifteenth year with Shir Libeynu and my first year as a mother of twins (during a pandemic), I will be taking a sabbatical during the Days of Awe. Though it means I will be unable to join you all this year, I am thrilled that Shir Libeynu is returning to in-person services. I am confident that being together— with Cantor Wunch as your soulful and steady guide— will provide a sense of community and satisfaction that we have all acutely missed over these last two plus years.

Oh how I will miss singing Avinu Malkeinu with you all, watching the congregation sway together like a sea of reeds.

On a joyful note, when I went to type “Days of Awe,” my computer auto-corrected to “Days of Awwwww.” How fitting as I prepare for a High Holy Day season unlike any other, davening with a babe in each arm. 

With wishes for a Shana Tova for all,

Daniela Gesundheit 

We will miss Daniela – her voice, her spirituality, her leadership, and her joyful presence. We are thrilled that she has generously agreed to “zoom in” for Erev Yom Kippur to share her voice for the recitation of Kol Nidre. We look forward to hearing her sing this important and meaningful text again this year.

 Each year of the pandemic has brought us new challenges, innovations, and changes to manoeuvre. This year will also be challenging and innovative, with many changes to manoeuvre. I am confident that we as a community will once again find the best possible ways to pray, sing, celebrate, and reflect together. As you continue on your own path of spiritual preparation, I leave you with this poem. May we all find a place of calm.

Before we enter the palaces of prayer-

Let us find within ourselves

A place of calm.

Before we revel

In the wondrous and sublime –

Let there be an honest, inward gaze.

Before the rites and ceremonies of Awe-

Let there be quieter days,

An island of attentiveness

Machzor Mishkan HaLev

 B’ahavah (with love),

Cantor C. Wunch
Anything that gets you better at loving can be sacred
Jun 27, 2022
 
Several months ago I was listening to one of my regular podcasts, when I had to pause, rewind, and listen again. The podcast I was listening to is called Terrible, Thanks for Asking, and the general premise of the show is the host, Nora McInerny, talks to  people who have gone through terrible things in their lives, and discusses how they have learned to overcome those situations. It is not always the most uplifting podcast, as you hear about some pretty upsetting situations, but the guests always have something to share about resilience, perseverance, and being kind to ourselves. 

One particular episode called Self-Portrait of My Own Misery, featured Vanessa Zoltan, a Jewish woman who talked about her struggles with depression and anxiety, and the generational trauma – trauma passed down from one generation to the next –  that were at the root of her challenges. Her particular story is a painful and beautiful one, and on the podcast she shared a bit about her family history, but the part that I was struck by is how she has learned to manage her depression and anxiety – through prayer.

Vanessa Zoltan said that despite growing up fairly observant, she never felt a spiritual or emotional connection  with Jewish ritual. She didn’t find prayer to be helpful or comforting until, that is, as an adult, she truly learned how to pray… and strangely enough, she began her prayer practice with Jane Eyre

Vanessa described knowing that she wasn’t ready for Jewish texts, but she did want to release her struggles into a text that she loved, and so she asked her mentor to teach her to pray with her favourite book, the words of which she learned to treat as sacred; to find meaning in them. 

She said: “… the most important part is that you have faith in the text. And by faith, I mean you believe that the more time you spend with the text, the more gifts it will give you. And even a book with a lot of bad stuff in it, like Jane Eyre. Right? Like, Jane Eyre has a lot of really bad colonial slavery stuff in it. But the more time you spend with it, the more you figure out why that’s bad, and what’s healthy about…Rochester and Jane’s relationship and what’s not. And any minute I spend with that book, I have more and more spiritual resources. We treat a text as sacred in order to treat our neighbor as sacred. And you realize that actually if a text is betraying you and you can still love it, that means you can still love your neighbor even if their tree is growing over your wall or they play their music too late. And then the other thing is that the more time you spend with the text, the ready-ier it is for you when you are in moments of despair. So if you’ve read a book a hundred times … and you’ve underlined all of your favorite quotes, when you get a piece of bad news and you don’t know what to do with your body, you can just open it. And Past You will have taken care of Current You. You know, a sentence that you’ve underlined will speak to you, and you’ll be like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s like it was meant for me in this moment.’ And so I just don’t think that those books have to be the Bible… And it just like, doesn’t have to be the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran. It can be Harry Potter, it can be Jane Eyre. It can be, I would argue, your favorite romance novel. Right? Anything that’s complicated, anything that’s generative, anything that gets you better at loving can be sacred.

This is the part that made me stop what I was doing and listen again. “Anything that gets you better at loving can be sacred.” I love the idea that even a text with bad things in it can be sacred, and that it’s the lessons we take away each time we engage with the text that make it holy. 

Prayer can be as simple as focusing on a favourite book, poem, song, or text and finding comfort and meaning there. As the podcast host so eloquently summarized: “Vanessa prays to Jane Eyre. When there are things going on in her life that feel out of control, that make her feel those familiar feelings of despair and futility, she can open up that book and find a passage that illuminates some truth. A bit of wisdom that can help her in her current situation.” 

So this summer, if you find yourself with a little bit more down-time, I urge you to return to a book that has been impactful on you, or pick up a new book – whether it’s a Jewish holy book, or not – and, having faith in it,  find the words that will keep you coming back time and again. Perhaps you already have such a book in your life. Whether new, or one you’ve returned to,  share it with me – I’d love to know where YOU find prayer. I’d love to even find ways to include your prayerful texts into our congregational rituals. Together we can continue to expand our repertoire of sacred texts that get us even better at loving.

B’ahavah (with love),
Cantor C. Wunch
HAPPY PRIDE MONTH
May 29, 2022
 
What a blessing it has been to slowly tiptoe our way back to in-person services and gatherings. Singing together, seeing your faces (even if behind a mask), hearing your voices, and simply feeling the presence of community has brought so much joy and connection to my life. As we continue to navigate the risks and benefits of being together, we are looking forward to offering new classes and events to everyone in our congregation. 
 
B’Mitzvah classes are starting soon!
 
In the next couple of months we will be rolling out 2 classes in particular – the first is our B’mitzvah class for anyone in grades 6, 7, or 8. This class will focus on the various facets of Jewish identity, and will be a great addition to B’mitzvah tutoring. If you’re interested in having your child celebrate this rite-of-passage with our congregation this class will be a required element, so please be in touch with me for more details. 
 
Adult Torah chanting classes
 
Second, I have received some requests for an adult Torah chanting class. I would be delighted to offer a 12-week course in the fall, as long as there is enough interest. If you would like to learn how to chant Torah, and you have a basic (slow is fine!) ability to read Hebrew, please let me know. I’d love to get a class going soon! Cost will be $600 per person for 12 weeks of 1-hour classes. 
 
PRIDE MONTH
 
Finally, as you are reading this we are just about to begin Pride Month 2022. There will be many events to attend this year, and the excitement of celebrating Pride together is building. Just in case you’ve missed our previous announcements, I want to draw your attention to 2 special Pride events that our congregation is leading/participating in. 
 
Pride Havdallah & Tikkun L’Eil Shavuot
 
The first is our annual Shir Libeynu Pride Havdallah – this year with a twist! On June 4th we are kicking off Pride Month AND kicking off the community wide Tikkun L’Eil Shavuot with our Pride Havdallah service on the roof of the Miles Nadel JCC. Due to the location, we will be unable to offer an online experience, so please try to attend in person if you’re able. As if that isn’t special enough, our service will feature a d’var Torah delivered by our beloved Rabbi Emerita Aviva Goldberg, so this will be a service to be sure not to miss! 
 
Registration is required. Click here to register now!
 
Friday Night Pride Shabbat
 
The second event is a community-wide Friday Night Pride Shabbat experience at Artscape Wychwood Barns on June 17th. This event is open to the entire community and will include a Shabbat service and a bring-your-own picnic-style dinner. 
 
 
Pride is about celebrating who each of us is, and the beauty and uniqueness of our being. As we begin this joy-filled month, let’s start with this blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽנוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשַֽׂנִי בְּצֶֽלֶם אֱלֹהִים.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olom, she’asani b’tzelem Elohim
Blessed is the source of all, Eternal of time and space, who has made me in God’s image
 
HAPPY PRIDE!
 
B’ahavah,
Cantor C. Wunch
Congregation Shir Libeynu to kick off community Shavuot with PRIDE!
May 1, 2022
 
 

As I write this article, Pesach is coming to a close and we are well on our journey towards Sinai. Starting the second night of Passover, we begin the tradition of counting the Omer, which are the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. In biblical times the 49 days signified the time between the first grain harvest and the first fruits harvest, when the grain harvest ended. It is also, more symbolically, the amount of time in between fleeing slavery in Egypt and standing at the foot of the mountain receiving God’s covenant.  It is said that each day of the counting we prepare ourselves more and more for the joy of receiving Torah.  Every evening when we announce the Omer count out loud, we are acknowledging our increasing readiness and willingness to accept the commandments. 

Each day of the Omer count is also connected to a Kabbalistic personality trait. We are taught that as we count we should focus on different aspects of ourselves, to think about the ways we can strengthen our spiritual connections to The Divine, to other people, and to ourselves. As we move through the 49 days, we become more and more aware our inner lives, and more and more prepared to celebrate the responsibility of Torah with open hearts. 

The counting, of course, ends as the festival of Shavuot is about to begin. There is a tradition to study throughout the night on Shavuot as a way of expressing our joy of receiving Torah. For many years, the Miles Nadal JCC has hosted a massive community wide Tikkun L’Eil Shavuot program, in which Jews from across Toronto came together to sing, pray, learn, and eat. The past couple of years have seen this festival scaled-down and put online. This year, the MNJcc is offering an outdoor, smaller-in-scope but large-in-spirit IN PERSON Shavuot program on June 4th.  Our congregation has the distinct honour of starting the evening with our annual Pride Havdalah.  We are closing out the period of the Omer and kicking off Pride month for the entire downtown Jewish Community. If you would like to participate in planning and leading our service, please let me know – and I can’t wait to see you all there! Details and registration will be coming to your email inboxes soon.

 

B’ahavah,
Cantor C. Wunch

 

Pesach Is My Favourite Holiday
March 27, 2022
 

I love seeing my family (even on Zoom), I love the rituals, I love the traditions, I love the long, drawn-out time sitting around the table, and I  love the food. I also love the challenge each year of finding new ways to make the seder more engaging, more modern, more innovative, and more relevant. While it is always a struggle to hold the interest of everyone sitting around the table – I’m sure every family has tension between those who want to luxuriate in each section of the seder and those who just want to get to the meal already – I have a few suggestions for those of you who are looking to shake things up a little bit this year:

Switch Up Your Haggadah

Not all haggadot are created equal. There are many new publications available for purchase  that include modern readings, discussion prompts, beautiful artwork, and even new music. Two of my personal favourites are A Night to Remember and In Every Generation. There are also several Haggadot that you can find for free online, such as Invisible: The Story of Modern Day Slavery: A Social Justice Haggadah put out by the Religious Action Center, and The Wandering is Over Haggadah: A Seder for Everyone put out by Jewish Boston. I’d also like to draw your attention to a beautiful gender expansive and inclusive Haggadah called “A Haggadah of Our Own” that has been promoted by the NonBinary Hebrew Project.  You can even create your own Haggadah by heading over to Haggadot.com. There you will find thousands of sample readings, prayers, and songs that you can mix and match to create your own seder at no cost. It’s a wonderful resource that I highly recommend.

Forget the Haggadah (but not the Seder!)

If you’re looking to get even more innovative this year, consider forgoing the Haggadah altogether and creating a truly interactive experience. There are 14 steps (some say 15) to the seder which are listed at the beginning of every Haggadah – so a fun idea is to assign each seder participant a few steps to prepare ahead of time. They can do a puppet show, sing a song, read the traditional text, or anything they like to present their section of the service. As long as each step is accounted for, you will have a complete, and completely entertaining seder.

Make Diversity Delicious

My final suggestion involves what many people consider to be the tastiest part of the seder – the charoset. This sweet concoction is meant to remind us of the mortar that the Hebrew slaves mixed and used in Egypt. It also reminds us that our ancestors withstood the bitterness of slavery through the sweetness of hope. 

While the traditional Ashkenazi charoset, made with apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and wine is delicious, there are many different charoset recipes from around the world that can enhance your seder. A quick google search will turn up recipes for Yemenite charoset, made with dates, figs, and cardamom; Turkish charoset, made with raisins, dates, oranges, and apples; Mexican charoset, made with pears, bananas, and dates; and many other sweet, mortar-like combinations. 

I suggest picking a couple of these recipes to try, and also taking a few moments to  learn a little bit about the Jewish community where that charoset originates. Globaljews.org is a great resource for learning about the beautiful diversity of the Jewish people.  Making charoset from around the world is a fun way to add a little bit of flavour and knowledge to your seder.

Meaningful and fulfilling (not just filling!)

No matter how you celebrate this year – whether it’s with a large or small group, in person or online, I hope you all have a meaningful and fulfilling Pesach. If you need a place to go for seder, or you have some extra room at your table, please contact Rebecca Sugarman (slboard@shirlibeynu.ca) who will help to make sure that everyone has a seder to attend.

Wishing you all a zisn (sweet) Pesach!

 
B’ahavah,
Cantor C. Wunch

 

A Month for Joy
February 28, 2022
 
Mishenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha. מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר מֵרַבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה
 
When the month of Adar begins, our joy increases.
 
The month of Adar, which begins on March 4th this year, is traditionally known as our happiest month of the year. Why? Well, because of Purim of course! Purim is a time of joy, frivolity, and for celebrating miracles. During Purim, we celebrate the miracle that we survived the potential destruction of our people, we celebrate the miracle that we are all still here today, and we celebrate the miracle that we can be joyful, laugh, and enjoy this holiday.
 
All of our lives are full of miracles, whether we recognize them as such or not. The relationships that we have, the beauty that we see, and the joy that we feel are all miracles. Life can be difficult – and many of us are seeing and feeling that more now than ever, but life is made much easier when we can see the miracles that abound amidst the darkness. Miracles surround us every day, and it is our job to try to slow down just enough to see them. Every time we recognize the miraculous in our daily lives, our joy naturally increases, and every time we do something that increases our joy, well, that’s a miracle. Once you take note of this beautiful little cycle, it serves to make life sweeter and brighter.
 
One great way you can increase your joy this Adar is to participate in our Purim Spiel, the Beatles-themed Megillah Mania, planned for March 16th, at 7 PM on Zoom. This year Ellie Goldenberg has generously volunteered to direct the spiel and it promises to be a fun and a truly enjoyable show.There will also be dancing led by the fabulous Shoshana Fainsilber, and of course some communal singing!!
 
Want to have an even more joyful, fun Purim? We still have some small speaking and singing roles available! No experience is necessary, just a willingness to let loose and have a little fun. I urge you to throw caution to the wind and help us bring some light and frivolity to our community. 
 
Please be in touch with Ellie (ellgold@hotmail.com) if you’d like to perform, or with me (cantorwunch@gmail.com) if you’d like to try chanting a few verses of the Megillah.
 
B’ahavah,
Cantor C. Wunch

 

Offering Hot Tea to a Stranger
January 28, 2022
 
On January 15, Jews across North America watched with our collective breath held for 11 hours as Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three of his congregants were held hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. It was a terrifying day for the rabbi, his community, his family and the congregants’ families, and all of us watching from afar. In the evening, after Shabbat had ended and we started to gain a better understanding of what was going on, I was invited to a Zoom call where over 1000 Jewish leaders gathered for a quick update, some prayers, and the chance to sit with one another in our worry and anxiety. I, like many of you, had been watching the news at frequent points throughout the day, hoping for more information, but it wasn’t until I was looking through page after page of small video boxes on my screen, seeing the faces of my friends and colleagues praying and crying, that I began to feel the weight of what was happening.
 
That evening, on that Zoom call, I understood that we were all having the same two thoughts running through our heads—“please let them be safe” and “this could be me.” After the rabbi rescued them all from the hostage taker and we learned about his heroic acts, those thoughts turned to “thank God he acted as he did” and “would I have acted as he did?” There is much to be said, much for us to think about in the wake of this event. We know that antisemitism is a growing problem that must be addressed. We know that mental healthcare is sorely lacking and needs to be more accessible. We know that safety in our houses of worship should be a given, and that none of us should have to wonder “would I have acted as he did?”
 
I can’t address all of these issues in this one newsletter article. In fact, I find myself still thinking through and processing everything that happened, but please know that we, your Board of Directors and I, are aware that safety is a primary concern. Once the COVID numbers allow us to return to in-person worship and programs, we will be reviewing and updating our own safety protocols. It is a must. We want to make sure that everyone feels secure and comfortable participating in our community.
 
To be clear, that safety and comfort truly must be for everyone. Shir Libeynu has always been and will always be a community that welcomes everyone with open arms and open hearts. Rabbi Cytron-Walker was asked if he would offer hot tea to a stranger again. I think that his answer was perfect for his community and for ours:
 
This was one individual. I have led thousands and thousands of services at the congregation over my 15-plus years with the community. This was the first time we had something along those lines. So when someone comes to the door? Yes, I’m going to do the same kind of visual scan that I did. And I’m going to assume that even if they do not look like the stereotypical person who’s going to come into a Jewish synagogue, I want them there. Whether they’re somebody who’s Jewish, who’s coming in from another community or from our community, or whether they’re not Jewish, and maybe they’re exploring Judaism for the first time, or they just want to see what a Jewish service is all about because they’re curious and they’re asking, am I going to belong? And I want them to know that they are going to belong. Hospitality means the world.
 
B’ahavah,
Cantor C. Wunch

 

2022: A Year of "And"

January 3, 2022

There’s a meme going around on social media right now that shows a person with a panicked look on their face, and a caption that says, “That feeling when you realize that 2022 is pronounced twenty-twenty, too.” The implication of this meme is that we’re in for another year of devastation and loss – a repeat of 2020. Of course, none of us can see the future or know for sure what is about to come our way, but I found this meme to be painfully pessimistic, and I wanted a different way to look ahead to the secular new year. In order to find a new interpretation of 2022, I and some of my colleagues turned to gematria – the system of assigning numeric values to Hebrew letters, and this is what we discovered:

 

First, we saw that the letter כ kaf has a numeric value of 20, and the letter ב bet has the numeric value of 2. The letter כ kaf is the first letter in the word כּוֹחַ – ko’ach – “strength” or “might” and the letter ב bet is the first letter of the word בַּיִת – bayit – “home” or “household.” In this interpretation, we can find a blessing in the number 22. May our homes be a source of strength, and may we find our might within ourselves and our households.

Next, a colleague of mine suggested, jokingly, that the numbers 2 0 2 2 could stand for בַּיִת בַּיִת אֶפֶס בַּיִת – bayit efes bayit bayit – “home nothing (but) home, home.” She took this to be a prophetic message about staying in as much as possible. I’d say that if you’re feeling at all unwell, this would be good advice to follow! 

The most powerful numeric interpretation that we found was by adding up 2+0+2+2. The resulting sum of 6 corresponds to the letter ו vav. In Hebrew, vav means “and.” It’s a letter whose purpose is to connect. It connects words, sentence fragments, and ideas. When condensed down to one digit, the year 2022 becomes a year of “and,” a year where we focus on our connections – connections to each other and connections to the Divine. May we all find connections this year, and may we serve as the vav, the connectors in our world.

Gematria can also apply to biblical passages. Using a gematria calculator, one of my colleagues discovered that the words of Psalm 96 verse 6 add up to a total of 2022. This verse reads: הוֹד וְהָדָר לְפָנָיו עֹז וְתִפְאֶרֶת בְּמִקְדָּשׁוֹ – hod v’hadar l’fanav oz v’tiferet b’mikdasho – “Glory and majesty are before God; strength and splendour are in God’s temple.” Let’s dedicate 2022 to finding our strength and reveling in the splendour of our world

And finally, looking at gematria once again, the word טובה – tovah – “good” has a sum value of 22 (ט=9, ו=6, ב=2, ה=5), and so based upon this visionary math, I confidently wish for all of you that 2022 will be a שנה טובה – shanah tovah – a good year.

B’ahavah,

Cantor C. Wunch

Lights at the End of the Tunnel

November 28, 2021

It is hard to believe that we are entering the final month of 2021. We have all been through a lot this year, and it seems like we are finally seeing the light at the end of this (almost) 2-year tunnel. I know that many of us are looking forward to being able to gather as a community in the new year, and our Board of Directors and Venue Committee are hard at work exploring ways to make this happen. Of course, we will need to follow all public health regulations, but, if all goes well, we are hoping to be able to pray, sing, celebrate, and learn together, in person, by the spring. More information will be coming as we have it, so please remain patient with us as we work to find the safest way to be together. 

In the meantime, I want to share with you a few exciting events, additions, and changes that are coming your way in the next few months. First, and most importantly, our beloved Musical Director and Chazzan Daniela Gesundheit will be taking her parental leave shortly after our December service. Daniela will lead us in prayer on December 4th, so please join us to shower her with love, and wish her “B’sha’ah Tova בְּשָׁעָה טוֹבָה” and “L’hitraot לְהִתְרָאוֹת” (lit. “all at a good time,” and “see you again”).

Speaking of services, as Daniela prepares for her new role as a parent, many people in our community have stepped forward to help lead our monthly services. It is a true pleasure to lead with such talented, dedicated people, and we would love to add more voices to our roster of volunteers. If you are interested in leading prayers (either spoken or sung), sharing a reading or poem, reading Torah, delivering a sermon, or having an aliyah, please let me know. There is no pressure to be perfect, and I’m happy to work with you to help you prepare. There is no judgment in prayer – just bring your whole self and share your gifts! 

There are two new additions to our calendar that I’m excited to share with you. First, we began our monthly Lunch and Learn in November and will continue to meet on the 3rd Tuesday of every month at 12:00. Last month we talked about the character of Jacob, and we thought about who his wrestling adversary might have been. Was it God? His brother Esau? One of Esau’s servants? Or was he wrestling with himself? It was an excellent conversation, and everyone shared their fascinating insights. If anyone has a suggestion for a future topic, or if anyone wants to lead one of our monthly discussions, please be in touch. 

The second event will be coming in the early part of next year. For the past few months, I have been working with several other Jewish community leaders in Toronto to create an LGBTQ+ Community text study programme. Our goal is to create even more opportunity for study and friendship amongst LGBTQ+ Jews and allies in Toronto. We are hoping to launch the first series in February or March, so keep your eye on this space for more information as it becomes available.  

Finally, the changes. As you may have noticed, we have stopped requiring pre-registration for our Shabbat services. We had found that the extra step of registering was frustrating for many people in our community and made attending our services a challenge. We hope that our new system of sending out our service link to everyone on our email list the day before the service will make it easier for anyone who wishes to pray to join us on Zoom. Another communication change to look out for is that beginning in January, we will send out our newsletters every two months, instead of every month. We know that you get a lot of mail in your inboxes, and so we are hoping that sending fewer, yet fuller newsletters will be helpful in allowing you all to sort through your email and catch up on our congregational happenings. Don’t worry – we will still send out occasional additional emails with service links and program information.

I can’t thank you all enough for such a wonderful six months since I joined this congregation. I have loved getting to know many of you, and I am looking forward to continuing to get to know you all more. If you ever want to speak with me, please email me at cantorwunch@gmail.com, or sign up for Zoom meeting at https://calendly.com/cantorwunch/meet-with-cantor-wunch.

I look forward to seeing you all on Zoom Shabbat morning December 4th, and then again on December 5th for our congregational Chanukah celebration! 

B’ahavah,

Cantor C. Wunch

Chanukah: Community, Camaraderie and Delight!

October 31, 2021

Chanukah begins at sundown on November 28. That warm, joyful, light-filled holiday that kids (and adults!) look forward to for months is just a few weeks away, and once again we find ourselves coming to terms with the idea that we will not be able to gather in person for our celebrations. When the pandemic began, we all scrambled to learn how to move our religious observances online, and many of us quickly adjusted to online services, online seders, and online learning. While these online ventures certainly haven’t been perfect, they have provided us with the ability to pray, celebrate, and learn together in ways that we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. I am grateful for the internet and how it has served to keep us connected during the past 20 months, but when it comes to Chanukah, I find myself saddened by the reality we are facing.

Chanukah, as we know, is not a major religious festival. It’s a home-based holiday, a family time. While there are some religious observances and specific liturgy connected to Chanukah, it’s not really a time where we focus on prayer and ritual, rather we turn our attention to community, camaraderie, and delight. I know that it is hard to think about another Chanukah online. I know that we yearn for the sights, sounds, and smells of our beautiful Chanukah parties. I know that, as soon as it is safe to do so, we will all gather for a big bash where we can sing, eat, hug, and be together… but in the meantime I wanted to offer you some ideas of how to make our second pandemic Chanukah a little warmer, a little brighter, a little more joyful.

A “twist” on dreidel: Tradition says that we play dreidel on Chanukah as a nod to our ancestors who had to hide their Judaism from the Seleucids. If they saw Antiochus’ men approaching, the Jews would hide their Torah study and pretend to be playing dreidel instead. This year, why not extend the game-playing and have a trivia night online with family and friends? There are several websites where you can play games (there’s even online dreidel!) Just google “online dreidel” or “online trivia” and make a night of it!

Dedicate your home: The word “Chanukah” literally means “dedication.” It’s a reference to the re-dedication of the Temple after it was destroyed. Take some time to beautify and dedicate your home for the holiday. Whether that means putting up decorations, moving some furniture around, or even just some light cleaning, do something to make your space special and dedicate it to Chanukah.

Show us what you’ve got: Many of us follow the tradition of putting our lit chanukiyah in the window every night of Chanukah. This tradition comes from the mitzvah of “Pirsumei D’Nisa,” or “publicizing the miracle.” We are instructed to share our light, share our beauty with others, so this year I invite everyone to snap photos of your home, your smiles, your Chanukah lights and share them in our Shir Libeynu Facebook group. Let’s share our miracles together.

Give gelt: Chanukah is a perfect time to share with those in need. If you have a little extra gelt to share this year, make donating a part of your Chanukah celebration. Bring warmth and light to others, in any way that you can.

Don’t forget the food: Whether you prefer savory latkes or sweet soufganiyot, food with oil is an essential part of any Chanukah celebration. This year, why not challenge yourself to try Chanukah food from Jewish communities around the world? Gulab Jamun from India, Keftes de Prasa from the Iberian Peninsula, Buñuelos from Latin America, Zengoula from Iraq, Sfenj from Morocco, Fritelle di Chanukah from Italy and many more treats can help to make your Chanukah delicious this year. All of these recipes can be found online, so give them a try (and let us know how it goes!)

And finally, at the end of the 8 days, please join us for our Congregation Shir Libeynu online Chanukah celebration. We wish we could all be together, but for now we will celebrate as best as we can and share the warmth and joy with each other.

B’ahavah,

Cantor C. Wunch

The Opportunity to Slow Down, Take a Breath

September 27, 2021

October is almost here. The weather has cooled, the autumn rains have started to fall, kids are in school (hopefully for a good, long while) and many of us have begun to settle into the regular routines and patterns of our “normal” lives. Shortly after the start of October this year, we will also begin the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. This month is also known as Mar Cheshvan, or “bitter” Cheshvan, as it is the only month in the Jewish calendar that does not contain any special observances (other than Shabbat, of course). It is understandable why a month with neither feast nor fast would be thought of as bitter, especially considering how much joy and spirit we commit to the Jewish festivals, but I would like to propose that there is something very sweet about this month.

During the High Holy Days, we are encouraged to take time to reflect on our year and take account of our souls, and then we immediately move into “Z’man Simchateinu”—the joyous celebrations of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. We barely have a moment to recover from the difficult spiritual work of repentance before we are swept up into the elation of the next festivals. The month of Cheshvan offers us the opportunity to slow down, to take a breath, and to focus on the smaller day-to-day details of our lives. Cheshvan is good practice for the Shmita year that we spoke about on Rosh Hashanah—time of rest and renewal, a year to make space for (re)growth. Calmer times like these can help us to quiet our thoughts, be present, and be mindful of the blessings that constantly surround us. This type of awareness tends, for me at least, to bring about genuine feelings of gratitude.

Right now, I wish to extend my gratitude to our Chazzan Daniela Gesundheit for being such a calm, generous, and supportive partner to me over my first High Holy Days at Shir Libeynu. There was a lot of work to do, and lot of questions to answer, and Daniela made everything smooth and comfortable for me. I feel very blessed to have a bima partner so soulful and capable.

There are, of course, so many people who played crucial roles in preparing for and leading our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Please take a moment to read through the complete list at the end of this article—everyone on there deserves huge thanks. I am in awe of this community, and how everyone comes together, says “hineni” (“here I am”), and puts their best effort forward. From the Board of Directors to the committees, to the readers, writers, presenters and musicians, our entire High Holy Day experience was truly a community effort. Thank you all.

If you were also inspired by how wonderfully our community pitched in and participated in services, please know that there will be many more opportunities to participate throughout the year. Currently, we are looking for people to read or chant Torah and support our Zoom tech on Shabbat. If you are interested in learning more, please be in touch with me at cantorwunch@gmail.com.

I loved spending the chagim with all of you, and I am really looking forward to being with you for all our future feasts and fasts. I hope you all get to take some time during the month of Cheshvan to appreciate the sweetness of the everyday and express gratitude for all of your blessings.

B’ahavah,

Cantor C. Wunch

We give our thanks to:

Ensembles and Soloists:

Ellie Goldenberg
Maria Meindl
Elizabeth Abraham
Liz Acker
Penny Winestock
Lorne Gould
Helen Bauer
Barry Birnberg
Paula Wolfson
Marc Green
Arturo Mondigo
Alex Samaras
Mary-Katherine Finch
Johnny Spence
Joan Atlin
Jamie Flagal
Harvey Weisfeld

Choir Director:

Vered Philip

Choir:

Abby Pope
Alice Newman
Ariela Weisfeld
Barry Birnberg
Harvey Weisfeld
Maria Meindl
Shelley Glazer

Avinu Malkeinu participants:

Johnny Spence
Shoshana Fainsilber
Helen Bauer
Ellie Goldenberg
Elizabeth Abraham
Harriet Eisenkraft
Elise Eisenkraft-Klein

Sermons:

Deborah Britzman
Shelley Glazer
Ruth Dworin
Noam Lior

Shofar Sounder:

Mika Lior

Shofar Caller:

Charlie Lior

Torah Readers:

Alice Newman
Charlie Lior
Jamie Flagal

Torah Witness:

Lorne Gould

Poets:

Jacquie Buncel
Ronna Bloom
Jennifer Hoffman
Penny Winestock

Workshop Leaders:

Eden Nameri
Lorne Blumer
Shoshana Fainsilber

Jonah Storyteller:

Eden Nameri

HHD Committee:

Karen Lior
Rebecca Sugarman
Mark Fine
Abbe Edelson

Video editing and Tech Support:

Guillermo Subauste
Dan Aviv
Eric Cheng

Daniela Gesundheit – Chazzan and Music Director
Lillian Radosevic – administrative support and communications
Dahlia Klinger – communications
Rabbi Emerita Aviva Goldberg – support and guidance
All of our readers and presenters
Susan Gesundheit – art to beautify zoom
Board of Directors: Karen Lior, Mark Fine, Abbe Edelson, Ellie Goldenberg, Jamie Flagal, Dorothy Rusoff, Rebecca Sugarman

Moving Towards a More Diverse Musical Landscape

July 25, 2021

Shlomo Carlebach was arguably the most prolific composer of Jewish liturgical music in the 20th Century. Synagogues, youth groups, summer camps, schools, and Jewish communities across the globe sing Carlebach music during their prayer services, joyous celebrations, and in times of mourning. Some communities, aptly named Carlebach minyanim, sing only his music to the exclusion of all else. Carlebach had a huge following, and genuinely changed how we sing in worship. He introduced communal singing in a way that Judaism hadn’t really known before—catchy, easy to learn melodies, with repeated refrains that sparked joy and spiritual awakening amongst his followers and worshipers.

As many of you already know, Carlebach, that charismatic “rock star rabbi,” was also a predator. Since the early 1970s the Jewish community has known, and largely kept silent, about the sexual abuses that Carlebach was alleged to have committed against women and teen girls in his communities. Since the #MeToo movement began, the voices of the victims have been amplified, and there has been a massive reckoning in the Jewish world about Carlebach and his music.

There is still debate and even angry, heated arguments within Jewish circles about how this man should be remembered. There are those who vehemently deny the allegations, and those who have found ways to excuse the behaviour that he was accused of. There are also those who have chosen to rid their communities of all traces of his music and his legacy.

I have struggled with this issue, knowing how much his music means to people and how much it enhances their prayer experience, and yet I also know that his music can be triggering and painful, not only to his victims, but also to the many people who are aware of his behaviour—behaviour not befitting the title of “rabbi.” I wonder if the idea of promoting the art of a confirmed abuser takes us away from the spiritual nature of our prayer.

I think that one of the most poignant statements came from his daughter, Neshama Carlebach: “I accept the fullness of who my father was, flaws and all. I am angry with him. And I refuse to see his faults as the totality of who he was.” (Her full statement can be found here: https://neshamacarlebach.com/my-sisters-i-hear-you/)

Neshama is right, Shlomo Carlebach’s flaws were not the totality of his being, and yet I still struggle to understand how we can continue to sing and celebrate this man knowing what we now know. It is the age-old debate about separating the art from the artist, and in this space, this holy space, I don’t know how to make that separation.

Our Chazzan Daniela and I have both given this issue a lot of thought over the past few years, and when we spoke about it together recently, we came to the same conclusion: it’s time to start moving away from Carlebach and moving towards a more diverse musical landscape. This will be a gradual shift for our community, and one that I know might bring discomfort to some. We are going to be intentional and thoughtful in slowly replacing the Carlebach melodies that we sing with different melodies—ones that we hope will continue to spark joy and spiritual connection in our worship services. Some of you might notice the change right away, and some might not. That’s all okay.

Change is hard, and change must be done with care and time. Change and loss can also bring about creativity and innovation. In the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion of new Jewish music being composed, which can begin to fill the gaps that avoiding Carlebach’s music has left. There are phenomenal artists out there who, until recently, were not given their due, their “airtime,” because we were all so committed to singing Carlebach melodies. Why not give more kavod, more honour, to composers who, while less famous, are also less problematic. All we can do is try.

And maybe some of you will decide to start composing music to add to our Shir Libeynu repertoire. Wouldn’t that be a sweet result of this process of reckoning and change.

B’Ahava,
Cantor C. Wunch
Please write to me at cantorwunch@gmail.com to share your thoughts.

I Want to Begin by Simply Saying Thank You

June 27, 2021

It is with great joy that I write to all of you, for the first time, as your new Spiritual Leader. I know that many of you have read my bio and learned about me through our brief interactions thus far, so rather than recite my résumé, I want to begin by simply saying thank you. Thank you for welcoming me to this beautiful community. Thank you for opening your hearts to me, sharing your stories with me, and teaching me about the ways of Congregation Shir Libeynu. I know that this time, both globally and locally, has not been an easy one for many of us, and so the grace and warmth with which I have been received is all the more powerful and appreciated. 

Over the past 15+ months, I have had the pleasure of being one of the moderators of the 3000-member Facebook group “Dreaming up 5781.” This group has provided the space for Jewish community and synagogue leaders to share ideas, successes and challenges as we all learn to traverse the COVID and post-COVID landscape. There are a lot of decisions to be made and experiments to try as we figure out how to emerge from this difficult time. Many of the group members have noted that it is important for us to acknowledge what we have lost, take stock of what we have learned and try to move ahead with renewed energy. This is exactly what we at Shir Libeynu must attempt as well. To put it very plainly, transitions are tough, and our community is going through several transitions at once. We can and should acknowledge the sadness that we feel as we look back and grieve our losses. We also must join together to be creative, try new things, and use what we have learned to continue to strengthen our bonds as individuals and as a community.  

I extend my most sincere thanks to Rabbi Goldberg, Daniela Gesundheit, Paula Wolfson, Karen Lior and the Board of Directors who have been so generous with their time and wisdom in helping me get acclimated through this transition. I know that I still have a lot to learn about this wonderful community, and I look forward to getting to know all of you and your traditions. I encourage everyone to sign up for one of our “Tea with the Cantor” sessions, so that we can connect and continue building our relationships. I want to hear from you. This is your community and your voices matter. We all have much work to do as we dream up 5782, and I am confident that together we can continue, and expand upon, Shir Libeynu’s legacy of inclusion, diversity, innovation and thoughtful spirituality.

B’ahavah

Cantor C. Wunch