From Our Members

boy with torah

On this page, we present writings and photos by our members, some of which were published in our newsletter. If you would like to share something you have written (poetry or prose) or created (photographs, drawings, paintings, etc.), please send your work to us: shirlibeynuadmin@gmail.com.

Excerpt from Everybody's Name is a Holy Name by Penny Winestock

This excerpt from the chant entitled “Everybody’s Name is a Holy Name”
is spoken this Yom Kippur 2021 in honour of our deceased loved ones.
May the mark that their souls made on our lives—their light and love that
nurtured us; their wounds and challenges that stimulated our own healing;
the purity of their soul essence—be remembered in the writing and speaking
of their names.

 

Everybody’s Name is a Holy Name

Everybody’s name is a holy name
Everybody’s name is a holy name
Everybody’s name is a holy name
Everybody’s name is a holy name

What makes it holy is the way that it sounds out
the rhythm of a soul in the tenor of their times
the flavour of their kin and the savory lilt
on the tongue of a Lover in the flame of a name

Everybody’s name is a holy name
Everybody’s name is a holy name
Everybody’s name is a holy name
Everybody’s name is a holy name

 

Penny Winestock a.k.a heartwisdompenn

Whisper within the Whisper. A Prayer-Poem by Jennifer (Jinks) Hoffmann

..the startling experience
of encountering the faces
of the Divine, as they move
from abstraction
to living presence.
—Melila Hellner-Eshed. Seekers of the Face.

Help me listen
for the whisper 

within the whisper—

soft sound
of sea-wash 

against a rock
of ages─
so old,
I cannot behold
it without bowing.

Help me know,
as I know anything,

that this terrible
tenderness
in my heart,
for the hurt
of humanity,

and the hope
for healing,
which never dies,

is You 
    and me.    

 

Jennifer (Jinks) Hoffmann

Read insightful and inspiring Divrei Torah (Torah commentaries) from two of our members, Emily and Aaron.

Emily’s D’var Torah

June 5, 2021

Book of Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 Sh’lach

It has been a long journey to get to where I am today. This past winter was not like any other I have experienced. It was challenging and stressful but my Torah studies and preparations for today always gave me lots of hope. It was a bright spot that I looked forward to. In a way we are all on a difficult journey, and I am so grateful that we can be here together and that we have the technology to help us, so that I can share my thoughts and feelings on the difficult journey described in today’s parsha.

Today’s parsha is from the book of Numbers, and it tells the story of the twelve spies who were sent out by Moses. They were told to scout the promised land of Canaan after escaping Egypt, which we talked about recently at Passover. It also talks about the violation of the sabbath and the commandment of the tzitzit. The 12 men return to Moses after searching for the Promised Land of Canaan for 40 days. They brought back milk and honey and a vine of grapes so large it took two men to carry. The men then presented it to Moses and the Israelites. The scouts showed them the riches of the land but they were doubtful that they could overtake it because the men in the promised land were much larger and stronger than they were. They said “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” But two faithful scouts, Caleb and Hosea, who later had his name changed to Joshua, tried to reassure the Israelites and told the other scouts to not to lose faith. Caleb said “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” but the people were doubtful and threatened to rebel against God.

In Chapter 14, verse 11, God says to Moses, “How long will these people spurn Me, and how long will they have no faith in Me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst?” In the end, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed into the promised land, while the rest were sentenced to roam the wilderness for 40 years so that only the new generation will find the promised land.

One very important thing that I have learned from all of my research, and not just on my Torah portion, is that Jewish people are strong. There are many reasons why I think this. Jewish people have been through many terrible events throughout history, and have had very difficult journeys. But we know that our journey is not over. Right now, this global pandemic, it feels like another very important part of our journey. But we need to have faith that we will be just fine in the end. One thing that I have learned and admire is that Jewish people take time to realize and reflect on all the challenging and hard times we have had in the past. I admire this because, even though it might be hard, we also remember how lucky we are to have what we have now, and to treasure what we have today. A good example is what we are doing right now. We are coming together as a community to remember the hard times, but also to celebrate what we have. I feel so lucky to be part of this great community.

Something that I noticed in my Torah portion is the leadership that Caleb and Joshua showed in their community. For whatever reason, the Israelites were doubting that they would make it to the promised land, and were losing their faith in G-d, even though they witnessed the ten plagues in Egypt and all the other miracles G-d presented in their midst. Even though they were losing faith, Caleb and Joshua showed leadership by trying to reassure the people that they will make it to the promised land of Canaan. What they did for their community is so amazing. They found it within themselves to speak up in front of a crowd of panicked people. I wish that I could have the courage to speak up in my community like they did.

Holding on to faith when things seem uncertain Is another important thing that I learned from today’s parsha. I found it interesting that Moses changed Hosea’s name to Ye-Hesea. Why would he do that? I did a little research and I found out the Hosea means “he who helps”, or “salvation”. By adding the Hebrew letter yud, Moses added G-d into Hosea’s name changing it to Ye-Hosea or Joshua. This new name means “G-d may save”, or “G-d Is salvation”. Moses made Joshua’s name into a prayer. I believe that the message here is that those who have faith will overcome their challenges; even when things seem uncertain.

I know that I cannot yet do what Caleb and Joshua did. But I did show a small part of my community some light and brought some joy to their day through my tikkun olam project. My showing of tikkun olam was to bring the brightness and joy of Ahabbat to my great grandmother, Bubbie Regina, and her friends at her retirement home while they were in lock down. Even though we are not able to be with our loved ones due to COVID-19, I found a way to bring a little bit of joy into their lives. With help from my mom and dad, I put together 30 Shabbat kits with candles, challah, grape juice, photos and prayers, and dropped them off at the retirement home. The staff said that the kits brought much happiness and joy to their days. That was all I needed to hear to make my day go from good to great. I know that I will continue to grow into a strong member of my community and help others.

We are all still on a journey and we must remember to have faith and to remember that we have overcome challenges in the past, and that we will again. I know that I will continue to have faith, especially as these difficult times continue. I look forward to spending time with my friends and family, and the Shir Libeynu community. I am also excited to become a strong and reliable person in my community. I am so grateful for the amazing support from my trope teacher and good friend Bella, Paula, Rabbi Lithwick, my brother, my mom and dad, and to my family and friends. I also want to say a special thank you to my Bubbie Lucy and Zaida Marty for making you backyard so beautiful and for letting us take over their house these past few weeks.  You have really helped to make today special for me.

Thank you so much for helping me through this wonderful journey.

Shabbat Shalom.

Aaron’s D’var Torah

May 1, 2021

Thank you all for being here to celebrate my big day. I have learned that rituals, prayers and celebrations are important to link me to my family for many generations. They also help me form my identity and who I am today. This is a big part of my Torah portion.

I have always learned the importance of identity, community and family. I am the proud Jewish son of proud Jewish lesbian moms. Without identity and family there isn’t much to ground me, help me to figure out what is important and give me values and morals to not only be true to myself but also be good to others. Our actions affect us as well as others.

I am so grateful to have a wonderful and supportive family made up of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and of course my moms, for teaching me that.

I am also so fortunate to have amazing friends who also share my values, interests and most of all like to have fun. They are helping me with my Tikkun Olam project. Tikkun Olam means “repair the world” in Hebrew. We have a responsibility to make the world a better place. My friends and I are trying to help with food shortages in our community especially during Covid by going door to door with our wagons when we can in my neighbourhood on a food drive and bringing the food to charity boxes.

My portion is all about Community. It is called Emor which takes place between Passover and Shavuot and Emor means “Speak” in Hebrew. That works for me in two ways. I’m shy and I don’t love public speaking but also because once I am comfortable with you, I don’t stop speaking. Many of you out there are familiar with this.

God told Moses to speak to his people to lay out when and how holidays and rituals should happen. Many of you who know me will know that I like my downtime. Coincidentally, one of the directives by God was that there be a day of rest. God and I think alike. In Leviticus, God tells us that we need to take a break but not just any break. A break that is different from all the other days. In this case, the Sabbath.

This pause, or resting period is also what union activists have fought hard for and won in terms of the work world. In the workplace, it is legislated that workers must have breaks and days off for their health, safety and security.

My family has had a long history of labour activism and social justice in general. Having protections for the community is so important like the importance of having paid sick leave during a pandemic.

Feasting and bringing people together to share food and cultural traditions is in my portion as well and is also a ritual that many Jewish people and people of all cultures share today.

As Jewish people, we come together to eat and celebrate holidays just like the Passover seders that just passed that hopefully people were able to experience this year but also for weekly Shabbat dinners.

Covid has made that difficult if not impossible either because people don’t have enough food during these hard times or because we cannot get together with our families out of fear of catching or spreading the virus.

That is why I really wanted to do something in my small way to help with food challenges since it is not only important for survival but also for the community.

Preparing for my Bar Mitzvah was a lot of work but that said, I definitely don’t regret it. The Bar Mitzvah process has given me more of an understanding of being Jewish and also a confidence in myself.

I also really love the fact that my Bubie and Barney, Bubie and Zaidie and my aunts, uncles and cousins all took part in the service to make it so special for me.

As I embark on this journey toward adulthood, I know it is important to remember the past and all I’ve been taught in order to make a difference in the future.  I also want to thank you all again for helping me and my family make this day really special.

Jasper’s Remix of Ancient and Modern

One of the assignments for the B’Mitzvah students this year was to take inspiration from something in Jewish history or culture and interpret it creatively, using something from the modern day. Jasper responded by retelling the story of Chanukah on an iPhone. From ALL CAPS to creative punctuation and emojis, Jasper brought the story to life in a fresh, modern way.

Deputation in Support of Pursuing Compensation for the Cost of Climate Change to the City of Toronto by Aviva Gale-Buncel April 25, 2021

Hi, thank you for the opportunity to speak here. My name is Aviva. I’m 18 years old and I voted for the very first time in this past municipal election and it was really exciting.

I want to show my support of this motion of Pursuing Compensation for the Cost of Climate Change to the City of Toronto, and to say some of what is on my mind about the crisis we are in.

I remember very clearly the moment I first learned about climate change. I was sitting in my classroom in grade four and my teacher said, “look out the window; you see the snow falling and the sun’s shining it’s a nice winter day, everything looks okay, but it is not. Our earth is in crisis.”

At the time (from what I remember), I was shocked and scared, and wondering what was being done, what could I do to help, and was it too late. I’m still asking the same questions nine years later.  The only thing I now know is that it is not too late, but we need to take this seriously and we need act now.

I ask that you support this motion because at the moment we do not know the whole detailed impact climate change has had on Toronto. It is important to hold fossil fuel companies and major polluters accountable for putting profit and money, over the lives of future generations. It is especially disturbing if, like with the Tabaco industry, they knew about the negative impacts, but carried on anyways. If they can pay some of the price, then maybe the City of Toronto could focus more money and resources on projects which help our earth.

The problem isn’t only the fossil fuel companies, but the great dependence our society has on fossil fuels. We need to make a more sustainable system immediately, and this will take everybody, and all governments- taking action and prioritizing the environment. This is a great opportunity for Toronto and Canada to become a leader on making real sustainable solutions. I ask you as Infrastructure and Environment Committee to prioritize taking action on climate change.

If I have children or maybe grandchildren, I want to be able to tell them a story. I want the story to say, “There was this huge problem threatening all of humanity, but we came together, we found our courage and we took action. It was difficult, but we did it. You don’t have to worry.”

We as humans are the authors of this story right now, and the plot is up to us every day. The future depends on us. Thank you.

Listen to Aviva Gale-Buncel’s deputation and interview on CBC’s “What On Earth” with Laura Lynch:

From denial to delay: ExxonMobil and the language of climate change | What On Earth with Laura Lynch | Live Radio | CBC Listen

Counting the Omer with Cancer by Barbara Center

Published in our April 25, 2021 newsletter

Reaching …
Reaching …
Reaching for meaning …
In the upside-down cake of my world.

I pluck a star
from my six-pointed tradition,
and ride the tsunami waves
Home to the majestic shore.

When Moses and the Jewish People crossed the Red Sea out of Egypt, they spent 49 days in the desert, spiritually preparing themselves to receive the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, at Mt. Sinai. The tradition of counting the days in 7 weekly cycles continues to the present time, giving each of us an opportunity to refine our expressions of Lovingkindness, Discipline, Compassion, Endurance, Humility, and Bonding, culminating in Nobility.

Although I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2011, I had my first chemotherapy treatment on April 25, 2012, during the weekly cycle of Compassion. Extending compassion to my own body, mind, and heart – including the cancer and chemotherapy drugs that were making me so sick – was the first step in extending compassion to the world. I learned it is impossible to walk in another person’s shoes without fully nurturing and embracing my own life journey.

The week following treatment called for Endurance, knowing that I could make it through one day at a time. Survival became a state of mind, as I allowed the tsunami of physical side-effects to run its course. I was still captain of my own ship.

By the third week I began losing my hair. My challenge moved from physical to emotional. That’s when the penny dropped. I was no longer in control of the image in the mirror. I had to surrender vanity for Humility. I am deeply humbled every time I touch or see my baldness. All that I took for granted is seeking love and care and nurturing now. When I catch myself spiraling into self-pity, I draw on the inspiration of friends who have had alopecia since youth. They’ve fashioned a radiant image for themselves that’s irresistible!

My second chemotherapy treatment took place in the hospital during the Bonding cycle. I deepened connections with close family and friends who visited me and reaffirmed that I am not alone. I opened up to allow people to see me less than my best. By the end of this journey I’ll proudly say I have no masks left.

As my 49-day meditation draws to a close, I reach for the last of the 7 attributes – Nobility – the majesty of the human spirit that is always with me.

Reaching …
Reaching …
Reaching for meaning …
In the upside-down cake of my world.

I pluck a star
from my six-pointed tradition,
and ride the tsunami waves
Home to the majestic shore

Barbara wrote “Counting the Omer with Cancer” during her cancer treatment in 2012. It was published in the Annual Passover Literary Supplement of the Canadian Jewish News in Toronto and Montreal on March 28, 2013. Many of you journeyed with Barbara at that time.

Today she continues her journey cancer-free and in good health. She rode “the tsunami waves home to the majestic shore.”

Speak to us of Peace by Linda Zelicki z’’l

Published in our February 28, 2021 newsletter

Speak to us of peace, I ask our leaders
Not war, bombs, military might or blame.

Speak to us of peace
That we can create
That we can draw forth
That is unmistakable.

Speak to us of a peace
That is divinely inspired
That flows from possibility
That sustains itself.

Speak to us of peace
The sweetness of love
The care of understanding
The tolerance for differences.

Speak to us of tolerance,
love and understanding
That cross boundaries, race and religion.

Speak to us of a peace that is familiar
That we all know so well
That we despair of in its absence.
Speak to the peace of humanity
When we pause for breath
A peace that becomes longing in its absence.

Speak about peace, I ask
‘Be at peace’ is the answer that flows into my mind.

© Linda Zelicki, August 7, 2006

Doing Something About Climate Change by Allan Shiff

Published in our December 27, 2020 newsletter

Shir Libeynu member, Allan Shiff, and his late wife, Helaine, decided to do something to engage people in climate change. It’s an issue that can overwhelm us and leave us feeling powerless. Through their partnership with the ROM, the Shiffs are helping to bring us information, insights and motivation to take action. 

In Allan’s own words: 

I have had a strong interest in the issue of global warming since I noticed an article on the Stern Review in 2006. Commissioned by the British Government, the Stern Review, headed by Sir Nicholas Stern, formerly with the World Bank, came to the conclusion that in order to avoid a climate crisis we must spend a little in order to gain a lot. Unfortunately, we failed to do so. Since that time, I have attended the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen and have been connected to NGO’s and many individuals on the topic.

Towards the end of 2018, I asked my dear late wife Helaine what she thought about approaching the ROM with an idea for a climate change project. She thought it was a wonderful concept. So, in early 2019, we met with senior representatives at the ROM during Helaine’s short period of remission. The response was very positive; it was almost as if they said, ‘we’ve been waiting for you!’

We began to develop what will be known as the ROM Climate Project. The prime purpose of this project is to inform and provide an opportunity for all in our community to become engaged with this issue in a meaningful and productive way.

A major donation was made to the ROM by my family which was, in turn, matched by a special ROM fund. This will secure the position of The Allan and Helaine Shiff Climate Change Curator who will be the driving force in this project.

Watch this powerful video to learn more:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/sc424zdqbsz6aks/Edit_cc_v9.mp4?dl=0

Dear Heart by Ronna Bloom

Published in our December 6, 2020

Dear Heart,
This is not a normal time,
so forgive yourself
for not being normal.
You never were.
Now you have a good reason
and company.

Ronna Bloom, March 13, 2020

Ronna Bloom is the author of six books of poetry. Her most recent book, The More (Pedlar Press, 2017), was longlisted for the City of Toronto Book Award. Her poems have been recorded by the CNIB and translated into Spanish, Bangla, and Chinese. Ronna created the Poet in Residence programme at Sinai Health and is currently Poet in Community to the University of Toronto. She runs workshops on poetry, spontaneity, and awareness through writing. www.ronnabloom.com

Visiting Ruth by Jonathan Silin

Published in our May 24, 2020 newsletter

Shir Libeynu member and volunteer, Jonathan Silin, recently published “Visiting Ruth” in Tablet magazine. Several of us on the Board read it and were moved by its beauty and integrity. As he tries to stay connected to an old friend with Alzheimer’s Disease, he asks himself some hard, very human questions and strives to answer them. We thought it would resonate with many of us, as we try to make sense of the suffering in the world and are separated from loved ones. 

We asked Jonathan if we could include part of his story in our newsletter and he received permission for us to do so. These are two paragraphs from near the end:

I want to believe that my visits to Ruth are selflessly motivated. I know better. I go as much for myself as for Ruth, my acts more transactional than transformative, more instrumental than generous. I don’t want to be abandoned even if impaired cognition prevents me from knowing I am alone. I visit Ruth so that someone will visit me. I am moved equally by ethical imperative and magical thinking.

If I do not wish to be forgotten then it is incumbent on me to remember others. Hillel put it this way when he was challenged by a gentile who asked to be converted to Judaism under the condition that the Torah be explained to him while he stood on one foot, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn.”

You can read the full story here: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/community/articles/visiting-ruth

I’m Covid Good Enough by Penny Winestock

Published in our May 12, 2020 newsletter

There is much learning in this Covid 19 experience
“How are you?”
asked my adult son when we were on the phone today
“I’m………Covid good enough”
And I am
Grateful for a home, a family, and nutritious food
Grateful for Work that I love
that is needed
that doesn’t endanger me
Grateful for the times that I can step outside
Grateful for the times that I can step outside
the weight of Fear and Grief that hangs in
the air of our sparsely peopled streets
Grateful for the times I can access my heartful, bellyful, soulful, mindful
vision of and belief in
the rise of our human community
to humbly create cultures in which
loving kindness and compassion
are at least a couple of steps ahead
of the horrors we can spawn from
our angry hubris
When I can’t step outside the Weight I am
Grateful to be able to wail, weep, and otherwise release the Wait enough to
return to love and remember joy

Photos by Shoshana Fainsilber

An exciting, guided bird-watching hike with the Canadian Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (CSPNI) at Humber Bay Park, December 2019.