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L'Chaim Reflections

2021-03-01 09:36:54 AM


The following is my personal reflection at Beth Emeth's virtual L'Chaim on my twenty plus years with our synagogue:

I wish to offer some personal reflections by beginning with Hakarat Hatov - thanking and recognizing the good.

I am grateful to the special events committee, the executive and board, the entire congregation, my family, and Hashem.

I wish to frame my remarks around a quotation from Pirkei Avot, The Wisdom of the Sages:

Da Ma'ayin Bata - Know from whence you have come

L'An Atah Holeich -  (Know) where you are going

Lifnei Mi Atah Atid Liten Din V'Cheshbon - (Know) before whom you must give an ultimate accounting



I was raised outside of Boston by two wonderful parents, Ruben and Helen Morrison, of blessed memories. I was surrounded by three amazing siblings - Reva, Mitchell, and Andrea. I was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1987. I served as rabbi for four years in Union, New Jersey, and nine years in Wantagh, New York. There, my two boys, Elie and Yonah, were born.

My life changed in November of 1999 when I received a call from Pearl Grundland, who co-chaired the rabbinic search committee with Gord Garshowitz and Avrum Gotlieb. A few days later, the four of us had a telephone conversation. In December, I flew here to meet with the search committee. In January of 2000, I met the congregation over a Shabbat weekend. In March, I accepted the position of senior rabbi, to start in August of 2000. The rest as they say is history.

In some ways, I feel like I just arrived yesterday. In other ways, I feel like I have been here forever. The reality sets in when I realize Elie and Yonah were six and two when I started here, and they are now twenty-six and twenty-two. You, the Beth Emeth community, helped to raise my two young gemstones. I will always remember the kindness you extended to a young Morrison family over twenty years ago. So many of you went out of your way to acclimate us to a new country, new culture, and a new beginning. The only thing I could not get used to was the notion of changing my sports loyalties. Sorry!

Beth Emeth is a vibrant spiritual and sacred community which has enabled me to teach, inspire, counsel, celebrate with, grieve with, and so much more. In turn, you have done the same for me. Remember that when I first came here I was a mourner myself, having lost both my parents in 1999. Soon enough, you celebrated the Bar Mitzvahs of my boys in 2007 and 2011. 

While you may call me your senior rabbi, I am reminded of a Biblical statement - "Mi'Kol M'Lamdai Hiskalti - I have been enriched by all who have taught me." I consider you all, some 1200 families, as my teachers and sources of inspiration.

How lucky am I to work with such an amazing clergy, Executive, Board of Directors, administration, and group of volunteers over the years.

I am blessed to call all of you my congregational family. 

Ashreinu Mah Tov Chelkainu - How fortunate are we in what we share together.



What will the future hold for us? On the one hand, we are taught, "Ain Navi B'Iro - There is no Prophet in one's immediate location." On the other hand, we are taught, "Eizehu Chacham? Ha'Roeh et Ha'Nolad - Who is wise? One who can anticipate what is yet to be."

Exactly one year ago, who could have envisioned what these last twelve months would have looked like? I am so proud of our shul from its leadership to the entirety of the congregation. We have exhibited resilience, strength, and courage while addressing the unknown and the anxiety surrounding it. As Jewish Law would put it, we are truly living "B'Sh'at Dchak - in an unprecedented exigent time." While being faithful to the tradition and practices which describe the character of Beth Emeth, we quickly mobilized. We first committed ourselves to everyone's safety, health, and security. Then, we quickly organized with your active participation - daily on line prayer, study, guest speakers, social programs, cultural enrichment and more. When our livestream equipment arrived in August, we began to hold Shabbat and Yom Tov morning services without a break. When Toronto guidelines permitted it, we were able to have anywhere from 20-50 people safely situated in our sanctuary. When Toronto guidelines limited attendance to no more than ten people in total, our clergy have come in every Shabbat and holiday to offer a meaningful worship experience, all directed to over one hundred livestream households which join us every Shabbat morning. We hope and pray very soon that we will be permitted to have a full service with a microcosm of our congregational family in the sanctuary. 

In twenty years, you, the members of our Beth Emeth community have stood fast to the values of our Traditional Conservative synagogue. Now, two decades later, we are a unique congregation within the religious landscape of the GTA.

God willing, when Covid ends, we will integrate the best synagogue practices of life before Covid and lessons learned during Covid. 


I have defined my role as senior rabbi as facilitating spiritual growth for every person in his or her relationship with God, the Jewish people, and the world at large. I have accepted my duty with appreciation, responsibility, and humility. 

An ancient interpretation suggests that when the Children of Israel encamped at Mount Sinai, each person heard the message of God in a uniquely personal way. It is my mandate to help each individual and the community as well to construct an authentic ladder of spiritual growth. We take one step at a time. Judaism is not an all or nothing proposition. Each step we take is filled with holiness and purpose.

I am thankful for the trust you showed in bringing me aboard over twenty years ago.

I am thankful for the trust you continue to show in me over twenty years later. 

I am thankful to God. With God's help and with your confidence, I look forward to serving our community for years to come.

I thank you all for joining tonight's L'Chaim.



Rabbi Howard Morrison

Sat, 8 May 2021 26 Iyyar 5781