Ensouling the World: Shmita as Beginning


ALEPH Canada is incredibly proud to bring you the first offering of the Integral Halachah Institute. Rabbi Daniel Siegel has just completed the first text of the IHI, called “Ensouling the World – Spiritual Teachings about Shabbat and Shmita.” In this deep and timely offering, Reb Daniel and rabbinic student Esther Azar, with support from Rabbis David Seidenberg and Elliot Ginsburg, explore the teachings of the Netivot Shalom and the Ohr HaChayim which “recognize that the cycles of seven are a healing for the soul and a renewal for the next cycle. This message … contains the secret to our ultimate healing as individuals and as a planet.”

To obtain the text, go to Reb Daniel’s blog page, http://rabbidanielsiegel.com/#!/writing/, click on “Writing”, then scroll down and click on the link “Ensouling the World”.

Change is in the air! Part 2

Sherril Gilbert side glance

“I’m just helping to get the conversation started…” Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

It’s certain that Reb Zalman, may his memory be a blessing, has provided the spark that started many conversations. We’ve been having a year-long one here at ALEPH Canada. You can probably glean from today’s post from Reb Daniel that the last year has been an active and exciting one for us, with many changes. One of the most fruitful and engaging activities in which we were involved was a pan-Canadian, participatory strategic planning and visioning process that took us from Montreal to Regina to Vancouver. So far (because the conversation is not over – we want to hear from you too!), we have learned that what participants want ALEPH Canada to be is the place to go to for finding resources and making linkages.

In response, we have engaged Shir Yaakov Feit to redesign this website (yup, it’s still under construction), and to organize it in such a way so as to incorporate these two visions. We will be curating a wealth of resources for you – reviving old ones and introducing new ones – to bring nourishment, information, and inspiration to your life. And we will offer a whole host of linkages, bringing together ALEPH-affiliated Canadian communities, independent minyanim, and individuals who may be feeling isolated or disconnected in an effort to build, connect and activate a diverse ALEPH membership committed to the renewal of Judaism in Canada. We hope to formally announce the launch of our fresh new website in the next few weeks.

Reb Daniel founded ALEPH Canada with a simple mission: to provide Canadians with a way to connect with the larger Renewal movement. Over the years, you have been supporting the work of Reb Daniel who was given the blessing and the charge by Reb Zalman to preserve his legacy through transcribing, editing and publishing Reb Zalman’s classes and lectures. Even though Reb Daniel has now stepped down from active administration of ALEPH Canada, he continues these other efforts, along with teaching and working on the launch of the major new project, the Integral Halachah Institute, which he discusses above.

But what many people perhaps don’t know about is Reb Daniel’s passionate concern for justice and healing in two matters close to his heart and mind: climate change and Canadian indigenous peoples. As my teacher and mentor for many years, Reb Daniel has taught me the value of exploring and addressing these eco-justice and social justice imperatives through the lenses of Jewish values, laws, ethics, and action. We do this to remind ourselves that practical wisdom about healing and relationships and respect for the earth is deeply embedded in our tradition’s teachings.

And so: we are thrilled to share with you, as Reb Daniel mentioned above, that ALEPH Canada is taking on two new major projects this year, the Integral Halachah Institute, where Reb Daniel will be the founding director, and the Sacred Food Project, which I will be directing. Sacred Food was an ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal interfaith effort started in the early 2000’s which was designed to catalyze the power of faith communities to study and improve local and national food systems. Over three decades ago, Reb Zalman introduced a new generation to the visionary concept of eco-kashrut, meaning evaluating food and food production from a spiritual perspective for its healthfulness, its environmental impact, and its treatment of animals and workers. The Sacred Food Project had its roots in that vision.

Before moving back to Montreal, I had the privilege of working as Executive Director of the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador, where I was involved with people living with food insecurity and poverty, with people living in remote and isolated areas, and with Innu, Inuit and Metis peoples. I have been deeply and profoundly affected by the ways in which both Jewish and indigenous traditions teach that we must make sure that the way we grow, gather distribute and consume food honours the land, the water, the air, our bodies and our souls.

Our global food system is the single biggest driver of climate change. And, reciprocally, the impact on our food system is just one of many ways in which climate change is affecting the lives of Canadians. We have an intimate connection to food. David Suzuki taught that when we consume food we are incorporating the environment into our very being. Food is tradition, ritual, comfort, celebration, privilege and a fairly reliable indicator of environmental health.

There are few groups in Canada that focus on the intersectionality of faith, food justice, and climate change. Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, the Executive Director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal responded positively to our request to revive the Sacred Food Project and house the archived materials at ALEPH Canada. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to serve as a resource for learning and action on food justice. Watch for more news about this on the website in the weeks and months to come!

Finally, a few words about Rabbi Daniel Siegel. Years ago, when we started studying together, I found in him a mind that awed and inspired me. I thought – and still do – that he was one of the most brilliant, independent and original thinkers I have ever met. And, then, through our continued learning and getting to know one another at deeper and deeper levels as student and teacher, I discovered in him an acutely sensitive soul with a soft spot for those of us who like to go deep in our learning. I was drawn to his seemingly bottomless well of wisdom about Jewish tradition, language, texts, laws and rituals. I could not really completely comprehend what he saw in me, but he did take me under his wings, guiding me and giving me the space to stretch and grow. He has become my main teacher, my mentor, my rebbe, my colleague and my friend, and I am so very happy that we will continue to work together as he remains with ALEPH Canada in his role as Rabbinic Director.

As we move forward with the Integral Halachah Institute and the Sacred Food Project, our intention is for you to feel very much a part of the growth and evolution of ALEPH Canada. Please support us financially (through www.canadahelps.ca) so we can continue to provide the services, events and projects to promote the renewal of Judaism in Canada. Visit our new and evolving website often! Watch for news of local and regional events, and then go and participate! We would love to have your comments, feedback, suggestions and opinions. Above all, we welcome you and hope you stay and grow with us!

In gratitude, and on behalf of Reb Daniel and the Board of Directors of ALEPH Canada,
Sherril Gilbert

Change is in the air! Part 1

Reb Daniel smile

A note from Reb Daniel:

Canada Day has a special and personal significance for me. It was on the first of July, ten years ago, that I came back home after seventeen years in the States. Seven of those years were spent first, as the Rabbinic Director of ALEPH [Central as we call it] and then as its Director of Spiritual Resources. The ALEPH I left was in serious financial difficulty and had to divert its precious resources to its Executive Director, leaving insufficient funds to support the development of the spiritual resources which really are a crucial part of its purpose.

My first priority on returning to Canada was to incorporate ALEPH here, so that we could play an important role in these changes. You rose to the challenge by channeling your now tax deductible contributions through ALEPH Canada so that I could continue the work of developing resources. This has resulted in more books of Reb Zalman’s thought, including Renewal is Judaism Now! and Integral Halachah. We’ve added two volumes to the Siddur Kol Koreh series, a weekday siddur and a High Holiday machzor, continued cataloging the many sound files of Reb Zalman teaching, and helped to support our ordination students through the Miriam Fisher Scholarship. Canadians have also begun to play important roles within ALEPH, as evidenced by Rabbi Jeremy Parnes of Regina who has recently completed several years as chair of the ALEPH Central Board and Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan Kaplan who has re-joined the Va’ad which guides the ALEPH Ordination Programs.

Ten years later, so much in ALEPH has changed for the better. While we have lost Reb Zalman, our founder and spiritual guide, we have gained many new rabbis, cantors, and rabbinic pastors. The ALEPH board has welcomed a new generation of leaders, OHALAH has grown to over 100 members from all parts of the North American Jewish world, and the financial situation has improved. We have a wonderful new relationship with the progressive side of both the Conservative and Orthodox movements, some of whom have joined our various faculties, as our work and commitment to Jewish spirituality is increasingly recognized and appreciated.

We in Canada are also preparing for a major transition. Recently, ALEPH Canada has become the home for two major ALEPH projects, the Integral Halachah Institute and the Sacred Foods project. We have grown from only one affiliated community (Or Shalom in Vancouver) to three (B’nai Or in Montreal and Beth Jacob in Regina), with at least one other coming. The board is now looking into linking our communities, developing a spiritual connection with First Nations, Canadian retreats, and supporting people in smaller communities.

It is now time for me to step down from the active administrative leadership of ALEPH Canada. I will continue to hold the title of Rabbinic Director and, more important, I will be the first director of the Integral Halachah Institute, whose purpose is both to continue organizing, transcribing, and disseminating Reb Zalman’s teachings and to go beyond by improving Kol Koreh and publishing the halachic writings of our students and rabbis.

While I will no longer be drawing a salary, our financial needs will remain at about the level they are now, and will likely increase. You have been crucial in sustaining ALEPH financially over this last decade. It is my fervent hope that you will continue doing so, allowing our new leadership to move ALEPH Canada into the next decade of its development.

It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, knowing that Sherril Gilbert of Montreal will be assuming the position of Executive Director. Our board has also undergone a generational change, and I am so pleased that we have new as well as younger board members from Montreal, Ottawa, Regina, and Vancouver. And I am looking forward to a new ability to focus on the development of new resources which I hope will be my own modest legacy.

I thank you for your support over this formative and successful decade. I pray that we will all continue to support this amazing project in developing a Judaism which is true to its heritage and spiritually creative at the same time.

With blessings and gratitude.

About the Sacred Foods Project

From 2005-2007, ALEPH served as the lead agency in a successful interfaith project to incorporate religious and ethical principles in the ways in which we produce and distribute food. Under generous grants from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and The Schocken Foundation, the project brought together religious leaders, faith-based and civic institutions and members of the food industry to improve the quality of our land, air and water, to provide healthier and more sustainable food for our citizens and to improve the lives of agricultural workers.

Launched in July, 2005, the project was housed in ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and worked in partnership with Faith in PlaceThe Food Alliance, the Islamic Society of North America, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The Shalom Center as well as other faith-based institutions, businesses and  nonprofit organizations.

Faith, Food and Our Future

Producing and distributing food is the most central activity to our economy and environment, both domestic and international. More than 1.3 billion people work 28 percent of the earth’s land to grow food. In the United States, nearly a quarter of all workers are engaged in the food industry, with food production affecting the local economy as well as the health of its residents, water and soil. Incremental improvements in the way in which food is grown, processed and marketed can have profound benefits for the environment and human health.

The tens of millions of people who purchase food for their homes and families have considerable ability to effect positive change in the environmental practices of corporations. Those who influence consumer choices are a particularly powerful leverage point. Religious guidance has
proven historically successful in affecting food choices on a mass scale. For centuries religious leaders have given advice on what foods truly represent a sacred path. This advice includes the Roman Catholic tradition of eating fish on Fridays, the halal dietary restrictions of Islam, and the Jewish kosher laws and eating matzah instead of bread during the Passover holiday.

The results of the Sacred Foods Project are resources that help religious leaders to address contemporary concerns about health, society and sustainability that are also a growing focus in the business community.

Sacred Food Goals and Accomplishments

  • Improving the purchasing practices of communities of faith through their institutions including hospitals, schools, universities, meal programs, senior and day care facilities.
  • Working to incorporate new social, environmental, health and community values into the advice religious leaders give and the certification standards they endorse.
  • Hosting an interfaith dialogue to create common understanding about what is truly sacred food.
  • Involving food business, faith-based and civic organizations and religious leaders in creating practical steps for improving the ways in which our country chooses to feed itself.
  • Educating religious leaders on the social and environmental dimensions of our food system.
  • Creating a compendium of scientific research, religious law, practice and the theological underpinnings of holding food as sacred.

Announcing the Integral Halacha Institute

Zalman smileTo honour the memory
of our beloved Reb Zalman
and to further his living legacy ALEPH Canada announces
the creation of the

Integral Halachah Institute

Integral Halachah is Reb Zalman’s way of anchoring innovation in the traditional halachic process by adding this new category which goes beyond the classical system while simultaneously including it. It is, in Reb Zalman’s words, both renewing and “backwards compatible.”

In the words of Reb Sherril Gilbert of Montreal, we envision Integral Halachah “as a remedy for engaging with our communities in the sacred work of seriously wrestling with the questions that arise for us about our spiritual practices, ethical standards, and the routine challenges of trying to live our faith. Indeed, I believe that this work can only be done communally.… Indeed, we are the ones being called to create an integral halachah at the growing edge of our spiritual foresight.

Our hope is that the IHI will serve to bridge gaps between generations, between denominations, between communities, and between the affiliated and unaffiliated as we ask and explore the meaningful questions of our time.” Memorial contributions and tzedakah to the Integral Halachah Institute for the Continuation of Reb Zalman’s work may be made by clicking on the CanadaHelps button to the right and choosing the IHI as your designated fund.

A Song for Tu B’Shevat

Or Shalom Retreat 2011, Hope BC
Or Shalom Retreat 2011, Hope BC

Listen to Shirat Ha’asavim ~ The Song of the Grasses, Naomi Shemer based on Rebbe Nachman. Listen on Rabbi David Seidenberg’s website http://www.neohasid.org/audio/shirat_haasavim/ . And for anyone in or around Montreal: Reb David will be visiting B’nai Or Montreal Community Shul on Monday February 2, to share some of his wonderful teachings! Place: YM-YWHA, 5400 Westbury Avenue, Montreal QC. Time: 7:45 pm. Donations of $10-$18 welcome. Also, Reb David will be leading the Tu B’Shevat seder for Mile End Chavurah in Montreal on Wednesday evening.

Chanukah 5775/2014 – ALEPH Canada Moving Forward

Reb Nachman of Bratzlav, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, offers an unusual teaching on the dreidel. He says that the dreidel is a symbol of Creation itself. This is because all existence is like a rotating wheel. Existence is dynamic, and full of movement, always revolving and oscillating, never static! Yet also, just like a dreidel which spins on a single point, all of Creation too, emanates from one point, one root, one Source.

Reb Nachman invites us, as we spin the dreidel on Chanukah, to reflect upon our own lives. Where are we in our own cycles of ascent and descent? Turning and returning? How connected are all our ups and downs? How is holiness moving in our lives, or have we lost the “point”?

The vivid imagery of the dreidel also reminds me of the dynamism of the movement that is Jewish Renewal. The overarching task of our movement is, I believe, to carry forward Judaism’s perpetual process of renewal, “always revolving and oscillating, never static.” And so it is with ALEPH Canada as well. For the past year, our Board and staff have been engaging in discussions, planning, and an active process to understand and learn more about what Renewal has to offer – and could be offering – to the world and ALEPH Canada’s role in making that happen.

In October, B’nai Or Montreal Community Shul welcomed Rabbi Daniel Siegel for a Shabbaton and visioning session. Reb Daniel introduced the Integral Halachah Institute, and highlighted the need for increased multigenerational involvement in Renewal in Canada so that the movement continues to grow and flourish here. I facilitated the visioning session, which was attended by participants from several communities in Montreal and Ottawa. Next, Reb Daniel visited Beth Jacob Synagogue in Regina to facilitate a visioning retreat and continue the conversation. Additional challenges and opportunities were identified such as changing demographics. In January, Reb Daniel and I will be at Or Shalom in Vancouver for another ALEPH Canada-sponsored Shabbaton and visioning session.

Following the Vancouver session, we will be compiling and organizing the data from the three visioning sessions. But that in itself will not suffice for our purposes: we also want to hear from those of you who would like to participate in this promising pan-Canadian conversation. And so we are inviting you to contact us directly with your thoughts and comments on the visioning questions that we are asking, including these:

  • Thinking back to your first experiences with Jewish Renewal and/or Jewish spirituality, what were your most positive first impressions?
  • What have been the high points of your involvement with Jewish Renewal, and why?
  • What are the core strengths and advantages of Jewish Renewal?
  • If you had three wishes that would make Jewish Renewal everything you want or need it to be, what would those wishes be?
  • What does the world need from Jewish Renewal?
  • Imagine that it is three years in the future. ALEPH Canada is now a thriving national organization, and Jewish Renewal is a strong and well-recognized movement in Canadian Judaism. What is different? What changed? Who was involved? What do things look like?

In your responses, please be as specific as possible, and grounded in reality, so that the vision becomes feasible and achievable. For example, “world peace” is laudable but beyond both our mission and what is realistic for ALEPH Canada to attain! We are interested in your thoughts and reflections on actionable programs, practices, outreach, and education; with a focus on spirituality, human rights, environmental concerns, and social justice.

If you’d prefer to have this conversation by phone, please email me (director@alephcanada.ca) so we can arrange that. Later this winter, based on the responses we receive from you and the data gleaned from the three congregations, we hope to produce a set of recommendations for moving ALEPH Canada forward in accomplishing our mission. We’d appreciate receiving your input by the end of January.

We’d also like to remind you that the end of December is a perfect time to make a donation to ALEPH Canada. Please visit www.canadahelps.org to be included in the donor family of ALEPH Canada. If you have already made a donation, thank you so much!

Wishing you chag urim samayach – a joyous season of light and enlightenment!

Reb Sherril

*Reb Nachman story adapted from Rabbi Marcia Prager


Being Straight with God

Being Straight with God

by Rabbi

Hanna and I were privileged to attend the bar mitzvah of Reb Aryeh Hirshfield’s twin sons on the Shabbat of US Thanksgiving weekend. It was a powerful experience, full of both joy and sadness, as several communities gathered to honour these two young men and their mother. Reb Aryeh z”l had passed away suddenly some years ago and was among Reb Zalman’s early musmachim and part of the founding of Jewish Renewal in the Pacific Northwest. We who were Aryeh’s friends, colleagues, and family missed him even as we kvelled at the poise, maturity, and intelligence of his sons.

Among many special moments, Rabbi Benjamin Barnett of Corvallis, OR spoke about the word and name Yisra’el. The Torah reading for that Shabbat afternoon was Parashat VaYishlach, in which Jacob struggles with the angel and receives the name Yisra’el as the morning light ends the dark night. Most of the time in Jewish Renewal, we speak of this name of ours as meaning “God Wrestlers,” reflecting the reason given by the angel for this name “for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:29). Rabbi Ben pointed out that the name can also be read as Yashar El, being straight or honest with God. I resonated with this because I wrote something similar when I became rabbinic director of ALEPH back in 1997. In some sense, we are not only people who wrestle with God but also a people who maintain, as best we can, an honesty and simplicity with God, a moral and ethical core to which we are committed.

Continue reading: http://rabbidanielsiegel.com/being-straight-with-god/

God is My Light by Rabbi Daniel Siegel

“In this do I trust,” says the author of Psalm 27.

“For David,” the psalm begins. Is this the statement of authorship as tradition would have it, or could it be a dedication? This one is for you, David, you who nurtured your trust even when you were being hunted, even when you didn’t even have clothes to wear, even when your son betrayed you and your baby died.

I’ve recited this psalm annually for many years, but it was only in the past few that I managed to memorize it (sort of). This has given me the internal space to reflect on its transitions as well as on the verses which have captivated us through melody. “One thing I ask from God, this do I request: to dwell in God’s house all my life and to have visions of God’s beauty while visiting God’s sanctuary.”


Read more…