Change is in the Air! Part 2

Rabbi Sherril Gilbert

“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 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