Aleph Canada Newsletter - December 2014


Rabbi Sherril Gilbert

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 ( 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 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—a-simple-toy-or-is-it