Aleph Canada Newsletter - June 2013

Mount Monadnock Overlooking Lakeside Franklin Pierce University

Mount Monadnock Overlooking Lakeside Franklin Pierce University

With over 500 souls registered, this is on track to be the biggest Kallah since Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007. Over 600 are expected in Rindge, New Hampshire for our lakeside retreat in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock. There is still time to beat the late registration fee on June 1st, and still plenty of time to register- right up until July 1st for the full conference, or July 5th for the Shabbaton! But why wait? “Lech lecha”- get yourself right now to the Kallah website and get registered, and get ready to enjoy one of the best weeks of your life. What are you waiting for?

Announcing the Integral Halacha Institute - May 2015


To 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

Rabbi Sherril Gilbert

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 . 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.

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

Being Straight with God

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

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.

For many years, I’ve declined to speak publicly about Israel, not because I don’t care about Israel but because I’ve seen no purpose in North Americans debating the various positions on the Israeli political spectrum. These debates only seem to make us angry at each other while having no real effect on the situation in the Middle East. However, in the past three months, I decided to spend more time reading, learning about what is happening in Israel and allowing my love for this country and its people to surface. The first was reading Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land. The second was the decision my son urged me to make to subscribe to the English edition of HaAretz. He reasoned that this is a voice that we need to hear and so we ought to support it by subscribing.

I have learned and continue to learn much from these two decisions and I hope to share some of that with you in upcoming blogs. Here I want only to highlight that Shavit is advocating a kind of secular Israeli Jewish Renewal, urging us to renew the moral core which he believes must be at the centre of whatever else it may be that we think makes us Jews. I think it would be wonderful to connect with him, perhaps invite him to spend some time with us, so that we could learn from one another.

Reb Hanna Tiferet went to a talk he gave in Boston early last month. The sponsor, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, has made this talk available to everyone. I’ve pasted the link below and strongly encourage you to listen to it from start to finish, to experience in full the way he makes the case for a renewal of the Zionism he, and we, hold dear.

Ari Shavit on Gaza, Peace and the Promised Land

What I wrote about the name Yisra’el came from a teaching of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and was part of the proposal I made to ALEPH in the process of becoming its Rabbinic Director. Here is a link to Levi Yitzchak’s Torah and a part of my letter: Yashar El•Sources.

God is My Light by Rabbi Daniel Siegel

Posted by Rabbi Sherril Gilbert

“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.”

The psalmist says that he is not afraid if a host encamp against him, for there is one thing he trusts, namely that all he has ever wanted is to dwell in God’s house. This relieves fear, I’m guessing, because there is no place which is not God’s house and so as long as he is conscious of that, there is no harm that can dislodge his trust and ultimate joy in being alive, nor make him afraid of death.

This coming year may be one in which humanity makes another of those momentous decisions, the kind only we seem to be capable of on this planet. We will decide what the next stages of our evolution will look like when political leaders gather in Paris in 2015. Will we agree to work together as a species and begin to reverse the effects of climate change or will we continue to place the needs of our own tribes and nations ahead of humanity as a whole. Will we continue to waste resources, both material and human, in pointless wars over tiny pieces of land, risking our survival, or will we decide to share those resources more equitably, thus reducing the need for conflict? Will we allow increased levels of education and prosperity to encourage smaller families and even reverse population growth or will we require war and disease to accomplish this?

Most important: can we renew a spiritual, respectful, and ethical approach to life’s decisions so that we can echo the psalmist in saying that we approach our struggles from a place of trust and the knowledge that we are struggling in and for God’s home in this world?

I’m including some sound files of melodies for different parts of Psalm 27. Most especially, I’m attaching one of Reb Zalman z”l which also appears on his “Into My Garden” cd. This recording is less polished and, in some ways, I like it better. It is one of the four niggunim he told me are the ones he would like us all to know (though I don’t understand why there weren’t at least five, since I would certainly have included Bati L’gani) and each of them was the focus of one day of my last Kallah course. The others are Hanna Tiferet’s. All of them are embedded in the pdf files which are Machzor Kol Koreh.

May this year be one of personal renewal and a positive tipping point for humanity.

Lo Yira Libi

L’cha Amar Libi

Kaveh el Yah

The Three Weeks: Shedding Old Forms by Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits

Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits

One of the things which challenges me about this time on the Jewish calendar is that sadness and mourning seem to be encouraged. There is a tendency to dwell in pain, as if the pain and discomfort were the final goal.

These (northern-hemisphere) summer months are a time of transition. These Three Weeks mark the siege of Jerusalem leading to the destruction of the Temple. At this season, many years ago, Judaism began to morph from a Temple-based tradition to what we today know as Rabbinic Judaism.

In that destruction, Jewish practice released its old form, since that form was not sustainable. The movement from form to fluid, from ebb to flow, is the movement of ongoing life. The early rabbis modeled for us the practice of releasing a form which no longer serves.

Releasing patterns which are no longer useful creates space. Spaciousness, in turn, can invite new insights, wisdom and joy. When we make this an annual practice of discernment, we allow layers of transformation to unfold over a lifetime.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wrote, “Who ever wants to live should kill himself.” Dying, in this context, means being willing to give up form — to release patterns and practices which do not support life and love. This kind of “death” leads to rebirth.

Form is a necessary part of life, and is often linked with ego. Our beloved teacher Reb Zalman, of blessed memory, taught, “Ego is a great manager and a lousy boss.” We need ego, as we need form, but we also need to be open to change. Changing form is difficult. This process can manifest in big ways (losing a job) or small ways (fasting.)

It is deep spiritual work to discern the difference between forms which serve, and forms which have become comfortable habits but no longer serve.


For example: my parents were Shoah survivors. My teacher Emilie Conrad, of blessed memory, taught that people often trade pleasure for survival. My parents’ focus was survival, and that’s what they passed on to me.

Safety was a major issue for them, understandably. They developed a thick layer of security around all they did. It was appropriate for them. For many years I followed in their footsteps, not realizing that constantly checking and rechecking security was filtering goodness and joy out of my life. Those habits were a form which no longer served me.

During the Three Weeks, we can practice letting go of forms which no longer serve.

The Three Weeks end with the fast of Tisha B’Av. A few days later comes Tu b’Av, the 15th of the month of Av, a full moon celebration when tradition leads us to look for new joy. The time of dissolve leads to reformatting. This is teshuvah, the annual return to source which we practice especially in Elul in preparation for the Days of Awe. Many Hasidim begin thinking seriously about teshuvah on Tu B’Av.

Other ancient cultures gave us the image of ourobouros, the snake with its tail in its mouth. The Jewish holiday cycle is like this, too. The beginning is already embedded before the end.

Releasing habits which no longer serve offers an opportunity. We can choose to change. We can choose to be better receivers of Holy Presence and joy. This is the gift of this season.

Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits is the founding rabbi and Spiritual Leader of Holistic Jew in Santa Monica, CA. Ordained by ALEPH, she received spiritual direction certification from Yedidya’s Morei Derekh program and is an authorized Continuum Movement Instructor and somatic therapist.


Aleph Canada Newsletter, March 2013


ALEPH is proud to announce…

Kallah 2013
Kol Echad: Connecting With the Divine, Within & Around Us

July 1-7, 2013
Franklin Pierce University — Rindge, NH

Join us in picturesque Southern New Hampshire on beautiful Pearly Pond at the foot of Mount Monadnock. This year, you will enjoy a retreat-like setting where Kallah is also a vacation. From mountaintop davvening to lakeside classes, this will be the one Kallah you’ll want to be sure to attend!!

On-Line Registration is now OPEN!
The 2013 Kallah brochure is available now. Download it here.

For more information contact the Kallah office at 267-567-2486 or

The Cycles of T'Shuvah

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

Dear Friends,

As I wrote in my first note, one of the larger projects on which I’m working is an expansion of Reb Zalman’s thoughts on t’shuvah, loosely translated either as repentance or return. It is a fundamental teaching of Hassidut that everyone should be engaged in a lifelong process of t’shuvah. What that might mean will be explored in future postings and for now let’s just assume the truth of this principle.

In the booklet called “A Guide for Starting Your New Incarnation” which focused on the t’shuvah of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, Reb Zalman talked about four overlapping cycles. Most familiar to us is the annual one, culminating in the confessions made on Yom Kippur. In “Yom Kippur Kattan and the Cycles of T’shuvah,” Reb Zalman focused on the lesser known monthly cycle which finds its expression in the practice of Yom Kippur Kattan on the last day of most months.

In his “Guide,” Reb Zalman said the following about daily t’shuvah:

Every night we say kri’aht sh’ma she’ahl hah-mitah / the recitation of the sh’ma done on the bed. To fulfill the positive mitzvah of saying sh’ma “when you lie down and when you rise up,” many people make this the last thing they do before going to sleep. Since sleep has some similarity to death, and since we want to die saying the sh’ma, this is an appropriate moment for doing a spiritual stock-taking as well, just as we would hope to do on our deathbeds. This way, no day goes by without clearing what you can. It’s like looking at what’s waiting in the basket to be deleted for the day.

I might say that what you do every night is dealing with the nefesh part of soul (the most physical and that which we share with other life forms).

To actualize this idea, the siddurim of the Hassidim and the S’faradim begin the bedtime sh’ma with a t’shuvah focused meditation. Below, I’ve pasted a link to this meditation and an abbreviated form of the bedtime sh’ma which can also be found in the weekday edition of Siddur Kol Koreh. This is as it appears in classical siddurim and, in reviewing it, I would make the translation clearer that we are not limiting our responsibility to other Jews but extending it to all human beings with whom we have relationships.

Interestingly, this meditation was also included in the Harlow machzor of the Conservative Movement to be recited prior to Kol Nidre, but without the phrase “whether in this incarnation or in another” (page 350). The Art Scroll siddur translates this phrase faithfully and adds the note that the transmigration of souls is a basic kabbalistic concept. I think it’s useful to note this, since we so often hear people say that Judaism doesn’t really believe either in an afterlife or in reincarnation. This is largely because the responsibility of defining Judaism after the sho’ah fell to the rationalists of the Western European Jewish movements, which in turn are the antecedents of the contemporary Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative movements in North America. It has taken until now for mystical Judaism to find its voice again and to restore balance to the continuum of Jewish beliefs.

Aleph Canada Newsletter - February 2013


A few years ago, as I tentatively began my studies with ALEPH, I was asked, “Are you going to Ohalah?”

At the time, an ohalah (tent) did not seem a very substantial place for study and meeting, and I did not go. I now understand what an OHALAH is, Renewal style: every year, the ALEPH talmidim/ students and ordained klei kodesh/ sacred vessels gather in Boulder, Colorado. It is participation in a true pilgrimage; a convergence to meet and learn, pray and share, eat and hug in four dimensions. This is how I imagined the pilgrimage holidays of our ancestors; assiyah doing, yetsirah feeling, beri‘ah knowing, and atzilut being.

Shabbat: students arrive and lead the services. Two Canadian students were shlichot tzibur / prayer leaders: Susan Shamash co-led Kabbalat Shabbat, and I co-led at the Torah service, with Reb Daniel and Hanna Tiferet as Shaharit mentors. After Shabbat, students gathered for an impromptu open ‘mic’ and a preview of the cabaret night that was coming on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the ceremonies began: in the morning the new talmidim, including myself as a new Rabbinic Pastor student, were officially introduced and Reb Zalman gave us all a special teaching session. In the afternoon, family and friends arrived for the Smicha ceremony, and six new musmachim were ordained: Rabbis Hanalei Ableman Laner and Elyse Seidner-Joseph; Rabbinic Pastors Patrice Spitz, Larissa Blechman, and Sandra Wortzel; and Cantor Shulamit Wise Fairman. Afterward, there was a musical reception with a dance band led by Hazzan Jack Kessler.

Rabbi Daniel Siegel (left) and Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel (right), both of Hornby Island in BC, participating in the ordination of Hazzan Shulamit Wise Fairman. (Photo by Janice Rubin)

The Ohalah Conference officially opened on Sunday night; the theme this year was, “MiKol M’Lamdai Hiskalti: From All My Teachers I have Learned”. A special session was held, honouring Reb Leah Novick for her Jewish Renewal leadership and her profound work on Shekhinah and the Divine Feminine.

On Monday, davvenen, study sessions, meals, and presentations began in earnest, and continued through lunch on Wednesday. There was a shuk, co-ordinated by Charlotte Sutker of Victoria, offering Judaica, books and music for purchase, and I bought some CDs and a kippah from one of my teachers, Rabbi Shulamit Thiede (see photo).

Rather than list of all the many workshops and programs, I’ll take you through Ohalah with a sample of what I did: For Shacharit I chose the contemplative service with Rabbis Nadya Gross and Shohama Wiener; and I understand that the Torah Service in another room, with Hazzan Shoshana Brown was richly gospel-laden.After breakfast, the Keynote Address was by Rabbi Rachel Adler, “What is Tradition, and How Do We Learn From It?”

I took a break afterward and went outdoors in the below freezing weather for a swim, and I learned Jewish gospel tunes while soaking in the hot tub with a few expert hazzanim. Where else but Ohalah/Colorado could one do this! My hair froze into an icy bouffant, but it was worth it!

Minchah: I attended a musical healing service of affirmations and chants, led by Rabbinic Pastors Shulamit Fagan and Stephanie Tivona Reith. There was a ‘Clergy Internet Toolkit’ session in the afternoon, invaluable to Renewal teachers. I chose to attend a T’hillim session where we learned to sing t’hillim / Psalms in a new way, a haunting call and answer of music and words in an ancient format, led by Cantor Jalda Rebling. Afterward, I had dinner and retreated into my room. Did I mention that the food was amazing? And every food need was well met, from regular meals, to gluten free and raw and vegan options.

Monday and Tuesday were similar in format. The highlight of Tuesday was the “Plenary Panel on Halachah: Honoring the Past, Finding Our Way”. This panel presentation and its breakout discussion groups focused on the halachah of food, eating, and how our home communities are making ethical and halachic decisions. The panelists included ALEPH Canada’s Reb Daniel Siegel and Reb Laura Duhan Kaplan. (See photo).

Also on the panel were Rabbis Daniel Goldblatt, president of OHALAH, David Cooper of Kehillah Community Synagogue in Oakland, CA and Marcia Prager, Dean of the ALEPH Ordination Programs. (Photo by Janice Rubin)

Our Lineage

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

I remember reading an essay written around the beginning of the 20th century in which the author proposed a new way of establishing criteria for rabbinical ordination. Until the emancipation, what Jewish young men did was to choose a rabbi or a yeshivah where they felt comfortable and whose teaching was in harmony with their souls and they went to study. They began their learning wherever the other students were “holding” at that moment. Somewhere along the way, a particular man might be tapped by the rosh yeshivah / the head of the academy. At that point, he might review particular parts of the Shulchan Aruch and, after an oral exam in those sections, would be given a document that showed that he had the confidence of his teachers to be someone who could himself teach the basics of Judaism and resolve disputes according to halachah / Jewish “law” and practice.

For the author of the essay, this was an unacceptable practice. The title “rabbi” or even the words of the document didn’t really contain important information about what this rabbi had actually studied and where his competencies really lay. So he proposed the establishment of a single, world-wide curriculum for rabbinical seminaries so that the content of the title would be obvious to everyone. Ordination should indeed be the same as graduation, and the right to graduate should be earned in the same way as in other institutions of higher learning. Some years later, I had a conversation with a retired Conservative rabbi in the Boston area who lectured me about the inadequacy of “private semicha” as he imagined we practiced it in Jewish Renewal, arguing strongly for this universal model of graduation upon completion of a curriculum.

I established my relationship with Reb Zalman precisely because this new model didn’t speak to me. I saw rabbinical schools training rabbis for a Jewish community that already was changing into something else. Where rabbinic training was focused on prophetic sermonizing or the minutiae of halachah as recorded in the various codes or asking the rabbi to be the resident intellectual expert on Jewish history and practice, I saw congregations in need of a post-holocaust and truly spiritual renewal of Judaism.  The rabbi needed less to be a Ph.D. and more to be an intelligent articulator of a Judaism which is a spiritual practice enhancing the quality and meaningfulness of people’s lives.

And so it began, with Reb Zalman laying his hands on me in the basement of Neal and Carol Rose’s house in Winnipeg. And so it has continued and grown until now, and ALEPH’s ordination ceremonies are personal, beautiful, joyous, and creative. For us, ordination is not a graduation but a renewal of semichah, the bond of trust symbolized by the literal laying on of hands.

Some years ago, it came to me that the creativity of our ceremonies needed to be anchored by at least one element which is continuous from year to year. And so I composed a lineage, a reading to be repeated at every ceremony as we lay the hands of our trust on our new rabbis, cantors, and rabbinic pastors. I acknowledged that there was an earlier lineage of men who traced their ordinations all the way back to Moses at Sinai and which had become both broken and diffused. I affirmed that we have started a renewed lineage of spiritual teachers entrusting their students which begins with Reb Zalman but traces its origins to the Baal Shem Tov and the Eastern European Hassidim. This lineage includes both men and women and embraces the many variations of sexual identity which we now recognize. And it also originates in a women’s transmission which also has been broken and/or had to go underground, now surfacing in a new partnership with the lineage of men.

I have been reading this lineage for several years now. Some years the moment passes without fuss and in others people hear it (as if) for the first time and want to bring it home with them. This is one of those years and so I share it with you all. I’ve put my name at the bottom so that you can attribute it and I also ask that you not make changes in it. From the first time I shared it, people have come up with “Why didn’t you include…?” My purpose was to highlight a lineage and I limited my choices to women whom I saw as directly contributing to our lineage. So, for now at least, I ask you to honour the text as I have it, make suggested changes directly to me, so that the annual reading remains as it was intended.

The S’micha•Lineage

PS: We are making the next round of improvements to this site. I will keep only the most recent post in full on the “writings” page. The rest, ten per page, now have only the first paragraph or two and then you can click to read the rest. This will also allow the comments to appear only underneath the post to which they refer and I’m still hoping that we’ll have some real discussions. We’ve also increased the size of the font and reduced the spacing between lines. If you have other ideas for improving the site or adding items to it that you think might be helpful, please do let me know.


My Heart Opened: First Encounter with Reb Zalman

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

I’ve been a shul goer most of my life. Before I could read, when my father was the executive director of Temple Anshe Chesed in New York and I went to their kindergarden, he would take me into the sanctuary on Friday afternoons when everyone had gone home and I would go through the entire Torah service in front of the ark. And every Shabbat, we sang the full Ashkenazic version of Birkat haMazon / Grace After Meals, which I also memorized before I could read. What made this easier than perhaps it looks to adults was that both the shuls I went to and my family used the same melodies for the same prayers all the time. While this makes them familiar and easier to memorize, it also flattens out their affect and narrows the emotional range which the words can communicate. Birkat haMazon, no matter the day or the meal, always began with the familiar table thumping melody, useful as a social connector perhaps but less so as a conveyor of gratitude to the Source of Blessing.

I was also a troubled child. My mother died when I was nine and, with the exception of two helpful talks I had with Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan when I was twelve, there had been no one to help me process my loss and connect it in a meaningful way with God. Though I was a yeshivah student through high school, I wasn’t able to see a relationship between the Judaism I was being taught and the Divine. I have come to see how the still immediate impact of the Shoah intensified this difficulty, since my teachers also were wrestling with the same questions on a much larger level, but their silence wasn’t something I could understand at the time.

In 1962 and 1963, I was an older camper at Camp Ramah in Connecticut. In both of the summers, a “religious environmentalist”  visited the camp, a Lubavitcher rabbi by the name of Zalman Schachter. For the most part, I stayed away from him as he took kids to town to buy material to make their own tallitot and then tie the tzitzit themselves or teaching them what were the essentials of a shacharit/morning service so that they could put on their t’fillindavven, and still make the school bus on time. As a good yeshivah boy, I thought these were gimmicks for beginners and not for someone who studied talmud daily. But I couldn’t avoid him when he shared a different kind of melody for the first blessing of Birkat haMazon with the entire camp at Shabbat evening dinner and so I learned an alternative to the table thumper which stayed with me.

It was only recently that I finally asked him whose melody it was and he told me it was his own! I’m pleased to share it with you once again and hope that we will be able to sing it together sometime soon.

Birkat HaMazon•Reb Zalman

I started the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in the Fall of 1968, a member of its first class. That same fall, a college friend doing graduate work at Brandeis invited me to Boston to experience Havurat Shalom, the “community seminary” Rabbi Arthur Green (later to become my teacher and the second to sign my semichah) had formed. On that Shabbat morning, the prayer leader was Reb Zalman and I remember that he sang El Adon to the tune of “Donna Donna.” Though I subsequently learned several other melodies for the same poem, I wasn’t able to duplicate what Reb Zalman had done until a few years ago and now I share it with you as well. [By the way, in two cases I’ve followed the version of the words found in Nusach S’fard and S’faradi. See you if you can pick them out.]

El Adon•Donna Donna

For the second time, I learned that to change the melody is to expose the words to new levels of meaning. Slower melodies allow for words recited by monotonous rote to be caressed and be opened to open the heart. Later that same year, I again opened my heart, this time to my beloved Hanna Tiferet and, through her, to Reb Shlomo Carlebach, through whom, several years later, I became reconciled with the God who permitted my mother to die (another story for another time).

In the winter of 1971-72, searching for the spiritual path that would give meaning to the first two decades of my life, I remembered these melodies and found myself drawn to Reb Zalman who became and always will be my rebbe and whose chasid I am.

The “moral” of this story is a simple one: take the time to learn more than one melody for any of the prayers you most love so that they can speak to you in more than one emotional state. For those of you who lead others in prayer, a storehouse of melodies will also serve you well in being sensitive to what others are bringing to the service and helping move them.

Aleph Canada Newsletter - December 2010

Rabbinic Director's Report: December 2010

Dear Friends of Jewish Renewal,

With the 2010 calendar year about to end, I wanted to take a few moments to write and bring you up to date on our progress since last August.

FINANCES: We are all so pleased at your response to our call for contributions and particularly for the sustaining gifts of chai ($18)/month. Your generosity is allowing ALEPH Canada and Canadians committed to Jewish spiritual renewal to play an increasingly important role in supporting some of ALEPH’s key projects. If you haven’t already and are so inclined, I encourage you to use the link to Canada Helps to make either a one time contribution or, even better, a regular monthly gift by credit card. Since Canada Helps does all the administrative work, including providing your tax receipt, giving this way frees up my time to concentrate on program and resource development.

Which brings me to our FIRST HIGH HOLYDAY RETREAT. We ended up being a small group of about 15 participants and I think the attendees agree that it was a wonderful and different kind of experience. I produced a machzor especially for these services and we had lots of time for discussion and sharing. You can read a more detailed summary of the retreat below. Noam Dolgin and I are already thinking about next Rosh HaShanah. I’m also hoping to schedule another a study retreat here on Hornby Island for late August.

In August, I wrote you of changes that were scheduled to take effect in October. These are now in effect and include:
•I am no longer providing administrative and fund-raising services to ALEPH “Central” (as one of our board members calls ALEPH in the States). Those services I now provide only to ALEPH Canada.
•My work for the Ordination Programs involves supporting the students, handling administrative needs, and facilitating a complete review of our programs of study, in addition to serving as Director of Studies for our Canadian students.
•In the area of resource development, I am adding to the larger machzor project, just completed the final formatting a Hassidic book which Reb Zalman has long wanted to make available (and which will be available on the ALEPH Canada website starting in a month or so), and we are hoping to put together a book of essays on conversion to Judaism by next Fall.
•Finally, our mechinah program is also doing well and, if you want to know more about it or be on the mailing list, please visit the Distance Learning page of the ALEPH Central website.

I encourage you all to visit the website of “ALEPH Central” where you will find the latest on the next Kallah in Southern California in July, the complete ReSources Catalog, and information on our various programs of study.

Once again, I want to thank the members of our board for their support and attention and you all for your support. Blessings and best wishes as we enter the next secular year!

Rabbi Daniel Siegel



Aleph Canada Newsletter - August 2010


Dear Friends of Jewish Renewal,

In my previous note, I neglected to list our Newfoundland board member, Shifrah-Leah Gilbert, as the Rabbinic Pastor that she is. Shifrah-Leah holds the distinction of being the first Jewish clergy person to be licensed to officiate at weddings in our easternmost province.

Second, I again want to encourage you to read Rabbi Marcia Prager’s letter about becoming a chai/month donor to ALEPH. Reb Marcia is the dean of our ordination programs and her thoughts about investing in ALEPH’s infrastructure are especially relevant for us, given our focus in Canada on ALEPH’s educational programs. Response has been gratifying to date and it would be wonderful if a few more of you would commit to this easy and painless way of giving to ALEPH and helping further the work of Jewish Renewal, both in Canada and world-wide.

Third, the first ever Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur experience on Hornby Island is beginning to take shape. A machzor is coming together, reflecting the idea of infusing the entire morning service with the primary themes of the day instead of leaving them for the end. Noam has sketched out a second day in nature, with shacharit happening as we walk through the Helliewell Woods, Torah reading and Shofar blowing on the bluffs overlooking the water, a picnic lunch, and tashlich on the beach. And, given this year’s amazing improvement, I’ve purchased a freshly caught sockeye salmon for us to share.
Given the intimacy of the group, there will also be ample opportunity to prepare for the services through learning and discussion.
We have let go of needing a minimum enrolment and have committed to experiencing the holidays on Hornby as long as we have a minyan of participants. So now is the time to check out the ALEPH Canada website for more details and to let us know if you would like to come. For now, please don’t be concerned about the cost or about paying; we will do what we can to help out if the cost is too much and we will also let you know when the registrations have hit the magic number of a minyan (actually, it already has for Rosh HaShanah and the next two registrants for Yom Kippur will take us there).
After reading what is on the website, please contact Daniel directly with more questions or to let him know of your intention to come (

Finally, last month I mentioned that some changes were in the works and they have now received formal approval. The board of ALEPH Canada has approved a simple budget for next year, which includes a predictable salary for me, split between administration (20%) and program (80%). We have agreed to adopt the Jewish year for budgeting purposes. And, our sponsorship of the Bet Midrash is now moving into a new partnership with the ALEPH Ordination Programs, in which I serve as the Associate Dean. From now on, I will be focused more on the development of new classes and resources for the ALEPH Bet Midrash as well as working and teaching in the ordination programs.

I pray that the summer has been going well and may we learn to be happy with what we have.

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

Aleph Canada Newsletter - June 2010


Dear Friends of Jewish Renewal,

As we move into our precious Canadian summer and I prepare to leave for a week of teaching and sharing with our wonderful ordination students, I wanted to let you know about important changes to ALEPH Canada as we move toward greater maturity and clearer focus.

First, I want to thank our board members for their involvement and caring. Moving from West to East, Rabbi Louis Sutker in Victoria, Jan Fishman and Susan Shamash in Vancouver, Betsy Jameson in Calgrary, Rabbi Neal Rose in Winnipeg, Rabbinical Student Anna Maranta in Ottawa, and Shifrah-Leah (Sherril) Gilbert in Paradise all give generously of their time and wisdom in helping us to chart a way for our part of Jewish Renewal.

Second, I again want to encourage you to read Melvin Pasternak’s letter about becoming a chai/month donor to ALEPH. This is an investment in ALEPH’s infrastructure and, especially in Canada, in its many educational programs. Response has been gratifying to date and it would be wonderful if a few more of you would commit to this easy and painless way of giving to ALEPH and helping further the work of Jewish Renewal, both in Canada and world-wide.

Third, I want to remind you of the High Holyday retreat on Hornby Island, where I live. We already have a few paid registrants as well as expressions of interest. Please feel free to drop me a note saying that you want to come, even if you’re not prepared to pay quite yet. We have a firm deadline of 19 August for registrations.

Finally, last month I mentioned that some changes were in the works and they are now moving toward formal approval. The board of ALEPH Canada has approved a simple budget for next year, which includes a predictable salary for me, split between administration (20%) and program (80%). We have agreed to adopt the Jewish year for budgeting purposes. And, our sponsorship of the Bet Midrash is now moving into a new partnership with the ALEPH Ordination Programs, in which I serve as the Associate Dean.

I pray that the summer goes well for us all and that we all receive a respite from our difficulties. May those trying to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico succeed, may the war in which we are involved begin to come to a peaceful resolution, and may we learn to be happy with what we have.

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

Aleph Canada Newsletter - May 2010


I have the privilege of living on a beautiful little island which serves as home for about a thousand people and a place of sanctuary and sanctity the other ten to fifteen thousand people who spend all or part of their summers here. Yet, in this age of high speed internet and inexpensive phone calling, we are far less isolated than we once were. Our community is blessed with many people who practice thinking globally while acting locally. We are painfully aware of the suffering of others and the environmental degradation which our human societies seem unable or unwilling to fully recognize.

In this world, our spirituality, both as personal practice and as reinforcement for our ideals, is crucial to our ability to make the transitions necessary for our survival and growth as a species on this fragile planet we call home.

As I’ve written you before ALEPH, like so many other organizations dedicated to human spiritual and social growth, is having its difficulties in the material world. It seems that all of us who are committed to inner development, mitigation of human suffering, and the cultural arts which nourish us in such crucial ways, are those who are considered the easiest to limit in times of economic constraint.

It has been gratifying, then, that many of you rose to the occasion during the most extreme moment of our financial worries. It is especially gratifying that the number of our chai per month donors has now grown to nineteen! Small and predictable giving is what gives us relief from having to badger you with fund-raising appeals and, more important, allows us to focus on delivering program and creating the resources which help us to practice our Judaism in a way which enhances our lives and the lives of others with whom we share this planet. So, please, consider becoming a chai/month donor if you possibly can.

And, on the subject of program, please see the announcement of our first High Holyday retreat below and through the related links, as well as a progress report on ongoing projects.

This summer I am planning to make some changes in the way my life is balanced and I look forward to sharing them with you in my next note.

In the meantime, I hope that you all are enjoying the emerging Spring as we count our way toward our annual  reunion at the base of Sinai.

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

Aleph Canada Newsletter - May 2010


If you are going, or thinking of going, to the ALEPH Kallah, July 1-7 in Rindge NH, here is some information for Canadians that you might find useful.

On the registration form there is a space to enter an amount for ALEPH membership which says “ALEPH tax deductible membership: $54 single…”. You should know that this amount is only tax deductible if you are registering from the US.

Here is how you can get a Canadian tax receipt for your ALEPH membership if you are registering from Canada:

1. Go to or click on the donate now button at

3. Select one-time amount (enter $54 or more), or monthly donation (of $5 or more).
4. Enter all your contact information and also mention that this is for Kallah 2013 registration.

Once you have done this, you will not need to enter an amount for ALEPH membership on the Kallah registration form.  Also remember to take advantage of any discounts on the registration form (first-timers, minyanim, etc.) that may apply to you.

Enjoy Kallah, it looks to be a great year!

For more on Kallah, visit