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Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi makes a historic visit to Canada

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Chief Rabbi David Lau, centre, carries a Torah in the procession from Congregation Beth Rambam to Beth Zion Congregation in Côte-St-Luc, Que., on May 2. (Janice Arnold/The CJN)

The connection between the Land of Israel and the Torah is indestructible, said Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi on an official visit to Canada.

Eretz Yisra’el is “the heritage of all of the Jewish nation,” which was promised to it by God during the exile in Egypt, Rabbi David Lau told an enthusiastic audience at Beth Zion Congregation in Côte-St-Luc, Que., on May 2. Montreal was his first stop before he went on to Ottawa and Toronto, in conjunction with the “70 Torahs for 70 Years” project, which is run by Mizrachi Canada. In honour of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the organization has been collecting dozens of dormant Torah scrolls from Jewish communities across Canada.

They will be sent to Israel, to be refurbished, rededicated and donated to Israel Defence Forces (IDF) bases, through World Mizrachi.

“In the story of Hanukkah, the Greeks said we can live in our land, but without Torah, because they understood Torah and Israel are together. No one can separate them. Our enemies have tried, but didn’t succeed, because the land, the nation and the Torah are one,” Rabbi Lau declared from the synagogue pulpit.

The evening, which was the start of Lag ba-Omer, began at nearby Congregation Beth Rambam, a Sephardic synagogue, where Rabbi Lau led the Mincha service.

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Beth Zion and Beth Rambam are among 10 Montreal-area synagogues, plus Hebrew Academy, which have donated about 25 Torah scrolls to the project. Some of them were brought from Beth Rambam down Côte-St-Luc’s Westminster Avenue, in a joyful procession. Rabbi Lau carried one of them under the huppah, while a crowd of men and boys sang and danced. Israeli Consul General David Levy was among those who came to witness the event.

The festive atmosphere only intensified as the scrolls were carried into Beth Zion and placed in the Aron Kodesh.

Beth Zion’s Rabbi Boruch Perton said the project expresses “a true partnership” between the Canadian Jewish community and Israel, particularly the IDF, which he described as the “most moral and ethical army in the world.”

Rabbi Perton recalled that Beth Zion hosted Rabbi Lau’s father, Rabbi Yisrael Lau, in 2002, when he was chief rabbi. His son assumed the position in 2013.

That this visit occurred on Lag ba-Omer is fitting, Rabbi Perton added, because the holiday celebrates Jewish unity.

Torah and Israel are together. No one can separate them. Our enemies have tried, but didn’t succeed, because the land, the nation and the Torah are one.
– Rabbi David Lau

“We are joined together as one people in our love of Torah, Israel and appreciation for the IDF,” he said.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron, another Côte-St-Luc synagogue that contributed, emphasized the ethical behaviour of Israel’s soldiers, noting that when they are sworn in, they are given a Tanakh and a weapon. “That is not to justify the gun, but to temper it,” he said.

Rabbi Poupko condemned the media, specifically CNN and CBC, for “defaming” the IDF.

“We know better, that their (the soldiers’) hearts are pure and their hands are clean,” he said.

Rabbi Lau, who is a reserve major in the IDF intelligence corps, said the gift of these Torah scrolls is important to those serving in the military. “It gives them the idea that they are not alone, but are part of the Jewish nation,” he said.

Rabbi Emanuel Carlebach of the House of Israel Synagogue in Ste-Agathe, a 65-year-old congregation in the Laurentians, told The CJN that parting with a Torah was not a sacrifice. “It’s not a question of sparing it, but of expanding our blessings.”

From Montreal, Rabbi Lau was went to Ottawa to speak at Congregation Machzikei Hadas on May 3. The following three days he will be in Toronto, spending Shabbat at Beth Avraham Yoseph Congregation. On May 6, a celebration of the send-off of the scrolls to Israel begins at Clanton Park Synagogue and proceeds to Yeshivat Or Chaim.