A full weekend of festivities surrounded the recent installation last month of Rabbi Rob Morais at Temple Israel, Ottawa’s only Reform synagogue.
Coming to Ottawa directly from Michigan, where he served as spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel in Jackson and as director of the Jewish children’s museum in Detroit, Rabbi Morais, 47, is originally from Toronto. He has had a long association with Rabbi Steven Garten, who served Temple Israel, a congregation of about 300 member families, for 18 years and who will continue his involvement with the congregation as rabbi emeritus.
“I was blessed to have Rabbi Garten, Temple Israel’s rabbi emeritus, participate in the installation service. I first got to know Rabbi Garten when he came to [Toronto’s] Holy Blossom Temple the year before my bar mitzvah. Over the years, we have had many opportunities to work and study together as rabbinic colleagues. I am very grateful that as rabbi emeritus he will continue to play a vital role in the life of Temple Israel,” Rabbi Morais said.
After being ordained at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 1997, Rabbi Morais worked with Rabbi Garten at Camp George, the Reform movement summer camp in Ontario, for a number of years. The Camp George connection was felt during the Nov. 13 Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat service, attended by more than 200 congregants of all ages and led by the folk group The New Gershonites (Judy and David Gershon, and their son, Jared) who are known to many from their work at Camp George. Following a spirited, participatory, musical service, attendees enjoyed a vegetarian and dairy potluck dinner, and many stayed for an after-dinner sing-along as well.
The installation of Rabbi Morais took place during Shabbat morning services the next day. Joining Rabbi Garten in officiating were rabbis Laurence Kotok and Sharon Sobel of New York, both of whom have played important roles in Rabbi Morais’ spiritual and professional development, and who shared a number of anecdotes about him. Clergy from other local congregations as well as from churches and mosques attended the installation and service as well.
Following a kiddush luncheon, an adult education panel featuring Rabbi Morais, Rabbi Garten and the two guest rabbis discussed “What it means to be a Reform Jew today.”
An open house on Sunday afternoon provided an opportunity for people to meet the new rabbi. Congregants Miriam Burke and Reg Angel co-chaired the installation weekend committee.
Said Rabbi Morais, “Over the coming months and years things are going to change, but… we are not going to change just for the sake of changing.” He paraphrased Pirkei Avot, the sayings of our ancestors: “The day is short, there is much work to be done; sometimes people are reluctant to volunteer but the reward is great and the one who governs the heavens is pressing us to do our best.”
According to temple past president Lorne Rachlis, who served on the rabbi selection committee, “This was a wonderful weekend, full of joy, enthusiasm, optimism and spirituality. Rabbi Morais’ official welcoming weekend is a good omen of good things to come for Temple Israel.”