The current rabbi of the Western Wall offered his blessings to Canada and its Jewish community during a visit to Toronto’s Sephardic Kehila Centre on Oct. 18.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz told The CJN via a translator that he’d come to Canada to meet with the Jewish community and encourage everyone to visit the Kotel (the Western Wall) to strengthen their Jewish identity.
He was also scheduled to visit New York City and Miami after his three-day Toronto visit.
“I came to Canada to visit with the community and meet with those who have visited the Kotel. Many [Canadian] Jews visit, but it’s not enough. Every Jewish child should have their bar mitzvah at the wall,” he said.
“It’s the place that connects us to our past. It gives us the power for the future. And there’s no better place to be connected to the changing of the generations, which is the meaning of the bar mitzvah day.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz also noted the intense bond that’s been forged between Israel, the Kotel and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who visited the Western Wall in August and met with him while there.
The rabbi said Baird told him jokingly, “I’m the second-most Zionist foreign minister in the world. The first is [Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman. But there’s not that big a gap between No.1 and No. 2.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz said he responded to Baird that he knew that Canada is not in a bad position economically relative to the rest of the world.
“I believe that one of the things that helped insulate Canada from [the global recession] was due to its support for Israel,” he said.
Asked if he had any other message for Canada’s Jewish community, Rabbi Rabinowitz said that in order to preserve their Jewish identity, today’s Jews must know how to create the next generation of Jews.
“The true Jew is someone who will ensure that his grandchildren will be Jewish. Therefore, every Jew has to do all he or she can to ensure the next generation will be Jewish. This isn’t an easy thing.
“We live in an open, materialistic world with many challenges to Judaism, and I respect Canadian Jews who do this.”
One of the ways Jews can achieve this, he said, is to visit the Kotel.
“It does something to a Jew that almost can’t be explained. It penetrates his heart and unleashes the Jewish fire that resides there,” he said.
Referring to Canada’s support for Israel, he extended his “deepest appreciation” to this country’s Jewish community, but he reserved a special message for the current Conservative government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“They were the first to take a courageous stand against Iran. And I believe in the end, the rest of the world will follow in Canada’s footsteps.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz, who has been rabbi of the Western Wall since 1995, said it was a great honour to be named the rabbi of the Kotel.
“It’s the Grand Central Station of the Jewish People,” said Rabbi Rabinowitz, 42. “I don’t have the words to explain why I received this privilege, but I know it’s a huge honour. I’m the rabbi of the largest synagogue in the world.”
Among other things, he said, his rabbinical duties include ensuring the sanctity of the Kotel and hosting foreign dignitaries to the Western Wall as their “Jewish representative.”
Most importantly, he said, his duty is to help encourage and teach about the site’s heritage and importance to the next generation of Jews.
He said that over the last few years, interest in attending services at the Kotel has increased among the younger generation, and more than 1.5 million people came for services during the High Holidays this year.
Those are encouraging numbers, considering that many attendees were secular Jews, he said.
According to his figures, an average of 10 million people visit the Kotel every year. And the number of prayer notes and messages left in the wall by visitors is “impossible to know.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz oversees the removal and burial of every note from the wall twice annually – before Passover and before Rosh Hashanah.
“Each note is treated as if it were a sefer Torah,” he said.