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Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Pluralistic group plans silent prayer service

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TORONTO — The individuals who organized a public prayer service in Toronto in support of Women of the Wall (the group that organizes women’s prayer services at the Kotel) this past February have organized as a formal group and are holding their next event this Sunday, Nov. 7.

Rabbi Michal Shekel

To honour its pluralistic vision of the Jewish community, the group has adopted the name Eilu ve’Eilu, a phrase from the Talmud indicating the value of the schools of both Hillel and Shamai, even though their visions and practice of Judaism differed markedly.

“Our main focus is to get people from the various movements together,” said Rabbi Michal Shekel, executive director  of the Toronto Board of Rabbis.

The upcoming event –  a silent Shacharit (morning worship) service, with guest speaker Rabbi Ed Elkin of the First Narayever Congregation– will be part of the Global Day of Jewish Learning, honouring Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’ completion of nearly five decades translating the Talmud.

It will be held at the National Council of Jewish Women, 4700 Bathurst St. at 10 a.m. Participants are asked to bring their own prayer books and Jewish ritual items.

Educator (and CJN columnist) Rachael Turkienicz, who suggested the group’s name, said she thinks the event is very important “because I think that the ability for all of us to leave our comfort zones and reinforce unity, to reinforce a strong and larger community, and start to focus on the things we have in common and less on the things that separate us, is crucial. I think it’s crucial that our kids see it.

“Really, it’s the question of what are we modeling for them. Do they ever see us leave our communities of comfort and support another Jewish person and their right to express their Judaism?”

The group, which has a mailing list of more than 150 people, recognizes that the upcoming service does not represent “everyone’s comfort zone,” she said. “It’s probably everyone’s discomfort zone.”

Having a silent prayer service – which will include some readings and a Kaddish d’Rabbanan – means avoiding “tension as to which service to use,” Rabbi Shekel said. “The important thing is for everyone to be together.

“There’s something very powerful and very spiritual about silence as well.”

The service is the first of what organizers expect to be two- or three-times-yearly events on Sundays that are also a Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of a new month in the Jewish calendar.

With one exception, the organizers are all women, because the initial event last winter was related to women. “We definitely want to get more men involved on the organizational level,” Rabbi Shekel said.

Religiously, the group is more diverse, with Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox members. There is no one from the Conservative movement at the moment, but the group has the support of the movement’s local rabbinic umbrella, the Rabbinical Assembly, Ontario region, she added. “We have the support within the Conservative movement but don’t have a Conservative individual on our committee.”

For further information, e-mail publictefillah@gmail.com.

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