TORONTO — In a break with longstanding tradition, the Bernard Betel Centre has cancelled the Ashkenazi High Holiday services that are usually held in the facility’s main auditorium.
Instead, worshippers have been advised that nearby synagogues will welcome them to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, with no increase in the ticket price they had paid at centre.
The development has puzzled Lou Wasser, 87, who has been davening at Bernard Betel for at least eight years.
“I begged them, don’t do this to old people,” Wasser said. Most of the seniors who attend the centre’s High Holiday services don’t have driver’s licenses and will find it difficult to attend services elsewhere, he said, adding that his suggestion to switch to the room that’s used for regular Shabbat services for approximately 20 people was also turned down.
Esta Wall, executive director of the Bernard Betel Centre, said High Holiday services in the main auditorium have attracted approximately 200 worshippers in the past.
However, “over the past several years, we have become increasingly concerned over the quality of the services we’ve provided. We wanted seniors to have the most warm, meaningful and spiritual service,” she said.
“It has been difficult for us to acquire a chazzan for the last two years. We brought in a chazzan from the United States, but he was horrible.”
Participants in past High Holiday services were surveyed, “and based on the feedback we received” the change was implemented.
Arrangements were made with nearby shuls to accommodate Bernard Betel’s worshippers, and many agreed to reduce their ticket prices to the same $75 paid by the seniors.
The auditorium that had been used by for Ashkenazi services has been turned over to one of the Sephardi congregations that worship there. Four different groups – two Sephardi, one Russian Orthodox and the Ashkenazim – hold regular services at the Bernard Betel Centre.
A letter sent to the Ashkenazi congregants provided a list of nearby shuls they could attend. Most are a short distance from the centre, although one, Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue, will hold services at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.
That’s where Wasser will be davening, and he’s not particularly happy about it. “This is the first time in my life I have to drive on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. To do a thing like this to an old man, I don’t know.”
He rejected other, closer shuls, because he didn’t want to sit apart from his wife, divided by a mechitzah, or because he felt he’d feel uncomfortable following a different style of service.
Wall said this year’s change may not necessarily be permanent. “We’d like to hear back from people about their experience. If they’re not happy and grateful, we’ll look at alternatives.
“We like to do the best for our seniors. They’re the [uppermost] in our minds,” she said.