TORONTO – As Holy Blossom Temple prepared for the New Year with the traditional Slichot service, the congregation also ushered in a new era.
On Saturday night, Sept. 20, Rabbi Yael Splansky, 43, an associate rabbi at the temple since 1998 and the acting senior rabbi for the past year, was officially installed as senior rabbi of Holy Blossom. The synagogue, which has 1,700 member families, is the largest Reform congregation in Canada.
“With the coming of the New Year, we turn a page in Holy Blossom Temple history,” Rabbi Splansky told the 600 well-wishers in attendance. “At the edge of a new year, it feels like anything is possible.”
But at the same time she expressed humility. “It is humbling to be a rabbi. It is humbling to be called rabbi of this congregation and it is humbling to be named senior rabbi of this great temple. I am ready to begin.”
The evening’s festivities began with a champagne and dessert reception, followed by a Havdalah service led by Rabbi Splansky, along with her husband, Prof. Adam Sol, and their three sons, Avishai, 13; Eli, 10, and Jesse, 7.
The installation was a spirited celebration, with a Torah procession and a choir performance of music arranged for the occasion by Holy Blossom’s Cantor Benjamin Maissner. Rabbi John Moscowitz, the former senior rabbi, gave the ceremony’s opening remarks.
He spoke of handing “the mantle from one generation to the next,” and he praised Rabbi Splansky for her wisdom and love for the synagogue and Torah.
In her address, she thanked him for encouraging her to take new initiatives as an associate rabbi. “You gave me room to grow and experiment… The fact that you’re here to offer your blessing means the world to me.”
Other speakers included Dow Marmur, rabbi emeritus of Holy Blossom, and Michael Lorge, a representative of the Union of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Donald Splansky prepared a tribute to his daughter and Rabbi David Ellenson, chancellor of Hebrew Union College – Jewish institute of Religion, gave the installation address titled “Roots and Renewal.”
Lorge – who is Rabbi Splansky’s uncle – commended Holy Blossom for choosing a woman to head the synagogue. He said the temple’s decision would help “the secured future of women serving as senior rabbis on the great pulpits of our movement.”
While Rabbi Splansky is one of a growing number of female senior rabbis heading major congregations, her father, Donald Splansky, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Am in Framingham, Mass., proudly noted that his daughter is the only fourth-generation Reform rabbi in the world.
This lineage goes from him to her maternal grandfather and great grandfather, he explained. His wife Greta Lee’s father, the late Rabbi Ernst M. Lorge of Chicago, studied at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and his father, Maurice Lorge, served as a Reform rabbi in Mainz Germany. When they fled from Europe to the United States in the 1930s, they brought Liberal Jewish teachings from the old world to the new one.
He pointed out that the late Rabbi Gunther Plaut, longtime rabbi of Holy Blossom and classmate of his father-in-law in Cincinnati, played an important role in helping liberal Judaism take root in Canada.
Rabbi (Yael) Splansky also mentioned how Rabbi Plaut would visit her in her office when she first started working at Holy Blossom. “He would check in on me and offer advice. He was like a stand-in for my own grandfather.”
She called Rabbi Marmur “a true mentor.” He hired her right after her rabbinical ordination, when she was just cutting her professional teeth.
She has also grown up with her husband, she said, explaining that they met at a youth group event when she was 14.
She described Sol, a poet and associate professor at Laurentian University’s Barrie campus, as “a good Jew and a good father” and stressed the important role he plays in her rabbinate. “My part only works because of him. He is a true life partner who helps me to succeed.”