MONTREAL – Congregation Dorshei Emet and the Montreal Jewish community are in shock after the sudden passing of Rabbi Ron Aigen, who had been the congregation’s spiritual leader and was to retire later this year after 40 years.
Rabbi Aigen died on May 8 of a stroke. He was 68. Although his death was unexpected, he had suffered a heart attack last month, which he wrote about on his blog.
Dorshei Emet is Montreal’s sole Reconstructionist synagogue and the first in Canada. Rabbi Aigen was its first professional clergy.
He oversaw the congregation’s tremendous growth to almost 500 families, and led a building campaign for its present impressive edifice in Hampstead, completed in 2002.
“Together with [his wife] Carmela, our cherished Rabbi Ron provided our community with leadership, inspiration and insight for 40 years – a remarkable journey we were all so eagerly looking forward to celebrating in June,” said congregation president Eada Rubinger in a statement.
“His dedication to exploring and developing Jewish civilization in all its many facets leaves an enduring legacy. We were so immensely privileged to benefit from his warmth and wisdom.”
She spoke of the congregation’s “heart-wrenching sadness.”
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he received his bachelor of science in psychology from State University of New York and his master of arts in family therapy and community psychology from Temple University.
Rabbi Aigen was one of the early graduates of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity from the college in 2001.
Rabbi Ron’s publications included a series that offered guidance to contemporary observance of the holy days: Siddur Hadesh Yameinu/ Renew Our Days: A Book of Jewish Prayer and Meditation; Mahzor Hadesh Yameinu: A Prayer-Cycle for Days of Awe; and Wellsprings of Freedom: The Renew Our Days Hagaddah; as well as Community and the Individual Jew: A Festschrift in Honour of Lavy M. Becker, Dorshei Emet’s founding rabbi in 1960.
Under Rabbi Aigen’s leadership, Dorshei Emet was strongly committed to gender egalitarianism and, in 2009, the congregation commissioned a new Torah, Torat Imeinu (Torah of our Mothers), written by Jennifer Taylor Freidman, one of the few female sofers in the world.
McGill University historian and Dorshei Emet member Gil Troy wrote on Facebook: “At the risk of being political during this difficult time, I also admired how [Rabbi Aigen] had no trouble remaining a passionate pro-Israel patriot, proud of the miracle of the Jewish state, while pushing for change. In this and so many other ways, he fulfilled the teachings of the prophets, being a loving critic, gracefully, easily, striking that balance so many others have trouble maintaining.”
Among his leadership positions outside Dorshei Emet, Rabbi Aigen was a fellow of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, a senior rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, a past president of the Montreal Board of Rabbis, and past chair of Federation CJA’s commission on continuity and culture.