Sometimes a new phenomenon occurs in people’s lives after they lose someone. They start going to shul.
This phenomenon can be dramatic, since a mourner finds himself attending synagogue twice a day – in the morning for Shacharit, and in the afternoon/evening for Minchah/Ma’ariv – and it’s even more dramatic for those davening from the amud, or lectern, leading the prayer services.
Ask anyone who has gone through this spiritual metamorphosis what it’s like, and frequently you’ll hear, “It’s not easy,” or, from those in the GTA, “I often find myself speeding across the 407 to take in a late Minchah and to catch a Kaddish.”
You might hear from a mourner that he davens Minchah at Zeifman’s Accounting Firm on Bridgeland Avenue at 2 p.m. every day, or Ma’ariv at 10 p.m. at the Boat Shul, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue housed in an old boat store near Lawrence Avenue and Bathurst Street in Toronto.
I am one of these individuals.
Prior to my mom’s passing on Dec. 8, I went to shul sparingly. Like many, my son and I tried different synagogues. However, we were spiritually fidgety – or perhaps I was. I couldn’t relax, daven or simply be in the moment. Shul was a struggle. I couldn’t find my way.
There were, however, a couple of shuls I grew very fond of even before my mom’s passing (which helped with the transition), including Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue. It is a unique environment, a true village. I have been saying Kaddish for my father on his yahrzeit there for 25 years. I believe Beth David, a Conservative shul, is so inclusive because of its leadership, starting with Rabbi Philip Scheim. Since my mother’s passing, it is my weekday shul of choice.
Another shul I quite enjoy – my every-second-weekend shul – is Mishkan Avraham, a beautiful shtibl housed in the Ulpanat Orot School for girls on Canyon Avenue near Shepherd and Bathurst. The shul has been around for more than four decades. It is Orthodox, with participation from almost every male congregant.
Zev Kaufman is its co-ordinator extraordinaire (he is also seeded number 60 in the world in Scrabble). He runs a tight ship. Zev has a tremendous knowledge of those in the room able to lead the various services, others who can layn (read the Torah) and individuals who are quite adept at presenting compelling divrei Torah (words of Torah).
Recently the Aron Kodesh (the Holy Ark where the Torah scrolls are kept) was renovated. It’s gorgeous, as the wall around the actual Ark is made of Jerusalem stone and the Ark itself is a woody chestnut brown and designed in layers.
Mishkan Avraham has a minyan on Friday night, Shabbat morning and Shabbat afternoon. Frequently, there will be a traditional kiddush with cholent, herring, eyer kichlach – all the foods a cardiologist would suggest for a healthy heart. The real story of Mishkan Avraham, however, is its rich and lengthy history and the fine, learned men and women who daven there.
My son and I feel at home at Mishkan Avraham. We are proud it is one of our spiritual homes while we go through this new phenomenon and memorialize my mother through Kaddish and prayer. If you’re looking for a shul in Toronto, perhaps because you have lost a loved one, drop by Mishkan Avraham. Give it a spiritual try.
It is a hidden treasure amongst the plethora of shuls/synagogues/temples in our fair town.
Longing, I sought thy presence;
Lord, with my whole heart
did I call and pray,
And going out toward Thee,
I found Thee coming to me on my way.
– Yehuda Halevi