There is so much to be thankful for in our lives. On a personal note, I am deeply thankful for the warm welcome the community has extended me. I moved to Ottawa this summer from the Detroit, Michigan area, where I had been living for the past nine years. For me, moving to Canada is coming home! I was born and grew up in Toronto. I then went on to attend the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion’s rabbinic program in Jerusalem and then Cincinnati, Ohio. I have had the honour of working in both the Rochester, New York, and Detroit Jewish communities and I am thrilled to have begun my tenure at Temple Israel of Ottawa.
During our beautiful High Holiday services, I had the opportunity to speak about the Shehecheyanu prayer – the prayer that thanks God for all the things God provides for us. A prayer we say when we have done something special or unique either for the first time ever, or for the first time that year.
As I write this article, we have just concluded Sukkot, our festival of thanks, as well as Canadian Thanksgiving, our national holiday of thanks. I am deeply thankful for the blessings of health, of community and the love of family and friends. As we celebrated Thanksgiving this year, I included the Shehecheyanu in our Thanksgiving Day festivities. Taking the time to thank God for what is really important!
Sadly, not everyone in the world has as many reasons to say Shehecheyanu as we do. To live in Canada is to live a life full of blessings that we often take for granted. Our civil and religious rights are well protected. We have the freedom to speak out on social and political issues as we see fit. We do not fear reprisals from either the government or from radical groups waiting to persecute us.
Sadly, for millions in Syria and neighbouring countries, that is precisely their reality. It is not hard to understand why hundreds of thousands have fled their homes and are seeking a better life in another country.
As a Canadian Jewish community, we know well the feeling of being a refugee. My mother and her parents arrived in Canada as refugees from Shanghai in the late-1940s. It is no surprise to me that the Jewish community has begun to mobilize and to try to find ways to help the Syrian refugees. Through sponsorship, advocacy and awareness, we are doing our part to help those in need.
I am looking forward to celebrating my installation at Temple Israel with the entire Ottawa Jewish community on Saturday, November 14 with a Shabbat service of installation, and on Sunday, November 15, at the community meet-and-greet. Hope to see you there!
With deepest feelings of gratitude,
Rabbi S. Robert Morais
Temple Israel of Ottawa