As Passover approaches, we must think about our responsibility to retell the greatest story ever told and just how it relates to us personally here in Ottawa. We must try and create attachment and connection for the next generation as well as future generations.
With Ottawa slowly awakening from the cold winter and from the frozen-in-time thinking that has seen our Jewish community struggle with affiliation rates and the implications of the Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews, the reality of synagogue deficits and that there are too many aging shuls for them all to remain viable and sustainable has begun to open eyes of the community to the disconnection from the religiosity factor of proximity to a downtown shul that began when the JCC, Hillel Academy and Hillel Lodge all relocated to the west end.
I believe we need a vision and a plan to unite and build a shulplex on the Jewish Community Campus – a place for all of the Jewish denominations to thrive while combining freedom, tradition and religiosity with the journey of getting there.
Freedom is an essential human value that is asserted in our Torah tradition. It is kept alive through the laws developed by a community. At the core of it all are reverence for life and responsibility for justice and righteousness. These are really important ideas and values that sustain human civilization as we know it – and as we desire it to be.
“Tradition and change” must become our motto because it is the best response to assimilation or to fundamentalism and it must be authentic because, as we go from generation to generation, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and thus see even further. We must take what is old and make it new. And, if it is new, we have to make it better.
Our Jewish framework is one that says we are not simply about keeping the past alive. We should be about taking the lessons of the past and making the present and future better, so that our children are learning and living a meaningful and applicable Judaism. This necessitates open hearts, real welcoming, real concern and real connection. It means investing in the best educators.
We have a job to do and, if we had a shulplex on campus that included all the denominations, all of them free to pray, to learn and to socialize in their own ways and with each other – then we would have community. It would be a place to break bread together centred on learning, ritual and caring for people in need.
Today, there are great challenges to the way families communicate, the way they use technology, and there is confusion about gender issues, sexuality and decision making. Our young people will only choose to come to shul, if we can make them feel welcome and if it is a place where they can develop friendships. But we need to be true to tradition while balancing fundamental values, rituals and holy time with knowing when and how to change.
A shulplex must embrace all. Freedom, learning and justice must include recognizing that the rights and responsibilities of Judaism apply to women, and to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) persons, and that intermarried couples be accepted.
I hope we will all consider these issues as we prepare for our seders. May they all be meaningful and beautiful.
David Kardish is a retired businessman and concerned member of Ottawa’s Jewish community.