Parshat Bereishit: Take the Red Pill

Oct. 23, 2020


“This is your last chance – there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed… You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: All I’m offering is the truth.”

– Morpheus, from The Matrix

The creation story in Bereishit is one of the most evocative, mystical, and beautiful stories ever told. The light racing to replace the darkness, the swirling of the heavens and earth, the sun, moon, and stars flashing into existence, the birds and fish and animals inhabiting the world. And then, the pièce de resistance: Humanity is born: “Male and Female He created them” (Gen 1:27). It is all good.

Then, after Shabbat is established as the day of rest comes a new verse about the creation of the first humans. Why two versions? What happened to the first “them”? Our sources and mythology say Adam had a first wife named Lilith who was literally a demon. In recent years, the legend of Lilith, who defied marital customs and had sexual agency, has been reclaimed by the women’s movement and is now a symbol for female independence and strength.

Nice for Lilith, but what about Eve? The second wife, the second thought. Not a whole creature but crafted out of a rib. The image of the serpent snaked around the Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil, tempting the naive woman, has led to cultural and political norms so internalized that we don’t even notice them: Eve disobeyed G-d, she let herself be seduced and then tricked her husband into eating the Forbidden Fruit. Ergo, woman cannot be trusted: we are temptresses – dumb at best, immoral at worst. We must be tightly controlled and regulated lest we cause Paradise Lost…again. Pretty heavy consequences for eating a piece of fruit.

It’s a bit of a mind-game to imagine an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator allowing the first woman to fail so spectacularly. It seems unfair, like a gotcha, and to those paying attention, it doesn’t make much sense. Elohim just created the entire universe but couldn’t conjure up a little reverse psychology to save the day?

Kabbalistic writings propose another perspective: None of this is a surprise to G-d; there is no sin here. This was the plan all along. In the beginning, Eve and Adam were innocent children with no shame or pain or problems. As they got older, they realize the world is not perfect so they seek wisdom to understand right and wrong. Eve first, followed by Adam, defy their “parent” and choose, for good or bad, to become fully aware and actualized human beings. Their story is our story – an allegory for coming of age.

“G-d expels Adam and Eve from Eden, which can be seen as a punishment. But it can also be seen as a painful but necessary ‘graduation’ from the innocence of childhood to the problem-laden world of living as morally responsible adults” (Eitz Chayyim, p. 18).

Rabbi Niles Goldstein says, “By acting with free will, Adam and Eve begin the process of individuation from God, psychologically and existentially. They are now on their own. They, like each of us, are now ready to go forth into the unknown.”

In the mystical tradition, G-d stopped work on the sixth day to allow humans a turn to be partners in tikkun olam – the repair of the world. Eve and then Adam ate from the tree because it was time to become full partners with G-d.

Yes, it seems like G-d was delaying the inevitable, but who wouldn’t? For those of us who are parents, watching our children mature and make mistakes is frightening and heartbreaking, but we still have to let our children grow up and away from us.

In life, as in The Matrix, it’s tempting to stay innocent in Gan Eden, to take the blue pill and stay ignorant of the stress and toil of reality. But that existence infantilizes us and prevents us from becoming the developed partners that G-d needs. As painful and counterintuitive as it seems, it is part of our contract with G-d to take the red pill. As Eve realized, we are only truly human when we act with the courage and strength to grow up and eat that fruit.

Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller in Calgary. She is currently attending the online Rabbinic School, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) in New York, and will be ordained in December 2020.

New Jewish TV Show to ‘Cut its Own Path’

Oct. 21, 2020


Move over, Jimmy Kimmel. There’s a new talk show host in town and not only is he Jewish, so is the show.

Canadian Jewish TV (CJTV) debuted on Oct. 1, and its host, the poet leden Wall, promises an exciting and provocative line-up of guests on the half-hour program, which airs Thursdays at 11:30 pm on Toronto’s OMNI Television. (It currently airs in Ontario, British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces).

Canadian Jewish TV host leden Wall

Wall may not be a household name, but he’s been imagining hosting a show like this for a long time.

“I have been chasing my dream of being a late-night talk show host since I was just 15 years-old,” he told the CJR. “I hosted my own live after-school talk show at Northern Secondary in grade 10. I’ve been pitching talk shows ever since.”

He started pitching a Jewish-themed program about 17 years ago, “feeling very strongly that there was a need for a Jewish talk-show that offered cherished values and the much-needed message of progress.”

Reverence for Jewish history and Judaism’s rituals and practices “do not have to be lost in the quest for progress. That has always been my feeling.”

It’s a bare-bone set, seemingly broadcasting from Wall’s basement, though it’s actually filmed in CJTV’s “quaint” studio, as Wall describes it, in downtown Toronto.

In one recent episode, Wall interviewed sports broadcaster Dan Shulman, going through his path to sportscaster fame, but touching only glancingly on Shulman’s religion, with the subject offering up some tidbits on his time studying at Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto and Wall’s mention of Shulman’s involvement in Jewish causes.

More interesting and original was Stay, a spoken word film poem, introduced by broadcaster Valerie Pringle, and written by Wall. It’s a personal, highly emotional plea against suicide, with Wall, speaking over images of a lost man wandering the streets of an anonymous city, urging the listener to opt to live and not be afraid to speak to God, who can and will help you through your despair.

This isn’t your regular talk show, but in many ways, it’s the essence of who leden (yes, the “l” is lower-case) Wall is.

“Rogers Media and OMNI TV have informed me that what impressed them about my vision for a Jewish show was the way I incorporated my spoken-word poetry into the format,” he says.

Rogers executives seemed taken with the idea of a talk show hosted by a socially conscious poet.

“And that made me think that both my broadcaster and I were truly on the same page – always the desired arrangement for a collaborative media project,” Wall mused.

CJTV will feature a series of spoken-word films “that reinforce a distinctly progressive Jewish voice, one of tolerance, diversity and gender equality.”

Not surprisingly, the Jewish precept of tikkun olam (repair of the world) figures prominently in Wall’s vision.

“CJTV will have a special focus on tikkun olam and the charitable and philanthropic efforts of Jews across Canada,” he promises

While the show is still young, it’s Wall’s hope that it creates a platform “to celebrate the unique contributions Jews have made to art, history and culture in Canada and abroad.

“In doing so, I am hoping to draw attention to the deepest Jewish values that were instilled in so many of us, such as family, respect for our elders, conquering ridiculous odds, giving to charity and reaching out to those less fortunate.”

So how Jewish will CJTV actually be?

“I would say the emphasis with the guests is on both their Jewishness and their accomplishments,” he explains. “The focus will vary depending on the guest and their comfort level with Jewish topics.”

And some of it is just obvious and jokey, as when Wall calls his interviews “Jooom,” a Hebraic takeoff on Zoom.

Guests will include influential and high-profile members of the Jewish community, including Robert Lantos, Paul Godfrey, Mark Breslin, Libby Znaimer and Heather Reisman, and sometimes non-Jewish guests.

“I am open to non-Jewish guests who have a worthwhile and compelling connection to the Jewish community,” Wall says.

Wall does, however, want to tread carefully when it comes to politics, especially surrounding the often contentious issues regarding Israel (though an Israeli flag features in the show’s opening credits.)

“I will be making a concerted effort to stay away from divisive politics. It’s just not that type of show. This show will be steadfast in its intent to focus on the unique contribution of Jewish art, history and culture in Canada and abroad. The show will look to highlight the universal Jewish values that travel through every sect and denomination in the Jewish world,” he says.

Wall’s other credits include a self-published poetry book, The Wisdom of Wall (2016), which sold some 30,000 copies, with a sequel, Wisdom of the Wall 2, on the way. There have also been medical marketing videos and documentaries he produces though his own production company.

And he’s bullish about the show’s prospects.

“I hope the show gives viewers a better appreciation for the immense contribution Jews have made to the world of art, history and culture in Canada and abroad,” says Wall, “And I hope it lets gentile viewers see how tikkun olam shapes the collective psyche of Jews all around the world, and how important it is for Jewish folks to help those less fortunate – in our own community (and) in all communities around us. Any way you slice it, CJTV will cut its own path.”

Trudeau visits Ottawa Kosher Food Bank in advance of High Holidays


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commended the Jewish community for its strength and unity as he joined volunteers in preparing Rosh Hashanah bundles at the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank on Thursday morning (Sept. 17).

Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister McKenna and MP Anita Vandenbeld package honey and apples ahead of Rosh Hashanah at the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank. September 17, 2020.

“There is nothing if not adaptability and resilience from the Jewish community over the centuries and millennia,” Trudeau said to the mask-wearing group of community members who gathered at Ottawa’s Kehillat Beit Israel Congregation before heading to the food bank in the same building.

“As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the spirit of helping each other out and being there for one another is more important than ever before,” added Trudeau. “In the midst of a global pandemic, I can’t think of a better moment to talk about tikkun olam and the need to really reflect on what each of us can do to contribute to a better tomorrow.”

Trudeau was joined by Ottawa-area Liberal MPs including Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre) and Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West-Nepean) as they packaged apples and honey with a group of six volunteers.

The food bank, which serves around 100 families each month, has seen increased demand due to the impact of COVID, explained manager Dahlia Milech. That’s why volunteers are more important now than ever, she said.

(L-R) Prime Minister Trudeau, Rabbi Eytan Kenter, president Judah Silverman, KBI Executive Director Rena Garshowitz at the Kehillat Beit Israel. September 17, 2020.

The increased need matched with the new reality of COVID has meant the food bank had to provide an array of new services, such as home-delivery to those without a vehicle.

“We have about 30 to 40 deliveries every month and it’s all volunteers doing that,” Milech told Trudeau, Vandenbeld, and McKenna as they toured the facility.

It’s the people who were suffering before the pandemic who are hurting even more now, explained Vandenbeld.

“The way the community is coming together to meet the needs [of the food bank] and help those that are suffering more is incredibly important,” said Vandenbeld. “The Jewish community has always had a strong tradition of giving and charity… It’s an example to the rest of the community.”

As synagogues across the province await Premier Doug Ford’s announcement about the potential rollback of social gathering limits, which will affect High Holiday services, Trudeau had an uplifting message for the Jewish community.

“How things are going to happen this weekend is still up in the air,” he said. “But we will adapt and be together. What I see here, and what you have demonstrated throughout these past months, is extraordinarily important to Ottawa and to the rest of the country and the world.”

The underlying slogan of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Emergency Campaign, Michael Polowin, Chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, told Trudeau, was that “the choices we make individually in our community today, will define the community that we will have tomorrow.”

In response, Trudeau light-heartedly referred to next week’s much anticipated Speech from the Throne.

“Well it sounds like you guys have seen a draft of the Throne Speech!” Trudeau exclaimed. “We’ll be talking about a lot of those messages.”

Shaked Karabelnicoff reports on a range of subjects including religious affairs, politics, diaspora Jewry, and Israeli life and culture. Born in Jerusalem, and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she studied Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Reform Jews Begin High Holiday Period Online

Sept. 11, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canada’s Reform congregations are going online tomorrow (Saturday) night to mark the start of the High Holidays.

Sponsored by the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, the event follows the Reform movement’s successful online “Tikkun Leil” late-night study session at Shavuot.

It will be the movement’s fourth effort at staging important events online. Previous efforts included the “Rise Up for Israel” fundraiser that collected $100,000, and a nationwide Tikkun Olam town hall.

Saturday’s event, however, will be the first involving an actual service. Twenty congregations across the country are expected to take part.

“Selichot is the official kick-off to the High Holy Days season,” said Rabbi Jordan Cohen of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton. “It has always been a uniquely different service that I find very moving.

“We knew we had to do something to get the most out of this season,” he added. “We got together on this rather than having everyone reinvent their own wheel. With this, we are all working from the same siddur and everyone is literally on the same page.”

Cohen and his wife, Cantor Paula Baruch, took the lead in organizing the event. His team put together study sessions and a keynote presentation by Rabbi Larry Hoffman of Hebrew Union College. Baruch led a group that arranged the pre-recorded service.

Anshe Sholom’s traditional Selichot service includes a period of text study, changing the dressings on the Torah scrolls to their High Holy Days white, and a period of prayers where the sanctuary lights are dimmed and congregants are encouraged to spread out and search their souls.

That’s a spirit Baruch said they want to preserve in an online service where participants will have a chance to see their own sanctuary.

“We want to give people an inclusive, intimate moment, even though it’s all on a screen,” she said.

“Every congregation will be able to see inside their own sanctuary and their own rabbi and cantor. That will make the experience very special.”

Headlining the service will be a new version of Avinu Malkeinu performed by a virtual choir of cantors.

Dr. Pekka Sinervo, president of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, said the council is providing advertising and technical support for the event.

“We see it as doing the things we are supposed to do, supporting the community,” he said.

Reform congregations, he said, have been leaders in responding to the COVID pandemic by using technology to continue offering services and programs to members, something he thinks will continue, especially for marginalized communities such as the elderly and handicapped.

“With this, we are taking advantage of technology to rethink how we reach out to our community,” he said. “With the pandemic, it became very clear that this was the right thing to do. This opens up a new dimension to what out congregations can be,” he added.

Saturday’s program on Zoom begins at 9 pm with a keynote presentation by Hoffman, followed by discussion groups at 9:30; Havdalah at 10 p.m.; and the Selichot service at 10:15.

Among those helping to organize the event were Rabbi Stephen Wise of Oakville’s Share-Beth El congregation; Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto’s City Shul, Rabbi Debbie Dressler of Temple Israel in London, and Cantor David Rosen of Holy Blossom Temple.

Register at

Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.