The Pillars of Justice, or Why a Whale? – a Yom Kippur Drash

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

One of my favorite Yiddish stories is I.L. Peretz’s Ob Nisht Noch Hecher (“If Not Higher.”) It’s worth seeking out Peretz’s charming, evocative rendition, even in translation, but briefly: The Rebbe of Nemirov seems to disappear every morning at Sliches time and no one knows to where. The rumour is that he ascends to Heaven.

A Litvak, new to town, scoffs when he hears this and decides to find out where the Rebbe really goes to expose him as a charlatan. The Litvak hides under the Rebbe’s bed and in the morning, follows the Rebbe, now dressed as a Russian peasant, to the edge of the shtetl where the Rebbe chops firewood by hand. The Litvak watches with eyes wide as the Rebbe, still in disguise, enters the hut of a very poor old woman, lights her fireplace, bringing much-needed warmth and light, while secretly chanting the Selichot prayers. He then leaves, refusing to take money for his work.

From then on, the Litvak becomes one of the Rebbe’s disciples. And later, when anyone would wonder if the Rebbe was flying up to Heaven, the Litvak would answer quietly, “If not higher.”

On Yom Kippur afternoon, we will read the Book of Jonah. Most of us are familiar with the story. Kids love it, and a story with a whale is always a winner. But interestingly, the most valuable part comes after the whale releases Jonah, after Jonah warns the Ninevites to repent, and after they all immediately do so.

At this point, Jonah should be pleased. He’s not – he’s furious. Jonah tells G-d that he knew this would happen: What was the point of the whole whale thing if G-d was just going to have mercy on this terrible people? Jonah beseeches G-d to treat the Ninevites with severity. Instead, G-d forgives.

In response to Jonah’s anger in the face of this mercy, G-d sends a plant to protect Jonah from the sun and wind. This makes Jonah happy, but the very next day, G-d sends a worm to kill the plant, and Jonah grieves.

G-d does this to help Jonah understand mercy; to illustrate that if Jonah is going to grieve for a plant “which (Jonah) did not work for and which (he) did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight – Should G-d not care about Nineveh in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people…?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

How does Jonah respond? Does he learn his lesson the way the Litvak did? We never find out. The Book of Jonah ends here with the question.

In Kabbalah, there is a saying that justice has two pillars: mercy and severity. The pillar of mercy represents forgiveness for our wrongdoings. The severity pillar represents being responsible for our decisions and that we reap what we sow. In life, justice needs both pillars to exist in balance. The pillar of severity upholds accountability. The pillar of mercy considers the circumstances and makes exceptions.

With the state of the world now, finding this balance is challenging. We are tired and scared. We alternate between numbness and hypersensitivity. Our anxieties chatter, our nerves are shot. It is easy, in this situation, to tip the balance of justice to the side of severity: we long for somewhere to place blame. Like Jonah, mercy no longer seems fitting – we want retribution, vengeance, we want someone to pay.

As we approach Yom Kippur, our “Day of At-One-Ment,” let us work to balance our severity with mercy. Let us ensure that true justice: impartial, reasonable, righteous, is every bit as tuned to mercy as to discipline. This difficult time is exactly the time to hone compassion, understanding, and generosity. And when that friend/acquaintance/stranger comes to us to ask for forgiveness, consider offering it as a gift to them, but mostly as a gift to ourselves.

As we continue our spiritual curriculum in this school of life, we don’t always have to be better. Higher will do.

Shabbat Shalom, and G’mar Chatimah Tova.


Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish Educator and story-teller in Calgary. She is currently attending rabbinic school online through the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute in New York and will be ordained in December 2020.

Break Fast Will Be A Tasty But Small Gathering This Year

Sept. 25, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. The pandemic has certainly changed the way we observe the High Holy Days. While many synagogues were nearly empty, several congregations attempted to bring the service to the people by blowing shofars in parks and parking lots across the GTA.

I ended up hosting an impromptu Rosh Hashanah dinner, al fresco, because at the last minute, my sister and I decided our numbers were too high for the whole family to celebrate safely together.

She gave me her extra brisket and I brought her challahs from the iconic Harbord Bakery, which has been supplying challahs, rye bread and other traditional fare since 1928.

Harbord Bakery is the focus of this week’s Community Spotlight, an occasional “Kitchen Talk” feature on how Canadian Jewish food entrepreneurs and chefs are faring during COVID.

My sister will not be hosting her annual big, break fast gathering this year, so I’ll be preparing a dairy meal for my immediate family. I’m planning to make Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt, a delicious vegan recipe from Smitten Kitchen: https://smittenkitchen.com/2014/02/stuck-pot-rice-with-lentils-and-yogurt/

I’ll also serve my sister’s signature break-fast dish – blintz soufflé. The recipe I use is from the 1993 edition of Kinnereth Cookbook published by Toronto Hadassah-WIZO. 

I found a recipe for Apple Charlotte, in Second Helpings, Please!, the storied community cookbook edited by the late Norene Gilletz and published by B’nai Brith Canada.

Apple Charlotte is comprised of a buttered baked bread shell filled with spiced sautéed apples. The recipe was probably devised in an era when every scrap of food, including stale bread, was utilized. The Second Helpings recipe calls for sliced white bread, but I made mine with leftover challah. I also increased the amount of sugar and added cinnamon and lemon juice.

Yom Kippur observance may be different from years past, but adaptability has always been the strength of the Jewish people. G’mar Tov and may you have an easy fast.

STUCK-POT RICE WITH LENTILS AND YOGURT

Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils. Photo Barbara Silverstein

Salt
1 cup (250 ml) lentils washed and picked over
1½ cups (375 ml) basmati rice, rinsed well
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil, divided
1 large onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup (60 ml) yogurt or kefir
2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice, plus additional wedges for serving
1/3 (90 ml) cup water
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper or pepper flakes
Chopped flat leaf parsley, cilantro or mint for garnish

Using one pot for the full process, boil the lentils in salted water for five minutes. Then add the rice and boil the mixture for another five minutes without stirring. Drain the mixture and place it in a large bowl.

Reheat the same pot with 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil. Once it is hot, add the onions and salt, stirring until they are caramelized, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the onions to the bowl with rice and lentils. Stir in the kefir or yogurt, lemon juice, water, cumin, pepper, bay leaf, plus additional salt to taste.

Heat the pot over medium heat. Once fully hot, add the remaining 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil and pour in the rice-lentil mixture. Wrap a clean kitchen towel over the inside of the pot lid, so it is closed firmly. (Gather the corners of the cloth, so it doesn’t reach the fire!) Place the lid on the pot, sealing it tightly.

Reduce the heat to very low. Cook the rice mixture undisturbed for 30 minutes. Check it maybe once, to ensure the rice is not burning. 

Remove the pot from the heat, and let it rest for 5 minutes, before eating. Makes 4 – 6 servings

BLINTZ SOUFFLE

18 assorted frozen blintzes – cherry, blueberry, cheese
5 tbsp (75 ml) butter
6 eggs
2¼ cups (550 ml) sour cream
1½ tsp (7 ml) vanilla
1½ tbsp (25 ml) orange juice
1/3 cup (90 ml) granulated sugar
½ tsp (2 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180 °C)

Melt the butter in a 9 x 13-inch ( 3.5 L) baking dish. Lay the frozen blintzes in the pan.

In a large bowl combine the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, juice, sugar, and salt using a stand mixer, hand beater or immersion blender. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the blintzes. Sprinkle with cinnamon. 

Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven. Serve hot. Makes 9 – 10 servings

APPLE CHARLOTTE

6 slices of white bread or challah
½ lb (225 g) butter, divided
6 tart apples, peeled, pared & quartered
1 tbsp (15 ml) vanilla
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) cinnamon
1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon

Whipped Cream Garnish (Optional) 

1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar 
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
Fry the bread in ¼ lb (110 g) butter until it becomes toasted. Set aside

In a large saucepan on medium heat cook the apples in the remaining butter until tender. Add the vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and lemon. Cover the pot,

Line a 1½ quart (1½ litre) casserole dish with the toast on the bottom and sides. Fill the casserole with the apples and cover the apples with the remaining toast. Bake at 325°F (165°C) for ½ an hour.

Whipped Cream: In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in the vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, otherwise cream may become lumpy and butter-like.

To serve: Place a large serving plate on top of the baking dish and invert the charlotte onto the plate so that the bottom of the charlotte is now the top. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature. Optional: add a generous dollop of whipped cream. Makes 8 –12 servings.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT

An occasional “Kitchen Talk” series on how Jewish-owned restaurants and food operations in Canada are faring during the pandemic

The Kosower family has run Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord St.) for 75 years. On the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah I was in line for the yearly ritual of buying crown challahs. The line stretched around the corner as it does on every new year, when people, mainly in and around the downtown core, wait patiently to purchase the bakery’s famed crown or round sweet holiday challahs.

I have often run into people I know, but with everyone in line wearing masks this year, I didn’t recognize anybody. I did, however, schmooze with some people in line with me. I met Karen Goos, a transplanted New Yorker, and Mel Korn, a landsman from Montreal. Of course, we played Jewish geography.

It took about 45 minutes before I left the bakery with nine very heavy sweet challahs – six plain and three raisin – in tow.

Susan Wisniewski, co-owner of the bakery, invited me for tour of the place on a quiet midday afternoon following Rosh Hashanah. For the holidays, the bakery produces more than 2,000 crown challahs.

Albert Kosower, her father, had apprenticed at a bakery in Poland before immigrating to Canada around 1915, Wisniewski recounted. He worked for several Toronto bakeries before landing a job at Harbord.

Kosower purchased the bakery from his boss in 1945 and in the mid ‘50s, expanded and renovated the premises. He and his wife, Goldie, ran the business and lived upstairs with their three children.

Wisniewski said her father always hired unionized bakers. “He wanted his workers to have rights. He had also been a member of a union.” Today all 10 Harbord bakers are unionized, she added.

Wisniewski and her siblings, Roz Katz and the late Rafi Kosower, joined the family business, and now her son, Ben, is the third generation to run the bakery.

In addition to a wide selection breads and buns, the bakery produces gourmet cakes, pies, pastries and cookies, and it offers quiches, salads, soups and other savoury options.

Traditional Jewish dishes like gefilte fish, kugel and tzimmes are prepared every Friday. This kosher-style fare usually very much in demand at holiday time.

However, with the persistence of COVID, there were fewer orders this year, Wisniewski said. People had smaller gatherings.

“I have a big staff to support,” she noted, “but when I look at the restaurants and how they’re suffering [due to COVID], I can’t complain.”

Quebec Cuts Synagogue Attendance to 25 Due to COVID Surge

Sept. 24, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Attendance at Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur services will be much smaller than even the reduced level planned by synagogues after the Quebec government raised the COVID alert level for the city.

Hours before Rosh Hashanah ended on Sept. 20, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that the island of Montreal would be designated “orange,” the second-highest precaution under the province’s colour-coded system.

For houses of worship, that means a maximum of 25 people indoors and outdoors, slashed from the previous socially-distanced 250.

The great majority of Montreal congregations are Orthodox, and do not have the option of using digital technology during the holidays.

Mainstream Orthodox synagogues had already kept the number of worshipers at any one time to below the limit by holding Rosh Hashanah services both indoors and outside, often multiple times and for shorter durations. Children were even barred at some synagogues.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Cote Saint-Luc told the CJR that Yom Kippur services there will be further dispersed to comply with the new cutoff of 25.

However, he finds it “deeply disturbing” that houses of worship are subject to the same restrictions as any public gathering when movie theatres can still admit up to 250 people and bars remain open with only slightly reduced hours.

“The synagogues have gone above and beyond the regulations to ensure a safe environment, which took many hours of planning. We have doubled and even tripled the prescribed measures, done everything possible, with the advice of medical experts,’’ said Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec.

“I’m not saying this is an infringement on freedom of religion, but its exercise is protected, whereas going to a bar or a movie is not a right.”

At his shul, only 120 people were permitted in the 750-seat sanctuary and 150 in a tent outdoors that has a capacity of 800.

Similarly, at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Montreal’s largest synagogue, only a tenth of the nearly 2,000-seat sanctuary was occupied.

And though it is not mandatory once people are seated, the synagogues require masks to be worn at all times – indoors and out.

Stricter measures were not a complete surprise. Since late August, the daily increase in confirmed COVID cases in the province has risen to levels not seen since May.

Houses of worship, which were closed in March, were allowed on June 22 to reopen with a maximum of 50 people, which was increased to 250 on Aug. 3.

Most, however, either held services outdoors or with very limited numbers indoors, up to Rosh Hashanah.

Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said last week that she had met with Jewish community leaders to urge adherence to the protocols over the holidays.

On Sept.17, a day before erev Rosh Hashanah, Federation CJA sent out an “Update for the High Holidays” outlining “recommendations’’ to the community from public health authorities. These included limiting indoor events to 50, whether in synagogues or community or rented halls, and requesting that people over 70 not attend.

“Although implementing these recommendations requires an adjustment in our plans, we must acknowledge that the virus is still among us, and that we must do everything we can to protect the health and well-being of our neighbours, family and friends, as well as ourselves,” stated Federation president Gail Adelson-Marcovitz.

One synagogue did cancel its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for the first time in its 56-year history. Congregation Beth Tikvah, a large Orthodox synagogue in Dollard-des-Ormeaux on the West Island, had planned to have indoor and outdoor services.

But Rabbi Mark Fishman decided even this was too risky. He posted on Beth Tikvah’s Facebook page: “The upswing is empirically significant and growing in the Jewish community necessitating the closure of a major Jewish school and creating an atmosphere of anxiety and fear amongst parents in all the other schools, including HFS (its affiliated Hebrew Foundation School).

“The upswing in cases in the Jewish community once again has become the focus of the media and is putting the reputation of our community at risk.”

Herzliah High School was closed on Sept. 17 for two weeks at the behest of the public health department. At least 15 students and one staff member tested positive for COVID, an outbreak attributed to community transmission, likely a bar mitzvah.

In making the decision, authorities also noted an uptick of less than five to 11 cases the previous week in Cote Saint-Luc, where many from the school live or have contacts.

The suburb, which is majority Jewish, is making municipal property such as parks and parking lots available to congregations or groups of individuals for outdoor holiday services.

Herzliah was the first school in Quebec to close, but a second in Quebec City has since been shuttered.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders are also imploring members to adhere strictly to government rules. The Jewish Community Council of Montreal (Vaad Ha’ir) has sent out advisories.

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, director of the NDG Chabad Centre, is pointing to his own example to drive the message home. He contracted COVID and, although relatively young, was “out of commission for six weeks.”

Editorial: Jewish Jurists Serve to Remind Us of Justice

Sept. 23, 2020 – As Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement approaches, we turn our minds to justice – appropriate, given the recent death of the legendary Jewish American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Ginsburg was a wisp of a woman but whose heart was Olympian and whose soul burned fiercely on behalf of those less fortunate, especially women who have, for much of the past century, been treated like second class citizens in the United States. Her decisions were wise, pointed, and filled with the juice of needed change and progress.

Justice has always played a central role in Judaism. Great Jewish biblical heroes, prophets, and philosophers have pointed to the key Jewish precept, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” It appears initially in the Book of Deuteronomy and is part of a set of regulations that bestow on the Jewish people a code of moral behaviour.

Why is the word “justice” repeated twice? The Torah is a very precise book. Each word has been measured for meaning and argued over by great rabbis over many centuries. Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation comes from the most broadly respected rabbi of the 11th century, Rashi, who explains that not only must judges make wise decisions, which accounts for the first “tzedek,” but, as importantly, those in a position of choosing judges must also choose wisely, referring to the second “tzedek.” This gives the people comfort knowing that the courts of justice are populated by good and decent people making judicious decisions.

There is another, more modern interpretation. Some believe the second cry of “justice-tzedek” emphasizes the Jewish values of treating the stranger fairly, feeding the poor, and extending love to our neighbours despite our differences.

In North America, Jewish men and women have figured prominently in the choice of judges. To our great fortune and that of society in general, these Jews have embraced their Jewish values of pursuing justice.

Undoubtedly, “Notorious RBG,” as Ginsburg came to be known, was one of many such Jewish jurists who graced courtrooms in the United States and Canada and did so with a Jewish heart. They were perhaps not as well-known, but certainly as deserving.

From Tillie Taylor, Saskatchewan’s first female Jewish magistrate; to Nathaniel Nemetz, former Chief Justice of British Columbia; to Samuel Freedman, Chief Justice of Manitoba. All three played a key role in the jurisprudence of western Canada.

On the east coast, Constance Glube was the first Jewish woman appointed Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.

In Quebec, where antisemitism was more prevalent than elsewhere in Canada, Jews nonetheless held senior judicial positions: Alan Gold was Chief Justice of Quebec’s Superior Court, and Harry Batshaw and Herbert Marx held sway as a Quebec Superior Court justices (Marx had also been Quebec’s justice minister.)

Ontario also saw the appointment of many Jews to the bench, including Charles Dubin as Chief Justice of Ontario; John I. Laskin, a justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario and a former legal counsel to Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC); and Sydney Harris, a judge of the Ontario Provincial Court and former national president of CJC.

Today’s Ontario bench features another past president and legal counsel of CJC, Edward Morgan; Justice Katherine Feldman; Justice Paul Perell; and recently appointed Justice Edward Prutschi.

And of course, Canada’s Supreme Court has been positively influenced by some of Canada’s most eminent jurists. Bora Laskin also a former chair of CJC’s legal committee was, famously, the first Jewish Canadian to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Others on the land’s highest court were Rosalie Abella, the first Jewish woman to reach Canada’s high court, as well as Morris Fish, Michael Moldaver, and Marshall Rothstein.

Each of these jurists not only upheld the highest legal ethics, but did so as proud Jews who were raised with the understanding that in the Jewish tradition, justice and atonement are the highest ideals.

We at the Canadian Jewish Record are proud of those in our community who are lights unto the nation. As we encounter a very special, socially-distant Yom Kippur, may we all be judged for our good deeds. And may those we hurt either by deed or word forgive us.