Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Building Shalom at Holy Blossom

Rabbi Yael Splansky has ‘done a lot to bring the congregation back together,’ one member says. (MARK BLINCH FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

There was what I thought was a fascinating article in the Saturday Globe and Mail newspaper about the new rabbi at Holy Blossom synagogue in Toronto. The article was lengthy, which usually doesn't happen in a major media source, and much more than another "isn't it swell you're here" piece, which is often the tone. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/rabbi-splanskys-big-tent/article18727511/

Holy Blossom is one of the largest and most influential synagogues in the country, with lots of "movers and shakers" in the congregation and 6,500 members. There were plenty of interesting elements to the article. The former rabbi has entered into a three-year sabbatical before retirement, which is a sweet golden handshake from a congregation. But it sounds as though this is the severance package after turmoil regarding his time at Holy Blossom, related to a more intellectual approach to his preaching and not recognizing societal shifts, including mixed-religion marriages.

The new rabbi is a woman, which is not unusual in the Reform branch of Judaism, but a first for Holy Blossom. Yael Splansky has been there for two years in an interim role and has now been appointed as senior rabbi. She has brought warmth in her personal style, done some healing with those who were angered by her predecessor's ouster, and is overseeing a multi-million dollar renovation to the building. She must have considerable leadership skills, not to mention that she is a mother of three at-home children.

What struck me is that the issues she is facing are similar in many ways to those of larger mainline Christian cogregations. Who are we and how do we respond to changing times? How do we help those who have a traditional template for worship and congregational life make the shift. And so often all this will be done by someone who must prove that gender is not an issue to those who assume that a "real" rabbi or pastor will be a man. Even the header, "a Toronto rabbi builds a big tent" incorporates a phrase that is used often in the United Church.

I wish Rabbi Splansky well, and it sure sounds as though she has the chops to do the job. And I wish Holy Blossom God's blessing and shalom as an ongoing Jewish presence in the city of Toronto and this country.

Did anyone else see the article? Did you find in interesting? How about the parallels?

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