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1: How Did I Get Here?

03/07/2019 03:00:48 PM


Not so long ago, I was newly married and living in New York and whammo, it’s 20 years later and I’m living in Forest Hill, as the Rabbi of not only a beautiful Centre, but wonderful people. 

How did I get here?

At first, Rifky and I went to Oshawa. We assumed the leadership of Beth Zion Synagogue. We were really young, we had lots of energy, and the community worked with us and each other to build a vibrant shul. Back then, Beth Zion still had a three-day-a-week Hebrew school. Not bad for the ’shwa, eh? 

But the one thing we didn’t have was a weekday minyan. Sure, if anyone needed a minyan, we could hustle one up for yartzeit. For the most part, though, we only had minyan Shabbat and Yom Tov mornings. 

Davening by yourself is harder than you think. At first, you pray hard without any distractions, but day after day and week after week, it gets tough. At least for me.

I needed a minyan. It locked me into a dedicated time and allowed me to daven without rushing. So, off I went, west on the 401 to the famous Boat Shul. 

Driving into Toronto every day just to daven seemed like a wasted opportunity. As a result, after davening, I stepped into the illustrious Toronto Kollel to study Torah before I drove back. 

At the Kollel, I was paired with Rabbi Glen Black, who not only became a dear friend but introduced me to NCSY Canada, where he still serves as director. He offered me a part-time job and my appreciation for NCSY and the work they do has only increased over time. 

One day at the Kollel, I bumped into Rabbi Shmuel Rabi who had just started a morning learning program in Forest Hill, and asked me if I would join.

I jumped at the opportunity, even though it started at 6 a.m. and meant I would have to leave Oshawa at 5:20. But they gave me a monthly stipend of $500, which covered the gas bill. 

Joining the program meant I would get reacquainted with Yaakov Kaplan, who was at our wedding because he was connected with my in-laws, through their work together building the BAYT in Thornhill. I was looking for a new challenge, and that’s when Yaakov pitched the idea of moving to Forest Hill and giving this Centre the full-time attention it deserved.

Twenty years later, I often wonder where life would’ve taken us if Rifky hadn’t encouraged me to daven in Toronto. I’d have never met Rabbi Black and sent dozens of Oshawinians to NCSY. I never would’ve met Shumuel Rabi. I never would’ve met Yaakov Kaplan in a meaningful way. And that meant Rifky and I wouldn’t be in Forest Hill. Crazy, huh?

Now, truth be told, the Albert & Temmy Latner Forest Hill Jewish Centre as we know it today has gone through lots of labour pains. We still have more challenges ahead. But that’s what growth is all about. Imagine all the meaningful activities: from chesed to prayer to study.

All the tears we’ve shared together would’ve never rolled down our cheeks if I stayed in Oshawa those early mornings and didn’t push myself a little more.

I’m sure life would’ve had many wonderful turns. But I’m sure glad it turned out the way it did. 

Our rabbis tell us that “mitzvah goreres mitzvah”—one mitzvah begets another. 

I think that this adage is true, not only on a mystical level but on a practical one as well. You put yourself in a winning situation, surround yourself with virtuous people, show HaShem you’re invested and good things happen. 

No, I could never have guessed in a million years that I would have the best job in the world for my skill set. But it’s not my world to guess, is it? 

May we all continue to push ourselves to make it “out” one more time to go to shul, to visit our parents, to catch up with a lonely old pal. 

Because around the corner is not only their blessing but ours as well.

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784