Religious Life and Education

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Rav's Corner
Feb.5, 2014
This past Sunday afternoon I was devastated to hear of this passing of one of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman was known primarily as a character actor as he usually played unusual or eccentric characters. He became incredibly famous for his supporting roles but won an Oscar for best actor for his role in Capote. You can see clips of some of his best scenes here.  I was shocked to hear of his overdose and tragic death. He suffered from addiction and was sober for 23 years, but unfortunately relapsed. 
Some people remember where they were when they first heard of  the passing of Jon Lennon or Jerry Garcia. Two days after PSH’s death I find myself asking why his particular death hit me so hard.
Last night I watched the series finale of the HBO’s Treme. Treme was created by David Simon who is know for his first HBO production, The Wire. Treme is a brilliant show about post-Katrina New Orleans and its effect on ordinary lives. It had low ratings as many brilliant shows do, i.e. Freaks and Geeks as well as Arrested Development, but I think it will come to be appreciated in due time like those aforementioned shows. The show had great closure but I felt a sense of loss as it was ending. HBO has invented a completely new brand of television that has set the bar for other networks.  Treme is so New Orleans as it truthfully depicts the people, culture and music. It’s a must see for all music lovers as the NOLA greats such as Allen Toussaint and Dr. John all make cameos. You can read a statement about it being cancelled here.
Great shows allow us to see life in new ways as they open our lenses to new perspectives. David Simon is known for his brilliant character development that he displayed in the Wire, and Treme continues that focus. I felt a loss last night because the show ended and I would no longer be able to feel what Treme has allowed me to feel. Treme brought to life fascinating and complex people as Philip Seymour Hoffman was genius-ly  able to do. PSH will go down as one of the greats and he will be sorely missed by his many fans. Art at its very best is able to make us feel alive and see things from new perspectives. When great actors  pass too soon, we are all at a loss.
Jan.31, 2014
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is currently in Israel. His office invited several Rabbis, Jewish professionals and lay leaders to join him but sadly I was not on the guest list. I guess there is always next year?
It is somewhat of a historic event as it is the first time that a Canadian prime minister has spoken to the Israeli Knesset.  I was able to catch a few minutes live yesterday. You can read the full transcript here: .
It is a great speech but I want to focus on one particular statement that he made. Regarding Israel, He said: “It is a story, essentially, of a people whose response to suffering has been to move beyond resentment and build a most extraordinary society a vibrant democracy a freedom-loving country… with an independent and rights-affirming judiciary, an innovative, world-leading “start-up” nation.
It is a great national story, and I wish that all world leaders would see it this way. But I want to focus the statement by highlighting the personal message. As individuals, we all have our personal struggles. We have a choice how we view the events that have affected our lives. We choose to create the narrative, which shapes how we view our struggles and successes. As the Jewish people have triumphed and not despaired, we should accept our personal challenges, learn from them, and convert those experiences into positive change.

Jan.8, 2014

Last week over break I spent three days at Disney in Orlando with my wife. It was my first time there in twenty years. I think I enjoyed it even more this time around in my old age as I was able to experience it from a very different perspective. Disney truly is a magical place. It reminded me of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India which is the holy site and spiritual center for all Sikhs in that it is experienced differently during different times of the day. The magic of Disney is experienced differently during daylight and nighttime so make sure you stay late for the electrical parade!
Disney is a place of healing and creativity. It’s an out of this world imaginary place that can be appreciated by people of all ages. But as I looked around, I noticed that it is truly a place of healing. There were so many disabled persons that came to experience the magic as a form of healing. This element truly made Disney special.  It made me realize that we are God’s partners in this world in that we also have the ability to heal. Human beings have the ability to create places and moments that heal others. Our creativity should be used as a vehicle for healing and creating magic; to build and not to destroy. I encourage you all to experience the magic for yourselves!

Nov.27, 2013

What is Channukah? This is the precise question that the Talmud asks (Shabbat 21b). And  it may be the same question that you might ask today: What is Channukah and what is its significance today? The answer to both questions might be: it depends who you askThe Talmud emphasizes the Miracle, while the Book of Maccabees focuses on the military victory. Regarding its significance today? It also depends on who you ask. Do you emphasize Gods presence in the world, or Channukah as a time to express religious freedom? Is it about national unity or fighting assimilation? I think that as long as your reasons and focal points are consistent with Jewish ideals and can relate back to the story, then your interpretation is valid.
See this article for more historical background and the role of reinterpretation:

Also see:

Nov.20, 2013

If you were sitting on the New York City Subway or Montreal Metro and your neighbor fell asleep on your shoulder, what would you do? Would you instinctively nudge the stranger in order to wake them and get them off of you? Would you sit there quite uncomfortably for a bit? Would you feel embarrassed? A couple of weeks ago a picture of a person  sleeping on the shoulder of a man wearing  Kippah went viral.: . The fact that it was a huge Kiddush Hashem and that I know the man (he is the cousin of a close family friend) is besides the point. The question is, would you let a tired person who nodded off rest on your shoulder?
Half parody but also moving, I want to draw your attention to a short video clip made in response to the picture gone viral.  A man is filmed in the subway trying to sleep on numerous shoulders in order to catch their responses. Check it out:

Nov.13, 2013

A few days ago I read a fascinating article about how Goldman Sachs, one the worlds largest Investment Banks, is making all of their junior bankers take Shabbat off. They are prohibited to work from 9pm Friday to 9am Sunday, and are even being monitored by the IT department to make sure that they do not work from a remote location. This all comes as a shock, as investment banks are infamous for overworking their junior employees to the bone (Check out: My  Shomer Shabbat banker friends were lucky that they were able to escape the office on Friday to go home for Shabbat and thus were away from all the ringing and pinging. It seems Goldman has finally caught on!

After my first year of rabbinic school, I decided to spend a year in Israel studying in Jerusalem. I was based at the Pardes Institute but I took part in a wide variety of unique educational initiatives that the city had to offer. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from Rabbi David Hartman,  one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th Century, at the Hartman Institute. In his weekly seminars we explored the universal themes of Shabbat and the Jewish holidays that are relatable to all and can be a source of meaning for all types of Jews and non-Jews as well. It seems like a novel idea, but doesn't everyone need a break?  Recently Reboot has created the Sabbath Manifesto as a way to promote the National Day of Unplugging. Everyone should find ways to slow down their hectic lives, right? Check out the Ten Principles and more about this cool initiative.

We are able to function better when we recharge our batteries. Rest is for everyone, not just Jews. This Shabbat, take some time for yourself in order to recharge who you are.


Rabbi Ben

Nov.6, 2013

I like to listen to the radio as I drive to and from work every day. Usually, I am lucky and they actually play music instead of talk. It's great alone time to be able to think and reflect and I enjoy the background music to pass the time. Pop songs are not usually known for their depth and meaning but I must confess, I love Kate Perry's "Roar". When you watch the video, it just seems like a cute song with a solid rhythm. But recently, this song has brought a completely new meaning for me. I read a story about a 17 year old who has a brain tumour and recorded a cover of the song. When she sings lines like   "I got the eye of a tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire, " and "Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar" it is incredibly moving. She has completely changed the song and added a new layer of meaning. I want to draw your attention to her story and the power of music and words:

Care to share your thoughts? 
Email me at

Rabbi Ben

Oct.30, 2013

I want to share with you an article that I read a few days ago about the installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin as president of my rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Lopatin has been given the reigns to lead the Open Orthodox rabbinical school into a new era. Being only 13 years old, it is still a very new institution. Rabbi Lopatin has been given flack by more right wing Orthodox institutions for having a panel discussion which featured the heads of large non Orthodox institutions. Here we see how thoughtful and pluralistic Rabbi Lopatin is as he is open to the left and even to the right of himself where he has received opposition. Perhaps an element of pluralism is to be open to those who do not agree or accept your views.

to read more about the installation:

Rabbi Ben