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SZBE-Proud to Welcome Rabbi Adam Rubin

Humility in Leadership

Shalom alekhem! I am so very excited to join the Shaare Zion Beth-El community, officially beginning my tenure as the senior rabbi in July. I look forward to getting to know as many members of the SZBE family as I can in the coming weeks and months, and forming warm, long-lasting relationships with you. I am honoured to build upon a remarkable legacy created by Rabbi Moses, to learn from and work with him, as well as with the outstanding clergy team of Cantor Stotland and Reverend Tannenbaum.

As vitally important as leadership is for a shul, the flourishing of any Jewish community is a collective enterprise, a product of the energy, creativity and devotion of the synagogue’s members, those who volunteer their time and effort, as well as the clergy and staff.

Our parashah this week (Shabbat, July 1), Chukat-Balak, contains an important caution about the limits of leadership, and the essential quality of humility in any effective leader. God instructs Moshe to speak to a rock so that it will yield water. Angry and impatient, Moshe famously strikes the rock rather than speaking to it. He is punished for this deed by being forbidden to enter the Land with the People Israel.

Our sages and commentators puzzle over the exact nature of his transgression. The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman, 1194-1270) notes that Moshe made the mistake of saying “shall WE get water for you from this rock,” instead of “shall GOD get water for you,” making it seem as if Moshe (and his brother Aaron) were actually performing the miracle instead of God. As great a leader as Moshe was, he was not all-powerful.

In addition, the Hasidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (1740-1809), taught that by losing patience with the people, Moshe missed the opportunity to bring them to a higher spiritual consciousness and an awareness of God’s kindness.

I am looking forward to devoting myself to the flourishing and well-being of SZBE and am hopeful that you will find my service to the shul meaningful, energetic and inspiring; my work at the shul isn’t “about me,” but for the sake of our holy Kehillah. I have deep faith that together, as a community, no challenge is too great — indeed, that we can perform miracles together!


Rabbi Adam Rubin


A Parting Message from Rabbi Barry Leff

Dear Member of the Shaare Zion Beth-El Community,

As my year here serving as your interim rabbi is drawing to a close, I wanted to write to say that Susy and I have enjoyed our time in Montreal as part of the Shaare Zion Beth-El community, and to thank you for support during this transitional year.

I am glad that you have successfully engaged a new long-term rabbi. May God grant the congregation and Rabbi Rubin a long and mutually rewarding relationship.

As I said in my remarks on Shabbat, this is a time of change. Change in the global situation, change in religion, change in Conservative Judaism, and change here at Shaare Zion Beth-El. Armed with a strategic plan, stable finances, and new rabbinic leadership, your community is prepared to face the changes and challenges head on, and I wish you all every success.

I am going back to splitting my time between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Jerusalem. Should your travels bring you to Jerusalem, or if you need a rabbi to help with a simcha in Israel, be in touch. If you’d like to stay in contact with me, my personal email is , you can subscribe to my email list and read my blog at and if you like, feel free to follow me on social media, on Facebook , Twitter @BarryLeff ( ) or bjleff on Instagram.

Rav Barry

Parting Words of Wisdom taken from Rabbi Leff's Shabbat Sermon
Patshat Korach- June 24th

To view the full sermon CLICK HERE

"...Conservative Judaism has particular challenges in today’s world, beyond the ones facing religion in general.
One of the Conservative Movement’s mottos is “Tradition and Change.” As a movement, we live in the tension between maintaining the traditions of our ancestors while changing enough to remain relevant as the world around us changes.
For me, Conservative Judaism is the “Goldilocks” of Judaism. We have the temperature just right. The Orthodox are so wedded to tradition that they fail to adequately adapt to the changed role and status of women in our society, or to the spiritual needs of people who are primarily living in a modern, secular, world.
The Reform are so much about personal autonomy and accessibility that for me they’ve lost some of the important things that make Judaism Judaism. The fact that our movement has had mighty struggles over issues such as women rabbis, the treatment of people with different sexual orientations or gender identities, interfaith marriage, music on Shabbat, and on and on is proof to me that we’re doing things the right way. These should be difficult decisions.
The Conservative Movement is a pluralistic movement. There is no central authority that tells rabbis, and by extension their congregations, how things have to be done. On almost all issues, the Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is advisory only. There are still some Conservative congregations that are not fully egalitarian. There are some Conservative rabbis who would never agree to officiate at a same sex marriage. Rules from one congregation to another on subjects such as kashrut, music on Shabbat, and the status of interfaith families vary tremendously.
Conservative Judaism is struggling as a movement, shrinking faster than the other movements as for many religiously engaged people we often don’t have what they feel is a critical mass of people who live in walking distance to the synagogue and keep kosher, so they go to Orthodox synagogues, and for the growing number of interfaith families, we’re not as welcoming as the Reform.
And then there are the challenges facing Shaare Zion Beth-El: an aging congregation, a large, expensive to maintain building, challenges attracting young families.
I’ve been here for the past year as a kind of change agent, but a transitional one only. If we think of the transition from Moses to Joshua, I’m not Moses, representing the “old guard” that has done things the same way for 40 years, and I’m not Joshua, taking the congregation into the Promised Land. I’m also not Korach – I didn’t try to start a revolution, and I didn’t come with a personal agenda to fulfill. In a way I’m more like Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, who shows up for a visit, dispenses some invaluable management advice, and heads on his own way.
What I was here for was to help bridge the gap between the old and the new.
I have viewed my mission for the last year as primarily being to help the congregation get back on track after a period with a leadership gap, and to make the next long term rabbi’s job a little easier, to help ready the way for a long-term rabbi to succeed.
As I prepare to take my leave, let me share a few thoughts on this congregation and the challenges you face in both the near- and longer-term future.
The congregation’s finances rely heavily on what I think of as nostalgia members. People who have long connections here, who have celebrated many simchas here, who come a few times a year for holidays and life cycle events, but who we rarely see on Shabbat and even more rarely see it at daily minyan. They like the synagogue’s traditions, and probably most of them are not particularly interested in seeing things change. They may not come often, but when they do come, they want it to be familiar.
But that generation is aging rapidly, and the younger generation – people under 40 – are not willing to spend money to join a synagogue simply out of nostalgia, or because it’s the thing Jews do. Right now, we don’t offer much for families with children. We don’t have a religious school for the kids who don’t go to Jewish day school, and we don’t have a post-b’nai mitzvah program. Both, I believe, are essential if the synagogue is to become a hub for younger families. And that will mean subsidizing the programs, as people will not, at least initially, pay what it costs to run these things.
The success of the Band is Back and the Kavanah Minyan that Cantor Stotland and I led a few weeks ago shows that there is a hunger for a different kind of service. There are people in the community and in our congregation who are looking for spiritual meaning, but for whom the traditional all-Hebrew three-hour long service doesn’t work. Services that people want to attend should be on tap every week, not only on special occasions.
And the success of those programs highlights another challenge facing the synagogue: the space. The main sanctuary, this room we are in right now, is a beautiful space, grand, majestic, well suited for formal High Holidays. It’s a lovely space for a day like today, when we celebrate a simcha with hundreds of people here. But on a typical Shabbat, with 50 or 60 spread out in this room that seats over a thousand, it feels almost lonely.
The feedback from the Band is Back and the Kavanah Minyan was universally that people liked sitting near other people, hearing other people’s voices, feeling a part of a spiritual community. Sitting in a smaller space, in a semi-circle, helps people feel that they are connected to others. It shows that as beautiful as this building is, it is not really meeting the needs of the congregation today, let alone in the future.
Shaare Zion Beth-El is in a better position than most synagogues to adapt to the changing world, if the will to change is present. The synagogue is in very good shape financially, with an endowment that most synagogues would envy. There is a strategic plan with many good ideas, ideas that will take effort and energy to bring to fruition. You have a new rabbi coming in a little over a week, and God willing will enjoy stability in rabbinic leadership.
What’s needed is an openness to change, and a willingness to dedicate the resources needed to make change happen. There is a tendency to want to protect the endowment, to preserve it for the future, but I would suggest that instead those funds need to be invested wisely in the staff, programs, and facilities needed to meet the needs of the Jews of today, so that the synagogue as a community can prosper. There is no point in having a large bank balance when you go out of business because no one comes to the synagogue.
Shaare Zion Beth-El is blessed with a competent and dedicated staff, and passionate lay leadership. Too often, however, the passions are pulling in disparate directions, and it will be a challenge to face the changing Jewish world if you can’t reach a consensus on when and how to change.
As my year here draws to a close with this being my final Shabbat here, I want to thank the staff, and especially my co-clergy, Cantor Stotland and Reverend Tannenbaum, and the lay leadership, especially Gilla, who has been like a partner for me, for their support and hard work over the past year. I wasn’t expecting to apply my business expertise as much as I was called on to do, but I’m glad that I was able to help.
I started this talk by saying that change was hard, necessary, and inevitable. Change is inevitable, but growth is optional. My blessing for the congregation is that you should be able to embrace change while honoring cherished traditions, and that the coming changes may lead to growth, not necessarily measured in numbers, but measured in dedication to each other, to the community, and to God and the Jewish tradition."


Sun, 14 July 2024 8 Tammuz 5784