Overwhelmed with Gratitude

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, October 1, 2020

Dear Solel,

As we move forward in 5781 from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and into Sukkot and Simchat Torah, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude, and with much to process and reflect upon.

More than any other High Holidays in my rabbinate, this year has been transformational. I am moved by all of you who shared with me that they felt the power of community this year stronger than ever before; by all of you who chose to step outside your comfort zone in order to participate in services through technology; by those of you who were only able to worship this year with us because all of our services and programs were on livestream; and so much more (that I am continuing to process and reflect upon).

Most of all, I am overwhelmed by and grateful for the generosity of our volunteers who gave so much of their time, energy, and expertise to our High Holiday experience. The commitment of so many people… what a team!

To our entire High Holiday team at Solel, thank you for all of your months and months of work that enabled us to experience a meaningful and spiritually nourishing experience even in these difficult circumstances. Your insights and organization made all this possible. In many ways the High Holidays were humming in the back of my mind throughout the entire summer. This year we began to prepare only a few weeks after Passover – not our usual timeline – in order to re-think the worship services and articulate a vision to create a holy and authentic experience for the High Holidays – through live stream. While there really is no adequate substitute for being in person, we were able to create a deep sense of connection and community that enabled us to reach across the internet and embrace each other’s hearts. We were able to engage more people than we ever could have imagined, and in some services more people than we often see in person! And we were able to have family and friends join us for High Holidays from different places across Canada, the US and the world.

I want to specifically thank the following:

Leo Van Thyn and Cheryl Shine, our religious committee co-chairs for overseeing details, schedules, lists, and keeping us on track so that it all came together. Your commitment and perseverance

Extreme gratitude to Joel Brown, without whom none of this year’s livestreaming services would have been possible. My colleagues and friends who viewed some of our High Holiday livestream remarked on how professionally crafted the livestream production was –the smooth cuts between cameras, the seamless insertion of service participants and Torah readers, and the liturgy on screen so that we could pray together without the need for a separate device or a book to see the words of the machzor. All of this was only possible with carefully detailed spreadsheets and outlines, and the creation of many, many, many slides. You should know that several colleagues wanted to know the name of our professional production company – it’s all Joel. We are indeed very fortunate to have Joel volunteer so much of his time, energy, enthusiasm and dedication to this project.

Arliene Botnick, who worked so hard to involve so many members of our community in leading in worship, way more than in our “usual” High Holiday services, which helped it feel truly like a community. For connecting with our Bet Sefer families and enabling us to learn virtually and experience Jewish learning together in these unusual times. For your energy and “yes and” in our family skits. And for your delightful tour of the mezuzot in your home at the end of our “Wherever You Go” music video.

Rabbi Larry Englander, for leading prayers, songs, and skits with enthusiasm and humour, and for sharing with me his wisdom and support.

Our volunteer editors, Eleanor Stoch, Linda Sage Alexander, and David Grossman, who carefully combed through the slides in Hebrew, English, and transliteration for errors.

Our musicians, Ron Miller, and Seth Subeck for bringing the warmth of music that is so much a part of Solel tradition. Thanks for rolling with the punches and bringing us your amazing musicianship and voices. It is a joy to be with you on the bima and lift up our community in prayer. You went above and beyond this year in creating accompaniment and video tracks. It was a joy!

Shawna Skryzlo, Jen Smith, and Robbin Botnick for planning, assembling, and arranging delivery of our High Holiday gift baskets. It was a LOT of work and so worth it! We have received so many messages and phone calls of appreciation. In a time when many are feeling isolated and alone, this really helped us feel connected to our Solel family at this most community-oriented time of the year.

Mark Botnick who organized our ba’alei t’kiyah (shofar blowers), so that we could hear the sounds of the season and feel its echoes across the GTA

Julia Botnick who arranged our gabbaim and worked with our Torah service chanters and aliyahs, so that we could hear the wisdom of Torah on these holiest of days and remember the teachings that continue to guide us

Cheryl Englander, Deb Stoch, and Marla Stoch who brought us Ella’s Walk this year in a different modality that took us outside of our homes virtually and inside of ourselves in deeper moments of poetry, prayer, and song.

Emma Weizenbluth who created the self-directed Healing, Meditation, and Prayer guide to give us moments of introspection on Yom Kippur afternoon.

Dave Gordon and Jocelyn Webber for your work on our building and grounds. Although we are not in our building site, our home is well taken care of.

Rita Grossman for your technical support to enable participation for all.

To all those who participated in leading prayers, Torah and Haftarah reading, shofar calls, and sharing your smiles and your voices. Thanks to everyone who sent in videos, recorded Torah/Haftarah, and helped to fill our services with your presence.

Our professional staff, including Carol Van Thyn, in our office, who send mailings, responded to phone calls and emails about High Holiday plans, and fielded questions, and to Nillon Ross, our custodian, who also worked so hard to enable our community to have this experience.

My family – thank you for your love and support, your ideas, your laughter, and most of all, your patience.

A special thank you to our Solel leadership for their amazing support and guidance: to Roz Allen, our president, for her dedication and support, and to our entire Solel board, and the many volunteers who tirelessly worked behind the scenes.

And great thanks and appreciation to all of our donors who help us thrive.

If I forgot anyone, I’m sorry. Please forgive me for any omissions.

May 5781 be a year of good health, more connection, and ReJEWvenation.

L’Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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