Congregation Agudas Israel installs new rabbi
By Andréa Ledding
SASKATOON — Congregation Agudas Israel welcomed a new rabbi, Claudio Jodorkovsky, while celebrating a traditional weekly Havdalah ceremony with the wider community. In celebrating Rabbi Jodorkovsky’s installation, the Jewish congregation invited the wider community to celebrate what had been a successful match-making, leading to a lasting relationship not unlike a marriage covenant.
“It’s an honour to see so many friends, neighbours, clergy, colleagues, and members of the government present,” noted Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, welcoming the many neighbourhood, multifaith, and civic leaders and members in attendance. “This sends an important message of what it means to be a rabbi; any spiritual leader has a vital role to play in the greater community.
“All of religious life is about relationship,” noted Wernick, speaking about the sacred community that is formed , like the weekly Havdalah which brings the divine into our lives, “that we should repair the world so it can become a kingdom of heaven. Our job is to create heaven, elevating the mundane to the holy.”
Shabbat is a day apart in order to reflect and be inspired by values of kindness, mercy, justice and peace, added Wernick. He spoke of the braided Havdalah candles which Jodorkovsky had used during the ending of shabbat service preceding the installation, noting that this ceremony reminds us our days must be braided with the shabbat and with ourselves so that the sacred will carry over into the week ahead.
“Every tradition is waiting for the second coming — or first coming in our case,” Wernick noted wryly. “We are each still struggling on different paths to God, different pathways to holiness . . . and we all have a spark of the divine within us that shines ever brighter when we come together and braid ourselves in holy community.”
Rabbi Harold Jacobsen of the Jewish Theological Seminary also flew in from the U.S. for the event, and noted that Jodorkovsky was a true mensch — an outstanding rabbi and person in the full sense — before praying that the community “would live and prosper and go from strength to strength with Rabbi Claudio.”
Marcia Scharfstein, president of Agudas Israel, noted that their congregation was 100 years old now, and has been blessed to have had excellent rabbinic leadership over so many of those years, since the heartbeat of a synagogue is its rabbi.
“He sets the direction and is its voice,” noted Scharfstein. “We are truly blessed to have Rabbi Claudio; to have you, our friends; and to have our special relationships with other faith communities and the city of Saskatoon in general.”
Heather Fenyes also spoke on behalf of the congregation, speaking of the search for a new rabbi as partially a mix of “substance and fairy dust,” as that special connection was sought during the process.
She noted that the installation, poised between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was a perfect time to celebrate and contemplate potential.
“South American culture is a big difference from North American culture,” he said, explaining that the most common response when he told people he was moving to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was, “But it’s impossible to pronounce this place — why are you going there?”
He also joked that everyone kept telling him it was good he’d come in summer, and he still wasn’t sure why that was.
He hopes to make a difference in Saskatoon, which boasts one of the most active synagogues in the world proportional to its membership, and echoed the theme that this was indeed like a marriage relationship; at times there would be closeness and other times more distance, but “this is the only way to build a strong relationship.”
He ended with a prayer and blessing for a good and sweet year, before the gathering met in the hall for refreshments and conversation.