Tu B’Shevat Seder and Environmental Commitment

Sunday 16 January, 1:00 pm – Join us on Zoom for a spirited Seder and an important discussion led by Rick Kool on “Personal steps to Environmental Sanity”.

This year, Rick Kool, a creative thinker and professor of Environmental Education at Royal Roads University, will lead us in a discussion of ideas and the doable life changes that we can all make to reduce our personal carbon footprint and gain greater environmental sustainability.  We will share a meaningful Seder where we will honour trees, fruit and Divine Source’s footprint in creation.

Tu B’Shevat is the Jewish New Year for trees. This Jewish Arbor Day likely began as an agricultural festival marking the emergence of spring.  The holiday is celebrated on the 15th (Tu) of the month of Shevat. 17th century Kabbalists in the land of Israel created a “Seder” that incorporates eating different fruits connecting to Mystical understanding of the four worlds (four modes of reality): doing, feeling, thinking and being in Spirit. The Seder also connects to the Kabbalistic idea of the Tree of Life, a cosmic map of the sefirot (lenses to understand Divine Source’s presence). Contemporary Jewish life has also incorporated elements of tree planting, ecosystem rehabilitation and learning about a Jewish environmental ethic. 

How to Participate

Here are the foods and items that you’ll need. Feel free to substitute what you have on hand for the suggested items. As the foods are symbols and signs to help us get closer to concepts and emotions, please feel free to use items that speak to you and are easy to procure.   Where possible, note that is customary to prefer fruits grown in the land of Israel and that are mentioned in the Bible (bolded in the list)

  • Wine/grape juice.  We will be using both red and white.  Feel free to substitute a light fruit juice if you can’t find white grape juice.
  • Fruit that has a hard outer shell and is soft and edible inside—walnut, almond, coconut, pomegranate.
  • Fruit that is soft on the outside that has a hard inner core (pit)—olives, dates, apricots, peaches
  • Fruit that is entirely edible—figs, grapes, raisins, berries, apples

What to Expect

We will learn more about these symbolic foods and how they relate to our lives and our relationship with Creation.

Our original plan was to join together with our Hebrew School and do a beach clean up and Seder.  Please join us for the Seder online and find ways to make Tu B’Shevat meaningful as we all take needed steps that reflect our commitment to environmental sanity.

Looking forward to learning, exploring, and feasting together!

Summary of event details

Congregation Emanu-El Shabbat Dinners Postponed

The Membership Committee was excited to offer a Shabbat Dinner Program to our members a couple of months ago. An unprecedented number of guests and hosts responded to our invitation to participate. 

Now, we’ve decided to pause out of an abundance of caution. We’ll wait until public health officials provide more encouraging news about gatherings. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long!

From Rabbi Harry: Services Moving Online

Dear Ones,

With a heavy heart that is also holding hope and light, I need to tell you that we will move to online services for the next few weeks.  For the safety of all of us, not only those who attend services but also those who depend upon our Outreach and pastoral care, we need to do our part to keep our whole community safe. Our hope is that, once the intensity of this Omicron wave passes, we will be able to return with strength to in-person prayer. 

Our Zoom-only services provide a way for us to connect to one another in a prayerful context.  Let’s not let the pandemic eclipse the need for us to lift one another up in times of sorrow and turmoil nor to celebrate joyful life passages and achievement.  As we enter another episode of intentional semi-isolation, the online platforms offer us an opportunity to reach out and check-in with one another.  Prayer is understood as “avodat halev,” the service of the heart.  Please have a heart and help do your part in supporting both our Shabbat morning service and our weekly minyan on Thursdays, which are both now online on Zoom.  I know that seeing folks–even in a tiny box on a computer screen–lightens my heart.

B’virkat shalom,

Rabbi Harry

Below are recurring links to our Shabbat and Thursday morning Service, as well as the link to this Sunday’s Tu B’Shevat Seder.

Shabbat Service 10:00 AM

Thursday Morning Service 7:00 AM

Tu B’Shevat Seder and Discussion Sunday 16 January 1:00 PM

Tikkun Olam: Warm Feet and Happy Hearts


“Of all the gifts we receive, the importance of socks cannot be overemphasized”

Rev. Al Tysick

Every year since 2005, Emanu-El member Michael Bloomfield has helped put socks on the feet of Victoria’s homeless population. To date, over 125,000 pairs of socks valued at $562,500 have been distributed. In 2019, Michael won the prestigious National Philanthropy Day award for Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer.

You can be a part of this year’s campaign by volunteering some time or donating to the Victoria Cool Aid Society: https://coolaid.org/socks

Michael first reached out to McGregor Socks, who responded generously. Today, PVH Legwear Canada makes McGregor socks and, together with the Victoria Cool Aid Society and other local social services agencies, Michael’s efforts distribute about 10,000 pairs of socks a year to the homeless in Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo and Salt Spring Island. La-Z-Boy Furniture generously ships the socks from Mississauga to Victoria.

All of this is possible because Michael’s compassion became action. Cold and wet feet are prone to infection, nail and skin diseases, fungus, and frostbite. 

“A gift of socks is a gift of health for our neighbours who are homeless

Don McTavish, Cool Aid’s Director of Housing and Shelters

Twenty-five pairs of socks costs $25 but any amount helps. 

For information or to volunteer, contact Michael Bloomfield though the Emanu-El office: info@congregationemanuel.ca

“These socks are a powerful manifestation of the teaching, Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

Rabbi Harry

BEMA’s Readers Theatre Festival Postponed

Our many youth and adult thespians were days from starting rehearsals when, sadly, we had to postpone due to the Covid surge. 

We will reschedule as soon as it is safe to do so. Purchased tickets can be refunded or used on the new date (TBA).

Cast from 2019 Bema Productions’, And a Child Shall Lead, with Director Zelda Dean

From the Jewish Cemetery….

There is a great deal that can be learned about the early social history of Victoria and Vancouver Island’s Jewish community through our new cemetery website: https://jewishcemeteryofvictoriabc.ca/.

One of the important roles of the Cemetery Committee is to maintain the records related to the deaths in our community and through that, to keep the history of the community in an accessible and useful format.  With the launch of our Cemetery website in 2021, we created a wonderful vehicle for keeping our community’s memory available for historians, family members, and interested members of the broader community. The website also has a completely functioning database that is publicly accessible, and which can be used by individuals to do community-based research.

For example, there is information in the database that comes from a document now held in the provincial archives; a record book of the first burials in our cemetery between 1861 and 1866.  This simple list of 18 burials offers a heartbreaking story of the lives and struggles of the first Jews in our region.  Twelve of the 18 burials in those first years of the Jewish cemetery were children under 12 years of age, who mainly died between the months of November and March The remaining one-third were adults but not all died from ‘natural’ causes: one of those, Morris Price, who was the first burial in the cemetery, was murdered on the mainland.  All four of the burials in 1863 were children, including two from the same family who died within months of each other.

Between 1860 and 1879, children made up nearly 80% of all burials in the cemetery. It is hard to understand the grief, for example, of Solomon and Rosa Levi of Nanaimo, who lost three children in one terrible week in August 1875, and then a fourth in 1876. We believe that the three children were taken by canoe from Nanaimo to our cemetery for burial, although we do not know the location of the graves.

However we can see a remarkable change in the death rates of Jewish children in early Victoria. During the last years of the 19th and the first decade of the 20th centuries, the demographics of burials changed dramatically. The percentage of child burials dropped from nearly 80% to around 20% during the last two decades of the 19th century, and in the first decade of the 20th century the percentage dropped to just under 10%. Better living conditions, and advances in public health and medicine all likely contributed to this rather abrupt change in child mortality.

There is much to learn about the history of our community by the examination of cemetery records. The Cemetery website has lots of information about the people buried in the cemetery, and will soon have some of these historical documents as well!

Amber Woods is collecting and preserving our community’s social history so that we can pass it down to future generations. 

Please forward any information about those buried in the cemetery that could be posted on their individual web page to Amber Woods:  CongregationEmanuelHistorian@gmail.com

Rick Kool, Emanu-El Cemetery Director

Rick Kool, Rabbi Harry and Bishop Anna Comment in the Times-Colonist

Rick Kool, Emanu-El Board Cemetery Director and Environment and Sustainability Professor at Royal Roads University, together with Rabbi Harry and Anglican Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee, have co-published in the Times-Colonist following a joint community vigil outside our MLA’s office: Candles 4 Climate Change.  This text substantively reflects Rick’s remarkable words at the vigil. 

Read the article: “A Call for Coherence in this Climate Emergency”

Contribute to The Good Food Box

Victoria’s affordable produce box

Victoria’s vulnerable are facing a food shortage; numerous ways exist so we can all be part of the solution. Congregation Emanuel-El’s social action committee, Avodah, is sponsoring two George Jay School families with large food boxes containing 10 to 13 varieties of veggies and fruit for a year.

Here’s an opportunity for you to order a food box for yourself or sponsor one for a family in need.

For further information visit the website at: thegoodfoodbox.ca or call 250-381-1552 ext. 100 to set up your weekly or bi-weekly prepaid order.

Rivka Campbell: Featured Building Bridges Speaker

Building Bridges Speaker Series

January 9, 2022: Rivka Campbell will be the featured speaker in Kolot Mayim Reform Temple’s Building Bridges: Celebrating Diversity in Jewish Life event on Sunday, January 9 at 11AM PST on Zoom. Her talk is titled Harmony in a Divided Identity: A minority within a minority. Rivka, a Jew of Jamaican descent born and raised in Toronto, will talk about her work building community among Jews of Colour (JOC) in Canada while opening dialogue among the mainstream Jewish community about the experience of Jews of Colour and Jewish diversity.

Jews of Colour (JOC) is a pan-ethnic term used to identify Jews whose family origins lie in African, Asian, or Latin American countries. JOCs may identify as being of Black, Latino, Asian, biracial, or multi-racial heritage, while Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews from North African and Arab lands vary as to whether they self-identify as JOC. A common question, inappropriately posed to JOCs is “What’s your story?” Rivka’s story will include a conversation about navigating within the Jewish community as a JOC and how as a community we can work towards a common goal of ensuring that all our mishpacha (family) feel welcome and valued. 

Rivka Campbell is the co-founder of the group Jews of Colour – Canada. She is a recognized speaker on Jewish Diversity and has been interviewed by CJN and other publications numerous times. Rivka is filming a documentary on Jewish Diversity. She is the host of the CJN podcast “Rivkush” which focuses on diversity, Israel, and Jewish topics. She is also the Executive Director at Beit Rayim Synagogue and a board member of ADRABA – Toronto’s first 21st century Jewish high school. Rivka is the sole Canadian recipient of the inaugural JewV’Nation Fellowship from the Union for Reform Judaism. 

Summary of event details

MAZEL TOV! B’nei Mitzvah Exhibit

Congregation member Dena Gelfand curated this exhibit with submissions from current or former members on the B’nei Mitzvah theme. She and her volunteers filled the case with colourful and joyful memories of this rite of passage. Here are a few more photos from the display because we know it is still not time to gather together for freilich events. There is room on the outside side wall of the case for more photos, contact Dena through the Office if you want to put up something from a past B’nei Mitzvah celebration.