Kabbalat Shabbat with a Thank You to Rabbi Matt

Friday, June 11, 2021, at 6 pm on Zoom—Join us for Candle-Lighting, Friday, June 11, 2021, at 6 pm for some spirited songs and music, storytelling, and a chance to say “Thank You” to Rabbi Matt for his valiant efforts in supporting us and ensuring that our Hebrew School flourished during this difficult, and sometimes harrowing, pandemic. Let’s also show our care for the whole Ponak family and send them into their future with blessings and gratitude.

Candle-Lighting ushering in Shabbat is a sustaining touchstone. Come connect with community and friends and bring Shabbat joy into all our lives. Looking forward to sharing Torah, blessings, and joy with all of you.

Rabbi Harry

Four Worlds Shabbat Service:Body, Heart, Mind, and Soul

Saturday, April 10, 2021 from 10:00 – 11:15 am on Zoom—Inspired by the deep structure of the Shaḥarit Service, Rabbi Matt will lead us through Qi Gong movement, niggun (wordless melodies) singing w/guitar, spiritual reading, and meditation. The Four Worlds Service is inspired by Kabbalah and the teachings from Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi. He taught how the four parts of Shaḥarit — Birkhot Hashaḥar, Psukei D’zimra, Shma U’virkhoteiha, and the Amidah align with the Kabbalistic worlds of physical/assiyah, emotional/yetzirah, mental/briyah, and spiritual/atzilut

As an alternative to liturgical forms of tefillah (prayer), Rabbi Matt will share practices that align with the Four Worlds that are not siddur-basedQi Gong for physical (because it involves body movement), niggunim for emotional (because they open our heart), a spiritual reading for mental (because it brings in a sense of awe), and silence/meditation for spiritual (because it is an invitation into connection with Goddess—whatever your preferred Goddess language is!). Reb Zalman taught of the “deep structure” of texts, prayers, and mitzvot and it is from the deep structure of the “Four Worlds”that this service is based. 

Specific notes on the Practices:

Qi Gong is a slow movement practice, coordinated with breaths. It originated in China and is sometimes called the “Chinese Yoga.” The practice aims to cultivate and align chi, or life-force. Benefits people can experience are relaxation, increased physical health, and a sense of “flow” in the body. The forms that I chose have resonance with specific prayers and themes from birkhot hashahar:

1. In the “Cloud Hands” form we focus the most deeply on the breath. This has resonance with the word neshamah that means both breath and soul.
2. The “Connecting Heaven and Earth” form resonates with the intention for loving our neighbors as ourselves and by utilizing our practice to be connected to the earth as well as to Spirit.
3. “Opening Up to Greet the Day” is resonant with “modeh ani” as we open our arms and our hearts to the world in both gratitude and surrender. 
4. The “Immortal Form” is meant to build inner resilience and strength and aligns with “ozer Yisrael b’gvurah.”
5.  We end with a “Closing Form” that is akin to amen and ends the Qi Gong practice.

When we sit in silence you are welcome to just sit, practice any form of meditation, or to listen to the prompts that I give. 

  • Join online: CLICK HERE
  • Regular Dial-in: Call: 1 778 907 2071
  • Meeting ID: 824 1330 9293
  • Password: 929054

Many blessings! May we find peace in body, heart, mind, and soul.

Rabbi Matt

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Commemoration Event

“Preserving and Honouring Voices from the Shoah.”

The Victoria Shoah Project invites you to attend a Virtual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) service on Sunday April 11, 2021 at 11 am. Those who perished in the Holocaust will be remembered as real individuals, as we also honour the strength and resilience of survivors.

This year’s theme is “Preserving and Honouring Voices from the Shoah”the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. The program features a tribute to a survivor originally from Hungary—George Pal—who will speak about his recent book “Prisoners of Hope”, which was published in 2018. The commemoration service will also include: a historian speaking about the Holocaust in Hungary; a recitation of the Kaddish of the Camps; commemorative music; and a message from Rabbi Harry Brechner of Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria.

This service usually takes place at the Jewish Cemetery, but due to the pandemic, we will be streaming on Zoom, Sunday, April 11, 2021 at 11 am.

  • Join online: CLICK HERE
  • Regular Dial-in: Call: 1 778 907 2071
  • Meeting ID: 821 3932 1444
  • Password: 334150

For international Dial-in numbers…

We invite you to share in this event with us. We welcome your presence and support as we gather to remember the past and look towards a future of peace and unity.

E-mail: victoriashoahproject@gmail.com

Yom HaShoah


Introducing Cyril and Helen Keston

After almost 40 years in Regina, Cyril and Helen Kesten flung aside their heavy winter coats, and made the move to Sidney, BC. Born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End, both Helen and Cyril went to the University of ManitobaHelen graduating as a social worker and Cyril as a teacher. 

Cyril spent almost 50 years as a teacher, and teacher-educator focusing on instructional design, program evaluation, financial literacy, media, and distance education. As a Professor of Education at the University of Regina for nearly four decades, he carried pioneering education techniques to Africa, Australia, China, and Britain.

Helen established two successful businesses in Regina—The Palace Guards, a home sitting service, and Helene Kesten Galleries, an art gallery specializing in Inuit soapstone sculptures. Helen helped create the Regina Diving Club; became a nationally accredited gymnastics judge; founded and ran the Regina and District Jewish Seniors; became the go-to person in Regina for Holocaust Education; and spent many years as the Community Development Officer for the Saskatchewan Jewish Council (South). For these efforts Helen was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal, the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers and the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal.

Helen and Cyril who have three children and seven grandchildren are beyond thrilled that their daughter Stacey, her husband Harris, and their two boys Noah (8) and Hope (2) have moved to Sidney. Now that they’re more or less retired, Cyril and Helen are pursuing their interests in Victoria. They say they have been delighted with the warm reception they’ve experienced in the Jewish community.

Hebrew Time!!—For Families with Pre-Schoolers and Younger

Beginning Sunday, January 17, 2021—Come and join Rabbi Matt Ponak for singing and stories, all while learning Hebrew. This is a fun, entertaining, and relaxed way for your little ones to get their first taste of the Hebrew Language. Hebrew Time begins this Sunday, January 17, 2021 and will be weekly—except for holidays and holiday weekends. This class is free/by-donation. Please contact info@congregationemanuel.ca to register.

  • Join online: CLICK HERE
  • Regular Dial-in: Call: 1 778 907 2071
  • Meeting ID: 883 7699 6759

Ḥanukkah message from Rabbi Matt

My friends, I have a dilemma. How can I pass on a story if I don’t believe it or if I don’t like its message? Ḥanukkah is quickly approaching. Each year I struggle with the same question of how to make this holiday meaningful for my kids. Every child likes lighting candles. Every child likes delicious food. And every child definitely likes presents. But, when my oldest, or any child for that matter, asks me why we have eight candles, or what any of this is really about, I find myself struggling. 

This problem is not new. Indeed, it is a very traditional problem that the Talmudic Sages faced nearly 2000 years ago. The original Ḥanukkah story was a war story in which the Maccabees overthrew an adversary greater than themselves. The eight days of Ḥanukkah are said to have been the victory celebration upon reclaiming and rededicating the Temple. This festival served as a new independence day for the ruling Hasmonean dynasty and served political purposes to reinforce their power. 

Continue reading Ḥanukkah message from Rabbi Matt

Congregation Emanu-El Online: Fall 2020

Here’s a rundown of the Fall 2020 online programs hosted by Congregation Emanu-El.

Shabbat Service

(Saturdays, 10 – 11:30 am)

  • Join online: CLICK HERE…
  • Regular Dial-in: Call: 1 778 907 2071
  • Meeting ID: 824 1330 9293
  • Password: 929054

Morning Minyan service

(Thursdays, 7 am)

  • Join online: CLICK HERE…
  • Regular Dial-in: Call: 1 778 907 2071
  • Meeting ID: 846 0853 1602
  • Password:  982524

Brown Bag Beit Midrash

(Tuesdays, 12:30 – 1:30 pm)

Join Rabbi Harry for a lunch hour opportunity to delve into the world of Talmudic sages and explore foundational Jewish text in a supportive, intellectually honest and spiritual environment.

In our upcoming session, we will study the Sefer HaAggadah, aka the Book of Legends—a compilation of tales/lore assembled and edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Rawnitzki in the early 20th century. It is a collection of rabbinic teachings and stories that fall into the category of “aggadot“, tales, legends and stories that are like spiritual rebar. They serve to strengthen our attachment and love of Judaism and Divine Source.

  • Join online: CLICK HERE
  • Regular Dial-in: Call: 1 778 907 2071
  • Meeting ID: 849 4761 5582

Mystic Moka

(Friday, 12:30 – 1:30 pm)

Grab your favorite mug and fill it with your favorite caffeinated beverage and join Rabbi Harry Brechner and an eclectic crew of seekers and learners as they delve into Kabbalistic and Ḥasidic texts in a quest for insight and understanding into self and our relationship with Divine Source.

  • Join online: CLICK HERE…
  • Regular Dial-in: Call: 1 778 907 2071
  • Meeting ID: 826 5893 2465

Other Adult Education programs

The following Adult Education Programs have moved online:

  • Shiur Tanakh (Tuesdays, 7 – 8:30 pm)
  • Ḥug Ivrit (Wednesdays, 7 – 8:30 pm)
  • Play Club (according to the schedule)
  • Calling all artists (for information)

For information about Shiur al haTanakh, contact the shul office: info@congregationemanuel.ca; about Ḥug Ivrit, contact Dahlia Beck; and about Play Club, contact Rachel Ditour.

An Honour for One of Our Own

Emanu-El member Mark Leiren-Young, has just earned top honours for his children’s book Orcas Everywhere: The Mystery and History of Killer Whales.  
He is the winner of the City of Victoria Children’s Book Prize, now in its 13th year.  Mark’s entry topped several well-known locals to take the $5,000 prize awarded during a virtual gala last Sunday evening.
Congratulations, Mark, from all of us!

Kristallnacht: Creativity Emerging from the Shards of Tragedy

Monday, November 9, 2020 beginning at 7 pmThe Victoria Shoah Project invites the public to the annual commemoration of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), the beginning of the tragic history of attacks on European Jews. This year we will live-stream the commemoration on Monday, November 9, 2020 on Zoom beginning at 7 pm. The title of the program is The Persistence of Creativity Emerging from the Shards of Tragedy.

Continue reading Kristallnacht: Creativity Emerging from the Shards of Tragedy

Safety information for participants at Emanu-El services & events

For all in person Emanu-El services and events


  • You must pre-register. Unless the program information states otherwise, preregister at info@congregationemanuel.ca.
  • When you register, please provide name, phone number and email for each person you are registering. You will receive more information about our COVID-19 Safety Plan after you register.
  • Please, do not register if you don’t intend to come as we may have to turn people away.
  • Please, if you or anyone in your household is ill, stay home.
  • Please, if you are at higher risk for severe illness, seriously consider staying home.

Masks and/or face coverings:

  • You will have to wear a mask for the duration of the activity.
  • Bring your own mask and put it on before joining the activity.

Cleanliness and Physical Distancing:

  • When you arrive, you will have to sanitize or wash your hands.
  • To help everyone stay six feet apart you will have to follow instructions about where to go.

For Shabbat services in the Sanctuary

  • Doors will open at 9:45 AM and they will be closed at 10:15 AM. PLEASE NOTE: NO admittance will be possible after 10:15 AM.
  • Please bring your own tallit.
  • Please obey instructions about handling the shul’s books and obey arrows marked on the floor