by Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraëli
Entering Beth Jacob this year, one notices a steady surge in attendance and spiritual energy, even young people! It is into this upward trend that we welcome Shira Kates into our community as our new Synagogue Manager.
Although I’d never met her before she came for her job interview, Shira and I have many common acquaintances. When I asked my colleagues about her, they all responded with raving reviews. The hiring committee received the same when they consulted her official references.
In mid-May I interviewed Shira for the purpose of introducing her to you, the readers. I began by asking her for her thoughts on the qualities which make a community great.
“A great community realizes it can learn from every individual, not just the biggest, the loudest and the richest,” Shira said. “The strongest communities are the ones that have equal space for kids, seniors, people on fixed incomes, etc., to engage and contribute.”
Shira is not merely coming to Beth Jacob for a new job; she is formally joining the membership and plans to be an active congregant.
“Being a part of a community is so crucial for our development and well-being. You need a place where you feel you belong and feel safe to explore who you are and how you relate to others, within a supportive network. People find this in different places. Some of us find it at camp or in a classroom, some of us find it in online gaming, some of us find it in religion.”
When I asked what attracted her to our shul, she said, “Initially it was the job description. I was searching for a role that would allow me to facilitate meaningful relationships, and I loved that Beth Jacob had the same focus. The interview sealed the deal, though. Everyone was enthusiastic, laughing and open; that is the type of environment I want to be in.”
Discussing how shuls are trying to adapt to the expectations of post-Millennials, Shira said, “Personally, I don’t think much has changed since our parents’ generations. Technology may impact the way we connect, but the goals are the same: we all just want to be around nice, relatable people whom we can trust.”
We talked about her studies (2017-2018) at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem (where I taught for a number of years before moving to Sweden). Her favourite subject was Talmud, “though I really did love it all. You can always find something interesting when you dive into Jewish law. The amazing thing with Talmud is that at any moment you might get pulled from a technical legal discussion to rabbis spitting colourful insults at each other, beautiful analogies, or digressions that actually lead nowhere. The suspense kept it exciting through the tediousness of trying to translate the Aramaic.”
Her favourite Talmudic sage is Rabbi Akiva. “He didn’t begin his Torah journey until his forties, yet went on to become one of our most important sages! This is a great reminder that you’re never too old to change the world.”
While in Israel, Shira learned Shechita, kosher slaughter. Though permitted in Jewish Law, female shochatot are virtually unheard of in the Jewish world today.
“I wanted to learn how to be more self-sufficient,” she explained. “I gained a new respect for meat when I had to visit the farm, catch my own food, and prepare it myself. Ethical farming and consumption is now an important consideration for me in discussions of Kashrut.”
“What is your favourite prayer?” I asked.
She said, “I love the imagery in Akdamut [from the Shavuot liturgy]: ‘God’s greatness could not be described were all the skies parchment, all the trees quills, all the seas ink…’ I also really connect with the end of the Amidah where we say, ‘our souls are entrusted to You, Your lovingkindness never ceases, we have always placed our trust in You.’ That proclamation always grounds and humbles me.”
Shira is moving from Toronto to Hamilton in less than two weeks (at the time of writing), just before her job begins. “I’m excited to start meeting new people, to decorate a new home, to find new favourite stores, and to check out all the waterfalls.”
I concluded our interview by referencing quality Canadian literature, a Barenaked Ladies song: “If you had a million dollars…?” Her response: “I’d buy a little cabin, a big dog, and lots of books. And then I’d replace all the synagogue chairs with La-Z-Boys.”
Beth Jacob’s board, staff and I are thrilled to welcome Shira to our team!