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teachings from our rabbi



Read below for sermons, writings, and messages from our rabbi. Feel free to email  Rabbi Streiffer with thoughts or comments!



Recent Posts:


Something for Everyone

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Every month, I spend some time gathering up program write ups and content for the Voice. Every month, I am amazed by how much we have going on as a congregation! If you scan over the document below, you will find a plethora of things at do at shul:

  • Classes – Talmud, Midrash, Torah…some involving sushi
  • Social events, such as challah cover making
  • Our stellar Kol Ami softball team. (Interested, guys??)
  • A variety of Shabbat and holiday services – including some with the choir, others featuring our rock band, and other musical options as well
  • Our amazing Purim celebration, this year set to the music of ABBA

And that doesn’t even include such upcoming events as our Pesach Seder, a panel on mental health in Judaism, Rock Shabbat in the park, our blood donor clinic, and much more!

We all connect to Judaism in different ways. For some, it is through worship and ritual; for others, it is the study that brings us to the synagogue. Still others are looking for volunteer opportunities, social connections, food, drink, music, or dancing. The ancient Rabbis understood that connection to religion was multifaceted. Eighteen centuries they wrote:

עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים:

The world stands on three things: on Torah, on worship, and on acts of kindness.

(Mishnah, Avot 1:2)

Torah: the ways that we learn together.

Worship: the ways that we come together to pray, sing, and perform ritual

Acts of kindness: the kind acts that we perform for one another and for our fellow citizens of the world.

What stands at the centre of all of this is community – the relationships we build. Judaism is a team sport; whether we are studying, singing, praying, making challah covers, or playing softball, we do it together.

We are very fortunate to have such an active and supportive congregation. And we are deeply indebted to the many volunteers who give their time and their passion to Kol Ami every single day. Please join me in thanking them, next time you are here at shul. And please consider volunteering to help with something at Kol Ami that you feel passionately about. If you need help figuring out which area you might want to be involved in, give me a call!

At Kol Ami, there is something for everyone. I look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks.


Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Songs & Laws

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

This month we celebrate two special Shabbats, marked by two very special Torah portions:

On February 7-8 is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. It is so named because we read B’shallach, the portion containing the “Song of the Sea” and the joyous story of our Exodus from Egypt.

On February 15 we read Yitro, which contains the story of the people standing at Sinai, receiving the laws and the Torah from God, learning about the expectations that Judaism will place upon them.

B’shallach and Yitro. Exodus and Sinai. Songs and laws. These are, perhaps, two poles of Jewish experience.

On the one hand, Judaism is a religion of celebration. We mark most of our holidays with festive meals, special foods, songs and blessings of thanks, and being surrounded by family. In fact, in my conversations with young people toward marriage and conversion, they most often tell me that their primary Jewish associations are around happy family events.

On the other hand, Judaism is also serious business - a religion of law, ritual, and action. We pray and study. We light candles and tie tzitzit. We fill books upon books with interpretations of the Torah’s words. We believe that we are responsible to do Tikkun Olam – to perform real actions that will connect us with God and with each other, and that will make the world a better place.

I believe we need both. To be a Jew is to walk through the world with a deep sense of obligation – to God and to our fellow humans – and also to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude for the gifts and blessings that surround us. And further, the two feed one another. When we spend time immersed in communal and family celebration, we will recognize that we have both the ability and the responsibility to ensure that others have blessings as well; and when we carve out time to perform rituals and mitzvot, we can develop our own sense of gratitude.

Song and laws. Celebrations and rituals. This is the “stuff” of Judaism. During this month of B’shallach and Yitro, may we cultivate our sense of gratitude and obligation. May we give thanks for what we have and commit ourselves to providing for others.

I look forward to seeing you at our special Shabbat Shirah programs, and throughout this month.


Rabbi Micah Streiffer


There is No Messiah…And You’re It!


There is an impulse in the human spirit to believe that the world can be better than it is. Call it optimism; call it messianism. We want to believe that things can be different; we want to make a difference.


In Judaism, that impulse gave rise many centuries ago to the idea of the Messiah: a king or spiritual figure that traditional Jews believe will come into the world and make things better. Who will put an end to war, hatred, hunger, and the other ills of society. There is disagreement in traditional Jewish sources over the specifics of the Messiah’s job description: Is he a descendent of David or Joseph? Will he save the entire world or just the Jews? Can people help bring him through their actions or not? But almost all forms of Judaism agree that the world can be different than it is.


In the modern era, Judaism has retained that sense of optimism while moving it in a different, more empowering direction. Instead of a Messiah, we liberal Jews now talk about a Messianic Age. Instead of a person sent by God, we believe that God has given us all a responsibility to do Tikkun Olam, to repair the world through our own actions. In this way of thinking, there can be messianism without a messiah, and it becomes our job to facilitate it. (Hence the title of this article, a play on words that I borrowed from Rabbi Robert Levine’s book of the same name.)


During this time of year, when the world around us is cold and dark, it is up to us to be a light in the darkness. To feed the hungry and clothe the poor; to work toward understanding between people and a better life for our neighbours; to support the organizations that we believe are making a difference with our time, money, and passion. It is worth thinking about: Do you believe that the world can be better than it is? What talents or resources do you have to offer toward that collective goal? What causes or issues do you really care about, and how might you get involved?


Kol Ami’s Social Action committee has a number of ongoing projects, including our support of Out of the Cold, the Farmer’s Market project, and others. (If you are interested in getting involved, please contact me and I can put you in touch with the committee.) As well, our school has recently collected toys to be given to Chai Lifeline, and will begin collecting Tzedakah money on a weekly basis to be donated at the end of the year. Finally, we are reviving our practice of collecting canned food on Shabbat. Please consider bringing something to donate each time you come to shul.


There is an old joke that says that when a shtetl wanted to give a good job to one of its poor citizens, they made him the “Watcher of the Messiah” – whose job it was to sit at the gates and alert people if the Messiah should show up. It may not pay well… but at least it’s steady work.


Sadly, I think the joke is right. We’re not in danger of perfecting our world anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility. In this new year we can make a little bit of a difference, and bring our world a little closer to the way it should be.




Rabbi Micah Streiffer


Happy Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week!

I recently saw a meme that made me laugh out loud. It was called “A List of Jewish Holidays for Non-Jews,” and it explained each holiday by encapsulating its essence in plain English. According to this meme, our Jewish calendar includes the following:

Jewish New Year

Jewish Apology Day

Nomadic Hut Appreciation Day

Bible Party Time

Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week

Jewish Arbor Day

Dry Crackers Week

Harvest and Also Bible Day

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which. Call me if you need a hint!

After reading (and laughing) many times, I decided my favourite is “Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week,” which is of course a description of Chanukah. It’s not an altogether bad explanation – after all, we spend the week eating foods fried in oil and celebrating the exploits of the Maccabees. And the Maccabees were, by many accounts, the Jewish strict constructionists of their day. Unlike others, they were not willing to yield on matters like Sabbath observance, circumcision, and worship of other gods. And they were willing to kill for it – both the occupying Greek army, and their fellow Jews who were more lax and whom they saw as betrayers. 

In that sense, the Maccabees are uncomfortable heroes for us as liberal Jews. We admire their commitment to Jewish continuity, and we certainly admire their bravery in fighting for freedom and independence. But they do not represent the values of progressivism, pluralism, and tolerance that we hold dear. 

This is the paradox of Chanukah. On the one hand, it is a festival of freedom - we are grateful during this time of year for our own freedom to congregate, pray, and live as Jews. And on the other hand, Chanukah tells of the terrible price that we Jews have paid when we have been intolerant of one another: causeless fighting and war, infighting between those who do not recognize the validity of each other’s forms of Judaism. Sadly, this is not foreign to our times.

We can understand that the Maccabees as people of their own time and place. Judah and his brothers – and the armies that they led – loved their Judaism, loved the Jewish people, and fought for their right to be Jews in the best way they knew how – and in the way that the times demanded. They were not modern people, and so we cannot expect modern values of them. Had they lived in twenty-first century Canada, we can hope that they would have held a more tolerant outlook, but that their commitment to Judaism would have remained. 

When we read the text this way, we can be inspired by the Maccabees’ bravery and the strength of their Jewish identity, and at the same time we can redouble our commitment to fighting for a Judaism that is progressive, pluralistic and tolerant. We pray that the time may come soon when this dream will be a reality, both here in North America and across the ocean in Israel. When we Jews will celebrate what we have in common, and engage in respectful dialog about what divides us. Then we can transcend “Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week” and celebrate a true Festival of Lights.

I hope to see you for the Night of a Thousand Candles on Friday, December 27 at 6:30. May it be a joyous Chanukah season for us all.


Rabbi Micah Streiffer


If Not Now, When?


Have you been…

Putting off learning to read Hebrew…

Meaning to read that book that sounded interesting…

Intending to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah (even as an adult)…

Wanting to delve more deeply into some aspect of Judaism…

…but not finding the time?


We all have lots of things we’ve been putting off or meaning to do. It’s easy to get caught up in daily life – to focus on doing what is urgent and not get to what is important. And as much as we think this is an aspect of our busy 21st century lives, it’s clearly a very old problem. Almost 20 centuries, Hillel the Elder famously admonished his students, “If not now, when?”


When, indeed? Jewish tradition teaches us that there is no time like the present to take on a new project, read a new book, or learn something new. In fact, Jewish life is all about lifelong learning.  We are taught in the Talmud that “Talmud Torah k’negged kulam – Study is equal to a whole life of mitzvot.” Because our study leads us to a more fulfilling life and a more fulfilled self.


Kol Ami is a community of learners, and we have a dizzying array of learning opportunities every single month:

  • Book Club – meets every other month, reading interesting, Jewishly-related fiction and nonfiction books;

  • Sushi & Study – This monthly Thursday learning group is starting a new topic this month. We talk philosophy, ethics, beliefs, history…plus we eat!

  • Torah Study – On Saturday mornings this year we will be reading the Biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, learning about the lives of our ancient ancestors right after the Babylonian Exile.


And let me highlight three new opportunities that are starting this month:

  • Hebrew Classes – We are beginning Monday evening Hebrew classes both for beginners and for those who already know how to read and are looking for more.

  • Adult B’nai Mitzvah – Our popular program for those who never became Bar/Bat Mitzvah is back for the third time on Monday evenings.

  • Wednesday Morning Talmud – A deeper dive for those looking for a weekly study opportunity.


Lots of opportunities; lots of different topics. Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions or for information about any of the above. There’s no time like right now to figure out what you want to learn about and dive right in. As Hillel would say: If not now, when?




Rabbi Micah Streiffer



Talk to Cohen



“Talk to Cohen”


Many of us know the old line that every Jewish holiday can be summed up in three sentences:


They tried to kill us.

We won.

Let’s eat.


It’s a joke and a simplification, but there’s something to it. Many of our holidays really are celebrations of some kind of escape from persecution. And nearly all of them have eating at the centre of the observance (except Yom Kippur, which has NOT eating at the centre of its observance).


Why is food so important in Judaism? I believe it’s not about the food, but rather about the relationships. Mealtimes are times when we are together with family and friends, when we catch up, ask each other questions, learn about each other’s lives, and build connections. This is true of our Shabbat dinners, our Passover seders, and our Onegs. In fact, as a rabbi, I strongly believe that the Oneg or Kiddush is as important as the service, because while the service is our time to connect with God, the Oneg/Kiddush is our time to connect with each other.


The Jewish writer and humorist Harry Golden (who, coincidentally, was a founding member of my previous congregation in North Carolina), is said to have once asked his staunch atheist father why he belonged to a synagogue and attended services every Shabbat. Golden’s father answered: “You see Cohen over there? Cohen comes to shul to talk to God. I come to shul to talk to Cohen.”


That’s the truth of Judaism. Some of us come to shul to talk to God (in the many varied forms that we conceive God as Reform Jews), and some of us come to shul to talk to each other. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because it is how relationships are formed. Strong congregations are built on strong relationships.


This is particularly important for us at this juncture in our congregational life. Having just brought together two congregations, we are engaged in the project of forging a single community. It began a year ago, when we gathered for the High Holy Days, and it continued over the course of 5779, even as we were still separated into Sunday School and Saturday program. But 5780 will be different, because with the merger of our two schools, our congregation is truly one!


So we have a job to do: in the words of Harry Golden, we need to “talk to Cohen” (where “Cohen” is any other person in the room, regardless of priestly status). We will need to reach out to one another, get to know the unfamiliar faces in the room, and welcome one another into our combined community. I encourage all of us this year to think of ourselves as community builders and ambassadors whenever we are together.


The first opportunity to be together will be at Rock Shabbat on Friday, September 6 at 6:30 pm.This rockin’ and rollin’ Shabbat service (with our band Shtyx andour choir) is a chance to kick off the year with music, food, and friends – both old and new. I look forward to seeing you there.




Rabbi Micah Streiffer

How Cake Helps You Make Friends

How Cake Helps You Make Friends


As some of you know, I had minor surgery in late June on my ear drum. Not a big deal – I was out of the hospital within a few hours and had to rest for about two weeks. As of this writing, it’s not yet clear whether it “worked” – that is, whether I’ll get my hearing back in my left ear. But what is clear to me is the warmth of our community. I have so appreciated hearing from members of the congregation checking in, asking what I need, and offering support.


That’s really what Judaism is all about.


Rabbi Ron Wolfson argues in his book Relational Judaism that our religious lives (and indeed, our lives) are centred, surprisingly, not as much around ritual or life cycle as around relationships. Many of us come to a synagogue seeking a Hebrew School, a wedding, a conversion, or some other momentary need. But if we are to stay at that synagogue for the long term, it will be because of the relationships we have built there.


This is not to discount the importance of ritual, learning and life cycle, which are absolutely crucial to Jewish life. As a synagogue, we build our lives – and our relationships – around sharing Jewish experiences with one another. We pray together, or sit beside each other at Torah study, or share recipes at Rock Shabbat… and in so doing, we are building our connections not only to God (in whatever form we conceive God), but also to one another.


There is ample evidence in traditional Jewish thinking that relationships are central to Jewish life. First, the traditional Hebrew word for synagogue is Beit K’nesset, which means “gathering place.” And throughout history, many synagogues have referred to themselves as Kehilah Kedoshah, or “holy community.” That’s the way I like to think of Kol Ami as well: as a Holy Congregation.


Like any other, our Holy Community is made up of people who do things for each other. At Kol Ami, we have a number of groups dedicated to doing this in different ways.


Mitzvah Bakers, who bake desserts for B’nai Mitzvah celebrations.

Minyanaires, who attend shiva (just attend, not leading) when members lose loved ones.

The Chesed Committee, who lead shiva services, visit the sick, and prepare the occasional meal.

Our Kol Ami Choir sings at Shabbat and High Holy Day services

Our house band Shtyx rocks the house at Rock Shabbat


Some of these may seem like little things – a cake or a half-hour visit – but they make a big difference in people’s lives.


If you are available to share your time and talent in any of these ways, please contact me. Kol Ami is stronger because of what we all bring to it.



Rabbi Micah Streiffer



Holy Tequila!!

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

When my oldest son was about three years old, he came home from preschool singing a song that sounded suspiciously like “tequila kedoshah.” Suspecting that our Jewish preschool wasn’t actually teaching the kids a song that translates into “holy tequila,” I did a little research and discovered that the words he was butchering were actually “Kehilah Kedoshah – Holy Community.” That’s more like it! While I do appreciate the occasional tequila, it is holy community that stands at the centre of our Jewish lives.

That’s an idea that is especially evident at this time of the year. This month, we will celebrate Shavuot, the holiday which traditionally commemorates Matan Torah – the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Our tradition is careful to describe this revelation as a communal event, a group experience: “You stand this day – all of you – to enter into covenant with God” (Deuteronomy 29).

We often hear the idea that “we all stood at Sinai.” It’s a funny teaching: You were there, even if you weren’t there. You received the Torah, even if it happened before you were born. I think it is Judaism’s way of including all of us in the experience, of making Torah not just something that happened once to some of us, but something that all of us are continually participating in. In Reform Judaism, we celebrate Shavuot with the service of Confirmation. By inviting our Grade 10 students back onto the Bima three years after they became Bar/Bat Mitzvah, we confirm that they, too, stood at Sinai. And we affirm that they are an important part of our community. Please come and support our students at the Confirmation Service, Saturday, June 8 at 7:45 pm.

Another expression of the value of Holy Community at Kol Ami is our shift away from dues and toward the Voluntary Community Support model. Now entering its second year, this is a whole new way of thinking about what it means to be part of a synagogue: instead of “paying for membership,” we support our shared community together – making it stronger with our resources, our talents, and our presence. More information will be forthcoming in this year’s renewal email, and I invite you to reach out to me or to a member of the Board if you have questions about this innovative direction that our congregation chose a year ago.

I feel fortunate to be part of this unique and holy congregation, and to share it with each of you. As this year begins to draw to a close, I am thankful for the experiences that we have shared in recent months, and I look forward to lots more singing, praying, learning, and celebrating (with or without the holy tequila) over the summer and in the new year.

Bivracha – With blessings,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer


Rabbi Streiffer


Antisemitism is Not A Good Enough Reason to be Jewish

(But It’s Really Important to Talk About Anyway!)


Emil Fackenheim may have been one of the most creative Jewish thinkers of our time. He was a German Reform rabbi who was arrested on Kristallnacht and survived Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, before making his way to Canada and serving as a professor at the University of Toronto.


One of Fackenheim’s most important contributions to Jewish thought was the idea he termed the 614th Commandment: “Not to hand Hitler posthumous victories.” In other words, he teaches that in the post-Holocaust world, it is the responsibility of the Jew to ensure Jewish continuance.


This is a powerful notion, and an empowering one, because it says that even though some others might hate us - indeed, perhaps because some others hate us – we will survive and thrive nonetheless. And truly, for better and for worse, antisemitism does sit quite centrally in our Jewish identity. Organizations like CIJA and the ADL spend a lot of time focused on them. (More as we see a rise in antisemitic voices and incidents around us.) In Toronto, we have a Federation agency and a week of our year dedicated to Holocaust education. Israel’s society and psyche have been shaped by the trauma of the Holocaust in very deep ways. We even half-jokingly summarize our holidays in terms of antisemitism: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”


As a minority people, we have been shaped by the experience of persecution. With a few exceptions (several of them, fortunately, existing today), Jews have been oppressed outsiders for much of our history. Though no one would ever choose this, it has served us in a few ways: it has built a unique sense of cohesiveness and peoplehood; it has shaped our commitment to social justice and Tikkun Olam. It is fair to say that Judaism would not be what it is today if we had a different history.


That being said, antisemitism in itself is not a strong foundation on which to build a Jewish future, especially for a younger generation that lives largely in freedom and is 70 years removed from the Shoah. Jews today (like Jews in every age) are seeking positive, joyful connections to their Judaism, through community, learning, spirituality, ritual, and social action. This – far more than either fear about assimilation or a sense of responsibility to past generations – can be passed on from generation to generation. As Rabbi Mark Gellman put it bluntly in Newsweek in 2005: “I am Jewish… because I believe Judaism is loving, just, joyous, hopeful and true. I am not Jewish, and I did not teach my children or my students to be Jewish, just to spite Hitler.”


Thus, in 2019 we have two parallel responsibilities:


  • To continue to talk about antisemitism, to understand its origins and combat its adherents, for the good of our people all over the world.
  • To continue to fashion a Judaism that is not a response to antisemitism – one that is hopeful, joyful, meaningful, and forward-looking – for the good of ourselves and future generations.

This year, our Bernstein Family Scholar in Residence is Professor Kalman Weiser of York University. Dr. Weiser will teach us on the topic of “Antisemitism: Then and Now.” Please see below in the Voice for more details, and please consider joining us the weekend of May 24-25 for talks Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday evening.


We are deeply thankful to Dawn and Barry Bernstein for their generosity in bringing this important learning program to Kol Ami for over ten years.


I look forward to a weekend of learning on an important and fascinating topic.


Bivracha – In Blessing,


Rabbi Micah Streiffer

The Holy Act of Eating

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

We Jews just don’t seem to be able to do anything without food, do we?

Torah study: Breakfast.

Shabbat service: Oneg.

Passover Storytelling: Family meal.

It’s not just that we like to eat. (Though that’s also true…) This predilection for eating together is actually built into the fabric of Judaism, and it was a purposeful choice made by the early Rabbis who framed our tradition. Our tradition sees the act of eating – and especially eating together – as a holy act.

In ancient times, Jews found atonement and spirituality at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Through sacrifice and prayer, we connected with God and with one another.   But the Temple has long since been destroyed, and the Talmud  (Menachot 97a) teaches that “now that the Temple is no longer standing, a person’s table provides atonement” instead. In other words, a dinner table is a holy place, even to the point of being a replacement for the holiness of the ancient Temple. In Hebrew this is called Mikdash M’at – the “Small Sanctuary.” It is a recognition that the act of sharing a meal is an act of holiness.

This makes sense. When you are with your family at a holiday meal, do you feel a sense of transcendence? Do you feel like you are part of something larger, or like you are “where you’re supposed to be?” Judaism teaches that when we gather around our tables – like we do on Shabbat and festivals - we are there to connect with loved ones, and we also have the opportunity to connect with God.

(As an aside, I recently had a conversation with a colleague of mine who is an Imam. He confirmed that the Jewish love for food is paralleled in Muslim practice. This is a point of connection with our cousins!)

The holiness of Mikdash M’at applies at every Shabbat and every holiday, but it is at Pesach that most of us are likely to be at family and community meals. At this season of joy, let us strive to recognize that holiness in the act of eating together – that simply by sitting around the Seder tables, we are connected with generations past, with Jews all over the world, and with God, in whatever way we may conceive God.

Is there room at your Mikdash M’at this year? If you have a place or two at your table – or if you are looking for a place to have seder – please let me know and we will connect you.

Chag Sameach – a joyous and festive holiday season to all,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer


Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784