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Our Rabbi

I grew up on Long Island, New York in a community and family that was strongly Jewish from a cultural point of view, but had little connection to Jewish observance or faith. My family belonged to an Orthodox shul but very few members lived an Orthodox life, and there was no expectation that I would continue in my Jewish learning past bar mitzvah. But something inside me was drawn to a continued exploration of what it means to be Jewish. 

As a teen, my Jewish passion was all about Israel. I begged my parents to let me participate in a teen tour of Israel one summer, and when I was there I felt so overwhelmed with a feeling of “home”. To this day, Israel draws me. I try to visit as frequently as I can, and follow its politics and culture avidly. I wrestle with many of the dilemmas that Israel poses for its own citizens as well as for Diaspora Jews, and find that those dilemmas, however difficult, open up important conversations about Jewish values and identity. I continually look for ways to instill in congregants young and not-so-young that sense of connection to our ancestral home which has so enriched my life.

When I went off to university at Princeton in 1980, I found myself for the first time in the context of a community where Jews were a small minority. I quickly became involved in Hillel, and it was the Reform community within Hillel where I found my Jewish home on campus. The Reform minyan was served by a young, vivacious, female guitar-playing rabbinic student from Hebrew Union College – and every one of those attributes were the opposite of the rabbis I had encountered up until that time. The lively discussions about the Torah portion, about God, about the meaning of Jewish peoplehood, and other topics also opened up an entirely new avenue of Jewish exploration as I had no idea that our tradition offered opportunities for such exciting intellectual engagement. I had entered university with a plan to study international relations, but found myself taking Religion classes on the side to feed my growing interest in the field. Ultimately, I graduated with a degree in Religion, but my need to know more was far from satiated. I decided to apply to the rabbinic program at Hebrew Union College, the seminary of the Reform movement.

Five years of full time Jewish study at HUC was a huge privilege and brought me to a whole new level of understanding of Jewish texts and traditions. But along the way, I came to feel that the Reform movement was not actually the best fit for me. While I very much admired the movement’s commitment to egalitarianism and social justice, I came to feel a strong personal preference for more traditional davening than was typical of Reform worship. I was also looking for an environment in which I would be continually challenged to grow in my own personal Jewish observance. So while I did work in the Reform movement for my first few years following my 1990 ordination, I was also keeping my eyes open for opportunities outside the movement.

That first position I held as assistant rabbi was life-changing in that it was what brought me to Canada, specifically Montreal. There I met my wife, Linda Lipsky, and there we had our first child, our daughter Malka. I lived and worked in Montreal for six years, first as assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel-Beth Shalom and then as a Jewish studies teacher at Bialik High School while simultaneously serving as part-time rabbi of the Reform congregation in Kingston, ON.

In 1996, I took a position as Hillel rabbi in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Hillel experience had been so formative for me as a student that I wanted an opportunity to participate in it from the professional side as well. Hillel also provided a pluralistic Jewish environment for me to work as a rabbi outside the context of a particular religious movement. We had a wonderful four years in Chapel Hill, and I learned a tremendous amount during that time about the Jewish interests and motivations of young people, and also about how to lead a non-profit organization as Executive Director. 

Nevertheless, both Canada and the pulpit called me back. In 2000, I accepted a position as rabbi of the First Narayever Congregation in Toronto. I was drawn by the Narayever’s combination of traditional davening and observance, and a strong commitment to egalitarianism and tikkun olam. It felt like a great fit, and I thought I could help the community both maintain its wonderful character and grow in all kinds of new ways. We moved to Toronto at the same time as we welcomed our second daughter Tali into our family. 

It feels hard to believe that I am now entering my third decade as the rabbi of this wonderful community. This period has seen much growth and change. Among the highlights have been our full embrace of same-sex marriage following several years of congregational study and debate, a vast expansion of our offerings for children and families including the creation of a full-time Youth Director position, a strong investment in growing our pool of volunteer daveners and the profile of Tefillah in the community through the creation of our Tefillah Coach position, our participation in the shinshinim program which brings young Israeli emissaries to the shul each year, the interfaith partnerships we have developed with both Christian and Muslim communities in the GTA, the development of our sustainable food policy, the opportunities we have found to share with others outside our congregation through our participation in programs such as Out of the Cold, Kensington Gardens Long Term Care facility, and our Yom Kippur tzedakah appeal, and of course the building renovation project now underway which will add an elevator to our intimate heritage building, allowing full and dignified access for the first time to members and guests with mobility impairments. I am so proud of the way in which the Narayever has grown over the years in numbers of members, in programmatic offerings, and in the professionalism of its operation – while also managing to maintain its essential character as a warm and heimish community. 

I feel deeply honoured that my job allows me to be a part of so many people’s lives at important moments of celebration and also difficulty and loss. I feel that my personal mission is to help individuals and communities by providing care, support, and guidance, and by expanding their access to Torah while they develop their own spiritual path. I hope to always pursue this mission with passion and joy, and to inspire others to ever greater Jewish commitment, learning, mitzvah observance, spiritual exploration, and connection to Israel, in the way that I have been inspired ever since I was a young boy. 

Rabbi Ed Elkin

הרב אשר זאב בן הלל וגולדה

Publications:

At the same time that I have been serving as a congregational rabbi, I have also tried to maintain my academic pursuits.

"Making Souls" CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2020

"The Land of Israel in Medieval Torah Commentaries: The Case of Brit Bein HaBetarim" in The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Spring 2018.

"Full Faith and Credit: Jewish Views on Debt and Bankruptcy", from CCAR Journal, Spring 2010, p7-22.

Adapted as a chapter in The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic, ed. by Rabbi Mary Zamore, CCAR Press, 2019.

“Chosenness” from Vixens Disturbing Vineyards: Embarrassment and Embracement of Scriptures Academic Studies Press, 2010. p 496 – 504.

"Should a Synagogue Accept Tainted Gifts?" (with Nancy Wiener) in Reform Jewish Ethics and the Halakhah: An Experiment in Decision Making, ed. Eugene Borowitz, Behrman House, 1988.

I am proud to be a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. I also serve on the Executive of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, and I am on the advisory board of the New Israel Fund of Canada.  

Rabbi Elkin’s Study:
Telephone: (416) 487-4200
E-mail: rabbi@narayever.ca

Rabbi Elkin's High Holiday Sermons:

Yom Kippur 2019/5780

Rosh Hahshanah 2019/5780

Yom Kippur 2018/5779

Rosh Hashanah 2018/5779

Yom Kippur 2017/5778

Rosh Hashanah 2017/5778

Yom Kippur 2016/5777
Rosh Hashanah 2016/5777
Yom Kippur 2015/5776, sermon
Rosh Hashanah 2015/5776, sermon
Yom Kippur 2014/5775
Rosh Hashanah 2014/5775
Yom Kippur 2013/5774
Rosh Hashanah 2013/5774
Yom Kippur 2012/5773
Rosh Hashanah 2012/5773
Yom Kippur 2011/5772
Rosh Hashanah 2011/5772
Kol Nidre Tzedakah Appeal

Fri, March 5 2021 21 Adar 5781