Newspaper articles about our rabbi - from
The Jewish Press, The Canadian Jewish News and The Gazette.
After going one full year without a rabbi, the Chevra Kadisha B'nai Jacob Synagogue introduced the Montreal Jewish community to their new rabbi, Rabbi Asher Jacobson.
Rabbi Jacobson is a young, dynamic and gifted speaker. He comes from New York where he majored in Jewish law and completed his rabbinical ordination with distinction, at the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn.
While in Montreal for only three years, he has made his presence felt. Rabbi Jacobson is the founder and director of the Jewish Heritage Center. As well, he directed the Seminary of Bet Menachem for Young Women, and headed the administration of the TAV Institute of Montreal, through its expansion and growth. .
Rabbi Jacobson is dedicated and committed to strengthening the synagogue's Orthodox affiliation. He feels that the synagogue should be a warm and welcoming place where members and their children can feel at home in a Jewish environment. His primary objective is to create programs for our youth. He strongly believes that a synagogueís main resources should be channeled toward developing and educating our young people, as they are our future. He is already in the process of beginning three youth programs for youngsters from ages five to nineteen.
The Chevra Kadisha B'nai Jacob Synagogue, the largest in the city, accommodates 2000 members on the High Holidays. The synagogue's large halls host many simchot and special occasions. Throughout the year, Simon Spiro, the cantor, and an eighteen-member choir embellish the services.
This coming fall, on Tuesday evenings, Rabbi Jacobson will be joined by guest speakers from around the globe: politicians, authors, medical experts and other notable personalities as they discuss various contemporary Jewish topics and issues including education, science, philosophy, law, mysticism and kaballah. The public is welcome to come hear Rabbi Jacobson's ongoing Torah class every Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. Join them for Lunch and Learn.
Page 6 M________________ THE CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS _________________ July 17, 2000
By JANICE ARNOLD
Staff Reporter .
MONTREAL -With the appointment of a Lubavitch rabbi, Asher Jacobson, as its new spiritual leader, Congregation Chevra Kadisha-B'nai Jacob (CKBJ) has sent a strong signal as to what direction it is taking.
Rabbi Jacobson, 28, said he is "dedicated and committed to strengthening the synagogue's Orthodox affiliation."
The orientation of the 600-member synagogue has been under discussion for over a year, since its last rabbi, Gavriel Newman, who had very liberal views, left.
A native of New York, Rabbi Jacobson moved here three years ago to become administrator of the TAV Institute and director of the Bet Menachem Seminary for Young Women, both Lubavitch programs. The CKBJ, which is on Clanranald Avenue, is his first pulpit, save for one year as an assistant rabbi in St. Paul, Minn.
When Jack Rothenberg became president a year ago, he pledged to hold a referendum among the membership on whether the CKBJ should remain Orthodox or become Conservative, which he felt might better reflect its practice.
No referendum was held," Rabbi Jacobson said. "Just the talk of going Conservative did not sit well, I think, with the majority of members."
Rothenberg recently resigned, and the new co-presidents are Danny Miller and Sally Raicek.
One of the conditions of Rabbi Jacobson's agreeing to serve was the installation of a mechitza between the men's and women's sections. The lack of a mechitza has been a point of contention among the membership for many years.
As a temporary measure, the two women's sections that flank the main section are now bordered by plants.
Rabbi Jacobson said the board unanimously voted in favour of installing a permanent mechitza. Plans now being drawn up by architects involve raising both women's sections higher than the main one, and putting in brass railings as dividers.
"There will not be a wall. It was felt the shul has been like this for 40 years, and a wall would be too radical. The women might be offended, and some of the men, too. Like this, everyone is satisfied," Rabbi Jacobson said.
"This will be the minimum type [of mechitza] halachically required."
More "problematic" to Rabbi Jacobson is the congregation's use of a microphone during services. At his behest, microphones are no longer used on Shabbat, but what to do on the High Holy Days, when the sanctuary is expected to reach its near 1,0000-seat capacity has not yet been resolved.
"I won't be speaking into a mike," he affirmed, because he believes it activates an electrical reaction.
Although it has aroused controversy, the inclusion of non-Jews In the shul choir is only third on the rabbi s list of technicalities" that need correction.
"1 am going to make all my efforts to bring Jews into the choir. We could have a boys choir if we can t find adults.
"There's no question, most of the congregants who come regularly to Shabbos services, would be more comfortable knowing only Jews were singing.
Halachically, he acknowledged, there are differing opinions, on this practice.
The rabbis I have spoken to say it just doesnít sit well. Itís bizarre. Why do we need to create controversy?"
Personally, he appreciates the quality of the music Cantor Simon Spiro, who has had a career as a pop singer in England, and musical director Ari Snyder have introduced, and he knows that it attracted many on the High Holy Days.
'They want the best, but I have to ask how much should we sacrifice. It really doesn't enhance the synagogue."
Rabbi Jacobsonís top priority, however, is trying to fill the empty seats on Shabbat. Attendance averages about 150 to 200, a disappointing number for such a large synagogue.
"I intend to literally go door to door in the area with a challah and wine, and bring the Shabbos into people's homes," he said.
He is convinced that personal contact will persuade people to come to shul, both inactive members and the unaffiliated. He has statistics that show 40,000 Montreal Jews have no synagogue and he wants to meet them where they are. "We can't wait for people to come to us."
He thinks many traditional Jews have stayed away because the CKBJ did not meet their principles.
"I feel the synagogue should be a warm and welcoming place where members and their children can feel at home in a Jewish environment," he said.
Because of his youth, the rabbi thinks he can connect effectively with young people.
He already has three educational programs in the works for young people age five to 19.
The Adult education is also high on his agenda. He was the founder and director of TAV's Jewish Heritage Center and editor of Lubavitch's L 'Chaim publication for two years when he was In Israel.
At the CKBJ, he has started a Torah class Wednesday afternoons, and this fall he will launch a Tuesday evening lecture series.
"I will be joined by guest speakers from around the globe -politicians, authors, medical experts and other notable personalities to discuss contemporary Jewish topics, including education, science, philosophy, law, mysticism and Kabbalah."
The Gazette, Montreal, Saturday, August 19, 2000
Synagogue plumps for orthodoxy
of new rabbi signals an end to ambiguous identity of Chevra Kadisha-Bínai
After a period of uncertainty, Congregation Chevra Kadisha-B'nai Jacob, one of Montreal's largest Orthodox synagogues, has a dynamic young rabbi and has decided that, instead of sitting on the fence, it's going to build one-literally.
The fence in question is a "mechitza," as Orthodox Jews call the barrier -often quite low -that separates the women's seating from the men's in their synagogues.
Rabbi Asher Jacobson, 28, who grew up in the Lubavitcher movement of Hasidic Jews in New York, and specialized in Jewish law during his rabbinic studies, said he made working toward a mechitza a condition of his accepting the rabbi's job at Chevra Kadisha. He took up his new duties at the beginning of June.
Chevra Kadisha, with a history going back to 1893, has occupied its present spacious quarters on Clanranald Ave. in the Snowdon district of Montreal since 1955. The congregation, which numbered more than 1,200 families in the early 1970ís but is down to around 700 today, had been without a rabbi for a year, since Rabbi Gavriel Newman left after five years for a pulpit in Baltimore. Tensions within the synagogue were said to be among the reasons for his departure.
During the year there was some soul-searching and controversy at Chevra Kadisha, much of it focusing on the congregation's commitment to Orthodoxy or lack of it.
As is the case at several Montreal synagogues, Chevra Kadisha is Orthodox as an institution even if many of its members are not themselves particularly observant of Jewish dietary and other laws.
Jack Rothenberg, the colourful financial consultant and wildlife photographer who became president of the synagogue around the time Newman left as rabbi, created a stir by saying Chevra Kadisha was going to have to decide whether to stay Orthodox or switch to the less strictly observant Conservative movement.
One example of Chevra Kadisha's laid-back approach to religious law is to he found in its spacious main auditorium, with its theatre-style pitched floor, theatre-style seats and stained glass.
As at other Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately at worship. Up to now, however, the womenís sections, at the sides, have been separated from the menís only by aisles. The Auditorium has no mechitzah.
In a letter to members of the congregation in mid-May, lawyer Daniel S. Miller wrote on behalf of the board that, while ambivalence over Orthodox practice may have once served the purposes of Chevra Kadisha, membership has declined in the past decade. By contrast, he wrote membership of strongly Orthodox groups seems to be increasing.
Miller also noted that strongly Orthodox Hasidic and Sephardic Jews who rent the attractive premises for weddings do not affiliate with the synagogue because of "the seemingly ambiguity of our Orthodox commitment."
Miller wrote the letter as first vice-president, but since then, he and Sally Raicek, formerly second vice-president, have become co-presidents. Miller wrote that the executive -three men and three women -had "voted unanimously to reaffirm the unquestionable Orthodoxy of our synagogue."
He also announced "a logical and essential corollary": there is going to be a mechitzah, two, in fact.
The Womenís sections will remain at the sides as at present. The floors of the two womenís sections are to be raised, making it possible to keep down the height of the fence.
Jacobson said he expects the low fence, in brass, to be up by the end of next June. In the meantime, plants are being used as a substitute.
Besides moving to install a mechitzah, the synagogue is moving toward stricter Orthodoxy in two other ways.
Even more important than the mechitzah, Jacobson has announced that he will not use a microphone to help his voice carry at the heavily attended High Holiday services. In his view, using a mike activates electrical currents, violating laws against work on the Sabbath and certain other days.
And very much third among the three changes, he wants to see the few gentiles on the synagogue choir replaced by Jews before too long. The presence of the gentiles has been a source of controversy, but Jacobson sees the issue as less one of religious law than of the feelings of some members of the congregation.
Jacobson, who during two years of studies in Israel founded an English- language publication of Torah discussion and current events, has been in Montreal three years.
He held an administrative post with the private Torah and Vocational Institute of Montreal, a growing institution that provides, largely; vocational training in such fields as computer technology to members of the Jewish community and immigrant groups.
Jacobson was also involved with a centre to transmit Jewish lore and a "seminary" for women aspiring to become teachers.
While Chevra Kadisha is taking "a step in the Orthodox direction," he thinks it will still be slightly on the liberal side by comparison with most Montreal Orthodox synagogues.
He insists any Jew is welcome at Chevra Kadisha.
"You don't have to be religious to come to synagogue- Moses wasn't Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. Neither is God Reform, Conservative or Orthodox."
Jacobson, married and the father of a son, 2 ½, and a baby daughter, plans to reach out, especially to youth.
"If you have the best sermons in the world and the nicest kiddush (refreshments) and think you are just going to sit back and wait for people to come, you are making a big mistake."
He has been talking to campus groups, school principals and others about setting up recreational and other programs -not necessarily in the synagogue- that will appeal to young people. He has already begun 1 p.m. Wednesday talks, open to the public and free, on the week's passages in the Jewish cycle of Torah readings.
Beginning in the fall, he plans Tuesday evening talks, by himself and guest speakers, on issues at the interface between Jewish tradition and secular law, mysticism and Kaba1lah.
He also plans to encourage members of the shul to organize Bible-study groups, meeting in members' houses.
Harvey Shepherd can be reached by phone at (514) 987-2651 or by E-mail hshepher(g)thegazette.southam.ca