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By Barbara Silverstein

(l-r) Hushy Lusthouse, Cheryl Green and Rabbi Asher Abitbol


The upcoming dedication of a new sefer Torah at Beit Rayim, a Conservative synagogue in York Region, north of Toronto, will be “bittersweet,” said one of the event organizers.

Irv Siegel said the completion of the new Torah on the evening of Sept. 12 will be tinged with some sadness because it was commissioned in memory of the congregation’s late spiritual leader, Rabbi Chezi Zionce.

“We will be remembering Rabbi Zionce, who many people loved and miss, while we will be celebrating a new Torah,” he said.

The Torah dedication will begin at 6:30 p.m. Beit Rayim, which has around 350 member families, is located in the Schwartz/Reisman Centre in Vaughan, Ont.

Siegel said there will be greeters from the congregation in the lobby to welcome people and guide them to the festivities. When the last remaining letters have been written, the group will parade the new Torah around the community centre.

The event will also include klezmer music. “It’s a celebration, not a memorial service,” he said.

Honouring Rabbi Zionce, who died last summer, with a Torah in his name is a very fitting tribute, said Siegel. “Rabbi Zionce was all about Torah.… He said you can learn everything from Torah. That was his thing.”


The Torah was commissioned last fall. One of the members had a connection to a scribe, or sofer, in Jerusalem. “He completed 99.5 per cent of the Torah, leaving a paragraph for the honourees to complete. We have about 40 honourees,” Siegel said.

sofer from New York will attend the celebration, to guide the honourees as they write the final letters of the new sefer Torah.

“There’s still some sewing that has to be done and that will be an honour given to one of our members,” Siegel said. “It’s going to a fun evening, with dancing, food and laughter.”

Siegel described Beit Rayim as a very welcoming community. “Our emphasis is to be open to all Jewish people, regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation and mental health or developmental disabilities,” he said.

“We have been fully egalitarian from the get-go. Women and men have equal rights in all aspects of worship.”

Siegel spoke about Rabbi Zionce’s empathy and compassion and credited him with making the congregation more inclusive to nearby marginalized groups, like the people with developmental disabilities from Reena and the residents of VIVA Thornhill Woods, a retirement and assisted-living community.

In fact, Siegel pointed out that Beit Rayim does weekly outreach at VIVA, where the majority of residents are Jewish.

“Our rabbi (Rabbi Joshua Corber) goes over every Friday to lead a service. The residents come over (to Beit Rayim) for Shabbat and the High Holidays. We want to extend our community to them. “We want them to feel that they have a Jewish community,” he said. “It’s not a membership drive. Every Jew should have a community to connect to so they can express their Jewish identity.”

Siegel said Rabbi Zionce initiated the Kabbalat Shabbat service at VIVA and that “It worked out and it’s been going for several years.”

A resident from Reena attends the Shabbat service at Beit Rayim every week and one of the congregants brings him back to Reena after the service. “He will be one of the honourees for the sefer Torah ceremony,” said Siegel.

“Our late Rabbi Zionce would embrace everybody. He welcomed the Reena residents.… The way he embraced marginalized Jews was inspiring.”

His passion for Judaism and Torah was infectious and he had a unique style of leading services, Siegel said, noting that, “We got the learning. We got laughter. We really enjoyed his presence.”

He said that under Rabbi Zionce’s leadership, attendance at Beit Rayim’s Shabbat services increased significantly and the congregation doubled its membership. “He brought new energy. He was a great guy and a one-of-a-kind rabbi.”

Original artcle can be found here:

Wed, 24 July 2024 18 Tammuz 5784