Messages From the Cantor and the BIC President

Click on the hyperlinks below to read the details of our members contributions.  Enjoy and many thanks!


Cantor Leon’s Shavuot Message —

For 5784/2024

Dearest friends,
Tonight (June 11) the festival of Shavuot begins. It is known by five different names in Hebrew:
Shavuot (‘Weeks’—seven of them after Pesach); Atzeret (Conclusion—of the counting
of the Omer); Chag Ha-Katzir (the Festival of Harvest—the end of the barley harverst
and the beginning of the wheat harvest); Chag Ha-Bikurim (the Festival of the First
Fruits—which were brought to the Temple and laid by the altar), and Zman Matan
(the Time of the Giving of Our Torah). The first four terms suggest milestones
in an annual cycle; the fifth reflects the conclusion of a journey, from slavery in Egypt to
the goal of receiving the Torah from God at Mount Sinai.
The receiving of the Torah was the most dramatic occurrence on Shavuot: Mount Sinai
was covered in cloud, and Moses disappeared into it in order to receive the Ten
Commandments. There was thunder, lightning, and the long, steady sound of the
shofar to emphasize that this was a moment of supreme revelation. Yet two of the other
names for the holiday speak to the power of Nature to provide sustenance for us
throughout the year. Surely they are worthy of equal note…
This year, we might pause to take notice of those constant, reassuring, and nurturing
aspects of Shavuot: the harvest, the first fruits, and the miracle of nature’s bounty.
These wonders embrace us every single day; yet too often we take the air we
breathe, the rain that falls, and the plants that grow for granted: they’re pushed aside by
the more urgent, dramatic aspects of our existence. It’s time we took not just a moment,
but indeed a whole Jewish holiday, to appreciate the natural world.
Over the next couple of days I’d like you to try something: how about saying blessings
over the natural products that grace our tables, before we indulge in eating them? After
all, it’s a miracle that these things grow in the earth, are harvested, and keep us alive
day after day. Surely they are worthy of a blessing or two!
Blessing over fruit that grows on trees:
Baruch atah A-donai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam, borei pri ha-eitz.
Baruch atah Adonai, our God, sovereign of time and space, Who creates the fruit of the
Blessing over vegetables & fruit from the ground (and quinoa):
Baruch atah A-donai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam, borei pri ha-adamah.
Baruch atah Adonai, our God, sovereign of time and space, Who creates the fruit of the
Blessing over bread:
Baruch atah A-donai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Baruch atah Adonai, our God, sovereign of time and space, Who brings forth bread
from the earth.
Blessing over grains (oats, barley, rye, spelt, couscous, and wheat products that
are not bread, like cake, pastry, crackers & pasta):

Baruch atah A-donai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam borei minei me-zonot.
Baruch atah Adonai, our God, sovereign of time and space, Who creates varieties of
Blessing over wine and grape juice:
Baruch atah A-donai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam borei pri hagafen.
Baruch atah Adonai, our God, sovereign of time and space, Who creates the fruit of the
I’ll have more to say about our relationship with the natural world over the High Holy
Days. In the meantime, I wish you all chag sameach and a very pleasant summer.
With love from Cantor Leon


Cantor Leon’s Ha’Atzmaut Message —

For 5784/2024

Prayers of Contemplation

Dearest friends,

Today, the fifth of Iyyar, marks Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. The
celebrations/commemorations will, of course, be different, on account of events
since Simchat Torah, which fell on 7 October last year. To mark this day, it would be
appropriate for me to suggest to you a number of prayers that you may keep in your
thoughts or use in your devotions.

The Al Hanissim (‘On the miracles’) prayer is used to give thanks to God for a
miraculous deliverance:

We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous
deliverance of our ancestors, in other days and in our time.
In the days when Your children were returning to their borders, at the time of a
people revived in its land as in days of old, the gates to the land of our
ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing the sword. When
enemies from within the land together with seven neighbouring nations sought
to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of
trouble. You defended them and vindicated them. You gave them the courage
to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge, and to free the
land of its armed invaders. You delivered the many into the hands of the few,
the guilty into the hands of the innocent. You have wrought great victories and
miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel to this day, revealing Your glory
and Your holiness to all the world.
Shir Hama’alot (Psalm 126) is also recited on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. It was originally
proposed as Israel’s national anthem, because of its references to the restoration
(with God’s help) following the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian
captivity. Hatikvah, by Naftali Herz Imber, was chosen instead; but Shir Hama’alot
features religious resonances that are absent from the secular anthem, and are
appropriate for religious observance:
A Song of Ascent. When Adonai restored our exiles to Zion, it was like a
dream. Then our mouths were filled with laughter; joyous song was on our
tongues. Then it was said among the nations: ‘Adonai has done great things for
them.’ Great things indeed has Adonai done for us; therefore we rejoiced. Bring
back our exiles, Adonai, like streams returning to the Negev. Those who sow in
tears shall reap with joyous song. The seed bearer may plant in tears, but will
come home singing, carrying ample sheaves of grain.
In whatever way you may choose to celebrate/commemorate Yom Ha-Atzmaut
today, my thoughts and prayers are with you.With love from Cantor Leon


Cantor Leon’s Passover Message —

For 5784/2024

Dearest friends,
At this time of the year, just before Pesach, I always review the Haggadah, to
determine how I want to approach the upcoming Seder, what songs to sing, and
whom to choose to lead various parts of the service. In childhood — and even now
— one particular part of the ritual has always fascinated me: the chanting of Eser ha-
Makot, the Ten Plagues, to which God condemned the Egyptians — each one more
severe than the last — in an effort to convince Pharaoh to free our ancestors from
slavery, and allow them to become an independent nation. Here’s the list: Blood;
Frogs; Lice; Wild Beasts; Cattle Plague; Boils; Hail; Locusts; Darkness; and Death of
the First-Born. It’s a terrible catalogue, and it was only when the last of these
punishments touched Pharaoh personally — through the death of his own child —
that he relented. The Jewish people were protected from this last plague by marking
their doorways with lamb’s blood, so that the Malach ha-Mavet (the Angel of Death)
would ‘pass over’ them, and their first-born would be spared.

I took an especial boyish interest in the custom of spilling a little wine from my cup
each time I mentioned one of the plagues. In our house we used our little finger to
drip the wine from cup to plate, and I delighted in licking my pinkie afterwards! The
reason for the dripping is explained by the 14th-century scholar Avudraham, who
recalls the verse in the Book of Proverbs chapter 24: ‘Do not rejoice when your
enemy falls’. Here we’re expressing sadness for the Egyptians, and we shed a
symbolic tear for those who’ve suffered. It’s also noteworthy that the word Simchah
(happiness) doesn’t appear in the Haggadah: because Egyptians perished, both in
the plagues, and in the drowning of Pharaoh’s armies in the Red Sea, there’s sorrow
for the demise of God’s own creatures.
Pesach, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks noted, is a time for displaying moral maturity, and
for learning to live with complex situations and emotions. There’s clearly some
justice meted out to the Egyptian aggressors, who imposed slavery upon us; but
there’s also immense pain in their fate, and I think it’s vitally important to identify with
the victims. The spilt wine, representing plagues that made people agonise, and
ultimately grieve for loved ones, symbolises the tears that we cry, both then and
now, for those who suffer. They’re a kind of unspoken language, teaching us that
sympathy for others should know no religious or national borders.
I wish you all a very happy and kosher Pesach.
With love from Cantor Leon


Cantor Leon’s Purim Message —

For 5784/2024

Dearest friends,

The joyous festival of Purim will soon be upon us, on 23-24 March. When I describe it to my Gentile friends, I say that it’s a ‘kind of Jewish Hallowe’en’, in which people dress up, either as characters from the Megillah, or as secular figures like Spiderman and Taylor Swift! We are meant to make merry on this holiday, eat Hamantashen, make donations to the poor, and drink wine — even to excess, according to the Talmud — to remind us that the Purim miracles occurred when copious amounts of alcohol were consumed.

There is, however, a more serious side to Purim: one to which we should pay particular attention this year. The Megillah recounts how Haman, an official in the court of King Achashverosh, attempted to convince the monarch that the Jews of Persia should be destroyed; but he was thwarted through the intervention of Mordechai, and of Queen Esther, who was Jewish herself. Esther told her husband about Haman’s plan; as a result, he spared the Jews, and had Haman executed for his treachery.

We make lots of noise every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the Megillah; we do this so as to blot out his name every time it is mentioned. To understand why we do this, we need to recall Haman’s genealogy: he was the descendant of Amalek, the people who attacked the defenceless Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea, as recounted in the Book of Shemot (Exodus). The Bible specifically tells us that we must remember the deeds of Amalek, who set out to destroy the Jewish people. In our own time, we recall Amalek in the context of rising antisemitism, which is evident in many parts of the world. I myself have felt it — both in my workplace, and when I have been travelling recently. Hatred of the Jews seems to be everywhere at the moment. We need to be vigilant, and to call it out when we see it, for only in this way will we be able to overcome those who are intent on our persecution and (God forbid) our destruction.

There is, nevertheless, cause to be optimistic: spring is on the way, the days are getting longer, and we will be reunited with family and friends for events that remind us that we are stronger together, and that we can be grateful for all of God’s blessings.

I wish you all a very joyous Purim.

With love from Cantor Leon



A Word From the President: 

Reflections on the Middle East Crisis

As I lay awake last night consumed by the turmoil in the Middle East, I thought about how the Israeli-Hamas war has aroused many emotions, and as many opinions, in our community and in Jewish communities across the country and around the world. In my more poetic moments, I like to think of Beth Israel’s ‘big tent’ approach as an encompassing Tallis covering the congregation, under which we huddle together and receive the blessing of Jewish community. With the potential divisiveness of this moment, I fear that this Tallis is at risk of becoming frayed. As Board President, I ask that the old guard learn to be better listeners and more receptive, and that the vanguard have patience, speak up, and get involved. I implore each of us to be as respectful and tolerant of each other, and all humans, as we are able. Lastly, I ask that each of you that has a vision for the Peterborough Jewish community speaks up and becomes involved as you are able, and in whatever way that feels right to you. If you care to make a productive offering, we look forward to receiving it via email to

Respectfully yours,

Mark Siegel
Beth Israel Congregation Board President

Cantor Leon’s Message —

A Perspective From Belfast 

Dearest friends,

This is a very trying time for our community. We have experienced a great shock and tragedy, which reverberates around the world. Antisemitism is on the rise; Jewish people are frightened, particularly given the public gatherings that have been held, the vitriol and menace of which are reminiscent of the darkest days of the last century. I grew up with the memory of the Holocaust deeply ingrained in me and my family, many of whom, including my parents, were survivors of that terrible tragedy. I never thought that I’d experience anything like the anxiety and dread that my mother and father felt, simply for being Jewish; unfortunately those feelings are beginning to surface. 

Here in Europe tensions are running high: you can feel the animosity towards Jews, and can see it daily in the media, and indeed on the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Belfast. We must all have our wits about us, and call out antisemitism wherever it surfaces. 

In addition to regretting the terrible toll in human lives lost, we should remember those who were removed by force into Gaza, including several Canadians. Over two hundred hostages have been taken by Hamas, including 30 children and 20 people over the age of 60. We live in hope that sense will prevail, and that they will be freed in the near future. 

On Monday 9 October I sat down to compose a prayer for those hostages who were taken on Simchat Torah. This was recited by our dear friend Dr Dan Houpt in his Kabbalat Shabbat, and I now offer it to the community at large. Please see it in full below.  It is adapted from our Shacharit morning service, and originates in a time when our ancestors were forcibly taken and held against their will; unfortunately this has happened all too often in our history. Those hostages taken from southern Israel need our love and support; I hope you will use this prayer, in public and in private, to help to bring them home to their loved ones. 

If anyone feels the need to reach out to me for pastoral support at this terrible time, please do get in touch. I’m always available to talk. 

With love from Cantor Leon

Prayer for the Hostages Taken by Hamas Terrorists

on Simchat Torah (7 October 2023)

For our brothers and sisters, all the House of Israel, who have fallen into hardship and captivity, who stand between the sea and the dry land, may the Everpresent One have mercy upon them and rescue them from hardship to wellbeing, and from darkness to light, and from bondage to redemption, now, in the world, at the earliest possible moment, we pray.

And let us say: Amen.

Extracted from daily Shacharit (morning prayer)

Cantor Leon Litvack, 24 Tishrei, 5784


A Word From the President: 

Tragedies in Middle East

Dear Fellow Congregants,

As our hearts and minds are overtaken by events in the Middle East, with real time exposure to the horrors that are engulfing that region, my feelings include shock, anger and revulsion at the atrocities committed upon helpless innocents, and the grief that follows. I also feel intense sadness and impotency for being unable to prevent the awakening of the “Dogs of War” which the Israeli military is so capable of. I feel afraid of the awful consequences of revenge and reprisal, not only the death and destruction, but more so, this set-back to the generations of work towards resolution of the underpinnings of this recurring nightmare.

On behalf of BIC I want to extend our prayers for those who have suffered injuries or loss of life, and our sympathies to those whose friends and loved ones are caught up in this maelstrom. I share these feelings in the hope that it will connect us at this difficult time. For those who feel called to be together at this time, please join in Friday night as Dan Houpt leads a service for our community to support each other. Please see details here. For those who feel called to gather with our Muslim and Christian neighbours, your participation in this week’s Abraham Festival events would be greatly appreciated. Click here for further details.

I realize that my words may not satisfy everyone. Recognizing that we hold divergent opinions, we are fortunate for any and all ways that our small community can be supportive of each other during this time. 

Take care,

Mark Siegel

Beth Israel Congregation Board President


A Word From the President for 5784 

Dear Fellow Community members,
Thank you to all those who made this year’s High Holidays so wonderful. Thank you to Leon for his 13th year providing meaningful spiritual leadership a wonderful voice and warm personality. We look forward to working together again!
Thank you to Ron, Karen, Dan, Larry, Dana, the Security Team,  and the Fast Breaking team for your essential roles in making High Holiday services and events happen in such an organized, thoughtful, beautiful, secure and community-focused way. We are deeply grateful. These services and events could not have happened without your ongoing leadership and tireless work.
As well as many Beth Israel volunteers, we thank members of the Unitarian congregation who contributed many hours of their time to help keep us safe while we observed the Holy Days together.
Lastly, thank you to everyone for attending! 
Stay tuned next week when we will have information about our New Board Members!
Mark Siegel
Beth Israel Congregation Board President


Cantor Litvack’s Prayer for Ukraine

Prayer for Ukraine

Almighty God, we pray for the safety of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Ukraine, for their President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and for all people affected by the conflict. We pray for the security of the country, and for all the neighbouring countries that have opened their borders to provide humanitarian corridors and safe passage for evacuees. We pray for a peaceful resolution; we pray that those affected have the strength and resources to make it through this trying time.

We pray for the day when “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore.” May these words of the Prophet Isaiah come true in our day—in this very hour.

Source of Goodness, strengthen the hands of those who pursue peace, not war. Bring harmony where there is hostility, relief where there is pain, and hope where there is despair.

May God who makes peace in high places make peace for all on earth.

And let us all say Amen.

Cantor Leon Litvack
Shabbat Hagadol
9 April/8 Nisan 2022

Cantor Litvack’s ‘Thought for the Day’ (June 15th, 2022)

The synagogue for which I’m spiritual leader has, for nearly twenty years, shared its premises with a Unitarian congregation. The arrangement is a happy and successful one: we’re respectful of each other’s faith traditions, and their requirements. For Jews, having a kosher kitchen is essential; so, as an accommodation, both congregations serve only vegetarian or dairy foods at their events. As for visible symbols of faith, Jews wouldn’t feel comfortable worshipping in a sanctuary where there’s a cross; for Unitarians that’s not a problem, because their central symbol is a flaming chalice. These areas of cooperation, and others, constitute an admirable model of how two communities can fit together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and share a single space.

            Last Sunday, there was a special joint service, to celebrate the signing of a memorandum of mutual understanding. This document outlined what responsibilities would be shared, and how the two partners would build a mutually beneficial relationship. The Unitarian minister got in touch with me before the event, and said, “I’ve heard that Judaism has a blessing for everything. Is there one for joining paths and making partnerships?” I thought for a while, and the only standard blessing I could think of was one that celebrates business partnerships; so I decided to adapt this blessing, and change the words to fit the circumstances of the special service. What I came up with was this:

May this partnership be endowed with happiness and blessing.

May this place be filled with protection and peace.

May our pathway be one of good fortune and surety.

May this be the doorway to agreement and abundance.

            This form of words went over well with the two communities, and spoke to what we’re trying to achieve — that is, a happy coexistence, accessed through a single entry point. We want security for maintaining our own way of life and worship, supported by our partners who wish for the same thing. We need to grow together, whilst maintaining trust and sharing responsibility. Of course there’ll be issues along the way; but I think this model will work well — particularly because of the imperative to inhabit the same space. There’s a lesson in this for all of us, in terms of peaceful coexistence and a shared future.  For my congregation and the Unitarians, this principle is best summed up by a banner that we proudly display on the road outside; it reads “Love lives here”.

Link to the recording of this Thought for The Day:

Cantor Litvack’s ‘Thought for the Day’ (April 6th, 2022)

            I’m currently preparing for my services, to mark the Jewish festival of Passover, which begins next week. Its most outstanding feature is the retelling of the story of the Exodus: one of the greatest narratives of hope in the literature of the world. Its themes include the experiencing of suffering under a powerful oppressor; we mark this by eating bitter herbs, and tasting salt water, as a symbol of the tears shed by our ancestors. We also experience the quest for freedom of thought and action, symbolised by children’s asking such poignant questions as “Why at this time do we eat unleaved bread?” and the adults’ responding that “we had to leave Egypt in a hurry, and so the dough didn’t have time to rise”. Here we’re acting out the experience of liberation from tyranny; by a series of object lessons we’re reminded that living a life of freedom has its cost.

            My favourite part of the ritual Passover meal, called a Seder, is opening the door for Elijah the Prophet, who will, we trust, announce our final redemption, and the advent of the Messiah. It’s a stirring experience, particularly for children, who hope to see the miraculous apparition of Elijah’s entering, and drinking from the special cup that has been set aside for him. When I was a child, I can remember that when this moment arrived, my dad used to shake the table, to give the appearance that Elijah had come, and had indeed drunk the wine.  The passage from the Book of Psalms that we recite when this is happening is poignant; it begins, ‘Pour out Your wrath on the nations that don’t acknowledge you, for they have devoured Jacob and have laid waste his habitation’. You can appreciate the symbolism here: persecution of the people of Jacob in times past have made them cautious about opening their doors to people who don’t recognise God’s grace.

            This past week I’ve seen photos in the news, of doors in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha torn off their hinges, as the invaders wreak havoc and leave unimaginable destruction in their wake. People of all religions and none are afraid to open their doors, and have retreated to basements and other places of shelter, often in dire circumstances. In the coming days I shall be thinking about those suffering the humiliations and deprivations of war, and as I open my door, I’ll bear in mind not only the hope that Elijah will appear, but also how fortunate I am to have the freedom to welcome in all who wish to enter.


Cantor Litvack’s ‘Thought for the Day’ (March 30th, 2022)

            You’ve probably never heard of Medzhybisz, a small town in western Ukraine, half-way between Kyiv and Lviv. For Jewish people it’s one of the most important religious sites in the country, because it was the birthplace of the Chassidic movement, founded in the eighteenth century by a charismatic figure called the Ba’al Shem Tov, or ‘Master of the Good Name’.  This Rabbi loved the common people, and emphasised joy as a central component of religious experience. He valued singing and dancing while at prayer, in order to achieve a higher level of devotion; these principles continue to influence Jewish worship today. Many fable-like stories were passed down about him, and I can remember my father’s recounting some of these wonderful tales to me when I was a child.

            My favourite one concerns a man wishing to take his son, who couldn’t speak or read, to the Master’s synagogue, to experience the holy atmosphere. As the prayers progressed, the Master heard a strange whistling noise coming from the congregation; the prayers stopped dead: no one could imagine why the solemn atmosphere was interrupted. The service recommenced, and the whistling was heard again. This time the Master kept a sharp lookout, and saw that the noise was coming from the boy who couldn’t speak; he went over, and quickly understood what was happening: the boy was praying, even though he couldn’t enunciate words. The Rabbi then said to his followers: “This boy, through his whistling, has lifted our prayers to the Almighty much higher than we all could through our words. A fire was kindled in him, and he used the only language he knew, to reach God. It’s because of him that our prayers will be answered.”

            In Medzhybisz today, you’ll find the tomb of this Master, and various sites devoted to his memory, including the very synagogue where this incident took place. It’s a place of pilgrimage, particularly for this Rabbi’s adherents; they consider this small Ukrainian town their spiritual home. I know many people of all faiths who have derived great satisfaction from their religious pilgrimages to places made famous by charismatic figures; this points to our wish to get as close to a spiritual centre as possible. In the present circumstances in Ukraine, such considerations are way down the list, given the need to preserve life and freedom. Let’s hope that Medzhybisz and its inhabitants survive this conflict, and that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore.”


BIC President’s Community Update

Dear Friends,

      We hope that this message finds you and your family in great health, and good spirits. The past two years of the pandemic have been unprecedented in our lifetime. It has certainly affected us all. This includes gathering with our friends and family.  Everyday activities we have taken for granted are now a bit more challenging.

     These limitations also include community gatherings at our beloved Beth Israel Synagogue. The building still remains closed out of concern for the well-being of our Congregation. Until recently the COVID numbers were trending positively, and we were hoping to reopen the shul this month. The emergence of the Omicron variant has delayed these plans. We look forward to gathering at the Synagogue when it is safe to do so.

    On a very positive note our community continues to be vibrant and very active despite the pandemic. Thanks to Dan Houpt for continuing to run regular Kabbalat Shabbat services.  Kudos to our Cantor Leon Litvack for leading services and his deep caring for us. We have also held a number of additional events which included Jewish holidays such as Purim, Passover and the High Holy Days, many with a kids and youth participation component. All of these have been well attended.

   Our Outreach and Events Committee has continued to be very active in reaching out to individuals in our community, and also developing the framework of many of our events. One of their accomplishments has been developing an education program and curriculum for the Youth who live here. This is extremely important as the number of young people in our community is at the highest numbers we have seen in many years!

   Our partnership with our friends at the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough (UFP) continues to grow and evolve. After years of dialogue we have recently developed and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This important document details how we will jointly manage and share the Synagogue. It also assures that the UFP will be with us for many years into the future. This is great news as the rental income we receive from the UFP is critical to our long-term fiscal health.

   In addition to revenue, the UFP bring many resources and much energy to the management of the building. Through this collaborative effort we have upgraded Beth Israel Synagogue into a fully accessible building in the past year. An elevator was installed between floors, to assist those with mobility issues. A new fully accessible washroom was constructed in the basement, and doors and entrances to the shul were modified to be fully accessible to all with mobility issues. Funds for these improvements to the synagogue came from a Federal Government Accessibility Grant with the balance of the costs shared by the UFP and BIS communities.

   The future of our community is very bright. Thanks to your commitment our membership numbers at Beth Israel is at the highest level in the 35 years I have been a member. This is a testament to the hard work of many individuals, and to the will of our community itself.

   I speak for everyone when I say that we look forward to having the pandemic behind us, and to gathering again at the Synagogue. We look forward to another strong year of programming. Lastly if there is anything on your mind which may assist our community, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Be well.

Larry Gillman

President Beth Israel Synagogue


The BIC Kids’ Crew Recording of ‘A Hamilton Hannukah’! 

Below is the full recording of this memorable Kids’ Crew event!

Here are the lyrics:

A Hamilton Hannukah

Lyrics by Six13

I tell the tale of those before me

And of their victory in the fight

And now our children tell the story

They tell the story of the lights

We’ll add another one each night

Light a light to freedom, (dum)

They tell the story of…

Dum da da da dum dum dum

ah aaaah

How does a humble ragtag

band full of boys from yeshiva

rise up to triumph

against unbelievable odds

in a battle our people still remember

and celebrate with dreidels

every year around December?

The five pious and loyal sons

of Mattathias stood against bias

Said, you can’t deny us.

You disagree? Try us!

Our God will supply us

with strength to win

and then potato latkes

we will fry us.

For every day

while praying was being

barred and made harder

our ways they tried to change

Antiochus sent his guard out

Inside, our boys knew

not to forget what they were part of

Five brothers and their dad

ready to win or die as martyrs

Then the Greeks came

and Hellenization reigned.

Our people saw our future

drip, dripping down the drain

They entered into the Temple

and the altar they profaned

left a blood stain

our heroes got sick of the pain.

Well, the word spread around

we said, this is insane, man.

We Jews cannot survive

under Antiochus’ reign, man.

Let’s fight back

and send the Greeks right back

from whence they came

And our bravery will win us fame.

Say your name, man!

Judah, Judah Maccabee.

They call me Judah, Judah Maccabee.

And Antiochus says he’s number one.

But just you wait, just you wait…

I am not throwing gelt in the

I am not throwing gelt in the


Yo, I’m straight gimmel-spinnin’

while y’all are nun and shinnin’

And I’m not throwin’ gelt in the pot.

Make the menorah hot.

See, it isn’t all about presents.

‘cause gratitude for miracles

is Chanukah’s essence.

The Maccabees revolted

thwarted Greek plans.

Now a horah we dance

and we fry latkes in pans.

We’re gonna make it hot!

Yeah, we give thanks for being free
Because of the revolt

led by Judah Maccabee.
They defied, do or die.

You and I feel great.
And celebrate, as the lights

we illuminate.

And I am not throwing gelt in the

I am not throwing gelt in the


Yo, I’m straight gimmel-spinnin’

while y’all are nun and shinnin’

And I’m not throwin’ gelt in the


I am not throwing gelt in the

I am not throwing gelt in the


Yo, I’m straight gimmel-spinnin’

while y’all are nun and shinnin’

And I’m not throwin’ gelt in the


Everybody say

Nes gadol
Haya po

(if you’re in Israel)
Haya sham

(if you’re anywhere)


Nes gadol / Light up

candles in the Chanukiah,

Haya po / we remember

Maccabees when we  

Haya sham / Light up

candles in the Chanukiah

Light up, light up

Light up, light up


And I am not throwing gelt in the
Light up, make the menorah

Pot / hot

I am not throwing gelt in the

We gonna light up, make the menorah

pot/ hot

we gonna light up, light up

make the menorah hot

light up, light up

make the menorah hot

light up

make the menorah hot

light up

Make it hot hot hot


Make manorahs hot

Make manorahs hot

And I am not throwing gelt in the—

Dum da da da dum dum


Ma’oz Tzur Yeshu’ati

Ma’oz Tzur Yeshu’ati

Ma’oz Tzur Yeshu’ati[ZvB1] 

Lekha na’eh

Lekha na’eh


Happy, happy Chanukah

Happy, happy Chanukah

Judah Maccabee

we sing of you (hanukkah)
and the odds you overcame
when we’re playing our dreidel game

Each night

we light those candles’ flames


For the victories and miracles

we celebrate

dum da da da dum dum dum

What ya say, boys?
Happy, happy Chanukah!


Dr. Leon Litvack presents “Thought for the Day”

YiddishCheck out Leon’s BBC broadcast on Friday Nov. 5, one of his regular “Thought for the Day” presentations.

This one is about the importance of Yiddish as a heritage language, and rumour has it that it is one of the best podcasts that Leon has done in this series.  

So, if you are interested in Yiddish, in language in general and in Jewish culture, be sure to check it out:


“Creating Shekev”:  A new novel by Harlan Wall

Another baby has been born! In September, my first book was published, called “Forbidden Fruit.” It was a scholarly book. This book, however, is a novel called “Creating Shekey.” It’s a short work of fiction that is, for the most part, written very simply; with limited narrative and plenty of dialogue. I’m very pleased with this short novel because I was able to get out of the way and let the story tell itself (which might be why the story was born earlier than expected). It has taken me many years to learn that “less is often more.”
My hope is that this story will engage those who do not read much fiction (if at all). It’s always a special day when a new story is born into the world. I hope you will share my joy. I also hope you will share this news with others. I sure would appreciate your help in promoting the book on your social media page(s) and book-clubs etc. My novel can be purchased easily on Amazon (link below) and at select bookstores. Click on the link to see a description (summary) and sample. My gratitude to G-d, who gave me the strength to push through the pain to write this story.
Harlan Wall


Dayenu:  New verses from Ziysah von B

Ziysah has masterfully added some verses to the traditional Pesach song.  Here is an excerpt to the introduction to these new verses:

“Every year, we try to think about what miracles we cherish so that no matter how difficult life may be,
we are able to re-focus on gratitude and the abundance of life. This year seems a particularly poignant
time for this lesson. As we have all been struck by sudden and trying changes to our lives, we notice
how steeped we still are in blessings. We are trapped at home only to realize how grateful we are to
have a home. We are separated from our friends and family only to realize how much we value
friendship and care.”

Here is a link to the full set of verses contributed by Ziysah:


“On the Grass When I Arrive”.  Cantor Litvack’s New Book.

This new anthology of poetry and prose features contributions by established authors, as well as pieces by newer writers who creatively explore issues of place and belonging. With settings throughout Northern Ireland and beyond, these short works offer fresh perspectives, and attempt to address an essential question: how do we feel about our home, identity, and community?

To learn more about Cantor Litvack’s book have a listen to a recent interview with Kim Lenaghan.

Alpha:  A Poem from Ziysah von B

Alpha Ochigbo was born in the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre in 2013. There were no charges against his mother, Glory Anawa, and no way to deport her.

Since 2006, Canada has imprisoned more than 80,000
migrants without charge or trial.

For more information about Alpha, Glory, and migrant justice,
please visit



You are eighteen months alive

and every one of your days has played out

on the inside.

They are holding your mother



For having the audacity to have the tenacity

to try to get somewhere where you could be free.

Punished for her reverence of the benevolence of this country.

No charges or trial, just monthly bail denial.

They say she can choose freely:

take you as her cellmate

or donate you

to the Children’s Aid Society.

More like Family Separation Anxiety.

This is not the Canada I want you to see.

Were there jail guards at your birth?

Were your first sights of sky striped with bars?

Have you ever felt a snowflake dissipate into your velvet-

warm face?

We marched outside the correctional facility

led by teenagers who know this is far from correct.

My baby, born mere months before you

made that same fearful voyage through narrow passage

he, sliding from womb into water,

you, sliding from womb into


And now my toddler’s waddling his best

all wool and drumsticks

tiny lips curled so sweetly

round the sounds of protest.

What gives him the right over you to be free?

My grandmother clinging tight to her tate’s coat trim

de-boards a ship, headscarf tied under chin.

Authorities butcher their names, but let their flesh in.

Canada’s open arms revealing only soft palms.

Mere months later, and they would have been smacked back

to the sounds of bombs.

On the eve of war

a thousand Jewish refugees

packaged up and returned

to Germany.

Orchestrated or arbitrary?

Who amongst us will defend the way we pretend to have

earned this free?

What gives us the audacity to claim the veracity

of citizenship to this place?

With genocidal origins that leave us shame-faced.

We gaze at our open arms and see firing arms.
This soft palm just the flipside of a powerful backhand.


My little one is gazing up at the slice of glowing moon
a question in his eyes. You are gazing up
at razor wire.  

You toddlers love with your bodies
trust by scent
senses bursting open to environment.

289 more children of migrants
similarly steeped in steel
weapon-flanked authority
and no eye contact.

Your mother had the audacity to have the tenacity
to try to get somewhere where you could be free.

Only to be held indefinitely.

Punished for her reverence of the benevolence of this country.

I have to imagine we will soon transcend our apathy
and demand your release.

I see you riding the streetcar with Glory
from Kensington Market to Little Italy.

Clinging tight to her coat trim.
Peering off the side of the Island ferry.
Registering for kindergarten.
Joining the diversity.

All those kids standing proud.

God keep our land…

And you, proof of the hypocrisy, singing loud:

Glory and all of us free.

And when they ask if you’re sure that’s how it goes
you just answer:


 Dan`s Song

Like many of you, I was haunted by the images of entire Syrian families braving the waves of the Mediterranean and especially of pictures of children drowned on the beaches of Greece. I wrote the following song “Children on the Beach” to help raise awareness of this issue, and to start a healing process.

Recording of  “Children on the Beach”

Click on link to the recording.

NEW! Click on the link to the music video of “Children on the Beach“.

Lyrics to “Children on the Beach”

Oh what a dream I’ve had, of children on the beach
Of plastic boats and ice-cream floats and loving parents within reach
Seagulls soaring overhead, the smell of summer in the air,
Children digging in the sand, living lives without a care,

Oh how my dream has changed, of children on the beach
Of monster waves and killing shores, and daddy’s hand just out of reach
Vultures soaring overhead, the smell of death is in the air
Children lying on the sand ignored by a world that doesn’t care….

But I dream of a world that is forgiving, that can see the G-d in everyone,
And realizes that we are a family, that we’re all a daughter or a son….

And so I dream my dream, of children on the beach
Happy faces running free, and loving hands within reach
The doves of peace fly overhead, the sounds of joy are all I hear
Children playing on the sand living lives without fear,

And I dream of a world that is forgiving, that can see the G-d in everyone,
And realizes that we are a family, that we’re all a daughter or a son.

Dan Houpt