Doing good deeds for others is a fundamental aspect of Judaism, but community-organized projects tend to be one-offs, with participants carrying out the act of kindness and ticking it off their to-do list.
Rabbi Anthony Knopf does not want to discourage Jews from such worthy endeavours; on the contrary, he wants them to look inside themselves and see how they might become better people every day.
He is the creative mind behind the Rise Together Project, which he is inviting Montreal synagogues and Jewish schools to join.
He is proposing setting aside a week for “self-reflection and self-improvement,” and, so far, over 30 synagogues, Chabad centres, schools and organizations have signed on to the project, which is taking place from May 20-26.
The Torah can be the guide for this introspection, he said. “It’s about engaging with the idea of what it means to be a good person, how we can grow as a human being.”
Rabbi Knopf is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Ora in the Montreal borough of St-Laurent.
“We want each person to introspect, but the role of community is so important: it inspires people to do that introspection, it provides the means for them to learn about it from a Jewish perspective and it creates a space for people to express their personal growth in public behaviour,” he explained.
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The 39-year-old native of Manchester, England, came to Montreal after serving at the Camps Bay synagogue in Capetown.
Rise Together is inspired by the spirit of South Africa’s tight-knit Jewish community, which often comes together for such expressions of unity. After all, Rabbi Knopf points out, it was South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein who started the Shabbat Project – in which Jews from across the denominational spectrum observe one Shabbat together each fall – in 2013 and grew it into a worldwide movement.
“I believe strongly in the power of community to bring out the best in people and to form a space for applying and living Jewish values,” Rabbi Knopf said.
He put together the project with Sigy Laredo of the Jewish Experience Montreal Sisterhood and Mindy Zobin of NCSY, an Orthodox youth group.
The participating Jewish schools – Hebrew Academy, Ecole Maïmonide, Yeshiva Yavne, JPPS/Bialik High School, Talmud Torah/Herzliah High School and Hebrew Foundation School – will take their cue from a program prepared by Rabbi Yamin Benarroch of Maïmonide and Rabbi Eddie Shostak of Hebrew Academy.
The Ashkenazic and Sephardic synagogues involved include such large ones as Adath Israel, Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, Chevra Kadisha, Beth Zion and Petah Tikvah.
Over the Shabbat of May 24-25, they will have activities, or devote sermons to the topic. On May 26, the Adath and Beth Ora, as well as Congregation Or Shalom and the MADA Community Center, will offer programs for all age groups to learn and put that knowledge into practice.
“In a world in which we see so much hatred, cruelty and materialism, the Jewish community is promoting a counter-narrative of kindness, gratitude and responsibility,” said Rabbi Knopf.
Rabbi Knopf and his wife Carly have four children. He received a BA in theology from Cambridge University in 2002 and was ordained by Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg in Israel in 2006.
For the past two summers, the couple has organized a project, through which congregants make a huge fruit salad and distribute portions to seniors’ homes, shelters and others. He got the idea while serving as associate rabbi of the Hampstead Garden Suburban Synagogue in London.
Rabbi Levi Raskin of Chabad Côte-St-Luc applauds his colleague’s initiative. “The foundation of serving ha-Shem is having good character traits,” he said. “What better way to demonstrate and achieve this than by having so many community organizations working together in unity to promote goodness and self-improvement.”
For more information, contact Rabbi Knopf at [email protected].