Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

Rabbi Rose

Rabbi Benarroch

Oren Binnun

Ray Singer


by Penny Jones Square March 16, 2020

Elsa Hategan’s story of redemption from hate (see my review, the Winnipeg Jewish Review), aligned with other presentations relating to redemption that I attended at this year’s Winnipeg Limmud on March 1. They include Rabbi Rose’s “Tikkun Midddot: Ethical Alignment and Jewish Mindfulness,” Yosef Benarroch’s “Does Religion Make You a Better Person?,” Oren Binnun’s Architectural Symbols of Hate: Redemption through Adaptive Reuse,” and Ray Singer’s “Good Grief—Another Schulz?” Each in its unique way commented on renewal and repair, through different Jewish lenses.

                In his presentation, Rabbi Rose guided us through a short meditation and a spiritual exercise of self-reflective learning while he explained the practice of Tikkun Middot. Tikkun Middot is related to Tikkun Olam, for it also refers to a “repairing,” in this case of the self. Rabbi Rose clarified that Tikkun Middot is “an aligning of one’s middot, one’s ethical traits,” through an intensive spiritual discipline that incorporates mindfulness. The focus on our middot—traits such as joy, gratitude, patience, loving kindness, and awe—enables us “to live in a soulful way,” to “highlight meaning and attribute holiness to every part of our day.” The soul work required in this discipline may include meditation, reflection, conversation, and journaling.

As Rabbi Rose further elucidated, foundational to the practice of Tikkun Middot is Hitlamdut—a term which means “to cultivate a stance of curiosity and openness towards all of life’s experiences and to internalize what we learn.” Although it is not a traditional middah, Hitlamdut is the requisite “stance of learning and growth” with which we should “approach life” and the quality we should bring to our practice of Tikkun Middot. By removing the lens of the ordinary and letting go of all pre-judgment, we are encouraged to see “each day is brand new,” and thereby to escape the trap of rigid thinking, which inhibits our growth. Rabbi Rose insisted we begin this practice with a kabbalot, “a small, concrete practice” to which we can commit ourselves in order “to grow in a particular middah,” for “the goal of this practice is to elevate not overwhelm” oneself.

As “a structured way to grow and bring holiness into the world,” Tikkun Middot offers us the necessary “tools” to develop our “soul traits,” to guide us in “a positive direction,” and so enable us to fulfill what Rabbi Rose referred to as “Judaism’s mission statement: “‘You shall be holy.’”

Rabbi Benarroch’s presentation conformed well with Rabbi Rose’s. His profound and illuminating explication of Genesis 1:26–27 (“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . . And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him”) reiterated Rabbi Rose’s message about Judaism’s guiding and formative commandment: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy,” (Leviticus 19:2) and “You shall be holy to Me, for I, the Lord, am holy” (Leviticus 20:26:). Rabbi Benarroch’s close elucidation of the biblical text explained how religion does indeed make us better.

Rabbi Benarroch pointed out how the repetition of “in His image” three times in Gen. 1:26–27, and two more times, in Gen. 5:1 and Gen. 9:6, emphasizes its supreme importance. He noted that this is the first thing that God communicates about human beings and the first statement of relationship not followed by “and He saw that it was good,” implying humans alone have to earn that “good.” And, according to the rabbi, we do so by resembling God. This idea of resemblance, of imitating God, is a fundamental principle of Torah. We are obligated to imitate God: as He is, so shall we be. This obligation to be as God is corresponds with the purpose of ethical alignment outlined by Rabbi Rose, which is to fulfill the holiness commandment.

Rabbi Benarroch concluded with an astonishingly beautiful reading from Abraham Joshua Heschel, another gloss on the meaning of humans being made “in the image of God”:

God has an image, and that is you. You may not make the image of God because you are the image of God. The only medium in which you can make God’s image is the medium of your life, and that is precisely what we are commanded to do. Everything you do, everything you say, each moment and the way you use it are all part of the way you build God’s image.

Rabbi Benarroch elaborated by saying this command to emulate God in everything we do “is an ethical imperative.” We act out this ethical imperative by aligning ourselves with those soul traits that are reflections of God’s holiness, as Rabbi Rose would have it, by emulating the “image of God” in which are made, as Rabbi Benarroch put it. In answer to the question Rabbi Benarroch posed in the title of his presentation, he concluded: “If you remember that your purpose is to emulate God, you will be a better person.”  

                Oren Binnun spoke of the redemption of buildings rather than humans. In his presentation, which is part of his Master of Interior Design thesis, he described his project—a proposed “adaptive reuse” of the villa where the infamous Wannsee Conference took place, where the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” was planned. At present, it is an educational centre. He explained there are currently three approaches to handling physical sites of atrocity in the field of adaptive reuse: destroy them utterly, maintain them as memorials, or remodel them with a new use. Oren’s proposal is to transform the perpetrator site of the Wannsee conference —a physical symbol of Nazi terror informed with the embodied memory of hatred—into a functioning synagogue with an educational centre that would preserve its tainted history.  By doing so, the narrative of the site would be changed from one of the destruction of Jewish life to one that celebrates Jewish spirituality and values. Oren believes this dichotomy of functional reuse can serve to “redeem hate without the destruction of the building.” He commented that this is a controversial topic, raising such questions as: What do you do with buildings saturated with such negative energy? How do you counter that? Some sites, like Auschwitz, that are impervious to reuse have to be memorials, but others give an opportunity for new life.

According to Oren, giving the Wannsee villa a new functional use that would help the community is more beneficial than maintaining it as a memorial. He rejects the misgiving expressed by someone in the audience that this new use of the House of the Wannsee Conference as a synagogue—a centre for Jewish community, spirituality and growth—could result in an erasure of the memory of hate, in a rewriting of history. Oren believes his synagogue proposal is “the perfect solution because it is the complete opposite of the history of the destruction of the Jews,” and the educational component, which “will be integral as well,” will ensure the preservation of the corrupt memory embodied in the space.

Ray Singer’s passionate endorsement of the not-so-well-known Jewish Polish author Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) was wonderfully engaging. Ray’s enthusiasm was absolutely infectious; I certainly am inspired to read Schulz now. Schulz was a visual artist as well as novelist, poet, and epistolary writer. Interestingly, he was also a friend of Philip Weiss, well-known Winnipeg Holocaust educator, whom he taught in his hometown of Drohobych, Ukraine. Schulz’s novels Street of Crocodiles and Sanitorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass have influenced many authors, including Nabokov, who said his work gave him “a tingling feeling.” Isaac Bashevis Singer called him “the most remarkable writer who ever lived,” being a symbolist, an expressionist, and a modernist. Ray said “his influence on other writers is impressive”: they include other inter-war eastern European writers; post-Holocaust, post-WWII, mostly Jewish writers such as Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Cynthia Ozick; and younger writers such as Salman Rushdie, David Grossman, and Jonathan Safran Foer. According to Ray, Schulz’s work is “sheer brilliance, poetic, phantasmagorical, ecstatic, ethereal, hyper-literate”; “it cleans the dust from your soul”—clearly another instance of a redemptive experience (the theme linking these different presentations).

Ray’s arresting reading from the first few pages of Street of Crocodiles was enough to convert me. It conveyed the sensory quality that defines Schulz’s writing. As Ray commented, “The visual, emotive, olfactory experiences of a sleepy Galician town come to life.” Ray also spoke of Schulz’s goal “to mature into childhood,” leading Ray to refer to Schulz’s writing as “a portrait of the artist as a young child,” playing on the title of James Joyce’s classic Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. As Ray understands it, Schulz wanted to recover the sensibility of childhood—its magic, innocence, imagination, and freedom, which is evident in his recurring images of flight in both his literary and visual creations, and which would itself have been a kind of redemption.

                Tragically, Schulz’s life ended too soon: he was murdered at age fifty by a Gestapo officer in 1942 in his hometown of Drohobych.  Ray’s “hope” that his presentation would “introduce [Schulz] and bring him and his works to a wider audience” absolutely succeeded for me.

<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • Orthodox Union
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Coughlin Insurance Brokers
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • Tel Aviv University Canada
  • Booke + Partners
  • Gislason Targownik
  • James Teitsma
  • Janice Morley-Lecomte
  • Obby Khan
  • Artista Homes
  • Fetching Style
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Chisick Family
  • Stringers Rentals
  • Winnipeg Beach Home Building Centre
  • KC Enterprises
  • John Wishnowski
  • JLS Construction
  • Ingrid Bennett
  • Gulay Plumbing
  • The Paper Fifrildi
  • Joanne Gullachsen Art
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Levene Tadman Golub
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Holiday Inn Polo Park
  • Bruce Shefrin Interior Design
  • Bridges for Peace
  • Bridges for Peace
  • CVA Systems
  • Chochy's
  • Lakeside Roofing
  • Ambassador Mechanical
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • kristinas-greek
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Santa Lucia Pizza
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.