The Conservative Rabbi & His Wife Leona
By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 18x18, painted 2019
Original photograph taken - 1978
My parents were founding members of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto. At the heart of that congregation was the charismatic, brilliant, funny but deeply serious Rabbi Herbert Feder. For my parents, joining a Conservative synagogue was the happy medium in the ever-present conflict between “Tradition and Change”. At Beth Tikvah we could observe strict adherence to traditional laws of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), Shabbat and holiday rituals but the environment felt distinctly modern. To my young eyes all the women there reminded me of Gloria Steinem - accomplished, forward thinking, chic and self-confident. I felt a certain amount of pride that the Rabbi considered my parents among his close circle of friends and would travel with them to Shakespeare festivals in the summer or come to our home for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Conservative Judaism is a movement born in America. It suited my parents because it was not the ‘rigid’ Orthodoxy of generations past nor was it the unfamiliar Judaism of the Reform movement, which played organ music on the Sabbath. Beth Tikvah Synagogue was never the same after Rabbi Feder moved with his family to Jerusalem in the mid 1980s. While some members stayed on, they did their best to maintain the environment and legacy created by the Feders. Sadly, a number of the founding families, including my own, simply stopped going to Synagogue - except for High Holidays.