Within the space of a single week last July, The Hamilton Spectator published two stories of great significance to the Jewish community. The news of Rabbi Morton Green's death in Israel at the age of 84, followed by a moving tribute to Rabbi Bernard Baskin, 97, on the eve of his move to Toronto, marks the end of an era in Hamilton Jewish history and the loss of two of its most iconic personalities. For 60 years, we took their presence among us as a given. Their absence leaves us bereft and wondering where we go from here.
The name of Rabbi Green was practically synonymous with the Adas Israel Synagogue, where he served as spiritual leader for 44 years and as rabbi emeritus for 16 years. A true visionary, Rabbi Green founded the Hamilton Hebrew Academy — this community's first Jewish day school, and built the city’s mikvah, whose story of origin is the stuff of legend. Rabbi Green's contributions to Jewish Hamilton went far beyond the Orthodox community and his passing leaves an immeasurable void.
Rabbi Bernard Baskin’s contributions to our community and to the city are similarly difficult to measure. A brilliant and witty orator, an insightful literary critic and a champion of multi-faith initiatives, Rabbi Baskin oversaw Temple Anshe Sholom’s growth from a small 85-member shul in 1949 to a thriving 450-strong membership by the end of his 40-year tenure. During that period, and in the 20 years since, Rabbi Baskin has continued to enrich Hamiltonians through his regular columns in the Hamilton Spectator, weekly book talks at his beloved shul and frequent appearances at Jewish community events, where his invocations would invariably evolve into commentaries on the state of affairs here in Canada and in Israel. During last spring’s Negev Dinner, keynote speaker Martin Short shared some of his fondest high school memories spent at the Baskin home before treating the audience to a hilarious impression of the rabbi’s signature oratorical style. Moments later, Rabbi Baskin, accompanied by his son David, took his place at the podium to a standing ovation to give what was probably his last Negev Dinner invocation. It was a moment that will most likely remain etched in the memories of all those in attendance.
I would be remiss at this point not to mention the late Rabbi Israel Silverman, who presided over Beth Jacob Synagogue for 30 years. Like Rabbis Green and Baskin, Rabbi Silverman, who passed away in 2004, was so closely identified with his shul and Camp Ramah Canada, that in Conservative Movement circles across the globe, Hamilton gained some renown as the city where he lived.
During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, these three rabbis led by example, their influence knowing no bounds. The era of rabbis enjoying a 30-year-plus tenure may be behind us, but at times like this it's well worth taking a moment to appreciate our storied past and and contemplate where we go from here.
Look for a fuller look at the legacies of Rabbis Morton Green, Rabbi Bernard Baskin and Rabbi Israel Silverman in future issues of the Hamilton Jewish News.