Sunrise in Toronto

Celebrating the Sun's Creation in Christie Pits

On Wednesday morning I awoke before dawn and gathered with about 100 others from Toronto's Jewish community at Christie Pits park to honour Birkat Hachamah, the blessing of the sun, marking the location of the sun being at the precise location it was placed on the fourth day of creation, according to ancient Hebrew texts.

The blessing is an affirmation of our existence and the importance of the sun. There was a service, some prayers, the sounding of the shofar, an impromptu sing-along to Here Comes the Sun and even some dancing. And then we all broke some bread together and shared some bagels and cream cheese, courtesy Richman's Bakery.

This celestial situation occurs once every 28 years, according to the Talmud. And it's always on a Wednesday in the spring. It's considered a once-in-a-generation mitzvah to attend. Next time around it'll be when I'm 64.

I joined Jews from all denominations and ages as we huddled in a large circle to keep warm, unintentionally mimicking the shape of the sun. Other meetings took place simultaneously in Toronto at Earl Bales Park near Bathurst and Sheppard and at Kavanah Organic Community Teaching Garden at the Lebovic Campus in Richmond Hill, way up Bathurst St.

It was a peaceful gathering. No rabbis were arrested. A New York Times article chronicles the story of a new sun gathering that took place in New York City in 1897 where a rabbi was arrested after hundreds gathered in Tompkins Square without a permit.

While it was an overcast morning, it didn't stop us from appreciating the presence of daylight. Rabbi Aaron Levy began with a brief kavvanah, or intention, for us to consider as a way of helping find focus and meaning in this obscure ritual:

"Master of the universe, we come before you this morning both to acknowledge you as the source of all life, who imbues the sun with its radiance, upon which our lives depend, and to ask you to help us orient ourselves in our daily lives more consciously toward you and your creation the sun. May we find ways to depend less on energy produced by people, and more on the energy of your sun and those natural forces that draw their strength from it."

Rabbi Levy then quoted Michael Pollan, who wrote in NY Times Magazine last October: "Every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis -- a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact."

What followed was a brief explanation of the astronomical calculation of Birkat Hachamah, as interpreted in Jewish traditional mythic (as opposed to scientific) terms.

Rabbi Levy organizes events for the new grassroots, downtown Jewish community, held at the Kiever Synagogue in Kensington Market. He put it quite poetically when he said the purpose of this ceremony is "to awaken us to the hope and possibility inherent in each sunrise."

After the gathering, a small group of us walked along Bloor St. W. to get some real breakfast at one of the only places in the area open that early: Mel's Montreal Delicatessen. By the time we emerged, full-bellied, the sun had come out to greet us.

Photo by Aubrey Arenas.

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