OLYAN firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-02-20 published
PEARLSON, Rabbi Jordan
On Tuesday, February 19, 2008. Loving father of Joshua PEARLSON, Nessa PEARLSON, and Abigail PEARLSON- OLYAN. Devoted Grandfather of Rayna PEARLSON and Zachary OLYAN. Dear brother of Melvin of Boston, Stanley of Connecticut and the late Harrison of Boston. Rabbi PEARLSON was the Founding Rabbi of Temple Sinai Synagogue. He will be sadly missed but fondly remembered by all his family and Friends. At Temple Sinai Synagogue, 210 Wilson Ave (East of Bathurst) for service on Thursday, February 21st at 1: 30 p.m. Interment Temple Sinai Section of Pardes Shalom Cemetery. Shiva 55 Ravenscroft Circle. Memorial donations may be made to Temple Sinai Synagogue 416-487-4161.
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OLYAN email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-02-27 published
Rabbi built congregation with warmth, chutzpah
For 40 years, he worked to build Toronto's second-largest Reform synagogue and smooth relations among the faiths
By Ron CSILLAG, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S9
Toronto -- Jordan PEARLSON once trained as a lawyer, but he ended up a rabbi. Asked later in life how the two positions differed, he proffered a typically talmudic response: "I now have a client with whom I can consistently agree."
A stalwart of Toronto's Jewish community and a bridge-builder to members of other religions worldwide, Rabbi PEARLSON served for 40 years as spiritual leader of Temple Sinai, the city's second-largest Reform synagogue, and helped grow its membership from 14 to 1,600 families.
Internationally, he twice held talks with Pope John Paul II, financed kilns for ceramics produced by Ethiopian Jewish women in Addis Ababa, developed the first multifaith service for the Queen and Prince Philip, and took part in interreligious consultations in Mauritius, Nairobi, Athens, Rome, London, Geneva, Amsterdam, Prague and Baltimore.
At home, he was recalled for his keen mind and compassionate ways.
"He was brilliant and inspirational from the bimah [the raised platform in synagogues where the Torah is read] and wise and warm in person," noted Temple Sinai's senior rabbi, Michael DOLGIN. "He was able to merge [those and] draw people in. People said, 'I want to be part of a community led by this man,' and when they met him, they felt at home."
Once described by a mourner as "the divine interventionist in our grief, with the wicked twinkle of Groucho Marx," Mr. PEARLSON was studying pastoral psychiatry at New York's Bellevue Hospital when the dean of his seminary asked him to help out a small group of Jews in the northern Toronto suburb of North York.
"It wasn't on the map but they knew it was there because they had postmarks that said it was," he once told the Toronto Star. He answered the call, moving north in 1954 while still a rabbinical student. There were no hotels then in North York, so he had to be billeted with individual families. Among the first locations offered to the fledgling congregation was Asbury and West United Church.
Temple records unearthed for a commemorative weekend honouring Mr. PEARLSON in 1995 found the following entry in the October 4, 1954, edition of Time magazine: "One night last week, the doors of Asbury Church were thrown open. Near the altar rested an ark bearing the lighted tablet of the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath candles of the Jewish service glowed near the centre of worship. In a brief welcome to the temple members, Pastor Hunter extended the best wishes of his congregation. Rabbi PEARLSON responded with thanks for the 'profoundly sensitive manner this gesture of goodwill was made.' "
Two years later, Temple Sinai was constructed on Wilson Avenue. "We built with a $25,000 loan from Holy Blossom Temple [Canada's largest Reform congregation] and $425,000 of pure chutzpah," Mr. PEARLSON would recall. He was ordained in 1957, and within a year, membership had zoomed to 367 families.
The congregation paid off the loan and a bank mortgage. Over the years, to meet the pressures of growth, the temple's facilities were enlarged and a school added. Like other Toronto synagogues of the day, it grew with its surroundings, becoming an integral part of a Jewish community that saw healthy growth in all its denominations - Orthodox, Conservative and the liberal Reform movement.
Mr. PEARLSON was born in a Boston suburb to immigrant parents. His father, Jacob, arrived from Lithuania, served in the U.S. artillery in the First World War and later ran a tiny tailor shop. He was a devout Jew and one of the most influential figures in his son's life.
"Deep inside my gut was a love I identified with my father's love of Judaism," he once said.
It was a love leavened with respect for others. "He once told me that he would rather I did not send his grandchildren to full-time Jewish day schools," Mr. PEARLSON told the Star. "He said, 'They are going to live in the gentile world. We will see that they get plenty of Jewish studies, but you make damn sure they know how to live with their neighbours.' "
His mother, Frieda, was a native of Poland who came to America as a child. Although she could speak only Polish and Yiddish at first, she grew up in upper-crust Salem, Massachusetts., and acquired a "perfect Boston Yankee accent she never lost," her son remembered.
He studied engineering at Tufts University on a government program and earned a certificate in military engineering but couldn't find work because engineering firms weren't hiring Jews. So he toiled in the clothing trade as a cutter's assistant while studying electronics and math at Boston University, until rheumatic fever sidelined him for a year. Temple records note that during his illness, he had to be pulled around in a little red cart. But the interval afforded him the opportunity to read, and books of all genres poured into the household to stimulate his mind.
Because his illness kept him from being drafted, he was hired by Associated Press to work in radio and wire photos, and was later transferred to the agency's New York office. Unhappy with the job, he returned to Boston and worked his way through Northeastern University as an economics and psychology major while supporting himself as a shoe salesman, Boston Globe copy boy and confirmation teacher at a local synagogue. During the summers, he coached swimming.
He went on to Northeastern's law school. "Shortly before being called to the bar, however, he developed a distaste for the law," noted the 1995 program that honoured Mr. PEARLSON's four decades of service. "He had discovered that the man he was working for was politically powerful and was receiving unwarranted favours from one of the judges. Jacob PEARLSON had instilled in his sons a tremendous moral sense. He had taught them what was right, and this was not their way."
So it was back to school for a divinity degree and ordination from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. "My father was an academic junkie," said his daughter, Abigail OLYAN. "He could read a book in less than an hour and lecture on it for two."
He also reached out to Christians at a time when Jews as a rule did not. Toronto then was "very much a British colonial outpost where people had a particular place on the social ladder, and there was no question that the Orange Lodges ran the city," Mr. Pearson said. "Just about everybody knew where they stood ethnically and religiously on that social ladder."
Yet, he persisted. "There was no open dialogue, he used to say to me," recalled his daughter. "He never understood why there was this harsh division in a country that was becoming so multicultural. Dad just really felt that conversation, open interfaith dialogue, was critical so the past could never be repeated. He felt that you can't keeping doing the same things and expect a different result."
Prior to his many meetings at the Vatican with Roman Catholic officials and the two with Pope John Paul, Mr. PEARLSON would bone up on his Catholic theology. "That's a cutting-edge effort," remarked Father Damien MacPHERSON, director of ecumenical and interfaith affairs for Toronto's Catholic archdiocese. "Jordan had an endeared sense of the Roman Catholic Church, and of the Pope. He had a great appreciation for [John Paul's] initiative and efforts in Catholic-Jewish dialogue."
Indeed, the rabbi was heartened that the former pontiff took anti-Semitism so seriously. "He loved the experience," his daughter related. "Every time he would go abroad, he was thankful that the cardinals and the Pope and his people were very concerned about anti-Semitism. He said this Pope really felt the heartache of what had happened during the Holocaust, especially when there's so much Holocaust denial."
He was the Canadian go-to man for several religious groups, including the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, which negotiates with the Vatican; the World Council of Churches the African Council of Churches; and the Orthodox Christian Communities of the Eastern Rites. He was the only rabbi to give the Chancellor's Lecture in the history of the lectureship at Queen's University's school of theology.
At his synagogue, he pioneered non-sectarian nursery school programs for special-needs children, and started study and prayer groups. He was voted an honorary citizen of Metropolitan Toronto.
He was saddened, however, by the cracks that crept into Canadian Jewry.
"There was a time when the key Orthodox leaders could sit down with the Conservative and Reform rabbis in a single rabbinic fellowship," he said in 1995. "That disappeared about a decade ago. Unfortunately, the Israeli impact has bled over into a divisiveness on that front as well."
Jordan PEARLSON was born September 2, 1924, in Somerville, Massachusetts. He died in Toronto on February 19, 2008. He was 83. He leaves his wife of 49 years, Geraldine (Goldstein), brothers Melvin and Stanley; children Joshua PEARLSON, Nessa PEARLSON and Abigail Olyan; and two grandchildren.
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