Eli Rubenstein is the religious leader of Congregation Habonim, a small liberal synagogue in Toronto founded by Holocaust survivors from Germany and other eastern European countries. He has served the Congregation since 1988, and helped shepherd its growth from an 80 family Congregation to its current size of 300 families.
Eli Rubenstein is National Director of the March of the Living, an annual educational program that gathers thousands of Jewish youth from around the world in Poland and Israel to mark two of the most significant dates in the modern Jewish calendar. The program culminates with the March of the Living on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day and continues on in Israel, where the students take part in important commemorative and celebratory events, including Yom Haatsmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).
Eli is also the founder of the March of Remembrance and Hope, an educational initiative for college and university students of diverse faiths and ethnic backgrounds designed to teach about the grave consequences of hatred and prejudice through the study of the Holocaust in Poland & Germany. Thousands of students – of Christian, Muslim, First Nations, Rwandan, Polish Catholic, Hindu & Buddhist backgrounds – have participated in this program since its inception in 2001.
He is the author of Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations (Second Story Press 2015). (review of the book)
As a religious leader at Congregation Habonim, Eli believes that a synagogue (or shul) should be a warm and inviting place, and all who enter should immediately feel welcomed and embraced. Eli also believes that services should be stimulating, inclusive, accessible, meaningful, and enjoyable – and sometimes even fun! To that end, Eli brings his guitar, a wealth of stories and folk-tales, and a relaxed and joyful approach to services and programs at Habonim.
Among the projects at Habonim that Eli has moved forward are:
- The annual Passover Seder for the Homeless, co-sponsored by Veahavta
- Creative Writing Contest for the Homeless, also co-sponsored by Veahavta
- Numerous moving Holocaust education programs
- The premier of award winning documentaries
- The hosting of various performing groups and speakers
Along with Cantor Esther-Ghan Firestone, Eli co-founded the Habonim Youth Choir, whose music has touched hearts around the world.
Together with his friend of over 30 years, Avrum Rosensweig, the associate religious leader of Congregation Habonim (and founder of Veahavta), Eli has brought a variety of skills and talents to Habonim that help make the congregation the unique place that it is.
Other biographical information:
Eli Rubenstein is the editor of a collection of poetry, prose, and art on the Holocaust composed by North American participants in the March of the Living. The book, titled – For You Who Died I Must Live On…Reflections on the March of the Living, was the recipient of a Canadian Jewish Book Award.
He is also producer of: Songs for March of the Living, a collection of Holocaust songs recorded by the Habonim Youth Choir of Toronto and Lay Down Your Arms, a music video on the theme of peace featuring footage of children from a wide variety of cultures and geographical regions.
He is a writer and storyteller – he authored a storytelling column for the Canadian Jewish News and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper as well as a frequent public speaker to both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.
Eli’s works have been featured in a wide variety of publications and broadcast media including: The Montreal Gazette, The Ottawa Citizen, CBC Radio & Television and others.
In 2006, Eli assisted The Oprah Winfrey Show with the segment featuring Elie Wiesel’s visit to Auschwitz, which was seen by tens of millions of viewers around the world.
In addition to his work with Holocaust education, Eli is a celebrated Jewish storyteller and President of the Israel Guide Dog Centre for the Blind. He has contributed his assistance to Veahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian Relief Organization, helping them organize their annual Passover Seder for the Homeless, and traveling on their behalf to Guyana and Zimbabwe to assist in their humanitarian work in these countries.
In 2008, Eli was honored with the Ve’ahvata Tikkun Olam Education Award. This prestigious award is given yearly to the Canadian educator who has made significant contributions in the field of “tikkun olam” education. The programs Eli Rubenstein has initiated in Canada in the areas of Holocaust, Genocide and anti-racist education, have changed the lives of thousands of young people in Canada and elsewhere, and have been recognized world-wide as model educational programs.
In Episode 15 you will hear part 2 of our conversation.