Louis Sutker: Reconnecting with Jewish Life at Congregation Emanu-El

Posted by jyuhasz

Temple Emanu-el Synagogue, re-dedication, group gathered on stairs
Rights - JMABC
Sutker, Louis
Victoria, BC
Gerber, Jean
Thursday, February 8, 2001
Digital audio recording #: 20.01-15
JG:          When you came to Victoria were you looking to connect with the Jewish community?
LS:          No. No way was I, I wasn’t, I was what I call relatively neutral, Jewishly. I didn’t hide but I didn’t really do too much. You know I, sometimes, you know, melodies would come and things like that. The Victoria story, it’s only in Victoria is this story possible. So when Charlotte and I were about to get married, I met Charlotte here in Victoria at a therapy workshop. So as we started a relationship, we started to get married she didn’t even know I was Jewish really originally. It turns out that Charlotte had independently of anything to do with me always been interested in Israel and Zionism. And actually spent some time on a kibbutz, right. So, but as the marriage started and, you know, and I’m in a different phase in my life something started to happen where I wanted to do something to do with Yiddishkeit [the Jewish way of life] in my marriage. So, I started the talk around and to see what I could do about that. There was no rabbi here at the time. So I talked to someone who was sort of functioning as a lay spiritual leader. He wouldn’t officiate which I certainly respect now, and I did at the time. So we were married by a Unitarian minister. And my brothers came up from, where were they, one in California, one in North Carolina, I think, for the wedding. And we interpolated, you know, some Jewish thematic material. But it was through that marriage that I started dipping my foot back, my feet back into the waters. So I went to shul. And you can’t imagine what it was like then. It was chaotic, nobody knew what they were doing. So the first time I’m at shul nobody’s there who’s able to doven [lead prayers] or lead shachrit [morning prayers]. So they say, “Can anybody do this?” I knew I could do this because spontaneously at different times in my life the melodies would just come back to me. So I did. And that was really the beginning of my reconnection, yeah, which is now becoming, you know, the centre [of my life]. So that’s the story. It’s not an unusual story for Victoria. Many, many of the people in the congregation of Victoria had very little to do with Yiddishkeit, very tangential in their lives. And somehow or other either through children or through something, you know they had to make some kind of movement, but tremendously deepen their connection with [Jewry] here in Victoria.
JG:          So what does the synagogue or what is the synagogue, the Temple Emanu-El that allows people to do this?
LS:          It’s really hard to describe because it’s a culture of encouragement, permissiveness, but limit setting at the same time. People have a lot of room to move into leadership roles here. And we encourage participation. So we encourage training, we teach each other, and different people move in and out of the limelight along that. So that’s just, sometimes it’s just been necessity because that’s the way it was but now it’s a value.

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