Away from the Mainland

Posted by kmintzberg

Victoria

For much of BC Jewish history there was only one Congregation in Victoria, BC  - Congregation Emanu-El of Victoria, Canada’s oldest continuously used synagogue, which was founded in 1863 as the home to the Victoria Jewish community. However, over time the community within Congregation Emanu-El became fractured, much like other Jewish communities seeking individualism, as slowly dividing groups wanted change and alternative options.

 

 

Introduction
Prison Communities
JCC of Victoria & Kolot Mayim
Congregation Emanu-El
Avodah
Introduction

Introduction



For much of BC Jewish history there was only one Congregation in Victoria, BC  - Congregation Emanu-El of Victoria, Canada’s oldest continuously used synagogue,  was founded in 1863 as the home to the Victoria Jewish community. However, over time the Victoria community became fractured, much like other Jewish communities seeking individualism, as slowly dividing groups wanted change and alternative options.
 
Today there are five congregations in Victoria, all with slightly smaller numbers. With the overall size of the Jewish community in the city being relatively small, it is an ongoing challenge for the community to support five separate congregations, and yet through a unique way of collaborating, Victoria’s Jewish community is making it work.

Prison Communities - “an island of sorts”

Prison Communities - “an island of sorts”



A commonly under-realized Jewish community is the population of Jewish people living in prisons throughout British Columbia; however, a palpable sense of community emerges for the Jewish inmates and those that interact with them.

 Cantor Michael Zoosman worked in BC as a prison chaplain for the Jewish community from 2009 until 2012, in addition to his regular work as Cantor at Congregation Beth Israel. As a Jew and as a spiritual leader, Cantor Zoosman is unique. His goal in working within prison communities adds depth to traditional ideals of Jewish community; many avoid the opportunity to “fulfill the spiritual needs of an inmate community” that he believes is “all too-often overlooked, even intentionally forgotten, and whose needs are therefore among the greatest in our society.”  Since 2012 Rabbi Dina-Chasida Mercy has taken over Cantor Zoosman’s role as the community’s Jewish Prison Chaplain for Correctional Services of Canada.

 
Through his work in the prison system, Cantor Zoosman has seen the positive effects that a sense of belonging and community acceptance can have for the individuals during their incarceration and after their release. The sense of community inmates feel as a result of Cantor Zoosman’s work stays with them after they leave the prison system and begin to integrate back into society. The relationships they have formed with the prison chaplain helps in “creating a bridge for the individual to the greater Jewish community.”As well, “access to spirituality through the chaplain often can create a sense of meaning for the individual and elevate his/her experience from simply ‘doing time’ to doing something positive with their time.”
 
 

Jewish Community Centre of Victoria and Kolot Mayim Reform Temple

Jewish Community Centre of Victoria and Kolot Mayim Reform Temple



The Jewish Community Centre of Victoria, located at 3636 Shelbourne Street, is home to a variety of Jewish organizations. Much like other JCC’s throughout the province, the diversity of people and programs that come together in this one building make it a cooperative, neutral space for all Jews. The JCC facilitates connections between the congregations, youth groups and community members as the community centres throughout the province all do. 

Housed in the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria since the late 1990’s, Kolot Mayim is home to the Reform contingent of Victoria’s Jewish community. The small size of Kolot Mayim, about 100 members, lends itself to the very warm, welcoming environment the members have created over the years.

 
Kolot Mayim offers a religious school program that was originally established independently, but later combined with Congregation Emanu-El’s Hebrew school in order to increase class size and provide more opportunities for social connections with other Jewish children. This, along with being located within the JCC, is a perfect example of the unique way in which the Jewish community of Victoria functions and works with the smaller size of some congregations.
 

Congregation Emanu-El of Victoria

Congregation Emanu-El of Victoria



On June 2nd 2013, Congregation Emanu-El of Victoria will celebrate its 150th anniversary. The Vancouver heritage restoration specialists hired to take on Congregation Emanu-El’s restoration project point out three main facts about the synagogue that make it such an amazing and important piece of Jewish and Canadian history. Firstly, it was built in a unique architectural style known as Romanesque revival that is not common in North America. Secondly, the shear longevity of the building is noteworthy. Lastly, the building has been used for its original purpose since the day it was built.

 This 150 year milestone is not just important for the Jewish community but for all of Canada. Congregation Emanu-El is a piece of our collective history that will be commemorated in 2013 with a rededication ceremony. The event will include groups of all nationalities and faiths, much like the original cornerstone laying ceremony in 1863.
 

Understandably, this 150-year-old building is in need of restoration and repairs. As it continues to age, the weight of the roof is pushing outwards and causing cracks in the walls. Despite the historical significance to the entire community, Congregation Emanu-El has been turned down two years in a row for federal government funding that would help with the repairs of this registered National Historic Site. They are now pursuing other grant sources as well as a broad range of private fundraising initiatives.
 
 

Avodah

Avodah



The social action group, Avodah, came into being in 2003 when Rabbi Harry Brechner from Congregation Emanu-El called on the members to put their spiritual beliefs into action to help people in need in the greater Victoria community. Driven by the work of volunteers, Avodah’s goal is to create meaningful connections between those looking to provide help to the community and individuals who are in need, particularly poor and homeless youth, adults and families.

The first two challenges they faced were where to start and how to make it work with the limited resources of a small congregation. In essence: what was needed and wanted in the community, and how would they make that happen?
 
Projects include distributing thousands of pairs of McGregor Socks, providing rent supplements to families, and providing shelter at the synagogue for homeless youth in the coldest months of the year. Partnerships with social service organizations like Out of the Rain Youth Night Shelter, Our Place Society, Cool Aid, and Burnside Gorge Community Association allow Avodah to have a bigger impact in the community than they would be able to on their own.