[Board member, Robert Levin, reminiscences about the formation of the community and the building of the Centre with Jean Gerber.]
RL: I moved to the Okanagan, to the city of Kelowna in July of 1980, and much to my surprise, within a couple of months of moving here, someone let me know that there were other Jews in Kelowna. I had expected there would be maybe 5 or 6 others, but I would probably never find them. But lo and behold, there was a small community already active here consisting of Lil and Lou Feldberg, a fellow by the name of David Singer, a fellow by the name of Sid Freedman, Marcy and Ray Turner, Stephen Finkleman, and there’s Bob and Sumi (?) Bidner, and Max and Anne Bidner, Bob’s parents. By then the Okanagan Jewish community, this was in the fall of 1980, were meeting for high holiday services in the Parish Hall of St. Michael’s Anglican Church, which later became warmly known to us as St. Moishe’s, and was actually where we continued to hold our services, for the most part until building this building about 5 years ago.
One the first events I remember, was being at a picnic in City Park in Kelowna. I’m not sure whether this was the summer of ‘80 or ‘81. It was organized, as I recall, by meeting at the Feldberg residence and then we carried on to City Park, played baseball, and swam and just met each other. We would often met for social occasions at the Feldberg residence; they had a big rec room over the garage or car port if I recall. That was one of the informal places that we would meet.
The community formed itself into an organized society, registered as a society in 1983. I’m one of the signatories to that first constitution, as is either one or both of Lil and Lou, as is Ron Gold, Ray Turner, and the first meeting of the society was - I just looked at the minutes which we have mounted on the wall of the community centre here - May 29, 1983. It was held at the Lodge Motor Inn, which is a motor hotel here. The first elections were held. Tommy Hiller was the first president elected for the Okanagan Jewish community. He was a retired divorce lawyer from LA who had moved here with his wife and was a leader, the first logically to be our leader. David Singer was the elected secretary and his hand written minutes are the minutes we have preserved on the wall. I was elected the treasurer, which I recall was one of the most time-consuming jobs I ever did.
And from there the community just gradually grew and held more and more events. By the time I came here in 1980, those who come here before had already discovered a wonderful rabbi, an orthodox rabbi, a survivor from eastern Europe who had lost family members in the Holocaust, by the name of Emil Klein, who had come to Okanagan thinking he was retiring until the people who had moved here found him in Winfield, and he became voluntarily, always, our rabbi. And we were very fortunate that way.