Paula Weil

Hello Deli – Video

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video, she talks about Hello Deli, the successful business her family operated for almost 20 years.

Well interesting story — we moved from Calgary to Edmonton to open up a motorcycle shop. My husband and my brother Josh were in partnership in Calgary and decided that the one shop wasn’t enough to support both families so we moved to Edmonton. He opened up just across from Commonwealth Stadium. It was called Accessories Unlimited and they had accessories for all kinds of motorcycles. They built bikes from the ground up and then they also accessorized vehicles by motorbikes. So he was in that for five years and then he sold the interest to my brother because, for Eric, it was a way for him to get into business for himself which he always wanted, but it wasn’t a vehicle that he could relate to. So he sold his interest to my brother Josh and we took the kids and we rented a motorhome and went to California for six weeks. Wherever we went we always made a point of searching for the Jewish delis and loved them. Edmonton didn’t have one at the time so we came back and made the natural progression from Harley’s to corned beef. We rented the spot right next to Eric’s uncle, who was the kosher butcher, Jack Woodrow, may he rest in peace, in partnership with his brother-in-law and cousin. So he rented a part of the other half of the building and we started it in 1979. We opened December 1979 and we were bringing in the bread from Winnipeg because we were told Edmonton didn’t have good rye bread. We tried and this Winnipeg rye bread was amazing but the first time we brought we had to delay our opening because the first shipment was delayed by a snowstorm in Regina. Until it got to us we couldn’t open. So we did that for a while and then it was never as good as fresh baked bread so we decided that good bread fresh was better than the best bread stale. So we started buying from Alberta Bakery and then the Bagel Bin opened up. Bon Ton at that point wasn’t doing any commercial sales so we started with Alberta Bakery and then Bagel Bin opened and we started using their rye bread and such. That was December ‘79 and we closed in June of ‘97. When we opened it was “kosher style”. We did have a Reuben and there was cheese and meat on that and then after a while, we got many many requests for things with treif and so we did add a BLT to the menu, we did also add an h.a.m. and cheese to the menu. I can’t even say the word, I have to spell it. They were big sellers, what can I tell you. 

We added live jazz every Thursday night. We probably added it in something like ‘82-’85. Every Thursday night we had live jazz and Eric advertised it through the Journal. And they were very, very busy. We had entertainers like Bobby Cairns, may his soul rest in peace, a Juno award winner, a fab and amazing person. He was an unbelievably talented musician and he was just one of the many. Tommy Banks used to come often — he wouldn’t play at the deli, but he loved it, because he wouldn’t play on a keyboard he would only play on a piano. There was no way we could get a piano in the door of Hello Deli. But he and his wife Ida, made their souls rest in peace, supported us tremendously. They helped us find people and gave us lots of really good advice. It became a staple, it was known all over and became a very integral part of Hello Deli. It was something that we really loved. 

Our son worked every Thursday night when he was in university and then we were one of the founding members of a Taste of Edmonton. When it first opened it was at the Convention Center on the huge patio there. It was a fabulous venue but it became too successful and it outgrew it by the second year. It was like a fire hazard. It was way too crowded so that was when it moved to Winston Churchill Square. We did that for several years and then when our son was in university, he got the idea that he would like to take over and split it with us — I would do the food production and he would do everything else. We did all the festivals and we did that for several years. Once Eric was out of town with the kids, probably in Kelowna, and I was with a friend. We went to the Saturday night of the Folk Festival because there was a klezmer group there. We were walking along and like every five steps I walked into one of our customers and they kept saying “You should have a booth here, why don’t you have a booth here?” So the next year we had a booth there. We were always vegetarian, we had latkes and we did falafel with all the accoutrements that went with that. We did very well at all the festivals. 

I guess the one thing that I want to mention is that Hello Deli wasn’t just me, it was a partnership with my husband. I was the cook, the chef, I did all of that. Eric, he just did everything. He was at the front counter at lunchtime, he did the repairs, he did the accounting, if I needed anything he’d go running and schlepping. He’d pick up anything I needed, no matter where it was. Even in the catering business he supported me completely. He got me the proper vehicle, if I was at an event and realized I forgot a piece of equipment, he’d zip it out there right away. From the moment we started Hello Deli it was a real partnership it just went through the whole time. Even when I was on my own, he was always there, being my right hand, supporting me, and helping me through everything — a real partnership.

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video she talks about the synagogues with which her family has been involved, as well as the former Jewish Community Centre.

Yiddishkeit is really important to me and to our family. I would say number one would be the home where observances are observed. Number two would be the synagogue. 

The JCC, when it was viable and really active, was a wonderful place. In fact, we moved from Grosvenor into Rio Terrace so my kids could be walking distance to the JCC. They took swimming lessons, they took pottery, they took all kinds of things. Like every day after school they would go to the JCC. In the morning they were there at six o’clock for swimming lessons with Ian Feldman. It was a terrific place. It wasn’t religious, but it was Jewish and everyone there was Jewish. It was a wonderful thing for our family to be close to. 
My husband’s family is very traditional in observances and so we were involved in everything. My mother-in-law always had Friday night dinners, my sister-in-law, may her soul rest in peace, always had the gatherings for the birthdays, and I had the larger gatherings for the seders and Rosh Hashanah and break the fast and such. Yiddishkeit was always a big part of our lives. We were synagogue affiliated; my husband was born and raised in Beth Israel. My father-in-law sang in the choir and we were always at Beth Israel. Then my father-in-law passed away, and then we moved with Beth Israel to the new synagogue which became a little more religious. It didn’t have a microphone so that was a bit of a problem because my husband is hearing impaired. We stayed there for a while but he just couldn’t hear.  When people can’t hear what’s going on, what do they do? They talk, which made it even worse for him. So we decided to go to Beth Shalom where there was a microphone. Even though we belonged to the Beth Israel our observances weren’t strictly Orthodox — we didn’t keep Shabbos, I kept kosher but we didn’t keep Shabbos and such. So we went to Beth Shalom and then the new rabbi of Beth Israel came. He’s my cousin so we thought well, if you’re not going to support family, what’s family all about? So we went back to Beth Israel and they made a point of putting Eric in the second row so that he could hear. Rabbi Claman has turned out to be a real blessing for this community and a blessing for our family. I knew him as a kid and the last time I saw him was in Israel in 2013. He had just gotten married at that point and Penina was pregnant with their first daughter. So it was awesome to see them again and right away we became very close with the kids and with them. Even during COVID, well until things got really bad, we were having porch visits and driveway visits with them. We got very close. I have to say, even being in the Orthodox synagogue we never felt… he always made everyone feel welcome. He’s not dogmatic, he’s not political, he’s very relatable and respects and is kind to everyone, no matter whatever your level of observance is. So we always felt very, very comfortable there. Leaving Edmonton, that was one of the many reasons that it was difficult. His mother and I are first cousins and we grew up together in Calgary and were always very, very close. His grandfather and my father were brothers. When my father, if you can imagine, in 1956 deserted; he just went to work one day and never came back. So my uncle Nate, his father became a real father figure to the three of us Greenberg kids. All of those things just brought Zolly and I really close together. We’re missing them, we’re even missing the driveway visits. We’re Facetiming and having visits, but it’s not the same. I have a niece there, Lisa Grobman, we were in Edmonton for 45 years so we have friends there since we moved. Yet by the same token, leaving in a pandemic is probably the easiest thing to do. We weren’t going anywhere, we weren’t seeing anybody there and so here in Calgary, we’re not going anywhere, we’re not seeing anybody. So for that, it probably helped. Moving, at this time, it hasn’t been terribly emotional for me. I know once things open up and we can see our friends and we meet in Red Deer for lunch, it’s going to become emotional. But at this point, it hasn’t really been because nothing’s changed.

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video, Paula discusses her involvement at the Fantasyland Hotel/West Edmonton Mall.

I was a catering manager so when people had things at the hotel they would come to me and we would go over a menu and the whole event, and sign a contract. Then I would oversee everything being done. Now when the kosher kitchen opened up there, the first event was the bar mitzvah of one of Nader’s sons I believe. It was an amazing thing — one of the ovens quit and it was crazy, but somehow we got it all together with Jeff Shechter, bless his heart. He was amazing. I would often help in that kitchen with several things that I knew how to give things Yiddish ta’am, Jewish flavor. The chefs there, with all due respect, were wonderful chefs but they weren’t in tune to that palette. So I helped quite a bit with that. Rabbi Ari [Drelich] would supervise a lot; Lawrence Bliss at that time didn’t have the bakery yet, so he was helping out and supervising, being the mashgiach. It was very cool actually, helping get that up and running. There were a few hiccups with it, but overall it’s been a wonderful uh thing the Ghermezians did to have that in the community. It’s important to have those things and so the rest — having the restaurant at West Edmonton Mall, having the Kollel, and the school, just everything… They did a tremendous amount for this city and I think a lot more than people ever knew. They did a lot behind the scenes that they weren’t looking for credit for, but just to support the yiddishkeit in the community. They were fantastic and they were great to work for. I really enjoyed working there.
When I left there, I at that point decided that I wanted to go back out on my own. Although I enjoyed working there, I wanted to go back to being entrepreneurial. So that’s when I went back to catering and event planning and that was in 2003. I still had been doing small little catering even while I was working there, the little things like brises, unveilings, and even the odd funeral. But then I went back to full-time catering and I started doing event planning — wedding planning, bar mitzvah planning, and I really enjoyed working with my customers. The majority of my customers were Jewish, and I loved working with Jewish people. It was the mentality that we shared that was so attractive to me. But, of course, if non-Jewish people came to me I was only too happy to work with them also. I did Ann McClellan’s daughter’s wedding and several other high-profile things that were always very successful. I was delighted that they had chosen me and honored me with their trust.

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video, she discusses her work at Our Parents’ Home.

I was approached by Sharon Marcus and also somebody else, but mainly Sharon Marcus about being the mashgiach at Our Parents’ Home, or mashgicha, as they call with the feminine version. At first I said no, I didn’t really want to get back into working. Long story short, they begged, pleaded, and cajoled and so I came for an interview. The interview went great, we signed a contract, and I started there in January 2019. I loved it from the first moment. As I said to my son “I love my seniors” and Marc says, “Mum, you’re a senior.” I said, “No, I’m a junior-senior, these are senior-seniors.” I always involved everyone — if I made knishes, we had them for dinner. I mean they went to the kosher people, but I also made enough for dinner that night for everybody. When it was the holidays, like on Rosh Hashanah we did packages with an apple and honey and a little explanation. For all the holidays we did special things. We did them for the whole residence, not just the Jewish residents. I got to know the people — I spent a fair amount of time in the front of the house and I really got to know people, their preferences, likes and dislikes. So on a certain day if I made cream of tomato soup I made sure that they called certain people that I know love tomato soup. At that point, they weren’t posting things ahead, so we started doing that. I got to know people and I just loved my job. The hours were perfect — I was working from nine to one, Monday to Friday. We started doing Shabbat dinners again. They had done Shabbat dinners before when the previous mashgiach was there and they were getting eight or ten people. Once I started doing them we had to cut them off at 35 or 40 because they would take at least half of the dining room and we couldn’t encroach on everybody. There were many non-Jewish people that came for the dinners also. Mr. Chetner conducted the services and he had handouts that he gave everyone all the time with all the prayers. It was an abridged version of Shabbos but it was a lovely version of Shabbos. Every month we made different things; brisket one month, then chicken one month, and veal another month. I kept everything rotating so it was a real treat for everybody. One of the funniest things was one of the Shabboses was a very hot summer day so I made gazpacho, but I had a feeling that this one older lady would not like it. She was very traditional and actually a Holocaust survivor beside that, older in her 90s and very traditional with what you have on Shabbos. So I went up to her and I asked her if she liked it and she told me no, you don’t serve cold soup on Shabbos. So I went into the kitchen and I warmed up another bowl for her and she loved it. I mean little things like that I was so happy to do for people. I got to feel like some of them were like my parents or uncles or aunts. Even after I had my accident and I wasn’t working there anymore, I got calls from many of the residents to see how I was and when I was coming back. It was very gratifying. It was a lovely year of my life and I really enjoyed it. There wasn’t an aspect of it that I didn’t like — the staff were fantastic to work with, we helped each other. There was no “this is your area and this is my area”. If I was done in my area I’d go into the non-kosher kitchen and see if they needed help. And if I needed help and there was someone there that could help, I could bring them in and show them what I needed done and it would get done. It was a beautiful part of my life and I was heartbroken when I had my accident and I couldn’t go anymore, but you know things like that happen.

Debby Shoctor

Beth Israel Synagogue – Video

Debby Shoctor is the former Archivist at the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta (JAHSENA) and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. In this video, she talks about Beth Israel Synagogue.

I worked as the archivist for the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta for 14 years so I did a lot of work with them on the Jewish history of the city. Some of that involved work with particular historical places. I was also president of the Archive Society of Alberta for five years, so I got involved primarily with the old synagogue, the original synagogue on 95th street and Rowland Road. We were, for a while, looking into maybe purchasing that back from the Catholic Church, because it is currently a Catholic church, and turning it into a museum. Barry Zalmanowitz and I got involved with that a few years ago and we had talks with them because they had said, at that time, that they were gonna close it down as a Catholic church. So we thought, well maybe we should get it back for the community and use it as a museum, but they haven’t done that yet, so it’s still functioning as Saint Boniface Catholic Church. When the community sold it back in the, I think it was the 50s I believe, when they built the Beth Israel synagogue which was on about 116th Street. They sold it originally to the Dutch Reformed Church, the First Dutch Reformed Church, and then they sold it to the Catholic Church. We interviewed people from the Dutch Reformed Church and from the Catholic Church and we went on a tour of the building, which was really interesting. We also employed David Murray, a local architect who does a lot of historical renovation. So we employed him to do a feasibility study on the building to see how feasible it would be to restore it to its original condition. That was really interesting, but since then, we’ve been just waiting to see what will happen with that building — if the church wants to sell it. If they want to sell it to us, if we could get some grant money to restore it etc etc.

We did a lot of research on it. We interviewed a lot of people who remembered going there when they were young, including my husband’s parents, which was interesting, as well as people like Mr. Mickelson used to live next door, and Arthur Hillier, who lived down the street. The whole Jewish community lived on that street, basically on 95th street. That building was built in about 1912, and we have pictures in the archives of when it was built. The first members of the community congregating, we even have a videotape which we’ve converted, of someone’s wedding that took place there. So it’s a very interesting building, and it was the nexus of the whole Jewish community in the early days. Of course, the first Jew came to Edmonton, Abe Crystal in 1893, but the community had to grow a bit and they had to get some money together. He donated the land, looking for that building before it was built in 1912. That served the community for many years, probably about four or five decades. 

The second Beth Israel Synagogue was just around 100th Avenue and 116th Street and then eventually they sold that building about 20 years ago. I don’t know, I don’t have the figures in front of me, but they sold that building and then they moved and they built the present building in Wolf Willow. So that building also has a lot of memories for me when I first moved here and got married. We were members of that synagogue and we used to go there on high holidays and I remember — you know when there’s the break in the services at Yizkor, we would go over to the Beth Shalom, which was a couple blocks away and visit with people there, outside and then go back. That was a great building too, you know a lot of memories, a lot of people who are no longer with us used to go there. 

My husband’s father and grandfather helped build that synagogue as well as the grandfather helped build the first synagogue, Morris Shoctor, down on 95th Street. Then when they sold that building and then they moved over to the one in Wolf Willow, my father-in-law was on the committee to build that one and designed it as well. So we were very involved in that and I remember being at the groundbreaking ceremony for that and special occasions that we had there. Like I remember the 100th anniversary of the community that we held at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Wolf Willow and we did a full display and historical display of photographs that’s still on the wall there, so that was very meaningful for me. I think the original Beth Israel Synagogue is the oldest synagogue still standing west of Winnipeg. The only older one is the one in Victoria, Temple Emmanuel, but that is on the island so it’s a little bit different. Because it’s brick, it’s very solidly built and very little has changed since it was built. They built a kind of addition on the back for the priest to live in, there’s like a little apartment there, but when you go inside there not much has changed from the original configuration. So I think that building could be restored as a museum and I think that would be nice because Edmonton tends to tear down its historic buildings, which is very sad, and people are always complaining about that. I hate to see that happen and I would hate to see it be developed for a commercial site, like apartments or something like that. We need these historic buildings and it’s a very small piece of land, so I don’t think it would be good for anything like an apartment building or a condo building. I would really love to see that preserved. 

When they sold the second Beth Israel building, the one on 116th Street I think it is, the fellow who bought it invited us over there after he renovated it. That was really interesting because he’s renovated it into a single family home and it’s quite unusual. He did it all himself and in the basement he has a mini golf course and on the first floor there’s a bowling alley and there’s kind of like a disco and a movie theater in the main area. He’s turned a third floor and made apartments at all the corners, so it’s quite interesting to drive by there and see what people do with buildings like that. The last Beth Israel building has very interesting architecture. It was designed by the Manasc Isaac Architects and my father-in-law wanted it to be built kind of like a theater, he built the Citadel Theater as well, so that’s the style of it. It’s kind of a thrust stage, so everybody sits around, it’s raked, and people can see what’s going on. There’s some other interesting touches in that building — Roy Ledbetter did some of the sculptural work, as did Ivan Clark on the Aron HaKodesh, also the metal work and on the door handles and elsewhere so that’s interesting as well.

Debby Shoctor is the former Archivist at the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta (JAHSENA) and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. In this video, she discusses Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Edmonton Jewish Cemetery.

The Beth Shalom Synagogue on Jasper Avenue is a very interesting building. David Murray always talks about that building, its international style, but it’s not on the register of historic places, whereas the old Beth Israel is the first one. It’s a really good example of that, the mid-century international style of architecture, with the yellow brick and just the lines of the building. They’ve kept it up very well. There was a fire bombing, a couple of them, there actually, but the one in the 80s destroyed some of the stained glass windows and they’ve restored those. They were originally done by McCausland, a big stained glass manufacturer in Toronto. When they were restored, some of the windows were slightly different in what they depict and how they are. Theirs, it’s unusual because that’s the only sort of Jewish stained glass in the city. You know there’s stained glass on the Cathedral and some of the Ukrainian churches, but this is particularly “Old Testament” stained glass. There’s, I think, a window of Moses and a lot of the prophets, and then there’s stained glass of all the tribes of Israel on the bima. 

The Reform synagogue now is in the Chevra Kadisha building, which is on 120th Street. I believe they used to be in the old JCC at Hillcrest, which was torn down. Vivian Manasc, who’s an architect in town, her father made the stained glass windows for that which you know were just basically frames and they’ve moved them and they’re in the Chevra Kadisha chapel now. That chapel is also interesting — it’s very 1950s. It’s not so interesting from the outside, but the inside’s quite interesting. They share that with the Chevra Kadisha, that’s where they have big funerals before they take that to the cemetery.

The other interesting place, for me at least, is the Jewish cemetery because there’s so many people from our community buried out there. That has been there, like I think it was even earlier than the synagogue, if i’m not mistaken. That land is in Forest Heights and they’re almost almost full now, so they’ve bought some land in St. Albert that they’re going to use. They’re just raising the money now to build the infrastructure to use as a new cemetery, because this cemetery is over a century old and it’s almost full. There’s interesting things in there — Dave Marcus did a tour for us once, for the Archive Society, and one of the biggest monuments in Alberta is there. There’s a lot of interesting people buried there, there’s a little chapel there. When they originally built it, Mr. Aronoff, who was a blacksmith to the Czar, actually designed and made the gates of the cemetery with little sculptures with birds and, I think they’re pomegranates, and flowers so, that’s a very interesting place as well.

Debby Shoctor is the former Archivist at the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta (JAHSENA) and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. In this video she discusses the former Jewish Community Centre.

The other place that is really near and dear to my heart is the old JCC, which was torn down. The Hillcrest country club and that was bought by some benefactors of the community in the 70s. It used to be a country club located in Rio Terrace and I worked there for many, many years. I started working there in 1987 and stayed until they sold the building and it was torn down in 2012, I believe it was, when we moved to the offices, which are rented, on 156th Street. We did so much in that building — there was a pool, my son learned to swim there, there was a gym where we had Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations. We had exercise classes, Temple Beth Ora was there, there was a Montessori school in the basement where my kids went to school, there were offices there of every Jewish organization you can imagine, B’nai B’rith had conventions there, BBYO, Hillel students had meetings there. There were Hebrew classes, we had pottery in the basement and sculpture classes, and sketching of the River Valley. There was a workout room with personal trainers, and a weight room, and we spent a lot of time in that building. We used to dance there, the Israeli dancers used to dance there. I mean that was really the hub of the community for me. When I moved here in 1987, that was my home. I worked there, I spent time there, I met my friends there and it was a great place. But it deteriorated like all buildings do. It was an old building, I think it was built in the 50s, and it had outlived its useful life. 

There was a curling rink that got torn down at one point, the outdoor pool slid into the ravine at one point, the tennis courts just got overgrown with nature, and it was going to be too expensive to renovate it. So the best thing to do was to sell it. We’ve been looking into building another JCC for a very long time, the community has, and it’s difficult because everybody has different ideas about it and it’s very expensive to build buildings nowadays. It’s not like it used to be. I think the first synagogue probably cost less than ten thousand dollars to build and was built in a year, well less than a year, it was built in a few months. I mean that’s just not the case anymore. There’s all kinds of hurdles, rules, and regulations. It’s hard to figure out how to do it, who’s going to pay for it, where it’s going to go. I don’t know that that will ever happen again. Plus Edmonton has changed. The population has been kind of steady since the 1950s, it’s about 5000 people total. People come and people go, but the kids tend to go to university elsewhere and then stay elsewhere, and then parents move there when they retire. It’s not a stable population and it’s not a wealthy city, we don’t have a lot of wealthy people anymore willing to foot the bill for these kinds of things. I don’t know that we’ll ever have another community center like that, it’s hard to say. That doesn’t mean we can’t have Jewish life here. We have the synagogues, we have lots of buildings, we have the Drop In Center downtown as well. We have services like Jewish Family Services, we have lots of buildings, but to sustain the population is another thing. We have two Jewish day schools, we have lots of activities. People get together, Hillel gets together, BBYO gets together, we have a camp in Pine Lake that is supported by the Jewish communities of Edmonton and Calgary. There’s a lot of things that we have to support and I just don’t know that a community center is a priority for us. Plus the fact that there was a reason why there were these community centers built; Jews weren’t allowed to join country clubs and athletic facilities and yoga studios and stuff like that. Whereas now, they are, so we have a lot more choice, so I think that’s one of the issues too. I don’t know if we’ll ever build another building to replace Hillcrest.

Debby Shoctor is the former Archivist at the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta (JAHSENA) and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. In this video, she discusses the Heritage Festival and Hawrelak Park.

I think we’re moving on, in a way, from places to programs. Especially now, everything is virtual so there is no place, which is sad. While I was working for Federation we had started moving to having programs in different places, like Heritage Days is in Hawrelak Park, it’s a city facility. It’s not really Jewish at all, but our Israeli pavilion was there for 35 plus years. We were there, practically from the beginning. That is a place that has a lot of resonance for me, because I chaired the pavilion for years. I worked at the pavilion, I danced at the pavilion, I ran the pavilion, but it’s not a Jewish place, it was just our temporary pavilion. We’re all temporary, I mean, on this land. In this place we are newcomers, so we think we’ve been here for a very long time but we haven’t. When you look at the whole history of Edmonton, you know Beaver Hills House, that’s not us. We’re all kind of passing through I guess. That’s just an example of a program that was very important to us, but wasn’t in a particularly Jewish place. 

The film festival — I worked on the Jewish Film Festival for over 25 years. It went virtual this year and it’s probably going to be virtual again. We had it downtown at the Landmark [Theatre], but we also had it at the [West Edmonton] Mall, we also had it in the Citadel Theater. It moved around, but everybody loved the Jewish Film Festival, so it doesn’t have to be associated with a particular place. Things can move and still have resonance for people.

Francie Nobleman

Part One – Video

Francie Nobleman was involved with Temple Beth Ora for a number of years, as well as organizing the annual “Mitzvah Day.” In this video she mentions the Jewish Community Centre, both locations of Temple Beth Ora, two locations of the Talmud Torah, Menorah Academy, and Beth Shalom Synagogue.

I think when I first came, my first connections were with the Jewish Community Centre, the one down 156 Street. And basically, myself and my husband and kids lived there. Not literally, but there was a pool there, which we would go to every Sunday. There was a lot of volunteering, of course, Temple Beth Ora, the synagogue that I joined when I came here, was also housed out of the Jewish Community Centre. It was such a wonderful facility, I have lots of good memories, but that Talmud Torah, both the old one which my kids attended up ’til our oldest was in grade three, and then the school which moved to the West End. I spent many, many hours there volunteering and being there for the kids. Menorah Academy, actually, the year it started, one of our kids attended kindergarten there. So I had volunteer connections with that. Beth Shalom for a period of about 10 years, we were members of both Temple Beth Ora and Beth Shalom and I worked with a lot of people at Beth Shalom in a volunteer capacity. 

Probably the most memorable involvement was in something called Mitzvah Day. We gathered thousands, if not more, of items for about 22 different charities. It happens once a year, the third Sunday in November. And that physically — all the items were gathered at the Jewish Community Centre. So I spent a lot of time there and have lots of stories about volunteers. I can’t actually pull out one single memory, except the vision of that gym being packed full of about 150 people and each department, if you would call it that. So there was a department with food, department with clothing, departments with furniture, that sort of stuff. Each department was housed by volunteers, and we had streams of the charities coming in to pick up their own gift boxes. We also had other streams of people pulling up in cars to deliver to families. So I have that vision of the activity at the Jewish Community Centre that revolved around that event every year. 

So I think when the kids were younger, I was very closely tied in with the Talmud Torah and more involved with that then. As they evolved, I got more involved, probably in the synagogue. So my connections were more intense for certain segments of years with different places. The projects that we were doing, the fundraisers, the chess club at the Talmud Torah, whatever was happening sort of depended on the stage that my family was at. Our middle kid loved playing chess and so I thought, well, I’ll start a chess club at noon, maybe we’ll get Josh and his best friend, Max. We’ll get two kids and they’ll play each other and we’ll see, maybe other kids will be interested. On the first day that we “launched”, it was lunchtime, and we’d announced it in the announcements. We had 75 kids show and at that time, I’m not sure there were even 200 kids in the school. It was remarkable. These kids were passionate about learning chess, playing chess. There was a fellow named Jonathan Schaeffer, I don’t know if that’s a name that’s come up, he’s a university professor. I’m not even sure if they’re still in Edmonton. He’s a brilliant guy. He created the checkers program called Deep Blue, the computerized program that beat the world checkers champion. He was a genius at chess. So he coached the kids after school in chess, and this group of kids was just interested in this game. We ended up going to the City Finals, then the Provincial Finals, ironically held in Red Deer at a hotel called the Black Knight Inn. So that was remarkable to see these kids so focused and so interested. who might otherwise have had other learning challenges, but they were so passionate about this game and playing, watching the ladder and observing who was playing who. That was a wonderful, wonderful thing that I recall from Talmud Torah. 

So when the Talmud Torah moved from the old building to the new building, I believe our daughter, who’s now 35, was in grade three. So the other two would have been, like, grade one and maybe just preschool when they moved to the new building. It was quite an interesting adventure, you’ll probably have somebody else talk about that. But I certainly have a lot of memories in both buildings. We did something called Sephardi Days when we were in the old building. I worked with a couple of other volunteers, Ruth Coppens and Leah Goldford. Leah you would know from Beth Israel. It was a really interesting thing, because most of us are Ashkenazi Jews, right? Our parents came, or grandparents came, from Eastern Europe. So Leah had said, “You know, we’re woefully ignorant of this whole other branch of Judaism, we need to let people know about it.” So people like Odette Masliyah and others who came from different backgrounds. We had stations and the whole entire school, every classroom, every teacher was involved. They moved from station to station and learned about Sephardic Jews. So that certainly was an image that stands out. 

Oh, the pool, the JCC pool. I loved that place. We had such great memories there with family, friends, and kids… It’s a very expensive proposition to run a facility like that and there are lots of other facilities. But yeah, I do miss that. The gym, our kids used to play there after [synagogue] services. They’d run and play basketball and have a great old time. So yeah, that was quite remarkable singing and carrying the Torahs all the way from the old location of the Jewish Community Centre to the Chevra Kadisha Building, just off 123rd [Street] and 105th [Avenue], and settling in there. 

That is what we call “the house that Marshall built”. The new home for Temple Beth Ora, Marshall Hundert was instrumental in acting as a liaison between the Chevra Kadisha and Temple Beth Ora. He made sure that we found a new home and that it worked for all the parties. I’ve enjoyed being a volunteer and aspects of being a volunteer coordinator. If you can match the right people with the right job, then everybody has a good time and everything moves forward. So I guess that’s sort of what sticks with me from those years of volunteering, no matter what the organization or the location. What I do miss is the energy of all these people coming together for various projects that may have been months and months in the making. But when they actually happened, there’s just a magic about it, wherever the place was. Whether it was at the JCC as I remember it with that gorgeous view of the River Valley and the Temple Beth Ora. As you know, Karen sings, sang, in the choir that was associated with Temple Beth Ora called Chavurat Hashir. So the image of them singing and us looking down at the River Valley in the fall with the colours changing, that’s a strong image of the place, I guess. 

But it’s more of the energy of the people. As well as the number of different Mitzvah Days that were also in that place, the energy of all these people who normally would not be mixing. We had people from Beth Israel who had never met people from Beth Ora or people who really had nothing to do with Jewish community, but they wanted to volunteer for this because they felt that it was a way of giving back. So you had all these people working side by side for a full day of high energy, something that everybody could walk away from and feel good. And that’s more than the facts, I guess. The sense that stays with me, and it happened in a place, but it was that energy and that connection of people and I really personally enjoyed that.

In this video, Francie Nobleman talks about Or Shalom, a religious school that was a combined effort of Temple Beth Ora and Beth Shalom Synagogue.

The Temple Beth Ora had a Sunday school for many years before I became involved with it. Because my kids were at Talmud Torah Hebrew day school, they didn’t need to attend the Sunday school until just before their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. It wasn’t until much later, when my kids were grown and gone… There was an evolution of rabbis at Temple Beth Ora. So I don’t know if you knew Rabbi Lindsay Bat Joseph, but she was with us for, I think, almost 14 years. And when she left, we had some temporary rabbis who we would fly in for a period of time. Then we had a rabbi named Rabbi Carmit Harari. I think she may have started in around 2008. Over that period of time, Beth Shalom had a rabbi, Rabbi David Kunin, and the two of them worked really well together. At one point, and I’m not positive about the dates, but I think it was around 2012-ish that Rabbi Carmit Harari and Rabbi David Kunin decided that their two little Sunday schools were quite small. To be more viable, they joined the two schools together. Thus, Or from Temple Beth Ora and Shalom from Beth Shalom — so Or Shalom. The two rabbis and Cantor David Mannes worked to make this Sunday school happen. 

I don’t know much about that history or where it was held or who the teachers were, but I came on the scene after, I think, both Rabbi Harari and Rabbi Kunin had left. I believe that Cantor Mannes was the “school principal”. So we decided that this was good and they needed somebody from Beth Ora, I think at the time, to sort of help out. There was a lot of evolution. I’m friendly with Robin Marcus, who’s a teacher at Talmud Torah, and Gaylene Soifer, who is also a teacher there. So the three of us spent a couple of summers pulling together a curriculum for the school. I worked quite hard to try and find teachers and teachers assistants, and over a few years, we evolved. We grew from, I believe we had about, a dozen kids when we started. That was from both shuls, because most of the families who went to Beth Shalom, their kids were going to a Hebrew day school. So I think we started at about a dozen and just before COVID hit in March of 2020, we had 30 kids registered. So we’ve grown it quite a bit. We had four classrooms, teachers, and teachers assistants. By this time, we had Rabbi Gila Caine who had come on the scene. It was wonderful to have her as our rabbi and sort of support from that perspective. 

There were a couple of years in between, I think Rabbi Kliel Rose was the rabbi at Beth Shalom after David Kunin left. There was a crossover where he was a little bit involved in the school for a bit. And then I believe it was a couple years ago, maybe it was 2018 when Rabbi Schwartzman [arrived]. He’s really lovely, but he had just started in the job and he just wanted a little time to acclimatize. So Beth Shalom decided not to be part of the Or Shalom school. The reality was that most of the kids were either from families who were at Temple Beth Ora or they were from families who didn’t belong to any synagogue. I think Beth Shalom’s board probably helped to tip the balance and decided that they couldn’t afford to be putting money into it — the shuls were supporting us a little bit. So Beth Shalom pulled back and we moved forward. When COVID hit, it was in the spring of that year, we finished up the year mostly remote. Then the teachers, the TAs, the parents, the kids, everybody decided that it wasn’t feasible to have parents deal with their kids going to regular school online and also come to a Sunday school that was online. I’m sure from all that you’ve read it was a challenging year education-wise. So right now there isn’t a running Or Shalom and perhaps it’ll have a rebirth. As I mentioned, I really hope that this rebirth will be motivated and spearheaded by parents who have young kids who really want to see them have a sense of community. I think that was the biggest thing that the Sunday school offered was a sense of community. As well as the fact that the actual curriculum brought in Torah, brought in the holidays, brought in a lot of a heavy emphasis on values. Raising questions like how do we live a good Jewish life, and how do we live that ethically and make the world better, and tikkun olam. So there was a heavy emphasis on that. I think there’s still people for whom that’s really important, and so hopefully that will happen again. 

When we were partnering with Beth Shalom what we used to do, and we still did even when we weren’t, was something called “family education days”. So we would get whole families to come in and they would rotate through various activities with their kids. I just remember this one in Beth Shalom’s kitchen. I don’t know if you’ve been in there, it’s like an industrial kitchen (it’s not as big as Beth Israel’s, but a decent size). I think we must have packed in maybe eight or ten families there. Everybody was baking challah. They had counters in the middle, and you had these kids, ranging in age from maybe two or three up till teenagers. They were all sitting there focused on creating and braiding their challah, decorating it with their chocolate or whatever. But each family you saw the parents interacting with their own kids and the kids making new friends, building a community. That image really sticks with me — I have the image of the place, but more strongly I have the image of these families that had never met, but now they had something in common and they were building something together.

Locations Mentioned in This Video