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

Dr. Joseph Kirman

Video

Dr. Joseph Kirman came to Edmonton in the late 60s to become a professor at the University of Alberta. He became involved in Beth Israel Synagogue, as well as the community’s now-defunct Kashruth Committee.

In terms of Jewish history, for some reason the University of Alberta, because we had Hillel at that time (we still have it today) but in those days all student organizations had to have the faculty advisor. I was a co-faculty advisor with the late Dr. Norbert Berkowitz. I was working with the Hillel group. We had a lot of fun with the students — there were speakers coming in and we would arrange for breakfasts at, for example, Beth Shalom. We would have a breakfast there about once a month and it was a very nice time. 

Regarding the other aspect is Beth Israel synagogue, as I am Orthodox this was the synagogue I decided I would attend. I got on to the board ‘68-69 and remained on the board until 1996. During that time, I still remember when I first came onto the board, but board activities were conducted almost entirely in Yiddish at that time. Little by little as the older members passed away, it moved towards English. I still remember quite a few of those “Golden Oldie” old timers, they were really fine people. 

During the time I was on the board with Beth Israel, I was a ritual chairman. I was also the chair of the Kashrut Committee for the synagogue as well as, eventually, chair of the Kashrut Committee for the city of Edmonton itself. I was also active with the old Jewish Community Council and I was the chair of “community relations” and it was my job to write to the newspapers anytime something Jewish came up. We had great problems and often it had to do with Israel, defending the State of Israel against statements that some people had made. At one point, I was informed from Jewish Community Council, they had met with the RCMP, that at that time the Black September movement was active among the Palestinians. They were sending letter bombs into Canada and I was considered one of the prime targets because of my defense of the State of Israel. We would occasionally get midnight phone calls from some Palestinian supporters. I would have to hang up on them, it was harassment. Things were put in the mailbox, I won’t tell you what. I even had a bit of a tiff with the Talmud Torah. Because of my family’s potential for letter bombs, I asked that our family name and our phone number be deleted from the phone book, which they used to issue in those days. They came around when they understood what the matter was. 

There was latent antisemitism, you didn’t know it but it was there. For example, for the birth of our second child I had taken my wife right to the hospital. Her water had broken and I was signing her in. In those days, at the University Hospital and in other places they asked you for your religion. I was trying to move faster so they could get her right upstairs to the maternity ward for and the woman writing it all up says “Well, what’s your religion?” I said “Jewish”. “Oh, Hebrew,” she puts down. I said “We’re not Hebrews, we’re Jews. Hebrews are our ancient ancestors.” And she’s writing  and says “What do you do for a living?” I told her “I’m a professor at the U of A.” “What department are you a professor in?” she says to me. I told her Elementary Education. Her answer was “Oh G-d help the children,”. I gave her a nasty look. At that time I didn’t feel like pursuing the matter because my wife was out there, the birth came before anything. She got the note from my look that she had overstepped the line. At that point, they didn’t feel like taking it any further. We also had some incidents of something very strange. At that time, in about 1976-77 Rabbi Kronenberg was the chair, who was the principal at the Talmud Torah. He was in Beth Israel synagogue one Sunday and a Christian class came in, youngsters, I think upper elementary school age. And they wanted to know if they could get some information about the synagogue. They were told the rabbi was there and he would be glad to speak with them. So they brought him into the synagogue, the children sat him down and he was talking to them about various aspects of the synagogue; the windows, how many windows, why there were that many, what they were all about, and then he was talking about the Torah and told them that the ink used for the Torah was very, very durable. He asked if anyone knew why. A kid raised her hand and said “Yes, they use Christian blood to mix in with the ink to write the Torah.” He immediately corrected that one, but it goes to show you what was floating around at that time, what might still be to this day. I hope that it’s not that way because in general we’ve been very well accepted here. At the time I came in, the president of the University was Jewish and again, later on Dr. Myer Horowitz was president of the U of A, also Jewish.

The Kashrut Committee for the community, I was the last chair and I unfortunately had to disband it. There was some controversy starting between the Conservative rabbi at that time and the Orthodox rabbi at that time, and I felt that the matter was unfortunately something that had to be resolved. I sent a letter to the president of Jewish Federation at the time stating that if this matter was not resolved I would be tendering my resignation. Unfortunately, the matter was not resolved. I tendered, the Kashrut Committee was disbanded, and the late president of Chevra Kadisha, a wonderful man, Nate Siegel, took over as a community mashgiach. He was a very fine man: he never took any money from the community for the work that he did on the Kashrut Committee.
I’d like to see and to know what’s going on with [Hillel and the University] occasionally. I’m still active with Beth Israel after a hiatus pertaining to some disagreements around the building. I’m back on the board again and active with the synagogue with its minyan. I’m there virtually every day for the minyan and unfortunately during this pandemic, I can’t can’t get over there on Shabbos. It’s a little bit disconcerting, but otherwise yes, still with Beth Israel.

Leah Goldford

Video

Leah Goldford is a life-long Edmontonian with deep roots in the Orthodox community, including Beth Israel Synagogue, the Kollel, Menorah Academy, as well as locations connected to her family such as the Jewish Cemetery, Furman’s Tasty Bread, and Marcus Furs.

In my adult years, Edmonton Menorah Academy is one and the Edmonton Kollel is another. Then as I started thinking back to when I was young, the old Beth Israel synagogue, my grandfather’s bakery, Furman’s Tasty Bread, Teddy’s Lunch, actually Marcus Furs was important, the old Talmud Torah, and in Jasper Place my mom’s cousin had a store but I can’t quite remember the name of it. But that store was also really important to me. I know that some of these places are not traditionally what you would call “Jewish community places” but they were an integral part of the Jewish Community. 

Menorah Academy started around 30 years ago. It was the brainchild of the Ghermezian brothers who wanted to make a strong [frum] Jewish community in Edmonton and they asked me to be a founding partner in Menorah Academy. At the time, I was on the board of the Talmud Torah and it was just a crazy time. When it started, first we were going to have a shared arrangement with Westminster Junior High and that fell through. At the time, the Woodward’s food floor in the mall had closed and we didn’t know where the school was going to be. It opened first of all in the convention center of the Fantasyland Hotel, where the rooms were classrooms and the kitchen was used for lunch. It was just a nuts time. Nader Ghermezian asked me to help him interview staff for teachers. Sylvia Benjamin and I and Nader formed the nucleus of the school. We got it up and running, it was amazing. Then we moved into the food floor at Woodward’s and it was completely open concept. We had classrooms that were divided by business dividers, you know those really tacky orange things? Eddie had a little teeny tiny kitchen to work out of to feed everybody and it was just a really pioneering time. I had pulled Carla and Mitchell from Talmud Torah and put them in there. Shannon started in kindergarten at Menorah and went all the way through. Our kids thrived in this environment and it really jump started our religious journey. We didn’t move into the school location for at least a year. I remember Sylvia on the Woodward’s food floor. She had a platform so she was like sitting on a platform looking down at all the kids. The parents — we wanted to see what was going on so we brought couches and we made a library. We said we were making a library with couches but really it was for all the parents who were out shopping to come and sit down and watch what was going on in the school. This was such an interesting time. 

We were already on our way because prior to opening this school they opened the Kollel. So the Kollel was opened, it must be like 28-29 years ago that all of this happened. So the Kollel came first, actually before the school. Prior to the Kollel coming they brought in a lot of speakers and we had a weekend where we went to a Shabbaton in Jasper and that really inspired a lot of families. Once there was more than just Howie and I and the rabbis keeping kosher and Shabbos, it was kind of like a snowball because other people were and we could invite people over, teach them, and inspire them. So that really helped. 

Well we got married there [at Beth Israel], it was my shul. I was my shul growing up and I remember going. My dad used to take me every Saturday for services. I don’t know, I can still smell the old Beth Israel. I used to love going into the little chapel in the basement. I don’t know, it was just the shul that we went to. I never actually went to high holiday services in my life until I was in high school because my mother was Shomer Shabbos and we didn’t drive on holidays at all. My job was to sit and read the machzor at home. I do remember Purim, I remember quite a few Purims where the adult population did Purim shpiels in the basement. Isaiah Staav repainted the basement and everybody was appalled because he had done a creative paint job with mauve and yellow. I loved it but the rest of the people, the board especially, didn’t really appreciate it. I remember the rabbi’s office way at the top of the stairs, sitting in there waiting for them to come and get me so that I could walk down the aisle to marry my husband.

I remember the Saturday services and going as a child. I’m still linked in my heart and my brain to Beth Israel. Now that it’s moved to the West End and now that Howie’s president, it’s hard not to be linked. Menorah, I’m very sad that it’s closing and I’m not looking forward to the end of this year.

I mean the cemetery is another place. You know it’s becoming more and more a home now to me. All of my family is there like my grandparents. Reuven Dolgoy A”H (Alev Hashalom), he once sat me down and we did a tour of the cemetery. He showed me where the original funders of the community were, where their graves were. He told me stories about all different kinds of things and it was very interesting to me.
Like I said earlier, you may not think of these places as Jewish community “places” but Zal’s butcher shop and Silverman’s butcher shop I remember very well. It’s so amazing to me that so many years later we no longer have a butcher shop. We have a bakery, we had Bon Ton, but we don’t have a Vaad HaKashrut, so that’s probably a big reason why. I remember the bakery because, again, we had this route on Saturdays — we’d go for shul and then we would go to get gas at the bakery. Then we would go for lunch at Teddy’s and then we would go to visit my uncle Allen and my auntie Eva at the fur store. When it was next to the King Eddie, the storage was also there. So while my dad was talking to my uncle, I would just cuddle up inside the furs that were hanging on on the racks, so I remember that very well.

Ann Goldblatt

Video

Ann Goldblatt is a former President of Temple Beth Ora, Edmonton’s Reform synagogue, and has memories of TBO tied in to its previous location at the Jewish Community Centre and its current location at the Chevra Kadisha.

The two places that came to my mind – one is the Jewish Community Center that was, and the other is the building that’s known as the Chesed Shel Emeth, so it’s the building that belongs to the Chevra Kadisha and those are two significant places because of my connection to Temple Beth Ora. So I joined Temple Beth Ora a week after I moved to Edmonton because my cousin’s son needed a brit [milah] and and I was living in their dining room at the time and they had to join the temple in order to access that resource of the synagogue and so I decided to join as well. So that was in 1987, and so for me the Temple Beth Ora was my Jewish experience, really is, in Edmonton intertwined with Temple Beth Ora.

Intertwined with the Jewish Community Center because that’s where it was situated, I initially got involved in communications and coordinated communications committees and then I got drawn into being on the board. I always say I was like on the board for most of my adult life so I I started off as I moved into the role of VP administration and then VP ritual and then became president of the synagogue so I got deeper and deeper into it and I spent a lot of my volunteer time in Edmonton, a lot of my volunteer time in Edmonton was being involved with the synagogue. 

The space that we used, the Jewish Community Center, was very much a part of the identity of the synagogue and all the stories and associations in those first few years were with that space, where we were a tenant in that building. Lots of different things that went on there, but that space was a a shared space as you know, and so the room that was was our sanctuary, during the week it was sometimes used for Feldenkrais, movement therapy classes, and I don’t know what else went on there, and then you know on Friday night it was transformed into a sacred space for our our congregation. If it became our sanctuary, the same room could take on a very different significance for the people who were making use of it. 

There was a lot of uncertainty about what would happen with that site for years and years, so we always knew that there was a possibility that we might have to relocate, but I think that Temple Beth Ora was in that building for 25 years. So it was a long association with that building. Knowing that we might have to relocate, Marshall Hundert, who is a developer and very knowledgeable about land and space opportunities, landed on one option which I was thinking about as kind of a “confluence of opportunity”. So he knew that the apartment was on the second floor of the Chesed Shel Emeth, where the Chevra Kadisha has their building for funerals. He knew that the second floor apartment was being rented out to tenants in the community. That apartment is where Les and Mary, the couple that manages the cemetery, actually lived and raised their three children. 

The other important piece is that at the cemetery the community had renovated the little chapel, so almost all the funerals were being held in the chapel at the cemetery, and so the sanctuary [at Chesed Shel Emeth] was only being used a handful of times during the year on average. It was really being used for the “markers of the community” — not necessarily major figures in the Jewish community, but people where the family thought it was going to attract a lot of people. I have some very specific memories of huge funerals in that building. 

So Marshall knew that that apartment was being rented out and that the sanctuary wasn’t being used very often. He pictured that the space upstairs could be transformed into being our offices and space for our school, the Beit Sefer — the Sunday school — and the meetings. The living room, he imagined, could be for the rabbi’s office and the administrative person, the bedrooms could become the classrooms and meeting space, and then the kitchen could be renovated. He also had the idea that we could take out the back few pews, the rows of beautiful, wooden pews and put them into storage, and then we would have a social hall at the back of the sanctuary. So that, for myself and for a number of people, the idea of using that space as a sanctuary in particular was hard to get our heads around because it was a place that had only the saddest of memories, the biggest funerals. There was one for Alan Stein, who did a CBC broadcast. Another one was for Earl Klein who died at 33, and I was very good friends with his former wife. He had young kids and he had a brain aneurysm when he was on a tour as an actor. The sanctuary was full of people who were sad and so it was a place that only had memories of sadness, mourning, and loss. The notion that we would use this space for other purposes was really hard to picture, but one of the thoughts that helped me was thinking about smaller Jewish communities that don’t have separate buildings for funerals and for congregations. Where all those life cycle events take place in the same space, so I think it was like starting to put a crack in that shield of protection of thinking that we couldn’t possibly use this space for that purpose. So that decision was made that we would make the move there and Marshall almost single-handedly did the renovations upstairs. He negotiated the terms of the lease so the move from the Jewish Community Center to the building downtown was on a particular day. 

We actually did different things to make that an important move, so on a particular day we had a plan to walk the Torah scrolls from the Jewish Community Center to the Chesed Shel Emeth. We had arranged for people to handle different segments of that walk from the west end to downtown. I think Felix Friedman was the president of time and I think he walked the whole distance. We had our last service at the Jewish Community Center, walked the Torah scrolls, and then had our first service at the Chesed Shel Emeth downtown. So that was how we marked that occasion. We actually have, since then, had a couple of other occasions so we had an event that we called the Chanukat Bayit, the dedication of our new home. We invited the whole community for that and then later on we had a “rededication” of the stained glass windows that Vivian Manasc and her father had designed and created. So we had a special event to rededicate those stained glass windows which now sit at the back of the sanctuary. So those are some ways in which we marked that transition to give it meaning. 

The first transformative moment I had was seeing Sarah and David Feldman’s professional wedding photos. Theirs was the first wedding that took place in that building. That was led by Rabbi Carmit Harari and it was really an odd feeling because it was with this oxymoron of these beautiful photos and this happy occasion happening in that space. Their photos were just beautiful and it just put a different light on that building. Then came a baby naming and the first Bar or Bat Mitzvah and gradually it felt like we had a chance to lay down new memories for that space. I think we started to fill it with music — I was part of Chavurat Hashir, the group that was leading music, laughter, sadness, and holiday celebrations. Other people in the broader Jewish community came and they started to have different experiences. So, vicariously, you start to take the feelings that they were conveying, and I think it was that laying down of new memories was a really significant part of embracing that space.The other thing I just want to mention is that I think that Temple Beth Ora, for 25 years was a tenant in a recreation center and then we became a tenant in one of the most central institutions in the Jewish community. In a place that so many people have some connection to and we were in the center of the city. For me, having never lived in the west end, it felt like we were now in some ways legitimized as being now part of, connected, associated with a major institution. That felt different — I mean my own feeling about being a member of the temple didn’t change, but I felt like our place physically and kind of psychologically in the community had shifted by virtue of that move. 

So we traded off a beautiful view out of those panoramic windows of the river valley. Each time it was a very contemplative view outside of our sanctuary at the JCC and we traded that off for a beautiful sanctuary in the building downtown. For quite a while, we kept calling it the Chesed Shel Emeth and at a certain point, someone said “we don’t have to call it that, it is our synagogue.” We put our sign on the outside and, for us, that is Temple Beth Ora. It was interesting to sort of see that transformation of feeling like this is our place now. It is a shared place for sure, but it is our synagogue.

Hello Deli, that’s one that I do miss. There aren’t truly places where people come and sit down and enjoy Jewish food together — we really don’t have that kind of place anymore. Because I didn’t live in the west end, bakeries and things like that didn’t have that much of a role in my experience. Hello Deli really stood out as just a place where it felt good. Having lived in Toronto for a number of years, maybe it gave me a little feeling of that association of places you would go and feel that connection because of food.

Rhonda Eidelman

Video

Rhonda Eidelman works for Jewish Family Services, and has personal and family connections to the Talmud Torah, Chabad, Beth Israel Synagogue, Menorah Academy, Jewish Drop-In Centre, Beth Shalom, Kollel, and Our Parents Home.

Well, we came here in ‘81 and my husband started by working in Wetaskiwin and I continued working with the Federal Government in the Medical Services Branch. He was hired in 1984 to the Talmud Torah School as a grade four Hebrew teacher. So he worked there for five years, we started our family and we had five children. So Talmud Torah would have to be my number one spot. I was a volunteer there for 20 years. And every Jewish ladies group in the city that looks for fundraising or is involved in doing any kind of activities, not as a member so much as a worker, I came out. Then 18 years ago, I got hired by Jewish Family Services. So I’ve split my time between JSS and Talmud Torah and I’ve been quite active. I’ve helped out in summertime in Heritage Days, I help fundraise in Hadassah and Na’amat, National Council of Jewish Women, or you name it, I’ve been there fundraising. I was a bingo chairman at the school, I was a casino chairman, anywhere there’s money to be made to help Jewish organizations. My husband when he taught there, they were still on 135th, so my children were in the school. That’s when they moved to the West End, five minutes from our home. I was there every day in the new school and every day in the old school. So between volunteering when my husband was still teaching, and then going on when my kids attended, I was a daily volunteer there. 

Maybe four years ago, we were on 124 Street in my time. Two different locations went over by Stony Plain Road, 103/104 Avenue. Then we moved to 102 Avenue and 124 Street and then we moved to the West End. 

When we first came here my mother passed away soon after, and my dad moved in with me. I brought him home from Toronto from the shiva and we were quite involved with Chabad. My children and my dad went on a regular basis and he schlepped them behind him every Saturday morning. I think I’ve volunteered and made thousands of latkes for them over the years, and stuffed every calendar in the September newsletter. You name it, I’ve done it. Blew enough balloons up for Purim and Lag Ba’omer and any kind of picnic and cooked and done everything. And that’s Beth Israel as well. In the last few years my son joined Beth Israel. Also through Jewish Family Services over the last 18 years we used to do a Meals on Wheels program before COVID stepped in and said ‘Uh uh, no no’. So we would use the Beth Shalom and Beth Israel. I would request the use of their kitchen and we would take out meals to seniors that were in nursing homes or at home alone. Four or five times a year we would take out a meal. I would collect 30-40 volunteers to do the cooking, the cleaning, and the delivery. 

Because the position I have as a SMART worker in Jewish Family Services began eighteen years ago this August as a joint effort between the Jewish Drop-In Centre, another place where I hang out a lot, and Jewish Family Services….16 to 18 years later, I’m still here. The Drop-In Centre is a great place for seniors. It’s had its ups and downs over the years, and the kinds of seniors that it attracts today are different from the seniors it attracted 15 years ago because the baby boomers are a whole different type of senior. They’ve been educated and worked all their life, whereas older seniors that are in their 80s and 90s were survivors from the War or housewives in their home and you know, they have different priorities and different things they were looking for and were happy to come out and volunteer and help in the kitchen and do the meals and they would take transportation. I used to be a driver volunteer for people. When my dad was alive, I used to drive one day a month. It was my day to drive six people from the West End. Now these people who come, they’re looking for parking — they don’t want to ride there and there is no parking around there. It’s very difficult. The programs that you offer, and the interest that people have are not the same that they once had. But they have… I love the lunch program. They draw in lots of people, lots of locals come that can walk there. Then I was on the committee for the seniors for the OPH (Our Parents’ Home). So I worked on that committee for at least 10 or 12 years, helping in the hearing, helping provide the statistics during the building time and the fundraising time, that’s, that was my end. I could tell how many seniors there were, what was involved, how many were in nursing homes, what level of care they required. All kinds, any kind of information like that, I was a plethora of knowledge. 

Like I say the Seniors Drop-In Centre, the needs of the seniors have changed. The type of experience they’re looking for has changed. And COVID has really meant… you know, stopped a lot of people from getting together and being able to fit 60 people in that room and have lunch, celebrating a birthday or a special event or all those things are gone. 

At Talmud Torah, when my husband started teaching there, had 325 kids. Now, I don’t think they break 100. When Junior High started there, my children attended, all five of them. Their junior high doesn’t exist anymore. So you know, everything is changing. Everything as everyday comes along is different from the day before. And what’s really sad in our office, too, we used to bring the people together, do a lunch, do a program, we would have a guest speaker come up but those days are gone — we can’t bring people out. And the loneliness and isolation has really, really set in. So we try to phone our clients on a regular basis, but, you know, a phone call is wonderful, but seeing someone up close and personal is way better. And a Jewish Family Services that you know, that’s what we thrive on. And that’s what our people thrived on. So this year, whereas before we were doing meals, and that we’ve been providing gift bags for every holiday for every Yom Tov that came along, and trying to just keep people connected. They get a phone call asking if they’re interested, a phone call saying someone is coming to their door, their choice to open their door or, someone speaks through the intercom or to have it left outside. It just makes a whole big difference. Like nobody is starving and nobody is desperate for the gift bag, but they are desperate for all the things that come along with it and just thinking that someone cared enough. 

Because now our holidays… like what’s Pesach without 50 people at your table and going to shul? What’s Yontif without singing and all the rest of the stuff that goes on on a Shabbat, on a Friday night? Those things are gone now. And so someone cares enough to send you the little tidbits that were always a part of those holidays in the past, it really means something. We get lots of follow up and lots of phone calls thanking us for what we’ve brought back into their life. 

Well, we’re going to be losing the other school, the Menorah School at the end of this year, and that is going to take with it a lot of families. I have two children that were really involved in the kosher community and such. One daughter lives in Israel and one son lives here and he goes to BI (Beth Israel) now, but they’re involved with that group of people, with the community, with the Triple Five. All those things that supported this Jewish community are really sadly missed, and going to be missed even more as the year ends. The kosher restaurant in the mall is gone now again, it’s been back and forth, in and out a few times, but it’s gone. 
I think what we mostly miss is being able to get together at things like Purim and Lag B’omer and all the community events. Like it was a lost community. I celebrated and have been a part of that every year as long as I can remember, you know, working at the celebration and bringing people together. It was always nice, it was always fun, it was always very heimishe, and those things are gone. But that’s more because of COVID than because of anything else. You know, if COVID wasn’t stopping us from joining together and being a part of a group, I think those things would have been around this year and last year. But three days after Purim last year was when everything shut down.

Rabbi Ari Drelich

Video

Rabbi Ari Drelich is the Executive Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Edmonton. He discusses Chabad’s presence in Edmonton, as well as his observations of the Jewish community over the three decades he has lived here.

Transcript (download)

We were chosen, we were asked to serve as Chabad emissaries back in 1991. We were first spoken to in September or late August, we came for a visit in October and fell in love with Edmonton. We returned late November and it’s been 30 years since, just about. Okay so first I have to preface by saying that, contrary to popular misconception, Chabad is not a synagogue. We like to joke around that in a regular synagogue you have a group, a membership that chooses a rabbi, and by Chabad you have a rabbi that chooses membership. So we have chosen the five thousand or so Jews in Edmonton all to be members of Chabad, whether they like it or not. Be that as it may, Chabad is a worldwide outreach organization which is dedicated to strengthening Jewish continuity through innovative programming. So when Chabad comes to a community, it’s the responsibility of the Chabad couple to get a sense of what the community needs in order to service the community from a Judaic standpoint. In many, many cases amongst the many programs that Chabad will do is to open up a synagogue, to have synagogue services which is what Chabad Edmonton has as well. So pretty much almost from day one we felt it was a need. Certainly as we came out to the West End there really was nothing here in the West End at that time, so we decided to open up a shul as well to have services. What initially started out to be on a weekly basis, Baruch Hashem grew to be on a daily basis. 

So the idea that we say that the Chabad has 5 000 members is because the responsibility of a pulpit rabbi is to serve the congregants that have hired the rabbis. So overseeing life cycle events, services, study programs, et cetera et cetera. Generally speaking, the responsibility of the pulpit rabbis is not meant to go, at least officially, beyond the synagogue walls. Whereas by Chabad, it’s a synagogue without walls. We make it our business, certainly pre-COVID and please G-d when this whole thing is behind us, to visit the hospitals on a regular basis. Certainly if we find out that someone is in the hospital it doesn’t matter who they are, whether they’re affiliated or not, we visit them. We visit all senior centers a number of times a year, we visit the prisons on a regular basis, we produce the community calendar, we have the community Purim program, the community Lag B’omer program, the summer camp (which is the only summer day camp in northern Alberta) et cetera et cetera. So these are programs and projects which are done for the entire community. In addition, we also have synagogue services. As far as location is concerned, we had humble beginnings: we began our synagogue services in our basement actually. We used to live in Lessard and we started synagogue services in our basement for the first couple of years. Baruch Hashem we outgrew that and we took a place in Lessard Mall. Thereafter we outgrew that we took a place here in Westridge. We outgrew that and we now are in our present location which we hope will outgrow soon as well. 

Edmonton is a nice place. It has friendly people and we enjoy interacting with all members of the community and beyond. I can’t say that I can pinpoint any one particular place. I mean obviously there are places in which we have a very strong relationship and a strong connection such as Talmud Torah and Menorah Academy. We used to do many and we still do many, many programs at Talmud Torah and have interacted with many of the kids and the staff there. Menorah Academy, which is where my children went to, so we also have a very strong connection with them. Beth Israel, being a neighbor down the block, we don’t have evening services during the week, so we would go there. So those are just to name a few places that we’ve had strong interactions with and built up a very strong relationship with. But as we speak, the Ghermezian family has announced that they’re no longer in the position to fund both the Kollel and the school, the Menorah Academy. Both organizations have been a very very integral part of the community whether you participated or interacted with them directly as immaterial because there’s always a spin-off when you have any Jewish organization, any Jewish institution. So those are — and we’re still hoping and praying that G-d will help them turn things around and they’ll once again be able to do what they’ve been doing in the past, which is to support these types of institutions. But those are certainly two very, very important institutions that we will definitely miss. 

Generally speaking, I mean you touch upon a very sensitive idea, because the traditions and the sensitivities to Yiddishkeit that the previous generation brought over with them from the old country slowly but surely has waned. The appreciation and the dedication to the community from the younger generation is not what it was on the part of the older generation. One of the examples that we like to use to highlight this idea is that between 1952 and 1964, in that 12-13 year period there were four major institutions that were built or renovated. I’m talking about the Beth Israel, the Beth Shalom, the Chevra Kadisha building, and the building and a refurbishing of the Talmud Torah. You’re talking at a time when the size of the community was a fraction of what it is and the financial strength of the community was certainly a fraction of what it was today. So despite the fact that we have grown both in numbers and in monetary strength, unfortunately the type of involvement, if you will, is not there. It’s to no one’s fault in particular, it’s part of the challenge of being successful, if you will, in the new world. People’s interests change and so forth, which is why Chabad feels that much more responsibility to imbue and inject as many in the community with a sense of pride and belonging and involvement in Yiddishkeit

One of the things that made us, so to speak, fall in love with Edmonton was that despite the fact that the weather was cold, the people are very warm and welcoming. Certainly coming from a place like New York, which is a rough and tumble city, to be exposed to a group of people who are friendly, outgoing, have a very strong spirit of volunteerism, coupled with the fact that, like every other Chabad, we are basically funded and supported by the community. We are a “by the people, for the community” organization. Baruch Hashem we’ve grown. We have three full-time rabbis and we have a budget which is over six hundred thousand dollars a year and that’s all homegrown. So those are one of the things which I feel very, very humbled and blessed that we have such a caring and loving community. When stroked properly they will respond. They have been helpful to Chabad on many many fronts in enabling us to accomplish all that we do.

One of the really particularly memorable moments though now that you ask, of Chabad was our very first public candle lighting ceremony at the Legislature. It was actually just over a year after we came, because we came a few days before Chanukah. The first year, even though we only arrived four days before Hanukkah, we managed to put together a Hanukkah program at the old JCC on 156th Street. We had 40 people with just a couple of days notice and very limited advertising, pre-internet. The following year, with G-d’s help and the involvement of the Schayer family who were catalysts in helping us build Alberta’s largest menorah, we attracted over 400 people. We were featured on the front page of the Edmonton Journal, Premier Klein, who was recently elected Premier, came out and spoke amongst other dignitaries. It was a jam-packed crowd and I think that that helped put Chabad on the map in Edmonton, certainly in people’s minds as to what this organization is all about. So that was a really very very special moment, if you will, in the annals of Chabad of Edmonton.

One of the things which is not unique to Edmonton but very acute to Edmonton is what is happening now, and this is just part of the entire socio-economic changes that are taking place in our world. The fact that we’re becoming more and more of a global village, and that is that people who are becoming more involved in Yiddishkeit are choosing to move from the smaller and medium-sized communities to the bigger communities, and you can’t blame them. That’s nature. That’s also highlighted but that’s also coupled with the fact that most university students will choose to study outside of Edmonton. They’ll end up in Toronto or Ottawa, what have you and in 90% of the cases they will remain there and they will choose to build their lives there. So in that regard, we’re ending up with, to a certain extent, an aging community and a community with very different needs. So our focus is constantly shifting. So we still have the basic programs in place, but the focus is changing. We are more involved in seniors visitation, more involved in life cycle events, if you will, end of life events because of that and it’s something which, to a great extent, I don’t think it’s stoppable. I think it’s just a natural course of things and that in the broader picture I think Hashem is calling all his children home. We’re eventually all going to end up back in Israel, so Toronto is one step closer. That is and especially because of the internet and so forth we don’t have to, like years ago, be in a particular location in order to do what we have to do. Many people can work from their homes, as we’re learning from the pandemic, people, so long as you have a computer depending on the type of job you have, you can work from anywhere in the world. Whereas years ago, a short couple of decades ago, people were married to the city that they worked in and where their income was, that has radically changed. That has afforded the people the ability to pick themselves up and enjoy more choices; more choices for schools, more choices of places to eat and to be involved in Jewish life, so it’s not a trend that we can buck, but it’s definitely something that we have to ride the wave. 

I think that we all have a responsibility and we have to recognize that we have a mission in this world. We have a destiny, we come from somewhere as Jews. We are G-d’s ambassadors to the world. We’re the chosen people, we were chosen and we were given the Torah. We say that — every child says when they get called to the Torah, “You chose us from amongst the nations and gave us the Torah”’. We’re meant to be a light unto the nations regardless of where we are. If we want to ensure that there is Jewish continuity, that begins with us. It’s not something that we could relegate to somebody else and say well, the rabbi, the scholar, the teacher, whoever will take care of it for me. Yes, it may be their field of expertise to guide people and to teach people, but every single Jew, without exception man, woman, and child has to ask themselves “What can I do in my own small way to strengthen Yiddishkeit and ensure Jewish continuity in our community?” By everybody doing their little part, their little part, we will make a very big difference, and we can be ensured that there will be a Jewish tomorrow here in Edmonton.

Lawrence Bliss

Video

Lawrence Bliss owns Bliss Baked Goods and also has connections to the Edmonton Kollel, Beth Israel Synagogue, and the Talmud Torah.

We’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, how many years I don’t even know. We’ve lost count. We’ve been doing it a long time. We started in 495 glorious square feet on 118 Ave and 142nd Street some 19 or 20 years ago. After five years at home, I began Bliss’ Baked Goods; fresh baked fun for everyone. Everyone’s favorite tiny bakery we became and we outgrew it and we moved here and we’ve been outgrowing this. Business is like weather — sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s good, because weather’s never bad because whether you like it or not, it is. 

What gave you the idea to start a bakery?

So you want to know how G-d made me a baker — I’ve been in food a long time including butchery, as well as construction. I did well on the side in both butchery and in construction but I hurt my back so much that I was facing a third surgery to correct problems that I was still having with my back after two successful ones. I needed to repeat a surgery, so here I was looking at a third one potential one that was going to make me very uncomfortable because it would fuse part of my back and I would lose complete mobility instead of just partially. Between seeing my surgeon and going on a trip to Baltimore where we had fresh bagels every morning, I came home and discovered that by making bagels, by kneading dough physically, getting physical again helped. Because I was a butcher and did construction, my body was used to physical things but with damage to my back it meant that I had to look for a new way. It turned out that the exercise I needed was actually getting back into physical work and it saved me from having a third, potentially a devastating third surgery. I was a butcher, now I’m going to be a baker. When my retirement comes I’m going into candlesticks. Why not? It’s a nice way to make a living.

We do our best every day — we come every day to do our best and it shows. It goes in the results, it shows in the quality of the product, it shows in our staff’s attitude and their joy in working with us. We’re very fortunate to have been integral — part of this COVID problem. We were deemed essential, so it’s nice to know that donuts are essential. We also serve the needs not of just kosher needs, for those who want it from the community. Kosher is very few unfortunately, I wish there were more. I knew when I started this that in order to be different it wasn’t enough just to be kosher, so it had to be specialized. So being pareve, being food neutral, meant that there was no milk and I received many phone calls of gratitude that their allergies were now being met. Nobody had been doing that in the city, but for every call for dairy I got 20 for nuts. I’m not stupid and we made this into Edmonton’s only dairy-free, nut-free, kosher bakery. With that being unique and world-famous donuts — we’re not just with bakers, we’re also world famous donuts. They’re handcrafted, I know because I make them every day. They’re a handcrafted product that’s quality and people trust us. That’s another real benefit to doing what we’re doing. We really see this place as being a blessing for us. For some people businesses curse them, others bless — this one blesses us. I’m grateful every day to come in here, to have the strength to come in here. It’s not always easy, but some days are very good.

We’re very close to the Ghermezian family and we’re truly blessed to have been a part of the 20 some odd years that they supported the Edmonton Kollel. I was proud to be a part of that. At the end of June it’s all disbanding because of their financial problems unfortunately. We wish them nothing but absolutely hatzlacha that they should find success in all their endeavors and Hashem should bless them so well that they can redo this again at some point in the future. If we could have more here again, unfortunately that comes to an end. We are members of Beth Israel and we’ll learn to be a part of that community somehow. We don’t know yet how we’re going to do that because we don’t live close to there. To walk to shul, I don’t think a two and a half hour walk will work. Both my wife and I go back to the original NCSY group that was there, we have a lot of history with the shul. My parents, family, a lot of people we know are gone — I’m not part of the community that we were anymore and we look forward to being with what’s left and what’s new. 

I don’t think I have an answer for that question because I don’t think there’s anything I miss about Edmonton. I grew up in Edmonton, I attended Talmud Torah for better or for worse, whatever experiences that I had there not everybody came out feeling the same way as I did. But I knew that I was a Jew and I knew that I’d go further. Thank G-d there was opportunity for that. I got a good education in terms of reading Hebrew, writing Hebrew, etc. Talmud Torah was very interesting and I miss it, but I’m not nostalgic for the past. I believe in the present, the future is yet to come. Today is one day at a time, that’s how we live our lives and that’s how we try to do our best. Every single day we don’t think about tomorrow because it isn’t here, but we think about and focus on today.