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Avi is back at home...

Dear Friends,

Avi Elbaz, a Naval Officer originally from Montreal, ended up by Divine Providence stationed at the base in Esquimalt. Since Avi's arrival we became close friends, or to be correct, Avi became a close friend of our sons Leibel (4) and Mendel (2)... Avi came occasionally to Shul and gave a helping hand at events and functions.

Three months ago, Avi called me to inform me of a final decision he had made. "Rabbi" he said, "please don't invite me to come to Shul anymore; I have difficulty attending. I'd still love to come to events and classes and help in any way, but praying is difficult for me."

A few weeks later, Avi was deployed to South America. He was the only Canadian working on a Colombian Naval ship; sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina, the most southern city in the world, to Cartagena, Colombia.

One Sunday during his trip, Avi called. It was very exciting to hear from him. Calling from Lima Peru, Avi briefed me about his experience so far, and then rushed along to what seemed to be the reason for his call: "Yesterday, I attended Shabbos services at a Shul in Vina del Mar, Chile, a few people were there, mostly elderly, and the Shul was very simple. There were not even enough books for the minyan… and I immediately felt very special.” I just listened to his voice, trying to confirm that I was hearing the same Avi I knew before...

Avi continues, “Although I was on a different continent and in a strange land, while attending Shabbos services I felt as I was back at home."

This week Avi unexpectedly arrived back in Victoria. He came to say hi and we had a long chat about his experiences, primarily sailing under a foreign Navy. No mention of the Synagogue experience of Vina del Mar, Chile.

"See you in Shul on Shabbat morning" he said before walking out the door...

A Reassuring Response

Dear Friends,

This past week seems to have lasted a very long time. Aside from having the most wonderful Shavuot, which may be the subject for a future blog, the week focussed on continued discussion about last week’s incident in the park. I must detail to you the response which we have been getting over the last week.

First of all, I have received numerous messages of support and participation from the Jewish community in Victoria. The entire community was united in the importance of sending the clear message that Jewish people and Jewish life will continue to grow here with pride and strength. I would like to thank you all for your encouragement!

In addition, other religious groups in town have contacted us to express their support for whichever way we choose to handle the situation, and to guarantee that they will be happy to stand beside us.

On Monday, after the police issued their press release, I was called to meet with the Chief of Victoria Police, Mr. Jamie Graham. He shared with me that he was "personally hurt" by this incident, and that as soon as he heard about it he instructed to give it high priority.  Two officers will be investigating this story in order to find the one(s) who is/are responsible for what he considers to be a "hate crime." He said that he would be willing at any time to speak to the community about where the police stand on anti-Semitic acts such as this one.

Later that day I received a phone call from a good friend, the Mayor of Victoria, Mr. Dean Fortin. Mr. Fortin told me how "shocking" it was for him to hear of the unpleasant event last week, and he offered his services at anytime to assist in whatever the Jewish community feels may be helpful at this time.

I have known Mr. Fortin for a few years before he became Mayor. A mutual friend of ours is a Jewish woman who used to be a very close neighbour when he was growing up in Courtney. Later, she used to come for High Holidays to Victoria to participate in the Services in our Shul, and would stay at the Fortin’s home. Since then I have met Dean on a few different occasions. One Shabbat afternoon I ran into him while walking back from Shul; Mr. Fortin was bicycling on the other side of the street.  He stopped his bike and we had a very nice conversation about Shabbat services, Shul, Torah and the rest. So when he read in the paper about us walking back from Shul, he knew precisely what I was talking about...

Overall, I must say that this week’s reactions were reassuring; we are very fortunate to live here in Victoria. Our impression is that the authorities are responding to the situation with a great deal of seriousness. They are prepared to confront these people and do all they can to ensure that Jewish people are being respected in this city, and such insults do not reoccur.


Dear Friends,  

In the last few weeks, on our way home from Shul on Shabbat morning, our children have consistently asked to play at the park. Mussi, Rivky and Leibel together with the child of our walking partners, in their Shabbat outfits, run on the slides, swings and all the rest. So it went this past Shabbat.
It was on Tuesday this week when I got a phone call: "Hurry to the park!" I was told. Even the urgency in my friend's voice didn't disclose what I would see minutes later...
Each structure in the playground was covered with a kind of graffiti that I have never seen before with my own eyes. “NO JEWS” it said on the ladder, and “WARSAW GETTHO” on the children's crawling space.  Nazi swastikas were all over the slides. It was very uncomfortable and extremely saddening to see, especially in days when I’m teaching “Beyond Never Again”, a course about the holocaust and anti-Semitism...
I know that this doesn't represent Victoria. We know that the general community here is friendly and tolerant. We have always been received by all, regardless of our Jewish appearance, with respect and a smile. Perhaps this is why I was so shocked – even in Victoria?!
Needless to say, the matter was reported to the Police and to the City of Victoria. The graffiti was removed the very next day.  
It seems like some people may be bothered by the stronger Jewish presence in Victoria. We have some news for them:
What they have seen is just the beginning. Jewish life will flourish on the Island; more people will be returning from Synagogue on Shabbat afternoon, more of us will learn about our heritage, more Jewish children who are proud of their identity will be playing in the parks! AM YISRAEL CHAI!

The weather obsacle

Dear Friends,  

When the forecast clearly declared rain last Sunday and the clouds didn't seem to be going anywhere, I was asked by friends and members of the community if I could cancel the BBQ or move it indoors. Even so, I did not even begin look into the possibility of a rain-date or new local.  In truth I did not have a choice; had I done so, I would have had to resign my position immediately.  Let me explain you why.

Six and a half years ago, Chani and I heard for the first time about Vancouver Island.  An announcement from Rabbi Wineberg, director of Chabad Lubavitch of BC, was circulated around to Chabad newly married couples with the offer to make Victoria their new home for life. 

We responded that we were interested and ready to go.  Rabbi Wineberg set up a meeting with us at the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in New York. He told us that he would also be meeting with 16 other couples who had expressed interest.

That day, one of the strongest snowstorms in years hit New York. The roads were closed, and we couldn’t reach Rabbi Wineberg to find out if the meeting is still on.  When we looked outside all we saw were children playing in the snow. It was 15 minute walk in heavy snow, Chani was very pregnant (with Mussi...), and chances were that Rabbi Wineberg might not even show up.

Despite the snow, we decided to go.  We put on our boots and started tromping through the snow. When we got to the building we saw the footprints of just one other person who had entered the building before us.  We walked in and met Rabbi Wineberg. Of the 16 couples interested, we were the only ones who appeared that day.  Rabbi Wineberg looked at us and said: “If you are determent enough to come all this way in the snow - you are ready to go to this remote place." The rest is history...

Since then we know that doing what you have to do, regardless of the weather around you, is rewarding...  

I'm sure you all remember last year on Chanukah when there was a heavy snow storm in Victoria.  It looked exactly like that day years ago in New York, and I can’t help but reminisce yet again.  The ceremony was at the Legislature, and we had an enthusiastic, large and wonderfully weather defiant crowd. The Menorah lighting at the Legislature became the cover story of the Times Colonist, bringing the message of Chanukah to the citizens of this island like never before.

So we didn't cancel the BBQ on Sunday; we had it in the rain. And you know what? It was the best Lag B'omer BBQ of all. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely and the spirit was great.

The fourth Chabad Rebbe Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn said: "The world says: If you can't go under an obstacle, leap over.  I say: In the first place, go over!"

Don't get overwhelmed by an obstacle, turn it into an advantage!

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