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A One Hour Visit to Port Alberni?

Friday, 31 December, 2010 - 12:52 pm

Dear friends,

On Monday night when I was driving down the steep path from Port Alberni in a heavy snow, I was petrified; if you drove that road before – you would understand why...

How did I end up in Port Alberni for a one hour visit on a snowy day? This is a story that started about 5 years ago.

Ed, a man who was taking treatment for cancer in the Victoria center, contacted me and asked me if I'd come to visit him one afternoon. I came and met him, a man in his sixties, who greeted me right away as a close friend.

He very quickly shared his story with me. He was born in the Warsaw Ghetto, grew up there after the war, eventually immigrated to Canada and for the last thirty five years lived in Port Alberni.  "I thought I could live a life in a peaceful town, dismissing my roots and connection," he said.

"When I fell ill," Ed continued, "the first concern I had was, how can I end my life without my brothers and sisters, the Jewish people? I decided I must reclaim my connection to Judaism; please help me..." He then told me of the first time he put on Tefilin in 1968 with a Lubavitcher in the center of Tel Aviv.

"Will you put on Tefillin with me?" he asked. The Tefillin were so special to him, that he asked me if I could get him his own set, so he can put them on often. Since that meeting, we have been in touch on a regular bases; I even visited him with the Sukkah Mobile one year... 

Recently, Ed had a recurrence of the cancer, and got very sick again. A few weeks ago he moved to a home in his town, where he will have nurses looking after him, and caring for his well being. When I found out about his condition I promised I'd visit; he was very excited and said, "If you can help me put on Tefillin, I'll be very grateful to you.” A few days later I was in his room.

After a short greeting, Ed wanted to know how we will be putting on Tefillin.  It was then that I understood his question; his hand was so swollen, it was impossible to wrap the Tefillin around it. "Lets just put on the head Tefillin", I said, and so it happened.  I started saying the Shema with him, while he repeated word for word after me. When we took off the Tefillin, he was ready for me to leave, as far as he was concerned the mission was accomplished, he had put on Tefillin...

I insisted that since I’d made it all the way out there - we may as well have a chat... As I left the room Ed thanked me above all for helping him with the Tefillin. When I left the home I realized what the Tefillin were doing for Ed, it was connecting him with his people, so he feels tied to his family, even while living in Port Alberni.

Driving down from Port Alberni wasn't fun, but I still had no regrets for making the trip...

Comments on: A One Hour Visit to Port Alberni?

Robert O. wrote...

Dear Rabbi Kaplan, thanks for a very moving story. Am Yisroel Chai. Robert

Fiona Prince wrote...


Thank you for sharing this story.

My sister and I say that many people come to Vancouver Island to escape the rest of Canada...and if they need to escape a little farther they go to the Gulf Islands.

I have never thought that people might be escaping here to disconnect from their Ed's case, being Jewish.

His story shows, that we are who we are. Where we live may change what we do and who we communicate with (face-to-face) but it does not change where we came from, our previous experiences, and the core of who we are.

This week, you have again painted a picture for me of the wonderful work you continuously do -- finding and helping Jewish people reconnect and rediscover their pintele yid: their little spark of Jewishness that remains alive and indestructible.

Moray Feygah (Fiona Prince)

Sheila Thompson wrote...

Ever a Jew ..... always a Jew. No matter where or how or under what circumstances.
Todah Rabah for this heartwaarming story.