Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Calgary Jewish Community

A great question was asked in the comments of my last post about what the Calgary Jewish community is like.

Essentially, I'm the wrong person to ask because I just don't know very much about it yet. However, I'm interested to learn about it myself. So I'll do my best to find some good information! Might as well report back, right? :)

Toronto has the thirteenth largest Jewish population in the world and the largest in Canada, then Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg (where my parents are from; so this is my dad's Jewish community), Ottawa, and then Calgary. At the workshop, they said that there are 9,000 Jews in Calgary. Edmonton has a slightly smaller Jewish community, but my table-mate (who is from Edmonton) says that the communities are pretty similar.

Calgary has a Jewish Community Centre, four or five synagogues (depending on how you look at it), and two Jewish day schools.

When I say four or five synagogues, that just depends on how Beth Shechinah would prefer to be classified:
  • Orthodox (very traditional - House of Jacob Mikveh Israel)
  • Conservative (moderately traditional - Beth Tzedec)
  • Reform (very liberal - Temple B'nai Tikvah)
  • Ultra Orthodox (these are Hasidic Jews - they're the guys who wear black suits and hats and grow out their hair and beards - Chabad Lubavitch)
  • There is also a messianic Jewish centre (I'm not sure if they'd rather be called a church or a synagogue) - those are the Jews for Jesus - Beth Shechinah 
 For me, I think if I were personally involved with Beth Shechinah, I would consider myself a Christian, but that's an area of Judeo-Christianity that I definitely just don't understand.

As far as the two day schools go, one (Akiva Academy) is affiliated with the Orthodox Synagogue, and the other (Calgary Jewish Academy) is not affiliated with any specific synagogue.

There are a lot more organizations in Calgary, but I guess those are really just the "major" ones.

To answer the question of how community is built and what kinds of events are around, I only know some of the events that I've been able to attend. There are many, many more events and lots of great sounding fundraisers (there's a sports dinner coming up for the Jewish Community Centre in a couple of weeks, for instance). The workshop on the weekend was presented by the Youth Leadership Division of the Calgary Jewish Federation. All of the synagogues and the JCC have lots of great classes for all ages. My dad and I have been going to Jewish Learning Institute classes at the Chabad and a few high holy days services there as well. Beth Tzedec hosts an awesome Jewish Film Festival every year.

Really, those couple of events that I've attended are a drop in the bucket. A good place to look, if you're curious about what else is going on (which is honestly so, so much), is on the Calgary Jewish Federation's website, on their main calendar.

I just have two final comments that are more from me as a newcomer or outside observer, I'm not sure which.

The first thing is that I've been wondering recently if religion will continue to be important in the future or if I've kind of missed the boat on becoming involved in a religious community. I'm a little bit haunted by how Karl Marx, who was born a Jew, referred to religion as the "opiate of the masses". I guess I'm still sorting out whether I think religion is a uniting or dividing force, and whether it's worth it. So there's my disclaimer.

Secondly, and maybe in an answer to my other comment, is that there is something special about the Jewish community in Calgary for me. Maybe it's because I feel like I could fit in or because I do like to be involved in religious communities (I was involved in a Lutheran church for about 5 years or so when I was a teenager). But, what I'm getting at is that there's something special that I feel when I go to an event and I love the loudness and the multitude of conversations that I get to overhear, especially the ones in Yiddish and/or Hebrew that I don't understand.

Sorry for the long, drawn out answer.

L'chaim! (That means "to life", it's what Jews say when they make a toast!)


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