by Regan Treewater-Lipes
(AJNews) – Outdoor Torah Adventures are coming to Edmonton courtesy of Beth Israel “the family shul.”
As Edmontonians begin to anticipate their lives with masks and social distancing as a Twilight Zone-esque memory shrinking from sight in the rear-view mirror of our collective consciousnesses, many others are wary of what comes after July 1.
“We know that people have extremely different levels of comfort when it comes to life after COVID,” explained Beth Israel Synagogue’s Shul Director, Moshe Siderson.
“There is excitement about moving back to a place where we can be a community in a face-to-face way, but after the need for so much caution for so long, people are understandably still trying to determine how much social closeness they are ready for. We are all confronted with negotiating a ‘new normal’ post-pandemic.”
Certainly, after such global devastation it is exceedingly difficult to be confident that it really is safe again to wade out into the waters of social interaction. And with such a spiritual need for togetherness after many months spent in front of chat screens, community leaders and organizers see that proper planning is needed to prepare for this ‘new normal’ just as much as during the height of the global pandemic.
Yet again, Moshe Siderson and the BI team have seized this challenge head-on. After a revving success on May 23 for their ‘Staycation Long-Weekend Road Trip’ scavenger hunt through the history of Jewish Edmonton, it became clear that the community is eager to be active in a non-virtual way. Well, Siderson and the team received this message loud and clear, and have put together a creative, and fun line-up for Summer 2021 that promises to keep Jewish Edmontonians engaged and active with Outdoor Torah Adventures.
“It is all fun and exciting, but what we have put together is always rooted in Jewish learning,” he explained.
Thus far, regularly scheduled gatherings in the Beth Israel parking lot have been a big hit!
“The series is called ‘Torah Talks.’ We get together outside to learn and share time together. It’s BYOB – bring your own beverage,” said Siderson. “The Rabbi, or guest speakers are there, and we talk. We are able to learn together, not in the same way as before COVID, but in a way that we can respect the spectrum of everyone’s comfort zones.”
Siderson described how up to twenty pre-registered congregants set up their fold-out lawn chairs in the parking lot, and basked the beautiful weather and took joy in being together, all while learning Torah.
The ‘Torah Talks’ presented regularly throughout the summer are not all that Siderson and the team have brewing for the coming months. In the spirit of getting outdoors and connecting with Jewish thought through activity, Beth Israel Synagogue has organized a roaring outdoor adventure that will take place on July 4. It’s called ‘Jews in Canoes’!
“We’re going to meet in Laurier Park early in the morning, and a bus will be waiting to take us to Devon,” Siderson explained excitedly. “There, we’ll get loaded into canoes and set off. We will stop for a picnic lunch on an island along the way and enjoy some learning with Rabbi Kaplan.”
And what would a Jewish event be without food! Siderson has arranged individually pre-packaged lunches, and of course plenty of snacks to devour throughout the day. “With individually pre-packaged lunches we can share the experience and be mindful of COVID precautions,” he added.
Siderson also pointed out the potential for more productive learning while journeying the riverbanks since virtual breakout rooms have some very obvious limitations. “When we stop on the island for lunch, after we listen to Rabbi Kaplan’s talk, we will be able to have real discussions face-to-face.”
On August 8, Edmontonians can satisfy their pedometers’ daily step-count with ‘Get Over it,’ “We will have an organized walk over four Edmonton bridges.” A date has not yet been set for what promises to be another engaging and active outdoor adventure orchestrated by Siderson and the BI team.
“Before Rosh Hashanah we are planning to either organize a trip to go berry picking or to the corn maze,” he continued.
The goal behind all that Siderson envisions for Summer 2021 is to feed the need for Jewish learning through engaging the community in a safe and active way. “By keeping things outside, we know that we can cater to all comfort levels. We are looking forward to the day when we can begin moving our programs and gatherings back inside, and sharing in kiddush lunches together.”
Siderson pointed out that Beth Israel Synagogue has maintained active and dedicated Jewish worship throughout the pandemic supported by their COVID Task Force, but he, and his colleagues, are eagerly preparing to transition ‘new normal’ conditions. “Our COVID Task Force will now have a different focus – living with COVID. It is all about moving forward.”
So, don’t worry about finding the right Zoom link buried in your email, and stop fretting about whether your webcam is picking up the mess in the background. Just visit the Beth Israel website to get outside and get active this summer – both spiritually and physically. Don’t miss out on their lively and dynamic ‘Torah Talks’ and see what other innovative adventures are in the works as space is limited. Click here for more information.
Regan Treewater-Lipes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Jewish News.