Edmonton’s Beth Israel sparkles with a new line-up of winter programming

by Regan Treewater-Lipes

(AJNews) – On the fifth night of Chanukah, as light overpowered dark, Edmonton’s Beth Israel Family Shul celebrated with some live music.

With AHS safety protocols in observance, families gathered at Beth Israel Synagogue on December 2 to enjoy a live performance by a Jerusalem musical staple, Anders Nerman.  “He sang, played guitar, and played the harmonica. He performed Chanukah songs, and some classic favourites,” commented Shul Director Moshe Siderson in a recent phone interview.  The event was very well attended with a terrific gathering of families listening to Nerman’s concert. “I think that everyone had a really good time!”

Just as Edmontonians began to think that it was safe to go outside again, the intensity of northern winter descended. With some record-breaking temperatures, many people in the community are actively avoiding the outdoors – and with good reason. However, with the lineup of engaging programming on the docket at BI, hunkering down never looked so appealing. The recent ‘In Conversation’ series kicked off in early November with an evening of authentic Indian cuisine and a Zoom session with Sylvia Benjamin – a pillar of the Edmonton Jewish community.

“It materialized to be a fantastic event, serving about 140 people. Rabbi Claman facilitated an informal quiz game, and Sylvia provided really interesting explanations about the food and Jewish life in India,” explained Siderson. The inaugural ‘In Conversation’ experience was met with rave reviews!  “We had a line of cars wrapped around the building for food pick-up!” One congregant commented that: “The Indian dinner was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! The food was delicious, the instructions were perfect, and the portions were more than sufficient. It was exceptionally well-organized and delivered.  What a great idea! Many thanks for everyone’s hard work – all those involved in its execution can be justifiably proud.”

With such enthusiastic endorsements, the Jewish community should mark their calendars for February 16, for the series’ second exciting international culinary destination, and get their orders in soon, because Siderson and the crew are already cooking up something exciting – Moroccan night!  “We will be announcing our guest very soon, and the Rabbi will be hosting again,” said Siderson. “Morocco’s Jewish history is fascinating and experiencing some of the cuisine will be a great way to learn more about it.” Enough said – after hearing such glowing reviews, nobody will want to miss out!

The ‘Outdoor Torah Adventures’ for the winter season are already in full swing! On Thursday, December 30, the first of the seasonal gatherings was outdoor themed, although hosted indoors at the West Edmonton Mall skating rink. “The first of our ‘Outdoor Torah Adventures’ may have technically been inside, (it was about -30c outside!) but the activity had an outdoor spirit,” explained Siderson jokingly. Along with some gliding loops around the ice, the experience was, of course, framed in Jewish learning through Torah reflection, and punctuated by some tasty treats, with fantastic Jewish music blaring throughout.

There is still time to sign up for the next two ‘Outdoor Torah Adventures’ which will truly be outdoors! For those itching to suit up in their warmest winter gear, Siderson and the team have arranged for cross country skiing and snow shoeing at the Strathcona Wilderness Centre on Sunday, January 23 from 10 am to 4 pm. Adventure goers should register online. The participation fee for cross country skiing and snow shoeing is $36, and includes: exclusive use of the day lodge, lunch and treats to help both fuel the physical activity, and provide for noshing during Torah learning. Equipment rental will be available for those who need gear. Then, on Sunday, February 6, from 9:30 am to 11 am, the adventure continues with the thrill of snow tubing at the new Rabbit Hill Tubing Park. BI invites the entire Edmonton Jewish community to register and come take part!

It might seem that with each passing day new restrictions are being announced, but things are still busy at BI thanks to some creative innovations.

“I was taking my jog in the -28C chill, and I started thinking about the back-and-forth of all the re-openings and closures we’ve experienced over the past two years,” commented Siderson. “It occurred to me that this is not unlike a game of ping-pong! We are bouncing back-and-forth like ping-pong balls, so why not just enjoy an actual game of ping-pong!”  With hot coffee provided, Beth Israel Synagogue congregants can sign up for one hour time slots to partake in this pastime and get their blood pumping.

“We obviously disinfect the paddles and other equipment after each game, but ping-pong allows for social distancing by nature.” BI members who would like to schedule a game during regular opening hours can bring their own partner or play a solo round by contacting Moshe Siderson by email: shuldirector@familyshul.org.

And for those needing a bit more dazzle and pizzazz added to their week, the BI program planning team challenges community members to “learn, laugh, cry, and engage” with a new weekly series called ‘Sparkling Torah.’

Here’s how it works: those interested can sign up for free and will receive a link by WhatsApp or email delivering directly to them carefully curated and meaningfully selected Jewish content chosen to “illuminate, elucidate, and educate” as Siderson put it. “The content is diverse, and we really look for material that is eye-opening and thought provoking.”

The most recent video circulated, presented by Rabbi Yoel Gold, titled “A Babysitter’s Message,” chronicled the touching story of Jordan Schwartz and his 2003 tour in Iraq with the US. Armed Forces. While on patrol, Schwartz, who was raised in a secular Jewish home, was struck by an ominous sense of danger. He was saved from certain death when he remembered the Shema taught to him by his babysitter when he was a small child. He bent his head to say the prayer just in time to avoid flying shrapnel from an explosion. Upon returning to the base, rattled but alive, Schwartz was given a kippa and siddur by an Army chaplain. He took this as a sign from G-d, and soon enrolled in Yeshivah. The clip, both uplifting and poignant, is short and can be easily integrated into the most busy of schedules.  Those interested should visit: https://www.familyshul.org/form/sparklingtorah.

The new program kicked off on January 5 with new surprises in store for every upcoming week – why not add a little sparkle to the week?

Registration is now open for BI’s January 16 Tu B’Shvat program! Looking back to the traditions of the holiday, Rabbi Claman will host virtual Tu B’Shvat seders. For $18, participants will be provided with all they will need to partake in a Tu B’Shvat seder in their own homes.

“Each package we prepare will include all the necessary fruits: dates, pomegranates, figs, and so on,” explained Siderson. Everyone will be given a Zoom link, and Rabbi Claman will host the event. He will give instructions about the proper bruchot for each fruit and explain the meaning of all of the foods included. Then everyone can make the blessings at their own tables.

Rebbetzin Claman will soon begin hosting socially distanced women’s classes in adherence to AHS protocols. Classes will include Mikvah and creative writing.  She will also be teaching active movement classes for kids. Specifics about these learning opportunities with the Rebbetzin will be circulated soon – so stay tuned!

So, as the temperatures dip and dive, the spirits of the Edmonton Jewish community need not follow suit. With all that’s coming to life at BI, this winter promises to be an active one.

Regan Treewater-Lipes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter. 



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