By Maxine Fischbein
(AJNews) – If you are craving a good news story, this one’s for you . . . especially if you’ve been missing the Edmonton Jewish Community Directory, a time-honoured tradition that kept generations of Jewish Edmontonians “linked in” the old-fashioned way.
Thanks to the efforts of directory co-chairs Mona Rosenberg and Jane Soifer – and their army of 50 dedicated volunteers – a 2021 edition of the Jewish phone book will be going to press around the end of February.
The publication is a sentimental favourite among those who grew up with it and anyone who has missed the handy reference book since its publication ceased about seven years ago.
Its return couldn’t come at a better time, say Rosenberg and Soifer, given the craving of community members to come together despite the need for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The duo is impressed by the overwhelmingly positive response of volunteers, sponsors, advertisers and those who are stepping up with listings in order to make sure that community members can reach out and touch each other even during a time of isolation.
While some community members choose not to list their contact information due to security concerns, Rosenberg and Soifer say that the prevailing attitude is one of excitement. They are anticipating the receipt of over 1,000 listings, a remarkable achievement in a community of approximately 5,000.
“We believe strongly in having a community directory,” said Soifer who has been volunteering on behalf of Talmud Torah together with Rosenberg for some 34 years. The two are also Edmonton Talmud Torah alumnae, and throughout the years, much of their joint effort has been dedicated to fundraising – a labour of love that provides badly needed dollars for the deeply-rooted school.
The most recently published directories have netted some $40,000 each. The funds support programs that enrich the student experience at TT including student subsidies, Judaic studies enrichment and science and math enhancements.
There is no charge for listing one’s contact information. It is the book sponsorships, advertising and directory sales that add up to much-needed support for Jewish education.
“Especially in light of COVID, the funds are very much appreciated,” Soifer said.
“I’m glad that Jane and I are part of bringing it back,” said Rosenberg, adding that the directory was part of her life growing up, yielding friends’ phone numbers and helping families like hers organize guest lists for simchas including bar mitzvahs and weddings.
“It connects us,” added Rosenberg. “It’s been odd not having it.”
For Esther Starkman, the return of the directory is cause for celebration. She told Alberta Jewish News that she purchases multiple copies of the book, placing one by each telephone in her home. Older directories find a new spot in the Starkmans’ cars so that they always have access to community phone numbers and addresses when they need them.
“I think everyone I know uses it, says Starkman, a former educator and Edmonton Public School Board chair whose father, Abraham Estrin, was a long-serving president of the Talmud Torah board of directors.
“The directory keeps the community together,” said Starkman. “It makes you part of something.”
While the assembly of the directory used to involve literal cutting and pasting, digital tools have made it a far easier project, most of which has been accomplished within a mere four months.
“It’s quite streamlined,” says Soifer who adds that when the work is passed on to the next chairs – hopefully volunteers from the current TT parent body – the work will be easier than ever before.
While the book is back, it isn’t “same old.” Users can look forward to some modifications that are a reflection of changing times. Those providing their contact information have the option to list two phone numbers and an email address if they wish.
“We see this as a transitionary phone book,” says Soifer who adds that the components of listings will, no doubt, continue to evolve as modes of communication continue to morph. “Fewer homes have landlines,” Soifer noted, adding that many individuals now provide cell numbers.
While the directory is being reprised in a digital age, it will only be available in hard copy, a choice that may allay concerns about further sharing of community members’ personal information. The book is only sold for use within the Jewish community and listings are limited to community members who live in Edmonton and environs as well as those few who have recently moved.
While the deadline for listings, sponsorships and ads was previously advertised as January 31, Rosenberg and Soifer want community members to know that they will accept further submissions through the end of February.
To provide your telephone and/or email listing, contact Roberta at TTlistings2021@gmail.com. For advertising info, contact Ori at email@example.com. Sponsorship opportunities are available at a variety of donation levels. To become a sponsor, contact Nili at TTsponsors2021@gmail.com.
Directory co-chairs Mona Rosenberg and Jane Soifer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rosenberg and Soifer say that interest has also been expressed in creating an alumni directory that would help to keep Talmud Torah graduates in touch the world over. Alumni interested in spearheading or contributing to this initiative are asked to contact Talmud Torah Executive Assistant Natalie Soroka at 780-481-3377.
Click here for a fascinating glimpse at the history of Jewish Directories in Alberta.
Maxine Fischbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Jewish News.