One year ago, a crowd gathered across from Topaz Park to mark the beginning of a new chapter in Jewish life on Vancouver Island.
It was the ground-breaking ceremony for the Chabad Centre for Jewish Life and Learning — a 10,000-square-foot building that would be the hub for the Island’s Jewish community — and a historic day as well. The last time a synagogue was built on the Island was more than 150 years ago.
A crowd gathered again last week at the same location (2955 Glasgow St.), this time marking the official grand opening. Rabbi Meir Kaplan couldn’t stop smiling.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s the greatest miracle I’ve experienced in my life,” said Kaplan, director of the new centre and the Chabad of Vancouver Island, the group behind the new facility.
“This is significant for Vancouver Island. This shows the devotion and dedication of members of the community and it shows how beautiful the future of our community is going to be.”
According to Kaplan, the $3-million facility has been several years in the making. Three years ago, a building campaign was launched, with Kaplan and his wife leading the effort. The property was purchased a year later, then construction started last fall.
Opening its doors in 1863, Congregation Emanu-El synagogue on Blanshard Street is Canada’s oldest continuously operating synagogue, serving nearly 200 families in the region.
The Chabad Centre, however, follows a different tradition of worship and includes not only a synagogue, but also a family shul, library, kitchen, community room and Mikvah — a ritual bath. There’s also a preschool centre, Hebrew school, senior’s services and daycare centre for children of all backgrounds and affiliations.
“People coming to the centre are from every walk of life, every affiliation, so that makes it even more special,” said Kaplan, who believes the centre will impact the entire Island.
“In the last few decades there was a revival of Jewish life here and this is the testimony for it.”
Under Kaplan’s leadership, in the last 10 years the Chabad of Vancouver Island has grown from a home-based institution to a vibrant centre for Jewish life, serving hundreds of Jewish families with a variety of religious, educational and social programs out of the Quadra Elementary School annex.
Approximately 5,000 to 7,000 Jewish people live on Vancouver Island, the bulk of them in Victoria.