The Congregation Emanu-El synagogue in downtown Victoria will host a talk this week that recalls aspects of Jewish history, some that mirror the experiences of local First Nations. (File photo)

Victoria’s Jewish community explores how its history holds similiarities with local First Nations’

Richard Kool will discuss his research into the history of the Shepardim Jewish people

A Victoria historian from the Jewish community says there are significant similarities between his community and local First Nations.

Richard Kool is a professor of environment and sustainability at Royal Roads University and the director of the Victoria Jewish Cemetery. In an upcoming presentation at the Congregation Emanu-El synagogue, Kool will discuss his research into the history of his ancestors, Southern European –or Shepardim Jews– who migrated from Spain and Portugal to Amsterdam and eventually the rest of the world. He will also explore how their history matches those of the Lekwungen peoples.

ALSO READ: Jewish film, culture celebrated during annual festival

“Really, the Amsterdam Jewish community all begins with Catholics,” Kool said.

At the end of the 15th century Judaism was banned across Europe, and people could convert to Catholicism, leave or be killed.

ALSO READ: Federation represents diversity of Jewish life in Greater Victoria

Many Jewish people from Southern Europe “converted” to Catholicism, but kept small parts of their culture within their families.

By the early part of the 17th century, many of these people moved to the Netherlands where they were allowed to practice any religion, and established a large Portuguese-Jewish community that built what was then the largest Synagogue in the world.

“They had to change their names from Christian ones to rediscover a Jewish name, and to reintegrate into their cultures,” Kool explained. “Luckily, there were Rabbis in Southern Europe that had not been forced to convert, and they were able to explain traditions and help maintain the language.”

Even after all of this migration many of his own ancestors did not survive the horrendous waves of the Holocaust. Kool pointed out a photo from his mother’s family which showed 22 people; only one survived.

This, Kool argues, mirrors the cultural genocide seen by local First Nations.

“They suffered three or four generations without their culture, their language was lost, and while people maintained tradition in some ways there was no written culture to preserve things,” Kool said.

“While Jews could call on others to tell them what they’ve lost, the Coast Salish don’t have a refuge in a safe place to tell them how to do it… I don’t think many really appreciate how difficult it is to reconstruct an identity.”

Kool said that the Congregation Emanu-El has tried to pay homage to the local peoples in several ways, including a prayer that’s been used for over 20 years at the beginning of each Shabbat that recognizes local First Nations and their presence.

“We just got new prayer books, too, that specifically recognize the Lekwugen people and not just a generic term,” Kool said.

Throughout the past several decades, Rabbis and First Nations leaders have met for various reasons, and Kool said it was neat to see both cultures introduce themselves with their “inside names and outside names,” or Anglicized names and heritage names.

At Congregation Emanu-El, the Torah script is enclosed by a curtain with an eagle on it, something local leaders also noted as an important spiritual entity.

ALSO READ: Victoria synagogue restores 300-year-old scrolls

“Heck, you could even make a joke about how we both like smoked salmon,” Kool laughed.

Kool’s presentation will run at the Congregation Emanu-El at 1461 Blanshard St. on Nov. 25 at 2:00 p.m. All are welcome and admission is by donation.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


Send a Tweet: @NicoleCrescenzi

Like us on Facebook  

Just Posted

UVic president offers condolences after two students killed in bus crash

‘We also grieve with those closest to these members of our campus community,’ Cassels says

GoodLife marathon helps enrich lives, share stories

Seniors’ care one of many causes supported by GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon

Central Saanich strawberry farmer reports bumper crop

Strawberry season could last well into October

Oak Bay community invited to News’ 5th annual readers tea

Oak Bay News, Carlton House host Sept. 17 afternoon tea

Tour Government House and other homes, enjoy art along the way

The Art Gallery’s 66th annual House Tour features artists at work, artistic floral displays

VIDEO: Greater Victoria, here’s the news you missed this weekend

Tragic bus crash, Pacific FC win and Terry Fox runs

VIDEO: Vancouver Island mayor details emergency response after fatal bus crash

Sharie Minions says she is ‘appalled’ by condition of road where bus crashed

Federal party leaders address gun violence after weekend shooting near Toronto

One teen was killed and five people injured in the shooting

Scheer makes quick campaign stop in Comox

Conservative leader highlights tax promises early in campaign

Conservatives promise tax cut that they say will address Liberal increases

Scheer says the cut would apply to the lowest income bracket

B.C. VIEWS: Cutting wood waste produces some bleeding

Value-added industry slowly grows as big sawmills close

Fewer trees, higher costs blamed for devastating downturn in B.C. forestry

Some say the high cost of logs is the major cause of the industry’s decline in B.C.

Federal food safety watchdog says batch of baby formula recalled

The agency says it’s conducting a food safety investigation

Coming Home: B.C. fire chief and disaster dog return from hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

The pair spent roughly one week on Great Abaco Island assisting in relief efforts

Most Read