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Faith Forum: What’s in a parade?

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Times-Colonist - Victoria, BC

Faith Forum: What’s in a parade?

May 31, 2013 04:38 PM

Shoshana Litman

Sunday is Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue’s big day: the re-enactment of a historic parade that occurred with great fanfare on June 2, 1863.

For the past three years, a dedicated group of volunteers has planned this event, which starts forming at 11:15 a.m. at the Freemason Temple at Douglas and Fisgard, leaving at noon for Canada’s oldest surviving synagogue, at 1461 Blanshard St.

Many people have dedicated their time, resources and creativity to the community behind this event ever since the first Jews arrived in 1858 during the Fraser River gold rush. All Jewish people have prepared for such moments since we first gathered at Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.

In some ways, it may look like any other parade, but there’s more going on than meets the eye.

On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I met a friendly University of Victoria professor, originally from India by way of New England, who, though not Jewish, explained that he and his wife decided to move to Victoria because of the synagogue downtown.

Before interviewing for a position at UVic, one of the professor’s colleagues back east recommended that he ask his prospective employers whether there was a synagogue in town. The colleague felt that the presence of a synagogue indicated that there was enough cultural diversity in Victoria to allow the professor and his family to feel comfortable here.

While the interviewers were surprised by this question, since it was clear that their prospective employee did not plan to attend Jewish services, they responded that not only did Victoria have a synagogue, the city was home to the oldest Jewish house of worship in continuous use in Canada.

That clinched the deal. The family settled into their new home and haven’t wanted to live anywhere else.

Establishing and maintaining a synagogue in its original downtown location has not been easy. Land grants were given to Victoria’s early Christian communities to build their churches, while the Jewish community did not receive any government assistance.

Yet even without official support, the entire community, including this newspaper, helped the Jewish community pay for and maintain the building.

In the 1970s, when the synagogue community decided to renovate, there was tremendous support from government craftsmen, the B.C. Heritage Society and many generous individuals of diverse faiths.

Another parade in 1982 to celebrate the work’s completion included the Chinese and First Nations communities as well as descendants of the German, French, Jewish and Freemason societies that marched together in 1863.

Everyone can celebrate Victoria’s support for cultural diversity Sunday when the Navy’s Naden Band leads us past city hall, where Mayor Dean Fortin plans to join the festivities.

The grand master of Freemasons in B.C. and other dignitaries will also join us for a commemorative ceremony at the corner of Pandora and Blanshard at 12:30 p.m., followed by an open house inside the synagogue featuring unique historical displays.

If you miss the parade or want to explore more of the synagogue’s history, join me on Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m., or Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., for a 40-minute tour on the hour until the end of August. For more information, go to congregationemanu-el.ca/community/ synagogue-tours/.

Sunday tours will be available at 8 p.m. in July and August. Tours cost $10 per adult; children under 12 are free. Teachers can arrange free visits for students with prior notice anytime during the school year.

Shoshana Litman is Canada’s first ordained Maggidah (a female Jewish storyteller), an administrator for the Mussar Institute of Vancouver, and a tour guide for Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria. Discoverthepast.com will offer Jewish Victoria walking tours, leaving from the front of the synagogue at 2 p.m. on Thursdays, from June 6 to Aug. 29.

Further Reading:

Freemasonry in Canada