At the end of Josephine Street in New Denver, B.C. (population: 504), there’s a house with a mezuzah on the door. The house is inhabited by Deborah Sword and her partner, Decker, who split their time between New Denver and Calgary. Last week, Deborah and Decker were kind enough to lend their home to myself and other members of my wife’s family, as we were all in town to celebrate the wedding of my sister-in-law, Kayte.
Inside the house, there are more mezuzot, various menorahs and a picture of a kippah-clad man reading the Goldberg Haggadah. I asked Deborah what Jewish life is like in the Kootenays. “We have Israeli citizens raising their kids here,” she said, “kids with one Jewish parent who is trying to pass on Jewish values, lots of American Jews who are secular, people who will travel to larger nearby towns to participate in Jewish life, as well as Jews who don’t reach out and only engage if someone else organizes and invites them, at which point they are enthusiastic and grateful for the opportunity.”
She continued: “When I came here, I went looking for a Jewish community. I found a few women, Kayte among the first of them, and put the call out for people to attend my first valley seder. We had more than 20 people from up and down the valley. Same at the High Holidays. Attendance might be small some years, depending on the timing and schedules. Whoever comes wants to be there and the celebration is typically communal – everyone brings something, helps clean up, shares stories and it’s very heimish. Most of the valley Jews follow politics and are at the small-l liberal end of the spectrum, and most ‘came from away.’ ”
She told me about Mountain Chai, an email group that acts as a sort of Jewish community message board in the Slocan Valley, with dvar Torah every week, calls for people to attend Shabbat meals, information about speakers coming to the area, books of interest and “the usual Jewish discussions and jokes.”
Deborah’s partner, Decker, is the nephew of Jane Jacobs, the famed urbanist and activist. One night, I was leafing through his aunt’s renowned works, which take up a half-shelf on the bookcase. In the opening chapter of The Question of Separatism, Jacobs wrote: “Our feelings of who we are twine with feelings about our nation, so that when we feel proud of our nation, we somehow feel personally proud. When we feel ashamed of our nation, or sorrow for it, the shame or the sorrow hits home.”
Jacobs was referring to the Quebec separatist movement. The Question of Separatism was published in 1980, just after the referendum – but her words struck me because of how simply and eloquently they capture the current clashes between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora over issues like conversions, access to the Kotel and the Israeli rabbinate’s “blacklist” of Diaspora rabbis, including 10 right here in Canada.
Pride in Israel is, for many of us here in the Diaspora, a constant; feelings of sorrow and shame are rather new. The question going forward, is how to channel the latter sentiments into more of the former. Otherwise, our separation will only increase. — YONI