In 2002, The Canadian Jewish News published a story about the fading Jewish community in Chatham, a small city in southwestern Ontario. Yet, on Aug. 4, the first Jewish wedding to take place in the city in about 50 years will be celebrated.
“I’m probably the youngest Chatham Jew,” said Gabrielle Pascoe, 29, a Chatham native and bride-to-be.
From the moment Pascoe got engaged to her fiancé, Valerio Lovo, she was keen on having a Jewish wedding in Chatham. She wanted to get married in the only remaining synagogue in the city, Children of Jacob, but had difficulty contacting the shul. Instead, she will be getting married in the Bloomfield Schoolhouse, a historic building in the countryside.
Children of Jacob used to have an active congregation of about 60 families in the 1970s. Now, according to Pascoe, you can count the number of Jewish residents on one hand and there are no young Jewish people living in the city.
“We do have services for the High Holidays and all of the major holidays, (but) we don’t have the membership to have weekly services,” said Howard Gold, the synagogue founder’s grandson.
In 2002, at age 12, Pascoe told The CJN that, “The synagogue won’t stop. As long as there are Jewish people in this community, it will last.” At the time, there were approximately 10 Jewish families living there.
As a child, Pascoe was keen to stay in Chatham, but when it was time to get a job, there were no opportunities to be found. She and her fiancé moved to London, Ont., where she was hired as a French teacher.
The spiritual leader of the Temple Israel of London synagogue, Rabbi Debra Dressler, will officiate the wedding. The Jewish ceremony will be followed by a Salvadorian reception, since Lovo’s family is from El Salvador. He grew up Catholic, but is non-practicing and will convert to Judaism, if they have children, said Pascoe.
The London Jewish community has spoken about getting involved in supporting the maintenance of the Children of Jacob synagogue. Discussions on the topic will commence after the High Holidays, according to Rabbi Dressler. Pascoe is hoping to join the committee, when it is formed.