VANCOUVER — The multifaith centres inside the athletes’ villages in Whistler and Vancouver were heavily underused during the Olympics, according to Rabbi Shmuel Birnham, rabbi of Congregation Har El on the North Shore of Vancouver.
Rabbi Birnham was asked to be the Jewish clergyman on the Winter Olympics’ multifaith committee, which included Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist clergy.
“Apparently a number of groups brought their own ministers or priests along,” he said. “That makes sense, because for those who are religious, the athletes don’t want any kind of change in their routine. Looking for an inner connection with a new pastor is not the easiest thing.”
Rabbi Birnham had asked eight rabbis in the Vancouver area to cover different times during the Games, and he said that although the rabbis interacted with Israeli athletes at the various public forums, there wasn’t much need for their services.
“That’s fine,” he said. “You prepare for a disaster, and when you don’t have to use the disaster packet, you’re happy.”
Games organizers had informed the multifaith committee that approximately one per cent of the participants in the Winter Olympics would seek assistance from the multifaith clergy, which, for the rabbis, translated to roughly 30 Jewish people in each village.
Although their services weren’t needed, Rabbi Birnham said having access to the athletes’ villages was a wonderful experience.
“It was great to wander around and feel the atmosphere,” he says.
“In the interfaith community of Vancouver, new relationships were created and old relationships were rekindled and deepened. I know that things will be happening in the interfaith world in Vancouver as a result of this.”