In late March, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of the united Hebrew congregations of the Commonwealth, came to town for the induction of Rabbi Shlomo Gabay at Beth Hamidrash Synagogue.
The event was mostly ceremonial, as Rabbi Gabay joined the congregation a year ago. Nevertheless, an induction seemed a good reason to entice the chief rabbi to the city.
That was the reasoning of British expat Richard Wood, who manages business and operations for BC Kosher. “I know Rabbi Mirvis’ brother-in-law and saw Rabbi Mirvis do an induction once in Israel for a British rabbi,” Wood told The CJN. “I thought it was a great thing, so I wrote to his office, made the suggestion that he come to Vancouver for the induction of Rabbi Gabay and they liked the idea.”
Rabbi Mirvis’ visit coincides with the 98th anniversary of the first time the U.K.’s chief rabbi toured the Commonwealth, and the 50th anniversary of the Beth Hamidrash Synagogue, which is the only Sephardic synagogue west of Toronto.
The weekend of his visit was packed with activities that had Rabbi Mirvis and his wife, Valerie, attending a luncheon hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, speaking to students at Vancouver Talmud Torah and attending Shabbat services and dinner at the synagogue.
The induction ceremony drew a number of dignitaries, including B.C. Attorney General David Eby, Howard Chow, deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department, as well as numerous rabbis from throughout the Lower Mainland and members of the local Jewish community. Security was tight and all attendees were frisked at the entrance. But once inside the synagogue, the atmosphere was one of celebration.
“Today is the first time a rabbi has been inducted into office by a chief rabbi of the Commonwealth,” Wood told Rabbi Mirvis. “Your visit is the happiest day for this congregation and a day we’ll remember and talk about for the next 50 years.”
In a sermon peppered with jokes and anecdotes, Rabbi Mirvis described the union of Rabbi Gabay and Beth Hamidrash as a “beautiful shidduch, a match made in heaven. The relationship between a rabbi and his community is just like a union between a husband and wife.”
Born in Johannesburg, Rabbi Mirvis, 63, is known for his diplomacy and moderation. He previously served as the chief rabbi of Ireland and has a close relationship with the British Royal family. When he became the United Kingdom’s chief rabbi in 2013, Prince Charles attended the ceremony, and last year, the two traveled to Israel together.
In 2018, when an Orthodox day school in Britain censored all references to homosexual victims of the Holocaust in its textbooks, Rabbi Mirvis supported an initiative to include LGBTQ education in Jewish schools in the U.K. In collaboration with the Jewish LGBTQ charity KeshetUK, he produced a document titled, The Wellbeing of LGBT+ Pupils: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Schools.
The document notes that a “frightening” number of children have harmed themselves or attempted suicide after experiencing prejudice and advises teaches to inform students that fighting homophobia is a “Jewish imperative.” He insisted that Orthodox schools should have an explicit policy to look after LGBTQ students and have measures in place to prevent them from being bullied.