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In the spirit of Jewish wandering

By SARAH COHEN Ed. introduction: We were alerted by one of our readers to the fact that the comment editor of the University of Manitoba newspaper, The Manitoban, is a young woman by the name of Sarah Cohen. We contacted Sarah to ask her whether she might be interested in writing for this paper as well. Sarah explained that she is a relative newcomer to Winnipeg and wondered what we might like her to write about? We answered that we’d like to find out whether students at the U of M are experiencing antisemitism to any extent, but before she did that we’d like her to write something about her own experience spending her first year in a new city. What follows is Sarah’s first of what we hope will be many more columns: 
Passover reminds me that Jews, wherever we wander, make a home with our community around us. We are brought together by this one commonality that instantly connects us. And as a young Jewish person new to living in Winnipeg, I have been reminded that no matter where I am, being Jewish is a part of me that I can find in common with others.
I grew up in Los Angeles, California, and Judaism was an integral part of my upbringing. I went to the preschool at my synagogue, attended Hebrew school, went to summer camp, was president of my synagogue’s youth group. My core friendships were all with the other Jewish kids in my schools. Everywhere in my life, there was something Jewish. So, it is no wonder that my identity has a focal point of being Jewish.
My first Jewish experience in Canada was a good ten years ago at B’nai Brith Camp on the Lake of the Woods. While I do not remember a good majority of it, it was a good introduction to Canadian Judaism — with a grueling canoe trip my California-girlhood was not accustomed to. Although I never returned to BB Camp there must have always been a notion in the back of my mind that being Jewish was not confined to one place or another.
Making the decision to leave Los Angeles to pursue my education at the University of Manitoba, here in Winnipeg, I had to think about if my Jewish identity would stay as prominent.
While ancient Jews were left wandering in the desert for forty years having to rely on their faith and adapt to new circumstances before they found a home of sorts, I have had to find a new community and adjust to different customs. However, being Jewish in a new city also presents opportunities for growth and learning from different perspectives.
I have been living in Winnipeg for a year now and finally feel confident in my Jewish-Winnipegger identity. My first few months here, I kept my Jewishness to myself. I did not know the extent of the Jewish community in Winnipeg or if I could be safely Jewish. And living on campus over summer, there were few opportunities to meet other Jewish people or explore being Jewish in the city.
Amid so many international students, so few are Jewish and even fewer are openly Jewish. Before classes begun, I considered the idea that being Jewish here was going to be a part of me that was not at the forefront.
However, to my surprise, I have been able to find at least one other Jewish person almost everywhere I go. I have been able to take Dr. Itay Zutra’s Yiddish literature classes through the Judaic Studies program and simultaneously find a Jewish community and learn about Jewish history in writings from a new group of brilliant Jewish people.
I have also found Jews in the most mundane places. From a BB Camp sweatshirt that I recognize in the tunnels of school to small talk with a waiter at Boston Pizza, Jews are everywhere. The people I have met are always kind, receptive, and excited to meet another Jew, especially one not from Winnipeg. And that makes me happy being young and new to the Jewish community of Winnipeg.
As comment editor at The Manitoban, the U of M’s newspaper, not only have I stumbled upon new Jewish friends as co-workers, but I have also been able to share my experience as a Jew and my Jewish perspective of world events with our readers. That opportunity has allowed me to enjoy existing and working with other young Jewish people.
Jewish social life is the core of community for me. But the social and intellectual aspects of Judaism are just as important as religiosity. We may know different people or different melodies, but the words and the stories are the same. I think that is a huge factor in what allows Jews everywhere to have a sense of community no matter their destination. In June I went to Shabbat Services at Temple Shalom and that may have been the real start of my comfort in Winnipeg as a Jew. There was never a feeling of being the odd one out.
Not everything is perfect, however. I have seen and heard of more antisemitism here than back in California. Bus benches and shelters have swastika’s carved into them and micro-aggressive comments are far from scarce. Things that do make me question the level of safety I should feel being Jewish but not to the point of being unproud of my Jewishness.
Overall, I have learned that Winnipeg is a wonderful city to be young and Jewish. Everyone is welcoming and I have never felt out of place or not wanted. Winnipeg may only be a small portion of my years wandering but as a good Jew, I will make it home for a while.

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