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The Little Synagogue in Me: How one of the last surviving prairie synagogues found a home at Calgary’s Heritage Park

The Little Synagogue on the Prairie
trekking down an Alberta highway
to Calgary, November 2008.
Photo credit: Shel Bercovich

By IRENA KARSHENBAUM Looking back, I can’t believe it’s been 12 years since The Little Synagogue came to Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village, the largest living history museum in Canada. It feels like another life.
I remember lying in bed at night, dreaming about this project, how I was going to put a synagogue in Heritage Park. Everything seemed so far into the future.

Then all the things I was wanting to do, planning to do, needing to do, happened. All the nights, all the emails, all the meetings, all the phone calls, all the begging for money, all the running around are now a blur.
There is a false front, yellow, wooden synagogue with a white veranda at Heritage Park today, one of the last rural synagogues to survive on the prairies and have the distinction — and good fortune! — of being included in the permanent collection of any historic park in Canada. The first, and only one. To date.
The Montefiore Institute, as it was originally known, tells the story of early Canadian prairie settlement and that history includes Jews who fled the raging anti-Semitism of Russia and Romania, to the edge of the earth, to Alberta. They built their colony in 1910 in the Palliser Triangle, blanketing much of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, where nothing was supposed to grow, and in the bitter cold and in the dry, scorching heat, they broke the land. The Jewish people were living on the Canadian prairies from the very beginning, beside the Danes, Italians, Ukrainians, Volga Germans and many others, the Montefiore Institute tells this story today.
The Montefiore Institute was built in 1916, abandoned by the mid 1920s, and moved to Hanna, about 130 kilometres west, around 1940. In time, it was plastered in green and white siding, the porch was covered to create a much-needed extra bedroom for the family’s numerous children, an addition was built in the back, and the cutout where the Magen David once looked out into the distant horizon disappeared under siding. Its transformation to an unassuming bungalow was complete. Its Jewish history was lost from memory. The family thought they were living in the most luxurious home they had ever lived in, a conversion from an old church.
Two generations later a motley crew of volunteers found the Montefiore Institute and, after discovering that thanks to the dryness of the climate, it was like new, and would be able to withstand a 230 kilometre trek on a truck from Hanna to Calgary.
Two years had passed since I emailed my proposal to Heritage Park, when we drove to Hanna early one June morning, in 2008, and watched a crew of young men remove the building from its foundation. They inserted giant, square wooden beams under the house and “rolled” them. The building ripped off the foundation and slowly slid on to the truck bed. Oh how those workmen’s bodies moved! None of them were big or stocky or bulky – what you’d think they’d have to be for such physically demanding labour. They moved like ballerinas. They were lean, the kind of lean that I have encountered in men who have lived difficult lives. How hard they worked! And when they were done, we gave them pies, bought at a Hanna bakery, as an expression of our gratitude. It felt shameful. They got paid, sure. But it still felt wrong. Like it wasn’t enough.

Hanna was left behind and for five long months there was that farm at Strathmore, 50 kilometres east of Calgary, where the synagogue underwent exterior restoration. The ugly siding was removed, and lovely, raw wood was revealed underneath, covered in nails as numerous as a child’s freckled face. The nails were yanked, the holes were filled and smoothed and the exterior was painted by the restoration crew that drove out to Strathmore and back to Calgary and back out there and back to Calgary, day after day.
Every time I would speak in public about the project, my voice would crack and a tear would betray me. What’s wrong with me? I’d ask. I’m not religious. This isn’t even my history, if you think it in simple terms. My family left Kharkov, the Soviet Union in 1978, travelled through Vienna and stayed in Rome before arriving in Calgary in 1979. Those homesteaders came from Russia and Romania in 1910. If you think of it as our collective Jewish history, then sure, this is my history. Maybe my soul knows something my head does not.
People thank me for loving history. It sounds simple. I’m not simple. This is more than loving history. I love ideas. Projects. A good story. Adventure. I love to create things. Work with people, that’s when you really get to know them. This is about that. It’s about creating beauty in the world, in one small place.
The Little Synagogue races along the highway one late November day in 2008. It has an escort of electrical crews. It slows down, the electrical crews raise the overhead wires and the building slowly passes underneath. Imagine a little yellow synagogue racing down the highway. Very cute. It comes to a stop on the corner of a farm on the outskirts of Calgary because it can’t travel through the city in the middle of the day. It will cause traffic jams. We go home and wait ‘till night. I’m scared that some kook might burn down our precious jewel. The time can’t pass quickly enough, but then it does and we move our kinder, don’t shlof we tell it, in the middle of the night. Television crews chase it. It’s quite the sight. It would make for a great musical. The name is easy, “Little Synagogue, The Musical!” With an exclamation point. Too bad I can’t write lyrics or music or act or carry a tune or tap dance. It might also make a nice Disney cartoon. Barbra Streisand can sing my parts.
The Little Synagogue arrives at Heritage Park at 4:00 o’clock in the morning. The Meshugenah Synagogue Chasers go to Denny’s for breakfast as there are no Heritage Park staff up that early to accept our gift. We warm up, fill our bellies with eggs and toast and return to the park where we are greeted by “Important People”. They graciously accept our gift. The Little Synagogue is driven into the park grounds and placed on its foundation.
Another long winter, the begging for money is endless, the interior is restored, the benches are made, the bimah is built, the mezuzahs are carved to look like they are worm-eaten. Very apropos for a rural synagogue. As all of this is happening, the grand opening celebration is being organized. There is no time to go grocery shopping, there is no time to trap the dust bunnies hopping all over my floors. There is hardly time to work to earn a living to pay my bills. There is no time for anything other than the grand opening, the synagogue, work, the grand opening, the synagogue, and what should I wear? And what shall I say in my speech at the opening?
We’ll get a thousand people at the opening, I tell my board and opening committee. They tell me I’m crazy. 600, 800 max. No, we’ll get 1,000, I argue with them.

The speech gets written and rewritten, over three months. The dress is bought. I’m lent a choker festoon necklace, a vintage looking handbag. I cave and buy a $400 hat. There are people all around working hard, doing this and that, and on the Thursday before the grand opening everything stops. I can hear the silence. I have nothing to do that weekend except show up at the grand opening celebration on Sunday, June 28, 2009. We eat burgers at a park the night before. The air has the sweet smell of flowers, the sun blushes its pretty face on us like from a scene out of Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams.”
The day of the grand opening arrives. My mother dresses me as if I am a princess, lunch at Heritage Park, and the crowds start coming, and coming, 2,000 people appear, and more. Our most generous donors take turns carrying the Torah, regally crowned by a chuppah and the joyful people follow behind. They sing and clap and have tears in their eyes. Very Important People give speeches. My voice cracks, again, when I give my speech. My soul knows something my head does not.
The greatest joy in life, I think, comes from dreaming. Then doing.

Founding president of The Little Synagogue on the Prairie Project Society, Irena Karshenbaum will give a talk about this special project for the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada on Sunday, May 30, 2021 at 2:00 pm CDT. Click here to register: https://www.jhcwc.org/programs/ 

Irena Karshenbaum writes in Calgary. She can be reached at irenakarshenbaum.com.

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Features

A Positive Outlook for Communities as the Canadian iGaming Industry Prepares for a Banner Year

Since the implementation of Bill C-227, the Gaming Control Act in 2021, Canada’s online gambling scene has undergone a dramatic transformation. Legalization has unlocked heaps of previously untapped potential and paved the way for a banner year for the Canadian iGaming industry. This June, the Canadian Gambling Summit for 2024 promises an optimistic journey through the exciting prospects unfolding for players, operators, and the Canadian economy as a whole.

The Growth of Canadian iGaming has Sparked Optimism

Gone are the days of ambiguity and uncertainty; a clear legal framework has provided a healthy foundation for stability and growth. This newfound confidence has unlocked the immense potential of the Canadian iGaming market, attracting established operators and nurturing innovative local talent.

Players have already been enjoying the arrival of a regulated environment, which offers enhanced security and responsible gaming measures. Large numbers of gamblers can now play at a casino online for real money that operates on Canadian soil, much to the benefit of the local economy.

Many of the best-rated platforms available today allow Canadian players to engage with sites that offer a wide range of modern payment methods, reliable games and lucrative bonuses with exceptionally efficient payout speeds. The introduction of new features on these sites also gives players peace of mind that their safety is being prioritized.

The positive momentum continues to build as Canadian operators prepare for the Canadian Gambling Summit, which will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto from the 18th to the 20th of June, 2024. Anticipation for the event has created ripples of excitement throughout the local industry and bolstered a shared belief that 2024 will be a landmark year for the industry as a whole.

When Industries Thrive, Communities Flourish: Exploring the Positive Impacts of Financial Success

A healthy industry isn’t just good for its bottom line; it can be a powerful mechanism for positive change within local economies and communities. When any local industry experiences a period of financial growth and stability, the ripples of its success extend far beyond boardrooms and factories. These benefits reach individuals and families and can uplift the very fabric of local life. Here’s how the thriving iGaming industry is already benefiting many communities in and around Canada:

Job Creation and Increased Spending

When industries are able to grow and expand, this success often translates into more employment opportunities, higher wages and improved job security for residents. This increased income can then lead to greater spending power which boosts a range of local businesses like restaurants, shops, service providers and entertainment venues. This creates a virtuous cycle, as local businesses benefiting from increased consumer spending can themselves hire more employees, further strengthening the local economy.

Infrastructure Development and Public Services

A financially secure industry often means increased tax revenue for local governments. This influx allows for investments in vital infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, public transportation and, perhaps most importantly, schools. Additionally, it strengthens funding for essential public services such as healthcare, emergency response and social programs, leading to a higher quality of life for all Canadian residents.

Community Investment and Philanthropy

Many successful industries will often choose to reinvest in the communities that support them. Recently, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg stated that the surplus money they currently hold will be used in various ways that will ultimately benefit local communities in some way. Often, community investments will go beyond financial support and foster a lasting sense of pride, collaboration and shared success between an industry and its community.

Education and Skills Development

Recognizing the need for a skilled workforce to sustain its success, a thriving industry will generally partner with educational institutions to develop targeted training programs and internships. This gives local residents the skills and qualifications needed to secure future jobs within the industry, closing the skills gap and creating a pipeline of talent for future growth.

Attracting New Businesses and Talent

The positive buzz surrounding a successful industry can attract new businesses and talent to the area. This diversification is likely to strengthen the local economy and spark new innovation. In addition, increased numbers of skilled professionals raises the overall talent pool for other industries, greatly benefiting all businesses in the local area.

Since the implementation of Bill C-227, the Gaming Control Act in 2021, Canada’s online gambling scene has undergone a dramatic transformation. Legalization has unlocked heaps of previously untapped potential and paved the way for a banner year for the Canadian iGaming industry. This June, the Canadian Gambling Summit for 2024 promises an optimistic journey through the exciting prospects unfolding for players, operators, and the Canadian economy as a whole.

The Growth of Canadian iGaming has Sparked Optimism

Gone are the days of ambiguity and uncertainty; a clear legal framework has provided a healthy foundation for stability and growth. This newfound confidence has unlocked the immense potential of the Canadian iGaming market, attracting established operators and nurturing innovative local talent.

Players have already been enjoying the arrival of a regulated environment, which offers enhanced security and responsible gaming measures. Large numbers of gamblers can now play at a casino online for real money that operates on Canadian soil, much to the benefit of the local economy.

Many of the best-rated platforms available today allow Canadian players to engage with sites that offer a wide range of modern payment methods, reliable games and lucrative bonuses with exceptionally efficient payout speeds. The introduction of new features on these sites also gives players peace of mind that their safety is being prioritized.

The positive momentum continues to build as Canadian operators prepare for the Canadian Gambling Summit, which will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto from the 18th to the 20th of June, 2024. Anticipation for the event has created ripples of excitement throughout the local industry and bolstered a shared belief that 2024 will be a landmark year for the industry as a whole.

When Industries Thrive, Communities Flourish: Exploring the Positive Impacts of Financial Success

A healthy industry isn’t just good for its bottom line; it can be a powerful mechanism for positive change within local economies and communities. When any local industry experiences a period of financial growth and stability, the ripples of its success extend far beyond boardrooms and factories. These benefits reach individuals and families and can uplift the very fabric of local life. Here’s how the thriving iGaming industry is already benefiting many communities in and around Canada:

Job Creation and Increased Spending

When industries are able to grow and expand, this success often translates into more employment opportunities, higher wages and improved job security for residents. This increased income can then lead to greater spending power which boosts a range of local businesses like restaurants, shops, service providers and entertainment venues. This creates a virtuous cycle, as local businesses benefiting from increased consumer spending can themselves hire more employees, further strengthening the local economy.

Infrastructure Development and Public Services

A financially secure industry often means increased tax revenue for local governments. This influx allows for investments in vital infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, public transportation and, perhaps most importantly, schools. Additionally, it strengthens funding for essential public services such as healthcare, emergency response and social programs, leading to a higher quality of life for all Canadian residents.

Community Investment and Philanthropy

Many successful industries will often choose to reinvest in the communities that support them. Recently, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg stated that the surplus money they currently hold will be used in various ways that will ultimately benefit local communities in some way. Often, community investments will go beyond financial support and foster a lasting sense of pride, collaboration and shared success between an industry and its community.

Education and Skills Development

Recognizing the need for a skilled workforce to sustain its success, a thriving industry will generally partner with educational institutions to develop targeted training programs and internships. This gives local residents the skills and qualifications needed to secure future jobs within the industry, closing the skills gap and creating a pipeline of talent for future growth.

Attracting New Businesses and Talent

The positive buzz surrounding a successful industry can attract new businesses and talent to the area. This diversification is likely to strengthen the local economy and spark new innovation. In addition, increased numbers of skilled professionals raises the overall talent pool for other industries, greatly benefiting all businesses in the local area.

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Features

Life in Israel four months after October seventh

Orly & Solly Dreman

By ORLY DREMAN

(Special to the JP&N) Feb. 1, 2024

In every news broadcast that we hear that “The IDF spokesman is permitted to announce”… then every person in Israel sits down, holds their breath and waits to hear the names of the soldiers fallen in action that day. This causes deep sadness to every family in Israel. For example, I found out the son of my T.V technician was killed and my handyman’s son was seriously injured. Death in Israel is so personal.

Our synagogue recently mourned twenty seven year old Inbar Heiman who was kidnapped by Hamas from the Nova music nature party on October seventh and was murdered in captivity. She was a gifted young woman filled with love and compassion. She was a creative artist that was supposed to enter her senior year at university this academic year. We had prayed and wished that she would return until her family received the tragic news of her death.

When we made personal medical visits to the Hadassah hospital, we often heard helicopters overhead bringing in wounded soldiers from Gaza. In the surgery department we saw a reserve soldier being released after six weeks in the hospital. His wife and newborn baby were with him. The department had a touching farewell gathering with Israeli flags, music and cakes. This is how every soldier who leaves the hospital is treated. More than fourteen thousand civilians and soldiers were hospitalized since October seventh with most of the injuries being in the hands and legs, burns, head and eye injuries.

We seldom are in the mood to go to a restaurant these days, but if we do, such outings are accompanied by guilt feelings. Is it right to go when our people are suffering?- the hostages are starving. We all wear the metal disc that says “Bring Them Home now- Our hearts are captured in Gaza”. They occupy our thoughts pervasively. Some of the hostages have suffered untreated gunshot wounds and the hygiene conditions are poor, many of them not showering for four months, sitting thirty meters under the ground in dark tunnels, with no electricity and suffering from extreme malnutrition. Some of them have diseases like Celiac, Asthma, Colitis, Diabetes, Fibromialgia, heart diseases and allergies. They are getting no medications and time is running out for them. Twenty five of them have already perished. What sort of civil society will we be if we abandon them?

Whole families are recruited for combat duty in different areas of the country. It might be a brother and a sister fighting in Gaza or a father in Judea and Samaria while another brother is fighting on the Lebanese border. If you ask soldiers who have lost their siblings in combat if they wish to go back to fight after the shiva, they do not hesitate, even though it is so hard on the parents. This demonstrates the dedication of Israeli citizens and their wish to complete the task of exterminating the Hamas, while at the same time knowing their family member did not die in vain. The grief is intergenerational and we are even acquainted with grandparents whose grandchildren are in combat and they are given the opportunity to go to workshops that help them with their anxiety.

In a Knesset Committee it was recently reported That many survivors from the Nova party have taken their own lives. Others continue to experience the trauma of the horrific events. They cannot sleep nor eat. Many were sexually abused and even though they were not murdered they continue to experience the pain- the sights, voices- cries for help and the fear. They are in a sense also fighters who awaken to a new existence everyday and continue to fight for their existence.

At the military cemeteries there is one funeral process after another and the families are asked to leave the site to make room to prepare for the next funeral. Wounded soldiers arrive in ambulances, on hospital beds or wheelchairs in order to eulogize their fallen comrades.

The reservists who return home after months of combat are having troubles adjusting because this war, like the War of Independence, is very meaningful. It is the most justified war our homeland has encountered. Upon their return there is a big downfall in physical and mental energy. A stranger cannot understand this. These soldiers were disconnected from normal civilian routine for a long time and they had difficult and intimate experiences with their combat mates. They have lost friends and did not have time to mourn. They must release the stress they were exposed to. They are back in body but not always in spirit. They also might be recruited again in the near future to the southern or the northern front, the war is not over. Many men who were injured worry about their future fertility and sexual functioning.

They entertain such existential thoughts as would it be better that I am killed in action before I have children and leave no descendants, or losing my life and leaving behind orphans. Dozens of children remain orphaned from both parents. They also have witnessed their family members being murdered and their homes burned down. Years ago, Solly treated and did a follow up on a family where both parents were murdered in a terrorist attack. Even though the children were adopted by loving relatives they suffered from survivor guilt and this expressed itself in such phenomena as dropping out of school, turning into juvenile delinquents and having trouble in intimate relations.

The evacuees from the south and the north are dispersed in hundreds of hotels in the center of the country. Hence, they have no permanent home, have no privacy and many have no work, nothing to do for months on end and experience feelings of powerlessness. Some pupils are not capable of returning to their temporary schools because of anxieties, depression and fear. Some teenagers have turned to drugs and alcohol which increases violence and vandalism. For them school is experienced as a waste of time. Their friends were murdered, some still have relatives in captivity and everything is falling apart. They also experience sleep disruptions and are in no mood to study. For them life is a living hell. Some families are moved from city to city several times. The children do not have friends in the new locations and they feel lonely and express a lack of social support.

In the realm of parenting many mothers even those who were NOT directly exposed to the dramatic events reported that their children cry more (eighty three percent). Others say the children have difficulties sleeping (seventy three percent), have concentration problems (fifty four percent) and many children are developing eating disorders. In sixty percent the anxiety of the children is so high it hurts functioning. For example, they are often afraid to leave the house. Other disturbances were reported such as bed-wetting, insisting on sleeping with their parents and acts of anger and aggression.

We, as Israelis are also concerned with our Jewish brethren who are experiencing thousands of antisemitic incidents, higher than the number of all incidents in the last decade. There are many Jews in the diaspora who are considering emigration to Israel after experiencing antisemitic events such as seeing their synagogue, Hebrew school, kosher butcher and other Jewish businesses being stoned and burned. For them Israel is their safest haven.

On a more optimistic note the Jewish people have prevailed over thousands of years despite terrible events. In spite of the uncertainty not everything is lost. We are united and strong. The soldiers are full of motivation and good values. I firmly believe that if we are patient and persist, the Jewish people and the state of Israel will prevail.

Orly Dreman is a 10th generation Israeli. Her cousin, Ruvi Rivlin, was a former president of Israel. Orly’s father was a diplomat who served both in North America and in Europe.
By profession Orly is an English teacher. She has dealt with children suffering from ADD.
Since childhood, Orly has been involved in voluntary work with the disabled, the challenged, new immigrants, the elderly and others. 

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Features

Popularity of Online Casino Games in Canada

In recent years, the popularity of online casino games in Canada has surged, captivating the attention of a diverse audience seeking thrilling entertainment. With the convenience of accessing these games from the comfort of home, Canadians are exploring the vast world of virtual casinos that offer an extensive array of gaming options.

Diverse Selection of Casino Games:

One of the key factors contributing to the widespread appeal of online casino games in Canada is the vast selection available. There are hundreds of top casino games online, covering every genre imaginable. From classic table games like poker and blackjack to immersive slot machines with captivating themes, Canadian players have a plethora of options to choose from.

The Rise of Online Slots:

Among the various casino games, online slots have witnessed a significant surge in popularity. The ease of gameplay and the potential for substantial payouts make slots a preferred choice for both seasoned players and newcomers. With themes ranging from ancient civilisations to popular movies and TV shows, online slots offer a diverse and engaging experience for players of all preferences.

Convenience and Accessibility:

The accessibility of online casino games is a key driver behind their growing popularity in Canada. Players no longer need to travel to a physical casino to experience the thrill of gambling. Instead, they can enjoy their favourite games with just a few clicks on their computer or mobile device. This convenience has opened up the world of online gambling to a broader audience, attracting both seasoned gamblers and those trying their luck for the first time.

Technology Advancements:

Advancements in technology have played a pivotal role in enhancing the online casino gaming experience. High-quality graphics, realistic sound effects, and seamless gameplay contribute to an immersive environment that mirrors the excitement of traditional brick-and-mortar casinos. Additionally, the integration of live dealer games brings an authentic touch to online gaming, allowing players to interact with real dealers in real-time.

Regulatory Environment:

The regulatory environment in Canada has also contributed to the popularity of online casino games. While each province has its own regulations, the overall legal framework allows for a thriving online gambling industry. This has given rise to reputable online casinos that prioritise player safety and adhere to strict industry standards, ensuring a fair and secure gaming environment.

Social Aspect and Community Engagement:

Online casinos in Canada are not just about individual gameplay; they also provide a platform for social interaction. Many online casinos feature chat rooms and community forums where players can connect, share experiences, and discuss strategies. This sense of community adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the gaming experience, making online casinos a social activity beyond the solitary pursuit of winning.

The popularity of online casino games in Canada is undoubtedly on the rise, driven by a combination of diverse gaming options, convenience, technological advancements, and a favourable regulatory environment. With a wide array of top casino games available at their fingertips, Canadians can indulge in the excitement of gambling from the comfort of their homes. As the online casino industry continues to evolve, it’s clear that virtual gaming is here to stay and will likely continue to captivate audiences across the country.

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