Members of the Gibsons-area Jewish community gather for a pre-Rosh Hashanah dinner. (photo by Lehe Spiegelman)
Young Jewish families are looking for affordable living, just like everyone else. What they are finding is that the Lower Mainland just doesn’t provide opportunities for family-work-life balance, so they are seeking it further afield. One such frontier is the Sunshine Coast. Close enough to commute into Vancouver via ferry if necessary for work, the communities of Gibsons, Roberts Creek, Sechelt and beyond are looking more appealing than ever before.
There is a real draw for Jewish community members right now: a growing community of young Jewish families interested in Jewish education and community events. This fall, Rebecca Porte and Lehe Spiegelman started a weekly Hebrew school for their children and other interested families. They have also been community-building though Shabbat dinners and other activities that include the range of generations.
A native of Vancouver, Porte attended Vancouver Talmud Torah and Congregation Beth Israel growing up. When work took her to Gibsons, she fell in love with the community. “It’s like being in a Jewish community but in a different way. It’s intimate living in a small community,” she said.
Porte’s husband, Steve, grew up in Oyama, B.C., a very small community, so the transition to Gibsons was natural for him. Career advancement drew them back to Vancouver for a few years, where their young daughters also attended VTT. Upon returning to Gibsons, the family felt something was missing: the girls needed more formal Jewish education and community.
Spiegelman has three children and lives on a farm close to Gibsons. She and Porte became friends and decided to work together to bring a stronger sense of Jewish community to the Sunshine Coast.
“We wanted to make something happen,” Porte told the Independent. “We started by created an avenue to Jewish education for our kids – it’s always about the kids, right?”
Together, Spiegelman and Porte secured a teacher, Corin Neuman, who travels to Gibsons from Vancouver for weekly lessons with 10 children from six different families. Neuman travels every Thursday afternoon to work for 3.5 hours with individuals and small groups at different levels. The focus is on holidays and culture, some children speak Hebrew at home and others are just beginning to learn.
A big challenge of this program is cost. To ensure that this Jewish educational experience is accessible for all families who want to participate, Porte and Spiegelman are subsidizing the lessons themselves.
“We have a $90 shortfall each week,” said Porte. “We’ve applied for a grant from [Jewish] Federation and are looking for other grants … but because we’re really just trying to get it going, we’ll cover the costs for this year.”
Porte added that Spiegelman is an awesome teammate in this venture, not only in her financial generosity but also her hospitality.
While education is the foundation of a communal experience, food is another crucial part of being Jewish together. Spiegelman opened her home for the first two Shabbat dinner initiatives the duo planned. The first dinner, which took place just before Rosh Hashanah, had more than 30 people and included challah-baking beforehand with the kids. On Nov. 18, they hosted a second dinner, with a similar number of participants, although not all the same people. The duo’s next plan is to have a Chanukah party that includes older members of the Jewish community who have been on the coast for years.
“When we first came to Gibsons, before we had kids, Steve taught private guitar lessons. It is kind of funny: all of the Jewish parents in Roberts Creek had their kids doing guitar lessons, so we were invited to things back then,” said Porte.
“I know there have been Jews who have been connected to each other on the Sunshine Coast for many years,” she added. “What we’re doing is building a network of younger families, creating a hub as well as regular Jewish education. I’m curious to know how many Jews are on the Sunshine Coast – I have no idea! We know right now there are enough to have a Jewish network, enough people for our kids to sing a Jewish song together and do some Israeli dancing. It’s important for us because it’s good for the kids.”
For more information on how to connect with this blossoming community, e-mail Porte at [email protected]
Michelle Dodek is a Vancouver freelance writer and community volunteer who tries to get to the Sunshine Coast with her family as often as she can, weather permitting.