When counting blessings, our community has much to celebrate. If proof were needed, there is plenty at the newspaper. Not only have we been sorting through 85 years’ worth of the Jewish Independent in preparation for our special anniversary issue next week, but we joined hundreds of other community members this past Sunday to mark three significant community milestones.
In the early afternoon, a remarkable event took place at Mountain View Cemetery. The city-owned burial site has, since 1892, included a small section consecrated as the Jewish cemetery. In recent years, that section has declined. A dedicated group of volunteers set about to return it to the stature it deserves and, on a very sunny Sunday, the community gathered to see the results and celebrate the place. There was, it’s not inappropriate to say, a sense of festivity mingling with the solemnity of the event. While we were marking the rededication of a Jewish cemetery, we were also explicitly honoring and celebrating the lives of the people who built this community – and all those who are working to maintain and grow it.
Later that day, Temple Sholom held a siyum hasefer, marking the completion of a new Torah commemorating the congregation’s 50th anniversary. This “Torah of volunteerism,” in which the hands and spirits of so many people are ingrained in its beauty, is another symbolic and tangible act uniting the past, present and future of our community.
The day’s festivities drew to a close at the new Beth Israel, one of the oldest congregations in our community. The rebuilt synagogue provides some of the city’s best new meeting spaces and, in this case, we celebrated one of Judaism’s greatest achievements – well, of the modern era, at any rate. Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, Vancouver chapter, convened an evening of education, entertainment and tribute in honor of that institution’s 90th anniversary.
It is hard to overestimate the impact of Hebrew University on the modern life of the Jewish people or of Israel. Founded by luminaries, including no less than Albert Einstein, it is a monument to the Jewish commitment to learning. However, to call it a monument is almost an aspersion, because it is an organic microcosm of Jewish life – and, as Jewish life has been throughout the ages – a light to the nations, welcoming scholars from around the world.
Attending these three milestones was affirming in several ways. It was a reminder of just how many people – of all walks of life, ages and affiliations – are dedicated to this community, working to make it better and trying to make sure that it has a future. It was also a reminder that, while the internet has its many advantages, there is something very special and irreplaceable about tangible records. There is something very special and incomparable to sharing a moment – joyous or sobering – with other human beings.
Headstones in a cemetery, a Torah scroll, the pages of a newspaper – they physically mark the path on our way long after we’ve made our way. We can touch them, which somehow connects us to them and each other in a way that cannot be reproduced in the virtual world. Laying a stone on a grave, scribing or reading from the Torah, even flipping through decades-old copies of the community newspaper – these present-day acts place our lives solidly in the continuum of humanity. This is both humbling and reassuring.
As we celebrate the minor miracle of the newspaper’s presence in and contribution to the community for 85 years, we are proud, not only of our own accomplishments, but those of the entire community. Together, may we go from strength to strength!