Youth from Temple Beth Ora and Gathering Angels in Edmonton help out at Boyle Street Community Services shelter. (photo from Rabbi Gila Caine)
In Edmonton, Rabbi Gila Caine and Muslim leader Nesrine Merhi-Tarrabain have combined forces to serve their local community.
Caine is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Ora, a Reform synagogue in Edmonton with nearly 100 families, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Merhi-Tarrabain is director of Gathering Angels, which runs an educational centre that teaches Muslim girls Islamic values.
Caine grew up in Jerusalem and moved with her husband, Ariel, and their two young children to Edmonton more than two years ago to lead Temple Beth Ora. Their kids attend the local Talmud Torah school.
Growing up, Caine learned early on, and more so in her early teens, to always be looking for ways to strengthen and help community. She wanted to bring that same mindset – of taking responsibility for your local community – to b’nai mitzvah-age kids at her Edmonton congregation.
“We’ve wanted to go out of the classroom and do stuff outside for a few years now,” Caine told the Independent in a recent interview. “And then, through another connection I have, with Salaam Shalom group, I asked one of them if perhaps they have somebody in their community that does stuff with kids … and that maybe we could do stuff together.
“I thought that would be really cool if we could get the b’nai mitzvah kids to go out and do stuff in the community, but with other youth of a different faith group,” she said.
Caine was connected with Merhi-Tarrabain. After some effort and time, the synagogue and educational centre managed to get together on a Saturday in November, preparing and serving both breakfast and lunch at Boyle Street Community Services shelter.
“We brought food with us, had her girls, my kids, and some parent volunteers working in two shifts there that day – working together, preparing sandwiches, cooking,” said Caine. “It was actually funny to see – it was more the parents that were connecting and talking … [while] the kids were basically doing their work quietly. But, the parents got into really nice conversations with each other and they served the food. And everybody from both sides came away feeling that we should do this again.”
Caine is hoping to make serving the community a tradition at Temple Beth Ora, possibly with Gathering Angels again, as well as with other groups.
When thinking of the best activity to launch the b’nai mitzvah community service initiative, Caine chose this particular one – preparing and serving food – as she knew from experience that many of the kids really enjoy dealing with food service, having seen them help out at the shul.
“Some of these kids are b’nai mitzvah kids and they want to volunteer again,” said Caine. So, the youth group counselors “will sit with them and talk to them about what they want to do. This is the next step,” she said.
After the November project, there was another food-related volunteering opportunity for the kids last year. They joined the Edmonton Jewish community as a whole to prepare a Christmas meal for another shelter. “They really wanted to take part in that,” said Caine. “And now we will see what they will come up with next.”
According to Caine, having Merhi-Tarrabain at the Boyle Street Community Services kitchen was beneficial for several reasons, including that she had volunteered there with the girls in the past and had experience. That meant Merhi-Tarrabain could offer tips about what food to bring and how to best help in the food’s preparation and serving.
“Now, some of the parents who were there, they want to initiate more of these things,” said Caine. “And now, we have a better idea of how to do that.”
Both faith groups understand that more such gatherings are necessary before the youth can make lasting connections.
Caine said her synagogue is trying to create a project with another Muslim youth centre in Edmonton and also with one of the city’s churches. “We’re trying to create a program,” she said, “where they will have meetings, talk and learn and do stuff together … hopefully resulting in some real connection-making.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.