Chabad of Vancouver Island Rabbi Meir and Rebbetzin Chani Kaplan at the Aug. 23 groundbreaking. (photo from lubavitch.com)
Announced in April 2014, Chabad’s plans to build a centre in Victoria proved a relevant and exciting development for locals. The day after he shared his vision with the community, Chabad of Vancouver Island’s Rabbi Meir Kaplan got a call from a local woman. “I was up all night thinking about how much the building will change Jewish life on the Island for my daughter, compared to the way it was when I was growing up,” she told the rabbi.
Two hundred and fifty guests turned out to celebrate the groundbreaking of the centre on Sunday, Aug. 23, and all that represents for the Jewish community led by Kaplan and his wife Chani. Then-prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, sent greetings: “The new larger Chabad, with its expanded facilities for worship, study and family activities, will help meet the needs of your growing community for many years to come. I commend everyone responsible for making this day possible.”
His words were echoed by many who joined, among them Mayor Lisa Helps, members of Parliament and the Legislature.
“The vision was ours, but so many helped us bring it to fruition,” said Kaplan, grateful for the steady support of local community members. Ahead of the groundbreaking, various individuals offered to participate in the fundraising campaign and share their enthusiasm with others.
George Gelb escaped Hungary with his family in 1956, and was welcomed into Canada. In retrospect, he was impressed that his parents sought out a synagogue in Toronto after surviving Auschwitz. When they later moved to Vancouver Island, they discovered the Kaplans and found a family in Chabad. “This is the second synagogue in 150 years on Vancouver Island,” he said, referring to Congregation Emanu-El, which was built in 1863. “It’s a very historic event that I feel really quite privileged to participate in. It’s sort of like carrying on a family legacy.”
The projected $3.5 million project is slated for completion in time for the 2016 High Holidays. The building plot at 2995 Glasgow St. is located on a quiet street, close to a popular area park. It will be a home to a library, an industrial-sized kosher kitchen, new offices, synagogue, community hall and a mikvah, giving Chabad the ability to expand all of its current projects and begin new ones, according to the community’s needs. It will also include a facility for the Jewish preschool and Hebrew school, currently housed in the annex of a local school building.
“History is in the making as we gather in this place at this moment. You are now an integral part of this auspicious and historic occasion,” said community member Lindy Shortt at the groundbreaking event. “The Centre for Jewish Life and Learning, Chabad of Vancouver Island and the Kaplan family will be right here for you and your children and your children’s children, G-d willing, for generations to come.”
The building’s east wall, facing a main street, will feature a permanently illuminated menorah. Dedicated by the sponsors to victims of the Holocaust, it promises to radiate Jewish pride and raise the profile of Jewish life on the Island, proving yet again, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, insisted, that living as a Jew is possible and relevant everywhere. Even on an island.
The original version of this article was published on lubavitch.com. The version here has been edited to reflect the time that has passed since the orginal’s publication on Aug. 26, as well as a local readership.