Rabbi Meir Kaplan and his 3-year-old son Sholom Ber Kaplan check out the new Chabad Centre for Jewish Life and Learning on Glasgow Street, near Topaz Park, in Victoria on Aug. 24. (photo from Darren Stone, Times Colonist)
A new centre for Jewish worship, study and community engagement opened in Victoria Aug. 24, as the ribbons were cut on the Chabad Centre for Jewish Life and Learning.
The 10,000-square-foot building, at 2955 Glasgow St., across from Topaz Park, includes a synagogue, Hebrew school, library, kosher kitchen and daycare. The $3 million facility was designed by Victoria architect Bradley Shuya.
It’s the first new synagogue to open on Vancouver Island in more than 150 years. Congregation Emanu-El, at 1461 Blanshard St., opened its doors in Victoria in 1863, and is recognized as the oldest synagogue in continuous use in Canada.
The Chabad Centre follows a different tradition of worship than the modern community engagement of Congregation Emanu-El. According to the Chabad of Vancouver Island website, its style of worship arose about 250 years ago in Russia and is part of the Chassidic tradition.
Rabbi Meir Kaplan, director of Chabad of Vancouver Island and of the new centre, said it should not be understood as an organization for strict Orthodox Jews.
Kaplan noted that, while he wears a beard and some visible elements of traditional Jewish garb, attendees at the Chabad Centre are just as likely to dress according to their own tastes.
“All are welcome,” he said. “And that is who our community is made of – it’s not only for Chassidic Jews.”
The group behind the Chabad Centre is Chabad of Vancouver Island, which had its roots in the Kaplan household. About 10 years ago, activities were moved into the Quadra Elementary School annex, where the Jewish Education Centre was established.
The Chabad tradition has functioned on an “outreach” model for about 60 years, looking to connect with those who wish to learn about Jewish life and teachings, Kaplan said.
That makes it difficult for him to identify the number or size of the congregation – it doesn’t function as a distinct group but more as an agency forever looking outward.
Kaplan, who was born in Israel, was sent to Victoria with his wife, Chani, about 13 years ago. Since then, Chabad has gained enough supporters to start a separate synagogue, initially in rented premises and now in the new centre.
“What I am most proud of is this was built by the whole community,” Kaplan said. “It wasn’t just one person, but various members of the Jewish community supported us financially and in other ways.
“It’s an open centre for Jewish life.”
– This article is reprinted with the permission of the Times Colonist