Michael Sachs, left, and Rabbi Levi Varnai of the Bayit. (photo from Michael Sachs)
The Bayit, a small shul in Richmond, is seeing a resurgence. The increase in attendance and birth of new programming seems to be due to the growth of young Jewish families. Rabbi Levi Varnai, who took his post at the Bayit in July of this year, said their Shabbat morning services are busy and full, and a recent dinner welcomed 80 people to the shul, which only has 42 chairs.
Though Varnai is himself a Chabad rabbi, the shul is not affiliated with any denomination and stresses its inclusivity.
“There is a huge movement of young families into Richmond,” Varnai told the Independent. “We are not here to compete with the existing shuls, which are doing a great job. We are here to make a place for young families who haven’t yet found their place in the Richmond Jewish community.”
Varnai was born in Vancouver, but his family made aliyah in 2000. After yeshivah, he was drafted into the Israel Defence Forces and became an army chaplain, since he had semichah (ordination). In 2011, he married his wife Rivky, the daughter of Rabbi Shaul and Chaya Brocha Leiter, who run Ascent, a hostel in Tzfat known for its classes on Jewish mysticism. The couple moved to Vancouver in 2013 and have three children: Mendel, Shmuli and Chaya.
Children are a very important part of their vision for the synagogue. They have Shabbat programs for kids and are planning an afterschool program which will be a club featuring a number of fun, hands-on activities, like baking and arts and crafts, imbued with Jewish culture. The shul is currently preparing for Rosh Hashanah and, on Sept. 18, gathered to decorate family honey jars. “We aim to make this place a dynamic centre for young families and, so far, there is a lot of energy and interest,” said Varnai.
According to its website, the Bayit has the only kosher mikvah in Richmond.
Michael Sachs is the current president of the synagogue. He and his family moved to Richmond in January 2015, priced out of the Vancouver market, and has since been instrumental in the Bayit’s rebirth.
“My favorite thing is probably our Carlebach-style Friday night services,” said Sachs. “One thing that I really love is the difference we are making in people’s lives, either with help finding housing or support during hard times … we are there, with our local Jewish partners, for the Richmond community.”
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.