Among the many things I have come to truly appreciate about Ottawa’s Jewish community are the openness, diversity and passion of the opinions I hear.
Not everyone chooses to be vocal publicly, but much can be said with one’s actions. That was made abundantly clear when the community worked together to organize Ottawa’s first-ever community Havdallah service, October 25 at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, to conclude Ottawa’s participation in the special world-wide observance of Shabbat that weekend as part of the Shabbat Project.
It was also a perceptible observation at any of the Israel solidarity gatherings held in Ottawa this past summer: each time, more people attended than were expected by the organizers.
At these events, it’s not uncommon to overhear a version of the oft-quoted witticism, “Ask two Jews a question, and you get three opinions.”
It is a disarming, tongue-in-cheek expression that I have interpreted as essentially encouraging freedom of expression.
In a (somewhat) quiet moment during the reception at the community Havdallah, I met Esther Peters, 32, a congregant of Ohev Yisroel, the Orthodox Synagogue in downtown Ottawa.
Peters said she regularly attends Shabbat services at her congregation with her family and told me what Shabbat means to her.
“Everything is always family-oriented, and very much about God, and [enjoying] a relaxing day,” she said. “We always have a traditional Friday night meal.”
I later chatted with Miriam Haldorsen, another member of the emerging generation, who sometimes attends Shabbat services at Glebe Shul.
“I don’t observe Shabbat regularly, on my own,” said Haldorsen, a nurse who often has to work during Shabbat, but makes a concerted effort to attend when she is off duty.
“It’s sort of something that, to me, is more spiritual [and] family-oriented. It’s about getting people together that you care about and spending time with them,” she said.
“I’m single, I live alone, I have my dog, and it’s a way to go out and get involved. At the same time, you go to these dinners and you meet new people, you find out all these things that are going on,” Haldorsen said, adding that she found out about – and participated in – a Social Action Mission to Israel two years ago after learning about it from people she met at Shabbat dinner.
Haldorsen said she appreciates how “open and welcoming” Glebe Shul is to all. Rabbi Michael Goldstein of Glebe Shul described what could be the result of that environment: “We’re bursting. We have a waiting list every week and we have limited space. We’re overfull, which is amazing.
“I think Shabbat is a universal sort of thing,” he added. “People may not be so enthusiastic about getting up early to sit through services in a language they’re not so familiar with, but Shabbat dinner and community: that’s universal. People love it.”
At first glance, the differences in how both Peters and Haldorsen observe Shabbat appear considerable.
How, and why, one keeps Shabbat is deeply personal. It is a fluid observance, impacted by one’s religious denomination, major life milestones, and the day-to-day chores and routines put in place.
Despite differing approaches of various denominations and individuals, I continue to see a harmonious, multifaceted community embracing its strengths and actively working on its perceived weaknesses.
Both Peters and Haldorsen expressed satisfaction with how they observe Shabbat as it fits within the current constructs of their lives. There is unity in their uniqueness. Solidarity exists within their individuality. Diversity in approach is defining characteristic of the emerging generation.
Ottawa’s Jewish community celebrated both its unity and diversity at Havdallah that night. It was a lighthearted celebration heavy with meaning.
With all of Judaism’s denominations and so many of our community’s organizations so well represented, and with so many individuals in attendance, community events like the Havdallah service send a strong message: we are one.
That diversity, I think, tells a beautiful story about Jewish community.