Believe it or not, I have been asked how Jewish our Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) is. Are we really fulfilling our mandate to be a centre for the Jewish community of Ottawa?
Normally, I would respond defensively and quote the stats. We have more Jewish members than non-Jewish members. We are the only Jewish community centre in Canada, and one of the few in North America, that is still closed on Shabbat. We offer Jewish learning to people of all ages. Pirkei Avot is taught in our Ganon Preschool. Jewish learning is available for adults on a variety of topics. We have programs for Jewish youth. We plan Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebrations and the Israeli Film Festival. We are one of the only places in Ottawa where a Jewish person can enjoy a male- or female-only swim. The list goes on.
I suppose I should ask some questions of those people questioning the Jewishness of the SJCC. How many of the SJCC’s diverse programs do they attend? Are they, themselves, members of the SJCC? Maybe I should simply ask them what, in their opinion, would make the SJCC more Jewish? Who is a Jew? Who are they comparing us to on the “Jewish” scale?
I don’t believe we have to compare our SJCC to any other institution. We only need to compare ourselves to how we did yesterday – and work to make tomorrow better.
At the time of writing this article, Passover has passed and we are looking forward to celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut. We recall the story of leaving Egypt, but we neglect to remember the early accounts of the Land of Israel. The 12 spies who returned from Canaan gave Moses and the people of Israel conflicting reports about the Promised Land – how the information was shared did not promote the Land of Israel as the future home of the Jewish people.
It was decades later that Joshua sent different community members to gather information about the Promised Land. Although the land wasn’t perfect, and it would need some work, the same hills, desert, valleys, trees, etc. that were seen by the earlier community members would now be promoted as the future for our people.
Today, our Soloway Jewish Community Centre is not perfect. But, to accomplish great things, we must not only dream, but also act. We must not only plan, but we must also believe that our SJCC is the centre of our Jewish community.
We must be more like Joshua than the spies when we talk about our SJCC. We are not perfect, but, if you only have time to say three things, choose to say three positive things.
We should be proud that our SJCC is open to the greater community of Ottawa. We should be proud that our SJCC’s Ganon Preschool – which teaches Pirkei Avot, Jewish holidays and Hebrew along with French and English – is so amazing that many non-Jews want their child’s education to start here. We should be proud that, within our walls, Jews from different streams of Judaism can meet and discuss religion, politics and sports with each other – and with non-Jews. We should be proud that our fitness facility and pool are so welcoming that people become members knowing our SJCC is closed on Saturdays to celebrate Shabbat. We should be proud of our SJCC for so many reasons.
There are still people in our community who recall a time when Jews were not allowed to join certain clubs in Ottawa. Jewish children were called names when playing sports with non-Jewish friends. We should be proud that we are open to everyone who shares our Jewish community feeling – just as Avraham’s tent was an open and welcoming place to all.
Be proud of our SJCC. Become a member and support Jewish community activities that take place here. And tell everyone you meet about all of the amazing things happening at the centre of our community.