The Development of the Okanagan Jewish Community
The Okanagan Jewish Community began in the 1970s with a small group of Jewish “immigrants” to the lovely Okanagan Valley. By the early ’80s, the congregation consisted of roughly 10-15 families, led by Rabbi Emil Klein. Together, the Jews of the Okanagan celebrated Jewish holidays and occasional Shabbats in private homes, event spaces, or church halls. Our first permanent endeavour was to purchase a cemetery space in order to meet the future burial needs of our members.
In the late ’80s, Mr. Mel Kotler, a newcomer from Montreal via Calgary, joined our congregation. Mel quickly became a leader in the Jewish community and throughout the greater Okanagan. He recognized that as our numbers grew, so did our need for a permanent home. Mel was instrumental in raising funds to purchase pews, an ark, and Torah scrolls from the Jewish community in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, as well as ultimately orchestrating the construction of the Okanagan Jewish Community Centre in North Glenmore.
That building is still the heart of our congregation, and houses a sanctuary, social hall, kitchen, office, library, and a non-denominational day care facility. It was dedicated on October 18, 1992, in the presence of community members and many local and provincial dignitaries.
Since that time, the OJC has functioned as a non-denominational Jewish community, providing Shabbat and Jewish festival services, holiday events, and a Hebrew school. In addition, we host a variety of cultural events open to the general public, including concerts and film screenings, along with commemorative events.
In the years since Rabbi Klein’s retirement, we have benefitted from leadership encompassing all degrees of the Jewish denominational spectrum. The OJC has had the good fortune to host visiting rabbis, cantors, student rabbis, and lay leaders from Conservative, Reform, and unaffiliated congregations, including participating in Gesher HaHar – Bridging Mountains with Congregation Beth Tzedec of Calgary.
The Okanagan has seen extensive growth in recent years, and the Okanagan Jewish Community is growing proportionately, too. With this influx of new ideas and an increased vibrancy, we look forward to seeing what the future has in store for our congregation!