May 26, 2024
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Yeshiva University’s Torah Tours Reaches Nova Scotia

Hanging up the phone, we felt overwhelmed. “Where even is Halifax?” we typed into our Torah Tours whatsapp group. No answer. Quickly we whipped out our phones, and stunned, we stared at the tiny red dot pinned to the Eastern Coast of Canada on Google Maps. The next few minutes were spent on Google, Wikipedia, Waze, Orbitz and Whatsapp, seeking information, and sharing anything that we could find.

The Aaron and Blanche Schreiber Torah Tours of the Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) is a bi-annual program that sends students from Yeshiva University to Jewish communities throughout the world. Looking to enhance the holiday, whether on Shavuot or Simchat Torah, the group leads dancing, gives over divrei torah, teaches classes, meets with members of the community and provides ruach to a community that might otherwise lack it. Looking for a fun experience, we gathered a group, applied for the program and waited to hear our destination. Dreaming of a sunny holiday and hoping for an interesting location, we received our Halifax assignment. Swapping sandals for Uggs and summer shirts for winter coats on our packing list, we quickly researched our location and crossed our fingers that the journey we would soon embark on would be all that we had hoped for and dreamed about, minus the sun.

Although a steady population of Jews had populated Halifax during the mid 1700s, an organized synagogue was not formally instituted until 1890. Most of the synagogue was destroyed during an explosion in 1917; however, the synagogue’s sifrei torah were able to be salvaged. With a growing Jewish community, after the explosion came the dire need to establish a new synagogue, larger in size, and grander in stature. The Beth Israel Synagogue, built just in time for the High Holiday services of September 1957, became not only the main Jewish center for Haligonians, but soon became our center, and our host for Simchat Torah. The Beth Israel Synagogue’s sanctuary seats 600 people and features a kosher kitchen, classrooms for Hebrew School and a mikvah. Currently, the Beth Israel Synagogue membership consists of 180 families, hosts the only daily minyan East of Montreal and holds regular classes and services for the Jewish community of Halifax.

Aside from it being a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the ability to participate in Torah Tours provides the students of Yeshiva University an experience to give over knowledge and in doing so learn about other communities and their experiences. Rabbi Brander at the Torah Tours orientation spoke about the word “Natan,” famously known for being the palindrome that denotes when you give, you will receive. Torah Tours, while a program that focuses on giving, providing and inspiring, allows students to receive, learn and grow from their experiences. In preparation for our journey, and following extensive phone conversations with Rabbi Kerzner, our group formulated divrei torah to be delivered to the community at different events over the holiday. With our divrei torah and machzorim in hand, we boarded our first of four total flights, from Newark to Boston. Although tired from our early-morning flight, as we boarded flight #2 to Halifax, we were filled with excitement about our upcoming journey. Knowing only the information that we had found from Wikipedia, and the minimal advice given to us by Rabbi Kerzner, we touched down in Halifax, Nova Scotia, looking to give and to inspire.

Rabbi Kerzner, having previously resided in Toronto, had a vision for our group — to teach, to inspire and to create an atmosphere of simcha; they even called us the simcha squad. Each day presented a new challenge; the guys of our group were challenged to be constantly leining, davening and filling in for any task that was needed during tefillah. Although we were challenged, Rabbi Kerzner believed in us, and his belief in our group to step up to each challenging task allowed our group to believe in ourselves, and meet each challenge successfully. In addition to guiding us along our Halifax journey, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kerzner kindly opened their home to our group each and every day. Many days the shul provided meals for the group, usually small, and sometimes strange in choice. Although we packed candy, snacks and backup food, each day we were invited into the Kerzner home for a meal with a substantial amount of food. Each meal at the Kerzner’s and each day at the shul provided an opportunity to give over words of Torah and teach not only members of the community, but also members of our group.

Sitting in Ottawa for five hours after missing our flight home, we watched videos and recollected our trip, but especially our final night in Halifax. Each day in Halifax, the hostess of the girls would constantly talk about Tuesday night; “Tuesday night I’m making a big dinner,” she would say. Sitting down to the table on Tuesday night, we were surprised by the large prepared meal but especially the speech that was given about our group. Highlighting each group member’s strong attributes, and her hopes and dreams for our futures, our hostess spoke of our inspiration and the impact that we had made on the Halifax community. It was at the dinner that we were able to genuinely sit back and realize that not only did our hostess appreciate our group and the simcha that we brought, but also that we did make an impact, and accomplished our goals.

Not knowing where we would be one hour from any given moment, unsure about whether enough men would show up for a minyan and praying that the community would be receptive to our delivered messages were hard, and we struggled with our confusion many times over the trip. Although it was a whirlwind, our experience was nothing less than unforgettable. Filling out a survey just one day following our arrival back in New York, it was easy for our group to unanimously check off the “yes” option of a potential return to our Torah Tours destination. Sitting on the runway en route to Halifax we knew of our preparations, and we were ready to give to the small Jewish community located in Nova Scotia. Prepared to give, it was receiving that we did not expect, but it was a pleasant surprise and an added bonus of our trip. Sometimes it takes a step outside of one’s comfort zone to grow, and sometimes that step is one huge jump into the Eastern tip of Canada, which even Waze struggles to find periodically. Sitting in the Ottawa Airport following our trip and missed flight to New York, it was the memories we had made, the laughs we had shared and our accomplishments that we reminisced about. The worries, the stress and the confusion were forgotten and instead were replaced with amazing memories and life lessons. Experiencing a community unlike the ones we had come from, and learning about the religious journey of each Haligonian, allowed our group to gain perspective on where we are, where we came from and where we want to go. Teaching the community and giving over our own inspiration allowed for us to grow as individuals and strengthen our own beliefs and values. Rabbi Brander spoke about giving and receiving; however, his words did not sink in until our gloves were unpacked, and our passports put away.

Halifax was a mystery to us, a small red dot on the map, if only a new location to be stamped on our passports. The feedback has been tremendous; we’ve been described as inspiring, exciting and full of simcha. While we realize how big of an impact we had on Halifax, we surprisingly walked away with more than we had expected to walk away with originally. With our final goodbyes said, and our last Tim Horton’s cup filled, we left Halifax leaving behind an unaffiliated yet passionate Jewish community. With a new perspective, and some new Facebook friends, we touched down in New York. Excited to be home, we departed LaGuardia airport leaving with not only our luggage, but with unforgettable memories and the knowledge that not only did we impact the lives of many Haligonians, but we were impacted by our once-in-a-lifetime experience as well. Shavuot in Halifax, eh?

By Deena Fuchs, Tamar Landsman, Tamar Fishweicher, Yehuda Avner, Shmuel Wagner 

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