A Menorah on the Slopes


by R. Wineberg - WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

December 1, 2002

Jason, a 24 year old Australian ski enthusiast was heading down the slopes one day in the winter of ’95 during a season-long ski stint, when he saw something that made him stop in his tracks and stare. Standing 9-feet tall in the center of Whistler Village, Canada's world famous ski resort was an illuminated menorah. A small crowd was gathered around the menorah, and, as Rabbi Yitzchak Wineberg recalls, “Jason’s first words to us were, ‘Oh my G-d, how did you find me here?’

Jason had grown up in a traditional home in Melbourne and even attended a Jewish day school as a child. But he had since drifted so far that it took the menorah lights in the village square to remind him that it was Chanukah.

Rated in recent years as the top ski destination in North America, Whistler, on the Western edge of Canada, is a two-hour drive from the small Jewish community in Vancouver, and very remote from anything Jewish. It ranks up there with some of the places you’d least expect to find a menorah, but in fact, Chabad has been putting up a menorah and hosting Chanukah celebrations in local hotels for twenty years now. The menorah stands in the center square of Whistler village, at the foot of the mountain, where, for skiers coming off the slopes in the early evening, it is “literally impossible to miss,” says Rabbi Wineberg, director of Chabad of British Columbia.

Over the years, countless Jewish visitors to Whistler have been warmed and inspired by the sight of a Jewish symbol displayed so proudly in the square. Jewish locals—15 Jewish families live here year round--coordinate the lighting of the menorah throughout the holiday, and Chabad Rabbis drive up from Vancouver one night each year for a menorah lighting ceremony.

For Jason, Whistler’s menorah brought back memories of a Jewish tradition that he had all but left behind. Several weeks later, he ended his stay in Whistler and headed back to Australia, fully equipped, says Rabbi Wineberg, with the numbers of local Chabad Rabbis and the determination to reconnect.

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