Chabad Rabbis Awarded Queen's Gold Medal


by S. Olidort - TORONTO, CANADA

December 20, 2002

"The commemorative medal for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee was created to mark the 50th anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty to the Throne in February 1952," reads the award presented to Rabbi Israel Landa, Chabad representative to the Israeli community of Thornhill, Ontario. "It is awarded," it continues, "to those persons who, like you, have made a significant contribution to Canada, their community, or to their fellow Canadians."

The medal's effect, though aimed at recognizing Chabad's activities, also granted validity to an entire sector of the Jewish community that had previously been unacknowledged. And it came as no surprise that this major step up for the immigrant community of roughly 30,000 people (one third of the area's general Jewish population) came through Rabbi Landa, who, community members are quick to point out, provided the Hebrew-speaking people here with a true home away from home.

When he arrived here with his wife some thirteen years ago, the local community was having a rough time integrating the Israelis with their Canadian Jewish counterparts, says Rabbi Landa. Determined not to let a small but growing Israeli populace fall by the wayside, he got to work creating a close-knit Israeli community that included people from every stripe of Israeli life, secular, religious and everywhere in between.

"People here weren't comfortable with the routines of Jewish life in North America," says Rabbi Landa. "They weren't used to what was being offered here." So the Landas set about simulating an Israeli-style community in this Canadian city, while drawing attention to issues of concern that might go unnoticed in Israel. "Our aim is twofold," says Rabbi Landa, "we have created a place for people to feel at home, like in Israel, and they do. But at the same time we use the opportunity to make them aware that being Israeli isn't enough to build a Jewish home, not in Canada."

Israeli traffic, notes Rabbi Landa, is enough to remind even the most secular Jew about Yom Kippur. And non-observance doesn't keep Israeli children from knowing what Shabbat is, in a country where the legal off-day is Saturday. In Canada, as elsewhere in the Diaspora, the threat to one's Jewish identity is greater than in Israel, and Landa makes a point of talking to the Israelis about the importance of nurturing this identity through increased involvement in religious and communal activities.

Services for the Israeli community are held daily, Israeli-style, and draw some one hundred people on a typical Shabbat. As many as 25 people attend weekly classes for discussions on the Parshah, Kabbalah, or Chasidut, all in Hebrew, and holiday events are also a main feature of the Landas' activities here; some three hundred people participated at this year's Chanukah event. Rabbi Landa's weekly slot on an Israeli radio station in the area and his column in the local Israeli paper help spread word about Chabad's activities here, drawing newcomers, as well as those who have lived here for years without any affiliation.

For Mr. Henry Silberman, a native of Israel, being Jewish meant preserving Israeli culture and the Hebrew language, and he sent his children to a local Hebrew School in the hopes of securing both. Instead his children came home asking to hear the sounding of the shofar, and Silberman took them to Chabad, on the advice of a friend. Here he realized that involvement in an active Jewish community was more crucial to Jewish continuity even than Hebrew fluency. In the ten years since, Henry and his wife Iris have become regulars at services and activities here, and staunch supporters of Rabbi Landa. "Israelis are tough clientele," notes Henry, "but the Landas are matching that toughness with an openness that draws everyone in.” Having recently purchased land, plans are in the making for the building of a center that will serve as the home base for all Chabad's activities for the local Israeli community, providing them with a home all their own.

The Queen's medal was awarded as well to Rabbi Zalman Aharon Grossbaum, director of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in Ontario, in recognition of his many years of dedicated service to Ontario's community.

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