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Hebrew School Hits the Road

It’s late Monday evening when Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld loads a half-dozen plastic containers of canvases, crayons, and children’s Hebrew workbooks into his minivan. As directors of British Columbia Regional Hebrew School, he and his wife, Chaya, make the two-hour commute between Vancouver and the small northern mountain town of Whistler, British Columbia, every week so that parents don’t have to. “We’re the only ones crazy enough to do this,” he laughs. 

A tiny village nestled in the Pacific Coast Mountains, Whistler boasts one of North America’s largest ski resorts, glacier-capped peaks, alpine lakes, and exceptional mountain biking trails—but no Jewish community. When Julie Persofsky moved to Whistler from Ontario with her young family just a few years ago, she worried about the isolation. “Our biggest concern was that there weren’t other Jewish families and our children wouldn’t receive a Jewish education,” she says. 

In fact, the Persofskys discovered, they were not alone. As the cost of living in Vancouver has risen, many families have moved far beyond the city limits to small towns and suburbs. While running a summer camp and Hebrew school for Chabad of British Columbia in Vancouver, Rabbi Rosenfeld met families who’d left the city but returned for camp each year. 

“They’d ask me, ‘What can we do for a bat mitzvah?’ ‘How can we keep our children Jewishly engaged?’” he says. “Jewish families kept moving to the outlying areas but lacked access to basic Jewish resources.”

Then, in 2018, a group of Israeli families in Langley, some thirty-two miles southeast of the city, asked the Rosenfelds to run a weekly program for eighteen local children. 

The Rosenfelds—together with an ever-expanding team of teachers and volunteers—began packing up the BC Regional Hebrew School week after week, bringing their engaging program to rented classrooms in remote communities. Today, their traveling school serves twenty-five children in Langley, fifty children in Port Coquitlam, twenty-five in central Vancouver, and twenty-two in Whistler and neighboring Squamish—over one hundred and twenty in all.

But numbers alone don’t tell the full story. When the Hebrew school came to town, Jewish families who had lived alongside one another for years met for the first time. “There had never been any center for Jewish life in these towns,” the rabbi says. “We saw whole communities come together.” Sure enough, within three years of opening their program in Port Coquitlam, the parents and grandparents they’d met asked for a permanent Jewish center in the town. 

In November 2022, Rabbi Mottel and Nechama Gurevitz opened Chabad of Coquitlam. “It started with Hebrew school,” Rabbi Gurevitz says, “but it’s become a real community.” Already the couple hosts Shabbat meals for forty local Jews and a weekly Torah class alongside the Hebrew school.

In Whistler, a group of parents asked Rabbi Rosenfeld for a weekly Torah class of their own, and the many eager volunteers have made the Hebrew school a hub of Jewish activity.

In all four locations, the parent body is as diverse as American Jewry. Still, they share a common desire to pass their Jewish identity on to the next generation. “We were so excited when the Hebrew School opened here,” says Julie Persofsky, whose two children attended the Whistler location this past year. “It’s incredible to see them come home with crafts they’ve made. At the Seder table this year, they all used Seder plates they made in school—that was meaningful.”

“All of a sudden, our kids are getting a Jewish education alongside peers their age,” she says. “It’s been wonderful.” 

Dan Anolik moved to Squamish with his wife and young daughter shortly before the 2022-2023 school year. Like Persofsky, he worried that his children wouldn’t find Jewish friends in the area. “Moving here was tough for my daughter. She felt like the only Jew in town.” Anolik says. “But when she first stepped into the Hebrew school classroom, it looked familiar, and it was like a load came off her. She jumped right in, and all three of us shed a little tear of joy. “


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