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HomeNewsLocal representatives give deep dive into PG's rich Jewish history

Local representatives give deep dive into PG’s rich Jewish history

May is Jewish Heritage Month across Canada and Prince George’s steep ties within the community are being recognized once again.

Eli Klasner who is the executive director at Studio 2880 is a member of the local Jewish community.

In an interview with Vista Radio, Klasner says the first Jewish settlers to make their way to the northern capital came well before the 1900s.

“A lot of the settlers in the 1880s and 1890s were Jews escaping from pogroms in Eastern Europe and there was also a significant number of Jews that came up from California for the Gold rush as well.”

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“Some many of our initial businesses in Prince George were actually started and run by Jewish families for decades and decades and the very first Jewish woman to be elected to public office in Canada was right here in Prince George. The very first president of the newly-formed Prince George school district in 1917 was a Jewish woman named Hannah Director.”

“There were so many Jews in Prince George in fact, that we found some photos of a public Passover Seder, which is a big dinner – there were so many that they had to rent a hall somewhere to accommodate everybody and at some point, from the mid 1950’s to the 1970s’ the Jewish started dwindling and they started using the basement of this facility (the Knox Performance Theatre) as their makeshift synagogue.”

According to Klasner, there has never been a synagogue in Northern BC and likely never will be due to a variety of challenges.

“Because it’s such a large geographical area it would be very difficult to sustain a dedicated facility plus there are significant physical requirements for a building to actually be considered a synagogue or what we would call a shul.”

“Even just from a financial perspective to have the money to support a full-time Rabbi and his family and all of the expenses – I think the feeling that I get is how wonderful would it be if we could get the numbers up again and maybe move back into this space.”

Despite some Anti-Semitic comments and attacks made on the Jewish population across the globe, Klasner believes people are becoming more comfortable identifying as a Jew – especially in the past decade.

“There has been a push now or it has been considered OK now to publicly identify as a Jew. Anti-Semitism is still there and the threat of violence exists on a daily basis but hiding that heritage and not being proud of it is not going to help the situation.”

“We need to understand that especially after World War II we had a generation of Holocaust survivors that wanted to hide their Jewish identity. So many Jewish families changed their names so that their names didn’t sound Jewish or people stopped going to synagogues – there was a fear and devastation among the Jewish communities especially the ones that were replenished by refugees from the Holocaust.”

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“The collective experience among Jewish people especially those with a European connection – the Holocaust was part of a long line of events. We acknowledge and understand that anti-Semitism is a disease, it’s a mental illness and may even be something with diabolical origins. Combatting it requires a lot of things – it requires education and openness with other communities to partner and collaborate and to share understanding and culture. But, is anti-Semitism going to go away? I doubt it,” added Klasner.

Prince George city councillor Garth Frizzell has been heavily involved in tackling anti-Semitism for the past several years. It all began through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities making contact with Montreal-based councillor Marvin Rotrand.

Numerous Zoom calls allowed Frizzell to connect to the Jewish community across Canada in relation to Holocaust Remembrance Day and anti-Semitism – one of the campaigns is to get cities and communities to recognize Jewish heritage.

Frizzell mentioned it’s typical but extraordinary of Prince George to see a Christian church open its doors to the Jewish community.

Zoom ahead to 2023, Prince George continues to have a thriving community filled with diversity.

“We have an Islamic centre, we have a flourishing Sikh community and now we have Eli leading and bringing back knowledge about Prince George’s past heritage but also a vision on what the future is going to look like,” added Frizzell.

“They have come from all over the planet to Lheidli T’enneh territory and we are finding ways to work together to help support each other. You don’t see that in the bigger centres, Prince George might be one of the last cities left on the planet where we work together like this.”

Frizzell regularly connects with of B’nai Brith – a Jewish organization committed to the security and continuity of the Jewish people and the State of Israel and combating antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.

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Reverend Bob Fillier echoed Frizzell’s sentiments that PG is a leader on how to best tackle these issues facing the Jewish community.

“I think that is an example of what makes Prince George, Prince George – we don’t wait for someone else to come and do it for us – we figure out how to partner together and build those bridges among commonalities and then go make it happen.”

“There is something about Prince George that makes the space where these types of relationships can form. Then, we can do stuff together that can change the world.”

Prince George Mayor Simon Yu is set to read the proclamation on Jewish Heritage Month Monday evening.

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