I am back from Calgary, having enjoyed myself more than I thought, and burdened with far more guilt than I bargained for.

Scholar in residence gigs can go either way. Calgary being somewhat off the beaten path for an Angelino, I had no idea what to expect, other than wishing that they had invited me in August when I would have driven to the Canadian Rockies, rather than on the weekend that the city tried to disprove the notion of global warming. Temperatures got up to a balmy one degree, and there was fresh snow on the ground. As a former New Yorker, I can appreciate snow, as long as I don’t have to shovel it.

Truth be told, Calgary is a lovely community, and the universal warmth of its people completely compensated for the vertically challenged mercury column. I would have been loath to call it a frontier town, but some of the residents did. Calgary is on the cusp of becoming a second capital of Canada, the capital of the Canadian West. The province of Alberta is oil country, and it is enjoying a frontier-style boom. Three thousand new residents arrive each month, vastly overtaxing the infrastructure, but not the geography. There is plenty of empty space. There is plenty of economic opportunity in such an environment, but don’t expect gunslingers roaming the street. (Deer yes; gunslingers, no.) In fact, the boom hasn’t changed the demeanor of the residents – friendly, helpful, courteous. Almost like they got stuck in the ‘50’s. A real pleasure. The winter chill is offset not only by the people, but by abundant sunlight, clear skies, and scenic beauty.

Congregation House of Jacob – Mikveh Israel reminded me about an aspect of the tenacity of Orthodoxy that I had long forgotten. Having grown up in a generation in which twelve years plus of formal Jewish education was a given for all flavors of Orthodoxy – left, right, and center – I had long ago discounted the viability of anything less. Calgary is a counterexample. It has families that have maintained core Orthodox practice for several generations, even with children attending public high schools. Shabbos, kashrus are transmitted faithfully. To be sure, it was easier in previous decades, when the competing culture was not as pervasive and not as destructive. Some of the families now worry whether their children will fall prey to intermarriage, despite their strong admonitions. Others have bitten the bullet, and send their kids away for high school. (The day school only runs through eight grade.) On the other hand, the number of people running community organizations who identify with Orthodoxy reminded me of Baltimore. I would not have expected it in Calgary. The proud vitality of Calgary’s Orthodox bears testimony to the strength the Jewish soul takes from some of the key practices of Torah life.

I am not suggesting for a moment that this is enough. Calgary has a dedicated young couple – Rabbi Zev (Telshe Chicago, Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky, and Ner Israel Kollel trained) and Hindi Friedman – to offer it more. Here is where my trouble started. We got into an argument about the children. They expressed some reservations about whether they were doing enough for their children. I countered that they were doing more for their kids than they could realize; that the stats show (I seemed to recall – I hope I remembered correctly) that children who grow up in far-flung communities actually wind up stronger and more committed than those in frum metropolitan areas. I challenged them to find a single danger item in Faranak Margolese’s Off the Derech that would apply to their kids. Their children would have to think through their Yiddishkeit from an early age, rather than take it for granted, and even learn how to communicate it to others. The Friedmans make sure that their kids gain exposure to peers from more typical Torah communities by trips to Montreal and through summer camp.

The argument set off pangs of guilt. They had done something that I had never had the guts to do: spend years of time as a real Torah pioneer. They are taking advantage of the relative freedom of choice in the years that kids are young enough to be versatile, and translating it into an incredible gift to Klal Yisrael. (Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l used to tell us not to worry so much about the quality of the elementary school, or whether it was coed, etc. – until high school.) Think of what could be accomplished if more couples heeded the call to serve in communities that could benefit from an infusion of Torah enthusiasm.

If the experience of many American cities is an example, Calgary’s next move should be a kollel. Enough people in Calgary understand that, and are desperately trying to make it happen. The money is there. The room is rented. The rosh kollel and his crew, however, have still not been found. Apparently, for some people looking to be adventuresome in their kollel years, Staten Island is a move far-off enough.

There are always young couples eager to combine years of learning with making a deep impact on an area ripe for change. I hope some of them find their way to the Canadian West. What would await them is a wonderful, wholesome community, and an opportunity to spread the wealth to thousands of more Jews.

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14 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    The amount of building going on due the economic boom is overwhelming and will likely change the face of the community (but don’t you love the major roads being called trails.)

    I think you put your finger on a key issue that is not the focus of major public discussion – that, as R’ JB Soloveitchik ZT”L often emphasized, we are judged both as individuals and as members of the kahal (community). It seems (and this is even “in-town”) we need to think more about the proper balance.


  2. Dr. E says:

    I would suggest that an organization create a system where a “SWAT Team” of 5-10 young couples and families could be sent to such communities may be a good thing. The term of the arrangement could be fixed for say three years. That would serve to attract idealistic couples, without having to be worried about the commitment and the toll that it would take on the children chinuch-wise (notwithstanding Rabbi Adlerstein’s point of having a positive advantage in that regard).

    While not ideal from a continuity perspective, communities like these should benefit in the long-term. And who knows, some may decide to make it work within the infrastructure and stay for longer than 3 years.

  3. Nelson Halpern says:

    I am one of those Calgary residents who is “stuck in the 50’s” and who has maintained core orthodox values in a small community. Sharing divrei torah from a scholar such as Rabbi Adlerstein is the fire that keeps me and my family going. I will remain charged until his next visit in the summer where we will give him a guided tour of the rockies. We are serious about the Kolel and invite all who are curious about how yiddishkeit survives outside of Brooklyn.

  4. Toby Katz says:

    I seem to remember hearing something about people who work for the Klal having a bracha with their children. I was born in Danville VA and later spent the best years of my childhood in Newport News, VA, where my father zt’l was the rabbi of the Orthodox shul. The day school (which he started) had about eight kids per grade, boys and girls, and only went through fifth grade. When I finished fifth grade my family moved “back” to New York. I say “back” in quotation marks because NY was home for my parents, but never felt like home to me. I was homesick for Virginia for many years.

    As children in Newport News, we were very proud of our parents and felt very special being the rabbi’s kids. We had all kinds of people at our table every Shabbos and got used to people from all walks of life and every shade of observance or non-observance. We used to have Jewish soldiers from nearby Fort Eustis come to us, too. That was very exciting, Jewish men in uniform.

    When we moved to NY the adjustment was very difficult, because I was way behind my peers in Bais Yakov in terms of my learning. It took me about three years to catch up in limudei kodesh, and it took me even longer to get used to NY ways. Everybody talked so fast, and people were so rude!

    Of course eventually I grew to love NY and now that I live in Florida, I miss it. But I think I was very fortunate to have had that experience of being an out-of-towner and a kiruv kid. We grew up feeling very inspired and never jaded, as some New Yorkers seemed to be. We were used to people with doubts and questions, people who did not share our religious beliefs, and that only strengthened us. They didn’t influence us but gave us practice in answering doubts and questions and confronting real issues. We also lost the natural shyness that kids have around strangers, especially when they have grown up in an insular and homogeneous community. A wide variety of friendships was a side benefit of our parents’ life. Also, out-of-towners tend to have better midos and to be more refined, courteous and eidel than New Yorkers. We never really learned how to be rude and pushy. That was yet another benefit of our out-of-town childhood.

    Of course when it comes to the teen years and boy-girl friendships, schooling becomes a major issue. At that point parents either have to move to a larger Jewish community with good high schools, or have to send their children away, which is a real sacrifice and hardship, on the kids and on the parents. Chabad sheluchim do it all the time, and kol hakovod to them, but I wouldn’t be willing to live in a town with no high school during my kids’ teen years.

  5. Noam Stadlan says:

    I grew up in a number of “small” Jewish communities. I have absolutely no knowledge of the Calgary community, but based on what you have written and my experience, is it possible that you are underestimating the value of the Calgary community? especially when you write that

    “I am not suggesting for a moment that this is enough. Calgary has a dedicated young couple – Rabbi Zev (Telshe Chicago, Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky, and Ner Israel Kollel trained) and Hindi Friedman – to offer it more.”

    I am sure that the Rabbi and his Rebbitzin are wonderful people, but does the future of the Calgary community really hinge on this one couple that doesn’t even hail from Calgary? Is the community really that frail?

    As for a Kollel, Obviously more Torah and more young couples is a tremendous asset. However, is there data that shows that having a kollel is the “next step”? How about a high school?

  6. MS says:

    I think that Rabbi Adlerstein may have hit upon a missing piece of the yeshiva puzzle – practicum/residency/internship programs. You can not become a doctor before being a resident. You can not become a lawyer before articling. Why not institute a similar program in yeshivas and seminaries? Before being considered for a permanent rabbinical placement, yeshiva graduates need to spend 2-3 years in an internship program in a community like Calgary. They will quickly learn a great deal about community life and will get the hands-on experience that is so hard to learn in school. The community will benefit from having some new blood and from the passion for learning that most new graduates possess.

  7. Jewish Observer says:

    “children who grow up in far-flung communities actually wind up stronger and more committed than those in frum metropolitan areas”

    – yes, but not as yeshivish

  8. Lea Schecter says:

    As the parents of Hindi (Schecter)Friedman,and in-laws
    to Rabbi Zev Friedman- we are very proud of our children and the wonderful kiruv work they have done in calgary. Even hough they are not born calgarians they have learned to love the calgary community.
    Where are other dedicated young couples who would help by establishing a Calgary Kollel? As Rabbi Adlerstein noted- the funding is there.
    We feel there are limitations to how much our children can give to the community. Their children’s chinuch must be their first priority.P.S. the children’s jewish school is only till grade six not grade eight.

  9. Avraham Y. Rappaport says:

    It is an honor and privalege to be the brother-in-law of Rabbi Zev and Hindy Friedman, the dedicated and respected relentless leaders of the Calgary Orthodox community. Having the opportunity to spend Pesach a couple years ago with my wife and children in Calgary with our family there (and actually performing a few Brissim while there!)I can personally testify to the inspiring growth of the community both on an individual and communal level and both in Ruchniyus (spiritually) and Gashmius (materialistically). Living in another beautiful small town Kiruv community of Olney, Maryland (between Baltimore and Silver Spring)for about five years, although I grew up in the large and unique Frum community of Baltimore, I feel that my family and I are growing in our avodah much more so than if we would be in a larger community. One can never loose sight of the Siyata Dishmaya that’s necessary anywhere and always, but for one to say, “if I move far out my children will suffer (and chas vishalom if they are not yeshivish according to the Jewish Observers standards!) where’s the Jewish source for that! Ultimately, the schools and Shul’s are vital, but more importantly now adays is the Torah Home!!
    Calgary has the money, the desire and the infastrucure for a beautiful Kollel. Having seen a lot of communities across the U.S. and Canada and having gone through the “Kiruv training” classes in Eretz Yisroel I can only urge all the young couples to take an honest open-minded look into this Calgary opportunity. I promise, you can live in Calgary and still be yeshivish (if that’s your big concern!) And guess what? 6 additional young frum families will help the school and the community grow exponentially! Please feel free to contact me with further questions about the Calgary community. ([email protected])

  10. Rabbi Pinchas Hayman says:

    I found Rabbi Adlerstein’s comments about Calgary meaningful and inspiring. My wife Shoshana and I had the tremendous privilege of serving the Calgary Orthodox community from 1979 – 1987. It was our first pulpit, and in addition to the life long friends we gained there, it provided us with professional experience and enrichment far beyond anything we would have received in a large Jewish community. All phases of community life intertwine with a Rabbinate in a small town, and an Orthodox Rabbi in a small community does not have the luxury of exempting himself from contacts, situations or halachic queries with which he does not feel comfortable. I recommend to all Rabbinic students to article or apprentice in a small town – but not only for their own benefit. By serving in a small community, young Rabbis have the privilege of contributing their unique energy to saving Jewish souls from the oblivion of assimilation. Just do it!!

    Pinchas Hayman
    Elkana, Israel

  11. Moishe Schecter says:

    I too have had the honor and pleasure of spending shabbos in Calgary with the Rabbi & Mrs. Friedman.The impact they are having on the community is truly amazing! No wonder so many people are moving to Calgary! With the growth and economic oppurtunities, there will definetly be an upswing in the jewish population too. The time is ripe for young kollel men and their wives, who are looking to make a difference in Torah Judaism, to take this oppurtunity. Looking forward to spending more Shabbosim in Calgary, hopefully this time I can make the Cholent for the Kollel too! Moshe Schecter

  12. Rivkie Schecter, Chicago, IL says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Adlerstein, for your beautiful article! We have always been very proud of our Rabbi and Rebbetzin Zev and Hindy Friedman for their trailblazing mesiras nefesh for the Calgary Jewish Community, but reading your eloquent words, reenforced our pride! Thank you for publicizing what our family has long known and appreciated about them, and may this be the publicity that will bring about the expansion of the Orthodox Jewish community in Calgary!

  13. Zvi says:

    “children who grow up in far-flung communities actually wind up stronger and more committed than those in frum metropolitan areas”

    – yes, but not as yeshivish

    Comment by Jewish Observer — February 12, 2007 @ 10:18 pm.

    What could possibly be more important than commitment and faith i.e. Emunah? If being “yeshivish” is something different than that, then it can be summed up as a crippling ignorance and close-mindedness.

  14. Raymond says:

    Calgary sounds nice, but how could anybody live there when it is so cold? In fact, I do not understand how anybody can live anywhere except for warm, temperate climates like Los Angeles.

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