September 20, 2001
Good Things, Small Packages
Can a tiny Jewish community of no more than 50, in a Canadian province of 180,000, find happiness and Judaism during the High Holy Days? If you're one of the Jews of Prince Edward Island, the answer is a definite yes.
One of Canada's prettiest, smallest and poorest provinces, Prince Edward Island is really something to see. Stunning beaches dot the landscape, some encircled by the iron-rich red clay cliffs that give the island its distinctive look. Natural habitats abound. There are 20 golf courses serving residents and tourists, including many Americans who flock to this part of Eastern Canada during the summer months.
There is no synagogue, mind you -- the only Canadian province not to have at least one. Yet the island Jews make do as best they can. One veteran community member, Joe Naylor, even manages to keep kosher. Quite a feat, seemingly, but local stores like the Sobey's grocery chain have been stocking the required kosher foods at Passover. Naylor and his wife, Jane, bring a freezer-full of kosher meat in from Montreal once a year. A regional kosher farmer's cheese is not marked as such, but a rabbi in Halifax, Nova Scotia, keeps a vigilant eye on its production.
The first recorded Jewish settler arrived at the turn of the 20th century and, Naylor reveals, a newspaper reported that the Jews of Charlottetown, the capital, celebrated Passover in 1908.
In 1998, when Naylor was presented with the Atlantic Jewish Council's Community Service Award, he noted in his acceptance speech that "Jews don't come to Prince Edward Island for 'Yiddishkayt.'"
While many Jewish islanders are older and include several noted authors, young Jews are in evidence on the island as well.
Oliver Sauve, 18, and his girlfriend, Aislin, 19, have been dating during their years at Bluefield High School.
Oliver's family operates the intimate Landmark Cafe in quaint Victoria-by-the-Sea. Oliver can be found at the cafe during the summers, a prominent Star of David hanging around his neck as he waits tables.
This fall, they will both attend the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, where Oliver plans to study psychology and anthropology, while exploring his options for a career in criminology elsewhere. He says, however, that there isn't a future for him and Aislin on the island.
"I'd love to keep our house here and return often," he said. "But island life isn't too exciting. I've seen very little of it so far, but it's a big world out there, and I want to experience it. I really want to see Israel someday. My girlfriend went and loved it."
Since 1996, Rabbi David Ellis has taken care of the islanders' spiritual needs. Ellis services the smaller maritime communities from his base at the Atlantic Jewish Council, in Halifax. In addition to performing a bar mitzvah on the island that year, Ellis also led High Holy Days services.
"We held the services at a B&B, and it was really unique," Ellis said. "We even went down to the ocean for Tashlich," the service at the end of Rosh Hashanah when Jews cast away their sins.
The rabbi pointed out that the tiny community is unique in other ways.
"Although the people are not that observant, they come at Judaism from an intellectual point of view," he said. "They have had a study group for a number of years.
"What's especially nice is that Prince Edward Island's community members look out for one another. If someone is sick, everyone goes to the hospital to visit."