Imagine what a Jewish Community Centre can provide for Edmonton

When our family was considering a move to Edmonton from London, Ontario, the first place I visited in the city was the Jewish Community Centre (JCC). I wanted to know where the community was and how to meet people. A JCC, to us, was the central community ‘address’, and we have frequently heard from newcomers inquiring where the JCC and ‘community are’.  

While we have endeavored to provide programming through a JCC without walls, the concept is limited and we have heard a consistent call for a building, a secular and central community gathering space. We estimate that of the 5,690 Jews as identified by the 2021 census, only about 25 per cent affiliate to a synagogue. With a secular space, there would be more opportunities for collaboration, connectivity, engagement, and informal interactions. As our young adult group Genesis has shown, we frequently encounter young adults who do not know how to connect with the community but are grateful to do so at this point in time.   

Let us imagine a few scenarios that this building can provide…  

A new mom and baby attend a Shalom Baby drop-in session in the multipurpose room. They take advantage of the nice weather and walk out to the playground up the street. They return to the building and enjoy a lunch time yoga class.  

With Holocaust education mandated in the upcoming curriculum, we can establish a mini museum and resource centre. Volunteers act as docents. School groups visit the centre. They visit the multipurpose room for discussions and view cultural displays from the Jewish Archives & Historical Society of Edmonton. There are banners in the space that have further information.   

A newcomer to Edmonton shows up to ‘find out about the community’ as I had done 16 years ago. As they leave the building, they see the school group coming through and asking about volunteer opportunities.   

Jewish Family Services offers counselling in a dedicated office space and workshops to the community for grief and loss, or general discussion groups about concerns and fears we are facing right now as a community. People stay to enjoy coffee, take in a dance class, or volunteer for a chesed project.   

Imagine the teens from Ross Sheppard and Jasper Place high schools taking the bus to the building after school. They meet up with their friends and hang out in the teen lounge before their BBYO program. Some stay an additional hour to offer babysitting to kids whose parents are taking part in an Israeli sing along.   

We invite the students from Archbishop MacDonald High School, which is next door, to come and volunteer with our teens to make sandwiches together for the Interfaith ministry lunch at the Bissell Centre. They visit the teen space where they hang out together after.   

The National Council of Jewish Women uses a swing office and books a meeting space to have a planning session for a community wide winter clothing drive. People drop off throughout the month. The Shalom Baby and Israeli sing along parents, workshop participants, teens, and newcomers come together to sort the donations in the multipurpose room.   

In January and February, we partition the multipurpose room on Sunday mornings where teens hold a hamsa making workshop for PJ aged kids on one side and toddlers have indoor playtime on another side. We then open it to welcome anyone who wants to watch classic films projected onto a large screen in the room. Israeli circle dancing is open to anyone who wants to join Sunday evening.   

The Federation assigned the Facilities and Space Committee to make a recommendation to the board about urgent space needs, in response to the facility plan in the 2022-25 strategic plan. They have diligently established a set of weighted criteria to evaluate objectively all options. The 14205-109 Avenue facility met many of them by a long shot, with a high score that outranked all other options, while also being fiscally prudent. With $5.6 million invested from the proceeds of the sale of the former JCC, this would allow for a purchase and renovations without borrowing funds. This building is immediately available, which brings a time limitation, should the community vote to proceed.  

While there is still work to be done to determine the exact floor plan and tenants, the possibilities this building provides are endless.  

I often joke that Moses wandered the desert for 40 years before finding a new home, and we are only in year 12. It is time that we established a facility so that our youth and teens can thrive and future generations in Edmonton can have a community hub. The Federation has diligently gone through the steps to find land and a facility to suit our community’s needs. The opportunity is here. Let’s seize this chance and move forward together to build a stronger future.