The discussion about a merger of two large Jewish synagogues is an intriguing one. While I’m not Jewish, it is reasonable to say that the merger could have a huge impact on a number areas of the city. Much like how the Asper Jewish Community Campus transformed the old Fort Osborne Barracks into a $28 million powerhouse of education, culture and wellness for Jews and Winnipeg-at-large, the merger of two powerful synagogues onto a possible site by the campus could create a religious and housing center of substantial strength and influence.
The Etz Chayim Synagogue on Matheson is a 1952 structure while the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue is 1950 structure. Both buildings are quite beautiful but will be in need of costly repairs to upgrade. The Etz Chayim has more parking and a housing component but a fact of life in Winnipeg is that many Jews in Winnipeg have moved south of the Assiniboine over many decades. This fact has seen synagogue mergers such as Ezt Chayim in 2002 when three congregations merged on the old Rosh Pina site on Matheson.
The 1997 Asper Jewish Community Campus was also a gathering of school, fitness and cultural components into a successful larger group.
Has there been any losers in the mergers within the Jewish community? The answer is yes. If are a faithful Jewish person and live in Garden City, the sad fact is your kids have a long way to go a Jewish school, a long way to go a Synagogue, a long way to a Jewish fitness center and a long way to a Jewish home when you retire.
The answer in a nutshell for many Jewish people is: Move south young man…or old man or woman or… errr. Well, you get the point. It isn’t like Jewish people have not been isolated and away from fellow Jews before? Many in the Jewish community worked hard in rural areas building this country. It has been a very long process where Jewish people have drawn closer and closer together for a variety of reasons.
There are two possible places for a synagogue at the Asper Jewish Community Campus in my opinion. The first is on the field in front of Tuxedo and running along Doncaster. It has a baseball field on it right now and while a huge school is next door, it is under utilized to say the least. The other possibility is a large parking lot opposite the campus on Willow Avenue.
In a perfect world, the sale of both synagogues and other assets as well as fundraising sees Willow Avenue turned parking for the Rady Centre and Gray Academy, a new merged synagogue and possibly housing.
I don’t think I have to tell anyway that Doncaster is turning into a crazy place for traffic. While supportive of a possible new super synagogue, the issue with parking, traffic, Rady Centre, school drop off and Folklorama can’t be put off any longer. Greater minds than mine need to think about traffic flows before someone dies at Doncaster and Tuxedo.
Still, there is not much not to like in the synagogues merging onto the campus. The benefits to the city as a whole are easily demonstrated.
It will be interesting as well too see what becomes of the old properties especially the one on Academy Road. It will be sought after by many.
This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations