It all started…
– with the friendship of four people who came to Victoria from Winnipeg in 1987.
Charlie and Diana Shnider first met Irv and Julie Margolese in a group called Ezrah, loosely translated meaning “Helping Hands”, a group of Victorians that met as a ‘community’ but without a building. This is where the friendship and dream of an actual Community Centre organization and building was developed.
Ezrah would meet for monthly potluck dinners at the Congregation Emanu-el Synagogue, and was instrumental in helping establish the JCCV by financing registration, assisting in the acquisition of charitable status and most of all, endowing the JCCV with $60,000.00 seed money to help purchase our existing JCCV building. These monies were acquired through weekly volunteering at Bingo in Sidney B.C. Everyone involved in the beginning and formation of the JCCV went to these monthly pot luck dinners.
One of the first things that Irv Margolese said was “Victoria needs a Jewish Community Centre” and we all said “Let’s do it”. Joining the group were Harry and Rita Brown, Harry said “It will never happen.” To which we replied “We’re from Winnipeg – it will happen.”
The following week we went to Irv and Julie’s home to start a newsletter. We had approximately eighty names on the original list which grew to larger and larger numbers as word spread.
We started looking for a suitable building and after a lengthy search we decided on a building at 3636 Shelbourne. We did some detective work and found that a Jewish family, Block Brothers Real Estate had built the building and had asked for the “3636” address. Furthermore, they then built the building to be 3600 sq.ft. How very appropriate for us!
Irv went to the library in search of names of corporations that donated money or gave grants. He wrote over twenty letters to various businesses and got not one single response. The only grant money that we subsequently received was from the Vancouver Foundation; $25,000.00 to teach seniors how to use computers.
Upon starting renovations, it felt as though there were thousands of feet of wire in the false ceiling and so many walls to remove. It seems a TV commercial business had been in there before us. Charlie was the volunteer contractor. He and Irv went to the various appropriate government officials to ensure that we would have side and rear parking and that the land around our building was indeed ours. In addition they confirmed that we could become a legitimate charitable organization with a tax number for receipts. They also made sure that everything that was done, electrical, plumbing, handicapped bathroom, liquor license etc., all passed city approval.
While Charlie was busy tearing down walls and putting up cupboards, Harry was out getting refrigerators and other appliances and equipment donated. When construction started, we had many members of the community come forth, as if they literally had come out of the woodwork.
After several weeks of demolition, Diana Shnider decided that it was time for the community to come down and see what was happening so that the fledgling JCCV could garner support and interest. So every other week, two different couples hosted an “Open House” and provided coffee and cookies. It required many volunteers to clean the place up for these Sunday afternoon viewings. There is a reluctance to name people who helped in the various areas of pounding nails, taking walls down, putting walls up, painting, making cupboards, and hosting Sunday Open Houses etc., for fear of inadvertently leaving out some people. However, the overall response was heart-warming.
Irv had a great idea of selling ‘lifetime’ memberships which gave us the foundation for securing money to finish the project. The Honour Roll plaque at the Centre listing the many families who became Life Members at the very beginning speaks for itself. Within just two and a half years we had a mortgage-burning ceremony. We were debt free! What a wonderful feeling! And it all came about because of the fantastic dedication and hard work of so many people.
From the outset, the JCCV has been governed by a Board of Directors which meets monthly and which convenes an open Annual General Meeting. Photo portraits of all Past-Presidents are on proud display at the entrance to the Centre.
In the early years, many events were held at the JCCV every month. One of the most popular was the continuation of the monthly pot luck dinners. It was always attended by at least thirty people but fifty and sixty folks were not unusual. We had live music and although the musicians were not paid, they were well fed! We had parties, Murder Mystery nights, Bingo nights, “Las Vegas” nights and other theme events which were all well attended. The monthly luncheons with speakers has been going on for over eighteen years now as has the bi-weekly Sunday morning current events discussion group. We held cooking classes, educational classes, language classes, children’s activities and religious theme events, you name it, we had it! A number of weddings also took place at the Centre as well as Memorial events. A regular Wheels to Meals luncheon program for seniors is also an on-going activity. Art exhibits were held annually for a number of years. A popular bi-monthly event was Souper-Video Night which featured movies with Jewish themes, with popcorn, soup and dessert provided.
The Centre has become the home of various religious groups including Kolot Mayim Reform Congregation and The Society for Humanistic Judaism. In addition, it is used extensively by Hillel for programs larger than can be held at the off-campus Hillel house. It also houses a wonderful library and is home to the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island with it’s many community services. As well, it is the place of choice for gatherings with and presentations by Israeli dignitaries such as the Ambassador to Canada and the Consul General for Western Canada, and organizational emissaries and academicians from Israel.
Generally speaking – one can say that the JCCV has been extremely adaptable rising to many different occasions to meet the ever evolving needs of the Jewish Community.
The JCCV’s Lox Stock and Bagel Deli was always part of the original plan. Diana and Charlie Shnider designed the kitchen and Charlie and some volunteers made all the cabinets and counters. Even as some of the work was still going on, the firemen, inspectors, and electricians stayed to have lunch at the Deli. In the beginning our volunteers staff who did the head chef-ing and waiting on tables also did all the wash up and cleaning. Diana designed the menus and did the shopping, cooking and waiting on tables. A few years later Rose Carr and Nanci Secter took over and changed the menu to include many more Ethnic Jewish delicacies. Lynne Rauch joined the ranks and these four ladies and the ever-reliable Bernie Moss still work and chef together on a weekly basis. They also head up the Blintz Blitz which is an annual event making several thousand blintzes before the summer fairs where the JCCV Kiosk is a very visible, popular and well loved participant.
Over the years, numerous devoted volunteers have manned the front desk, assisted at the deli and helped maintain the the centre.
The JCCV Food Kiosk has participated in Folk Fest, Saanich Fair, Roots Festival, Victoria Symphony Splash the Victoria Jazz Fest Festival and at other venues. Our presence at the festivals with an attractive and inviting food kiosk is essentially an outreach program to the community at large, to the many recent arrivals as well as the non affiliated Jews living on the island. The JCCV volunteers constantly provide information as to which organizations exist, what their primary function and activities are and how to contact them. During the festival the area around our kiosk becomes a venue for discussion of current issues, renewal of interest in connecting with other Jews, connecting with like- minded people, renewal of old friendships, playing the time honoured game called “Jewish Geography”and it must be said, some great food!
The JCCV has been and continues to be a conduit for ever-lasting friendships and support to both new Victorians, and those who settled here many many years ago- as a bridge across and an umbrella over all aspects of the diverse Victoria Jewish Community.
Diana Shnider & Ethel Chochinov