Proud history, uncertain future [Sudbury’s Jewish community] – by Laura Stricker (Sudbury Star – February 18, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

When I moved to Sudbury from Toronto a year ago, I knew that, as a Jew, it would take some adjusting to go from being one of nearly 180,000 Toronto Jews to one of just a few hundred. president of Sudbury’s Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, said.

“It’s very challenging to accommodate all those differences in practice and differences in belief within one tent. It’s got to be a pretty big tent.”

However, I never expected finding fresh bagels would be impossible and inquiring about the existence of matzah (unleavened bread eaten by Jews during Passover each year), would be met by blank stares and “did you mean mozzarella?” It wasn’t always this way.

When Sudbury’s first Jewish settler arrived in the late 1800s, and others followed in the years after, a Jewish presence was quickly established in the downtown area by way of a number of thriving businesses and a bustling social life in the then tight-knit community.

These days, much of the community is fractured and the synagogue, the Jewish house of prayer, has only 25 active families. Getting supplies for Jewish holidays usually means making a trip to Toronto or Montreal. A few of Sudbury’s Jewish residents — long and short term ones — point to a lack of interest from younger Jews and the difficulty in trying to appeal to people with different levels of religious commitment as reasons for the dwindling interest.

“Imagine that one church had to hold everyone … from the United Church to the Greek Orthodox and everything in between, and they all had to share a building. That’s sort of the spectrum we’re looking at,” Emily Caruso-Parnell, president of Sudbury’s Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue,said.

“It’s very challenging to accommodate all those differences in practice and differences in belief within one tent. It’s got to be a pretty big tent.


The change in Sudbury’s Jewish composition is seen clearly at the John Street synagogue, where in the last five or so years the way Judaism is practised has changed.

“(The synagogue is) more of a combination of Conservative and Reform,” said Scott Goldstein, a Laurentian University student who sits on the Shaar Hashomayim board.

“It used to be more of a Conservative and Orthodox mixture, but now it has moved towards the Conservative Egalitarian type of practice … This is because of changes in the population. Some of the more traditional people have … moved away.”

Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism, and means that Jews attempt to conserve Jewish tradition, whereas Reform Judaism is a progressive movement that believes in integrating Jewish tradition and non-Jewish insights. Orthodox Judaism, on the other hand, is the most traditional of the three.

Some of Sudbury’s Jewish residents said that apathy has played a big part in the changing face of the community.

“(Sudbury’s Jewish population has) dwindled,” said Judi Cartman, who moved to Sudbury in 1970, and was born in a concentration camp in 1946. “When we moved here, there were 70 some-odd families, active families that really participated (in the synagogue).

“I find that a lot of the younger people today, (Judaism) doesn’t mean as much to them. It’s a problem bringing people to the different faith groups and keeping them.

“It’s not as important to them as it was when we were growing up and it was a centre for being with your own kind.”

Vivian Field, who came to Sudbury with her husband in 1960, said when they arrived, there was a strong sense of optimism about the future of the Jewish community.

“When I came in 1960, there were approximately 50 or 60 families. At that time the university was just getting going, and the anticipation was that with the advent of that, the community would swell to 100 (families). At that time a new synagogue was built, which is the one that’s still being used, and over time the community has dwindled.

“The community has dwindled and dwindled, and as with any religious organization … younger people today are not committed as they were even when my kids were young. The membership has dwindled drastically. We’re able to hang onto the synagogue because there were many families before and there were wise investments made, but we have very few people (now) who are financially supporting the synagogue.”

Those still involved in Jewish life in Sudbury, Field added, struggle to find common ground.

“It’s a very disparate community. We come from all over, and because there are three or four branches of Judaism as to the way people worship, sometimes it’s very difficult. The synagogue here was originally considered to be an Orthodox synagogue, which meant that the women sat separate from the men and all sorts of other things, but you can’t sustain that anymore.”

According to the 2001 census, there are 200 Jewish people living in Sudbury.

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