Jewish arts fest kicks off year of celebration

Thanksgiving expressed in opening concert

Violinist Mark Lupin is among the acts performing at Hodaya.

When Congregation Emanu-El’s cornerstone was laid in place in 1863, its founders had no idea the building would persevere to become Canada’s oldest continuously used synagogue.

Community members from varying religions, cultures and creeds came together to give the roughly 50 Jewish families living in Victoria a dedicated place of worship and congregation.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of that event and to help raise money for Emanu-El’s aging roof, the 2013 Jewish Arts Festival kicks off on Saturday night with a multi-cultural concert at Alix Goolden Performance Hall.

“This is a really important year for us, so we thought we should have an arts festival that echoed the origins of the synagogue by inviting artists from various cultural communities to perform,” said Isa Milman, festival chair. “We just want to thank the community.”

The concert is aptly called Hodaya, which in Hebrew means “Thanksgiving.”

Hodaya features eight artists from various musical backgrounds, including jazz vocalist Louise Rose, the Sara Merreiros Quartet, violinist Mark Lupin, fiddler Daniel Lapp, traditional Persian musical group Darya Ensemble, percussionist Niel Golden and the Yiddish Columbia State Orchestra.

The concert’s 8:30 p.m. start time is a little later than normal to accommodate rules of the Sabbath, Milman said, but she promised the party won’t disappoint.

The evening will be hosted by JoAnn Roberts of the CBC’s All Points West, while City of Victoria poet laureate Janet Rogers will dedicate a poem to the occasion.

“This is only the kick-off event,” Milman said.

Organizers have planned another six events this year, including the reenactment of the 1863 parade that saw early communities rally to build Greater Victoria’s first synagogue. That event takes place June 2.

On April 11, Ray Frank: The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West, written by University of Victoria playwright Jennifer Wise, will premiere at Congregation Emanu-El. Admission is by donation.

Musical performances by Cantor Rob Menes, the Seattle Jewish Chorale and Lafayette String Quartet, as well as an art exhibition in the fall, will round out the year.

Hodaya begins at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $10 at the door. Tickets are also available at Long and McQuade, Russell Books, Ivy’s Bookshop and Tanners Books.

For more information, visit congregationemanu-el.ca.