British Columbia

Vancouver's Jewish community grapples with engaging young people in religion ahead of Yom Kippur

The Jewish community in Vancouver is looking at ways to engage young people with the faith, as Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, begins Tuesday evening at sundown.

Passing values onto the next generation is an issue for many faith groups, says Jewish Federation CEO

Ezra Shanken is the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. (The Early Edition/CBC)

The Jewish community in Vancouver is looking at ways to engage young people with the faith, as Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, begins Tuesday evening at sundown. 

The Jewish Day of Atonement is a time to reflect and is marked with a fast.

Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, said it's crucial to find ways to meaningfully involve the upcoming generations in the deep rooted tradition.

"As a faith and ethno-cultural community like the Jewish community, we are trying to find multiple ways for people to hook into that faith, to find a place where they can find meaning and purpose in what we are doing," he said.

That means everything from reaching out to young people in social settings to organizing trips to Israel, he said.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to be able to meet the people where they are," he said.

It's a question many religious communities are grappling with, Shanken said

"All different faith groups, the thing that they think about all the time is 'How do I take my values, the things that I hold dear … and ensure that my children and my children's children are practising those values," he told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men of the Vizhnitz Hassidic sect pray on a hill in Herzeliya, Israel ahead of Yom Kippur.

Culture as a hook

It's more than just religion that draws people to the community, Shanken said.

"There's a lot of culture in there that people can hook into," he emphasized.

"It's hooking in through prayer, food, cultural items and cultural practices that have become synonymous with what it is to be Jewish."

Yom Kippur, the last of 10 days of penitence that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is characterized by a 25-hour fast.

It's then followed by a tractional meal . At the Vancouver events, Shanken says there will be lots of sweet honey to go around and anyone is welcome to attend to learn more about Judaism.

"I love to see people coming in and learning about it," he said.

"Judaism is an interesting religion, because it's really a people with religion at its centre."

And that means keeping people engaged — particularly the upcoming generations — is vital.

"It's always going to be tough to get that next generation to own all of the pieces that you have in this previous generation."

"But the Jewish religion, the Jewish people, have been doing this for thousands of years."

With files from The Early Edition.

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