Habitat For Humanity brings faiths together

via The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton

By Thandiwe Konguavi 
Staff Writer at The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton

Over a kosher lunch, volunteers of diverse faiths take a well-needed break from a common goal climbing ladders, painting, and dry walling for Habitat for Humanity and bridging the gap between religions.

“We all believe in being there for those with needs so we’re building walls to come together, to bridge,” said Rabbanit Batya Friedman, co-pastor at Beth Israel Synagogue.

“We’re giving hope because there’s so much tragedy and hate out there. It doesn’t matter what you call the Creator, we’re all coming together to make him or her happy.”

On April 20, 25 Muslim and Jewish volunteers worked together at the Carter Place project, a 58-unit multi-storey development, in the Laurel neighbourhood of southeast Edmonton.


“Every religion shares basic tenets,” said Sumaira Farooq, volunteer co-ordinator for the Islamic Family and Social Services Association. “Islam, my faith, is a way of life. It tells us to give so much and keep giving so that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is giving, never expecting anything in return.”

Friedman is the coordinator of the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative which partners with Habitat for Humanity to provide volunteers and lunches for its Interfaith Build project. Its goal is to provide 500 volunteers and 45 lunches over nine weeks. So far, 220 volunteers have participated.

On May 10, eight volunteers from the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton will be helping to build Carter Place.

The Interfaith Build project is about neighbours helping each other, says Alfred Nikolai, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Edmonton.

“This is a really important thing for our organization. We build homes for every faith and it’s really part of who we are,” Nikolai said.  “We’re going to have 1,000 people on this site pounding nails and painting walls and helping 58 families enjoy all the rewards and the dreams that come with home ownership.

“I think everybody across the country realizes that Edmonton has the spirit where we help each other and when we ask for volunteers, they come.”

Carter Place, named after former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, is part of Habitat’s initiative to build 150 homes across the country to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday in July. On July 9, President Carter and his wife Rosalynn – longtime Habitat for Humanity volunteers   will be in Edmonton to help with construction.

Half of these homes will be built in the greater Edmonton area, including the 58 Carter Place units, 16 in Fort Saskatchewan, and one more yet to be determined.

The families receiving Habitat for Humanity homes are required to put in 500 hours of sweat equity as a down payment on their home, and pay the full price of the home back to Habitat for Humanity at an interest-free mortgage of no more than 25 per cent of their monthly income.

For more information on Habitat for Humanity visit:

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Edmonton’s Rabbi Friedman Joins Prestigious Cabinet Of Canadians For Canada’s 150th

Edmonton Jewish News, November 4, 2016

(EJNews) – As Canada nears its 150 Anniversary, Cardus Faith in Canada 150 is gearing up to help ensure that a celebration of faith is part of our country’s 150th birthday.

In that vein, a Cabinet of Canadians has been formed and Chairman Dr. Andrew Bennett extended an invitation to Edmonton Beth Israel Synagogue Rabbi Daniel Friedman to join the prestigious Cabinet.

The Cabinet of Canadians forms an integral aspect of the Cardus Faith in Canada 150 initiative. Dr. Bennett said that Rabbi Friedman’s “respected leadership on public issues, including the role of faith in public life, makes him one of a small group of people we want to bring together to give face and voice to the FC150 initiative and to join other Canadians in affirming that faith matters.”

Rabbi Friedman graciously accepted the invitation saying, “I’m proud to be serving our country at this special time in our history. I’m particularly gratified when our efforts ‘out here’ in Edmonton are recognized and appreciated on a national level.  From a faith perspective, some call Alberta the Bible Belt of Canada – faith has always been a vital part of the Alberta story.  It’s an honour to be serving in the Cabinet alongside great Jewish leaders including Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl and Shimon Koffler-Fogel and great Albertan leaders such as Dr. David Goa.”

Under the direction of Greg Pennoyer, and shepherded by Cardus through its president Michael Van Pelt, FC150 will roll out over the next year and a half initiatives encompassing academic research, literature and art, lectures, media engagement, and festive gatherings all designed to bring faith to the forefront of public conversation during this sesquicentennial year of Confederation.

Dr. Bennet explained, “It is our intention to reaffirm the central role that faith has played throughout Canadian history and continues to play today for a majority of our fellow citizens.That Canadians might appreciate anew the role of faith in our country’s public life, however, requires the involvement of recognized leaders adding credibility, approval, and support to the ideal of fostering faith in our common life.”

Dr. Andrew Bennett served as Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom and Head of the Office of Religious Freedom from 2013 to 2016 during which time he led in defending and championing religious freedom internationally as a core element of Canada’s principled foreign policy. At the same time, Dr. Bennett served as Canada’s Head of Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a 31-country body which leads international efforts in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance.

Rabbi Daniel Friedman is the rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue, Edmonton, Alberta, the chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council of Canada, the assistant chief examiner for religious studies at the Caribbean Examinations Council, and a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.  Born in the UK, with degrees from Canada, Australia, the US, and Israel, he is currently a doctoral candidate in International Relations at the University of Alberta. He is a recipient of the Alberta Centennial Award and accompanied (former) Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his official visit to Israel.

For more information and a complete list of the Cabinet of Canadians visit

Holocaust Monument Ground-breaking

Rabbi Friedman was recently in Ottawa to mark the construction start for the National Holocaust Monument.

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What An Incredible New Arena!

Edmonton Jewish News, September 29, 2016

(EJNews) – What an incredible new arena!  Rogers Place has positioned Edmonton once again as a world-class city, the envy of our friends across the continent.   We are all truly blessed to be living in this amazing place!  If you haven’t checked it out yet, you will be blown away!

One of the highlights of the grand opening was the appearance of our Edmonton hero Wayne Gretzky.  The Great One was duly impressed and could not stop gushing, but his most memorable thoughts came with his announcement, “What makes an arena really special is when you start winning, and you win championships!”

What made these words so special and poignant?

From the beginning of the month of Elul through Shemini Atzeret we recite chapter 27 of Tehillim (Psalms) twice daily.  Our Sages explain the reason for this custom: The first verse states, “Hashem is my light and my salvation,” and a later verse states, “for He will hide me in His sukkah.”  Since we have these allusions to Rosh Hashanah (when light came into the world), Yom Kippur (when G-d forgives us and we are granted salvation), and Sukkot, we recite the Psalm during this period of the year.

But that doesn’t explain why we begin a month before Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of Elul!  Why start so early?  The Baal Haturim, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1340), teaches that the key lies in the penultimate verse “Lulé heemanti liros betuv Hashem” – “Had I not believed I would see the goodness of Hashem [my enemies would have destroyed me].”  Explains Rabbi Yaakov: The word lulé consists of the same letters as Elul.  Therefore we recite this chapter throughout the month of Elul.

But what is the essential relationship between lulé and Elul?  Lulé means ‘had I not’ and in many ways that’s the attitude we have throughout the month of Elul.  It’s the time of year when we take stock of our behaviour over the past twelve months.  If only I had done that!  If only I had not acted that way!  If only that bad stuff hadn’t happened in my life!  That’s Elul mentality.

But then we enter Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and we are able to put the past behind us.  The light of Rosh Hashanah fills the world.  The salvation of Yom Kippur permeates our lives.  The Almighty shelters us under the canopy of the wings of His Shechina (Divine presence).  It’s time to stop fretting about what we should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done.  It’s time to look to the year ahead and resolve that this year will be awesome, no matter what happened in the past!

Sadly, too many people lead their lives weighed down by shackles of the past.  Maybe it was a relationship breakdown that devastated your life.  Maybe you were fired from a fabulous job.  Maybe your schooling experience wasn’t that great.  You can’t let life’s major setbacks ruin you forever.  If you’re still living with the angst of the past, is that called living?

Believe it or not, I’ve met people in their sixties who still complain about the way their parents brought them up!  They simply can’t let go and get on with their lives.  Even an Elul mentality is only meant to last a month.  Not a lifetime!  This Rosh Hashanah, leave the past behind and take control of your destiny and responsibility for your future!

That’s the blessing of a new arena. The past is behind us.  We’re no longer bogged down by past inadequacies and shortcomings.  We simply look ahead to a bright future.  A future filled with victories and championships!

May the year ahead bring you victories in every facet of your life – health, nachas, and material prosperity!  Shana tova umetukah!

Rabbi Daniel Friedman is the spiritual leader at Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta.

Today We Stand Together

Edmonton Jewish News, September 29, 2016

(EJNews) – Many of you read my op-ed piece in the Edmonton Journal about how I was going to wear a shvimkleid – the modest garment worn by Orthodox women – to my first triathlon and how it became an issue of religious tolerance.  I received quite a few inquiries about how it went and so I wanted to update everyone on what transpired.

On the Friday before the race we were invited to participate in a water familiarisation, which meant that we could take a swim in the Hawrelak Park pond. Although there was still green and blue algae they informed us that it was safe to swim.  There were quite a few of us ready and excited to take the plunge.  The temperature of the water was quite nice, although I was wearing a wet shirt and of course my shvimkleid.  That notwithstanding, when I exited the pond, I suddenly felt cold and ill.  Thank G-d, my dear husband was able to quickly nurse me back to good health, with a shot of scotch and a hot bath!

To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to getting back into the pond, but after a couple of days of mental prep, I was ready to tackle it again Sunday morning – only to be told, half an hour before the race, that the swim section was cancelled due to the freezing temperatures.  The triathlon had now become a duathlon – run, bike, run. You can imagine how I felt.  I had mentally and physically prepared myself to do this and now I wouldn’t be able to.  Yes, I was disappointed to hear the news, but I wasn’t about to quit now.

I did it . . . albeit without the swim (so now I am challenging myself to do another).  It was an awesome race – I call it a race but for me it wasn’t about my time, it was about completing it.  I enjoyed every moment especially the cheering volunteer who called to me, “I love that you’re running in a skirt!” or another who shouted out, “You’re my favourite runner!” They sure gave me the strength to carry on (or do you think they just said that to everyone who ran past?)  I had awesome supporters and I especially want to thank those members of the community who came out to see me in action. I am humbled and grateful to them. It meant a lot to me.

But none of this support is surprising to us in Canada. We pride ourselves here on our religious tolerance.  As evidenced from the burkini fiasco in France this past August, we shouldn’t take it for granted.

While I presented the issue in the Edmonton Journal as one of religious tolerance, here’s the real problem.  Not only are these women being made to feel like strangers, but these insensitive secularistic policies are effectively confining them to their homes.  If they can’t wear the burkini in public, then the only place that they can go swimming is in the privacy of their backyard pool.

And so, ultimately who wins?  The ISIS terrorists who believe that a woman’s place is in the home and she should never be seen in public.

These families came to the West for a better life.  A life where religious police wouldn’t tell them how to dress and where to hang out.   But instead of the freedom to just be whomever they want to be, they find themselves yet again being dictated to by religiously intolerant bullies with preconceived notions of the relationship between religious adherence and worldly engagement.

In North American society, thank G-d, you can be religious and enjoy life.  Everyone’s entitled to their own choices as to what they wear and how they lead their lives.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us recall the liturgy of Hayom Harat Olam – “Today is the birthday of the world.”  At this time of year, we pray not only for the Jewish people but for ALL peoples and ALL creations.  We pray for peace and harmony so that we can continue to make this world a dwelling place for the Creator.

Wishing you all a happy sweet and healthy new year!

 Batya Friedman is the rabbanit of Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta. 

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Saying “yes” to diversity is a no-brainer in Canada; we must never take it for granted

Edmonton Journal – September 1, 2016

This week I will compete in the triathlon taking place in our City of Champions. “So what?” you say. “A lot of people are competing.”

Yes, but how many people are doing it in a shvimkleid – the modest swimsuit worn by religious Jewish women?

I almost didn’t have the guts to submit my application. What if they wouldn’t accept me? It’s going to be my first triathlon, I didn’t know the rules and regulations. Maybe everyone has to wear the standard wetsuit, bike pants and jogging shorts?

While a shvimkleid is actually made of Lycra, nobody would ever confuse it for any of those “normal” sports outfits – it’s pretty obviously a skirt made from stretchy fabric.

So I summoned up the courage and picked up the phone and called the ITU World Triathlon Edmonton’s office. To my great relief, they said yes. Five minutes later, I was registered.

The fact that they said “yes” is probably a no-brainer to most Canadians. Living here we take multiculturalism and our faith mosaic for granted. That’s Canadian values 101.

But we must never take it for granted. We are very blessed to live in our great country. While we might like to believe that any 21-century Western liberal democracy would be no different, sadly that’s not the case.

In August, France, the home of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” decreed that religious Muslim women may not wear the burkini – their modest swimsuit – at public beaches. France’s highest court has since suspended the ban in one coastal town and other bans are being challenged too.

But instead of embracing and respecting the culture and beliefs of fellow Frenchmen, those imposing burkini bans once again alienated them and made them feel like strangers in their own countries. If they would only open their hearts and minds, they would find – as we have here in Canada – that the mosaic of cultures is what makes society and, ultimately the nation, great.

Thank goodness here in Edmonton our government leaders not only tolerate and respect every creed, but they have found ways to capitalize on the strengths of our communities.

We have a number of interfaith groups, including the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action and the Phoenix Multi-Faith Society for Harmony that fulfil various roles from interreligious to law enforcement relations. These groups are endorsed by our municipal government and city hall regularly hosts their celebrations of faith.

Another important Edmonton interfaith coalition is the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI). Supported by the City of Edmonton along with the Edmonton Community Foundation, the Catholic Archdiocese and other churches, CRIHI is made up of dozens of Edmonton faith groups.

The city has a goal to end homelessness by 2018. To that end, a number of affordable housing programs are underway across the city. But transformation never comes without its challenges and this project is no different.

Unfortunately in some parts of the city there has been some pushback to the introduction of affordable housing. The goal of CRIHI is to involve faith groups in the conversation about homelessness and hopefully to motivate religious Edmontonians of all stripes to get involved in making our city livable for everyone.

The response to date has been heartwarming; churches, temples, synagogues and mosques are engaging in important discussions and we are working together for the betterment of our society.

We are incredibly blessed to live in Edmonton, to be citizens of Canada. Here, we respect our differences and work together to make this world a better place for everyone. Our city and country are shining examples of successful integration.

Let us unite with one voice and condemn any intolerance and disrespect, whether at home or abroad. Together, we can achieve amazing things.

Rabbanit Batya Friedman is the director of the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative and the co-pastor of Beth Israel Synagogue.

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