When Alana Hurov moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake three years ago, she didn’t think much about what the Jewish community looked like in Niagara.
Now, with a four-year-old daughter, Hurov has begun the journey of forming a place for her to learn more about her heritage and faith.
“It made me realize that ‘Oh, I need to create a community for her,’ ” Hurov said in an interview.
After doing some research, Hurov found two synagogues – one in Niagara Falls and another in St. Catharines – but said neither of them offers classes or education for younger kids.
“I wanted to still have a spiritual community where we can celebrate traditions together,” Hurov said.
So Hurov started a Facebook group – Jewish in Niagara – and says she received a great communal response.
“I’ve actually discovered that there’s about 150 people in town that are Jewish, but just don’t necessarily have a synagogue or community here,” she said.
In the past week, the group that started as a means to help her daughter better understand Jewish traditions and culture, has become a strong support system for Hurov and other Jews in the region.
War is raging again in the Middle East after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. And in the days since, fighting and deaths have escalated on both sides.
As well, Israel has warned a major ground invasion of Gaza may be imminent.
After she posted on her personal Facebook page in support of Israel she said she received several hateful online messages.
“The past few days have been very difficult for everyone, I think,” Hurov said.
“Because of our multi-generational trauma, the Holocaust and annihilations of the Jewish community, knowing that there’s not many of us left in the world, it’s been heartbreaking and sad watching from afar,” she said.
Michelle Ribinski moved to Canada from Israel last year, spending time in Niagara before moving to Toronto to work as a public relations manager for the Jewish Russian Community Centre.
In Israel, Ribinski was trained in the military and if she were still there, would be fighting in the war.
“I can’t stop thinking about it. All of my family is there, all of my friends,” Ribinski told The Lake Report.
She said that news from there has inhibited her ability to focus on work and life.
Working with the Jewish Russian Community Centre, she said she has a strong support group to discuss their feelings. The group works with the Chabad Jewish Centre of Niagara for events.
“I wouldn’t say it’s big but there is a Jewish community in Niagara and a lot of tourists are also coming to visit the Jewish community there,” she said.
“(Chabad Niagara) is very helpful to the Jewish community there. They usually do meals every Friday and welcome everybody when there are holidays with huge parties and events. It brings everybody together,” Ribinski added.
Hurov said at this time she wants to give a voice to the Jewish community and speak up against growing hate.
“I have family and friends in Israel and I have friends who live in Gaza, so I understand to some extent both sides of it,” she said.
“But as a Jewish woman, it’s devastating to see that this could be happening, that this kind of hate could happen in this day and age. That this kind of hate is still alive.”
Hurov noted social media has been a breeding ground for hate toward the Jewish community.
“It’s a scary time,” she said, adding she hopes Jewish people in Niagara can wear symbols of their faith without fear of it being seen as a symbol of hate.
As a means of getting the community together, Hurov has planned a Shabbat dinner in November including both the conservative and Chabad synagogues in the region.
“The plan would be that we invite everyone to come, just to be part of a Shabbat dinner and bring our community together,” she said.
Since she started the Facebook group, Hurov said the community has been supportive, with non-Jewish friends sending messages of love.
“I think it’s really important that if you have Jewish friends in your life or friends in the Middle East in your life to reach out,” said Hurov.
“Everyone’s hurting and those messages make a world of difference.”