Within the pages of the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC book Looking Back, Moving Forward: 160 Years of Jewish Life in BC lies a short description of Prince George resident Eli Klasner.
The book celebrates the Jewish Museum’s 50th anniversary and takes note of many of the most influential leaders in BC, including Klasner, who is currently the executive director of the Prince George & District Community Arts Council.
“I’m really kind of honoured by this – and I don’t take honours well,” Klasner explained. “I am a real history buff and I love museums and I love archival works and the fact that this is a kind of an official historical document now – almost like a history textbook – is really exciting. How often do you get included in an historical book published by the BC Jewish Museum?”
There is a long and rich history of Jewish involvement in BC that often isn’t that well known, Klasner noted.
“Some of the work I’ve been doing in the last few years is making connections between these old generations and Jews living in this region now,” Klasner said.
Notably, Hannah Director was the first Jewish woman elected to public office in Canada in 1917/1918 when she was elected chair of the school board in Prince George.
“She was also instrumental in the founding of the first symphony orchestra in Prince George and some choral groups, so I really feel honoured that 100 or so years later I am kind of continuing in some of those footsteps,” Klasner said about his work in the arts in Prince George.
An important point to note is that back in those early years people would not be able to safely declare themselves as Jewish so many were known as community leaders but not Jewish community leaders, Klasner said.
“Right up until right after World War II, Jews were not allowed in a lot of places inside communities,” Klasner said. “Even in Toronto beaches were covered with signs that said ‘No dogs or Jews allowed,’ right up until the 1940s – that wasn’t too long ago. Anti-Semitism has always been a big problem here in Canada and now there’s a whole new generation who are ready and willing to not hide the fact that they’re Jewish.”
A lot of the work Klasner is doing now is about trying to form the first ever Synagogue for Northern BC.
“A permanent place for Jews to gather for worship, festivals, social events and so forth,” Klasner said. “And for me I just feel I am continuing on in a new era a lot of the work Jewish people did in community development and community advancement in the North going back more than 100 years.”
Other notable Jewish Canadians in the book are former B.C. premier Dave Barrett, Noah Cantor, a Jewish Canadian player in the Canadian Football League and Seth Rogen, Jewish Canadian comedian/actor/filmmaker.
“I am really touched I am in this book,” Klasner said. “It’s a historical reference and offers a snapshot of what things look like in a certain period of time and so the story continues.”
For more information about the book visit https://jewishmuseum.ca/calendar-event/looking-back-moving-forward-160-years-of-jewish-life-in-bc/.