The Jew of Whitehorse

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel up to Whitehorse, Canada, a city of some 30,000 people in Yukon Territory. Why did I go to Whitehorse? Should I give you the Facebook answer or the real one?

I went to Whitehorse because I would have the opportunity to fly on Air North, a small Canadian Carrier. This airline was on my bucket list of airlines to try. Yes, I love flying, and I go out of my way to be in the air. My husband says I’m normal in every other way.

While researching what to do with my one-day visit to Whitehorse, I learned that Rick Karp, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, was Jewish. He was one of a handful of Jews in the city. I began to think of him as “The Jew of Whitehorse,” as he was the carrier of the Torch for the city. I reached out to Rick right away, and he offered to show me around upon arrival.

It was then that I remembered a story my Grandpa Bert, of blessed memory, once shared.

Grandpa Bert was born in Russia and moved to Montreal when he was an infant. As a young adult, he worked for the Canadian Railroad and headed west. Grandpa disembarked the train and asked the local station manager if there were any Jews in town.

The manager held up one finger and said, “There is just one family.”

One family….. That’s all it took. Grandpa found that family and they took him in for the night.

Now, it would be really nice if this story unfolded with a romantic ending. (No, the family did not have a child that Grandpa eventually married). It’s just a simple story grandpa used to share to illustrate how important it was to be part of the Jewish community.

So while my trip to Whitehorse began as a flying adventure, it transformed into an opportunity to walk in the path of grandpa (though the town he went to was not Whitehorse).

Rick Karp is an incredible soul. He shared with me how he and his wife (zl) arrived in Yukon. He told me about the Israeli community who landed there as well. And he showed me incredible documents about the history of Judaism in Yukon Territory, going back to the times of the Gold Rush. Rick introduced me to the tiny Jewish cemetery in the town of Dawson, and how it had been rediscovered in the middle of the woods after nearly a century of abandonment. And Rick showed me photos and videos of Jewish celebrations that had taken place in the area of over the years. There were tears in my soul.

My entire thinking shifted while there. I approached my visit with an attitude of, “Perhaps I can help bring a taste of Judaism to the area.” But I left realizing, “The Jew of Whitehorse gave me more than I could possibly ever have brought to him.”

My gosh…. the entire world is a living Torah! And I feel deepened through Parashat Whitehorse, stumbled upon by complete accident, but giving me a renewed sense of purpose!

Rabbi Zach Shapiro serves Temple Akiba in Culver City, CA.