Quenton & Ely - Partners in Torah

Quenton & Ely

When I had to fly home to see my dying great grandmother, who I am very close to and is a huge part of my life even today, in May of 2018 I had no idea that she would tell her whole family that she was in actuality a Ukrainian Jew who left Ukraine in 1936 with her sister for a better life in Canada. Her aunt and uncle had come to Canada in 1905 to farm on the prairies and they would move in with them. She had kept her heritage a secret from all of us, because life was easier for non-Jewish people. She and her sister changed their names, adopted Christian faith practices in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, a priest in their hometown of Berezhany, Ukraine forged church documents for them, and they left to come to Canada. She came from a large Jewish family of 110 people; parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and many cousins. They all perished in the Holocaust leaving her and her sister as the only survivors.

I am an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Canada and I am currently serving as a military chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces. With this new knowledge of our family, and realizing that I am Jewish on my mother’s side of the family I began to process and wonder what this might look like for me. I am very fortunate that my wife and our two children, ages 4 and 1 have been so supportive of this newfound information. As March of 2020 came with the beginning of a massive world shutdown, an advertisement for Partners in Torah popped up on my Facebook page. So, naturally out of curiosity I explored the program online and applied for a partner. I was sent several options, and my partner that I chose, Ely Shilian, happened to be around my age, married with four kids living in Brooklyn NY. Once we connected, it was as if we had been friends our entire lives, we joke that we are probably brothers who were separated at birth. Our newfound brotherhood has emerged in amazing conversations about the Jewish faith, family life, studying Torah together, and how these many facets come together to make this amazingly rich life that Jewish culture is based on.

This year was particularly meaningful, thanks to my partner, in that we did not celebrate Advent as we have in years past leading up to Christmas, but instead, we celebrated our very first Hannukah with this phenomenal Hannukah care package from my partner and his family sent us. We had a menorah, dreidels, and lovely gifts that we all used. Included was a Jewish cookbook that we made good use of over the holidays. We sent a Canadian-themed Hannukah care package that included kippahs with a maple leaf on the top, I had one made for myself too. Maple Leaf cookies and maple leaf earrings for my partner’s wife and two daughters. It is our hope that once the Covid19 Pandemic is not so much a hindrance I can come to Brooklyn for a time to see what Jewish life is like with my partner. His oldest son is hopefully celebrating his Bar Mitzvah in March, I have naturally been invited, pending the safety of travel and the current pandemic. The to-do list we have grows daily, we often talk once a day or every other day about all the things we want to tackle when we are able to meet finally face to face. Two brothers who can meet finally.

I never had any inclination that Partners in Torah, along with my partner, would have such a profound impact on my life as I am learning more about what it is to belong to such a rich heritage as is found in Judaism. Partners in Torah has allowed me to learn and I truly believe, that Judaism is the first of all religions that predicates its survival on education. Am I being educated on and embracing my newfound Jewish heritage and faith more, definitely! And my partner has provided this positive welcoming environment for me to do so. I will always sing the praises of Partners in Torah; I recommend it to others any chance I get. Thank you very much for this amazing work you do, and I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to gain such an amazing, friend, brother, and educator as my partner