Banff, Alberta, Can.— The prestigious resort town of Banff, Alberta is not the type of place where you’d expect to find either Jewish students living far from home, or some “Roving Rabbis” looking to make someone’s Chanukah special.

So Yuval Rosenthal, a student from Israel, says he “almost fainted” when he found out that there were two young men armed with donuts, dreidels and menorahs outside his dorm, waiting for him and fellow student Dylan Robertson from Atlanta, Ga.

The donut-laden strangers, Zushi Rivkin and Levi Levitin are among hundreds of rabbinical students known as "Roving Rabbis" who are sent out each summer and during Jewish holidays to far-flung communities under the sponsorship of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.

Rivkin and Levitin were spending Chanukah week traveling through the area, in search of Jewish residents and tourists who they could celebrate Chanukah with when they heard about Rosenthal and Robertson. All agree that it was a great match, the kind that only could have been arranged by Chabad.

The Roving Rabbis heard that there might be some Jewish students at the Banff Hockey Academy. “So we pulled up there five minutes later, and saw an Israeli flag hanging in one of the windows,” says Rivkin. They asked some students who were standing outside the dorm if they had a cellphone number for the Israeli.

“I called and said in Hebrew, "Chanukah sameach (happy Chanukah), we’re waiting with sifganyot (donuts) outside your house!" says Rivkin. “Rosenthal said he nearly fainted. He was at the store shopping with Dylan Robertson and they came right over.”

The students recognized the Chabad car by the menorah on top, and what followed was what Rivkin calls “one of the coolest Chanukah parties I was ever at.”

“The coach was there, and we met a third friend of students who is also Israeli, and some of their teammates joined us too,” says Rivkin.

Lighting the menorah in Banff, Alberta.
Lighting the menorah in Banff, Alberta.

The three Jewish students lit the menorah and everyone joined in latkes, Chanukah cookies, candy and chocolate Chanukah gelt. They then played “a great game of dreidel” says Rivkin. “Everyone had a grand old time,” he continues. “We gave everyone a dreidel and a menorah, and they told us a few days later that they played dreidel a few more times.”

Rivkin reports that he and Levitin were able to meet with lots of other Jewish residents and tourists during their trip, and were able to display menorahs on the check-in desks of all the hotels in the area, including about 20 hotels in Canmore, Alberta, and 20 in Banff, and that all the hotels were more than happy to cooperate.

And yes, says Rivkin “we did get some skiing in on Wednesday morning!”

Jewish students at Banff Hockey Acadeny.
Jewish students at Banff Hockey Acadeny.