Shterna Simmonds, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Regina, is getting ready for an extra-special Shabbat. The Canada-based emissary will host a Friday-night dinner on Nov. 17 for women for the fourth year in a row, while her husband, Rabbi Avrohom Simmonds, is in New York participating in the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim), which runs from Nov. 15 to Nov. 20. She invites friends and their daughters from the area to take part in the festive meal.

The first year, five or six ladies came, but by last year, that number had tripled, says Simmonds. It’s a nice way to connect with women in the community, she adds, and also a meaningful evening for her and her daughters—the family has five children, including girls ages 4, 5, 7, 8, in addition to a 2-year-old boy.

Silvia Gonorazky, who lives in Regina with her husband and two sons, ages 5 and 8, is planning to attend this year. She’s been once before, and says she very much enjoyed the chance not only to connect with the other participants, but to take a moment for herself. “It lets you be you—to be yourself without just being seen as a mother or wife,” she says. “When I’m at that dinner, I can just be Silvia the woman.”

Gonorazky also enjoys the opportunity to meet other area residents, recognizing that “there are more people like you.”

The last time she attended the Shabbat dinner, the discussion focused on women’s roles and how Shabbat can make a difference in their weekly routines. She says she again hopes to take back relevant lessons: “I want to come home happy, relaxed and a little more illuminated about life.”

The Simmonds family gets similarly enlightened. “My oldest daughter is so excited,” says Shterna Simmonds. “As she has grown, she remembers all about it, and now her sisters are getting more involved as well.”

The time together represents an opportunity for women to talk about the vital role they play in Judaism, as well as a chance to sing and take part in what she calls a “women’s power evening.”

Simmonds wants attendees to leave with strong feelings about being Jewish and an eagerness to learn more about their heritage. “I feel like people look forward to it,” she says. “One lady asked me: ‘When is your husband leaving town? When’s Kinus time?’ It’s a very special time for the men, and for us, too.”

Shterna Simmonds, right, brings the Sukkot mitzvah of waving the lulav and etrog to Jewish women around the city.
Shterna Simmonds, right, brings the Sukkot mitzvah of waving the lulav and etrog to Jewish women around the city.

‘Participation a Treasure’

Hazel Braitman has attended the women’s Shabbat dinners, and last year, she brought her 8-year-old granddaughter with her. “It was a great experience . . . so much warmth and camaraderie,” she recalls. It was also a learning experience for many of those involved, she notes, as not everyone in Regina’s diverse Jewish community has experienced a traditional Shabbat meal.

Regina, the capital providence of Canada’s Saskatchewan, has a population of approximately 220,000; of them, a few hundred families are Jewish. The Simmonds work to invite and include as many people as possible in classes, services and holiday programs, including a popular family activity: “Kids in the (Kosher) Kitchen.”

“I think because of the size of the community, we look at Jewish people differently than in other places, especially big cities,” says Simmonds. “By us, Jewish participation is even more of a treasure. You look at it differently because there’s not so many of us here.”

The Simmonds family
The Simmonds family