By: Alexander Rubin
Over the past couple of months, Mayanot has benefited from the addition of several executive scholars who have enriched the community with their diverse backgrounds and their dedicated scholarship.
Edward Fitch, Major-General in the Canadian Army, and his wife, Sharon Fitch, found their way to Mayanot somewhat by chance. “It’s been a journey,” Ed related about his life, referring to a talk he hosted about his military service at Mayanot he called A Jew’s Journey. “We’re all on a journey of some kind, this one has some features that are a little different from some others. [It’s] still a learning journey.”
Ed’s Jewish journey began in his childhood in Canada. “I grew up in a part of Montreal where it was very easy to take being Jewish for granted,” he recalled. Not only were most of his high school peers Jewish, so were many of his teachers. At age seventeen, Ed joined the Canadian army and suddenly found himself in a small military college of about five hundred students and faculty, of which he was the only Jew.
“The first Sunday in the army comes along and they say, ‘OK everybody line up outside,’ and we’re marched off to church. So afterwards I went to see my officer and I said ‘I don’t think this is right, there’s something wrong here.'”
“That was an awakening,” Ed remarked, “why would anyone else respect your religion if you don’t respect it yourself. I had to start finding out what it was about.”
As a combat engineer, Ed served throughout Canada, spent time in Germany, and throughout Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East and briefly in Afghanistan and Haiti. His major operational tour was in Yugoslavia in the mid-nineties where he was involved in containing the civil war and then in the subsequent rebuilding. Eventually, he rose to the rank of General, one of the few Jewish Generals in history, and finally assumed the role of Army Commander of Western Canada, perhaps the largest military district in the world, stretching from Lake Superior to the western coast of British Columbia.
Ed continued his Jewish Journey and spiritual growth at the Chabad of Vancouver Island, as he continued to study with the Shliach, Rabbi Meir Kaplan. It is Rabbi Kaplan who encouraged him to continue his learning and when in Israel learn at Mayanot.
While in Israel, Ed and Sharon’s search for Jewish learning led them to Rabbi Shneur Wineberg of Mayanot. “He said, come to our place for Shabbat. We had a beautiful Shabbat lunch with them.” Rabbi Wineberg introduced the Fitches to Director of Education Rabbi Chaim Moss and soon Ed began attending classes at Mayanot and quickly became a part of the Mayanot community.
“Then we discovered Mayanot Shul. Meanwhile, Sharon had discovered the Mayanot Women’s Institute, she went to some classes there as well. It became a really nice feature of our time in Jerusalem. We came here with minimal plans and a very open mind. People said ‘why would you go for two months?’ I said, ‘I want to breathe the air of Jerusalem.’ Finding Mayanot and the people and everything really enriched it so much.”
About his time at Mayanot, Ed reflected, “I am not yeshiva trained. Approaching yeshiva, I didn’t know what to expect. We were offered very gracious hospitality by Rabbi Wineberg, Rabbi Moss and Rabbi Gestetner, and then invited to attend classes, and enjoyed wonderful lectures from Rabbi Weisberg and Rabbi Kaufmann, clearly excellence in the faculty.