Rabbi Chiel came to the University of Manitoba as Director of the Hillel Society in 1949 and turned down postings at the University of California (Berkeley), the University of Illinois, and the University of Havana, Cuba. He had married Kinneret Dirnfield, a Winnipeg woman whom he met when they both studied in New York, and visited Winnipeg several times where was fascinated by the “Yiddishe shtot, unlike any (community) that I had had any contact with in the United States.” Winnipeg’s Zionist fervor attracted him, as well.
As Hillel Director, Chiel expanded Jewish cultural and educational programming at the University of Manitoba and worked with the Jewish community to create the Judaic Studies Department at the University of Manitoba in which, for several years, he was the only professor. Chiel also helped the community create Congregation Rosh Pina, a Conservative Synagogue (now Etz Chaim), despite his training as a Reform Rabbi at the Jewish Institute of Religion. Offered the pulpit at Rosh Pina, he thoroughly embraced Conservative Judaism and became an important figure in the movement.
Rabbi and Mrs. Chiel made their mark in many ways. Some of the Rabbi’s other activities included heading a committee to create and run The Jewish Caravan, a weekly radio program, and fundraising throughout
Western Canada for the United Jewish Appeal. The Pioneer Women and other groups invited Mrs. Kinneret Chiel to speak at their functions. She maintained a lively interest in local Jewish theatre, appearing in several productions and even writing occasional scripts.
The Rabbi’s scholarly interests opened the virtually untouched field of Manitoba Jewish History. He wrote magazine columns that came together as Jewish Experiences in Early Manitoba (1955) and ranged from accounts of Winnipeg’s first synagogues to a sketch of Sholom Aleichem’s uncle Nissel, who is buried in the Children of Israel Cemetery in Transcona. Some of these chapters paved the way for Chiel’s major work, The Jews in Manitoba, sponsored by the Manitoba Historical Society and published by the University of Toronto Press (1961), a fundamental work is still useful to students and scholars. Like many works of the period, it tells how the Jewish community developed with its comprehensive institutions but says little about problems such as antisemitism and class conflict.
Rabbi Chiel left Winnipeg in 1957 for congregations near New York City and then New Haven, Connecticut. He completed his Doctorate of Hebrew Letters degree with his published history of Manitoba’s Jews, helped found a Jewish day school, and served as president of the regional Rabbinical Assembly. His editorship of Conservative Judaism magazine made him a national figure as did his service as program director of “The Eternal Light” radio program that the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York sponsored and NBC aired nationally. A powerful Bismarck affiliate transmitted the program to Winnipeg. Chiel also led the first United Synagogue Youth Pilgrimage to Eastern Europe, a predecessor of the March of the Living. Somehow, he found time to write essays and books on Torah and synagogue practices as well as a primer, Haver la Torah, that may have been used in Winnipeg Jewish schools.
Rabbi and Mrs. Chiel returned to Winnipeg from time to time. Two of his noteworthy visits came in 1966 when he took part in dedicating Rosh Pina’s expanded auditorium and in 1970 when he gave a talk to the Jewish Historical Society for Manitoba’s centenary.
Menkis, Richard. “Negotiating Ethnicity, Regionalism and Historiography: Arthur A. Chiel and The Jews in Manitoba: A Social History. ” Canadian Jewish Studies/Etudes juives canadiennes, vol. 10, pp. 1-31, 2002.
Sarna, Jonathan D. “Necrology: Arthur A. Chiel (1920-1983). American Jewish History 73: 3 (March 1984), pp. 324-3