Community honours and reunions
Honourary degree recipient Robert Waisman, centre, is congratulated by University of Victoria chancellor Shelagh Rogers as UVic president Jamie Cassels, right, applauds. (photo from UVic Photo Services)
The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre extends a mazal tov to board director and longtime volunteer Robert (Robbie) Waisman, who received the degree of honourary doctor of laws from the University of Victoria on June 13.
Waisman was one of the “Boys of Buchenwald” before he was liberated from the concentration camp, eventually emigrating to a new life in Canada, where he built a successful career and now dedicates himself to Holocaust education. He is a community leader, a philanthropist, a founder and past president of the VHEC, and an extremely effective educator who promotes social justice and human rights for all by sharing his experience as a child survivor.
Audiences impacted by Waisman’s VHEC outreach activities include thousands of British Columbian students each year, as well as students and community groups throughout Canada and the United States. He has served as a mentor to survivors of the Rwandan genocide who were wanting to share their eyewitness accounts. Also notable, Waisman was inducted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an Honourary Witness in 2011, and has spoken alongside First Nations leaders and survivors of residential schools about reconciliation and healing.
Dedicated teacher, outstanding volunteer, loving daughter, sister and wife, Jewish National Fund of Canada Bernard M. Bloomfield Medal for meritorious service recipient Ilene-Jo Bellas can be called a “Woman for All Seasons.”
A retired high school teacher, Bellas taught English and theatre arts for 32 years in the Delta School District. She directed more than 100 popular plays and musicals at Delta Secondary School in Ladner. Many of her students have graduated to become successful actors, writers, directors and educators, and they keep in touch with their first teacher/director. She was president of the Association of B.C. Drama Educators, and was instrumental in procuring funding for and in the designing of Genesis Theatre, a fully professional theatre in Ladner.
Bellas was born and raised in Vancouver. She attended Sir Winston Churchill High School and Schara Tzedeck Synagogue Religious School. She developed her strong community commitment through youth activities in Young Judaea, Camp Hatikvah, Camp Biluim and working as a camp counselor. In university, she was involved in the Student Zionist Organization and held leadership roles in Hillel. She became a charter member and eventually president of Atid chapter of Hadassah-WIZO Vancouver; she also served as the Vancouver council vice-president.
Since her retirement in 2003, Bellas has used her many talents and skills to serve her community: three years as secretary of the Jewish Seniors Alliance, four years on the board of the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and president of the ladies’ executive of the Richmond Country Club. She also directed musical shows at Vancouver Talmud Torah, produced souvenir books, chaired and worked on dinner committees for Congregation Schara Tzedeck, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Israel Bonds and the JNF. In 2013, Bellas and her husband Joel, z’l, were awarded the Betzalel Award at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue. Most recently, she chaired a very successful fundraising gala for RAPS (Regional Animal Protection Society).
Bellas served as president of JNF Pacific Region from 2012 to 2015. She remains active to this day, continuing as a board member, chairing and co-chairing Negev Dinner committees and producing the souvenir books. Bellas is on the national board of JNF and states that she is very proud to be part of such a proactive organization for the benefit of the state of Israel.
Bellas attributes much of the success of her stellar volunteer career to the loving support and encouragement she received from her beloved husband Joel, z’l.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem is known for innovation. With nine Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners among its alumni and being ranked 12th in the world for biotechnology patent filings, there is an abundance of creativity and ingenuity emanating from the university. It should come as no surprise then that the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU) co-convened a fundraising event honouring cardiologist Dr. Saul Isserow on June 28. Hosted by CFHU and VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation in the Landmark Aviation Hangar at YVR, the casual-chic event – which sold out just weeks after it was announced – hosted a capacity crowd of 500-plus people.
The huge walls of the hangar were draped and a lighting and sound system had been installed along with a cabana that was a full-service bar. There were five food stations, including one serving South African specialties. One wall of the hangar was open to the runway and a private jet was on display to top off the evening’s decor.
Among other things, Isserow is director of the Vancouver General Hospital Centre for Cardiovascular Health, director of cardiology services at University of British Columbia Hospital and medical director of Sports Cardiology B.C.
“It’s not in my nature to be fêted in this way,” said Isserow in his address, stressing that the evening was intended to be a fun night to celebrate the achievements of the cardiac team with whom he works, as well as his heartfelt support and love for the state of Israel.
There were more than three million reasons for celebration by the end of the night – to be exact, $3,046,350 was raised to support two initiatives. The money will be divided between CFHU’s Inspired by Einstein student scholarship program and, locally, Isserow’s Sports Cardiology B.C. program at UBC Hospital. Barbara Grantham, chief executive officer of the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation expressed her gratitude to Isserow for agreeing to be honoured at this event. She said Isserow is a humble man who works tirelessly for his patients and credits his team for his successes.
A short video tribute to Isserow and his journey from South Africa to Canada revealed that he and his wife, Lindsay, began their lives in Canada in Nipawin, Sask. His journey from rural Saskatchewan to the upper echelon of Vancouver’s cardiology community is a testament to his talent and perseverance.
In addition to Grantham and Isserow, CFHU national board chair Monette Malewski gave brief remarks, which were followed by a performance by the Emily Chambers band while dinner was served. The crowd was treated to a short African drumming performance prior to a brief address by Ambassador Ido Aharoni, who spoke about the strong connection between the principles of Hebrew University founding member Albert Einstein and Hebrew U’s function as a launch pad for creative innovation in all areas. After Isserow addressed the group, the evening was rounded off with a DJ and dancing.
For the past few years, Richmond Jewish Day School’s Student Council committee has been collecting donations to support different charities throughout the Lower Mainland. As part of their ongoing fundraising, the school was able to donate $1,150 to the Variety Club Sunshine Coach program and the school’s name was recently inscribed on the side of a 15-passenger Sunshine Coach, which will be used by Richmond Society for Community Living. The vehicle will transport youth with diverse abilities to various programs throughout the city.
Last month, several Canadians – or former Canadians – attended the 50th anniversary of Hadassim Children and Youth Village in Israel. Reunion organizer Rabbi Shawn Zell and the other attendees were among the first young Diaspora Jews to spend a year in Israel on a sponsored program – in their case, one organized by Canadian Hadassah-WIZO.