Writer and director Adam Bogoch, left, and VTT Alumni Fund chair David Bogoch at the première of Vancouver Talmud Torah Onward: The 100-Year History on Sept. 17. For those who missed the sold-out screening at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, the documentary can be watched online, via talmudtorah.com/vtt-onward-100-year-history or on YouTube. (photo by Jennifer Shecter-Balin)
In Elie Wiesel’s The Power of Forgiveness, the Nobel Prize winner describes the Jewish view of forgiveness. Specifically, that in order to be forgiven, one must first admit to wrongful action and apologize. With that teaching in mind, Grade 6 and 7 students from Vancouver Talmud Torah were asked the following question, “Does one wrong act of an individual reflect on an entire person or organization?” “No!” proclaimed the students. The question was posed in reference to the recent dousing in cold water of a homeless man outside a Tim Horton’s on Robson Street.
Non-judgment, compassion and good deeds are not just lessons to be learned, but a Jewish blueprint for a life to be lived. Over the past few months, VTT’s students have been working on a service learning project that includes providing food for the homeless. When the time came to seek sponsors for this initiative, students suggested approaching Tim Horton’s.
“The people at Tim Horton’s were so moved that they jumped at the opportunity without even considering what might be in it for them. They were intrigued by the fact that Jewish students were inviting Muslim and Catholic students to collaborate to help the needy – a value shared by all the three religions and complementary to the many good programs that Tim Horton’s already does in the community,” said Shoshana Burton, VTT’s director of Jewish life and programming.
With Tim Horton’s support, on March 11, VTT students, along with seventh grade students from the Shia Ismaili Muslim community and St. Augustine School, will be serving 2,000 people food donated by Tim Horton’s. They will also distribute 2,000 toques with the message: “I am here. See me. Believe in me,” donated by Tim Horton’s for those in need in the Downtown Eastside.
The students also will deliver gifts of hope and compassion. These are packages collaboratively created by all three communities that include necessities like toiletries and warm clothing, as well as a heartfelt note written by students and their families. “It’s the message that is accompanying the gifts of hope and compassion that we hope will inspire and lift individuals to see the greater good in humanity; a small message that will hopefully go a long way,” said Jessie Claudio, a VTT teacher involved in the project.
“It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful Jewish education demands that their character be developed as well,” added VTT head of school Cathy Lowenstein. “This hands-on chesed initiative is exactly the kind of learning our students will remember as they progress from elementary school to high school.
“It is hoped that by building bridges with other faith-based schools,” she continued, “VTT’s students will have the skills and experience to continue the work of cross-community dialogue and understanding as they become the next generation of Jewish leaders. By joining with others to address a very urgent need, our students and their teacher-mentors are fulfilling so many of the Jewish commandments to expand their universe of obligation. This is something we can all be proud of!”
VTT’s HannukkaMunity of LOVE. (photo from Vancouver Talmud Torah)
Vancouver Talmud Torah has two great Chanukah-related initiatives, one for the students to connect with students from other schools and one to bring parents and staff to work together and build the HannukkaMunity of LOVE. For the former, VTT students from grades K-7 have prepared Chanukah gift packages for Muslim, Catholic and First Nations children in British Columbia. Each package includes items related to the holiday with an explanation and a personalized greeting. Grade 7 students are making a video to include to help educate children from other faiths and cultures about Chanukah.
Shoshana Burton, VTT’s interim director of Jewish life and programming, said, “We want to emphasize the value of diversity and a building of a connection that is based on tolerance, curiosity and a pride of who we are by sharing the warmth of Chanukah with our peers. These gifts are just a start! They will be delivered on Dec. 12 to St. Augustine’s Catholic school, the Ismaili Muslim school and to First Nations Namgis T’sasala … on Vancouver Island.”
VTT Grade 7 students will also be exchanging gifts with Grade 7 students in the Ismaili community. “I have met Ismaili leaders who are excited about reciprocating in kind,” said Burton. “It’s an opportunity to teach our students about the upcoming Ismaili holiday,” which marks the birthday of the Aga Khan.
This exchange is the beginning of a partnership that will continue in February and March. In February, VTT students will have a chance to meet their counterparts at the other schools and get to know each other. Also, during spring break, they will be serving food to some residents of the Downtown Eastside.
“We’ll end our collaboration with families from both schools going out into the community for Random Acts of Chesed. We are calling it RAC Race TWOgether!” said Burton.