Left to right are Toby Rubin, Marie Doduck and Lynne Fader. (photo by Lianne Cohen)
On May 5, the Kehila Society of Richmond celebrated its 20th anniversary. The society honoured Marie and Sid (z”l) Doduck for the support and guidance they have given to the society since its inception, and celebrated members of its first board of directors. The special annual general meeting, which took place at the Richmond Country Club, also saw the initiation of Kehila’s current board and the event featured speaker Dr. Sherri Wise, who shared her story of surviving a terrorist attack in Israel. More than 90 people attended the AGM.
“The difference that Kehila has made for our Jewish community in Richmond … for the quality of living for those residing here – we continue to be an integral part of the Richmond community at large and are partners within it, making a difference every day,” said Lynne Fader, co-executive director with Toby Rubin.
“Kehila’s weekly seniors program on Mondays is an essential service for most of our attendees,” said Rubin. “We are meeting so many of their needs: from free ESL programming to food sustainability and socialization and education. We are very proud of our program and its vitality.”
The 2019/2020 Kehila Society of Richmond board of directors is Sherri Barkoff (co-president and treasurer), Mark Babins (co-president), Keziah Selles (secretary), Ruth Singer (seniors’ representative), Shauna Osten (community outreach), Shelley Morris (human resources), Courtney Cohen (community outreach) and Harley Godfrey (finance committee), with directors Rabbi Levi Varnai (the Bayit representative), Lu Winters (Richmond Jewish Day School), Jeff Rothberg (Beth Tikvah) and Sanford Cohen (Chabad Richmond).
“I am proud of the collaboration that we do with all the organizations in Richmond to help those in need, seniors, families and youth,” said Barkoff.
Kehila’s partnerships include the Multifaith Richmond Food Aid Delivery Program, a faith-based group of organizations working to feed the homeless, isolated, low-income and frail in the general population. Kehila assists with deliveries, cooking and, when viable, food vouchers and items of warm clothing. Kehila has facilitated a partnership with the Richmond SPCA and Tysol Pets to assist with these community members’ animal companions.
Kehila also participates in Light of Shabbat, with Chabad of Richmond. This biweekly, by-donation program has volunteers of all ages doing the cooking, packaging and delivering of kosher Shabbat meals to 30-plus individuals.
The Len Babins Nutritional Subsidy Program is a donor-sponsored initiative focused on RJDS but not exclusively. It provides hot lunches twice a week for children in need at the school; children are screened discreetly through the school counselor. Approximately 254 meals per term per student are provided, with a total of 17 children from 12 families accessing the service. But the number of children served is higher than this because, additionally, Kehila funds a healthy lunch for these same children who, on days of no hot lunch program, do not have lunches.
Chabad of Richmond and Kehila also partner in the Richmond Community Seder, an annual, by-donation event that has been held for numerous years. Generally, about 70 people attend the seder and many take food home for a second seder or out of need. This year, for the first time, a full seder meal and supplies were delivered to those who were unable to attend.
Lastly, Kehila spearheads Rose’s Angels, an annual outreach program that provides warm clothing, hygiene products, children’s books and more to local community agencies whose clients are in need of assistance. This year, more than 1,100 individuals benefitted from the program, which is run through donations of many kinds.
Cory Bretz has made a video of Kehila Society’s work and Lianne Cohen photographed the 20th anniversary event – the video and photos can be found on Kehila’s Facebook page (facebook.com/113139405408718).
The Arnold and Anita Silber Theatre at Tel-Hai College officially opened last month. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
Last month, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken, as well as board members Karen James, Alex Cristall and Candace Kwinter, and Jewish Community Foundation executive director Marcie Flom were in Israel for the official opening of the Arnold and Anita Silber Theatre at Tel-Hai College. This new 1,200-seat outdoor theatre will be a hub of activity for the university and surrounding area. The theatre is located at the centre of the Tel-Hai campus, and is a key component in the college’s long-term development plan.
The Silbers have long supported Federation’s partnership region of the Galilee Panhandle, and its work there. They have supported a number of projects and established the Friends of Beit Vancouver, a donor-recognition program for supporters of Beit Vancouver. Anita Silber serves on Federation’s Israel and overseas affairs committee, and has for several years. Recognizing that Tel-Hai is a significant economic driver in the region led the Silbers to fund this legacy project and lend their name to it.
The official opening of the theatre began with a welcome reception with Tel-Hai’s board of trustees, followed by a ribbon cutting. The Silbers were joined by their granddaughter, Samantha Addison, and family members from Israel. In reply to the address honouring them that was delivered by Tel-Hai’s president, Prof. Yossi Mekori, Arnold Silber stressed that the students were the primary motivation for this investment. They are the ones to whom the future of the region is entrusted, and it is they who will take it to the next level.
A number of families and individuals from our community agree, and they are funding scholarships, which were awarded to students at the ceremony by James and Cristall: the Coleman Family Scholarships, the Krell Family Scholarships, the Evelynne Loomer z”l Scholarships, the Bernard Lotzkar Scholarships and the Zalkow Family Scholarships.
* * *
Over the course of the 2018/2019 school year, the Student Council Committee of Richmond Jewish Day School took it upon themselves to raise money for the Shalva Centre Hydrotherapy Program in Israel.
With the support of families, the school raised $1,000, which was generously matched by Lola Pawer. Pawer and Leslie Diamond, who is a board member of the Shalva Centre, came to RJDS to teach students about the work Shalva provides for children with disabilities.
The students presented a cheque to Diamond in the amount of $2,000. For anyone wanting to learn more about Shalva or make a donation, visit shalva.org.
* * *
Brett and Caro Rudolph have fun at their wedding in Syracuse, Sicily. Brett is the son of Les and Anita Rudolph of Vancouver (previously from South Africa) and Caro is the daughter of André and Svetli Wanne of Vienna. The wedding was officiated by Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg of Vienna and was thoroughly enjoyed by family and friends. Brett and Caro live in Israel.
* * *
On May 25, 2019, Samantha Pawer was conferred the degree of bachelor of science honours in integrated sciences with distinction from the University of British Columbia. Samantha is an alumna of Richmond Jewish Day School and Hugh Boyd Secondary School. Proud are parents Jeff Pawer and Beverly Pawer and big brother Brayden Pawer.
* * *
Moshe Baitelman decided to become a doctor when he took his first biology class in high school. On May 26, 2019, the Vancouverite graduated as valedictorian at Touro’s Lander College of Arts and Sciences in Flatbush, Brooklyn, N.Y. He will begin medical school in the fall.
Baitelman chose Touro because it offered a strong Jewish environment as well as academic rigour. He majored in honours biology and minored in computer science. Along the way, he built strong relationships with his professors. “They all pushed me to be my best,” he said.
Living in Brooklyn, Baitelman found support for his career goals via the Gedaliah Society, a local network of Chabad men and women in the healthcare profession who offered advice and shared their own experiences in preparing for medical school. He also served as executive editor of Touro’s science journal and president of the Touro Science Society.
“Moshe has distinguished himself as a gifted, multitalented student with outstanding leadership skills. We are confident that he will become a respected physician, who will create a Kiddush Hashem in all his patient and professional interactions,” said Dr. Robert Goldschmidt, vice-president and executive dean of the Lander College.
Prior to Touro, Baitelman attended Vancouver Hebrew Academy for elementary and then the Pacific Torah Institute. Both schools imparted a strong Torah education with Jewish morals and values, and a first-class education. Baitelman’s education in Vancouver was the solid foundation for a life of strong Jewish identity and commitment to Jewish observance and learning, as well as enabling him to pursue further career education.
Baitelman credits his parents for his drive; they instilled a strong work ethic and have continued to encourage him. He offers similar advice to students getting ready to start college: “Be proactive. It will be the difference between just passing through and actually gaining from college. Find activities that will be conducive to your professional and educational growth – use your network of professors, advisors and other students.”
Jewish Family Services Innovators Lunch committee, left to right: Sherri Wise, Tamar Bakonyi, Candice Thal and Shannon Ezekiel. (photo from JFS)
On May 14, Jewish Family Services held its 15th annual Innovators Lunch at the Hyatt Regency downtown. The sold-out event was hosted by CBC broadcaster Gloria Macarenko and featured keynote speaker Lane Merrifield of CBC’s Dragons’ Den. Attended by 620 donors, partners, sponsors and volunteers, it raised an unprecedented $380,000 towards programs and services designed to improve quality of life for 2,000 Lower Mainland residents.
This year’s theme at JFS is “community.” At the luncheon, Richard Fruchter, the agency’s chief executive officer, spoke of JFS’s mission to provide life’s necessities: “food, shelter, accessibility and emotional stability.”
The audience was shown a video presentation created by Michael Millman, which revealed the wide-ranging benefits of JFS’s work. A single mother spoke candidly and with feeling about her struggles. “Before I reached out to JFS, I struggled with everything. We lived on almost nothing,” she said. JFS staff provided housing, food and food vouchers, as well as trauma counseling. JFS partner agency Tikva Housing provided the family with a townhouse in a new development. “It’s a beautiful place, right on the Fraser River … a lovely home for us to have for many years,” she said, adding, “JFS has given us a life. A way to be happy. It’s just been a huge blessing for us.”
A senior with disabilities spoke about how a spinal cord injury felled him at the age of 36. JFS has helped him remain independent with its Better at Home program. In the video, Cindy MacMillan, director of senior services at JFS, explained that a grant from the United Way made it possible for the senior to remain at home. Now he has a housekeeper come in to look after his home, and also enjoys companionship with weekly visits from a JFS volunteer. “It’s working out, I look forward to them!” he said.
“It’s helped him realize that people in his community care about him,” said MacMillan. “It’s really Jewish values in action, in the broader community. Those values of caring and healing happen every time we make a match with a volunteer.”
JFS board member Jody Dales gave a passionate speech about her own family’s struggles. Dales saw her grandmother turn away help when she was struggling with poverty. Having survived the Holocaust, her grandmother still felt that others needed the help more than she did, Dales explained. As a result, Dales said she applauds anyone who comes forward to seek support. Rather than being a sign of weakness, she said, “Only the courageous are able to say, ‘Help me.’” She acknowledged that people tend to experience “a sense of shame in asking for help. But nothing is certain. It could be any of us at any time.”
Dales also explained how big a difference can be made by even a small donation and told the audience, “Let your empathy guide your decisions.”
Merrifield, co-creator of Club Penguin, an online community for kids, spoke about building community in the business world. Designed to be a safe, collaborative environment for play and learning, Club Penguin is founded on an ethos of mutual reliance and philanthropy. Eventually sold to Disney for $350 million, Disney recruited Merrifield to lead the project, ensuring that Club Penguin maintained the integrity of its original goal, “inspiring change in the world.”
Merrifield urged people to work towards social entrepreneurship, where human concerns guide business decisions. Rather than focusing on capital investment, he advised the audience to “invest in people because that’s what keeps us healthy. Revenue is not what you chase for its own sake,” he said. “It is the by-product of creating a great product with a great team.”
Right from the beginning, the business plan for Club Penguin was based on philanthropy. A portion of subscriptions went to families that live on less than $51 per day, he said. But “there was no fanfare,” said Merrifield. “We didn’t want this to look like a gimmick.” In the first year, the company gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Merrifield spoke of the need to galvanize the community of kids, teaching them to invest in their community with a “coins for change” program. This virtual fundraiser even allowed children to “ring bells” to attract the attention of other subscribers. Over one billion digital coins were donated annually, for a range of humanitarian causes. Self-organizing kids formed virtual marches, becoming activists in their own right; held candlelit vigils and themed parties.
Merrifield brings the same spirit of social responsibility to his work on Dragons’ Den. He and his fellow panelists (“dragons”) hear pitches by entrepreneurs who are looking for investment and choose which ones to support. Merrifield said he looks for companies that “use recycled materials, hire disabled applicants, plant trees, and make an effort to reduce waste in their packaging and lower their fuel costs.” So far, he has not been disappointed. “Most companies have pretty good answers and that gives me hope,” he said.
On the subject of giving back, Merrifield encouraged people to consider donations – such as those to JFS – not as losses to oneself, but as “investments in the future, to individuals who continue to pay it forward.”
He also asked the audience to engage everyone they could to further the cause of fearless generosity. “Use your collective strength and influence to create change for good,” he said.
He advised, “Pool your talents and leave this world far better than it was when we came into it.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
Prof. Yuval Shahar, left, and David Berson with Dr. Rachael Ritchie of Vancouver Coastal Health. (photo by Shula Klinger)
The use of artificial intelligence is intended “to harness the power of computers with math and statistics theory to improve the diagnosis and care of patients,” according to Dr. Yuval Shahar, professor of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s software and information systems engineering department.
Between May 23 and 30, Canadian Associates of BGU, B.C. and Alberta Region, hosted a visit from Shahar, whose research explores how information technologies can be used to improve numerous aspects of healthcare.
Shahar has spent 30 years working in digital medicine, gained his bachelor and medical degrees from the Hebrew University, and a master’s in computer science from Yale University. He did his doctorate at Stanford University, where he also spent 10 years as a faculty member in the computer science and medicine department. He founded BGU’s Medical Informatics Research Centre in 2000 and, in 2017, was elected as a founding member of the International Academy of Health Sciences Informatics.
During his time in Vancouver, Shahar presented his work to full lecture halls across town, including at Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, various government offices, Vancouver General Hospital, Pacific Blue Cross and some start-ups.
The program with which Shahar works requires patients to wear an ECG (echocardiographic) belt around their chest to monitor their heart, as well as a blood pressure cuff. This allows a patient to receive care 24 hours a day. Using Bluetooth, the data collected from these devices are sent to the patient’s cellphone and then to the program’s server in Israel.
MobiGuide was developed with 13 partners in Europe, including Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Austria. Even with 63 other projects competing for funding – including teams at Oxford and Cambridge universities – the MobiGuide team received seven million euros. “Ben-Gurion already had the necessary technology working,” said Shahar.
The program is led by an Israeli team in the main technology centre at BGU, with the partners from across Europe. Shahar explained how the system works, using the analogy of today’s mapping software. “It’s like a medical version of GPS,” he said. Right now, the program’s focus is on diabetes and hypertension.
One advantage of MobiGuide is the way the server handles massive amounts of clinical research, explained Shahar. For instance, when international guidelines for treating hypertension change, you can update that information in one place and it will be reflected throughout the entire system. That information is then immediately available to all patients and their physicians on the MobiGuide system.
“There are millions of patients on the system now,” said Shahar. “Each cellphone has a customized version of the guidelines in the program so the phone alerts the ‘mothership’ and the server examines the data for anomalies. The mothership knows the full patient history and clinical guidelines.”
The server in Israel also reminds patients to make adjustments, such as to their diet. A phone can contact the mothership to ask for advice, and recommendations are customized for each individual. Personal preferences can be adjusted depending on the patient – for example, when they prefer to be alerted to take their medications. If they are on vacation, they can ask the system not to alert them as frequently.
The system can also be notified to anticipate spikes in blood glucose. For instance, if a patient is attending a wedding and expects to eat rich food, she can tell the system first that it need not be concerned about this. Likewise, if a patient lives alone and has nobody to rely on for support with their health, the system can issue different instructions than for someone with a companion.
Humans are, however, still essential to the smooth running of the system. Shahar relies on “medical-knowledge engineers, graduate students,” who digitize clinical knowledge so that it can be applied on the system. But, he said, “It’s a sign of the future. Chronic patients won’t need to be in clinics all of the time. You want to be there only if there’s no other way.” It is cheaper to offer care in the community, especially in remote areas, even while offering round-the-clock observation.
To date, feedback from patients and the professional community has been consistently good. Compliance with clinical guidelines by physicians has improved, preventing a great deal of human error and possibly fatal mistakes, said Shahar. Likewise, he said, “Compliance was very high, we saw real patient empowerment.”
Patients “said that their quality of life had improved, they felt more secure and safe,” said Shahar. This is important, he explained, because AI in healthcare is not just about technology – human psychology has a huge impact on both patient treatment and outcomes.
As an example of the program’s success, Shahar said, in Barcelona, pregnant women with gestational diabetes were studied. The blood pressure of the research patients was significantly lower than in the control group, who attended in-person clinics. Shahar explained that these data were accompanied by a sense that a “benevolent big brother was monitoring them, and someone was sending alerts and recommendations every few days.”
After a four-year evaluation hosted by a veterans hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., there is evidence that the software developed by Shahar’s team has helped physicians manage oncology data better than before. With only seven to 10 minutes to give to each patient, physicians simply do not have the time to review all the material they need to, while considering its application and significance to individual patients.
In his talk at the Eye Care Centre at VGH, Shahar recalled asking a patient if she minded getting numerous texts from MobiGuide every day. “She laughed, I get 50 texts from my friends, what’s another 20?” he said. But, in reality, she clarified, “How could I mind? This is about the health of my baby.” Shahar added, “They feel that someone knows them deeply.”
According to David Berson, regional executive director of CABGU, Shahar’s visit was a success. He said BGU will examine how Shahar’s research in medical informatics can dovetail with local efforts to revolutionize healthcare, exploring the potential for “patient empowerment, remote monitoring, decision-making support and beyond.”
BGU board member and innovation expert Jonathan Miodowski said there was a need to balance between “blue-sky research and practical solutions” to real-world problems. “Multidisciplinary approach is a hot topic for universities these days – it is critical to bring different perspectives to the research,” he said.
Miodowski described Israel as a world leader in innovation. Last year, Canada raised $4.7 billion in start-up capital, he said, noting that Israeli start-ups, by contrast, raised $10 billion. “For a country that is two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island, that’s pretty significant,” he said. “In a sense, the size of the territory is very convenient. Cross-pollination of ideas is inevitable.”
Miodowski also spoke well of the Vancouver visit. “We planted some seeds on both sides,” he said. “It was very positive. There was real interest in Yuval’s research, real appreciation for what Israel has done in terms of its innovation ecosystem.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
George and Tamara Frankel at Masks, Revelations and Selfhood, the spring forum of Jewish Seniors Alliance, in partnership with the Louis Brier Home and Hospital, which was held May 26 at the Peretz Centre. (photo from JSA)
Since August 2018, Louis Brier Home and Hospital residents have explored themes of personhood and creative expression, crafting masks, narratives and original dances with expressive arts therapist Calla Power and choreographer Lee Kwidzinski. The whole process was filmed by Jay Fox for a documentary.
Power, Kwidzinski and Fox, as well as Louis Brier resident Jennifer Young, who participated in the project, shared their experiences with guests at Masks, Revelations and Selfhood, the spring forum of Jewish Seniors Alliance, in partnership with the Louis Brier. The forum was held May 26 at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture.
The four presenters brought with them many of the masks that were made by the Louis Brier residents, which they placed on tables near the audience. Everyone could examine them up close and try them on. This allowed people to experience the changes one feels when masked, hidden from others.
JSA president Ken Levitt welcomed everyone and spoke about JSA’s motto, “Seniors Stronger Together,” noting that JSA’s free peer support programs – which require the financial support of the community to continue – exemplify the power of older adults assisting other older adults. He then introduced Power, who has been working with residents at the Louis Brier for about five years.
The Masks Project lasted seven months, culminating in a program that includes masks, stories, poems, drama and dance. In her summary of the history of masks, Power said the oldest masks, dating from the Neolithic period, were found near Jerusalem several years ago. She explained that masks are used in many cultures as part of religious and/or spiritual ceremonies. In a slide presentation, she showcased masks from different cultures, including African, Indian and local indigenous cultures. Frequently, she said, those wearing the masks would represent “the gods” and be a conduit for messages from above.
Ginger Lerner, Louis Brier recreation therapist, had approached Power about making masks for Purim, obtaining a donation from the estate of Frank and Rosie Nelson that facilitated the project. Power did some research on Purim and discovered that many of the characters were masked; for example, Esther, who masked her origins, and Vashti, who refused to be unmasked. As residents engaged with the project, they discussed such topics as what parts of ourselves do we keep hidden behind a mask.
Kwidzinski, who specializes in dance movement, has 30 years of experience working with older adults, mainly those with dementia and those who are in wheelchairs. She has a dance company in Mission, and the dancers worked with the mask makers to create movements related to the masks and the residents’ ideas. The dancers became the bodies of the mask makers, who chose the movements and the music. The mask makers came on stage with the dancers for the performance.
Young, one of the mask makers, expressed how moving the entire experience had been. She said the group became close, even though they hadn’t known each other well before.
Young said she had been reluctant about the dance aspect but felt that the dancers were extremely supportive and, at the end, she said she found the movements liberating, as if she were also dancing. She said she gained energy and willpower from the experience, and thanked Power, Kwidzinski and Fox for giving her the ability and opportunity to “get up and keep going.”
Fox has produced award-winning films, documentaries, music videos and public service announcements. He was involved in the Masks Project from the beginning. He felt that the journey was as important as the film and the art produced. The film was screened at the forum, and can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=YspYE6juiy0.
Gyda Chud, JSA first vice-president, led the question-and-answer session. Members of the audience expressed their appreciation for the information and the beauty of the project. It was suggested that advocacy was needed to have this type of project adopted by other care homes and adult day-care centres.
I wrapped up the afternoon event with a thank you to the presenters, which was followed by snacks provided by Gala Catering.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
Israelis Ofir Gadi and Or Aharoni are rounding up their year of volunteering in Metro Vancouver. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
In Israel, high school graduates can go straight into the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) or opt to do a shnat sherut (year of service, for which the acronym is shinshin). The vast majority of 18-year-olds who do a shnat sherut do so inside Israel, volunteering with a variety of social welfare and other nonprofit organizations throughout the country. But, through the Jewish Agency, approximately 100 teens do their year of volunteering in Jewish communities around the world.
Vancouver began to take part in the program in 2015. In August of that year, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver brought three young women to split their time between Vancouver Talmud Torah, Richmond Jewish Day School, King David High School, Beth Israel, Temple Sholom, Beth Tikvah and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. The final quarter of the year was spent volunteering at camps Hatikvah and Miriam and the JCC day camp. Each agency contributed a portion of money to cover the expenses needed to bring the shinshiniot (female plural for shinshin) here from Israel and to contribute to a small monthly stipend. Host families, who welcomed an 18-year-old Israeli into their family for a period of three months, took care of living arrangements and meals.
Nearly four years later, all of the original host organizations continue to participate in the program. Shinshin coordinator Dan Stern helps make the connections between the organizations and the volunteers as smooth as possible. The main challenge continues to be finding host families. While it is a significant responsibility, the fact that many host families have hosted volunteers multiple times speaks to the rewards of doing so.
This year, for the first time, Vancouver picked one male and one female shinshin. Ofir Gadi and Or Aharoni arrived in early September and settled in right away. They spent two days each week at VTT, interacting with students through activities including song, dance, multimedia presentations focusing on Israel, Israeli-style Jewish holiday celebrations, and Hebrew. RJDS had them once a week for similar activities and the pair helped at the JCC with teen programming. On Sundays, they split up to give a special Israeli flavour to various synagogue religious schools. Federation also has had them working at many community events and its outreach program, Connect Me In, which services Squamish, Langley and Burquest. Additionally, the two have helped make other community-wide celebrations special, including making a presentation at this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
Gadi and Aharoni have proven to have complementary personalities. They have worked together, smiling through the challenges they have faced and thoroughly enjoying almost everything they’ve encountered here.
“Vancouver is my favourite city in the world,” said Aharoni with her typical warm smile. “The weather is much better than what the other Canadian shinshinim have and the people we have met here have been so welcoming and amazing. Also, being here, I’m not the only one saying thank you on the bus!”
Gadi has also had terrific experiences. “We have worked a lot in many areas of the Vancouver Jewish community and the good thing about that is we have met so many wonderful people,” he said.
While they were prepared to a certain degree about what to expect, both Aharoni and Gadi have said being in Vancouver has exceeded their expectations. “We both love it here and plan to return,” said Gadi.
The biggest surprise for Aharoni was that she felt at home as soon as she arrived. “I didn’t know that it would be such a good fit,” she said. “I was positive coming in but I have found the energy and the vibe of the students amazing and the community, host families and friends I’ve made have been so special.”
Although she has traveled outside of Israel, she said she didn’t know anything about what it is like to live as a Jewish person outside of Israel. She comes from a secular Israeli family and, she said, living here has brought up questions about Jewish identity that had never been an issue before.
“Firstly, I am an Israeli. Secondly, I feel fully Jewish even though I am not at all religious,” she said. “I see that it’s important to live the Jewish life the way you want. I also understand that going to synagogue is important here in order to be part of something, and being part of a community is very special.”
Both teens have stayed with families with whom they have deeply connected. “It’s been great to be part of a different family every few months,” said Gadi. “I have enjoyed my host siblings and I hope our connection will continue and my family in Israel will have a chance to host my families from here.”
Gadi is from a small community near Modi’in called Reut and Aharoni’s family lives on a moshav called Aviel, near Caesarea. Both shinshinim expect visitors, as host families and friends of past shinshiniot have kept in touch and visited when in Israel.
“The connections with people makes this experience more powerful and meaningful. Both Ofir and I have made so many special connections with students, families and the Vancouver Jewish community,” said Aharoni.
Up next for both shinshinim is summer camp. Aharoni will help augment the Israel programming at Camp Hatikvah and Gadi will be at Camp Miriam lending an additional Israeli vibe to the camp.
For more information about the shinshin program or how to host one of the two shinshinim who will arrive in September, contact Jewish Federation at 604-257-5100.
Michelle Dodekis a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
Tour organizer Carmel Tanaka at one of the tours last stops. (photo by Kayla Isomura)
The first Jewish neighbourhood in Vancouver was in Strathcona, which also served as the first home for many, if not most, cultural communities that make up the diverse fabric of the city. The neighbourhood welcomed wave after wave of immigrants of different backgrounds and continues to do so today. The rich multicultural history of this area – too often overlooked amid the social challenges of the larger Downtown Eastside – was given its due in a series of walking tours this spring.
Carmel Tanaka organized the tours, bringing together almost two dozen community organizations. Tanaka is chair of the human rights committee of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association and an active member of the Jewish community, but the tour is an ad hoc, grassroots project with no umbrella organizing agency. Partnering agencies include Heritage Vancouver, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia and the Jewish Independent. The Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour took place each Sunday in May, with two tours each day. Tanaka said she hopes to make the tour an annual event.
Tanaka came up with the idea after participating in a walk of Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s historic black neighbourhood, as part of Jane’s Walks, a global festival of citizen-led walking tours inspired by the late visionary urbanist Jane Jacobs. A week after her exploration of the neighbourhood’s black history, Tanaka took the Jewish Museum’s walking tour of Strathcona.
“We were walking similar streets and even talking about places that are right across the road from each other and I started to think, well, there must have been interaction between our communities,” she told the Independent. “Why not bring the guides, the experts, the archivists and the know-alls into one room and see if we can do something together. What started as a small group of four to five guides, who do existing tours, blossomed into 20-plus participating organizations, including community organizations, heritage organizations, the Vancouver School Board and more. We’ve been told there have been attempts to do something like this before, but not to this degree. It’s very exciting that we’re all working together.”
The tour, which took in Hogan’s Alley, Jewish Strathcona, former Japantown and Chinatown, was intended to build awareness of the contributions of immigrant communities then and now. It took place in May as part of the celebration of Vancouver Asian Heritage Month and Canada’s Jewish Heritage Month.
The theme of the walking tour this year was education and the starting point of the two-and-a-half-hour adventure was Lord Strathcona Elementary School, the city’s oldest. Referred to as the “League of Nations” for its diversity, the school remains one of the most multicultural in the country.
One former Strathcona student, Elder Larry Grant of the Musqueam Nation and Chinese-Canadian communities, recalled the experience of growing up in the area and the impact the cultural mosaic had on him and others.
Opened in March 1891 as East School, it was renamed in 1909 in honour of Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, who drove the last spike in Canada’s first transcontinental railway. To get a sense of the extraordinary range of ethnicities, a survey in 1940 indicated that the students included 650 of Japanese descent, 300 Chinese, 150 Italian, about 150 Yugoslavian, Ukrainian and Polish students, about 100 of British descent, several from India and a scattering from other European countries. After the regular school day, many of the students would have proceeded to after-school programs in their heritage language at, for example, the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall, a 1906 building on Alexander Street where the tour finished.
Jewish kids would have made their way down the block from Strathcona elementary to the B’nei Yehuda synagogue, since converted to condos but, at the time, the spiritual and figurative centre of Jewish life in the city. The synagogue opened in November 1911, with an after-school program in Jewish tradition. A full-time day school, Talmud Torah, opened there in 1921 and moved to its current location on Oak Street in 1948.
In 1942, when the Canadian government instituted a wartime policy against Japanese and Japanese-Canadians, about half of Strathcona school’s population disappeared, forcibly relocated to camps in the British Columbia interior and elsewhere east.
The tour featured different community guides at each destination along the route, bringing together a patchwork of knowledge about different communities to help participants form an impression about how different communities maintained their distinctiveness while interacting with the variety of cultures and languages around them.
Not far from the industrial waterfront, Strathcona grew, in part, from the maritime trade, especially the 1858 discovery of gold in the Fraser Canyon. But, as guides noted, the area has probably been a gathering place for thousands of years, initially as a summer campsite for the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. The 1858 gold rush, and successive ones further north, brought merchants from China and Jewish provisioners from San Francisco. Indentured labourers from China, who worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway, helped launch the beginnings of Chinatown in the area around Pender Street. Japanese, Portuguese and Italian immigrants followed, with many working in the Hastings Sawmill and other resource-related industries.
The tour passed the National Council of Jewish Women Neighbourhood House on Jackson Street, a locus of Jewish social activity that is seen as a precursor to the Jewish Community Centre. The Vancouver chapter of NCJW was founded in 1924 and helped new immigrants settle, learn English and find jobs. One of their landmark programs was the Well Baby Clinic, which immunized kids and helped new parents care for their families. National Council remains active today, providing services especially for families and youth, educational and advocacy programs around human trafficking and spreading awareness about Jewish genetic diseases.
Later, the tour passed Oppenheimer Park, named for the city’s first – and so far only – Jewish mayor, David Oppenheimer.
An important part of the tour was Hogan’s Alley. The creation of the Georgia Viaduct destroyed a large part of the historic black neighbourhood but Fountain Chapel, a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal church, still exists, though it is now a private residence.
From Hogan’s Alley, the old Canadian National Railway station looms large to the south, and it was the profession of Pullman porter, made up almost exclusively of African-American and black Canadians, that was a launchpad to the middle class for many black families. The development of the black neighbourhood in this location owed its origins to the proximity to the train station.
From there, the tour proceeded into Chinatown and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. A sawmill at the foot of Carrall Street, constructed in 1886, provided employment for many Chinese men and set in motion the establishment of Vancouver’s Chinatown on this block.
In 1947, the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed, rescinding a racist law and opening the door to more Asian newcomers and establishing equal rights, including the right to vote, for Chinese-Canadians. The tour also recalled how, in 1907, a group calling itself the Asiatic Exclusion League incited a mob of about 9,000 rioters who rampaged through Chinatown and Powell Street, smashing windows and destroying properties. This led to the federal government reducing immigration from East Asia.
The tour continued to the Mon Keang School in the Wongs’ Benevolent Association building, an example of a Chinatown clan society. These societies supported extended family members as they migrated, serving as housing agency, employment office, post office and bank for new arrivals. Chinese men could borrow money here to pay Canada’s discriminatory head tax and to send money home to their families in China.
Mon Keang School provided a classical Cantonese education to the first generation of local-born children and, in the 1930s, was just one of 10 such Chinese schools in the area. By the 1970s, Chinese families were living throughout the city and Chinese-Canadian kids were choosing sports and other extracurricular activities over Chinese school. Mon Keang School closed in 2011 but reopened in 2016 with a grassroots community program taking a different approach to Chinese language learning.
The history of Christian social action in the neighbourhood is demonstrated powerfully at the corner of Hastings and Gore, where the Salvation Army citadel, now boarded up, stands across from First United Church, a hub of social programs in the Downtown Eastside, and nearby Saint James Anglican, which also has a long activist history. While plenty of good work has emanated from these institutions, during the era of Indian residential schools in Canada, from 1883 to 1996, churches were complicit with the federal government in the genocide of indigenous Canadians through the deliberate and brutal attempts to exterminate indigenous cultures and languages.
The walking tour tries to highlight the main aspects of the area’s history, without romanticizing it.
“This is a grassroots initiative led by myself and a bunch of amazing, dedicated team members,” Tanaka said. “We’re really hoping that this will become an annual event and will be able to include even more communities next year. We’ll see what this turns into.”
This year’s Summer Celebration cover photo was taken from the Vancouver General Hospital palliative care unit’s outdoor garden, on the 16th floor of the Jim Pattison Pavilion. It is dedicated to our dear friend and colleague Baila Lazarus who, at the age of 57, died at the hospital on May 31, due to complications of multiple myeloma. She was resilient to the end. May her memory be for a blessing.
Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building of King David High School, are back for the expansion. (image from KDHS)
Bucking a trend that is seeing Jewish day schools across North America struggling to maintain enrolment, Vancouver’s King David High School is about to launch an expansion that will grow the space by 40% to accommodate increasing demand from students.
The Diamond Foundation, which purchased the land on which the school sits and funded construction of the school, which opened in 2005, has committed $6.5 million for the expansion project. Building is expected to begin in spring 2020, with completion in time for the opening of school in September 2021.
The school was built for 10 classes – two cohorts in each of grades 8 to 12.
“The challenge is, unfortunately, they don’t come in even numbers,” said Russ Klein, King David’s head of school. “You have some years where you have huge groups and then you have years where you have lesser groups. The challenge of dealing with a third cohort in a grade is really, really challenging. It was really built for two classes per grade and, as soon as you add a third class in a grade, it changes the whole structure.
“For the last three years, we’ve been squeezing in,” he continued. The expansion will permit 13 or 14 classes, with the flexibility to accommodate bulges, like the large cohorts in the current Grade 8 and Grade 11 classes.
Originally envisioned for about 200 students, the school’s enrolment is now 236.
“Thankfully, when we talked to the Diamonds, they were totally on board with helping us get to where we want to be, to be the best school we can be for our community,” he said.
The project will add an additional 13,000 square feet to the school’s current 33,000 square feet. Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building, are back for the expansion.
The two-storey existing building is the maximum height allowed by the city, so the increased space will be accommodated by digging down. There is already an underground level featuring a parkade. That will be extended and an additional sub-basement dug beneath it. The land around the school will be excavated to allow natural light into the new sub-level spaces, with stairs and an accessible ramp leading to the outdoor activity area.
The lowest sub-basement level will include changing rooms for students, additional gender-neutral bathrooms, a computer technology room and storage, which is lacking in the existing school.
The basement level will feature a state-of-the-art music room with three rehearsal areas and a control room so that students can record music. Also on that level will be an office for the physical education staff.
Added to the existing main floor will be a drama space and film studio with a green screen, where students can work on movie-making, film-editing and drama programs. Also in the works is an “innovation lab,” still in the planning stage, which could include 3-D printers and other hands-on learning tools where students can co-create a range of projects and explore individual interests. The existing drama and music spaces will be converted into general classrooms, Klein said, “so we get the extra bang there as well.”
The top floor will accommodate more new classrooms and a teachers’ workroom. A number of small offices will also be integrated into the new design.
When completed, the school’s existing space and new areas will merge seamlessly, Klein said, as if part of the original structure.
Notably, despite the expansion to the east of the existing building, useable outdoor space will increase with the removal of a hill at the edge of the property and a reorganization of the playing courts.
The entire project will involve minimal disruption to students because most of the work will take place outside of the existing school. One area that will be affected is the loss of outdoor space for a school year. Aside from that, the most disruptive impacts should be some construction noise, said Klein.
The $6.5 million commitment from the Diamond Foundation covers all the brick-and-mortar components. As part of the commitment, the King David community is to raise an additional $765,000 for furnishings, technology and other “soft costs,” Klein said. Also part of the agreement is that the school increase its existing endowment, which stands at about $1 million, to $5 million over the next five years. The revenue from the endowment is intended to create a fund that ensures tuition affordability and accessibility regardless of family capacity.
Klein lauded the Diamonds’ visionary commitment to continuity.
“They are the greatest supporters of Jewish education in the city,” said the principal. “We are so in awe of what they’re doing and their willingness to do it and just step up and support the growth of the school, to demonstrate how proud they are of what the school has done and not just with their talk but with their actions and their leadership.”
The co-presidents of the King David board of directors, Jackie Cristall Morris and Neville Israel, noted that school enrolment has increased 70% in 10 years.
“The expansion will allow us to grow and to keep striving towards meeting our school vision of being a dynamic leader in empowering Jewish minds and engaging Jewish hearts for the modern world,” they wrote in a statement to the Independent. “We are incredibly grateful for the Diamond family’s support of King David since the school’s early days. Simply put, King David would not have existed without the support of the Diamonds both in building the school, providing us free use of the building and in supporting our Judaic studies program, which is now well regarded under the leadership of Rabbi Stephen Berger.”
The Diamond Foundation has been run by Gordon and Leslie Diamond and their daughters Jill Diamond and Lauri Glotman. Recently, Leslie Diamond said, the next generation of family – Glotman’s children Bram Glotman, Sadye Dixon and Carly Glotman – has joined the foundation.
Leslie Diamond acknowledges that she has been King David’s most avid proponent within the family foundation. “To me, it was very important there be a high school to carry on those traditions and to instil the purpose of keeping those traditions,” she said. “I think that kids going to King David will have a better chance of feeling their roots and not leaving them.”
The need for more space is a sign of the excellent health and strength of the community, she said.
“Even though we think that we’re small compared to Toronto and the east, we really are a strong community,” Diamond said. “The success of the school proves that. The fact that they’re growing by leaps and bounds means there is a need for a Jewish high school, which goes back to my thoughts in the very beginning.”
In addition to excellence in Judaic and general education and the range of additional curricular and extracurricular options, there is something that Diamond said King David offers that she sees as vitally important for young people. “There is this need of belonging, which you don’t get in a public school,” she said.
Keynote speaker Irene Dodek and Bill Gruenthal, from the Temple Sholom 60+ group, at the latest JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series event, which took place May 15. (photo by Marcy Babins)
Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver and the seniors group Temple Sholom 60+ co-sponsored the fourth in the 2018-19 JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series, which has the theme “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves.” About 60 attendees met at Temple Sholom on May 15 for lunch, followed by a talk by Irene Dodek on Writing Our Own Stories.
Bill Gruenthal of the 60+ group welcomed the audience and announced the names of everyone who was having a birthday in April and May. He then introduced Ken Levitt, president of Jewish Seniors Alliance, who thanked Temple Sholom for the opportunity to co-sponsor the event with them and briefly outlined JSA’s programs, with particular emphasis on the Peer Support Program. He also explained that JSA’s motto is “Seniors Stronger Together.”
Gruenthal introduced Dodek, one of two charter members of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia (JMABC).
Dodek is a graduate of the University of British Columbia in anthropology and museum studies. She said she first became interested in stories while growing up in Wapella, Sask., where she heard many family tales from her grandfather and her uncles, who were homesteaders there.
Dodek has been conducting interviews for the JMABC for many years. She outlined a few of her early interviews and pointed out some of the mistakes made by beginners. She offered the following tips, stressing that the most important thing is for the interviewees to be heard. Questions must be open-ended, she said, to give the person a chance to talk and explain. Confidentiality must be maintained, as well as respect for the person, and patience in waiting for answers. Interviewers must give people a chance to think before they answer, she said.
Dodek – who said that history is her passion – was also involved in a Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation project that required 30 hours of training in three days on how to interview Holocaust survivors. She commented that this was very different from interviewing community pioneers.
The title of her family history, which she wrote, is You’ll Always be My Darling. Dodek took the name from a note her mother once wrote in her autograph book. She did a lot of genealogical research and the book contains many maps and family photographs. The book is in the national archives in Ottawa.
After a number of questions about interviewing and also about writing, Gruenthal thanked Dodek for her stimulating presentation.
The fifth in the “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves” series will take place on June 24, sponsored by JSA and the Kehila Society of Richmond. Called Dueling Pianists, Lester Soo and Marilyn Glazer will entertain. Lunch is at noon and the program starts at 1 p.m. at Congregation Beth Tikvah. For more information and to register, contact Toby Rubin at 604-241-9270 or the JSA office at 604-732-1555.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.