Most people know there is AIDS in Africa but few people comprehend the scope of the pandemic. In the past 30 years, 30 million people have died and 17 million children have been orphaned. Grandmothers have buried their own beloved children and are parenting again, with few resources. Vancouver’s Tikun Olam Gogos, together with other supporters of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, are hosting two pledge events for African grandmothers caring for children orphaned by AIDS.
The first pledge event is For the Love of Grandmothers Fitness Challenge. Here’s how it works: you design a fitness challenge for yourself. The event period began March 8, International Women’s Day, and you must complete your self-challenge by Sept. 8, Grandparents’ Day. Choose something you enjoy and do it harder, faster or more often. Your commitment will help you reach your fitness goals.
You can do it once in a big event or work on it day by day. Then, dedicate your challenge to a grandmother you love. Examples of fitness challenges include the Sun Run, Tough Mudder, spinning 100 kilometres in a day or a month, walking or running three times a week for six months, etc. Whatever you imagine, you can do as part of this challenge – register at fortheloveofgrandmothers.weebly.com.
The second fitness challenge, back for the third year, is Solidarity Cycle, on Sept. 8. This ride is open to people of all ages. It has three track options: the Classic is a 100-kilometre cycle from White Rock to Yarrow. The Easy 50 kilometres goes from the lunch stop in Aldergrove over mostly flat, rural roads to Yarrow, and the 100-kilometre loop starts and ends in Yarrow. Stops along the way are hosted by cheering grandmothers offering refreshments and moral support. There is a celebration at the end of the ride with chili and a corn roast in Yarrow for all participants. Registration for Solidarity Cycle opens on May 1, with training and team-building rides offered throughout the summer. For more information, see solidaritycycle.weebly.com.
For both events, participants set up a secure fundraising page and ask their friends and families for contributions. Funds raised will support vital services and programs, from grief counseling to training for income-generation to support for school fees and uniforms
Temple Sholom pays tribute to Susan Mendelson and Jack Lutsky at its Dreamers and Builders event next month. (photo from Temple Sholom)
When Temple Sholom members and friends come together May 5, they will celebrate decades of community-building by two honourees. They will also catch a glimpse into the future, as an annual award is presented to two young people with big dreams.
Dreamers and Builders is a biennial event, the first of which was held two years ago, with renowned landscape
architect Cornelia Oberlander being honoured. This year’s honourees are Susan Mendelson and Jack Lutsky, a couple whose lives and careers have focused on building successful businesses and making philanthropic contributions.
At the same event, the annual Temple Sholom Teen Tikkun Olam Awards will be presented to young people with visionary plans for making the world better. This year, the co-winners are Sam Albert and Liana Gerber, and they will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Jewish Independent.
Mendelson is best known for the culinary empire she has built over years as a founder of the Lazy Gourmet and as a food commentator, caterer, author and business leader. Her husband, Jack Lutsky, has an equally stellar resumé as an architect and businessperson.
Lutsky, who was born and raised in Edmonton, attended the Technion, in Haifa, Israel, and completed his studies at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, in London, England. He moved to Vancouver to begin his career and soon opened an eponymous architecture firm.
“My first clients actually were from the Jewish community,” Lutsky recalled in an interview with the Independent. “People I knew, that I could approach. I did work at the Jewish Community Centre and I did work at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue.”
An addition to Temple Sholom in the 1990s, in which classrooms and flexible meeting spaces were added above the driveway, was designed by him. In addition to a few churches and other institutional projects, Lutsky’s portfolio includes many commercial and retail projects. He was also the architect for the Holocaust memorial located in Schara Tzedeck Cemetery.
Lutsky’s philanthropic work includes serving as chair of the board of Jewish Family Services, involvement in Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, serving on the Temple Sholom board and heading or co-leading many fundraising campaigns, including a retirement event for Cantor Arthur Guttman that raised more than $100,000 for the synagogue. Lutsky was also on the transition committee when the synagogue’s Rabbi Philip Bregman retired and current Rabbi Dan Moskovitz assumed the post, and helped raise funds to ensure that Vancouver’s high cost of housing would not affect the synagogue’s ability to hire the ideal candidate.
Mendelson’s life has been devoted to food and philanthropy. Born in Toronto, she came to Vancouver for university and began baking treats for sale at intermissions at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. This was the genesis of Mendelson’s professional food career. A co-founder of the Lazy Gourmet, an iconic local caterer, she has been a regular media commentator on food, is the author of 10 cookbooks and has mentored countless up-and-comers in the sector. Her community work includes serving as honourary board chair of Big Sisters BC Lower Mainland, chairing Federation’s women’s campaign, serving on the dean’s advisory board at the University of British Columbia and being founding chair of Arts 149, whose mandate is to present contemporary performing arts that innovate and inspire new professional community arts practices. Already famous locally, Mendelson was featured last month in the New York Times, which credited Mendelson in part for the popularity of the Canadian dessert Nanaimo bars.
The couple joined Temple Sholom in the 1990s and they agree it is a relationship they are thrilled to nurture.
“It’s been a good move for us and we really love the congregation,” Lutsky said.
Agreeing to be honoured at this event is really a chance to strengthen Temple Sholom, added Mendelson.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity to bring so many people together to become part of this event,” she said. “When we were approached, we just thought this was a great opportunity for us to be able to find a way to help Temple Sholom using our network, our friends, our family and our passion for Temple…. They’ve honoured us with donations and participation and sitting on committees. It’s been a pretty joyous experience all around.”
The couple promises some unexpected components of the event, which is envisioned as more laid back than a typical formal gala.
“I’m not going to give out any secrets, but we want our event to be a fun event,” said Lutsky. “We are designing it so that it will be very enjoyable.”
Mendelson is especially excited about the tie-in with successive generations through the Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, which was envisioned by Moskovitz and is funded in perpetuity by Michelle and Neil Pollock.
“That’s a wonderful opportunity – to reach out and find young people in this community, the next leaders in the community,” Mendelson said. “We want other people to be inspired, as well, by these brilliant young kids who are out there doing remarkable acts of kindness and tikkun olam in the world. It really is about looking to the next generation and honouring them at the same time.”
To encourage a younger audience, the event offered half-price tickets for people 30 and under.
Helen Heacock-Rivers who, with Karen Gelmon, is co-chairing Dreamers and Builders, said the event was almost sold out.
“It is a testament to how much Susan and Jack are loved; also Temple Sholom, but Susan and Jack in particular,” she said. “They are a perfect example of people who should be honoured.”
Heacock-Rivers lauded Mendelson and Lutsky for being hands-on in promoting and planning the event.
“They are the honourees, they don’t have to do anything,” she said. “But they are very invested in making sure this is successful for Temple Sholom, to make sure that we can have the means to support the programs that they have earmarked for the monies that come in.”
Because many younger members are moving outside of the city proper, outreach programs to suburban congregants and potential members will be funded with revenue from Dreamers and Builders. Upgraded security at the synagogue is another project earmarked for funds.
Adi Shapira brought home a silver medal for British Columbia in the 2019 Canada Winter Games. (photo by Peter Fuzessery Moonlight Canada)
From Feb. 15 to March 3, Red Deer and central Alberta hosted the 2019 Canada Winter Games. Among those taking home a medal was Adi Shapira.
Winning the silver in the archery recurve, individual female event, Shapira said in a Team BC article, “It is an amazing reward for all the training I have been doing and it is just an amazing accomplishment.”
According to the Canada Winter Games website, Shapira, “who had taken up archery following a school retreat in grades 8 and 9, fought hard in the gold medal match, but Marie-Ève Gélinas, came back to win the gold for Quebec.”
Shapira, 16, is part of the SPARTS program at Magee Secondary School, which is open to students competing in high-performance athletics at the provincial, national or international level, as well as students in the arts who are performing at a high level of excellence. Last November, she won the qualifying tournaments against other female archers ages 15 to 20 to represent the province of British Columbia in the February national games.
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Stylin’ Or Shalom on Feb. 20 was not just a beautiful evening: the event raised $1,600 for Battered Women’s Support Services so that they can continue their important work.
Models for the fashion-show fundraiser were Ross Andelman, Avi Dolgin, Val Dolgin, Carol Ann Fried, Michal Fox, Dalia Margalit-Faircloth, Helen Mintz, Ana Peralta, Avril Orloff and Leora Zalik. About 50 people attended and, between cash donations and purchases from the My Sister’s Closet eco-thrift store, this year’s show raised about $600 more than did the inaugural Stylin’ Or Shalom event held in 2017. In addition, many people brought clothing donations, which will be sold at the store, generating further funds for the organization.
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The Association for Canadian Jewish Studies has announced that Dr. Norma Baumel Joseph is the 2019 recipient of the Louis Rosenberg Canadian Jewish Studies Distinguished Service Award. Joseph brings together the highest standards of scholarship, creative and effective dissemination of research, and activism in a manner without rival in the field of Canadian Jewish studies, as well as being a respected voice in Jewish feminist studies more broadly.
Joseph’s scholarship is remarkable for her mastery of both traditional rabbinic sources and anthropological methods. Her work on the responsa of Rabbi Moses Feinstein, including an award-winning article published in American Jewish History 83,2 (1995), is based on a close reading of some of the most technical and difficult halachic texts. Her mastery of these sources is also apparent in articles on women and prayer, the mechitzah, and the bat mitzvah. She has used her knowledge of halachah in her academic work on Jewish divorce in Canada, including an article in Studies in Religion (2011) and is a collaborator in a recently awarded grant project, Troubling Orthopraxies: A Study of Jewish Divorce in Canada.
As a trained anthropologist and as a feminist, she realizes that food is also a text and she has made important contributions to both the history of Iraqi Jews in Canada and to our understanding of the history of food in the Jewish community. Her Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)-funded research has resulted in recent essays such as “From Baghdad to Montreal: Food, Gender and Identity.” Her ongoing reflections on Jewish women in Canada, first appearing as early as 1981 in the volume Canadian Jewish Mosaic, are foundational texts in the study of Jewish women in Canada.
Joseph has chosen to disseminate her research and wisdom in a variety of ways. Her undergraduate and graduate students at Concordia praise her innovative student-centred teaching. Recently, she instituted a for-credit internship at the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish archives, which has been beneficial to both the student and the archive. She is in demand as a lecturer in both professional and lay settings. Her work in film has reached a wide audience. In Half the Kingdom, a 1989 NFB documentary on Jewish women and Judaism, she explores with sensitivity the challenges – and rewards – of being both a feminist and an Orthodox Jew. She served as consultant to the film, and was a co-author of the accompanying guidebook.
Since 2002, Joseph has also committed herself to public education by taking on the task of writing a regular column on Jewish life for the Canadian Jewish News. Her views are based on a deep understanding of Judaism and contemporary Jewish life and are worthy of anthologizing.
Joseph is a founding member of the Canadian Coalition of Jewish Women for the Get and worked for the creation of a Canadian law to aid and protect agunot. As part of her Women for the Get work, she participated in the educational film Untying the Bonds: Jewish Divorce, produced by the Coalition of Jewish Women for the Get in 1997. She has also worked on the issue of agunot, as well as advocated for the creation of a prayer space for women at the Western Wall among international Jewish organizations.
Joseph helped in the founding of the Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies at Concordia, and convened the institute from 1994 to 1997, when a chair was hired. She was also a founder and co-director of Concordia University’s Azrieli Institute for Israel Studies. In 1998, she was appointed chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress National Archives Committee, and has remained in the position since then, under the new designation of chair of the advisory committee for the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives (CJA). In this capacity, Joseph has been a forceful and effective advocate for protecting and promoting the preservation of Canadian Jewish archival material and for appreciating the professionalism of the staff. She has lent her time and experience to multiple meetings and interventions at various crucial junctures in the recent history of the CJA, during which she has balanced and countered arguments that would have led to the dissolution or extreme diminishing of the archives as we know it. Her work on behalf of the archives has drawn her into diverse committees and consultations. Notably, she contributed her expertise to the chairing of a sub-committee convened by Parks Canada when their Commemorative Places section was in search of Canadian Jewish women-related content. Her suggestions made during the 2005 meetings have resulted in several site designations over the course of the past 12 years.
Joseph has had a unique role in Canadian Jewish studies and Canadian Jewish life, and is richly deserving of the Louis Rosenberg Award.
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In February, Janie Respitz of Montreal won the prize for best interpretation of an existing Yiddish song at the final Der Idisher Idol contest in Mexico City. She performed “Kotsk,” a song about a small town in Poland, which was the seat of the Kotsker rebbe, the founder of a Chassidic dynasty in the 18th century. The win included $500 US.
Respitz holds a master’s degree in Yiddish language and literature and, for the past 25 years, has performed concerts around the world. She has lectured and taught the subject, including at Queen’s University and McGill University, and is on the faculty of KlezKanada, the annual retreat in the Laurentians.
Respitz was among nine finalists, both local and foreign, who were invited to perform at Mexico City’s 600-seat Teatro del Parque Interlomas before a panel of judges and a live audience.
The competition is in its fourth edition, but Respitz only heard about it last year. She submitted a video of her performing “Kotsk” in September and received word in December that she was in the running.
A Yiddish song contest in Mexico City may seem odd, but the city has a large Jewish community, many with roots in eastern Europe, much like Montreal. The winner for best original song was Louisa Lyne of Malmo, Sweden, who’s also a well-established performer of Yiddish works.
– Excerpted from CJN; for the full article, visit cjnews.com
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On March 14, at the New School in New York, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2018. The winners include Nora Krug, who was given the prize in autobiography for Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home (Scribner). “Krug creates a stunningly effective, often moving portrait of Krug’s memories and her exploration of the people who came before her,” said NBCC president Kate Tuttle.
Krug’s drawings and visual narratives have appeared in the New York Times, Guardian and Le Monde diplomatique. Her short-form graphic biography Kamikaze, about a surviving Japanese Second World War pilot, was included in the 2012 editions of Best American Comics and Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Maurice Sendak Foundation, Fulbright, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and of medals from the Society of Illustrators and the New York Art Directors Club. She is an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York and lives in Brooklyn with her family.
The National Book Critics Circle was founded in 1974 at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel by a group of the most influential critics of the day. It currently comprises 750 working critics and book-review editors throughout the United States. For more information about the awards and NBCC, visit bookcritics.org.
Organizer Debbie Rootman, left, and guest speaker Janice Porter at Temple Sholom Sisterhood’s networking event Feb. 28. (photo by Baila Lazarus)
If you’re a decision-maker in business, and especially if you’re a small-business owner or entrepreneur or are looking for a job, LinkedIn should be one of the main tools in your arsenal.
That was the message from LinkedIn trainer Janice Porter, who spoke at a business networking event sponsored by Temple Sholom Sisterhood on Feb. 28.
“LinkedIn is about relationships,” Porter told the group. “It starts with having a fully optimized profile that will have more people see it. But it’s about building connections. Even a good profile won’t be seen if you don’t have any connections.”
Porter said the first step, however, is to determine if the platform is right for you.
“It’s not for everybody,” she said. “If you’re looking for a job, you should be on LinkedIn. But, if you’re in business, if you’re promoting something, you have to know whether your target audience is on LinkedIn.”
LinkedIn, a professional networking platform, was launched in 2003. It has 590 million members in 200 countries. Users create profiles and then reach out to other users to connect online and possibly take the business relationship into the “real” world. Such relationships can lead to direct sales, referral partners, strategic alliances and, if you’re on the job hunt, interviews.
At the Temple Sholom event, Porter outlined five steps that would help users get the most out of the social media platform.
Have an authentic profile. Having a well-done, completed profile allows a user to be seen as an authority. As well, Porter pointed out, if you have a strong LinkedIn profile, it will come up high on Google search results. Be sure to include a good photo. People are 14 times more likely to look at profiles that have a photo.
Create an optimized headline. This is the first line people see when they are searching. The headline should include a benefit positioning statement – what you do and what the result is. For example, Porter’s headline says, “LinkedIn trainer, relationship marketing specialist, networking coach, increasing qualified leads online & nurturing them into sales offline.”
“Most people just say ‘my job at my company,’ which focuses on the company rather than the person,” Porter explained. “Usually people search for the type of job that you do, so putting your company name in is wasting space. So rather than say, ‘Mortgage broker at …,’ say ‘Mortgage broker with specialty in.…”
Be visible. Having a profile is not enough, said Porter. Users need to be active by writing and sharing new content, and commenting on other members’ posts. “The more you engage with other people, the more people will want to connect with you,” she said.
Be personal. When reaching out to connect with other members, customize the connection request. Put in a sentence explaining why you are reaching out to this person.
Make new connections. Porter recommends that users connect with five new people daily.
When asked if it’s worth it to buy a premium account on LinkedIn, Porter suggested starting with a free account because there are enough people you can connect to without the upgrade. However, if you really need to connect directly with certain C-suite employees or you feel a need to follow up on everyone who has looked at your profile, a premium account would make that easier. A third level – Sales Navigator – is particularly useful for those whose focus is selling products or services.
You can try the paid versions on a 30-day free trial, but Porter cautioned that, if you’re not interested in continuing, cancel the trial early. After 30 days, you get a bill for a year, not a month, she said.
Karalee Greer, an independent market partner with Monat Global, attended the event because she wants to be more active on LinkedIn. “Having a more complete and updated professional profile will help people find me on the site,” she said. “Also, by being regularly active and connecting with my target market potential, Linkedin will help me find people more suited for me to build relationships with. I feel my time will be better spent on this platform.”
Mortgage planner Deborah Burnstein said she attended the event not just for the guest speaker but for the networking opportunities. She was already familiar with LinkedIn before attending the event. “Now it’s about finding content to post,” she said.
Baila Lazarus is a Vancouver-based writer and principal media strategist at bailalazarus.com.
Grade 8 monitors, Lord Strathcona Elementary School, 1948. The new Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tours start at the school and then take visitors through Hogan’s Alley, Jewish Strathcona, Japantown (Powell Street) and Chinatown. (photo from Bev Nann)
The Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour celebrates the history of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods Hogan’s Alley, Jewish Strathcona, Japantown (Powell Street) and Chinatown. The guided walking tour builds awareness of the contributions of early immigrant communities then and now, in celebration of Vancouver Asian Heritage Month and Canada’s Jewish Heritage Month, both of which fall during the month of May.
The walking tour theme is education, and each tour starts at the oldest elementary school in Vancouver, Lord Strathcona Elementary School, at 592 East Pender St. Referred to as the “League of Nations” for its multicultural make-up, this school brought and continues to bring many communities together.
Tours will feature community experts and wind their way through the streets of Vancouver’s Eastside pioneer neighbourhoods, concluding at the Vancouver Japanese Language School (475 Alexander St.), where participants can enjoy complimentary “after-school” snacks from the featured communities.
“Last summer, I had the privilege of going on a number of walking tours, where it dawned on me that we were walking the same streets and even talking about the same homes, just through different community lens,” said Carmel Tanaka, co-founder of the Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour. “A lightbulb moment was to bring all these experts into one room and create one inclusive walking tour highlighting all our voices together!”
The tours will take place on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, with the support of the Grant family, who offer greetings from the Musqueam Nation. The Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour project is a coordinated effort by the following participating organizations: Association of United Ukrainian Canadians; Benny Foods Italian Market; Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden; Musqueam elder Larry Grant; Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association; Heritage Vancouver Society; Hogan’s Alley Society; Jewish Independent; Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia; Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre; Pacific Canada Heritage Centre Museum of Migration; Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society’s explorASIAN; Vancouver Heritage Foundation; Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall; Vancouver School Board; Vancouver School Board Archives and Heritage Committee; Wongs’ Benevolent Association; and Youth Collaborative for Chinatown.
Tours will run Sunday, May 5, 12, 19 and 26, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., rain or shine. Each tour will last just over two hours and cost $15/person (free for children and moms on Mother’s Day). For tickets, visit strathconawalkingtour.eventbrite.com.
Congregation Beth Hamidrash is celebrating its 50th year with a gala dinner to raise funds to better serve the congregation’s increasing number of young families. (photo from Beth Hamidrash)
“I want this to go on and on,” Albert Melul told the Independent about Congregation Beth Hamidrash. The longtime member said, “We have something precious. I don’t want it to be lost.”
Beth Hamidrash celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a gala dinner March 31. Melul, who hails originally from Tangier, Morocco, has been involved with the congregation from the beginning. In the early 1960s, when he worked as program director at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre, he was approached by some other members of the Sephardi community, who were looking for a space at the JCC for services. Melul helped the fledgling congregation get started.
In recent years, the synagogue has seen an increase in the number of young families attending services, with an average of 25 children present on Shabbat. In September 2018, the congregation hired Shira Puterman to lead their children and youth programming. The upcoming 50th jubilee celebration will raise money for the building of an expanded multi-purpose room to better serve these, and other, families.
The fundraising dinner, which will offer a door prize of two tickets to Israel, will include the induction of Beth Hamidrash’s new spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Gabay, by the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Gabay, who most recently worked as a high school teacher in the Sephardi community of Gibraltar, came into his position in the community following the departure of Rabbi Ilan Acoca in the summer of 2016. (See jewishindependent.ca/looking-to-the-future.)
“This is a huge honour and privilege. Frankly, to have such a distinguished personality visit us is incredible,” Gabay told the Independent.
Induction is common in the United Kingdom but may not be familiar to Canadians. “It’s when a senior rabbi officially welcomes a newer rabbi into a leadership position,” said Gabay. “The joke around the synagogue is that I’m going to be knighted.”
Mirvis, formerly the chief rabbi of Ireland, is known for his close connection to the British Royal Family – he took Prince Charles on a trip to Israel last year – as well as for his interfaith work, and he has a reputation for moderation and diplomacy. When a scandal broke out in the United Kingdom last year after an Orthodox day school censored all mention of homosexual victims of the Holocaust in its textbooks, Mirvis supported an initiative to introduce LGBTQ+ education into Jewish schools in the United Kingdom. In 2012, he appointed Lauren Levin as Britain’s first Orthodox female halachic (Jewish law) adviser at Finchley Synagogue in London.
In addition to Mirvis, several prominent local politicians are expected to be in attendance at the 50th jubilee, including Janet Austin, the lieutenant governor of British Columbia.
Beth Hamidrash is Vancouver’s only Sephardi synagogue, keeping alive the Jewish traditions of the Sephardim, the Jewish community whose roots go back to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. The Sephardim (from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sefarad) immigrated to North Africa, the Ottoman Empire and other parts of Europe, where they sustained their unique liturgies, customs and musical culture for centuries. Beth Hamidrash carries on these traditions, passing them onto each new generation.
The first meeting of the Sephardi community of Greater Vancouver was held in the late 1960s, followed by the first organized Sephardi prayer service. In 1973, the Sephardic Congregation was incorporated as a society in British Columbia, with the goal of establishing a synagogue. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, High Holiday services were held in the kindergarten classroom of the previous building of the JCC at 41st Avenue and Oak Street, and in the Vancouver Talmud Torah gymnasium. During the 1970s, the congregation began holding regular services at 3231 Heather St., in what was then a dilapidated former synagogue, which the congregation renovated and made into the beautiful congregational space there today.
The synagogue website notes that Beth Hamidrash congregants hail from Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Israel, India, France, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Russia, and many other parts of Canada and the world.
“What we have here is very special,” said Melul. “When you walk in the door here, you are a somebody. Our community is very warm, and we share each other’s sorrows and joys. When you visit this shul, someone will welcome you, someone will give you a siddur, someone will tell you when is Kiddish, someone will want to get to know you.”
“I landed in a spectacular community,” added Gabay. “The people are so kind and generous and forthcoming – they want to grow and they want to do. I really feel blessed to be here.”
To RSVP for the March 31 afternoon induction ceremony, email [email protected]. For tickets to the dinner gala, call the synagogue office at 604-872-4222 or email [email protected].
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter members with the fraternity’s “sweetheart,” Rachel Meadow. A “sweetheart” is elected every year at the chapter’s formal. (photo from AEPi)
The Vancouver chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the traditionally Jewish fraternity, is 20 years old this year. So is Benny Stanislawski, the chapter’s president, who will help oversee the anniversary celebrations next month.
AEPi, as it is commonly known, was not the first Jewish fraternity at the University of British Columbia. Another frat operated on campus in years past but eventually disbanded. In the summer of 1999, the former longtime international executive director of the fraternity contacted Jeff Waldman, a student at UBC, suggesting he consider founding a chapter. A group of eight “founding fathers” came together and Adam Propp, a high school friend of Waldman, also a UBC student, was chosen as the first president, or “brother master,” as the role is called internally.
Hillel has been on the UBC campus since 1947 and provided an avenue for Jewish fellowship and involvement for many students. But the founders of the fraternity saw advantages in creating the male-only society.
“I think all of us had different reasons,” Propp recalled. “For me, to be able to have an impact on the university experience for young Jewish men like myself was important. When I look back at it, Hillel appealed to many, but not all. [The fraternity] just appealed to a different set of people who might not have been attracted to Hillel right away. It was a way to get more people more active and involved in a Jewish experience on campus, especially since UBC is such a commuter school.”
Propp became philosophical reflecting on the chapter’s founding two decades ago, noting that, in the next few years, some sons of the original brothers will likely be pledging to the fraternity. In recent days, Propp has been reconnecting with many of the original brothers, as they plan to gather for the 20th-anniversary celebration with a series of events over the weekend of April 5-7.
The relationship between AEPi and Hillel differs from campus to campus and, at UBC, it has generally been extremely strong, sometimes highly symbiotic.
Gabe Meranda, who was executive director of the Vancouver Hillel Foundation at the time the chapter formed, admits he had some trepidation about a Jewish fraternity, not having had any experience with what is called “the Greek system.”
“I was skeptical at first, since I was cautious about fraternities. But these first few guys were so excited about launching the chapter in B.C. that I decided I must get behind it,” Meranda recalled. “I remember the night of their first party at Hillel. I didn’t know what to expect, but all seems to have gone well and it’s taken off from there.”
The chapter made Meranda an honorary brother and he still proudly has the pin, he said.
While fraternities have a reputation for certain excesses, Canadian campuses tend to be a little more low-key, in part because the lower drinking age in Canada means access to booze is not a motivator to joining a frat. What is less obvious to the general public are programs of leadership development, philanthropic ventures and, in the case of AEPi, Jewish cultural activities and, to varying extents, Israel programming or education.
Stanislawski stressed that AEPi has no political or religious orientation. Jewish young men, as well as non-Jewish ones who want to pledge – of which there are usually a few each year – are welcome without concern for their religious affiliation (or lack of affiliation) or their approach to Zionism.
The chapter’s main annual philanthropic event is Hoops 4 Health, an all-day, three-on-three basketball tournament that takes place this year on March 31 at War Memorial Gym. The chapter’s charity beneficiary used to be different health causes, but the Heart and Stroke Foundation has a special meaning to the brothers. A couple of years ago, an AEPi member, Nitai Weinberg, suffered a stroke at the age of 18. Now fully recovered, he and his brothers raised $8,000 for the cause last year, and this year have significantly upped their goal to $25,000.
As an example of the range of programs, the chapter recently hosted a presentation on sexual assault awareness, led by the UBC Mental Health Network. They also host “Greek Shabbats” at Hillel House, where members of all the university’s fraternities are invited.
“The Greek community is fairly large and it’s also influential,” said Lenny Tabakman, who was master brother last year and is chairing the organizing committee for the anniversary celebration. “A lot of people that join fraternities and sororities are leaders in their own community. The fact that they mingle with us and we get to meet the leaders of other communities, I feel like it’s beneficial for the Jewish community at large because we’re basically creating allies of the community by bringing them in. They probably would never even enter Hillel and, every week, we have people who are not Jewish come into Hillel and hang out with AEPi.”
These connections are helpful, Tabakman said, when issues like anti-Israel incitement happens on campus and allies are needed to counter them.
Tabakman sees fraternities in general as a place to nurture leadership.
“A fraternity is kind of like a learning laboratory where you get to practise your leadership skills and your teamwork skills,” he said. “It’s kind of a safe place to fail. It prepares you for the business world.”
AEPi has an added mission, agreed Tabakman and Stanislawski: “Developing leaders for the Jewish community.”
Founded in 1913, the fraternity now serves 190 campuses in seven countries; it claims 90,000 living alumni. The UBC branch, officially called the Beta Chi chapter, welcomes students from Langara, Simon Fraser, Emily Carr, Capilano and all post-secondary institutions in the region. The chapter usually has 40-plus brothers in any given year, peaking last year at 49.
“I’d love to see the organization get into the 70s,” said Stanislawski. But, given the limited number of Jewish students on campus, slow, steady growth is the realistic goal.
Samuel Heller, the current executive director of Hillel at UBC, congratulated the fraternity and thanked them for their contributions.
“Both the Hillel community and wider campus community are enriched by this brotherhood of young men who exemplify leadership and champion Jewish values,” said Heller. “Brothers of AEPi are a positive force on campus … by creating a group of young leaders who are changing the face of UBC and who, in turn, will change the world.”
Pat Johnson is an honorary brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi Beta Chi chapter.
Some of the 70 volunteers who helped out at Rose’s Angels Feb. 17. Event founder Courtney Cohen is holding the bags and Kehila Society executive director Lynne Fader is standing in the front, with the long sweater. (photo by Lianne Cohen Photography)
For most people, getting out of the house and being somewhere by 9 a.m. might be no big deal. For me, especially on a weekend morning, it’s a challenge. But, at least once a year, it’s a challenge I enjoy.
As the owner and editor of the Jewish Independent, I’ve known of Rose’s Angels since it launched six years ago, but only first participated last year in the packing of the more than 1,000 care packages for Metro Vancouverites in need. Courtney Cohen, who created the annual event in honour of her grandmothers, Rose Lewin and Babs Cohen, with longtime friend Lynne Fader, was among the 18 Jewish community members under the age of 36 who were honoured by the Jewish Independent with a JI Chai Award in December 2017 for doing good. Having made the personal connection, I headed out to Richmond Jewish Day School a couple of months after the JI Chai Celebration to help out. It was such a fun experience that I went again this year.
The atmosphere at RJDS is like “Old Home Week.” This time around, I drove there with a friend – she brought the muffins and I made the coffee. As before, I ran into several people that I don’t see often. A well-organized venture, Rose’s Angels, which is run under the auspices of the Kehila Society of Richmond, provides coffee and pastry for those who can wait till they get to the school for their fix. Lists taped onto the wall tell volunteers at which station they’ll be working.
I must have done an OK job last year because I was once again assigned to putting together glove and sock bundles, wrapped in ribbon, colour-coded to indicate whether the bundle was for men, women or children. So absorbed was I in the work and conversation that I can’t say what others were doing, but there was much bustling about and, by noon, a big truck and several cars were stuffed with boxes to be delivered.
This year, said Cohen, 70 volunteers put together 1,200 packages, filled with necessities from toiletries to books to food to warm clothing, thanks to donations of items and money. The packages were distributed by a couple dozen organizations, including Turning Point Recovery Society, Heart of Richmond AIDS Society, Light of Shabbat program, Jewish Food Bank, Richmond Food Bank, United Way, Tikva Housing, Richmond Centre for Disability, Touchstone Family Services, St. Alban’s Drop-In Centre, Richmond Mental Health Society and Richmond Food Aid.
Scheduled to happen around Valentine’s Day, this year’s Rose’s Angels took place Feb. 17.
“Watching firsthand our community come together to give back on a long weekend, with family and friends is quite amazing,” Cohen told me when I asked her what was the most fun aspect of the day for her. “Seeing people of all ages working together to help package the care packages in such an organized manner is really something to behold.”
Fader, who is co-executive director of the Kehila Society, also enjoys the communal feel, as well as the diversity of the group that gathers to help. “It is always a fun, well-spirited, well-oiled machine that puts months of hard work gathering all the items together to produce a beautiful bundle of items,” she said.
In looking to the future, Fader would like to see the annual event become “bigger, better,” serving “more recipients in our community,” referring to Richmond as a whole, not only its Jewish community. “Although Rose’s Angels is an annual project,” she added, “the Kehila Society is daily working with our community agencies and partners to assist on a daily basis.”
“I see the success of Rose’s Angels growing from year to year with the involvement of the community partners and individuals,” said Cohen. “Personally, I already see the success and fulfilment that Rose’s Angels has given our community at large. Receiving thank you phone calls, emails and messages from the recipient agencies reminds me of the impact that Rose’s Angels is making to so many individuals.”
Penny Sprackman receives the special shoes on her 60th birthday, in 2006. (photos from Shirley Barnett)
Some things just happen and, before long, they become a tradition. In 1987, Harvey Shafron, while working at Freedman Shoes on South Granville, came across a rather clunky pair of women’s shoes on a top shelf and gave them to his sister, Rhoda (Shafron) Brickell.
Brickell, in turn, presented them to her friend Lola Pawer for her 50th birthday. Since then, the shoes have been passed from friend to friend among a group of Vancouver Jewish women on birthdays that end in a zero or five.
“It just happened,” said Shirley Barnett, a two-time recipient – on her 60th and 70th birthdays. “It became kind of fun to say, ‘Oh my God, it’s the shoes again.’”
The pair is not casually delivered; the recipient is formally presented the shoes at a celebration, usually at a restaurant, in front of the assembled pals.
“I really believe, as they were passed around, that it’s a story about friendship,” Barnett said. “When you reach a special age of some sort, everybody seems to say girlfriends are really important. It doesn’t matter if you’re divorced or widowed or you’re still married. At a certain age – and that could be 60, 70, 80 or 90 – a light seems to go on in women’s heads that says girlfriends are important. They are the ones you call in the middle of the night – maybe not, maybe you call your kids, I don’t know – but there seems to be an unwritten code that the older you get, you just need a few good girlfriends.”
The size 8C shoes have fit every recipient, Barnett said. A ceremonial walkabout by the birthday celebrant is a part of the ritual.
Leslie Diamond and Pawer have received the shoes five times. Sylvia Cristall and Darlene Spevakow have received them four times. Karla Marks is a three-time recipient and Carole Chark and Penny Sprackman have gotten them twice. Others who have been honoured with the pair are Maja Mindell, Shelley Lederman, Anita Silber, Sandy Magid, Esther Glotman and Cynthia Levy.
At the start, the names of the recipients were written on the soles of the shoes but, as Dorothy Parker said, time wounds all heels, and the inscriptions have become mostly illegible.
What has remained indelible are some of the remarks made by recipients over the years. Barnett, who is sort of the informal archivist of the group, has collected words of wisdom shared over the years.
“It is the friends we meet along life’s way who make the trip more fun,” said one birthday celebrant.
“Friends make good things better and bad things not so bad,” said another.
“Being older sets you free,” reflected one. “You care less about what other people think, you no longer need to question yourself. You have earned the right to be wrong and not think about what could have been or what will be.”
On one birthday, a friend declared: “Remember, growing old is a privilege and old friendships are rare. So, when your ‘old’ friends reach for your hand, grab it.”
Another gem Barnett has collected: “The better the friend, the less cleaning you have to do before they come over!”
Members of the Okanagan Jewish Community came together to celebrate Chanukah. (photo from OJC)
The Okanagan Jewish Community in Kelowna has been keeping a busy schedule. Bolstered by many new members who have moved to the region – word has gotten out … who wouldn’t want to live here? – the community is growing both in numbers and in strength.
Traditional events such as the High Holidays – with visiting rabbis Larry and Linda Seidman from California – Sukkot and a Chanukah party attended by 80, started out our Jewish year. Of particular note was a Tu b’Shevat seder on Jan. 20, led by OJC member Barb Pullan, which was attended by 30 members. Everyone gathered to celebrate trees and discuss their importance to the preservation of life. We ate specific fruits representing those grown in Israel, drank wine or grape juice, recited blessings, told stories and sang songs. This definitely will be a repeat event in 5780.
Shabbat services were led by visiting Cantor Russ Jayne from Calgary in October and November, along with other services led by local community member Evan Orloff.
A Movie Night (The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story) was presented on Nov. 9. The screening was organized by OJC member David Spevakow and took place at the Okanagan College Theatre, with almost 200 guests in attendance. We hope to continue the movie nights on a regular basis.
New programs this year have included:
Coffee, cake and cultural anthropology talks. I gave the first talk, on my experience meeting with the Jews in Gondar, Ethiopia. The second session was presented by Murray Oppertshauser, a retired Canadian diplomat, who spoke about his many postings throughout the world. Further talks are planned.
Several intercultural “meet and greets” have been planned with various cultural/ethnic groups in town.
The OJC participated in Taste of Home, a Kelowna community event, in which various ethnic communities in the city participated by selling a sampling of their ethnic food, and with ethnic dancing. We contributed 340 cheese knishes prepared by our members under the direction of Barb Finkleman. Our local Israeli dance group provided the entertainment.
Future events include a ball hockey tournament, Purim, Passover, regular meetings of the Ladies Group, the continuation of the Hebrew school, and our annual golf tournament in the summer.
The OJC is searching for a full-time resident rabbi. We are in the process of having several candidates come out for a Shabbat weekend, after which the community will decide which spiritual leader best fits our needs.
If you’re visiting Kelowna or, better still, moving here, contact the OJC at 250-862-2305 or [email protected].
Steven Finkleman is one of the original members of the Okanagan Jewish Community, having arrived in 1982. He has acquired lots of memories over the years. Currently retired, he has been serving as the president of the OJC since October 2018.