For 25-year-old Israeli Anton Soloviov, the dream of working in Canada turned into a nightmare. Brought into the country as a temporary foreign worker seven months ago, he and others in the same situation allegedly worked without pay for their former employers, who are accused of using the threat of deportation to keep their employees in line.
Last fall, while still in Israel, Soloviov said he saw an online advertisement for work abroad that promised earnings of up to $5,000 a month. Though his best friend warned him it looked too good to be true, it was an opportunity Soloviov couldn’t pass up. He applied online, interviewed with Canadian business owner and former Israeli Dor Mordechai over the phone and flew into Vancouver in October 2013. Mordechai and his wife Anna Lepski hired Soloviov as a foreign worker for their company, 0860005 B.C. Ltd., which operates kiosks in British Columbia malls, both in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. Soloviov, 25, said he met two fellow workers, also Israelis, on the ferry to the island and worked with them at Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Centre, at kiosks selling the Pinook Massage device and cosmetics, among other products. Soloviov said Mordechai and Lepski arranged housing for him and his fellow workers in a sparsely furnished house in Nanaimo, charging them $450 per month each in rent.
At first things were OK. “The first few weeks were wonderful, they showed us around and took us to Service Canada to get our SIN numbers,” Soloviov recalled in an interview. Left with $300 after paying for his $1,900 airfare to Vancouver – a fee that is supposed to be paid by the employer of a temporary foreign worker – Soloviov managed to pay for food for the first month. But payday offered the first indication, he said, that the work was far from kosher.
“Instead of paying us for a month’s work, our supervisor, Azi Qizel, also an Israeli, announced that we were working on commission so, after rent deductions and paying him $500 for our work permits, we didn’t actually earn anything,” Soloviov claimed. When he objected, Soloviov alleges that Qizel informed him that if he didn’t want to work, his work permit could be canceled and he would be deported by Immigration Canada.
By December 2013, Soloviov said he had worked hundreds of hours and made a total of $300 after the fines for which he claimed he and his fellow workers were penalized. “I was fined for everything you can imagine,” he alleged. “Qizel would come up to the kiosk, see something missing and fine everyone who worked that day $100. If we were seen on our phones, we’d be fined. If we were caught talking to each other, we were fined $100.”
Over the course of those months, Soloviov said he did some research and contacted a lawyer. He said he approached his then employers and asked to be paid what he was owed, “or else I’d file a complaint with Employment Standards.” That’s when Soloviov said that he and his family were threatened, though he was less worried about himself than his family. “I’m ex-military, I can take care of myself. But the threat to my family was a blow. I was afraid for my mother, who lives with my baby sister. She didn’t do anything wrong.”
A few days before New Year’s, Soloviov went to the Nanaimo RCMP with his story, and then to the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter, since he had no money or accommodation. What’s more, he was unemployable, since his temporary foreign worker permit allowed him to work only for Mordechai’s company.
Today, thanks to the intervention of the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society, which helped Soloviov find an immigration lawyer, he now has an open work permit and has found employment at a fast-food outlet in Nanaimo. A friend has offered him a place to stay for the time being. But Soloviov’s future still feels uncertain.
“I want to stay on in Canada but I’m not going back to that mall because I know they’re still there,” he said, referring to his former employers. “My friend still gets approached by people asking where I am and I don’t want to have to look over my shoulder all the time.”
Immigration officials say that Soloviov fits in the category of a “victim of trafficking in persons.” He has filed a complaint against Mordechai and Lepski with Employment Standards and the RCMP are investigating the death-threat complaint against Qizel.
Some of Mordechai and Lepski’s mall kiosks are still operating today. The pair are now being formally investigated, according to the office of Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of employment. Since the case deals with potential human trafficking, it is being handled by the Ministry of Public Safety.
Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson Rémi Larivière said the Government of Canada takes the issue of exploitation and mistreatment of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) very seriously and that improvements to the program took effect on Dec. 31, 2013. These include allowing Citizenship and Immigration and Employment and Social Development Canada officials to conduct inspections of employers who hire TFWs to ensure that they’re meeting the conditions of employment. Service Canada has also made some changes, launching a public tip line to encourage Canadians who have any complaints, to share them with the agency’s Integrity Services.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
It was a capacity crowd at Jewish Senior Alliance’s Spring Forum on May 4. (photo by Binny Goldman)
Gyda Chud, co-convener and current board member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver, as well as an original member of the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture, enthusiastically welcomed a capacity crowd of 180 to this year’s annual JSA Spring Forum, which took place on May 4 at the Peretz. The theme was “Retired/Rewired.”
Chud acquainted those attending with the philosophy, programs and purpose of JSA and reminded us that life learning leads to the best quality of life. She advocated that we should all be volunteers, saying, “Volunteers are not paid – not because they are worthless but rather because they are priceless.”
Bev Cooper read her poem about how she came up with the word “rewired,” rather than retired. For Cooper, the word “rewirement” has become her cue to search for ways to ride the waves in the difficult times. And, in the more comfortable times, rewirement propels her to use the opportunity to seek out new challenges.
Cooper then called upon Gloria Levi, social worker, consultant in the field of gerontology and co-author of Dealing with Memory Changes as You Grow Older, to be the moderator of the afternoon’s forum. She spoke of her personal connection to JSA and introduced gerontologist Roz Kaplan, director of the seniors program at Simon Fraser University’s continuing studies.
Kaplan said that most people nowadays will live some 30 years after retirement and that we need to prepare for that time. Retirement is not a destiny but a journey for which we should “pack” essentials and, as with all journeys, some of us will be better equipped and prepared than others for the trip.
With the average life span for Canadians now into the 80s, we were encouraged to keep learning: an instrument, a language, dance steps, the means to rise to challenges and accept change.
We were told we needed confidants, connections, community and having a passion. This journey would be a path to opportunity and, as we age, we should divest ourselves of “extra luggage” to enable us to reinvent ourselves. Most of us got through life identifying ourselves with our work, noted Kaplan, and reinvention would allow us a chance to ease into retirement.
The stages of life usually encompass birth, education, work, retirement, death. It is up to us to fill in the gaps with personal growth. Many of us return to an encore career. Family, friends, fitness, travel, volunteering and various hobbies serve to keep us vital. A recommended read was Creating a Healthy Retirement by Dr. Ronald and Lois Richardson.
After a brief question period, Levi introduced speaker John F. Helliwell, an officer of the Order of Canada, a fellow of the Royal Society and senior fellow and co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. As a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, Helliwell has written articles on “how to build happy lives,” the topic of his talk, and is a co-editor of The World Happiness Report.
We started by singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Helliwell asked if we were any happier after the shared singing than before, and most, if not all, of us were.
How do we measure happiness? Usually this is not a question asked by our doctor or therapist; rather, we are asked if we are sad or depressed or possess negative feelings. Negativity is not only a state of mind but also affects our physical well-being, Helliwell explained.
An example was given of students in a hotel room who were all exposed to the rhinovirus. Those with negative feelings/attitude generally succumbed to the cold germ, whereas those with a positive outlook were much less affected, with some even escaping being sick entirely. It was also suggested that we need to concentrate more on health building rather than health repair.
Economic factors are far less important to happiness than bonds with other people and assisting each other to overcome strife and difficult circumstances. Iceland and Ireland were given as examples of quality of life because the people living there showed, on average, more concern and care for one another.
Aristotle stated that a fine quality of life brings happiness to individuals in a variety of forms but we all agreed on aspects needed for good quality of life: food, health, trust, freedom (to make decisions and feel actively engaged in one’s life) and generosity (doing nice things for others raises one’s own happiness).
Another example offered by Helliwell was of a care home in Denmark, where the staff had been asked to design the home as if they themselves were to be its residents. Their advice was to do away with uniforms for staff, to dispense with bibs and to make mealtimes variable. At one of the homes, the chef even drove the residents to a local movie theatre and they all enjoyed annual holidays together, more like one would expect if one were with close family.
In a residence where there were two floors, one known as generally happy, the other, unhappy, residents on the “unhappy floor” were asked to design the space in which they would be living in a new building and suggestions were made, followed and increased happiness ensued.
In another instance, a seniors residence was combined with a day care, and seniors and juniors interacted happily, all benefiting, a little like symbiosis. No one broke the rules, nobody wandered away searching for the home they had left – they all felt they were home.
During the question period, it was asked why Israelis are happy even though they live such stressful lives. The answer seemed to be that there really is no time for introspection. As well, all are united in the common bond to continue to defend and build their country and that aim/purpose builds happiness.
A last question was about how we can continue to be selfishly happy if many of the rest of the world seems so unhappy. The answer was, “Whose misery is lessened by our being unhappy?”
After summarizing the two speakers’ talks, Levi spoke of JSA president Serge Haber and his countless contributions to the community through the years and of his being one of those honored at the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty (on May 25).
Haber asked everyone to rise for a moment’s silence to mark Yom Hazikaron, commemorating fallen soldiers; he pointed out the Israeli flags in the centre of each flower arrangement, celebrating Israel’s Independence Day. As refreshments prepared by Bagel Club Catering were served by JSA volunteers, Haber thanked those who had convened the forum and emphasized that much of this would not have been possible without the efforts of the amazing staff, Karon Shear and Rita Propp. Shear also took a video of the forum, which will appear on the JSA website.
Herb Calderwood, the afternoon’s musical entertainer, handed out songbooks and charmed the crowd by announcing that he may not know all the songs in the book, as he does not read music, but he asked us to call out our request by number. He delighted us as well with a game of “Name That Tune,” and those who guessed the tune were rewarded with a prize. Door prizes further kept the happiness quotient high and the afternoon came to a happy conclusion, as the audience did indeed leave rewired.
Binny Goldman is a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.
A smart classroom in Israel that uses technology and expertise provided by ORT. (photo from ORT Vancouver)
ORT is an organization that doesn’t seem to register a great deal of recognition in Vancouver. It is, however, one of the largest and perhaps the oldest international Jewish nongovernmental organizations. Established more than 130 years ago in Russia (ORT is an acronym for the Russian words that translate as the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor), ORT sought to train Jews in modern trades and agricultural practices. It established schools for technical training all over the world and currently provides technology-focused training in 100 countries. But who knew?
Vancouver ORT would like to everyone to know. In order to raise awareness of the work ORT does around the world and in Israel, Vancouver is hosting a pilot project new not only to Canada, but a first internationally. “ORT Canada has always sent support to Israel. Now ORT Israel is supporting ORT Vancouver,” said Naomi Pulvers, one of Vancouver’s longest- serving ORT volunteers.
With its emphasis on technological education, Pulvers explained, ORT Israel has developed a successful program in schools around Israel’s physical and socio-economic periphery, bringing cutting-edge educational technology into the classroom. Started in 2010 in the Galilee, the program expanded to the Negev when Israel’s Ministry of Education recognized the benefits of this interactive way of teaching. Currently, 420 classrooms around Israel are using ORT’s program.
This technology will soon be implemented in three local Jewish schools.
“We have chosen King David High School, Richmond Jewish Day School and Vancouver Talmud Torah as the recipients of a ‘smart classroom,’” Pulvers noted. “We will have to raise $25,000-$35,000 locally for each classroom.” Equipment provided includes projectors, Smart Boards, remote software, laptops, handheld slates, wireless routers and speakers. In addition, some classrooms may need to be hardwired for the technology to run. Eventually, students will benefit by having the opportunity to interact with learning in ways they not have been able to before.
The equipment provided is just one part of the program, however. The crucial element to implementing any system effectively is in understanding how to use it properly. Instruction and technical support are the other ingredients ORT provides to make this program effective.
“For the third week of May,” Pulvers explained, “two specialists from Israel, named Nechama Kenig and Udi Gibory, are coming with over 1,000 hours of experience with these smart classrooms. They will assemble what is already in the schools here and survey what is still needed. They will also give teachers more instruction, as well as the IT people from the schools.”
While here, Kenig and Gibory will also help ORT publicize its program by presenting two educational evenings intended to raise investments from local donors for what ORT sees as the future of education. These meetings, on May 20 and 21, will mark a new era in engagement and fundraising in Vancouver, targeting local Jewish education with an eye to the future.
Pulvers explained that ORT has always focused on the end goal of employment. “What kinds of jobs will be available in the future? We need technology to keep things going. In medicine, industry … they all need technology, and this is what ORT does. We help kids branch out into all aspects of technology,” through the use of smart classrooms. Evidence from the use of these technologies in Israel suggests that they boost the confidence and morale of students who have been reluctant learners or participants. Students are able to collaborate in the lesson, and with each other and the teacher, in new ways.
There is one more long-term goal, according to Pulvers. ORT has a respected international reputation and seeks to build bridges with local, non-Jewish organizations, as well. Pulvers explained, “We’ll start with Jewish schools and hopefully become a focal point of education. Eventually, looking down the road, we’d like to collaborate with the Vancouver School Board and meet with the minister of education.”
For more information or to attend the May 20-21 meetings, contact the director of ORT Vancouver, Mary Tobin, at 604-276-9282 or [email protected].
Michelle Dodek is a writer, mother and community volunteer who has been involved with many Jewish organizations in Vancouver.
David Chilton, second from the right, with Josh, Michelle and Dr. Neil Pollock. (photo by Robert Albanese Photography)
More than 650 people attended the Jewish Family Service Agency’s 10th annual Innovators Lunch on May 1. This year’s keynote speaker was Wealthy Barber author and Dragons’ Den investor David Chilton.
JFSA board chair Joel Steinberg welcomed attendees to the event, which took place at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, and introduced Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld to make the HaMotzi. The rabbi explained the blessing and connected it to JFSA, describing the agency as “God’s partner in sustaining the most needy in our community, working together and bringing God’s blessing down from heaven and providing it in a real way.”
In his thanks and remarks, Steinberg noted how the Innovators Lunch had grown over the years, generating “significant funds for many important programs and services provided by JFSA.” Through corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and donations, this year’s lunch raised a record amount – more than $315,000, JFSA director of development and communications Audrey Moss told the Independent Monday.
The annual video, introduced by JFSA executive director Charlotte Katzen, not only highlighted the services offered by JFSA – this year focusing on mental health counseling and outreach – but celebrated the driving force behind the Innovators event, Naomi Gropper Steiner z”l, whose “dream, vision and tireless efforts” helped launch it. As the program noted, “Naomi was a remarkable person who dedicated her exceptional talents to helping others.”
Event chair Jackie Cristall Morris echoed those sentiments in her comments and offered thanks to all those who contributed to the lunch as she invited Dr. Neil Pollock to the podium. He and his wife Michelle were this year’s event angel donors, matching dollar for dollar any new gifts or portion of increased gifts, up to $20,000. “I can see that every additional dollar that I give helps to make the life of someone in need, in our local community, a little bit better. That is why we decided to offer the matching gift opportunity for the JFSA this year,” he said. Pollock praised JFSA as “a lifeline” for many, and encouraged everyone to give outside of their comfort zone, reassuring them that it would not change their circumstances, but would help change the lives of JFSA clients.
Shay Keil of Keil Investment Group at ScotiaMcLeod, which co-sponsored the lunch with Austeville Properties, introduced Chilton, who proceeded to entertain the audience with several jokes and stories, all of which had a humorous element. He started off bemoaning Fifty Shades of Grey’s unseating of The Wealthy Barber as Canada’s all-time bestselling book. He then recounted what happened when he first returned to public speaking after a brief retirement, during which he was engaged in various projects, including homeschooling his kids for a few years.
His first tour was for CIBC, he said, speaking to the company’s high-end wealth-management clients, and it started in Victoria. It was an elderly crowd. He joked, “The average age was deceased…. I normally talk about save 10 percent and max your RRSP; these people were too old for RIFs. I didn’t know what to say.” When he finished his speech, two elderly women asked his advice on their portfolio. “‘Well,’ he said, ‘I can’t answer that here. I don’t know your risk tolerance level, your pension involved, your income needs, your age, your health, I’d have to ascertain all that before I can give you any advice.’ And the second lady cut in and said, ‘Please just give us a broad general counsel.’ And I said, ‘Well, do you mind me asking how old are you two?’ She said, ‘We’re twins … we’re 93.’ I said, ‘Oh my, I’d spend it.’”
When the laughter subsided, Chilton shared a couple of funny stories about the beginning of his career. One happened at the start of his tour for The Wealthy Barber. He was waiting at the Calgary airport for a flight and visited the bookstore. Seeing his book on display, he offered to sign some copies, only to have the clerk want to know why he would want to do that, not believing that the 25-year-old in front of her could have written it.
The entire season of Dragons Den is filmed in 21 days and, for these 21 days, the dragons must always wear the same clothing because the decision as to which pitches form each individual show are made only after all the filming is complete.
Chilton spoke of how he became involved in Dragons’ Den (“I’ve had so much fun doing the show”), how it has changed his life (he’s no longer always asked whether it’s best to pay off one’s mortgage or max one’s RRSP, but rather whether his fellow dragon, Kevin O’Leary, is really a jerk), how it attracts very passionate fans, some of whom are inspired to go into business, and a few of his favorite entrepreneurs and most profitable or surprising investments. He also shared other tidbits. He explained, for example, that the entire season is filmed in 21 days, over which they see 230 pitches. For these 21 days, the dragons must always wear the same clothing because the decision as to which pitches form each individual show are made only after all the filming is complete, and there needs to be continuity within each show.
Outside of Dragons’ Den, Chilton has invested in other businesses. Notably, he helped cookbook authors Janet and Greta Podleski – after about a year of them wooing him. He spoke with obvious fondness and admiration for the sisters, who almost went bankrupt (paying their mortgage with credit cards!) before they saw success. Their first book, Looneyspoons, spent almost two years on the national bestseller list and sold 850,000 copies in Canada alone. They have since published more cookbooks and expanded into other food-related ventures.
Chilton ended his speech with a call for perspective. Describing himself as always being in a good mood, he noted that this isn’t the case with many others. “People say that Canada’s national pastime is hockey, but I’d argue, after 25 years on the road, it’s complaining. Everywhere you go,” he said, “people whine about absolutely nothing. It is amazing to me how many people voluntarily decide to be in a bad mood about a trivial matter.”
An economist by training, Chilton said, “I believe the number one thing holding back productivity in many people’s lives is their whining and complaining, they’re always focused on something negative and it’s usually something trivial. People have lost perspective. In Canada, we have lost the ability to discern the difference between a minor inconvenience and a major problem. A long lineup at Tim Horton’s is not a major problem, but it spins people into bad moods for hours. It’s crazy. Look around the world right now and what’s happening in so many places, Ukraine obviously, but think about Syria. We’re talking about a relatively wealthy developed country disintegrating right in front of our eyes, and it’s happening everywhere in the world.”
“I’m telling you right now, if you are healthy and you live in Canada, especially if you live here [in Vancouver], it doesn’t get any better than right here and right now. You’ve got to step back and see how fortunate we are. It’s that perspective, I think, that leads to more generosity, more community involvement, all of that.”
Not only are Canadians better off relative to most other countries, but to previous centuries. “We are living such better lives than at any point in history. It’s crazy that people don’t notice that. And I’m not talking back to medieval times, I’m talking 20 and 40 years ago, one or two generations. Everything, and I repeat, everything is way better now than it was then, everything.” He gave many examples – cars, phones (which now have “more computing power than the entire Apollo 11 mission”), air travel, television, wages, home sizes and building materials, health care. “I’m telling you right now, if you are healthy and you live in Canada, especially if you live here [in Vancouver], it doesn’t get any better than right here and right now. You’ve got to step back and see how fortunate we are. It’s that perspective, I think, that leads to more generosity, more community involvement, all of that. That’s what days like this are all about.”
For more information about JFSA, call 604-257-5151 or visit jfsa.ca.
From left, David Karp, Dr. Romayne Gallagher, Katherine Hammond, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, Stephen Quinn and Dr. David Silver. (photo by Shawn Gold)
In a night of many interesting and challenging ideas, one of the most interesting came late in the question period. Determining when a person has died is not just a matter of biology, but of choice. According to Dr. David Silver, the question to ask is, When is the person who is valuable and valued gone, even if the body remains alive?
Silver, chair in business and professional ethics and director of the W. Maurice Young Centre in Applied Ethics at the University of British Columbia, was one of five panelists participating in A Community Conversation about Death and Dying, hosted by Sisterhood of Temple Sholom, Women of Reform Judaism, at the synagogue. Organized by Sisterhood’s Brenda Karp, the event was hosted by CBC broadcaster Stephen Quinn and also featured Dr. Romayne Gallagher, head of the palliative care division of the department of community and family medicine at Providence Health Care; Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom; lawyer David Karp, partner at Myers, McMurdo and Karp; and Katherine Hammond, a registered nurse, whose family is fighting for their mother’s right to die. Some 350 people came to hear the conversation.
Taming our inner monsters
Noting that his eldest daughter’s introduction to death began with a pet snail, Silver said that he and his wife have explained death to their children. They understand that Mom and Dad will die and that they, too, will die one day, but they have much more to learn, he said, admitting that he, and most of us, “have not advanced far beyond this child’s relationship with death.”
But, he argued, we have an obligation to reach a more mature relationship with death, as well as with sex and spirituality, all of which inhabit “the wild places of our minds.” As Max, the protagonist in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, tamed the wild things, we must try and tame our own monsters, such as loneliness, physical decline, loss of loved ones, and other such concerns, he said. “Each of these is a real and legitimate source of fear, but a trick to avoid terror is to name these fears, to separate them so that they do not confront us all at once.”
Silver’s core terror in facing death, he said, is saying goodbye to himself, “the person he has known the longest.” He has been searching for an answer to this fear by looking for role models. In this regard, he quoted from an interview Sendak did in 2012, the year he died, with NPR’s Terry Gross: “I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more…. There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
Palliative care is about quality of life
Preparation for death is important, agreed Gallagher. Avoidance is one way of dealing with the fear, she said, but most people seek a way of coping, trying to control as much as possible this part of their life. Palliative care, she stressed, is not “just for the dying,” it’s about living well as long you can. In palliative care, death is a part of life.
Gallagher referenced Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ research on death, in particular the book Death: The Final Stage of Growth. She remarked how people near the end of life continue to grow spiritually and emotionally, despite the physical breakdown of their bodies. This growth, of course, is hard if you’re in pain, and one of palliative care’s aims is to relieve the suffering as much as possible, and help people deal with the pain that cannot be relieved.
People nearing the end of life are vulnerable, she continued – physically frail, worried about their loved ones, perhaps they have financial pressures – so when someone in this situation expresses a desire for the dying process to go faster, you need to ask them what it is that they are feeling. In most cases, she said, there is something that can be done to help with the acceptance of the changes that are occurring.
Unfortunately, palliative care is currently a patchwork of services, she said. More funding is needed and, Gallagher suggested, we’re perhaps spending too much on technology and finding cures and too little on figuring out how to live well with a chronic illness.
She advised that people help family members by making a plan, letting your family know how you would like things to progress. It won’t guarantee a good or easy death, she said, but it can ease the suffering and help you live as long as possible as well as possible.
Judaism wants us to know death
“The most important thing we learn in life is that life is finite,” said Moskovitz when he took the mic. This is one of the lessons of Adam and Eve, who eat from the Tree of Knowledge and learn that they are mortal. God casts them out of the garden, telling them they should go and live their life. In this way, God does them a favor because the clock is now ticking for them. Not surprisingly, the first thing they do is have a child, “because the way that we try to instil our immortality is through our progeny … and so that knowledge, that moment, is so critically embedded in our spiritual understanding and religious life and it’s a story that’s shared in many different forms amongst all the religious traditions.”
Knowing that we’re going to die helps us prioritize our choices, our purpose, said Moskovitz. There are many Jewish rituals connected with death, sitting shivah, the lighting of yahrzeit candles, Yom Kippur, for example – “all of this is so that death is not a stranger to us, but death is as much a part of life … as birth is.”
Moskovitz referred to Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death as one of the most important books he has ever read. Becker posited that, even though we know we are going to die, we don’t believe it: we deny death so that we don’t become paralyzed by fear. One of Becker’s astute observations, said Moskovitz, is that our obsession with not dying gets in the way of our fully living.
We don’t talk about death, or we whisper “cancer,” out of a superstition that it will bring death about. However, Judaism wants us to do the opposite, to do teshuvah (repentance) every day, for any day may be our last.
Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time, taught that, in order to live authentically, we need to confront death head on. The rabbi translated from the German, “If I take death into my life, acknowledge it and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death, the pettiness of life and only then will I truly be free to become myself.”
One of the Jewish customs that embraces the reality that no one lives forever is that of ethical wills, said Moskovitz. They used to be part and parcel of life. Parents would write a letter to pass on values to their children and grandchildren, summing up what they had learned and what they wanted their children/grandchildren to know/live in their own lives. Ethical wills are not easy to write, he acknowledged – it is not easy to determine what is worth noting from one’s entire life – nor are they easy to read or to receive. He suggested that people imagine, if you had just one letter to write, to whom would it be addressed, and what would you like them to know?
About such things as ethical wills and personal directives, Karp pointed out in the Q&A that they are not legally binding. However, Gallagher noted, they are helpful to family, friends and caregivers, advising people to restrict the content to value matters rather than types of treatment, which may put caregivers in a difficult position.
Courts consider whether a person has the right to die
In his talk, Karp spoke about some of the legal issues relevant to assisted suicide (suicide committed with the help of others) and euthanasia (the killing of another to relieve dire suffering). The latter is only legal in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, he said, and assisted suicide only in Switzerland; there are assisted dying laws in Oregon, Washington and Vermont.
In Canada, he said, while suicide is no longer illegal, assisting a suicide is, and it carries a maximum jail sentence of 14 years. Parliament’s rationale, he explained, was a desire to “prevent people from assisting suicide [of] those that are not mentally capable of … making their own decisions and, because of the values that Canadian people had, that society places on human life, which might easily be eroded … if assistance in committing suicide were decriminalized.”
Karp said the seminal case in this matter was the 1993 Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General). In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada voted against terminally ill Sue Rodriguez’s right to assisted suicide.
Another important decision came from the B.C. Supreme Court in 2012, which “struck down the prohibition against physician-assisted suicide, calling the law discriminatory, disproportionate and over-broad.” Justice Lynn Smith suspended her ruling to give Parliament time to redraft the legislation, said Karp.
Within a month, however, the federal government appealed, arguing “that the current legislation is in place to protect the vulnerable who might be induced in moments of weakness to commit suicide and that the B.C. Supreme Court had no right to overrule Rodriguez….” (The case is called Lee Carter, et al., v. Attorney General of Canada, et al.)
The federal government won the appeal but the decision noted, “Should the Supreme Court of Canada revisit this issue … consideration should be given to … ‘constitutional exemption,’ … essentially to say, we don’t agree with the law either but our hands are tied…. So, what that’s done in practical effect now is it’s re-opened the debate and left the door open to re-argue Rodriguez at the Supreme Court of Canada but, until then, physician-assisted suicide remains illegal in Canada.”
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed in January of this year to an appeal of the appeal, and so will be considering this issue again. Karp predicted that the court will rule against the government, given how Canadians’ views have changed and the experience of physician-assisted suicide where it is legal – there is no evidence of increased deaths among women, lower-income, uninsured and members of other vulnerable populations.
Family tries to have mother’s wishes honored
Hammond and her family have been fighting their own legal battle for her mother Margot Bentley’s right to die.
Hammond shared a bit about her mother’s life before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999. Eight years prior, Bentley wrote a one-page living will. In it, said Hammond, she wrote, “If there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery from extreme physical or mental disability, I direct that I be allowed to die.” Her mother also indicated that she “wanted no nourishment or liquids” in this situation. “My mom did not fear death, she was a very spiritual person,” said Hammond. “What she did fear though was a long, slow, lingering, gradual degradation and, as she saw it, her loss of dignity, and she talked about this a lot with us, her family.”
Hammond described the mental and physical decline of her mother. In a care home for years now, her mother can’t walk, stand, she is unresponsive, kept alive with spoon-feeding. In 2011, said Hammond, the family showed the living will to the care home and, initially, they agreed to follow it, but Fraser Health (the regional authority) intervened and legal proceedings ensued, with the decision that her mother will be cared for despite her expressed wishes.
It’s a human rights issue, said Hammond, according to lawyer Kieren Bridge, who offered to represent her family on a pro bono basis. The family continues to fight – Hammond said she is sure they are doing the right thing.
As advice to others, she recommended that people fill out a representation agreement. If your doctor won’t honor your wishes, she said, find another one. She also recommended that people join the group Dying with Dignity.
After the Q&A, Sisterhood president Reesa Devlin closed the event, thanking the panel, Brenda Karp and other volunteers.
Marie Doduck, third from the left, with her family. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
“Although the sheer number of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, six million, is seemingly beyond human comprehension, we must remember that each life snuffed out belonged to a person, an individual with a past, present and a promise of the future, a human being endowed with feelings, thoughts and dreams. Tonight, we light candles in memory of the six million Jews, one and a half million of whom were children … and in memory of the millions of other victims – we commemorate them as persons, as individuals.”
Ian Penn of the Second Generation set the tone, as master of ceremonies, for Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s Yom Hashoah commemoration on Monday, April 28. A standing-room-only crowd at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Wosk Auditorium attended.
Survivors from the local community lit candles in memory of all those who died. Chazzan Yaacov Orzech (Second Generation) chanted El Maleh Rachamim and survivor Chaim Kornfeld, the Kaddish. Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA, spoke on behalf of the province.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” she reminded the audience. “Yom Hashoah is not just about learning from history, but about passing those lessons on to the next generation. Today, we honor the six million voices that were silenced during the Holocaust, we mourn them, we remember them, and by remembering them, we pledge to never let genocide happen again. Today, we join together and speak for them.”
Penn spoke briefly, but movingly, of his mother, Lola, who died in January, just shy of her 92nd birthday. She survived the Holocaust but, as with most, not without sustaining great losses and witnessing much horror. Addressing his peers, he said, “We grew up with physical comforts but some strangeness and confusion, with marginal understanding and appreciation of the difficulty of becoming normal. Our parents, like Lola, clung to their traditions, confronted the modern, the world they were jettisoned into, their escape route, as best they could, and drove us forward to fulfil their stolen dreams…. Our parents, your parents, were, perhaps, no less complicated than Lola, at times positive and resilient, loving and strategic. And, just as likely, suspicious and threatening, ever vigilant and occasionally hyper-vigilant…. They had to create and re-create themselves, their fears, their terrors, opaque to us, whilst we, their prized possessions, were shepherded with passion … they were survivors in every sense of that word.”
Survivor Mariette Doduck spoke. “The person you see before you is Marie Doduck, a mother, a grandmother and a community volunteer. But there’s another me, Mariette Rozen. A frightened little girl, a tough kid, an enfant sauvage who lived through a lost childhood.” She was only three and a half years old, living in Brussels, when her “life was suddenly ripped apart and irrevocably changed by Nazis.”
In 1939, her family – she was the youngest of 11 – was separated. “We were put into peril by the fact of our Jewishness, a crime under the rule of Nazis’ Europe…. My mother had made a fatal mistake of following orders and registering us at the police station as of Jewish descent. She was told that, if she did, she would not be [taken] … nor would any of us. We had to run and vanish in order to survive. We children were separated and put into different homes. We became the children of silence, like robots, no talking, no crying, no disturbance, a blank mind, with no feelings and really no future. We lived in the moment, we felt nothing except hunger, feelings like loneliness were a luxury.”
Her mother and her brother Albert were murdered in Auschwitz. Doduck saw them being loaded into the trucks. “I had come out of hiding to celebrate my seventh birthday. I hadn’t seen my mother since I was three and a half years old. That was the last time I saw my mother and my brother alive.” Her brother Jean, part of the French Resistance, was hanged by the Gestapo; her brother Simon died three weeks after liberation – “after eating, from the mistaken kindness of the American and Canadian soldiers who liberated the concentration camps and fed the fragile, thin and starving prisoners food that they could no longer digest.”
To survive, Doduck hid with non-Jewish families and in orphanages, took refuge in storm sewers, cellars, as well as in a hayloft, from which she bears a scar from a pitchfork wielded by a Nazi soldier looking for Jews. “I lived mostly in darkness, literally.” When she returned to Brussels years later, she said, she couldn’t recognize it in the light.
“I became tough and streetwise and, because of my young age and my unusual photographic memory, I was used as a messenger in the French Underground. I was even smuggled into a prison to pass a message into my sister Sarah…. Like a fugitive, I lived in fear and confusion in more than one country…. The people I lived with often beat me, and often treated me like a slave … even though they were paid by my family to keep me in hiding. There were also those that risked their lives to save me.” Among them, a convent’s mother superior and a German friend of Doduck’s brother.
Doduck recalled a friend’s death. Savagely beaten, the girl died in her arms. “If I had not forgotten to make my bed and, therefore, been forbidden to go outside [the convent],” said Doduck, she, too, would have been killed.
Doduck also experienced illness, one in which pustules covered her whole body; her skin had to be scrubbed with sulfur. “Despite this sickness and all of the physical and mental anguish, I, like millions of others, did survive, not unscarred, and, in a sense, wise for it. In a perverse way, perhaps, one could even say that I was fortunate because I have seen both sides of humanity.”
“It was only with great pressure from the Jewish community … [that, eventually] 1,123 Jewish orphan children and young adults were brought out of wartorn Europe to make a new life in Canada.”
Reading the book None Is Too Many, Doduck said she had to put it down often, so angered was she that such attitudes existed in Canada as well, “attitudes that nearly kept me, my brothers and sisters out of Canada. People like Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his sidekick Mr. [Frederick] Blair, then director of immigration, did everything in their power at that time to keep Jews out of Canada, even orphan refugee children. It was only with great pressure from the Jewish community,” she said, that, eventually, “1,123 Jewish orphan children and young adults were brought out of wartorn Europe to make a new life in Canada.”
Doduck was one of those children. “When I first started to tell people what had happened to me, they said, ‘Forget about the past.’ But I say to you, I learned from my experiences, both good and bad. Whatever we experience in life contains a message. God provides these vehicles, however painful. It is up to us to interpret and accept them. This we can choose to do either positively or negatively. Without sounding immodest, I had the courage, even as a child, to go on despite the feeling of mistrust, fear, pain and loathing. These lessons are in a significant way responsible for who I am today.”
Doduck arrived here in 1947, 12 years old and, once again, “plunged into a world of strangers.” Here, she said, “I saw goodness in people that I shall never forget, and that’s my adoptive family, Joe and Minnie Satanov and many other wonderful families that took in children of the Holocaust across Canada.”
The Satanovs raised Doduck as their daughter. They bought her first bike, her first pair of skates and many other such things. “You’ve got to understand, we survivors had no toys to play with, we had no blanket to hold on to, we had nothing…. Through their patience and love and understanding, they brought me back to my Jewishness and gave me back my humanity.” But it wasn’t easy, and she ran away from home many times in the first year. “How can you understand how angry, hurt, lonely I was, missing my own mother, brothers, sisters?”
With the Satanovs’ love and support, Doduck graduated high school. “I entered the business working world and eventually met my husband, whom they liked and, as good parents would do, they paid for our wedding. They are both at rest now, but the memory of them is forever ingrained in my heart and in my daughters’, who loved them as grandparents.”
Although encouraged to hide her Jewish identity during the war, between her brother’s reminders that she must remain Jewish and memories of her mother, for example, lighting Shabbat candles (her father died when she was a toddler), Doduck said, “My Jewishness was always part of me…. Now, I take pride in passing this on to my children and grandchildren, unafraid and unabashed, to show and teach them what it is to be … proud of their heritage. Yet, the future is not assured for them. What happened to me and to millions of innocents could happen again … we have the obligation to tell the world the horror of the Holocaust, to teach our children, and they to theirs, so that the past will not repeat itself.”
The hurt will never go away, but life for her has been “a step-by-step process, not something to take for granted, but to fight for. We turned out, survivors, we turned out [to be] decent people that help other people. We are involved in whatever is good: fighting hatred, fanaticism and racism. Although our childhood has been robbed from us – look what we have achieved.”
“I read that the truth is not only violated by falsehood, it may be equally outraged by silence. And I refuse to be silent. Future generations must know and learn. This must be done, however painful. It is our sacred duty – prejudice, hatred, racism, antisemitism have no place in our society.”
She warned, however, that there “are many who are now denying the Holocaust and so we must bear witness…. Because we survived, we have a duty, an obligation, to see to it that these truths are not forgotten…. I read that the truth is not only violated by falsehood, it may be equally outraged by silence. And I refuse to be silent. Future generations must know and learn. This must be done, however painful. It is our sacred duty – prejudice, hatred, racism, antisemitism have no place in our society.
“Tonight, we meet to mark Yom Hashoah, presented by Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, of which I’m a founding member. I have spoken to countless groups of students about my experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Not everyone can understand how extremely painful it is for me, for us, to remember things I would rather forget. But we do it, I do it, regardless of the sleepless nights that follow. I do it because I know that education is the only key to prevention.”
Doduck concluded, “When I speak to young people, I speak as a child, Mariette; tonight, to you, as a peer, Marie. Yet, standing here before you, I find that I cannot separate the two so easily. But maybe these two different people, one that witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust and the other an active citizen in our community, are essential in the present day: essential to the remembrance of the Shoah and essential to working to ensure that it will never happen again.”
Throughout the evening, musical selections were performed by Claire Klein Osipov or members of an ensemble that included Gil Ashkenazy, Megan Emanuel, Samantha Gomberoff (Fourth Generation), Maya Kallner, Sasha Kaye, Jared Khalifa; Kathryn Rose Palmer, Brian Riback, Talya Kaplan Rozenberg, Ayla Tesler-Mabe and Lorenzo Tesler-Mabe, all of the Third Generation. Wendy Bross Stuart, who produced the evening with husband Ron Stuart, was on piano, Eric Wilson on cello. The organizing committee was Cathy Golden, Ethel Kofsky and Rome Fox, all of the Second Generation.
Honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism, respecting and deferring to our elders is not just a value, it’s the law. That said, the opportunity to honor our elders in front of the entire community doesn’t come around very often. Which is just one of the reasons Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty is so unique.
On May 25, noon, in the Great Hall at the Vancouver Law Courts, LBJAF will honor eight individuals/couples in their eighties who all have one thing in common: “They have each led by example.”
Four of the honorees are featured in this article: Dr. Marvin and Rita Weintraub, Rita Akselrod, Dr. Jimmy White and Chaim Kornfeld. Next week’s Jewish Independent will feature profiles of honorees Dr. Arthur and Arlene Hayes, Stan and Seda Korsch, Samuel and Frances Belzberg, and Serge Haber.
“I know the eight and they are wonderful,” event chair Mel Moss told the Independent, noting about the planned celebration, “Eight over Eighty is modern, yet staged in a traditional way. It is a tribute. It is light and bright yet respectful, it is a vibrant, swinging and ‘with it’ event.”
Dvori Balshine, LBJAF director of development, said, “This will be an event that the community has not seen before. People have been saying, ‘What a brilliant idea!’…. We came up with something fresh, in a new place and at a new time of day.” Even the nomination process, she added, was incredibly well received by the community
RITA AND MARVIN WEINTRAUB Books and education
Marvin Weintraub was born in Poland and came as a child to Ontario, where he ultimately received a PhD in plant physiology. Rita (Enushevsky) was raised in southwestern Ontario, near Niagara Falls, and graduated in sociology and philosophy. Both studied at the University of Toronto, where they met. They married soon after.
Settling for a decade in St. Catharines, which at the time had a Jewish population of about 500, together they started an adult education series and Rita launched a Jewish library in the synagogue that doubled as a community centre. Some of the librarians still working at the desk were originally trained by Rita.
“I have great faith in the value of education of all kinds, but particularly for Jewish adults and for youngsters,” said Marvin, who taught in the synagogue’s afternoon school. They both became active in Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and she in National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
Marvin took a job at the University of British Columbia in 1959 and the young family moved west, immersing themselves in synagogue and community life. Rita became vice-president of Beth Israel Sisterhood and NCJW, taking special interest in global concerns like Vietnamese boat people and Soviet Jewry. She also brought her dedication to adult education, which she championed in Vancouver as she had in Ontario.
Marvin was elected president of Beth Israel and, later, Pacific Region chair of CJC, during which time he focused on addressing challenges of Jewish schools and helping teachers upgrade their skills.
Invited to the USSR in 1968 by the Soviet Academy of Science to lecture on plant virology, Marvin took the opportunity to smuggle in a suitcase filled with tefillin, tzitzit, siddurs and machzors. He attended shul morning and night for a month, using his serviceable Yiddish to identify daveners who could use the items.
In 1973, with Dr. Sid Zbarsky and Dr. Robert Krell, Marvin began the process that would lead to the first professor and program of Judaic studies at UBC, which now has three full-time and one part-time faculty.
In 1978, he was awarded a Queen’s Medal for service to Canadian science.
When the Jewish community centre at Oak and 41st was being designed, Rita convinced planners to set aside space for a Jewish library. Then Marvin set up a lunch between Rita and Sophie Waldman, during which Rita convinced Waldman to memorialize Waldman’s recently deceased husband, Isaac, with a library. Rita remains chair of the Friends of the Waldman Library and the annual fundraising telethon, which she began 20 years ago. She also has been a volunteer with Shalom BC, welcoming newcomers to the local Jewish community.
Of all her achievements, the library holds a special place for Rita. “It’s the focal point of the JCC,” she said.
RITA AKSELROD From tragedy to action
Rita Akselrod’s early experiences were forged by life in Romania, first under the Nazis, then under communism. At seven, she was barred from attending public school because she was Jewish, so a makeshift Jewish school was formed. She and the other Jews in Bacau were forced to wear the yellow star, were subject to curfews and forbidden from assembling in groups. The men in her family were conscripted into forced labor.
By the time Rita was ready for high school, the Russians had taken over and she was taken by her uncles to high school in Bucharest. Her brother wanted to go to university, but the communist regime wanted him in the army, so he fled the country. The rest of the family soon fled also, making their way to Budapest, then trekking through cornfields to an American-controlled zone before landing in a displaced persons camp in Austria.
There, she met “my Ben,” who she recently lost after more than a half-century of marriage. The couple made their way to Israel. But life was difficult in the state’s earliest years, and more so when Rita lost a baby three days after birth. They chose to move and were helped by Leon Kahn, a friend of Ben’s who had settled in Vancouver.
“Leon Kahn sent us papers and we came to Canada,” she said, acknowledging that when she first looked at an atlas, she was alarmed. “I couldn’t believe that we would come to Vancouver when I saw Alaska close by. When I was in Israel and we were corresponding, I said, ‘What’s Vancouver? It’s cold. It’s near Alaska.’ But we did come.”
Kahn set them up in a room in a shared house that had seen many Holocaust survivors and Ben began collecting junk with a horse and buggy, which he would then sell to used-goods dealers. “My husband wasn’t a businessman,” Rita said. “He came from camps and ghettos, he didn’t know the city, he didn’t know the business.”
But the family succeeded, and later sponsored Rita’s parents, brother and his family from Israel.
In 1979, tragedy struck, when the Akselrods’ daughter, Sherry, was killed by a drunk driver. She was a parole officer who had offered to trade shifts on Dec. 26 so a colleague could spend Christmas with family. The loss spurred Rita to bring the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving to British Columbia. She also became involved in grief support, which was taking place in a church.
“I was speaking to a rabbi and said, ‘Can we have it in the Jewish community? Do I have to go to a church?’” Jewish Family Service Agency started a grief support group and Rita attended. Eventually, they asked her to take it over, which she did for many years as a volunteer. As well, she has been actively involved in substance abuse education programs.
She and Ben were founding members of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and, for more than 20 years, Rita coordinated the speakers program, which has allowed tens of thousands of young British Columbians to learn about the Shoah directly from survivors. She is a past president and a life governor of the centre.
She also spent nearly three decades on the board of the Louis Brier, stopping only because she needed to devote more time to Ben when he developed Alzheimer’s. She is immensely proud of her work on denominational health, which ensured that faith-based agencies like the Louis Brier were treated appropriately when the province devolved health delivery to regional boards. A master agreement was signed between the province and the boards, and Rita noted that it “was signed in the Louis Brier, in front of the synagogue, with a priest there and other members of the denominations.”
She is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for community and humanitarian service and, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she was awarded with honorary Canadian citizenship in Ottawa as a Holocaust survivor who has contributed to Canadian life through remembrance and education.
JIMMY WHITE Make friends with change
Change has been a constant for Jimmy White. He was born in Ohio but the family moved to Saskatchewan during the Depression. His father ran a store before thinking better of it and moving the family to the coast. Jimmy studied at UBC but, since there was no medical school here at the time, he headed to Toronto to become a doctor. While there, he met Beulah and they returned to British Columbia as a married couple.
Jimmy saw even more of Canada through assignments at military hospitals during the war. When peace came, he took up practice downtown and became an institution in the community.
Beulah passed away young, leaving Jimmy and two daughters. He would later marry Miriam Brook, who was widowed with three girls of her own. Sadly, Miriam, too, has since passed away, but Jimmy said he is thrilled to have five daughters.
In addition to his work and family obligations, Jimmy has been a leading voice for Zionism, as an activist in Young Judaea, then the Vancouver Zionist Organization. He was president of the Jewish Community Council (precursor to the Federation) and of the Richmond Country Club. He was a key fundraiser who helped obtain the land for and construct the JCC at Oak and 41st.
These days, he is the head of the residents council at the Weinberg Residence and enjoys yoga, concerts, bridge, art classes, detective novels and debates on politics and language.
The guiding advice of his life came from his mother, he explained. “She said, ‘Make friends with change.’ In her day, there was a horse and buggy. Then the automobile came in. What a big change that automobile made. And now computers and everything! If you don’t make friends with that, you’re left behind. You don’t have to like it, but you have to make friends with it.”
He was amused by a young visitor recently who came to the Weinberg Residence from a Jewish day school. “One of the kids said to me, ‘You’ve had so much change in your lifetime, now there’s no more change left, there’s no more to discover … iPads and iPods,’” Jimmy recalled. “I said, ‘It’s just beginning.’ He said, ‘What else is there to discover?’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what they said when the automobile was invented and when the computer came along. Somebody’s going to invent an antigravity pair of shoes.’”
CHAIM KORNFELD Never give up
Chaim Kornfeld was born in 1926 in a small town in northeastern Hungary, the youngest of eight children. While his father ran a grocery store and his mother managed the large, observant family, Chaim studied at cheder and yeshivah – until 1944. It was at that comparatively late period in the war when the Jews of his town, and of much of Hungary, were placed in ghettoes before being transported to camps.
In May 1944, Chaim was separated from his parents, sisters and grandmother on the platform at Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele sent Chaim to the right and the rest of his family to the left. His father’s last words to Chaim, before he and the others were sent to the gas chambers, were “Never forget that you are a Jew.”
Chaim survived Mauthausen and Gusen, where he worked in an airplane factory. He survived a death march just four days before liberation in May 1945. Of his large family, only Chaim, a sister and two brothers survived. He finished his secondary education in Budapest and was preparing to enter rabbinical school when the Jewish Agency offered him the chance to go to Israel. He leapt at the opportunity, joined the Israeli air force, and was a founding member of Kibbutz Ma’agan. But educational and professional advancement was limited in Israel’s early years and Chaim took his brother up on a sponsorship to Canada.
In Saskatoon, Chaim taught Hebrew school in the afternoons and evenings, while attending university. During this time, he corresponded with a young woman he had met in the Israeli military, Aliza Hershkowitz, and convinced her to join him on the Prairies. Chaim and Aliza would raise four children (a fifth passed away in infancy).
While at the University of Saskatchewan law school, he served as camp director for Camp B’nai B’rith in Pine Lake, Alta. Practising law continuously since 1960, he is proud to be one of the oldest in his profession.
Chaim is a board member, past president and life governor of the Louis Brier Home. He shares his story of survival and accomplishment with students at the annual high school Holocaust symposium and he swims six days a week at the JCC, where he has been a member for 40 years.
For years, he has served as a Torah reader at the Louis Brier synagogue. Responding to the honor of being recognized for his dedication to community, Chaim said he is embarrassed by the fuss. “I don’t look for honor,” he said. “I never looked for kavods.”
His advice for others? “I would advise people – and I still do in my office sometimes – to never give up. That is my motto in life. Whatever comes up, I won’t just lie down and take it.”
He emphasized his enduring love for his wife Aliza and added, “I always come home for dinner.”
A fundraiser for the Louis Brier Home and Hospital is urging community members to make a two-year commitment so the facility can rely on sustainable funding to plan for the future.
“We are asking for people to consider making a commitment for two years so that we can tell the Louis Brier ‘we have raised this much money, we will know that it’s there for two years, you go ahead and make the plan you need to make that will take maybe two years to come to fruition and to give the maximum benefits to your residents,’” said Bernard Pinsky, co-chair of the Sustain, Maintain and Enhance campaign.
The last campaign raised $600,000 in each of three years, Pinsky said, and organizers hope this effort will be at least as successful, if not more. The campaign has been underway for several weeks and culminates at the end of this month. A major celebration – Eight Over Eighty – takes place May 25, when eight individuals and couples will be recognized for lifetimes of dedication to building community.
The campaign is important to the facility, Pinsky said, because the calibre of the home and hospital depends on the support of donors. The Louis Brier does not receive funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver allocations or from United Way, Pinsky said, and the Jewish-specific components of the home’s character are not funded by government allocations.
“In order to make sure that we have the best facilities for seniors in our community the Louis Brier Aged Foundation needs to raise the money to distinguish it from other seniors facilities – many of which are very good, but they do not have the Jewish component,” he said.
Pinsky identified programs and activities such as kosher food, daily services, Shabbat services on Fridays and Saturdays, Yiddish and Hebrew classes, Jewish-themed discussion groups, films, lectures and performances as examples of the type of “extras” the fundraising supports. Louis Brier also has top-notch physiotherapy, art therapy and music therapy programs, he said. The differences made by these services are significant, he added.
“Most people in the Jewish community have had someone connected to them who has been in the Louis Brier and we also know from people who have loved ones, relatives or acquaintances in other facilities that the Louis Brier is a step above in many respects,” said Pinsky. “And we owe it to the people who established this community to give them the kind of dignity and the kind of retirement and life that they would want at this stage of their lives and it’s only us who can help because nobody else will pay for that.”
Harry Lipetz, co-chair of the campaign with Pinsky, emphasized the Louis Brier’s dependence on the generosity of the community. “The Louis Brier Home and Hospital doesn’t have memberships such as synagogues [do] to draw upon,” said Lipetz, who is also president of the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation. “We simply rely on the entire Jewish community.”
Lipetz said the Louis Brier’s reputation is due to the resources provided by community support. “The level of care that’s provided is probably rated the highest in British Columbia due to the additional funding that the foundation provides annually,” he said. “I am satisfied that our efforts really do bring quality of life to people, as we say, ‘adding life to years and years to life’ is something we are accomplishing.”
Lipetz asks people to take the initiative to support the campaign. “We have a limited ability to reach out to individuals,” he said. “It is a relatively large Jewish community. We would hope that individuals would come forward whether they are contacted or not to support this campaign.”
Left to right, Ari Cipes, Rabbi Shmuly Hecht and Ezra Cipes have joined forces to help make Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s Tiferet, the only kosher uncooked wine in Canada. (photo from summerhill.bc.ca)
The rolling hills and verdant valleys of British Columbia’s Okanagan region are home to more than 200 wineries, many of which are internationally renowned and award-winning. In fact, a number of Canada’s most prestigious wineries call this region home – Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, Sumac Ridge, to name a few – with one singled out as “B.C.’s most visited winery” by Tourism Kelowna.
There are several possible reasons for Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s popularity. It could be the incongruous sight of the enormous, dazzling white pyramid towering over the central terrace (more on that later). Perhaps it’s because of the estate’s Peace Park or the quality of its 100 percent organic vineyard. Then there’s the winery’s most recent offering, Tiferet (Hebrew for beauty/glory), a new, top-of-the-line kosher wine whose very name reflects the exceptional landscape from which it was created.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery was founded by native New Yorker Stephen Cipes, who moved to the Okanagan with his young family in 1986 and felt an immediate spiritual connection with the land. The developer-turned-vintner purchased Summerhill Vineyards, replanted the existing table grapes with winemaking European grapes and set to work. Located on Kelowna’s Lakeshore Wine Route, the mid-size winery has been producing organic, award-winning wines ever since, making a name for itself in European capitals.
Now, three of Cipes’ four sons are involved in managing the family business. Chief executive officer Ezra Cipes spoke with the Jewish Independent from his office, which overlooks the magnificent, blue waters of Lake Okanagan.
The immediate question at hand was why the winery had decided to produce a kosher wine, especially an extremely limited edition one (1,200 bottles) with a hefty price tag ($100 per bottle). Cipes explained that he was inspired by his friendship with Okanagan Chabad Rabbi Shmuly Hecht and a desire “to share the beauty of natural, uncooked wine with Hecht and all Sabbath observant Jews.”
Cipes and Hecht formed a deep bond while “studying texts together and drinking mevushal [cooked] wine together,” Cipes explained. “None of [the cooked kosher wines] can compare with living, uncooked wine, and I realized that Rabbi Hecht did not know the pleasure of living wine. There was none available to share with him, so we decided to make it ourselves, and we set out to make it as beautiful as possible. We used the best grapes of the vintage, bought the best barrels from France and now, a year and a half later, I am pleased to say that the wine we made exceeded my expectations.”
Kosher winemaking is somewhat complicated. Governed by the same kashrut laws pertaining to food (prepared under supervision of a rabbi, containing only kosher ingredients, using rabbinically certified equipment), kosher wine is further divided into two categories: uncooked and cooked. Although both are considered equal with respect to kashrut, their production and final result couldn’t be more different.
To qualify as kosher uncooked wine, the wine’s entire production – from “vine to wine” in vintner vernacular – must be handled exclusively by Sabbath-observing Jewish males. And that includes pouring. Understandably, it is well-nigh impossible for commercial producers to comply with these conditions and most opt to make the cooked category of kosher wine, if they produce such wine at all. Kosher cooked winemaking allows non-Jews of both genders to handle production and serving, however, the other regulations are no less strict. For a wine to qualify as kosher cooked, it must be heated to 1850F, which, well, cooks it. And therein lies the rub.
Exposure to such high temperatures significantly compromises the wine’s flavor and texture and, while most producers now use flash-pasteurization techniques to minimize the damage, there is simply no way around it. “Wine is a living thing…. By cooking the wine, we are destroying the wine,” Cipes’ explained matter-of-factly. The dilemma facing kosher wine vintners is best summed up as having to choose between quality and quantity, taking into account the obvious economics that accompany those choices.
Which brings us back to Tiferet, whose kosher uncooked status partly explains its steep price. Cipes acknowledged the challenge of producing uncooked wine and described Tiferet’s creation as “a labor of love.”
“The complication is that only the hands of Sabbath-observant Jews could touch the wine, equipment or any unsealed vessel containing the wine,” he said. “We had to make the wine away from our regular wine cellar, and without the trained hands of our regular team. But otherwise, it was the most simple and natural process: crush the grapes, allow the fermentation to happen … press the juice from the skins … age in barrels, blend the barrels … allow the solids to settle … rack the wine … and seal it in a bottle. Rabbi Shmuly or myself was there every single day except for Shabbos, checking the temperature of the room or performing some task. For such a simple process, the quality of the wine comes from the quality of the fruit, the careful handling, and creating the correct conditions for the fermentation and maturation.”
Tiferet was made with a relatively new “meritage” blend (merit/heritage), a delicate balance of Bordeaux-inspired grape varieties – merlot (60 percent), cabernet sauvignon (20 percent) and cabernet franc (20 percent) – cultivated in the semi-arid conditions of an Osoyoos organic vineyard and then brought to Summerhill to be turned into something that sounds much more than a run-of-the-mill premium wine.
“Making [Tiferet] with the rabbis changed its way,” Cipes said, trying his best to explain his sense that something else was at work during the creation of Tiferet. “In a way, the wine made itself, there was some magic that happened there. It’s hard to put my finger on it … a certain element of magic happened naturally that wouldn’t have happened otherwise … it was the work of the elements, and of natural forces beyond our control. We can only take credit for partnering with these forces to create this incredible wine.”
The description of Tiferet on Summerhill’s website diverts sharply from adjectives usually associated with wine flavor and aromas. Forgoing the more mundane “‘fruity” or “crisp,” Summerhill goes out on a metaphorical limb declaring, “Tiferet has the aroma of baby’s breath and the flavor of mother’s milk.” (If you’re wondering, as did I, the reference is not to genus Gypsophila, most commonly found in English country gardens!)
On the telephone, Cipes struggled to articulate the sensory sensations evoked by this wine. “It has a sweet milkiness … an unusual flavor, a sweet dairy note that doesn’t linger for long … it’s almost an effervescence. The texture is … full- bodied, soft and kind of silky in your mouth, elegant, fresh, fruity. There’s an added complexity to the wine,” before returning to the rather odd-sounding, “It’s like baby’s breath.” Tiferet wine, Cipes concluded, is for a drinker who “want[s] to have an experience of beauty.” With my request for a sample politely but firmly declined, and a price tag sadly out of reach, I’ll just have to take his word for it.
But, wait. What about the promise for more about that huge, looming pyramid, rivaling only the great pyramids of Egypt for alignment and precision? And the new-age-sounding Peace Garden? You’ll have to visit the winery in person to learn more – and, while you’re there, could you bring me back a bottle of that magic?
Nicole Nozick is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and communications specialist.
Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, was in Vancouver on April 10, and addressed a roundtable lunch organized by CJPAC. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) hosted a community roundtable lunch on Thursday, April 10, with Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
“CJPAC seeks to activate the Jewish community in the Canadian political process, and roundtables such as these provide opportunities to build relationships and engage with elected officials from all political parties,” explained Mark Waldman, CJPAC’s executive director, in an email after the event.
“CJPAC is a multi-partisan, national organization that has been active in Vancouver for many years,” he added. As an example of the organization’s work locally, he noted, “Recently in Vancouver, CJPAC hosted an event called Women in Politics, which was attended by more than 30 women. Participants engaged on a personal level with former and current female politicians from a number of political parties and levels of government.”
Thursday’s lunch meeting took place in a boardroom at Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP downtown. It seemed like a couple of dozen community members were in attendance. As they were leaving, Trudeau spoke briefly with the Jewish Independent before heading to another appointment.
“… I’m glad to say that any government of Canada will be supportive of Israel, not for ideological or political or strategic reasons, but because the values Israel stands for are Canadian values of openness, of respect, of democracy, of equality, and we need more of that, particularly in the tough neighborhood that Israel is in.”
“It went great,” he said about how the roundtable went. “We talked about, obviously, Canada’s support of Israel, which is extremely important to me and the point I made is that I am an unequivocal supporter of Israel. We need a two-state solution of a Jewish state on one side and a Palestinian state. Where I take issue a little bit with the prime minister these days is just that he’s tended to make it a little more of a domestic football, with some people being more supporters of Israel than others, and I’m happy to say that I love the prime minister for his support of Israel and thank Mr. Mulcair for his personal support of Israel as well, and I’m glad to say that any government of Canada will be supportive of Israel, not for ideological or political or strategic reasons, but because the values Israel stands for are Canadian values of openness, of respect, of democracy, of equality, and we need more of that, particularly in the tough neighborhood that Israel is in.”
Domestically, there have been changes made or proposed at the federal level over the years that, in the opinion of some, challenge those very values of openness, respect, democracy and equality, a recent example being Bill C-23, or the Fair Elections Act. When asked to describe his vision of the role of a federal government, Trudeau responded, “First of all, we have to understand that Canada is a federation, not a unitary state, so how we engage with different levels of government as a federal government – partnership with provinces, partnership with municipalities – and understanding the work together that we do as different levels of government all serves the same citizens.
“Giving a government a majority doesn’t give them the capacity to perpetuate themselves indefinitely by tricking the rules; that’s what happens in developing countries, that’s not what’s supposed to happen in Canada.”
“But even within the way Parliament functions,” he continued, “I made a strong commitment last June towards open Parliament, which would mean less whipped votes; open nominations, which would mean no omnibus bills, no misuse of prorogation, a lot more openness, the transparency around online posting of our expenses. Actually, what we announced in June last year then triggered similar announcements from everyone and now all of Parliament is starting to post online, and that was something that we triggered. So, I think when you look at that, when you look at the partisan approach to the Fair Elections Act – which is a very unfair elections act – I’m certainly trying to get the message out to Canadians that we do not need elections to be fixed in advance in favor of the Conservatives, and that’s exactly what’s happening. Giving a government a majority doesn’t give them the capacity to perpetuate themselves indefinitely by tricking the rules; that’s what happens in developing countries, that’s not what’s supposed to happen in Canada.”
With the defeat of the Parti Quebecois on April 7, there is reason to believe that its proposed Charter of Values will also go by the wayside. However, at least some of the sentiment that allowed it to be proposed in the first place – fear over immigration – likely still exists and, over the last few years, more than one European government has called multiculturalism a failure. In light of this, the Independent asked Trudeau what he thought about the future of multiculturalism in Canada.
“Multiculturalism in Canada is about building a diverse, flourishing fabric of a country that is strong, not in spite of its differences, but because of those differences.
“The German model of multiculturalism failed because they brought over temporary workers from Turkey and never allowed them citizenship, didn’t treat them like Germans and, even a few generations in, they never became [citizens]. Multiculturalism in Canada is about building a diverse, flourishing fabric of a country that is strong, not in spite of its differences, but because of those differences.
“And, I’ll say two things on Quebec. First of all, I, as of last fall, spoke very strongly in a number of editorials to Canadians to not get overly worked up about this Charter of Values, to trust Quebecers because Quebecers were not going to accept this, and I was pleased to see them show that on Monday night, and show that very strongly.
“But the second element: it does demonstrate how politicians can twist perceptions, and a lot of Quebecers who initially expressed support for the idea of the charter did so thinking they were sticking up for equality; you know, ‘liberating people from the oppressive yoke of religion,’ because, of course, in Quebec, that’s what happened through the sixties with their Quiet Revolution. But, as soon as people explained to them, no, this is about people having to choose between their religion or their job, Quebecers said, well, that doesn’t work at all, and that’s exactly what we have.”
When asked if he had any final words before the interview ended, Trudeau said, “Just what a pleasure it is to be out here in Vancouver. I had a great conversation with a number of strong members of the Jewish community and, unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time, so I look forward to coming back and doing this again soon.”