Smack in the middle of the Days of Awe, hundreds of members of our community came together for an inspiring, entertaining and occasionally emotional evening celebrating unity and inclusion.
The opening event of the 2018 Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign Sunday night once again took the form of FEDtalks, four presentations from individuals with starkly divergent life experiences.
Zoya Schvartzman, whose career now is devoted to improving the lives of individual Jews in Europe and revivifying once nearly obliterated Jewish communities there through her work with the Joint Distribution Committee, talked about how a comparatively simple gesture by the Vancouver Jewish community, when she and her single mother lived here several years back, was a testament to paying it forward. By providing a family in need with a small hand up, probably nobody involved at the time imagined that a kind word and a bag of groceries, including a jar of chocolate spread, would inspire a young woman to positively change the lives of some of the most marginalized Jews in the contemporary world.
Arik Zeevi, an Israeli judo Olympian, talked about the importance of setting goals that seem to exceed our grasp as a means of self-improvement and collective advancement.
Pamela Schuller, a disability activist and stand-up comedian, spoke of how Tourette syndrome went from being her defining characteristic to becoming an integral, appreciated and complementary component of her complex identity. Her endearing and humorous presentation encouraged everyone to look at perceived disabilities as unanticipated gifts.
Rabbi Irwin Kula, in an intellectually packed tour de force, spoke of Judaism’s ability to transform itself, saying that the first Jews of Vancouver would not recognize the Judaism of today and that our descendants a century hence will not recognize our Judaism – and that this is a sign of constructive adaptivity.
The four speakers offered very different perspectives, which, together, reminded all of us at the Vancouver Playhouse that unity and diversity are complementary and not exclusive.
Everyone in the audience certainly left with a lot think about. However, standouts as we reflected afterwards included the idea that, while Judaism treasures tradition, its millennia of continuity is due at least in part to a willingness to break existing paradigms and make room for new ways of being and thinking, as well as fresh voices, being inclusive of multiple identities and ensuring that successive generations are welcomed and included even – perhaps especially – when they challenge the way things have always been done.
Also underlying much of the evening was the concept that our actions have powerful ripple effects that we cannot forecast. Small actions – teaching judo to a 7-year-old, standing up for a classmate with a disability, reaching out to members of the community in their times of need – can lead to life-altering consequences.
Underscoring these messages were words from leaders of our local Federation and campaign, including Federation board chair Karen James, past chair Stephen Gaerber, women’s philanthropy chair Megan Laskin, chair of this year’s campaign Jonathon Leipsic, and Federation chief executive officer Ezra Shanken, all of whom, in particular ways, reminded attendees of the obligation and privilege of participating in a collective movement that changes lives in British Columbia, Israel and around the world.
Leipsic singled out members of his generation, pleading that they maintain and expand upon the institutions and infrastructure that previous generations built for us. He made special note of Charles Diamond, whose funeral had taken place earlier that day. Diamond’s parents were among our community’s pioneers and the Diamond family, through generations, have been role models of the involvement needed for a community to thrive.
In these days of introspection, teshuvah and transcendence, FEDtalks proved a perfect opportunity to come together, reflect, celebrate, think big and rededicate ourselves to making positive contributions individually and collectively.