Shalom Branch 178 began as Fairview Branch 178 in 1945. (photo by Shula Klinger)
As the Second World War was drawing to a close, servicemen and -women began returning to Vancouver. Among them were Jewish veterans. As they looked for ways to reintegrate with civilian life, they found many clubs and associations closed to them on religious grounds. So, a group of them founded the B.C. Jewish Veterans’ Association. The association applied to the Canadian Legion and, on June 20, 1945, Fairview Branch 178 came into being. In 1972, thanks to the efforts of Charles Eppel, it became Shalom Branch 178. It has been a social hub for the veteran community now for more than 70 years.
At the time of the legion’s original charter, membership stood at 81. By 1950, this had risen to 219 and, in 1960, a ladies’ auxiliary was founded. These days, the legion’s membership stands at 75, but it’s falling, with the passing of many veterans.
Bernard Jackson has been the president of Shalom Branch 178 since 2002. Last year, the French government awarded him the Légion d’Honneur (France’s greatest honor for military and civil merits) for his service in Normandy in 1944.
Jackson speaks proudly of the original group of veterans. “They sold lottery tickets to raise money, with the object of building homes and a legion branch,” he said. “They bought land and built a property with assistance from BC Housing. The building of 102 apartments [Maple Crest] is in full use – it’s a mix of one- and two-bedroom suites.”
Every member of the legion takes part in the annual Poppy Campaign, which raises funds for veterans and needy families. Maple Crest residents are also supported by the Jewish Family Service Agency.
In the past, the legion has given bursaries to students at the University of British Columbia, the B.C. Institute of Technology and Vancouver Talmud Torah, as well as provided grants for medical equipment to local hospitals. Shalom Branch supports the Navy League of Canada and Brock Fahrni Pavilion, which is home to many veterans of the armed forces. The legion has installed a memorial to the fallen at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and Schara Tzedeck Cemetery’s war memorial was dedicated in 1990. Other achievements include the purchase of a bus for Magen David Adom in 1982.
Jackson is extremely concerned about the falling membership, and is disappointed at the lack of support. “Jewish support has disappeared but the need is still there,” he said. “It’s sad to see that we have such a crisis in the provision of low-cost apartments at a time when antisemitism is on the rise.”
Mark Perl is a more recent member of the legion. Born in Cluj, Romania, he moved to Israel in 1959 and fought in the Six Day War of 1967. “We need community support for our legion – not just funding,” he said. “This is our tradition, our unique history. Who’s going to carry this on?”
Jackson is determined to see a growth in education programs for today’s youngsters. “My generation made a big mistake,” he said. “We didn’t want to talk about the war. Now, young people watch all that shooting for fun. My generation knew what it was really about, and we thought this would be the last war.”
Jackson has spoken about this issue at Jewish Seniors Alliance, of which he also a member.
Shalom Branch 178 is entirely staffed by volunteers. Located at 2020 West 6th Ave., in Vancouver, new members are welcome and the hall is also available for rentals (604-737-1033).
Shula Klinger is an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at niftyscissors.com.