There I stood, 13 and terrified. At Beth Torah Congregation in Toronto, on a bimah that my grandfather had literally helped build, I was chanting from a Torah scroll that his father had saved from their synagogue in eastern Poland and smuggled through the war – the same parchment from which my father, uncles and cousins had all read in turn.
The congregation’s eyes seemed to bore tiny holes into my skull as I read the most infamous words of my Torah portion, Acharei Mot: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.”
Bathed in family history and tradition, I thought I was about to drown. I may not have been the first gay shlemazel to have to swallow the words of Leviticus 18:22 during his bar mitzvah, but as the text passed my lips, I still felt completely alone.
The following year, as I was beginning to come out to my family and friends, the Supreme Court of Canada told an evangelical Christian university that it was free to exclude gays from its teacher education program. More than a decade later, the same university, Trinity Western, is invoking that ruling – and my bar mitzvah portion – as it claims the right to open an anti-gay law school.
They’re wrong, and anyone who truly cares about religious freedom should say so.
It’s far from clear that the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision – written, as it was, at a different time and on different facts – still empowers Trinity Western to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Yet, even if it does, the university’s anti-gay policy makes a mockery of freedom of religion. It’s one thing for people of faith to believe that gays are doomed to eternal hellfire, but it’s quite another to exclude them from a law school on that basis.
Read a Christian Bible cover to cover. It doesn’t end well for the Jews, either. Still, those of us who don’t accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior are welcome at Trinity Western University – provided that we don’t sleep with anyone of the same sex while we’re there.
If allowing Jewish students to practise Judaism isn’t a threat to Trinity Western’s religious freedom, what’s so different about allowing gay students to be gay? After all, according to evangelical Christians, we’re all going to end up shvitzing in the same place.
Imagine if the university required Jewish students to promise to abstain from Judaism. If that isn’t discrimination, neither was the Spanish Inquisition.
Can Christian scripture provide a basis for homophobia? Of course it can. Look no further than Leviticus 18:22. But the same set of texts might just as readily forgive racism, slavery or antisemitism. Why doesn’t Trinity Western discriminate against Jews or blacks the way it discriminates against gays? Because only fanatics would ever accept religious excuses for the former, and nothing does more to discredit religious freedom than using it to justify bigotry.
Anti-gay discrimination should be no exception. Those of us who depend on freedom of religion to protect our own beliefs should be the first to condemn its misuse. That doesn’t mean asking Christians (or Jews, or Muslims) to ignore scripture that prohibits homosexuality – though many do, and more should – but it does require us never to condone its use as a basis for odious discrimination. After centuries of blood libel, Jews are only too familiar with intolerance preached from the pulpit.
Those words that darkened my bar mitzvah portion – “v’et zachar lo tishkav mishk’vei ishah to’evah hu” – are chanted in synagogues around the world each year. After more than a decade, they still sting.
We can’t rewrite Leviticus, nor can we force the faithful to overlook passages that give us pause. But that doesn’t mean we can’t distinguish religious belief from religious pretext. If freedom of religion can justify almost anything, then it will be good for almost nothing. It’s up to those of us who need it to defend it from itself.
Adam Goldenberg is a Kirby Simon Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School, a former Liberal speechwriter and a contributor to CBC News: The National. Follow him at twitter.com/adamgoldenberg. This article originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News and is reprinted with permission. For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.
With the collapse of the U.S.-brokered peace negotiations, the Palestinian leadership has embarked on a plan of unilateral action to gain recognition of a Palestinian state and to isolate Israel internationally. Couple those developments with the Fatah movement’s unity pact with the terrorist group Hamas, and Israel is facing a complex reality. Without peace talks, what options does Israel have? Will Israel be forced to take its own unilateral steps?
“If [an] agreement is unachievable, then moving independently to shape the borders of Israel is the better course,” suggested Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli air force general and former head of the Israel Defence Forces Military Intelligence Directorate. “While it is not the [ideal] alternative, it is better than the status quo or a bad agreement.”
Yadlin, who now serves as director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), is among a growing number of respected Israeli leaders putting forth proposals for unilateral steps. In a proposal posted earlier this month on the INSS website, Yadlin argued that Israel has more than the two options usually discussed: a peace agreement and the status quo. According to Yadlin, Israel’s four strategic options are a peace agreement along the parameters established by former U.S. president Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000, an “unacceptable” peace agreement on Palestinian terms, a status quo in which the Palestinians dictate their own terms or a status quo in which Israel dictates its own terms.
Yadlin argued that while the Clinton parameters – which include the Palestinians agreeing to end the conflict and give up both the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and dividing Jerusalem – are Israel’s “best option,” it is “highly unlikely” that such an agreement will ever be realized. Instead, Yadlin believes that Israel should promote an “Israeli option” that preserves Israel’s objectives to remain a “Jewish, democratic, secure and just state.” He said this would allow Israel to “independently shape its own borders,” with a strategy towards “advancing a two-state solution.”
Linda Cohen, author of 1,000 Mitzvahs, spoke at King David High School’s Teaching for Tomorrow earlier this month.
Imagine channeling your grief at the loss of a loved one into something exceptionally positive and using that something to honor their memory.
That’s what Linda Cohen, 45, set out to do two years ago when she undertook the lofty goal of doing 1,000 mitzvot in honor of her late father. “My goal was to heal from the grief I was feeling,” said the Portland, Ore., mother of two. “The idea of doing 1,000 mitzvahs came to me in the night, during a dream. When I woke up and told my husband about it, he wondered how I might keep track of my mitzvahs, which is why I started a blog. But I never expected people would actually read the blog!” she admitted. “It was just a place to track what I was doing.”
The blog evolved into a book, 1,000 Mitzvahs, published in 2011 by Seal Press. The book contains stories about those mitzvot, why they matter and what readers might glean from each one. Each mitzvah is described in a page or two with another paragraph on why it is important and what readers might do to implement something similar in their own lives. Last week, Cohen flew into Vancouver as the guest speaker at King David High School’s Teaching for Tomorrow annual lecture program and fundraiser, to discuss her mitzvah project. The Teaching for Tomorrow event supports the school’s chesed programming.
The word mitzvah literally means commandment, but Cohen defined her mitzvahs as good deeds and acts of loving kindness. The mitzvot she documents in her book range from fundraising for important causes to giving someone else’s kid a ride home, from volunteering on a committee to giving someone a cake. She said none of the mitzvot she took on was life-changing or particularly huge but they did change her life. “It made me more aware of opportunities to do good things, more attuned to what other people were doing,” she reflected. “Though my mitzvah project ended two-and-a-half years ago, I think I’m still as aware today of the importance of doing mitzvahs.”
The mitzvah that stands out most in her mind was a visit to her rabbi, Rabbi Yonah Geller, when he was on his deathbed. She had been conflicted about visiting during his short illness but, in the end, felt she had to be there. “My five minutes with him made me so happy,” she recalled. “For me, that was the most significant mitzvah.”
On a personal level, focusing her energies on mitzvot helped Cohen heal from the loss of her father in December 2006, a man with whom she admittedly had a troubled relationship for many years. “My dad was an amazing man and though our personal relationship was challenging, I feel gifted by the fact that we knew he was dying and had a year to put our affairs in order,” she said. “But I do feel sad that we wasted some of our years together struggling.” In her book, she writes of her grief and describes feeling very connected to her father. “Whenever I need him and am unsure of anything, he’s right near me, holding my hand and helping me get through the experience,” she said. “I feel like he visits me as a black crow.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Children in Baka al-Gharbiyah enjoying Maktabat al-Fanoos books and working with their teacher on their storytelling skills. (photo by Akmal Nagnagy)
PJ (aka “pajama”) Library is taking the PJ concept to Israel’s Arab population, with the creation of the Lantern Library (Maktabat al-Fanoos, in Arabic). Now Arab, Bedouin and Druze kindergartens, special-education Israeli schools and some preschools will start receiving books.
The first book to be distributed is a story about a mouse named Soumsoum, and it has already become quite a sensation in Arab, Bedouin and Druze state-run schools in Israel.
Galina Vromen, former international correspondent for Reuters who joined the Harold Grinspoon Foundation more than 10 years ago, launched the Israeli version of PJ Library in 2009, called Sifriyat Pijama, for the Jewish Israeli population.
Like its North American parent program, PJ Library, Sifriyat Pijama aims to inspire discussion at home about values and Jewish heritage and to instil a love of books. Unlike the North American program, Sifriyat Pijama books are distributed via government preschools and are then taken home.
“Some 215,000 children and their families receive the books, which is about 80 percent of all children in Hebrew-language state preschools,” said Vromen. “The children receive eight books a year. By the time they finish their three years of preschool, they have a 24-book home library.”
Lantern Library is a sister program to Sifriyat Pijama and, like its counterpart, Lantern Library books are delivered by courier to each classroom, with a copy for each child and two classroom copies.
After the teacher introduces a book and usually also conducts book-related activities (i.e. a discussion, a play, an art project), the book goes home to each student and his/her family.
“The books are culturally appropriate, but still chosen with a view to inviting discussion on values – universal, humanistic values rather than Judaism’s specific take on a value,” said Vromen. “But often, it comes down to much the same concepts, like honoring parents, being hospitable, visiting the sick, caring for one’s community and helping others.”
Lantern Library, like Sifriyat Pijama, is funded and operated in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Education. But with Lantern Library, “We also work with the California-based Price Family Charitable Fund, which has long been active in funding and operating programs for young children and their parents in the Israeli Arab community through its Bidayat (Beginnings) Early Childhood Centres,” said Vromen.
The foundation and the Price Family Charitable Fund committed to start a pilot project this year, with or without the ministry, offering to provide additional matching funds if the ministry came on board.
“The ministry did find some funding, so instead of our initial plans to start with 5,000 children, we ended up launching a program for close to 50,000 kids,” said Vromen.
The most immediate goal was to get good books out to every classroom and to each child. Other goals were to ensure teachers understand how to effectively integrate the books into the classroom and to understand their role in encouraging parents to read at home.
“Ultimately, we want children to love books, so they’ll be motivated to read,” said Vromen. “We don’t aim to teach children to read. Before children learn to read, they need to want to read through having positive experiences with books and being excited about the stories and the places they take you. We hope to encourage those positive, crucial experiences with books.”
The books have been received with great enthusiasm, added Vromen. “The teachers are extremely positive and send us lots of pictures of the activities they do with the kids. We post some on the program website, which is also exciting for the class.
“The parents are delighted to be getting the free, quality books. Arab parents, like Jewish ones, recognize the importance of education for their kids, and know that starts with books.”
According to Vromen, some Arab families have many books in their home and some have none. “Like elsewhere, people who don’t have a tradition of reading or don’t have the resources to buy books, don’t have as many as those who do,” she said. “Arabs have a long, honored tradition of oral storytelling. In many cases, this takes the place of a tradition of reading. We hope the practice of reading books together in the family will flourish alongside the oral tradition, reinforcing and complementing it.”
Vromen said with a smile, “I’ve yet to meet a child who, when given a choice between going straight to bed or being read a story first, chooses to go to bed without a story. It’s not just the reading. It’s the cuddling together, the looking at the illustrations together, and talking about what the characters feel or what might happen to them next that creates an emotional attachment to books, as well as, of course, enhancing the parent-child relationship.”
The foundation has considered electronic books, but has found that, for now, the time is not yet right. “The online book industry is much less developed in Israel than in America, so it’s still rare for Israelis to read books in Hebrew online,” said Vromen. “The issue is whether or not online books can provide the same emotional experience between parent and child as a paper book. The jury is still out on that, but as an avid electronic book reader myself, I personally don’t see a problem.”
Maktabat al-Fanoos, Sifriyat Pijama and PJ Library, according to Vromen, are all based on the concept known in Judaism as “girsa d’yankuta” (Aramaic for “learning with one’s mother’s milk”). This idea “assumes we develop a lifelong attachment to the stories, narratives, rituals and concepts we imbibe as young children,” said Vromen. “Parents don’t always realize how fleeting those early childhood years are – how sweet and also how precious is the opportunity to read and talk to children about things that matter. So, I hope they seize that opportunity.”
To learn more about Lantern Library, visit al-fanoos.org. English is available by clicking on the top left “En” button on the home page.
(Haber, Hayes and Korsch photos by Lorne Greenberg)
Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty celebration honors eight individuals/couples who have shown exemplary leadership and vision in the community. Last week, the Independent profiled honorees Dr. Marvin and Rita Weintraub, Rita Akselrod, Dr. Jimmy White and Chaim Kornfeld. This week, the JI features honorees Serge Haber, Dr. Arthur and Arlene Hayes, Stan and Seda Korsch, and Samuel and Frances Belzberg.
SERGE HABER Zeal and vision
Serge Haber was born in Romania in 1928. After the war, he spent two years in Cuba, arriving in Montreal in 1949, where he worked in the garment business. Amid growing Quebec nationalism, Serge moved his family to Vancouver in 1978 and bought Kaplan’s delicatessen.
It wasn’t hard to move West, Serge told the JI. And, he said, “It turned out that it was the best move I made because my trade took a terrible nosedive two years later; I would not have been able to remain in business. I got out just in time by sheer luck.”
Telling his wife was another matter. “I came home and my wife almost killed me. ‘What do you know about the restaurant business?’ So, I told her, I said, ‘If I survived for so many years in the textile business with the sharpest Jewish people in the trade, I will in the business of restaurants, and I will do well,’ and I did.” He sold Kaplan’s in 1993.
Serge has been involved in synagogue life since arriving in Montreal, where he helped found a Conservative congregation in Laval and held leadership positions in United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. In Vancouver, he joined Beth Israel. “It’s not just that I find a cause – I have to love that cause … [and] feel that it’s needed for the community, for the development of my life … and, once I got involved, I embraced it totally, in the sense that I ate, slept and drank the organization that I was working for.”
For 20-plus years, Serge has been leading services at Louis Brier, where he served on the board for 17 years. Serge has also been on the board of Jewish National Fund, Vancouver.
“When I was young, I got involved with B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation and I became the president … I created an environment in which things can grow and develop from that point on…. It was not a question of being president or anything else. I felt that we can do something good for the community … my intent was to help out as much as I can.”
In “retirement,” Serge co-founded and is president of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver. About community work, he said, it “is a question of ideals and what you want to accomplish in life and how do you want to be regarded in the community in which you live.”
He pointed to his parents as role models. His father, in particular worked very hard, said Serge, “so I had a model to look at and I felt that every community embraced me and gave me whatever I needed, nurturing a common sense of family and community, so I should give back whatever I can, and that’s what I did.”
Serge is particularly concerned with the availability of seniors services and programming. He believes that “the need of the Jewish seniors in Greater Vancouver will be tenfold greater than what it is today because … the Jewish seniors community will at least double what it is today.” The time to prepare is now, he said, adding that he would like to see the building of a Jewish seniors centre here like they have in Montreal, Winnipeg and other cities, “a community centre specifically related to seniors.”
About being part of Eight Over Eighty, he said he is “overwhelmed” by the tribute because it was unexpected, and he felt good about his work regardless. “I’m not a person who works for the honoring, that is far removed from my mind … but I think it’s good in the sense that there are many people in the community that are doing phenomenal work and sometimes the community bypasses them and takes it for granted that they are supposed to volunteer and do all kinds of things without being recognized.”
DR. ARTHUR AND ARLENE HAYES Selflessness, Yiddishkeit, devotion
Art Hayes grew up in rural Alberta. “A few miles away was another small town – Rumsey – and it is in this general area where a group of Jewish farmers, mainly from Russia, settled,” he said. “They built a synagogue, which was in use during Jewish holidays. At one time, they were even able to employ a Jewish teacher.”
He spoke fondly of his childhood, and highlighted the special role his grandparents played. They lived close to the one-room school that was eventually built, “and this was our stopping point on the way home. Here, we were treated with love and kindness, and lavished with special treats.
“After we left the farm, my father was involved in business in small mining towns in Alberta where we were usually the only Jews. I envied the Jewish life my cousins had in Calgary and enjoyed it with them whenever I was able to visit. Fortunately, my grandparents now lived eight miles away and I would spend my weekends with them. I learned about Judaism from my kind zaida, whom I loved dearly. Their love and attention to me was so complete that seemingly I was the centre of their universe.
“I was inspired by both my parents and grandparents – their selflessness, their Yiddishkeit and devotion to family and their love gave me my outlook on life.”
Arriving in Vancouver in 1947 after graduating in dentistry from the University of Alberta, Art pursued specialty training in orthodontics at Columbia University in New York. “When I returned two years later,” he recalled, “I found a community that functioned almost entirely with volunteers. There was respect for those who accepted the responsibility to take on the work and high regard if not reverence for the pioneers of the community.”
Art highlighted two projects undertaken when he was president of Beth Israel. “The first was to raise the funds pay off the $50,000 for our share of one-third ownership with synagogues in Seattle and Portland of Camp Solomon Schechter.” The second was providing their assistant rabbi – who came when their rabbi was on sabbatical – with a residence. “We bought a house in excess off $100,000, which we paid for by fundraising over the next year. This same house was recently sold by Beth Israel for more than $2 million and became the largest single contribution to the fund for the reconstruction of the synagogue.”
Art also co-founded Shaarey Tefilah and has been involved with the Louis Brier, Canadian Friends of Hebrew University locally, Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, the Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia, Richmond Country Club, Jewish Federation/United Jewish Appeal, among others, and day school education. Noting the many attempts to open a Jewish high school, Art thanked Gordon and Leslie Diamond for their contribution to King David High School, “an outstanding institution,” and shared that some of the remaining assets of Shaarey Tefilah were used to establish an endowment fund for KDHS with Federation “to assist students who are financially unable to pay full tuition. In this way, Shaarey Tefilah will continue to be an influence to further Judaism in this community.”
Leadership “evolves during participation in the work of the community to the best of one’s ability,” Art said. “Anything that is achieved in the community is the result of the efforts of many people working together in harmony. Leadership is historically inherent in Judaism, which emphasizes the need to create a tolerant Jewish society with a very deep concern for all its members, the old and young, the rich and poor, the sick and well.”
“I grew up in a wonderful Jewish community in Regina, Sask. I was very fortunate, indeed,” Arlene Hayes said of her early years. “I had an idyllic childhood filled with a good elementary and secondary education system, a rabbi, a shul and an active Young Judaea movement, which played a huge part in my life. We even had a Young Judaean summer camp for six years in a row. My wonderful parents saw to it that I attended every one. Who could ask for anything more?
“I attended the University of Saskatchewan for three years in Saskatoon, met my husband-to-be on a summer visit to Vancouver, was married six weeks later and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.”
In Vancouver, Arlene worked as a lab technician while Art got established.
Art said of Arlene’s commitment to the community, “At the time, we were just starting out and, with three young children and a household to manage without help, Arlene was on her own many nights of the week. There was never a complaint from her, only encouragement and interest in the work being done. It was Arlene alone that it made it possible for me to participate and she is equally if not more responsible for whatever was accomplished.”
“I think is important to recognize people who have been community leaders for two reasons,” said Arlene. “One, it is the right thing to do. Secondly, one hopes these deeds will motivate others to ‘step up to the plate.’ I hope that, going forward, succeeding generations will learn from the examples of their predecessors. People of Art’s generation, and the preceding generation, have been true ‘chalutzim.’ They have given unstintingly of their time – after a full day’s work – to build their community. They believed in the teachings of Judaism: be generous, be kind, help the disenfranchised, share, build Israel, reinforce Jewish life in our own community.”
Of her hopes for the community, she said, “If successive generations follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, the community will continue to flourish.”
STANFORD AND SEDA KORSCH From the ground up
While Stan Korsch was born and raised in Vancouver, Seda was born in Winnipeg and raised in Calgary before coming to Vancouver. Stan met Seda at a Beth Israel youth dance and they married in 1948, a week before the synagogue opened at Oak and 27th.
After moving around a bit, they settled back in Vancouver and into the family business, which was real estate. Stan was inducted as a fellow of the Real Estate Institute of Canada in 1958 and, today, is its oldest continuous member.
Seda’s involvement with Hadassah is longstanding and she has held many roles within the organization, including being a founding member and president of Shalom chapter, assisting with the bazaar’s silent auction, and serving as vice-president, card-chair and men’s youth aliyah chair on the council. Her kitchen was the annual headquarters for the baking of kiffles for the bazaar. She was also a member of the Beth Israel Sisterhood.
“I started a chapter of Hadassah in 1947 and we did a lot of money raising,” said Seda, later sharing, “On our first trip to Israel, we toured all the Hadassah projects and I realized that we just had to keep on doing this because there was such need. It was very gratifying to see some of the accomplishments we had done in Israel through our money raising. Hadassah was my main forte.”
Stan’s Jewish community involvement began before the Second World War. Over the years, he has held leadership positions with Young Judaea, Beth Israel Synagogue, the Menorah Society student group at the University of British Columbia, B’nai B’rith Lion’s Gate Lodge, Jewish Community Fund and Council (Federation’s predecessor), Canadian Zionist Federation, Lion’s Gate Building Society, Louis Brier Home and Weinberg Residence. He still is an active member of his synagogue, especially in its daily morning minyan. For his work with the Lion’s Gate Lodge, in 1999, he was awarded a Tikkun Olam Award for exceptional service to the community.
“I had three major influences in my life,” Stan said. “They were all something to do with being Jewish. Israel has always been in my heart, and right from my high school days, before Israel was there. We wanted to provide a homeland for the Jewish people…. We were good at what we did. We had the youth group, which was active and, by that, I mean we also communicated with other Jewish young people in other Canadian cities.
“My goal was always to keep Israel in mind, and the other one was housing. Because I was realtor, I realized there was a need – not cooperative housing – but for housing for those who are financially in need. I’ve always been a part of that in the community here; that’s why I was on the oversight committee and it took a lot of our time and effort those big projects,” including Haro Park, which took some 10 years to come to fruition.
“It was the only time in Canada that three levels of government were able to work together,” Stan said. “It was very difficult because each time the government changed, you had to start again with the new government. It was a miracle that we managed to build Haro Park. And we built some others. That was one of the main parts of my activities. The other one, of course, is the synagogue…. My parents were part of the group that formed the charter members. Right from day one I was involved…. I was there the day they opened, their first installation, back in the old Jewish community centre days, and then we moved onto 27th and Oak and now, today, we are now just completing a new facility on 27th and Oak. It’s quite gratifying.”
Stan said he’s seen many changes in the community over the years, and he is optimistic about its future. Seda is also positive: “I feel that the young people are taking over, which is great,” she said. “I know my daughter is quite active in Hadassah. I’m happy to see that, and it’s time the old people step back and enjoy it!”
Both are honored to be one of the Eight Over Eighty. However, said Stan, “We don’t do these things for kavod. We can see the need and we are not just talk. We see the need and we get out there and do it.
“Seda and I believe that when one joins a society, one should be active in it, and that’s the way we’ve lived our life.”
SAMUEL AND FRANCES BELZBERG Combining business with philanthropy
International businessman and philanthropist Sam Belzberg was awarded the Order of Canada, as well as an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University in 1989. He received the Governor General of Canada Award in 1992 and, in 2002, was promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2009, he was awarded the Order of British Columbia for his extraordinary philanthropy and community leadership.
Investing leadership, time and resources, Sam helped found the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles in 1977 with a donation of $500,000. He is also the founder of both the Canadian and American Dystonia Medical Research Foundations.
As an Action Canada co-founder and co-chair of the board, Sam is called “one of British Columbia’s most forward-thinking philanthropists” who “specializes in ambitious and innovative solutions to pressing issues, focusing his prodigious efforts on causes that appeal to his deep caring for humanity.” In addition to his many other accomplishments, Sam led and inspired SFU’s first fundraising campaign, which raised $68 million. His company, Gibralt Capital, today owns and manages real estate and capital investments.
Frances Belzberg was raised in Los Angeles. Also involved with Action Canada, Fran is noted for her early involvement with racial issues as well as her early commitment to the state of Israel.
Frances and Sam married in 1950 and settled in Edmonton, where Fran was involved with several charities and became active in amateur theatre. The family moved to Vancouver in 1968 and Frances sat on the boards of Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Playhouse and Vancouver Children’s Hospital. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 1995.
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.
The centrepieces of the show, two large paintings by Jazmin Sasky, are both based on Anita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Across centuries, artists in different countries have depicted women in their multiple incarnations – among them, mother, muse, beloved, temptress. The new show at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, called Envisioning Women, brings a new slant to the theme: how 21st-century Canadian artists see women.
The centrepieces of the show, two large paintings by Jazmin Sasky, are both based on Anita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent and, therefore, on the Torah. The women in the paintings could be just as easily from biblical or contemporary times, friends going on a camping trip or visiting a spa. The paintings’ festive red palette with its multiple nuances communicates the women’s contentment at being together, sharing the space. While the red tent in the novel refers to a place reserved for the females of the tribe, a place where they find mutual support and encouragement, in the paintings, the space alludes to a wider interpretation.
“I explored the sisterhood of women,” said Sasky. “It’s as relevant today as it was then, although in the biblical times, they all lived together. No secrets were possible, unlike us. We are much more private, but it was interesting to imagine those women, their lives.”
Her women don’t belong exclusively to the ancient tribe. They also live in the here and now, share our workspace and our holidays, walk along the same streets and into the same buildings. They are not afraid of change, of bursting out of the artificial confines of the “red tent” and into life.
This courage and strength resonates in many other works in the show. The women in them assert their place in history and are willing to rebel, if necessary.
Nancy Henderson’s painting with the title “Sk8r grrl one” is one example of such a rebellion. It depicts a young female hockey player in a ridiculous costume of the beginning of the 20th century. The artist’s fiery words about her work read as a tribute to every Canadian woman: “I salute women of every generation who have defied everything from societal disapproval to outright bullying in order to get into every game, including the great frozen one.”
Carly Belzberg’s “Eve” doesn’t look like a traditional Eve of old either. This Eve participates; she gets into games. In her shorts and a tank top, sitting in a meditation pose, perhaps doing yoga, she is not afraid of the world unfolding around her, and her quiet courage transmits to everyone who comes into the gallery.
Life is changing, and we’re changing with it, coming out of our traditional cocoon of domesticity, where women were confined (by choice and not) for generations – that seems to be the message of the show.
Lori-Ann Latremouille’s painting “Emerging” embodies this idea. Her woman is transforming out of her restrictive silken shroud into wings and the world. She will fly and sing, and the guitar incorporated into the image signifies the connection between music and freedom. “Rebirth after dormancy,” commented the artist. Not surprisingly, she is a professional musician herself, and her painting is a story of metamorphosis. “It’s a new painting technique for me, too. I used to do drawings,” she said.
The line of timelessness, of connectivity, continues in Kathryn Gibson O’Regan’s serene photographs. “I travel a lot and always try to find what unites women of all times and cultures. Creativity is common: weaving and spinning and making textiles, from the Bible to our times. I visited villages in many countries in Asia.” Her photos of the weavers in India and Thailand emanate peacefulness, their deep colors soft and bright simultaneously.
In contrast, there is little that is peaceful in Linda Lewis’ display of pottery cups. Each one has a face painted on it, or rather a hint of a face, the eyes. They are called collectively “Hints.” About two dozen of the cups are arranged in two glass cases in the middle of the gallery, similar in shape and size, but varied in their facial expression. Some cups stand in groups, like friends gossiping. Others are alone, in pain or pleasure. Still others resemble family clans, with love and antipathy intermixed. The whimsical complexity of women’s lives in pottery is fresh and unexpected.
It’s impossible in a short article to tell about each of the 15 artists participating in the exhibit – all of them add their unique perspective to the image of “contemporary woman,” and readers are encouraged to visit the gallery. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to experience one aspect of the show – the JCC Shalom Dancers. As the exhibit is in collaboration with Festival Ha’Rikud, its opening night featured a group of young dancers, led by Marla Simcoff and Jessica Bradbury, who presented a short but beautiful routine, a teaser of their full-length performance. Six young women in long black dresses, trimmed with red and yellow, with large red fans, danced in the atrium of the community centre, bringing dramatic energy and gladness to gallery patrons. They were the real-life embodiment of the paintings, women of the 21st century.
Envisioning Women will be on display until May 25.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
If you don’t have a will, get it done. That’s the message of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, an organization that’s designated the month of May as Leave a Legacy Month. Calvin Fong, chair of the national program titled Leave a Legacy, said the program’s goal is to raise awareness of the importance of having a will, as well as the idea that people consider leaving a gift to charity in their will.
“If you die without a will you really have no control over how your estate gets distributed – legislation will dictate that instead,” Fong told the Independent. “Without a will, for example, you have no way of leaving a gift to your favorite charity or creating a trust for your spouse. Having a will ensures your wishes are articulated and carried out after your death.”
Just six weeks ago there were changes to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) with important implications. The minimum age to create a will has been lowered from 19 to 16, wills created prior to marriage are still valid after marriage, and the courts have been granted authority to recognize non-compliant documents as wills, and ensure that a deceased person’s last wishes will be respected. For example, legislation now allows for the possibility that electronic versions of wills might be recognized. “The changes modernize legislation created over 100 years ago and streamlines things for the public,” Fong explained.
Tax savings is another reason to consider creating a will. Gifting money or assets to charity makes your estate eligible for a tax deduction upon your death, while creating a trust in your estate allows you to defer taxation of certain assets.
If considering gifting money to charity, start by figuring out what you want your personal legacy to be, advised Marcie Flom, director of the Jewish Community Foundation, which is housed at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. JCF works one-on-one with donors to create their legacies, using bequests, gifts of life insurance, gifts of cash and in-kind donations, annuities and charitable trusts. To date, it has 330 endowment funds and assets of $42 million that it manages on behalf of donors in the community.
With gifts of life insurance, donors name JCF as the owner and beneficiary. Upon their death, the proceeds of the policy enter an endowment fund they created during their lifetime, supporting causes that were important to them. “Some donors have various life insurance policies and discover that they no longer need them, so they decide to donate them to the foundation,” Flom explained.
With bequests, individuals stipulate a gift to the foundation in their will to support those causes. “It can take various forms, such as a set amount or a percentage of their estate,” Flom said. “It’s very personal, and usually people meet with me to talk about what they want to do, the idea being that we want to help increase your current income or estate value, while also creating a lasting legacy for the community.”
That legacy can involve donations to Jewish and non-Jewish causes, as the JCF distributes funds to both. And there’s a broad range of donors, Flom said, with some funds established with as little as $1,000, or no assets at all if it’s a planned gift. “Some donors make a modest contribution to their fund each year to build it over time,” she explained, “but legacy planning is not limited to those with means. Anyone can establish a fund in any amount and build it over time or establish a fund with a planned future gift.”
Some individuals use their legacy to involve and engage their children in active philanthropy. “They work with us on their philanthropy during their lives, but also use it as a method to engage their kids to take over that philanthropy after they’re gone,” Flom said. The children continue their parents’ legacy of lifetime giving by working together to direct support to their parents’ favorite charities and/or the charities that they are passionate about.