The birth of a baby is a milestone and the
Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver acknowledges that this
life-changing event requires validation and support for new parents. Judaism
offers profound teachings about becoming a parent and raising a family.
The JCCGV’s new Shalom Baby group is a free
program for parents and infants 0-18 months. The group provides a place to
learn and grow, connect with other parents, share experiences and hear
professional speakers address relevant subjects, such as feeding, sleeping,
play, development, transition to motherhood and more. Becoming a parent can be
overwhelming, and this program provides respite in a warm environment in which
parents are nurtured, so they can nurture their babies, and help build strong
and healthy family units in our community.
All of the meetings feature guest speakers.
Speakers are community professionals, such as nurses, researchers, doulas,
psychologists and speech and language specialists. And the group is always
looking for accredited experts to contribute.
Shalom Baby meets twice a month on Mondays at
11:30 a.m. at the community centre in Room 102. The group is led and organized
by a Shirly Berelowitz, JCCGV director of children, youth and camps, who
welcomes the participants, books the speakers and sends weekly emails on
The goals of the program are to strengthen
emotional bonds between parents and children; inspire a shared learning
experience to support growth and development during the early childhood years;
provide support services and activities for families to raise healthy and happy
children; and connect unaffiliated Jewish families with young children to the
Jewish community through different programs.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)
has appointed new members to its board of directors, including board co-chairs
Joel Reitman and Jeffrey Rosenthal, succeeding David J. Cape.
Nominations to the CIJA board are guided by an
independent nominating process, which examines the background, skills,
experience and other relevant qualifications of prospective directors. A list
of candidates is produced through consultations with federations and other
stakeholders across the country. The independent nominations committee –
comprised of federation representatives and ad personam members – consider all
of the candidates and recommend a slate of directors to the CIJA membership
(the “shareholders” of the organization). Special attention is given to
achieving balance with respect to regional, gender and demographic attributes,
as well as the qualities that candidates can leverage to advance the mission of
Reitman is the founder and president of Jillcy
Capital ULC, a global investment firm, and is an active volunteer in the Jewish
community and beyond, serving various organizations over the years in different
capacities. Rosenthal is a managing partner of Imperial Capital Group, which he
co-founded in 1989, and has a long history of volunteering and experience on
boards of other organizations.
A full house came out to the CIJA-SUCCESS townhall Sept. 23, which featured six Vancouver mayoral candidates. (photo from CIJA)
The refracted nature of Vancouver’s civic politics was on full display at a candidates meeting featuring six of the perceived front-running candidates for mayor. The near-implosion of the governing Vision Vancouver party, combined with divisions among erstwhile Non-Partisan Association members, has led to a race with both the left and right sides of the political spectrum divided and struggling to gain traction in a campaign with 21 contenders.
The afternoon event Sept. 23 was co-sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the multicultural organization SUCCESS, which is rooted in the Chinese-Canadian community. Veteran Vancouver broadcaster Jody Vance handily moderated the occasionally raucous meeting.
Housing affordability topped the list of issues, with Kennedy Stewart, a former NDP member of Parliament for Burnaby-South who resigned that seat to run for Vancouver mayor as an independent, said his plan to attack unaffordability calls for building 85,000 new homes over the next 10 years, including affordable and market rentals.
Ken Sim, an entrepreneur who founded Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt Bagels and who is the candidate for the centre-right Non-Partisan Association (NPA), responded by claiming that the construction industry does not have the capacity to meet Stewart’s construction schedule.
Wai Young, a former Conservative member of Parliament for Vancouver South, is running with a new party, called Coalition Vancouver, which was originated by a group of former NPA members who felt betrayed by what they call a lack of democracy in that party.
“Vancouver does not have a supply issue,” Young said about the housing situation. “There are no millionaires wandering around Vancouver that are unable to buy a house or a luxury condo. The issue is that we are not able to keep our young people, our young families, here because they can’t afford to buy a house. We have an affordability issue in Vancouver.”
“If I am mayor, we will have a three percent vacancy rate,” said Shawna Sylvester, who is running as an independent but has roots in Vision Vancouver. The rate today is about zero. She supports more co-ops, cohousing and what she called “gentle densification,” as well as addressing how the housing situation has particular impacts for women, who experience poverty in greater proportions than men.
Partly related to the affordability issue is the topic of Vancouver’s reputation as a place that is welcoming of people from diverse backgrounds.
David Chen, who is running with another new party, ProVancouver, noted that racism is alive and well in the city.
“My parents were first-generation Taiwanese [Canadian],” said Chen. “I was born in St. Paul’s [Hospital] because, at that time, it was the only hospital they were allowed to go to. During this campaign, I heard somebody say to me, ‘Go home.’ Well, I am home.” He added: “We haven’t progressed as much as we should or could.”
The NPA’s Sim echoed the experience and extrapolated it to the Jewish community.
“I’m 47 right now,” said Sim, “and I still remember the hurtful comments that I faced when I was 5 years old. It was tough. I think of what’s going on to our Jewish community right now. We still have a lot of issues. I’m acutely aware of what our Jewish community goes through because, when something happens halfway around the world, our friends in the Jewish community have to worry about their physical safety. That’s terrible. We will have zero tolerance for that, as mayor of Vancouver. We’re going to work with community groups, work with the Jewish community, work with all communities identifying threats to our communities and working on solutions to protect us, to protect our communities, and we will monitor our results.”
Hector Bremner, another former NPA member now leading another new party, YES Vancouver, is the only candidate for mayor currently sitting on Vancouver city council.
“Racism is a symptom, it’s not the disease,” Bremner said. “When do racial tensions flare up, when do they happen? They happen in a time when the people feel that resources are scarce and they feel pressure economically. It’s really a function of tribalism and nativism that occurs when people feel that it’s hard for them to make it. We look for scapegoats.”
Sylvester, who among many other roles is director of the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, said people need to stand up to extremist voices and actions.
“There are forces in our communities, whether we want to acknowledge them or not, that are trying to divide us,” she said. “What we need to do [is] not be tolerant of any kind of hate crime, not be tolerant of antisemitism.”
Stewart said those who don’t subscribe to Canadian ideas of tolerance should be helped to change their minds.
“Immigration is really one of the best things about being Canadian,” he said. “We travel around the world and we brag about it. Multiculturalism is a Canadian word and it’s something we’ve exported. It’s something we should embrace, and most of us do. Those that don’t, we have to help them understand, change their opinions.”
Accusations of intolerance and implications of racism emerged in the debate.
Young, who had originally sought the NPA mayoral nomination, implied that her supporters, many of whom were from the Chinese community, weren’t welcome in the NPA. This brought a sharp rebuke from Sim.
“Guess what, I’m Chinese,” he said. “Here’s the real issue. When you [say] inflammatory statements like that to win a political agenda, you create divisions in our communities. People don’t like that. You put a wedge. That is a problem and you’ve got to knock it off.”
Sim went on to accuse politicians of stoking already existing embers of intolerance around foreign purchasers of Vancouver real estate.
“For political expediency, what politicians are doing is pointing at groups and blaming groups for problems,” he said. “We have a lot of issues with affordability and there are a lot of things that affect affordability and housing. I’m not saying foreign purchases do not affect housing. But, when we point to it and we blame a group, that starts a slippery slope. That’s what’s dividing our city, our province and our country. I call on everyone here to knock it off, because there are a lot of things that affect affordability – permitting delays, interest rates, the economy – but to point to something for political expediency because it wins votes is dividing people and it’s hurtful.”
The meeting took place in a SUCCESS building in Chinatown, close to the Downtown Eastside. Candidates agreed that more needs to be done to confront the seemingly intractable challenges facing that area of the city.
Young said she had visited a seniors home in Chinatown earlier in the day and was told residents are afraid to go outside.
“They can no longer walk outside of their building,” she said. “That should not happen in our beautiful city. There was a time I remember coming down here to Chinatown when it was vibrant, when it was safe, when you didn’t feel like you couldn’t be on the wrong side of the street here.… This city has gotten dirtier and grittier…. There are needles everywhere, there is defecation everywhere. We are one of the top 10 cities in the world and yet, currently, it’s embarrassing to have your friends come visit.”
She promised to be “John Horgan’s worst enemy,” referring to the B.C. premier, in demanding provincial help to address the issues in the area.
Stewart touted his connections with former NDP member of Parliament Libby Davies, who previously represented the area in Ottawa.
“Last week, I was very proud to stand with Libby Davies in the Downtown Eastside and announce that, as mayor, I would immediately strike an emergency task force to deal with the opioid epidemic and homelessness,” Stewart said. “We cannot have the number of deaths that are happening and the number of overdoses. We can’t have the impacts on the people that are suffering through illness and addiction problems.”
Another perennial issue candidates addressed was transportation and congestion.
“Vancouverites spend 88 hours of your life every year sitting in congestion,” said Young. “That’s like a two-week holiday.”
Sim promised an independent review of congestion in the city.
“The number of cars has not increased in the city in the last 20 years but congestion has,” he said. He blamed a range of factors, including bike lanes, left-hand turns, people running yellow lights and getting stopped by police, pedestrians crossing after the indicator says “don’t walk,” and roads that are closed for construction longer than necessary.
Chen said getting people to switch from cars to transit requires improving the system.
“If you use negative reinforcement, you’re not going to get people to switch,” he said. “It’s not reliable, it’s not convenient, it’s not cheaper, it’s not faster. You [improve] those four items and suddenly people may just switch.”
The would-be mayors mooted the availability of culturally appropriate services, such as seniors care, community security for institutions like synagogues and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and unisex washrooms.
During the debate, Stewart repeatedly emphasized that he, Bremner and Young were the only ones with elective experience, a tack that may be motivated by the few polls on the race, which have indicated that Stewart’s toughest opponent is Sim.
B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin addresses the July 27 Shabbat Dinner with Pride Colours event. (photo by Matt Hanns Schroeter)
On July 27, the Metro Vancouver Jewish community celebrated Jewish Pride with guests ranging from B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin, to government officials and representatives of faith-based and nonprofit organizations, as well as Jewish community leaders, LGBTQ+ Jews and friends in a sold-out, community-wide, family-friendly, gender-inclusive Shabbat dinner at VanDusen Botanical Garden. The festivities continued on Aug. 5, when the Jewish community hosted its annual booth on Sunset Beach during the Pride Parade and Festival.
These events were organized by the Jewish Pride planning committee and made possible by the support of a record 31 Jewish participating organizations, led by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Pacific Region, and the work of numerous volunteers and community members. Funds raised at the Shabbat dinner will go towards supporting future Jewish LGBTQ+ events over the coming year.
While B.C. Premier John Horgan could not attend the July 27 Shabbat Dinner with Pride Colours, he sent his “warmest greetings,” noting, “For some, tonight may be their first introduction to observing Shabbat, and it is through sharing our lives and traditions with others that understanding and acceptance grows. Events like this are essential in ensuring that B.C. is a vibrant, diverse and welcoming place to live.”
Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing, commented in a post on Facebook, “While I was proud to be there to bring greetings on behalf of our government … I was most proud to be there as a member of the Jewish community. I am grateful to see just how much has changed over the past number of years to create and facilitate space in our community … space for everyone regardless of gender identity or gender expression.”
“This was a really powerful moment for me last week,” said attendee Aaron Robinson, also on Facebook. “My mom spoke about being the Jewish parent of a gay Jewish man and how wonderful it was to see that there was space being made in the Jewish community for queer Jews. She spoke of the struggle and fear about making sure that your children have the space to be who they are in all of the ways they identify, and this Friday gave both of us so much hope. I’m so very grateful to the people that put on this Shabbat Pride dinner and all the organizations that were represented there for taking a huge step forward in creating a space for Jewish LGBTQ+ folks.”
Attendee Jill Beamish especially enjoyed talking with other women there “about parenting, queering and Judaism.”
“I loved the gathering, and send heartfelt thanks to the organizers,” said Beamish. “In 30 years of being out – and only four of being Jewish – I never thought I’d feel this welcomed and celebrated.”
Dr. Aaron Devor was another invitee who could not attend the Shabbat dinner, but who sent his remarks to be read at the event. Devor is, among other things, founder and inaugural chair in transgender studies at the University of Victoria, as well as a past president of the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island and a former board member of Hillel BC.
“I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to all who participated in making this fine event happen,” said Devor in his speech, “and especially to [CIJA’s] Carmel Tanaka, who I know from her years of dedicated service to the Jewish communities of Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Yasher koach to all of you!
“I, personally, have been attending Pride celebrations since 1971, when I was there for the second-ever Pride march, which took place down New York City’s Fifth Avenue. It was a breathtaking and exhilarating experience to see 10,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people marching together in the bright sunlight…. To be out and proud was something new and bold back then. And, I want to remind you that many of the people who took the risks to fight back against shame and oppression in those early days – and in all the days since – were gender diverse people: trans people, non-binary people, two-spirit people, genderqueer people, transsexuals, transvestites, drag queens and drag kings, and queers, many of whom were also Jews.
“We’ve seen huge progress since then,” said Devor. “It would be easy to get comfortable and enjoy the benefits of all that LGBTQ2+ people have accomplished in the decades since the birth of Pride. The fact that all of you are here tonight is a beautiful testament to the progressive thread that runs through much of Jewish life and culture…. I thank you for all that you have already done to bring us to this moment, and I look forward to continuing the work. There is much still to be done to make the world truly inclusive of gender and sexual diversity in all its glory.”
Gabor Maté reads the names of Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza. (photo by Matthew Gindin)
“Each one of them was a full human being, with a full life,” said Rabbi David Mivasair, addressing a dozen or so people, most of whom were Jews, outside of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on May 21, the second day of Shavuot, for Yizkor, the traditional memorial service for the dead.
Organized by Independent Jewish Voices, the group gathered to commemorate the Palestinian protesters who had been killed by the Israel Defence Forces during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza, which began on March 31 and ended May 15 (which Palestinians observe as Nakba Day). They gathered, according to the event’s Facebook page, for another reason, as well: “We will also publicly denounce the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs for its continual dishonest manipulation of Canadian political leaders and media sources to silence and minimize Israel’s brutality toward Palestinians and, in this case, shift the blame for the killings to the very people who were killed.”
Those present included Gabor Maté, a physician, author and member of the Jewish community. He and others took turns reading the names of Palestinians who had been killed. Afterwards, he told a story from an article that Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist, had written days before. In the article, Avnery described how he, as a teenage member of the Irgun, had done similar things to those of the Palestinian protesters when demonstrating against the then-occupying British forces for Israel’s independence, but the British shot over their heads, not at them. Maté also criticized the JCC for not being inclusive enough of all Jewish voices, saying that, in practice, it was more like “the Zionist community centre.”
“The confusion between Zionism and Judaism is a tragedy,” said Maté. “I’m just glad to be here to bear witness along with the rest of you.”
Shawkat Hasan, a member of the Palestinian community and the B.C. Muslim Association, whose family lost their home in the war of 1948, also spoke, emphasizing that the conflict was not between Jews and Muslims but between Zionism and its “victims,” and calling for widespread resistance to violence against Palestinians.
The group carried out their service peacefully. The idea for it came about only days before, and the organizing of it was rushed to coincide with Shavuot. One sign read, “Murdering innocents is not a Jewish value.” Some passersby stopped to join or listen, as members of the group chanted the names and recited Kaddish, and some to express their opposition.
Mivasair told those assembled that the location had been chosen to protest CIJA, who have their offices inside the JCC. CIJA had launched a campaign calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize for remarks Trudeau had made that the “reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable” and his call for “an immediate independent investigation” after a Canadian doctor was shot by the IDF while treating protesters.
“Hamas has left Israel no choice but to use force to protect the tens of thousands of Israelis who live close to Gaza,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA’s chief executive officer, in a statement May 16. “We are outraged and saddened that Hamas is again using civilian human shields. For Israelis and the Jewish community, Palestinian casualties are painful tragedies. For Hamas, Palestinian casualties are sickening public relations achievements.”
“Everything that CIJA says is contestable,” Mivasair told the Jewish Independent following the service. “The situation in Gaza is desperate enough, due to the policies of the Israeli government, to explain the actions of the Palestinian protesters without imagining that they were primarily orchestrated by Hamas, which they were not. Why are organizations that purport to speak for the Jewish community suppressing discussion in Canada about what is really going on?”
The Yizkor service at the JCC followed weeks of protests by Palestinian solidarity groups outside of federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Vancouver constituency office.
In the conflict at Israel’s border with Gaza, the IDF faced some 50,000 protesters. More than 100 Palestinians were killed and between 8,700 and 13,000 wounded, depending on the source of the data. The IDF’s actions, in particular the use of live ammunition, has been condemned by organizations including B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. According to Israel, most of those killed were members of the terrorist group Hamas, which, the Israeli government says, organized the protests.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
B.C. Premier John Horgan toured the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on March 29, speaking with community members of all ages. (photo from Office of the Premier)
B.C. Premier John Horgan visited the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver just before erev Pesach, March 29.
The premier had visited the JCCGV before, but only to attend meetings in the boardroom, and this was his first visit as the province’s head of government.
Horgan toured the building, visited the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, the sports facilities and spent time with children and parents at the daycare.
In a statement to the Independent after the meeting, the premier said: “People drive community. Touring the centre really hit that message home.… I was glad to meet with and hear from community leaders, see the range of services being provided and visit with kids, parents and educators at the childcare centre in advance of Passover.”
On April 12, the premier also participated in a Yom Hashoah ceremony at the B.C. Legislature, which included numerous survivors of the Holocaust. In next week’s Independent, there will be more about the Yom Hashoah commemorations that took place in Victoria and Vancouver.
“Our goal was for him to get to know us and get to see our centre, get to understand the level and breadth of activities we offer,” said Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the JCCGV. “His focus was primarily on childcare and I think he had a few more visits during that day to other [childcare] facilities.… We wanted him to see what we are doing and we wanted him to hear about our plans for the future.”
While there was no formal agenda for the meeting, after the tour, Horgan met with representatives of agencies that are located in the building. He was introduced and thanked by Alvin Wasserman, vice-president of the JCCGV.
While affordable housing was not on the agenda officially, Goldfarb said he discussed with the premier the opportunity for including such accommodations within the planned redevelopment of the JCCGV site. The new provincial government made a substantial commitment to affordable housing in its first budget, Feb. 27.
Nico Slobinsky, director of the Pacific Region for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Horgan was at the centre more to listen than to talk.
“He was there to learn a little bit about what the centre does and the opportunity to connect with the community since becoming premier,” said Slobinsky, who helped arrange the visit. “He hasn’t had a chance yet to do that. He did that before but not since becoming premier.
“As a community,” he said, “we have long enjoyed a great relationship with the provincial government and we are very happy to see that continue.”
Ariella Kimmel, left, and Sophie Hershfield at last summer’s Winnipeg Pride Parade. Hershfield has been on CIJA’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Council since its inception. In that capacity, she is trying to break down barriers and clear up misconceptions about Israel within the LGBTQ community. (photo from Sophie Hershfield)
As part of the Limmud festival that took place in Winnipeg March 18-19, LGBTQ activist Sophie Hershfield gave a presentation.
A student at the University of Winnipeg, studying English and philosophy, Hershfield became active in the LGBTQ community when she was at Gray Academy of Jewish Education. She has been on the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ LGBTQ+ national advisory council since its inception last year.
“The talk I gave at Limmud was largely on advocacy within LGBTQ communities, because a lot of them are hostile towards Israel,” Hershfield told the Independent. “Last year, for example, at the Chicago Dyke March and the fallout from that … it was apparent that the LGBTQ community was hostile toward Israel and often to Jewish Zionists within their organizations. At the Chicago Dyke March, people who were on the Pride side were actually told to put their flags away, because of their connection to Israel.”
Hershfield is trying to break down barriers and clear up misconceptions about Israel within the LGBTQ community.
“One of the most successful things I think we did last year was we had an Israel-themed float in the Pride Parade,” said Hershfield. “And we had Jewish people and Israeli people on this float. We actually won best float in the entire parade. People were associating Israel with fun and happiness and being inclusive, those positive connections. There were definitely some positive responses. There were people saying, it was so cool, that Israel is so fun. I didn’t see any negative pushback, just positivity.”
Hershfield is already working with a planning committee on next year’s parade in Winnipeg.
Through CIJA, Hershfield plans to continue her efforts to improve inclusiveness within Jewish communities across Canada and to do Israel advocacy in LGBTQ communities.
“Halifax’s Pride board was incredibly hostile toward Jewish people and toward pro-Israel people – to the point where there were death threats to people who were involved,” said Hershfield. “I wanted to be more preventative, by building positive connections instead of negative ones.”
Jonathan Lerner favours a similar approach. He is assistant director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and is also on CIJA’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Council.
“Vancouver is a very welcoming place for LGBTQ people, with a society that is very diverse and welcoming,” he said. “The annual Pride Parade draws 600,000 people or more, and there is a month-long celebration. The municipal government is very supportive of these events and, while discrimination still exists, Vancouver as a whole is very welcoming.
“I’ve had great experiences with Vancouver synagogues, including the Reform and Reconstructionist movements,” he added. “I can say that even the Conservative synagogue in Vancouver has sponsored our booth at the Pride festival.”
Still, Lerner feels there remains a disconnect between the Jewish and LGBTQ communities.
“There are plenty of LGBTQ Jews and they’re often involved in Jewish or LGBTQ communities,” he said. “However, I find that most choose one or the other – either they’re involved in the Jewish community or the LGBTQ community, but not necessarily both. Sometimes, one may feel a necessity to choose an identity. For example, if one is associated with LGBTQ organizations, they may be anti-Israel … and so, one may choose to hide one’s Zionism or even Judaism.”
Lerner said that, while CIJA and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver have worked hard at increasing collaboration and sharing between the communities – with recent workshops, training and outreach – more is always welcome.
“It has been challenging at times for LGBTQ people to be out in the Jewish community, and also for Jews to be open about their religion and Zionism in the LGBTQ community,” he said. “I’d like to see that change.”
Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, there have been other initiatives to increase awareness and inclusivity. On Feb. 21, Shaarey Zedek Synagogue hosted at the Jewish deli Desserts Plus an event called LGBTQ Jews: Sexuality, Gender Identity and Judaism, with some 20 attendees. It was led by the synagogue’s Rabbi Anibal Mass.
“Our vision is an inclusive space, a nonjudgmental environment, where you can express your Judaism pretty much your way,” Mass told the Independent.
An LGBTQ group had approached the synagogue, said Mass. Some people from the group attend Shaarey Zedek and were concerned about the level of acceptance at the shul.
“I don’t blame them,” said Mass. “We’ve been changing … the last few years, and some people are unaware of all the changes we went through. We thought that it would be a good time to share with this specific group of people our vision and our values, for them to have it clear. If they have any doubts or questions, they can ask a member of our clergy – what we stand for, what we’re willing to do or not do, etc.”
Mass sees rabbis of the Talmud as examples to follow in regards to being nonjudgmental and inclusive. “They speak about compassion, about loving your fellow human beings,” said the rabbi. “We feel empowered by the works of the rabbis to embrace all these people in our synagogue and make Shaarey Zedek their home.
“I was expecting to have lots of questions [at the event]. I didn’t have too many. I guess maybe they weren’t expecting me to say how open we are. Maybe people thought I would come there and preach … and to say, ‘Yeah, we accept you, but….’ But there was never a ‘but.’ We do accept you, period. So it was a great event.”
At that information event, a gay male couple from the synagogue shared their story with the group, about how they were turned down for a wedding from pretty much every synagogue in town – until they arrived at Shaarey Zedek. The couple said they could not believe how welcoming the congregation was.
“We ended up celebrating their wedding,” said Mass. “Many times, people complain that synagogues don’t offer the answers. The problem is, sometimes we don’t have the questions. We want to know what people in the LGBTQ group actually want, and to make that part of our vision.
“We also detect there will be some challenges for the future that we don’t know how to handle,” he admitted. “For example, how do you serve people who define themselves as non-binary? Do they have a bar or bat mitzvah? Both terms are appropriate.”
To keep things moving forward, Mass plans to start by hosting a group at his house. He understands that it might take awhile for some people to feel comfortable coming to a synagogue. “But, that’s OK,” he said. “If they don’t come to the synagogue, the synagogue will come to them. That’s my philosophy.”
The way a society treats its most vulnerable speaks volumes about its principles. There are few more vulnerable than those reaching the end of life. The physical, emotional, interpersonal and spiritual challenges confronted at life’s end are immense. Just as we expect our healthcare system to be there for us throughout our lives, so too must it support each of us – and our families – as we enter life’s final chapter.
Palliative care is a policy issue that has the potential to touch every family across the country. According to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, only 15% to 30% of patients approaching the end of life have access to palliative care. With Canada’s population continuing to age, existing shortfalls in the system will only grow in the coming years.
While the federal government has taken the vital step of announcing additional federal funds for home care and palliative care, more can be done to ensure that no patient seeking palliative care is denied. This is why the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has taken a lead role in mobilizing an interfaith coalition to urge Ottawa to take action on this issue.
Working with Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim allies, CIJA’s efforts achieved a key milestone in late 2017, when Parliament passed Bill C-277. This bill, which received strong support from MPs across party lines, called for the establishment of a national palliative care strategy. Our next step is to ensure that the national strategy that flows from Bill C-277 strengthens end-of-life care for all Canadians.
For this reason, in partnership with others, CIJA is organizing an expert working group to provide us with advice regarding Canada’s national palliative care strategy. An essential portion of these suggestions will be based on the patient and family experience, which is why I invite every reader to consider whether they have personal insights they can share with us.
Can you attest to the importance of high-quality palliative care, perhaps having had a loved one who received excellent end-of-life care? Or, do you have a family member who, despite seeking it, was unable to access appropriate hospice or palliative care? We want to hear your stories – and government policymakers need to hear how these policies affect real lives. Email [email protected] to share your experiences with palliative care.
It is an extraordinary act of chesed to care for a person in their final days of life. Our healthcare system, in which Canadians rightly take pride as evidence of our nation’s innate sense of kindness, must do better to ensure that those who need palliative care are never denied this essential service.
Steve McDonaldis director, policy and strategic communications, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a cause for commemoration and even celebration on the part of Jewish activists worldwide.
The Balfour Declaration refers to a short letter from Lord (Arthur) Balfour, former U.K. prime minister and then-foreign secretary, to Lord (Lionel Walter) Rothschild. In it, Balfour declared that the British cabinet had approved a statement that the government favoured the establishment of a Jewish national home in what was soon to become the British Mandate of Palestine.
The implications of the declaration have been debated by pro- and anti-Israel activists for, well, an entire century. For many in the pro-Israel community, the declaration is akin to a Magna Carta for the Zionist movement: an affirmation – from the very authority that would oversee the territory – that Zionism was indeed a worthy enterprise.
Without diminishing this sentiment, I offer my interpretation of the Balfour Declaration and what it teaches us about pro-Israel advocacy today.
The Balfour Declaration was a strategically vital recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – and one that clearly affected the course of history. But Balfour did not establish our national rights, which pre-existed the declaration. These rights have always been rooted in the natural right of every nation to shape its own identity and achieve self-determination in its ancestral land.
This is not a minor distinction. We dare not confuse the validation of our rights with the source of our rights. Indeed, our detractors falsely do so. In their minds, if the Balfour Declaration can be dismissed as a “colonial” statement, the rights of the Jewish people to which it speaks can be similarly undermined.
It’s this sort of nonsense that suggests Jewish history in the land began in 1917. To believe it, one would have to ignore the mountains – and caverns – of archeological and historical evidence that confirm a Jewish presence in the land for millennia. In addition to various non-biblical documents confirming Jewish indigenous roots in Israel, the Bible itself is widely recognized – even by ardent atheists – as a historical chronicle of a particular people in a particular land.
As Shimon Koffler Fogel, chief executive office of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), recently observed, the Balfour Declaration was “one milestone among many that confirm the moral, historic and legal right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our ancestral land. Just as many states endorsed the Balfour Declaration at the time, the international community’s support for the national liberation of the Jewish people after centuries of exile has been expressed time and again.”
Fogel further noted that, in a similar vein, November also marks “the 70th anniversary of the UN partition resolution of 1947, which expressly called for the creation of a Jewish state.”
The Balfour Declaration matters today precisely because it is more important than ever that we show how our fundamental rights as a people are backed by international consensus. The declaration is not the linchpin of this recognition but rather a signpost on the road to achieving widespread affirmation of our rights.
Every year, CIJA brings approximately 200 Canadian leaders and future leaders (almost all of whom are non-Jewish) on fact-finding missions to Israel. As someone who heads an annual trip of post-grad students, I can tell you that most Canadians – including those sympathetic to Israel – are not particularly interested in what a British lord had to say about the region a century ago.
But what they do care about, and what makes them more receptive to understanding the strong legal and moral foundation for Israel’s existence, is that many global figures and organizations (including the United Nations) have echoed these rights. In this regard, Balfour is an important thread of the historic fabric.
The importance of non-Jewish validators applies to many pro-Israel advocacy issues, such as Israel’s right to define itself as a Jewish homeland, the dangers of BDS (the movement to boycott, divestment from and sanction Israel) or the threat posed by Israel’s neighbours. On these and other topics, our target audience is generally more receptive to our perspective when we can demonstrate that it is one shared by others, including governments and leaders around the world.
Balfour matters, but we should remember why. The declaration serves not as the basis for modern Israel’s existence but as a key witness to the abundant evidence – irrefutable, millennia-old proof – of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination.
Steve McDonaldis deputy director, communications and public affairs, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/koshermcdonald.
Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk was the keynote speaker at the Vancouver exhibit. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
The Canadian Jewish Experience traveling exhibit opened at the central branch of Vancouver Public Library on Nov. 16. The display is presented by the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and VPL.
The opening event was hosted by Michael Schwartz, JMABC director of community engagement. Kayla Epstein, VPL board chair, and Karen James, Jewish Federation board chair, said a few words, as did Tova Lynch, who led the committee that created the exhibit, which opened in April in Ottawa. The multi-panel display celebrates the history of Jews in Canada and was made for the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The set that is on display at VPL has an additional panel dedicated to the B.C. Jewish community.
“To date, we have created 15 various sets [of the exhibit] that are traveling around the country,” said Lynch. To date, it has been to 35 places, and is scheduled for more, including a push to have it on university campuses. Among the major supporters of the exhibit, she said, are Fred Belzberg and Sam Belzberg. She thanked the Belzbergs, who couldn’t attend the event, as well as Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk, whose contributions, she said, made the event possible.
Wosk was also the keynote speaker. He spoke of the importance of books, of stories, of the relative youth of Canada as a nation and about the Jewish community’s participation in national life. He expressed gratitude for living in a country that is safe for Jews and other minorities, but also recalled that it wasn’t always so and that immigrants today still face problems.
The Hon. Dr. Hedy Fry, member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre, offered greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as her own comments on the contributions of Jewish and other immigrants to Canadian society.
The Canadian Jewish Experience is on view at VPL until Nov. 30.
נציגי הפדרציה היהודית של ונקובר ביקרו בישראל, ברשות הפלסטינית ובירדן. (צילום: twitter.com/JewishVancouver)
משלחת של הפדרציה היהודית של אזור מטרו ונקובר בשיתוף פעולה עם המרכז לעניני ישראל והיהודים בקנדה, חזרה מביקור חשוב בישראל, ברשות הפלסטינית ובירדן. בראש המשלחת עמדה יו”ר מועצת המנהלים של הפדרציה היהודית, קרן ג’יימס. כן השתתפו בה המנכ”ל, עזרא שנקן, היו”ר לשעבר סטיבן גרבר והיו”ר של המרכז, דיוויד קייפ.
המשלחת מסרה בדיונים שניהלה עם נציגים שונים מישראל את תמיכתה בישראל ואת הרצון להגיע לשלום באזור. הפגישות התנהלו בין היתר עם בכירים במערכת הפולטית בישראל. ובהם: שר התשתיות הלאומיות, האנרגיה ומקורות מים, יובל שטייניץ (ממפלגת הליכוד), שרת המשפטים, איילת שקד (ממפלגת הבית היהודי), סגנית שר במשרד החוץ, ציפי חוטובלי (ממפלגת הליכוד) וסגן השר לעניינים דיפלומטיים במשרד ראש הממשלה, מיכאל אורן (ממפלגת כולנו). כן התקיימה פגישה עם נציג האופוזיציה יו”ר מפלגת יש עתיד, יאיר לפיד. בנוסף התקיימו פגישות עם שגרירת קנדה בישראל, דבורה ליונס והקוסטוס (שומר המקומות הקדושים) של הכס הקדוש בישראל הפורש, האב פיירבטיסטה פיצאבלה.
נציגי הפדרציה היהודית לקחו חלק בישיבת חבר הנאמנים של הסוכנות היהודית לארץ ישראל, שדנה במשמעות החוק של ממשלת ישראל בנושא הגיור (המאפשר לרבנות הראשית בישראל סמכות בלעדית בהליכי הגיור), וכן בהשעיית ההסכם לגבי סידורי התפילה בכותל המערבי (“מתווה הכותל”), על ידי ראש הממשלה, בנימין נתניהו, עקב לחצן של הפלגות החרדיות יהדות התורה וש”ס. כידוע יו”ר הסוכנות היהודית, נתן שרנסקי מתנגד להשעיית סידורי התפילה החדשים וחוק הגיור. יצויין עוד כי שני נושאים אלה מטבע הדברים מעסיקים רבות יהודים הגרים בישראל ומחוצה לה, שלא נמנים על הזרם האורתודוכסי (בהם רפורמים וקונסרבטיבים).
המשלחת התשתפה גם באירוע הרשמי בכנסת לזכרו של ראש הממשלה לשעבר, יצחק רבין ז”ל.
נציגי הפדרציה היהודית והמרכז לענייני ישראל והיהודים יצאו לרמאללה ושם נפגשו עם ראש הממשלה של הרשות הפלסטינית, פרופסור ראמי חמדאללה. הנציגים מסרו לחמדאללה את תמיכתם בהסכם השלום בין הצדדים, וכי על הרשות הפלסטינית לקבל את הצעתה של ממשלת ישראל לחדש את המשא ומתן בנושא השלום. הם ביקשו מראש ממשלת הרשות הפלסטינית לעשות יותר כדי להילחם בהסתה ובטרור. בפדרציה היהודית מציינים בהקשר זה כי החשוב היה להם להסביר ישירות לראש הממשלה הפלסטינית מהיא העמדה של היהודים בתפוצות בנושאי השלום וישראל.
כן נפגשו נציגי המשלחת בעמאן עם ראש הלשכה המלכותית של ירדן ולשעבר ראש ממשלת ירדן (בשתי קדנציות), ד”ר פיאז א-טראונה. המשלחת הציגה לפניו מסרים דומים לאלה שהועברו לראש הממשלה הפלסטינית, תוך הדגשה שעל המנהיגים הערבים להפעיל לחץ על הרשות הפלסתינית לעשות יותר כדי להילחם בהסתה ובטרור. וכן להניע את הרשות לקבל את עמדת ישראל ולחדש את המשא ומתן לשלום. בישיבה עם ד”ר א-טראונה נכח גם שגרירה של קנדה בירדן, פיטר מקדוגל.
בפדרציה היהודית מבקשים לציין כי מידע בדבר שתי הפגישות עם ראש הממשלה הפלסתיני, ועם ראש הלשכה המלכותית של ירדן, נמסר לממשלות קנדה וישראל, שאף הביעו תמיכה בהן.
קדמו לפגישות בישראל, ברשות הפלסטינית ובירדן, ביקור בלונדון שכלל פגישות של נציגי המשלחת המשותפת עם נציגים של ראשי הקהילה היהודית. הדיונים כללו בעיקר את נושאי הגברת הביטחון והמלחמה באנטישמיות. המשלחת השתתפה גם באירועי מאה שנה להצהרת בלפור עם שר החוץ הבריטי, בוריס ג’ונסון, שנערכו בלשכת יושב ראש בית הנבחרים הבריטי, ג’ון ברקו. המשלחת ביקרה עוד בבית קנדה בלונדון ונפגשה עם נציגו מטעם ממשלת קנדה.