Last weekend, one of my kids and I decided to make bourekas. Made with filo dough, ours were stuffed with two fillings: spinach and cheese, and mushroom and cheese. They were such a success that the family ate all of them in a couple days.
We marveled at how hard it was to make the filo dough into the perfect triangles we remembered, as my sister-in-law’s family holiday events often feature these. Her family is part Turkish and no Jewish holiday would be complete without some of her specialities.
We won’t be eating Aunt Jenn’s bourekas any time soon, however. She lives (with the rest of our families) in the United States and the border’s closed. Even if it were open, it’s not a safe time to travel, due to the pandemic. But, my son and I really miss her and, in our recent cooking foray, we realized that she has a lot of filo dough skills!
If you’re like us, you may be reminiscing about birthday parties or neighbourhood block parties, a backyard barbeque with friends, or even a big family get together at a picnic shelter. It seems like a really crucial part of our Jewish identities is wrapped up in food and feeding others and making them feel welcome. It’s modeled first in Abraham and Sarah’s tent, as they welcome strangers, wash their feet and feed them, but most of us have friends and family who continue to show us how to do the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests.
Back in March, when our family realized that we would be home schooling for some time to come, we moved around the dining room furniture. We fit in two side tables as desks for the kids. We shifted the dining room table so that the four of us have ample room. It was the first time in my married life (22 years) that we didn’t have extra chairs at the table, “just in case” we had guests.
This definite lack of company sometimes feels sad and lonely. I’m not the only person struggling with this. However, some of the COVID-19 research seems to indicate that the virus isn’t spread via socially distanced street protests (with masks) but rather, at parties. That’s it – when we gather to eat and drink, when we forget to social distance or when we mingle with others for extended periods, we have a greater risk of getting sick.
Where does this leave us? A much less commonly known part of Jewish tradition is that of “giving people space.” Whether it’s the time that married couples spend apart each month, among those who observe the family purity laws, or the notions around tzinut (modesty) or treating your body with respect (as a temple, in fact), these aren’t the most commonly observed Jewish mitzvot these days. The notion of “space” as part of Jewish time is not very popular. However, this is precisely what I thought about as I took a long walk with my twins and one of our dogs.
It was hot. My kids know to hold hands when crossing a street and to stick close to me, but, on summer days in Winnipeg, we may stretch out a bit on the sidewalk. There’s one kid trying to catch a bug on the grassy boulevard, while another one wanders along beside me, chatting about dinosaurs. Our Gordon Setter mix, attached by a sturdy leash, doesn’t let that stop her when she sees a squirrel or bunny, and my arm shoots out across the walkway. You can imagine it – we take up room.
Our streets are wide. Most Winnipeggers aren’t wearing masks to take a walk because it’s rarely necessary to be anywhere near others unless they are relatives. When I see someone coming, I call everyone together. We gather closer to social distance from whomever is passing.
On this morning, the first adults who passed us, strangers who went by one at a time, made no effort to social distance, they didn’t greet or acknowledge us. I herded all four of us to the side, quickly. It is somehow always my job each time to create social distance. (I’ll note here that these adults were in the 60-and-up category. None of them was a young adult, the age group blamed in the media for being lax when it comes to taking care during a pandemic.)
By the time a third person came by, I was wary, already organizing kids and dog to swerve into someone’s front walk way. To my surprise, this person saw what I was doing. She smiled and walked in an arc onto the grass to give us room. I thanked her, we chatted briefly. We all smiled. I was so grateful.
Then something struck me. True hospitality is anticipating someone’s needs and graciously trying to meet those needs. Hospitality doesn’t have to be about feeding others or welcoming them in. Yes, we need to feed those who are less fortunate but, probably, we don’t need to insist on cooking for other gatherings personally in order to provide everybody food and drink.
Also, welcoming and greeting others, treating them graciously, doesn’t require bringing anyone into our houses (or, in Abraham’s case, a tent). It might mean ceding the sidewalk, smiling and saying hello to others as you pass – at a distance. It might include trimming your hedge so that there’s room on that sidewalk for a wheelchair or stroller to pass.
These are Jewish concepts: in protecting a life, treating bodies respectfully and giving others the right amount of space, we practise a kind of hospitality. This means caring about others and anticipating their needs.
So, please, when you see that mom with several kids, a person using a wheelchair, someone carrying a heavy load or someone pushing a double stroller on the sidewalk, give way and step aside. It’s the right – and the kind, hospitable – thing to do.
Joanne Seiffhas written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives.
Like print media as a whole, Jewish newspapers worldwide have been struggling in recent years. The coronavirus, with its economic impacts, was the last straw for Canadian Jewish News, which announced its closure in a message to readers April 13, with the words: “Everything has its season. It is time.”
From the ashes of that flagship media outlet, though, has emerged not one but two new ventures – and rumours of a possible revival of CJN itself.
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives and the people behind them think there’s room for a range of online voices, even if a national hard-copy print media option isn’t in the picture.
The Record is the brainchild of Bernie Farber, former chief executive officer of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, and Ron Csillag, a longtime reporter and editor with CJN, whose writing has appeared in the Jewish Independent. TheJ.ca, which has been in the planning stages longer, was started by Winnipeggers Marty Gold and Ron East. The editor is Dave Gordon, a Torontonian whose writing has appeared frequently in the Independent, as well as scores of other Jewish and non-Jewish publications.
Farber and Csillag admit they don’t have a business plan beyond getting writers and editors to work for free – and they see their online venture as a stopgap that would probably cease or merge were CJN to return. The individual rumoured to be considering a rebirth of the paper opted to not comment for this story.
Farber, who was with CJC from 1984 until it was subsumed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in 2011 and served as its head from 2006, said they launched CJR on the fly, trying to fill a need in the immediate aftermath of CJN’s demise.
“Our goal is not to become a new Canadian Jewish News,” he said. “When and if they were able to come back up … we would find some way to amalgamate. Nothing is written in stone…. We expect to continue into the fall at this point, hopefully.”
The online news and commentary site operates under the auspices of a nonprofit organization and has no money to speak of, other than enough to cover registration fees and miscellaneous costs, said Farber.
“Everybody who wrote and who is continuing to this day to write for the newspaper is doing it pro bono,” he said. “These are skilled, professional journalists who are, for the most part, people who are used to being paid for their work and have chosen to do this as a donation at this time to the community. It really is a grand mitzvah, Canadian Jewish-style, and it’s working.”
The platform got 22,000 hits in the first week, said Farber, who serves as publisher. “It’s going up from there almost exponentially.”
The model upon which their editorial approach is based is akin to CJN, he said, with a range of opinions represented.
“We’re trying to have a big tent,” he said. “We already got into some hot water because we published a piece by Dr. Mira Sucharov. She’s a wonderful writer, she’s on the edge, people don’t like what she writes, but tough shit. People are allowed to have their opinions.”
JI readers will be familiar with Sucharov’s writing. As for coverage of Israel-related topics, Farber said they will follow a similar open approach.
“It’s not that we don’t support Israel,” he said. “We’re a news source, we’re an information source. We run opinion. We’re not going to [say] you can only write good things about Israel or good things about the Jewish community. We want there to be some spark to it where people can say, no, I disagree with that. We do have an option for feedback and we do get letters to the editor. That’s the Jewish community, right? They are vibrant, they come from all over the place and we want to be able to reflect that.”
Farber and Csillag are well-known figures in the Jewish and larger Canadian scene, which is one of the reasons, they say, that the president of York University reached out to them before releasing a much-awaited report of an investigation around a violent confrontation on campus last November between pro- and anti-Israel groups. The Record got embargoed exclusive access to the report before other media. “It demonstrates how, in a short period of time, we have become a reasonable voice in the community,” Farber said.
Csillag, the editor, said they chose, at the launch on May 21, to “flood” the site with stories to keep readers engaged and coming back. Now, the aim is to post two stories a day plus any breaking news.
“People are talking about it, people are complaining about it,” he said. “I got my first bit of hate mail, which is good. That’s when you know you’re making a difference.”
Finding writers to work for free has not been a challenge. “People have been coming out of the woodwork. I never knew that pretty much everyone on the planet was a writer,” Csillag said, laughing.
Challenges they have not ironed out, they admit, include finding reliable reporters outside Ontario and a steady source of news from Israel, since they don’t have the resources to pay for a news service.
If CJN is not revived, Farber said, “I think we have to get together with serious-minded people within the community and say the CJN is gone and we are here. We don’t have a real business model to be honest. What you see is what you get…. We would have to ramp up to a real business model.”
Farber added that Canada, with the world’s fourth-largest Jewish population at 400,000, should be able to sustain at least two national Jewish media platforms.
That confidence is shared by Gordon, who equates the situation to the old joke about the Jew who, when rescued from a deserted island, was asked why he built two synagogues on the island. One, he told rescuers, was his shul; the other was the one he would never set foot in.
TheJ.ca has been in the planning stages for more than a year. Gordon came on a few weeks before launch. Like the Record, TheJ.ca has little overhead, since everyone associated with it works remotely. They have a few investors and some steady advertising agreements. The online nature of the platform also means no printing or distribution expenses.
Gordon touts the diversity of the large stable of writers.
“One of the things that I think is our proudest asset are individuals from the widest array possible, individuals who are liberal to conservative, Jew and Arab, religious to secular,” he said. “We have four gay columnists, we have Jews of colour who are contributing, we have coast-to-coast contributors and, in that respect, I want to say that, not only do we deliver the unexpected, but we represent the previously unrepresented.”
On Israel coverage, though, they aim to determine suitability of opinions based on the “three Ds” formulated by Natan Sharansky to determine if criticism of Israel is antisemitic: delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, and subjecting Israel to double standards.
“In terms of Israel, we’re not going to make it a secret: we’re very pro-Israel, very Zionistic,” said Gordon. “It’s a good read to say that we are centre-right. We will still strive to maintain a kind of balance in terms of Israel reporting … we will tilt from time to time liberal but not left.”
Their aim is to post a batch of new content twice a week.
While Gordon is based in Toronto, TheJ.ca was born in Winnipeg. Marty Gold, a longtime broadcast journalist and publisher, and Ron East, a former pro wrestler and physical education teacher who has also been involved in publishing, are longtime friends who were critical of existing Jewish media.
East is son of the late Israeli military commander, author and counterterrorism expert Yoram Hamizrachi East. When Winnipeg saw an influx of Israeli immigrants a few years ago, the father and son launched a Hebrew-language publication to help the newcomers navigate their city. The 500 copies were routinely snapped up, he said.
The idea for the new media platform came after Gold and East felt that the established Jewish media and communal organizations in the city were not adequately confronting anti-Israel activity.
“There wasn’t really a pro-Israel, Zionistic platform out there,” said East. “We found that our local media here in Winnipeg, as well as when we started looking at Canadian Jewish News and others, were giving more and more room … and more and more credibility to what we would describe as anti-Israel, anti-Zionistic and, in some cases, pro-BDS Jewish movements. Those voices became louder and louder and the Zionistic pro-Israel voices seemed to be drowned out. We felt that it was important to provide a platform that would allow for those voices.”
While TheJ.ca is an online media platform, they are mooting a print digest that might be issued a couple of times a year. They are also working on a way to format content so that it can be easily downloaded and printed for people who prefer to hold their newspaper in their hands. Also in the hopper are plans for region-specific landing pages, so readers in Vancouver or Halifax, say, could access both items of national and international interest, as well as local news relevant to them.
The design of their site, said East, is particularly aimed at reaching younger readers. They credit Gordon’s experience in the field for bringing together a diverse group of writers from across the country.
The Jewish media scene has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. The emergence of the internet more than two decades ago has undermined print media of all types, with publications for small or niche demographics experiencing particular challenges as well as advantages. The pandemic, which led to an unprecedented global economic shutdown in March, had immediate repercussions. Much of the advertising in the Independent, for example, is for upcoming community events, all of which were summarily canceled. Non-essential retailers closed, making advertising extraneous.
The Independent has continued publishing on a reduced schedule.
Winnipeg’s Jewish Post & News announced in April that it was ceasing printing, but started publishing a print edition again at the end of May.
The difficulties nearly led to the dissolution of the world’s oldest English-language Jewish newspaper, Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, which was saved by a conglomerate of philanthropists. The rival Jewish News, which had also announced its liquidation and was set to merge with the Chronicle before the surprise bailout, will, for now, continue publishing independently.
In an article recently about the state of Jewish journalism, the Times of Israel reported that New York’s Jewish Week made a dire plea for support and a leader in the American Jewish Press Association – of which the Independent is a member – acknowledged that COVID has presented a serious challenge to an already struggling sector.
The world’s third-largest Jewish community, in France, is in a different boat. In the 1980s, the French government opened radio airwaves to private groups and Jewish radio stations play a role in that country similar to the role newspapers play in most other Jewish communities.
One could be forgiven for thinking there was a Jewish dance festival coming up, as there are so many community members participating in this year’s Dancing on the Edge, which takes place July 2-11.
Adapting to the circumstances of the pandemic, which limits public gatherings, DOTE festival producer Donna Spencer recently announced that, while it won’t be possible to present the initially planned 30-plus live performances, the festival “will be offering instead some specially curated digital programming with live-streamed performances, premières of dance films, dance discussions, four outdoor live performances in the Firehall’s courtyard and one dynamic theatre performance at the Firehall Arts Centre theatre (all live performances for very limited audiences with safety precautions in place).”
Among the featured dance companies and choreographers are, in alphabetical order, Action at a Distance (Vanessa Goodman), All Bodies Dance (Naomi Brand, with Carolina Bergonzoni), Ben Gorodetsky, Ne. Sans Opera and Dance (Idan Cohen), Radical System Art (Shay Kuebler), the response. (Amber Funk Barton) and Tara Cheyenne Performance.
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Action at a Distance is presenting Solvent, a new work created in collaboration with musician Loscil (Scott Morgan).
“I have been incorporating video footage into my work for years, and the recent time at home has provided an opportunity to generate material and experiment with new editing techniques,” said Goodman. “In some ways, this is an extension of our previous work together. Our first video collaboration was for a song on his album, Monument Builders. Since then, we have built four works together for my company Action at a Distance, including Never Still, which was presented by the Firehall Arts Centre in 2018.”
When the pandemic hit, Goodman said, “At first, I found myself grasping for something substantial to hold onto and tried to reschedule all the tours and premières that were being canceled. It was challenging to let go of everything. Eventually, I came to terms with the downtime and embraced the slow pace as best I could.”
When the need to isolate began, she said, “I started making short dance films for myself and my 96-year-old grandmother to help us stay connected. At times, it has been tough to stay motivated during the shutdown, and this was a simple way to stay creative.
“There’s no way to compare these sketches to a staged dance performance,” she said. “However, when I shifted my frame of mind and started to approach video as a whole new medium instead of an altered version of an existing piece, I became more comfortable with the idea of sharing work this way. I am very grateful to DOTE for bringing the community together to share work right now.”
Even in such times, arts and culture are “absolutely vital,” said Goodman. “Without them, we’re living in the dark ages. It is essential to have creative outlets for expression. Right now, finding connections through creativity can help cut through the isolation. Art can provide much-needed escape and levity in challenging times, as well as reframing current issues and inspiring insight around movements of essential social change.”
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All Bodies Dance Project (ABDP) is bringing Ho.Me to the festival. “The film was commissioned by F-O-R-M, Festival of Recorded Movement, last year … and is a collaboration between longtime ABDP company members Carolina Bergonzoni (choreographer/director), Peggy Leung (dancer), Harmanie Rose (dancer), Mathew Chyzyk (dancer) and Vancouver-based artist Gemma Crowe (cinematographer/editor) and Alex Mah (composer),” said Brand. “Ho.Me explores themes of belonging and comfort in relation to inhabiting one’s own body. The film is comprised of three personal solos shot inside the dancers’ own apartments. In the piece, we get to see these three very different bodies dancing within the privacy of their own homes among the objects that have meaning to them.
“While the film was created long before the pandemic, the significance of moving inside our homes feels really different now since we’ve all been spending so much time inside. Many dancers have been figuring out how to turn our living spaces into places where we can also practise, explore and move, as studios haven’t been an option.”
Since the start of the pandemic, ABDP has moved some of its community dance programming online.
“We also started a weekly virtual gathering for our community of dancers in order to prevent social isolation,” said Brand. “Many of our projects have been on hold. There is so much about what we do as a company that just isn’t compatible with the necessary restrictions of COVID life. Our work is based on bringing people with different bodies, backgrounds, experiences and abilities together to move, share and make in real-time. We’ve been thinking a lot about what kinds of things translate into the digital space and what things just can’t be replaced.”
She said, “Now more than ever we need community and collective experiences, as so many have been isolated during these past few months. People with disabilities in particular have experienced a lot of isolation and so we are even more committed to our purpose at All Bodies Dance Project.”
She added, “Dance is about each of our essential relationship to our own bodies. During COVID times, many of us have learned a lot about our own physical experience of moving through the world and the social choreography of physical distancing. There has been so much choreography on the sidewalks, grocery stores and, of course, in the streets during the incredible protests during this pandemic.”
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Gorodetsky, who is Russian-Canadian, is one half of the political comedy duo Folk Lordz, with Cree co-creator Todd Houseman. The pair tackle racism, among other social ills, and have created a 15-part series “[r]eflecting urban-Indigenous, immigrant and activist perspectives through the lens of biting satire.” A second series of sketches is on its way, but Gorodetsky is bringing a very personal work to this year’s DOTE.
“It’s a movement video piece honouring my grandfather, Dolik (David) Lutsky. He died on April 3, 2020, and, since we could not gather for his funeral due to the pandemic, we were left to sort through our grief alone,” he shared. “One small relief was my grandmother mailing me a box of his clothes. Using these garments as performance artifacts, I created a digital video piece reimagining grieving rituals in the age of COVID.
“I explore the ceremony of wearing Dolik’s clothes and reactivating the narrative, cultural and physical threads of his life. Spoken oral histories exploring my grandfather’s immigration (I was born 10 days after they landed in Canada), identity (he was the official communist ‘propagandist’ at the coalmine he worked at in Ukraine) and faith (he went from being an ardent anti-religious communist to a practising Lubavitcher Jew) provide textual counterpoint to the dance video. The visuals themselves were all created through aerial drone photography, creating a fluid visual style for this interdisciplinary new video work. Country roads, forests and lakes frame this physical score exploring grief, memory and family history.”
Gorodetsky said, “I think if I had been able to grieve, remember and connect with my family after Dolik’s death, I would have no need to explore these ideas artistically. But, since I have not, I have a nagging need to articulate this particular pain through movement, story and visual composition.”
Since COVID, Gorodetsky has become the fulltime caregiver for his 2.5-year-old son. “Time and energy have become scarce resources,” he said, “so I’ve had to get better at working furiously fast while he naps. Focused blasts of creativity.
“Also, my family has been displaced from our home and all our possessions in Brooklyn, N.Y. We were in Kelowna (where I was teaching on a one-term contract at UBC in the performance program) when the border closed and we could not return to our home as planned. So, we’re in Waterloo, living at my sister-in-law’s house, until [who knows when]. Honestly, my mental health is brutal right now. Anxiety grips me in a way I had never experienced before, and I have had to find tactics for replenishing my depleted stores of happiness and hope. One thing that really helps is long bike rides with my son Gus. We get out of the city and follow country roads – we live near Amish country! It’s a small way to feel free, alive and empowered in the midst of these deeply destabilizing times.”
For Gorodetsky, who grew up in Metro Vancouver – in Burquitlam – “dance is a way of moving your grief around. It helps me shake the weight and sediment of catastrophe off and meet my grief as an equal, rather than as a victim.
“Gus and I developed a habit of walking to a beach or body of water, finding a big tree stump, climbing on top and dancing to a playlist called ‘Klezmer Dance Party at Home’ (lots of Klezmatics, Michael Winograd, Frank London, Socalled and Di Naye Kapelye). It’s been a real lifesaver.”
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Ne. Sans Opera and Dance’s Trionfi Amore (The Triumph of Love) was commissioned by Peter Bingham for EDAM’s Spring Choreographic Series, April 2019.
“It is a trio created for three phenomenal Vancouver-based performers, Kate Franklin, Jeremy O’Neill and Ted Littlemore,” said Cohen. “Besides being excellent dancers, these three are also trained musicians, and the piece utilizes their many talents.
“The trio is inspired by the opera Orfeo ed Euridice and is a part of my ongoing research on the theme of Orpheus,” he explained. “It speaks of love, and of the power of music and art to move, entertain and touch us. It also speaks of the power of manipulation and control on the individual and, as we prepare it for DOTE during this time, we find that new meanings present themselves to us.”
Cohen said, “The act of presenting something as abstract as the notion of love in a dance performance is quite a challenge by itself, and nowadays even more so – how do you speak of love without being able to touch, to be close to one another? Instead of looking at this as an obstacle, we choose to look at it as a source of inspiration, a new adventure. As artists, we reflect what we experience and then monitor, or direct, those notions into our actions and creative choices. My responsibility here is to stay true to the origins of this piece, but also to protect the viewers and the performers while offering art that speaks of relevant issues and current experiences.”
It hasn’t been easy.
“Ne. Sans had to stop our season and rethink and rearrange our commitments,” said Cohen. “It has been painful to see how many creative ventures that have been in the planning for quite awhile have been postponed or canceled, and to realize the ensuing financial and emotional toll…. I believe in the value and presence of arts in our community and in our lives, in countless ways, and tackle issues that I find not just relevant for myself, but that reflect on many lives. At the same time, I recognize how privileged I am to be here, in Vancouver, and to be safe and healthy.”
Whether theatre, music or dance, one thing common to all forms of live performance, said Cohen, “is that they are alive.” They all involve the human body, both “the performing bodies and the ones watching.”
“As an artist who uses movement as a primary artistic discipline,” he said, “I have a huge love and respect for the human body in its most basic form. When you learn to love and accept your body, you can truly love and respect people. That love is also where my queer identity(ies) meet my Jewish ancestry. So much hate is being inflicted on the body; if we don’t learn to love and appreciate our bodies, how can we truly love and appreciate someone else’s? How can we heal? With so much violence in our history and in our present, in a world polluted with ignorance and hate, how do we learn to love and forgive our ancestors, our pasts? The arts bear a huge responsibility. Artists need to change our priorities, acknowledge our inherited racism and create new stories.
“Ne. Sans is an organization that is centred on Western European music and dance, and my origins are in Western Europe,” he continued. “Our main goal in Ne. Sans is not to present a notion of nostalgia, romanticism and artificial beauty, but to raise the issues of violence and inequalities created by that culture, recreate its narratives and bring those up into the surface.”
In Jewish teaching, there is the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. “We can all be involved in tikkun olam at any given moment,” said Cohen, “and we need to keep adapting and correcting our values, individual or systemic. We have a responsibility to help and support one another. We have survived horrible historical events. Looking straight at our bleeding past and present: in the face of injustice, we cannot and will not stay silent.”
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Kuebler, who has performed at the Chutzpah! Festival and is connected to the Jewish community through his sister’s family, will be presenting Momentum of Isolation at DOTE. Started last year, he said, “This first chapter of research is a chain of solos, for seven performers, that was developed by company artists online and in isolation.”
Given the restrictions required to control COVID, this part of “the project has taken on a much more singular focus on each artist’s personal interpretation,” said Kuebler. “As these solos were developed in home spaces and in isolation, the artists are performing their solos in smaller performance spaces – averaging six-by-nine feet – as well as performing these solos in relation to walls and surfaces in their environment.”
Of COVID’s impacts, he said, “There was certainly sadness and stress from losing work and touring opportunities. The company was two weeks away from a European tour when all the social protocols came into place. We were fortunate to receive some support and, after assessing the financial losses, we were able to move forward with a different creative practice for this phase of this project.
“The new creation practice of working online and in isolation actually revealed some very interesting new approaches and beneficial tactics. This online format had us focus on different dance techniques and improvisation tasks that could both challenge our individual movement skills and develop more group unity in movement. It also opened a window for focused study around the social content in the project.”
Kuebler said, “For myself as an artist, this time has offered me some space to ‘fill the well.’ I have been creating, traveling and supporting multiple projects simultaneously for a solid amount of time. This time in isolation, although not in the form that I would have wished for, or for anyone for that matter, has offered me space and time to just research and train…. I’ve found that, with this space, I’ve been more creative and have developed further outlets to express my creativity.”
He said, “I think that art holds a very important place in society. It offers people an escape from certain stresses and can help inspire them to find their own creativity. I believe that being creative can help you live with greater curiosity, humility and awareness of the world around you, which can make you a better member of society…. From this standpoint, I believe that art and artists gain greater relevance during challenging times and times of change.”
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Barton’s company, the response., will host a special-edition, two-day version of Dance Café, which will feature eight Vancouver-based professional dance artists during DOTE.
“Together with my administration assistant, Kaia Shukin, we have been presenting Dance Café since 2017,” said Barton. Originally, it was held once a year as an informal, free event in studio, but, since May of this year, they have been presenting professional dance artists online using Instagram Live, and did so in June, as well. Given the positive response, Barton would like to keep the free event going monthly until the end of the year, but it will depend on resources, and she hopes people will donate to help make that happen.
With the arrival of the pandemic, Barton said, “It felt like many of the things I do changed overnight. At first – and there are still many moments at present – I felt overwhelmed with the learning curve of teaching and rehearsing on platforms such as Zoom. I feel that the act of participating in these online platforms, whether you are ready to or not, forces you to be creative just by showing up. In many ways, the act of applying for grants and the typical administration side of what I and the company do haven’t changed, but the artistic side of it is what I find is in question. How can we continue and how can we share and create work in a safe environment? Those are my biggest questions right now.”
For Barton, “Art can be a reflection of what we are experiencing in the world and can act as a mirror. It can be cathartic. It can also help us escape. We are all listening to music, watching films and trying to make sense of what is happening and/or trying to make time pass by. No one can deny that their consumption of art is interwoven in the daily fabric of their lives.”
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At DOTE, Tara Cheyenne Performance will share two films made in collaboration with Allison Beda/Amuse Productions and possibly a live online performance, said Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg. “These works are a continuation of my solo I can’t remember the word for I can’t remember, which premièred at the Firehall in 2018.”
For Friedenberg, life during COVID has been “up and down.”
“Some days are good – home schooling actually happens (we have an 8-year-old), I might even take an online dance class and have a virtual rehearsal with my dramaturge Melanie Yeats. Other days, making lunch and trying to figure out Grade 3 fractions is too much,” she said. “I’m not loving the many, many Zoom meetings. I feel like our brains and bodies are compromised being in front of screens so much.
“Artistically, it has been invigorating and challenging – also very frustrating and often sad, to be honest – to try to reach my audience. I was recently working on a video of past work and noticed that, in every show, I literally climb into/onto the audience. My focus right now is how do I break the fourth wall when it is a virtual fourth wall.”
When asked the importance of the arts in such a stressful social and economic period, Friedenberg said, “We absolutely need to share stories and experiences right now. I feel like it is my duty to offer levity, commentary and my own feelings in order to facilitate those moments of community and recognition. My grandfather toured Europe playing piano for Maurice Chevalier leading up to the war, then here in Canada during the war. I feel like it’s in my blood to offer what I make, especially during difficult times. I’ve been making these very silly satire videos of my character Laura Lockdown, which people are enjoying I think because they allow us to laugh at the extreme situation we are all living through.”
Friedenberg also has been recording, for almost a year now, the podcast Talking Sh*t with Tara Cheyenne.
“I interview artists about their work, their lives and how they manage,” she said. “These interviews are even more interesting in the time of COVID-19. Creativity, and how we navigate its absence in the face of difficulty is so useful for all of us. Right now, I’m leaning towards interviewing artists of colour – voices, art and ideas that need to be heard.”
When COVID-19 hit, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver quickly refocused its organizational resources on closing the annual campaign and addressing urgent community needs. Now, it is circling back to announce some terrific news, which is that the 2019 Federation annual campaign raised more than $8.9 million.
Here is a general breakdown of the funds raised:
$7.9 million in unrestricted funds to support programs and services locally, nationally and in Israel through the allocations process – an increase of $100,000 from last year;
$1 million in special project funding from donors who give above and beyond their annual campaign commitments to support programs that meet high-priority community needs; and
$40,000 to support the work of specific agencies from donors directing a portion of their increased gifts through Federation’s Plus Giving program.
The community’s generosity is making an impact here and around the world. Thirty-two local Jewish families will have safe, stable homes when they move into new affordable housing units this summer. Youth in Israel who were once considered at-risk are now skilled professionals whose expertise is sought after.
Federation gives a huge thank you to everyone who contributed and to everyone who volunteered to make the annual campaign a success, including the more than 250 community members who volunteered as canvassers and team captains.
Federation’s campaign chair, Jonathon Leipsic, once again demonstrated outstanding leadership, energy and passion for community as he led the Annual Campaign Working Cabinet. Kol hakavod and todah rabah to Leipsic and to each of these community leaders, who are on this dedicated team: Shay Keil, major gifts co-chair; Lana Pulver, major gifts co-chair; Michael Averbach, men’s philanthropy co-chair; Daniel Dodek, men’s philanthropy co-chair; Susan Hector, canvasser development; Al Szajman, marketing chair; Alvin Wasserman, campaign advisor; and Catherine Epstein, agency liaison.
The funds raised in this campaign will be distributed locally, nationally and in Israel during the 2021 allocations cycle, which will take place next summer. This is part of the two-year allocations cycle that Federation established after the 2008 economic downturn in order to provide greater predictability to its partners and to provide a measure of protection in the event of unanticipated fluctuations. The prudent contingency planning that Federation has been able to do as a result is part of what enabled it to provide emergency funding in April to community organizations that were hit hardest by COVID-19.
In addition, the community also depends on Jewish Federation to work with donors throughout the year to generate special project funding to meet high-priority needs. Combined with the annual campaign result, the total Jewish Federation raised this year was $10.3 million. While this strong result will help sustain the community, more resources will still be needed to address increased community needs related directly to the pandemic. A healthy annual campaign is just the start. With the challenges we’re all currently experiencing, Jewish Federation’s central role has never been more important.
בשבועות האחרונים מפגינים רבים יוצאים לרחובות בערים שונות ברחבי קנדה כדי למחות נגד הגעזנות והאפלייה בארה”ב, קנדה ובעולם כולו. (רוני רחמני)
קנדה התמודדה בשבוע שעבר עם פרשה הקשורה להפעלת כוח מופרז על-ידי שוטרים נגד בני מיעוטים. ראש הממשלה הקנדי, ג’סטין טרודו, הביע זעזוע עמוק מסרטון וידאו שפורסם ברבים ובו נראים שוטרים עוצרים תוך שימוש באלימות, את הצ’יף של הקהילה האינדיאנית האנדבוריג’ינית במחוז אלבטרה.
בסרטון, שאורכו שתיים עשרה דקות, נראים השוטרים בין השאר מכים את האיש, אלן אדם, בראשו. טרודו ציין לאחר שצפה בסרט כי יש לו שאלות רציניות בנוגע למה שקרה. הוא הוסיף שהחקירה העצמאית חייבת להיות שקופה ולהיעשות כך שנקבל תשובות. בה בעת שכולם יודעים שזה לא מקרה בודד. לדברי טרודו יותר מדי קנדים שחורים וילידים אינם מרגישים בטוחים בסביבת שוטרים. זה בלתי מתקבל על הדעת והממשלה חייבת לשנות את המצב הזה.
המחלקה האחראית על חקירת שוטרים במשטרת אלברטה בודקת כעת את האירוע. המשטרה הגישה נגד אדם כתב אישום בגין התנגדות למעצר ותקיפת שוטר. לדברי עורך דינו של הצ’יף, העימות כולו החל בגלל שפג התוקף של לוחית רישוי של רכבו.
בשבועות האחרונים מפגינים רבים יוצאים לרחובות בערים שונות ברחבי קנדה כדי למחות נגד הגעזנות והאפלייה בארה”ב, קנדה ובעולם כולו.
קנדה מתנגדת לתוכנית הסיפוח של ממשלת ישראל
סוכנות הידיעות הפלסטינית הרשמית (וופא) דיווחה לאחרונה כי קנדה הבהירה לרשות הפלסטינית, כי מתנגדת לתוכנית הסיפוח הישראלית של השטחים הכבושים. זאת כיוון שהסיפוח עומד בסתירה לחוק הבינלאומי.
על פי הדיווח של סוכנות הידיעות הפלסטינית, עמדת קנדה נגד הסיפוח נמסרה בשיחה בין שר החוץ של קנדה, פיליפ שמפיין, לבין שר החוץ הפלסטיני, ריאד אל-מאליכי.
שר החוץ הקנדי ציין כי אם קנדה תיבחר לחברה זמנית במועצת הביטחון של האו”ם, היא לא תחריש אלא תשמיע את קולה כדי לשמור על השלום והיציבות במזרח התיכון. וכן תפעל מול ישראל והפלסטינים כדי להשכין שלום בין הצדדים. בהקשר זה, קרא שר החוץ הפלסטיני לקנדה להמשיך בלחץ על ישראל כדי לסכל את תוכנית סיפוח השטחים, כולל באמצעות איום בסנקציות נגדה.
ראש ממשלת קנדה, ג’סטין טרודו, אמר לא מכבר כי העביר מסר ברור להנהגה בישראל בנוגע לתוכנית סיפוח השטחים הכבושים בציינו, כי קנדה סבורה שמהלך זה עלול לעכב את האפשרות להגיע לשלום בר קיימא במזרח התיכון ועל כן היא מודאגת מאוד מכך.
קנדה האריכה את איסור כניסת אוניות נוסעים לשטחה עד לסוף חודש אוקטובר
ממשלת קנדה האריכה את האיסור על פעילות אניות תענוגות בשטחה עד השלושים ואחד באוקטובר שנה זו. זאת עקב מגיפת הקורונה העולמית. שר התחבורה, מארק גארנו, הודיע על הצעדים המעודכנים בנוגע לאוניות התענוגות וספינות הנוסעים, וציין כי הממשלה מחויבת להגן על אזרחי קנדה, במיוחד בתקופה מאתגרת זאת. מסיבה זו הוא הכריז על צעדים עדכניים עבור אוניות תענוגות ואניות נוסעים אחרות בקנדה, שכוללים איסור פעילות של אוניות תענוגות גדולות במים קנדיים עד סוף חודש אוקטובר שנה זו.
על פי התקנות, אוניות נוסעים המובילות מעל למאה איש על סיפונן עם מקומות לינה לא יורשו להיכנס למים הקנדיים כאמור עד סוף אוקטובר. בנוסף אוניות נוסעים עם יותר משניים עשר איש לא יורשו גם להיכנס למימי החופים בקנדה (הארקטי, נונאציאווט, נונאוויק ולברדור) גם כן עד סוף חודש אוקטובר.
מעבורות, מוניות מים ואוניות נוסעים חיוניות אחרות צריכות ליישם התקנות חדשות, שלפיהן הן יפעלו עם מספר מופחת של נוסעים. ובנוסף עליהן לנקוט באמצעים שונים להתגוננות מפני המגיפה.
Left to right: MP Joyce Murray, MLA Selina Robinson and Vancouver Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung spoke at a June 3 webinar hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. (photos from the internet)
“Intense” was the word used by speakers from all levels of government to describe their experiences during the pandemic emergency.
In a June 3 webinar on Zoom, federal and provincial cabinet ministers and a Vancouver city councilor addressed COVID-19: What’s the New Normal? The event was hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
Joyce Murray, member of Parliament for Vancouver-Quadra, is Canada’s minister of digital government, a role that took on sudden significance when even Parliament began operating virtually and almost all federal civil servants are being asked to work from home.
“It’s been an incredibly intense time,” she said. “I never thought I would work harder than I do as a minister in Ottawa, but I would say these last few months have been much more intense than I expected.”
A million Canadians were able to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) on the first day, which Murray said illustrates the scope and speed of the government’s electronic mobilization.
Responding to a question from an audience member, she acknowledged that there may be some inequities in the program – some people are earning more not working than a neighbour might earn on the job – but the decision was made to ramp up immediately, knowing that anomalies were likely.
The federal government has not decided when to reopen the U.S. border, Murray said. The current, extended closure ends June 21.
“Our primary focus is the safety of Canadians,” she said. “We’ll be taking the advice of public health officials and thinking about all of the different ramifications and make a decision when the time comes.”
The discussion was moderated by James Moore, a former Conservative MP, who pressed Murray on the unanticipated federal expenditures resulting from the pandemic.
“Fortunately, Canada entered this in a very strong fiscal position compared with most of its G-20 partners,” she responded. “So we were ready and able to respond and there is now approximately $150 billion in direct support to Canadians that has been put on the table. That makes it one of the most ambitious response plans in the world. But our view is that we had fiscal firepower, it was right to use it and it will help our economy emerge more quickly and more strongly when the pandemic allows us to do that safely. Our focus right now is on helping Canadians and getting that right.… We will return to a strong fiscal position when it’s time.”
Selina Robinson, British Columbia’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, noted that the provincial government stepped up with $5 billion in emergency funding.
“It would be very, very hard coming out of this if we had people who were evicted from their homes and couldn’t put food on the table,” said Robinson, who is MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville. “I think everybody agrees that we needed to invest in people, so that they can continue to feed their families.”
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has warned that no pandemic in history has not had a second wave. Robinson said British Columbia and other jurisdictions are ready for that potential.
“I think we’re far better prepared for any future waves, given the experience we’ve had over the last few months,” she said.
Murray lamented the sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, while Moore warned that U.S. President Donald Trump “is going to run for reelection against China, and not against Joe Biden” – he fears the repercussions for Asian communities in North America as a result.
Robinson said the Jewish community is uniquely placed to be allies to those affected by this phenomenon, as well as to racialized individuals during the parallel upheavals around race, police violence and Black Lives Matter.
“I’m really proud to be part of the Jewish community and knowing that our history as a Jewish community has historically stood up for these values, to make sure that there is space for everyone and for standing up when we see injustice,” she said. “We will continue to do that and I urge everybody who is participating to make sure that you use your voice however and wherever you can.”
Sarah Kirby-Yung, a Vancouver city councilor, also spoke from a personal perspective, noting that her immediate family is of Asian descent.
“I’m incredibly distressed when I hear from members of the Asian community, seniors and vulnerable people particularly, who are afraid to leave their home or go for groceries or are changing their pattern because of who they are,” she said.
Vancouver’s budget has taken a swift kick during the pandemic, but Kirby-Yung rejected the rumour that the city is approaching bankruptcy.
“We are looking at about a $150 to $200 million projected revenue gap for Vancouver through the end of 2020,” she said. “Vancouver is not going bankrupt. We are in reasonable shape, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be very thoughtful about our spending in our decisions.”
Michael Geller at the groundbreaking of ConWest’s IRONWORKS development in 2017. (photo from Michael Geller)
The COVID pandemic and the months of social isolation it created will have impacts on real estate prices, urban design and human behaviours, says a local expert. But the changes are not likely to be revolutionary so much as accelerate trends already underway.
Michael Geller, an architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer, spoke to the Temple Sholom Men’s Club in a virtual event via the meeting platform Zoom May 25. (For more on the club, click here.) Geller is also adjunct professor in Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development and a longtime leader in Jewish communal organizations. His topic was Real Estate in the Era of COVID.
“Housing sales are down significantly and are as low as they have been in recent memory,” he said. Wages have been dramatically impacted for an enormous number of individuals and household debt is increasing significantly. Many renters are unable to meet their payments.
Housing sales are affected by the obvious issues of economics, but also because buyers and sellers are reticent about the physical interaction required in the process of viewing potential homes. Sales have not entirely collapsed, though, he noted.
“There are still some bidding wars for more affordable condos, priced under $700,000,” said Geller, adding: “Can you imagine 30 years ago being told that affordable condos would be under 700,000? It just shows you what has happened to our market in recent years.”
While sales are down, there has not been a significant increase in the supply of either listings or new homes coming to market, he said. “So, at the moment, we aren’t seeing the dramatic drop in prices that many assumed, myself included, would occur.”
What may occur is a stalling of new construction because lenders are cautious. “They don’t want to lend money for anyone to buy land at the moment,” he said. “This is a significant factor.”
While there were many years when there was almost no purpose-built rental housing created, this has shifted, with about 4,000 new units this year in the city proper and 9,300 in Metro Vancouver. This supply, combined with the economic challenges brought about by the pandemic, have had impacts on rental rates. “For the first time in a long time, we are starting to see a softening of rent,” he said.
Foreign investment has been credited with playing an outsized role in property values in recent decades and some commentators speculate that buyers may be “circling like vultures” in the event of comparative real estate bargains in British Columbia, he said.
Geller noted the opposite could occur, however, as the market softens. “Some of the people who came, especially from mainland China but also Hong Kong and Europe, might actually divest themselves of their investments and pull out of the Vancouver market,” he said.
International events will also likely play a role. Uncertainty and upheaval around changes in China’s governance of Hong Kong could make Canada very appealing, especially to the 300,000 residents of Hong Kong who have Canadian citizenship.
“We have a high level of personal safety and, when you think about it, that is one of the most important considerations,” he said. “You can have all the money in the world but if you don’t feel safe in your home at night, you may not necessarily stay in that home.”
British Columbia’s recognized success in dealing with the pandemic has enhanced its international image. “As we start to focus more and more on health issues, that cannot be ignored,” he said.
Foreign investment in Vancouver has dropped significantly since the implementation of the foreign buyers’ tax.
“Will those foreign buyers come back, even if they have to pay 20% premium?” Geller asked. “If they don’t come back, and if that means local developers decide not to build, whether it be rental or condominiums, and we start to see significant unemployment of all those construction workers … then it may well be that the government says, you know, this is a difficult situation, these are unprecedented times and maybe they’ll just decide that, for the next two years, the foreign buyers tax will be reduced to five percent rather than 20% in order to stimulate the economy.”
On the commercial real estate front, the experience of working from home may change our relationship to the office. If people continue working remotely, that could reduce demand for office space. On the flip side, new ideas of personal space and social distancing could mean that people come to expect fewer workers in more space, thereby increasing demand.
If more people do opt for remote work options, some may choose to move to more affordable and remote locations. Home design might adapt to include formal workspaces so that people aren’t using kitchen counters as desks. Condo towers and apartment buildings might opt for hotel-style shared business centres rather than spas. They may move toward more “touchless tech” – a familiar example being the Shabbat elevator.
As stores reopen, retailers may see a decline in shoppers, but Geller suspects that warehouse space is headed for a bull market. “As more and more people are buying online, there is a need for more and more warehouse space to store all this product before it’s delivered,” he said. “This applies not just to clothing and giftware, it applies to food and other goods that are stored in cold warehouses.”
Looking at social changes that have resulted from pandemics in previous centuries, Geller said, “One of the things that came out of [earlier pandemics] was an appreciation of the need for more parks and green space throughout the cities. Central Park in New York, that was created by the New York City Board of Health because of the belief that this would lead to improved human environmental health for everybody in the city. In most European cities and many other American cities, large parks and green networks were created to help people lead healthier lives.”
Improved sanitation, water supply and sewage treatment systems were also at least partly a result of these catastrophes. Home design changed, including the advent of sleeping porches, based on the understanding that fresh air was preferable to stuffy interiors. The modern bathroom, including the proliferation of white tiles that both made it easier to clean and added to the perception of sterility, emerged. Wooden toilet seats, which were the norm, were replaced by plastic ones.
“The powder room became a creation in a larger house because the man who came to deliver the coal or to deliver the ice, you didn’t want them going through your house using your bathroom, so powder rooms became popular,” he said.
Though he had plenty of ideas, Geller was emphatic that he didn’t really know what the future holds. But he has some confidence about a general forecast.
“Often,” he said, “pandemics and similar sorts of events accelerate changes that were already happening.”
My family plants a garden every summer. We live in a city and don’t have lots of room. Since our house is more than 100 years old, we created small raised beds, filled with compost and soil, to avoid growing veggies in what is potentially contaminated soil.
Although my husband and I have gardened together for years, when our twins were younger, we developed a haphazard technique. Before twins, we might have studied companion plants, figuring out what would grow best and where, but all that disappeared after two babies came on scene. Since then, every year, right around their birthday on June 1, we’d throw a planting party with some friends. First, we had the birthday ice cream cake and, then, we’d dig together. Within an hour, the entire garden was planted.
Sometimes, a retired history professor was in charge of bean planting. Our actor friend, who also worked as a mother’s helper for us when the kids were small, was in charge of squash. It was sometimes a surprise to see what the garden produced. We left it all to chance – what grows and what fails would be a surprise.
This year, no parties, of course. With two kids home from elementary school in mid-March, we started seeding. We planted lettuce, radish and spinach outdoors. We followed the advice of Winnipeg’s mayor, who suggested people “plant an extra row” for the food bank, as so many are out of work. We planted sprouting potato peelings as one of our home-school science projects, and filled every extra pot with potato plants.
In the Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat, starting page 84b, the rabbis discuss how to plant a garden. What is an acceptable plan for a garden bed, which avoids the prohibition of sowing diverse kinds of seeds together, they ask? The rabbis engage in a level of landscaping planning that my gardens have never seen. In the Vilna edition, there are even illustrations and sketches provided.
This year in our garden, for the first time in awhile, we know where everything is and who planted what. I don’t have to call any of our friends to find out which variety of squash seeds they used and if they will be close enough to the others to pollinate properly!
What struck me though was that, unlike past years, we had time to spread out and enjoy the gardening experience. Yes, we’ve had virtual meetings for school and work, but the summer unfurls before us with practically nothing on the calendar – no traveling, no festivals, no big obligations. We’re still waiting to hear, but suspect there will be no summer camp or swim lessons at the lake either. Staying home is where it’s at.
Long, unplanned stretches of weekend time and summer evenings spool out ahead. We can stream services or watch a Jewish music concert from home, play on the porch or water the garden. True, we may not be able to travel to see grandparents or have big Shabbat dinners. We do miss our friends and family. However, we’ll have leisurely morning dog walks to explore new places and greet neighbours, long afternoons to help our kids learn to bike, fly kites, or just scooter up and down the block.
This scary coronavirus is stressful, don’t get me wrong. We’ve already felt its serious effects on relatives in New York and New Jersey. It continues to affect us in many ways and, even if summer’s a reprieve, the danger hasn’t passed. Yet, in the virus’s shadow, we’ve been offered a moment to adjust and experience an entirely different pace, and it’s a surprising gift on its own.
Yes, our garden is more orderly this year than it has been in at least 10 years, but it’s nothing as tidy or thoughtful as the rabbis’ landscaping guides. I suspect, if the rabbis were to see our garden beds, they would be upset. We squish way too many varieties of tomatoes, beans, peas, lettuces, cucumbers, herbs and more into these small spaces.
At the same time, our pandemic-enforced break may offer us the chance for longer conversations, more time off to enjoy family and Shabbat, and more learning, too. I can’t pretend the rabbis’ advice made us plant more tidy rows of beans, carrots or nasturtiums, but the pandemic likely gave me the time and space to read their advice, and actually think about it.
We’ve eaten two salads full of microgreens and herbs, straight from the garden, and I got to share with you what I’ve learned about 1,500-year-old planting advice. That’s not a bad start to the season. It’s also a reminder: get out in the sunshine! (With sunscreen and social distancing, of course.) Summer lies ahead – with newfound time to enjoy it.
Joanne Seiffhas written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
Several years ago, Chabad Richmond launched the Light of Shabbat program with the purpose of helping Richmond Jewish seniors celebrate Shabbat and feel connected. At first, the program involved making and delivering a free, homemade, kosher kugel and challah to six or seven Jewish seniors in the community every other week. As the program has grown, more people are receiving Shabbat meals, which now include soup, salad, a main dish, vegetables, dessert, Shabbat candles and grape juice.
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Light of Shabbat has expanded, and now approximately 140 meals are delivered every week to people in Richmond and beyond – an increase of more than 80%. And that number continues to grow. Now, not only seniors, but younger individuals, families and those in need can receive a Light of Shabbat meal weekly. Chabad Richmond hopes to expand the program even more.
A program like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. More than 44 Light of Shabbat volunteers do everything from shopping, to food preparation, cooking, baking, packing and delivering the meals. Every volunteer plays an integral role.
Reaching out to help those in need is a core Jewish value. As we all know, the pandemic has resulted in people self-isolating, and many have little or no access to stores. Some have difficulty cooking, and others are simply feeling the desperation of social disconnection.
Supported through individual donations and foundation funding, Chabad Richmond’s year-round partner for the Light of Shabbat program is the Kehila Society. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver has stepped forward and been supportive. In addition, Chabad Richmond has received donations of goods from Urist Cosmetics (hand sanitizer) and Real Canadian Superstore, Dan-D-Pak (food items), and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous provided facemasks.
Several of the Light of Shabbat volunteers were recently interviewed. When asked about their personal experiences volunteering, many said they deliver the Shabbat meals. The volunteers deliver not only to seniors (some of whom have mobility issues), but also to people who have lost their jobs, people struggling with physical and mental health issues, and those who are grieving alone. As one volunteer said: “You just don’t know what people are going through right now.”
Several volunteers have gotten to know Light of Shabbat recipients quite well, have become part of their lives and have forged strong connections with them. A number of volunteers say they feel like a lifeline for the people they deliver to.
One volunteer started doing deliveries with his son before his son’s bar mitzvah a few years ago. Acknowledging that his own family is fortunate, he said: “It’s a way to show my son the importance of helping others, and expose him to a wide range of experiences.”
Every volunteer’s experience is different, but they all have one thing in common: they all enjoy volunteering and feel that they benefit as much if not more than those receiving the meals. “The socially distanced shmoozing and forming of new friendships is important to the people we deliver to,” said volunteer Jill Topp. “And to me, too.”
While the Light of Shabbat program is primarily for the Jewish community, volunteer Topp said that she delivers a weekly meal to a local Muslim family. The head of the family told her: “I don’t know what we would do without you.”
As for what motivates the volunteers, giving back to the community is key. One volunteer, who chose to remain anonymous, said she treasures celebrating Shabbat with her own family, and wants others to have that experience too, even if it’s only to eat a Shabbat meal.
Volunteer Michelle Zychlinski said, “Not only do the recipients appreciate the meal, but they really appreciate the social interaction,” even if it’s from a safe distance of two metres. “So, if I can help in some way, I’m happy to.”
Volunteer Yael Segal said, “I feel it’s my responsibility, as a part of this Jewish community, to help others. It’s my honour and privilege to do it.”
Yet another volunteer, Shannon Gorski, said she gets back tenfold what she puts into it and volunteer John Samuel said, “It’s so important that people have community support. They deserve to have a kosher meal on Shabbat and to feel connected.” Another volunteer said that this opportunity has “enlarged my life,” and she wants to do more.
The connections made between volunteers and recipients will likely last beyond the COVID-19 crisis, with quite a few volunteers saying that they definitely plan to visit with their newfound friends after it’s all over.
Segal said she rekindled an old friendship when she delivered the Shabbat meal to someone she hadn’t seen in years. “One of the Russian families I deliver to recognized me from when I first immigrated to Canada as a small child. I built a rapport with them and have a little visit each week. They really look forward to the visit and the Shabbat meal. Some of the people feel very isolated.”
In the end, it’s all about building relationships with members of the community. As one interviewee put it, “It’s so important for people in the community to know that they are not forgotten about. And it’s good to know that I’m making a difference. The Light of Shabbat program is a great means to connect with secular members of the community, too, and demonstrate that Chabad cares about them.”
Topp added, “I encourage anybody to volunteer – it’s a great thing for everyone involved.”
If you know someone who could benefit from the Light of Shabbat program, contact Chabad Richmond at 604-277-6427. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer with the program, go to chabadrichmond.com/lightofshabbat.
While B.C. residents have been given the go-ahead for local travel, there are still safety restrictions in place, so plan accordingly. (photo by Colin Keigher/en.wikipedia)
What a year so far. For many of us, a driving tour of the Fraser Valley or a trip to a Gulf Island would seem exotic compared to the last months of confinement at home. Which is good, because, while many restrictions are still in place to limit the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, provincial parks are now open for day and overnight use and residents have been given the go-ahead for local travel. The B.C. government is expected to further expand travel options this month, when it launches Phase 3 of its province-wide Restart Plan.
For now, health experts are urging the public to pick vacation destinations that are close to home. There are limitations to cross-border travel, including to Alberta, and travelers might need to self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to the province. As well, people are strongly urged at this time not to travel outside of the country, even if it is a day trip to the United States.
When planning your vacation, be aware that some of the businesses that closed when the economic shutdown was announced may not reopen this summer. Also, B.C. destinations outside of Metro Vancouver won’t have kosher restaurants nearby, so those who rely on kosher restaurants when traveling will want to factor that into their planning. Many travelers who keep kosher get around this problem by stocking ahead and preparing meals in the hotel room, campsite or RV.
Travel restrictions may be easing, but social distancing – staying at least two metres or 6.5 feet apart from others – is still in force and probably will remain a standard for the rest of the summer. A limit of 50 people per gathering is required and travelers are being encouraged to continue to “stay within their bubble” of close family or friends at this time.
Automobile and RV travel provide the greatest opportunities for maintaining a social distance. Air and rail travel have additional restrictions attached – passengers not only are expected to maintain the appropriate distance, but to carry a mask for each person on board, and you may be expected to wear it for the duration of the trip.
Cruise ships are not expected to be back in service until Oct. 31, but B.C. Ferries are running limited sailings and at 50% capacity, so book ahead when possible and arrive early.
Air travel in particular comes with an added risk of exposure, since airplanes aren’t generally designed to accommodate social distancing. However, all public carriers have implemented additional cleaning procedures to reduce the risk of passengers’ exposure to the virus.
There are a number of steps that travelers can take to reduce their risks of getting COVID-19 and to make this year’s vacation all the more comfortable.
Determine your risk before you go. Seniors and individuals with underlying health issues have a higher risk of complications if exposed to COVID-19. If you, your traveling companions or the people you regularly live with would be considered high risk, consult your doctor first, or consider staying home this summer.
Don’t leave home without reservations in place. Pre-plan your trip and find out ahead of time what destinations are open and which aren’t.s
If you plan to stay in a hotel or motel, pick accommodations that can allow for proper social distancing. Popular destinations and attractions that are known to be crowded or sold out during the summer months may be a better choice for next year.
If you’re camping or staying in an RV, choose parks that have the spacing to allow for social distancing. Don’t be afraid to call the park and ask about its amenities, including the distance between campsites. Some parks are already staggering their reservations to allow for more spacing. B.C. Parks, which began opening its campgrounds last week, announced that it will open campsites with social distancing in mind. That means, as well, that reservations are highly recommended.
Plan your meals and stock up. This will reduce your dependence on stores and restaurants, which may be crowded this summer, especially in smaller towns or at roadside stops.
Bring cleaning supplies. We’ve spent months sanitizing and polishing our own counter tops to stay COVID-19-free. Don’t forget to carry on the practice while you are traveling.
Carry a generous amount of patience with you. It’s been a tough spring for everyone and summer is finally upon us. Be kind and enjoy your trip!
Jan Lee’s articles and blog posts have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism, Times of Israel, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.