After the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, many Jews were quick to celebrate that Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff is Jewish. Indeed, it is a win given the sharp rise in antisemitic expression and white supremacy we’ve seen in the United States, and which is bleeding over into Canada.
Jews often celebrate when someone like us makes it into a position of some influence. This time, it isn’t any particular achievement of Emhoff’s but, rather, his proximity to someone powerful.
Harris represents so many firsts: the first woman, the first person of South Asian and of Black heritage, and the first person married to a Jew to reach the vice-presidency. Her family is a positive representation of the dream of the United States, where anyone can become anything and where, crucially, diversity is a strength.
In open and free democracies, intermarriage is inevitable. If we are to live and work alongside each other, we will fall in love with each other. This isn’t a bad thing. Given how many people seem to hate Jews, it is nice that some people actually love us. I realize intermarriage is a perceived threat to Judaism; fears of assimilation are very real. And yet, Emhoff is proudly Jewish. His identity is not threatened by the multiple identities of his partner – they celebrate the many elements of who they are and where they come from.
Since the election, there have been many pieces published about how nice it is to see one’s intermarried family represented in the White House. Jewish communities have spent the past several decades trying to stop intermarriage. These efforts have failed and have even driven some Jews and their loved ones away from Judaism.
If we care about Jews and Judaism, including challenging the multiple threats we face, this kind of infighting really needs to stop. It’s time we embrace our pluralistic and diverse families, celebrate all those who wish to be and do Jewish, and recognize that there is so much in Judaism that is beautiful and meaningful, joys that can be experienced by all who are part of the wide web of Jewish families.
Rabbi Denise Handlarskilives in Toronto. She is the author of The A-Z of Intermarriage, published by New Jewish Press, and the leader of the online community Secular Synagogue.
Rivka Campbell, a co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada, speaks at a school event. (photo from JOCC)
The spirit of openness and inclusion that many Jewish organizations express in their literature and social media posts is frequently not felt by Jews of colour, according to several members of the community.
Jews of colour, who are said to represent about 12% of the overall Jewish community, constitute a broad spectrum of people, including those of African, Middle Eastern, East Indian, Asian, Indigenous and Latin American descent, yet they are vastly underrepresented in congregation attendance, on organizational boards and throughout the community as a whole.
Rivka Campbell, a co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada (JOCC), says the unwelcoming feeling happens immediately upon entering a Jewish institution. She refers to it as the “question or questions” that are asked: Do you know this is a synagogue? What made you decide to visit? When did you convert?
“These are not the sorts of questions that most Jews who attend a synagogue or other places associated with Judaism have to answer, and it is really none of anybody’s business,” Campbell told the Independent.
In a recent Jews of colour webinar run by Moishe House Montreal, participants relayed numerous negative and often disturbing experiences, some of which caused them to distance themselves from Jewish circles.
“I have withdrawn from synagogue life and gone into online mode,” Deryck Glodon, Campbell’s JOCC co-founder, stated. “I don’t want to be in a position where people make you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. People don’t know that Jewish diversity exists.”
Another participant mentioned a rabbi who once told him to choose between being black and being Jewish. Yet another recalled several untoward remarks made in Jewish settings about Filipino people, which happened to be part of this person’s heritage.
“It’s driving many Jews of colour away from any involvement within the broader community,” noted Campbell, who is executive director for Beit Rayim, a Conservative synagogue and school in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Campbell, the sole Canadian recipient of the Union of Reform Judaism’s JewV’Nation inaugural fellowship – a leadership development program – has had numerous encounters with misconceptions. She is often asked if she is Ethiopian. Once, at a Kiddush, she had to explain to someone that being a person of colour does not correspond to a fondness for fried foods.
A noticeable thread during the Moishe House webinar was the wide disparity between the progressive causes supported by Jewish leaders and the experiences of people of colour within the community.
Many Jews of colour feel that, despite some good intentions by Jewish organizations, there are always those moments when they have to prove who they are, when they just want to be, Campbell explained. The hope, she said, is that, one day, Jews of colour won’t have to spell out what Jewish diversity is.
“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s solidarity with Dr. Martin Luther King happened 55 years ago – we need to do something now and not rest on our progressive laurels,” she said. “Nor should we forget that Rabbi Heschel was not universally praised from within the Jewish establishment for his civil rights stand.”
As for what clergy and lay leaders can do, Campbell pointed to the resources found on Union of Reform Judaism website regarding diversity, equity and inclusion for all members of the community.
For the broader community, she said, “It is not a big deal to be welcoming. Treat me the same as anyone else. You have to see me as a Jew first. ‘Shabbat Shalom’ should flow off the tongue as easily with me as anyone else.”
She continued, “Our diversity as Jews of colour adds to the diversity of Judaism. This can be turned into a very positive thing.”
On this hopeful note, in 2017, Campbell started work on a documentary that shares several stories of people from various backgrounds within the Jewish community and is designed to show the richness therein. Its objective is “to discuss how we are starting to embrace our differences and how we can do a better job of celebrating our diversity.”
Campbell’s first involvement with Jews of colour groups began at the time social media was gaining momentum. After locating ones on Facebook, she found their focus to be American-centric. In 2012, she started her own Facebook group, A Minority Within a Minority: Jews of Colour, a Canadian-focused group.
The need to move beyond Facebook ensued and, together with Glodon, she started a website and reached out to “people in the real world to have gatherings and lunches.”
“The aim was to have an in-person connection, to do things like teaching, research and advocacy,” said Campbell. The group was incorporated as a nonprofit and, at some point, she would like it to be a charitable organization.
JOCC hopes to expand its presence outside of Ontario and Quebec, and would like to have more exposure in British Columbia. Campbell spoke at Beth Tikvah
For more information about Jews of Colour Canada, visit jewsofcolour.ca or their Facebook page, facebook.com/joc.canada.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
It’s been almost two months since we launched our open letter on June 30 and so much has happened since then!
We have received hundreds of signatures of support from the Jewish community across Canada and several Canadian organizations, congregations and initiatives have written public statements outlining their commitment to our pillars. We have published these statements on our website and you can view them at nosilenceonrace.ca/statements. We’ve also received some coverage in Jewish publications across the country. We have made them available on our website as well. Although our set date of July 29 has passed, we are still accepting signatures and statements.
We have had conversations with leaders in our community and we know that many organizations are committed to action and to change. The work of creating inclusive, anti-racist and equitable Jewish spaces is a daily pursuit and we are encouraged to see the way our community has embraced our letter and the need for action and accountability.
Many of you have expressed interest in learning more about our pillars. Our team has launched a resource page (nosilenceonrace.ca/resources) on our website dedicated to furthering the conversation on each of our pillars and on how our community can collectively enact meaningful systematic change. We have also included equity consultants on this page that organizations can connect with directly to begin and continue this work.
Thank you to all of you who have reached out to us directly expressing your support and desire to get involved with our team and our work. We will be reaching out to you all soon. If you are reading this and would like to get involved with us, we’d love to hear from you! Please fill out our Get Involved page (nosilenceonrace.ca/get-involved) on our website to join us as we continue our work and create opportunities to connect with the community, grow our platform and take action.
We look forward to a time where we can create an in-person event and come together as a community. Until then, we encourage everyone to keep the conversation alive with your family, friends, communities and workplaces.
– Sara Yacobi-Harris, Akilah Allen-Silverstein and
Daisy Moriyama, co-founders, No Silence on Race
Akilah Allen-Silverstein, a co-founder, with Sara Yacobi-Harris and Daisy Moriyama, of No Silence on Race. (photo from NSR)
Amid a global reckoning around race, a group of Canadian Jews of colour is calling on the community to advance inclusivity and racial equity in Jewish spaces. And rather than generalized good wishes for more equality, No Silence on Race has created nine pillars to guide community organizations through a comprehensive process.
The group emerged at the end of June, when founder Sara Yacobi-Harris and co-founders Akilah Allen-Silverstein and Daisy Moriyama released a letter to the community introducing their work and their nine pillars.
“We are Black Jews and non-Black Jews of colour,” the letter said. “We are Jewish community board members, educators and leaders. We write from a place of love for our Jewish identities and community, while also grappling with the cultural erasure, exclusion and structural racism that we experience in Jewish spaces. Nevertheless, we are compelled to be in Jewish community because it is who we are.”
They began by sending the letter to agency leaders and posting it on Jewish social media and discussion platforms. Organizations circulated it further and began to request meetings.
“We are working to make a change in the culture, recognizing that the Jewish community is multifaceted in identity and making sure there is an awareness and an education around the diversity of the Jewish community,” Allen-Silverstein told the Independent in a recent interview.
In addition to asking individuals and organizations to sign their open letter, the group is asking community agencies to issue statements of their own and commit to the nine pillars.
The nine pillars guide agencies through developing allyship and educational approaches around race, as well as relationship-building. They move from more general approaches to applied processes such as hiring an equity consultant and developing inclusive employment and recruitment policies; creating leadership strategies for Jews of colour in the organization and amplifying their voices. The process is anticipated to evolve over three- to five-year periods. The entire text is easily accessible online at nosilenceonrace.ca.
“We are asking every organization to make a public statement, but, within this public statement, it’s not just about solidarity or signaling that you’re with us or you feel the same,” said Allen-Silverstein. “Our pillars are intentional in that the first three are ‘free’ and we’re very cognizant that it’s COVID right now and a lot of these organizations are just working to keep the lights on. But the first three pillars –allyship and education and relationship-building – these are things that will mostly be individual work. The organization can help facilitate by sending out reading lists, book lists, articles to give people the context, because, if you just run ahead and skip to steps four, five, six, you’re trying to create proposals or rules and guidelines without the context of the education to understand where the issues are, what people of colour have faced for years and their experiences within the Jewish community, and we are not going to be putting together any policies that actually make sense or help.”
No Silence on Race is cautious to express that, in employment and recruitment, the group wants to avoid tokenizing. “Tangible efforts could include mentorship programs for Jews of colour to be groomed for leadership positions,” she said. “We realize that takes time but that should just be done intentionally.”
Working to amplify the voices of Jews of colour, Allen-Silverstein added, means not just expecting Jews of colour to come and share what “for some of us can be very painful and exhausting, to do this for free constantly.”
Allen-Silverstein, a financial planner, is the daughter of an Ashkenazi father from London, Ont., and a mother from St. Kitts in the Caribbean. Jews of colour, she said, can come from intermarriage, but the broad category also includes Sephardim, Mizrahim, Ethiopians “and others who have always been Jews of colour,” she said.
Acknowledging and condemning antisemitic remarks and actions that have come from some prominent African-American athletes, artists and religious figures, as well as some incidents within the Black Lives Matter movement, Allen-Silverstein said the incidents speak to a communication problem.
“It just shows the breakdown between both communities,” she said. “I think, if you look historically, the similarities and the oppression that both communities have faced, we should be allies more than any other two groups. It’s sad. All we can do is honestly be that person who tries to explain it to both sides and that generally happens.”
Amid the hundreds of chapters of the Black Lives Matters movement, she acknowledged, there are some who have expressed extreme ideas. Allen-Silverstein sees two approaches in response.
“Sometimes, it’s noise and we really have to ignore that. One person speaking out and saying something stupid doesn’t mean that everybody else feels that way, and I think we need to be careful not to do that,” she said. The other step is to get to the root of the matter – “Let’s figure out where they’re getting this terrible message,” she said.
There has been forward movement in the fight for racial equality, as well as some backsliding, over many decades. Like others working for racial justice, Allen-Silverstein looks at the current moment with cautious optimism.
“It is inspiring that people are really listening and seem really genuinely interested to move forward, to acknowledge past things that have been done, whether it’s unconscious or consciously as well,” she said, adding that there appear to be more people engaging in the issue. “We are seeing, too, many things that make it very obvious that there was an element of people within the community who just considered these issues not theirs and not something they needed to participate in. That, for us, wasn’t acceptable as people who obviously walk both lines, being both members of that community and the Jewish community.”
Bill 21, Quebec’s law that forbids most public employees from displaying any religious symbols like a turban, a Magen David or a hijab, may become an issue in the federal election. On CBC Radio’s political program The House last weekend, MPs representing the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties all took effectively the same position: the law is discriminatory but provinces have the right to proclaim their own laws and, what’s more, the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause means Quebec can pretty much do whatever it wants.
There is a political calculation in all this, of course. Many Quebeckers support this law and any federal party needs to appeal to a chunk of these voters in order to succeed in the province during next month’s vote. As a result, party leaders are mostly making the right noises about this discriminatory law, while hoping to move on to the next topic ASAP.
With federal leaders basically throwing up their hands on the issue, which calls into question the most fundamental rights of Canadians of all religions, what can be done?
One individual interviewed on the program is a teacher who is Sikh. Her choice was to move from Quebec to British Columbia, where she could continue her chosen profession without diminishing her religious beliefs, which include wearing a turban.
If federal leaders will not act forcefully, perhaps leaders in the provinces outside Quebec can do something. Throughout history, Canada has been enriched by refugees and immigrants who sought freedom and opportunity – our gains roughly equating the loss to their places of origin. Why not apply the same principle to inter-provincial relations?
Perhaps provinces like British Columbia should roll out the welcome mat for teachers, school administrators, wildlife officers, Crown prosecutors and other civil servants from Quebec who no longer feel welcome there. Actively recruiting these experienced professional people of different cultures and religions would strengthen our communities and send a message to Quebec that cultural difference is an asset, not a liability.
In the absence of forceful federal leadership on this front, it would be encouraging to see provincial governments stepping up where they can.
As a teenager in the United States, I was in a public high school marching band. My parents worked to make sure our family was together for an early Friday night Shabbat dinner, even when football games were on Friday night. We did a careful balancing act of observance and negotiation. I wanted to play in the jazz ensemble – and I did – but, in order to do that, I also had to commit to marching band. Sometimes, during the High Holidays, it was a precarious compromise.
One week, there was a Friday night without a football game. My parents planned to have a “normal” Shabbat dinner and attend services as a family. My band director had us all in a line formation on the field. He asked if we could substitute a practice during that time. He said, if you had a conflict, to step out of line and explain.
In front of the whole marching band, I had to step out of line. I spoke as loudly as I could (just short of shouting) so that the director and his assistants could hear me in the stands. I said my parents expected me at Friday night dinner at home, and to attend services. I needed to go. This was a religious obligation I’d been skipping for band. In true teenage bluntness, I noted that he wasn’t proposing an alternate rehearsal on Sunday morning instead, was he?
There was silence, and the band director nodded and said, “Right, no rehearsal Friday night.” While I recovered, shaking, I was set upon by other band members. A couple of non-Jewish friends supported me and mentioned how brave I’d been. To my surprise, the few other Jewish members – all slightly less observant than my family – weren’t so kind. They were angry at me for being “too Jewish” and drawing attention to them, too.
This experience came to mind when I read the news last month. The Canadian federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21 and this date conflicts with Shemini Atzeret. An Orthodox Jewish candidate in Ontario, Chani Aryeh-Bain, and another Orthodox activist, Ira Walfish, brought up this concern a year ago – in August 2018. It was ignored.
The advance polling dates are also problematic because they fall on Shabbat and Sukkot. Yes, there are ways for observant Jews to vote, despite these scheduling conflicts. However, this schedule interferes with the Orthodox candidate’s ability to campaign, as well as affecting her entire community in Toronto’s Eglinton-Lawrence riding.
Shemini Atzeret is not a big deal observance for many of us, and one news article demonstrates this by proclaiming it is the “Orthodox” Jewish community that has an issue. However, I was first struck by this candidate’s bravery in confronting this issue. That admiration was reinforced by the thousands of comments at the bottom of the article.
Some would say these comments are downright antisemitic, but I saw the majority of them as ignorant. There were many who derided religion, commented specifically on Judaism, and even one believing Christian who bemoaned how Canada had become a heathen country. (Say what?!)
In some ways, we are lucky in Canada. Our children can go to public or private schools in which they can experience Jewish community, culture and religious practices. We can relish the rich diversity of our particular community, as well as maintain our citizenship on equal footing with other Canadians. However, this opportunity to isolate ourselves comes at a cost.
When we separate ourselves, we lose the opportunity for everyday interactions with non-Jewish Canadians. The informal education that comes from attending school, sports, work and social activities with all kinds of people is invaluable. While I found it a burden to be the token Jew in my school classroom, it gave me a great chance to educate myself and explain our holidays and our traditions. Most of my classmates and bandmates knew about Judaism because they knew me.
Many get upset about ignorance or intolerance. That’s understandable, but I was taught that basic education makes a big difference. When a church or organization asked for someone to speak about Passover or Chanukah or Jewish practice, my family stepped up. I was the kid explaining the seder to the Methodists, or the sole Jewish teenager who invited all her friends to Shabbat dinner each week. My parents had an open door policy and a lot of extra dessert for whomever came over on a Friday night.
We’re lucky to live in a country that celebrates diversity. However, we should offer educational outreach whenever it’s helpful, so that we can live in peace with our neighbours. We can explain why there are obstacles to voting or campaigning in the middle of the fall holiday season, and why this is an issue. Also, instead of forcing some of us to feel uncomfortable and “too Jewish,” we can embrace each other as “Am Echad,” “One People.”
Even though the election date will not change, the situation is a learning moment for us as Jews and Canadians.
Reggae may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I end this as I began it, with music. If we’re truly one people, with “one love, one heart,’” we should love all of our Jewish community. We stand up for what we need both to practise Judaism and our voting rights, as each of us sees fit. In Bob Marley’s religious (but not Jewish) words, “Let’s get together, and feel all right.”
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. See more about her at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
The deed is finally done. For years, Quebec politicians have been talking about secularism, or laïcité, proposing a range of actions to ban the presence of visible religious symbols among government employees. On Sunday, following a weekend of almost round-the-clock debate, the Coalition Avenir Québec majority in the National Assembly passed Bill 21. The law bans symbols such as the crucifix, turban, hijab and kippah for provincial employees in positions of authority, such as judges, police, prosecutors, court clerks and schoolteachers.
The bill was met with lamentations and anger from the opposition. Catherine Dorion, a member of the National Assembly representing the left-wing party Québec solidaire spoke powerfully in favour of individual liberty and the right to exhibit religious identity.
“Each person in this room who will vote for Bill 21 will bear the responsibility for this first great breach in the dike we had proudly erected to protect the fundamental rights of all Quebecers,” she said.
The vote came a day after a similarly contentious debate on another bill, which addresses the province’s agreement with the federal government over immigration to Quebec. On the one hand, the bill aims to ensure that immigration reflects the province’s labour requirements, which is justifiable. On the other hand, the bill also permits the creation of a “values test” that new Quebecers would have to pass before admission to permanent residency. A test of this nature is one thing in theory – extreme examples like female genital mutilation are raised as justifications – but it is something else in practice.
Government measures to adjudicate an individual’s beliefs is a recipe for disaster. Certainly we would like to see people with hateful or violent attitudes toward particular cultural groups prevented from entering the country, or rehabilitated if they are already here. There are programs and policies in Canada to address this problem and they should be strengthened. But applying what amounts to a form of prior restraint on the ideas and beliefs of new Canadians by a government with limited respect for civil liberties crosses a perilous line.
The religious symbols law parallels the immigration law in its flouting of civil liberties, but diverges importantly in a number of ways. It applies to people who are already Canadian (for the most part, at least), which is a more grievous affront than putting up barriers for non-citizens.
In responding to criticism, Quebec Premier François Legault declared: “Someone once said, beware of those who say they like the people but do not listen to what the people want.”
This language reflects a populism we have seen in Europe as well as North America, but which has been thankfully rare in this country. The idea that governments should do whatever “the people” want invites a tyranny of the majority that is almost destined to trample on individual rights, especially the rights of members of minority communities. It bears stating that, in Quebec, in order to deliver the will of the people, the assembly had to clip the wings of democracy not once but twice, invoking closure on debate on both bills and, in the case of Bill 21, promising to use the Canadian Constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to override what even the government of Quebec acknowledges is a unconstitutional infringement on individual rights.
We are seeing flare-ups elsewhere in Canada of how some of “the people” would like to see public policy progress. On the same busy weekend, a rally in downtown Vancouver against transgender rights and opposing the province’s progressive sexual education agenda turned nasty (if the mission of the event wasn’t nasty enough) when counter-protesters showed up to confront them. At the rally were the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right group, people wearing yellow vests, the symbol of an amorphous movement that began in France and has attracted extremists, and at least one leading member of the People’s Party of Canada, a new populist party that seems determined to stoke a range of fears and prejudices in the lead-up to the federal election this fall.
Violence also erupted last weekend at a pride parade in Hamilton, Ont., when protesters showed up at the celebration. A local politician laid blame for the violence, which included punching and choking, on “far-right evangelicals” who he said were “just there to sucker-punch people.”
All of this is to say that Canada is not immune to extremism or even politically motivated violence. There is, of course, an important line between the violence in Hamilton and the laws that were rammed through Quebec’s legislature. Violence deserves universal condemnation while passionate disagreements over politics – even laws we see as repressive and excessive – are justifiable and welcome. Still, these incidents all reflect different approaches to “othering” – the idea that “we” are under threat from “them.”
What is encouraging is hearing the voices of those forced to defend the values of inclusion and respect for diversity. There was eloquence on the opposition side of Quebec’s National Assembly last weekend and, in response to the altercations in Hamilton and Vancouver, admirable recommitment by many to the values that we genuinely hope will represent the Canada we hope to create. This is also a reminder to speak up, so that when politicians say they are doing what “the people” want, what they mean is the will of people who pursue inclusion, acceptance and diversity.
Today’s world requires camp to adapt to an unprecedented
pace of change. Through innovation and building “adaptive capacity,” the
Foundation for Jewish Camp, which works with more than 180 Jewish summer camps,
will be better suited to help Jewish camps evolve and ensure long-term,
Adaptive capacity, as defined by Ronald Heifetz
– co-founder of Cambridge Leadership Associates and author of numerous books –
is “the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive.”
It requires the ability to be reflective; to be open and curious to changes in
the environment; to use data and evaluation to determine the best path forward;
to innovate where new approaches are required; to work collaboratively and
leverage diverse experiences and perspectives; and to successfully lead
FJC is challenging what it means to be a Jewish
camp. This evolution has resulted in significant shifts in how FJC thinks about
the field and its work. “Camp” is now framed as a year-round continuum of
immersive, meaningful experiences beginning at the earliest ages and continuing
through the teen years, college, and into adulthood and family life, delivered
through day camps, overnight camps, family camps and year-round offerings.
Looking ahead, FJC has identified three
strategic priorities for the field that include investments in new initiatives
and in existing areas of proven impact: develop adaptive talent, deepen
immersive learning and drive field growth. These priorities are designed to
amplify one another, and the success in any one area is co-dependent on success
in the others.
1. Adaptive talent
Talent development is critical to grow and
enhance the field of Jewish camp. FJC has long invested in field professionals.
As Jewish camp evolves, FJC must now take an adaptive approach to leadership
development, both professional and lay, that meets the needs of current and
future Jewish leaders.
Counselors are the linchpin of the Jewish camp
experience. These Jewish role models inspire campers to return year after year.
Additionally, when a camper returns as a counselor, the impact of the camping
experience is amplified, as staff internalize the lessons of their own
experience to create similar (or better) ones for their campers. At the same
time, it has become more challenging to recruit and retain counselors due to
competition from internships and parental pressures.
FJC will uncover and create new staffing and
supervision structures that create a learning framework for these future
leaders as well as recognition of the purpose-driven nature of their work. The
new models will seek flexibility in camp schedules and create new modalities of
training staff to enhance college, career and life-readiness skills.
Jewish camps are experiencing ever-increasing
turnover of executive leadership, which is expected to continue over the next
five years. FJC seeks to increase investment in the leadership and talent
pipeline of camps, cultivating new and refreshed opportunities to engage with
and propel Jewish camp and lay leaders at every stage of their development.
These initiatives represent opportunities to retain and accelerate the careers
of outstanding young talent, build crucial networks among the field and provide
high-level, skill-building professional development opportunities. Rather than
focus on one single cohort program or development workshop, FJC will ensure
attention to the entire talent pipeline.
• Increase retention rates by 25% or more over
current benchmark; easier recruitment of seasonal staff.
• Improve quality of leadership that will drive
retention rates and satisfaction scores for campers and staff.
2. Immersive learning
Jewish camps must adapt, expand and evolve in
response to societal changes and the manner in which families belong and engage
Jewishly. FJC is prioritizing initiatives that will bring the “magic” of camp
further into the community by helping camps articulate their Jewish missions,
develop programs and ensure the entire camp community is safe and secure for
both campers and staff.
As participation in traditional Jewish
activities has declined, camp has become a primary immersive and educational
experience for many children. Camp is often the preferred Jewish brand for
these families, where their children feel a profound sense of belonging. With
summer participation in experiential, immersive learning as the anchor, Jewish
camps can and should play a greater role in the community, supplementing the
summer with year-round experiences that ensure campers have opportunities to
connect with peers through Jewish activities and educational experiences. FJC
will invest in year-round programs to maximize the impact of the camp
From FJC’s inception, ensuring that summers at
Jewish camp translate into a robust Jewish future has been central to the
mission. To do so effectively, FJC takes a holistic approach – working closely
with camps and their various stakeholders, giving them a framework to help them
enrich and refresh how they articulate and realize their unique Jewish vision.
Investing in the enrichment of senior camp professionals, as well as attracting
and recruiting talented Jewish educators, will bring this vision to life, and
are critical to a strong Jewish educational program.
• 30% of camps have increased their year-round
• Higher-quality Jewish and Israel learning
opportunities for campers and staff have been put into action.
3. Field growth
Over the past 10 years, camp enrolment has
grown 22% in an era of overall declining participation in the traditional
Jewish institutions. To accelerate this growth, FJC is prioritizing initiatives
that will both increase the pipeline of Jewish campers and ensure accessibility
for campers from all backgrounds. To this end, FJC’s initiatives will focus on
how to attract families with young children by engaging them at an earlier and
highly formative time; continue the work of increasing competitiveness of Jewish
camps through the development of specialty programs; expand access through
financial incentives; and promote full physical, social, educational and
spiritual access for all campers and staff, irrespective of their abilities.
Families are seeking meaningful connection and
community in new ways. Building an earlier entry point to the Jewish camp
experience will increase the number of campers and families making Jewish
summer choices. The focus will include incubating, expanding and strengthening
intentional Jewish day camps and family camps in order to engage children at
the earliest ages along with their families.
FJC’s core growth programs, including One Happy
Camper and new specialty camps and tracks, have driven growth in the field.
Diversity and inclusion, as well as community care, must endure and evolve so
that the Jewish camp field continues to increase enrolment and improve both
retention and camper satisfaction. Continual investment in physical facilities
will also increase overall enrolment and ensure that camp is a welcoming and
safe environment for all.
• Grow the field by 20%, reaching 215,000
annual camp participants.
• Year-over-year increases in family
participation in camp experiences.
• Increase training, application and family
visibility for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Richmond Jewish Day School principal Ronit Amihude with the award-winning children’s book What Do You Do With An Idea? by writer Kobi Yamada and illustrator Mae Besom. (photo by Coleen Lou)
Ronit Amihude is a leader with a vision. The new principal at Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS) has been working in Jewish education since high school and in day school settings for more than two decades. She brings with her a passion for relevant, pluralistic Jewish education, and training in forward-looking pedagogical theory and practice.
Amihude was born in Winnipeg and moved to Toronto in the early 1990s to work at the Heschel School, at the time a small progressive Jewish school with a dream of crafting creative education that involved children in a way that was individualized and relational. Amihude did a little bit of everything in her 18 years there and was able, she told the Jewish Independent, “to see how you can take a small beautiful seed and turn it into a gorgeous garden.”
Amihude got a master’s in education while at Heschel and went through the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Day School Leadership Training Institute, a 15-month program which, according to their website, “prepares new and aspiring heads of school for their work in Jewish day schools by providing engaging experiential learning opportunities, cutting-edge leadership development, ongoing mentoring, and the chance to collaboratively problem-solve with cohort peers.”
While at Heschel, Amihude took on multiple leadership roles. After her tenure there, she was recruited to Atlanta, where she became the principal of learning, teaching and innovation at the Epstein School.
Richmond Jewish Day School began looking for a new principal after Abba Brodt, a beloved educator and administrator who had been with the school since 2010, left in 2017. Amihude had heard about RJDS over the years and felt it had “the same heimish [homey] feeling as Heschel” and was “a beautiful little school community” that believes all Jewish kids deserve a Jewish education and could be helped to get one.
“The feeling I got was that RJDS is a wonderful place where kids are supported and appreciated, where it is not just STEM that is taught, but kindness, perseverance and acceptance,” she said.
Amihude applied for the job last December and, after multiple Skype calls and phone chats, she flew out in February of this year and contracts were signed around Pesach.
When Amihude spoke with the Independent, it was her fifth day on the job and she generously made time in her hectic schedule to talk. Her first impressions of life at RJDS were resoundingly positive.
“It is a really diverse population where that is celebrated,” she said. “It’s a place where children of all levels of observance and non-observance from all over the world – Israel, Russia, Colombia and elsewhere – learn together. Kids who think everybody eats matzah balls on Yom Tov learn there are lots of ways to be Jewish.”
Amihude said a balance between tradition and pluralism is important for her, and the school community is open to different styles of being Jewish. This approach is showcased, in part, by their pluralistic approach to tefillah (prayer), which embraces Orthodox and progressive rituals. “If kids are given a hard line, telling them that only one way is authentic,” said Amihude, “then what message does that give them if that’s not the way of themselves or their family – that they’re not Jewish?”
This fall at RJDS, students took part in the international Kindness Rocks movement, where kids decorate rocks with messages of encouragement and kindness and place them out in the community. The school put a unique spin on this practice by integrating it into the days of teshuvah (repentance/return) between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Amihude said an essential part of her mission at RJDS is giving kids the tools to find their own Jewish selves outside of school and to help their families figure out who they are and what they want to be doing. She wants to see a collaborative space where kids can work together to create, to learn perseverance and problem solve.
“Can the kids build a model sukkah? Can they create a double-decker chanukiyah for parents and kids to light together? There is so much we can be doing with 21st-century skills, while celebrating the Jews that we are and the people that we want to be.”
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.
Alisa Polsky, left, and Leamore Cohen attended the Jewish Federations of Canada-United Israel Appeal’s Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and Jewish Community conference in Toronto April 15-17. (photo by Liora Kogan)
Jewish Federations of Canada-United Israel Appeal’s Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and Jewish Community conference took place in Toronto April 15-17. It was the first national Jewish conference on these topics, and two representatives of the Jewish Commmunity Centre of Greater Vancouver attended.
Leamore Cohen, inclusion services coordinator at the JCCGV, was a panelist in a discussion on vibrant, inclusive communities and recreation. She was joined at the conference by Alisa Polsky, a member of the Bagel Club, a social group for adults with diverse needs.
“The Bagel Club community is very important for social interaction with other people, and to know there are other opportunities for learning and discovery,” Polsky told the Independent. “I got to discover the Vancouver I didn’t know before.
“The club inspires me to try new things that I’d never tried before. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years and it has pushed me out of my shell. I’m grateful for this. I’m grateful for all the opportunities the club has provided, like going to Israel with my friends and this conference.”
Polsky has been an active member of the Vancouver Jewish community for years, with volunteering being a value her parents instilled in her as a child. At the time, the educational system had dubbed her “disabled.”
“When I was going to school, I was just pushed through,” said Polsky. “This was elementary school. I didn’t get the education I deserved. I was put into a special needs class. The education system segregated me away from the regular class. The teachers only wanted to work with the ‘normal’ kids.
“I would have liked more schooling. I deserved more schooling. I deserved to be in the classroom with the ‘normal’ kids. This still hurts. I am glad that things have changed, but it’s not enough. Some kids are still segregated today. We have to work together to change that. If not, more kids will feel like I did, which is not fair or right.”
Last year, on the trip to Israel with the Bagel Club, Polsky got to meet Member of Knesset Ilan Gilon, with whom she spoke about the struggles of people with diverse needs in Canada for proper benefit rates.
“When the Pushing the Boundaries conference came up, Leamore asked if I wanted to go,” said Polsky. “She told me that she was speaking with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver about having someone from our community attend. She said the Federation believed this was very important. It’s important to see how other organizations work with people with all kinds of diverse abilities, and that people with diverse abilities get to be part of the national conversation.”
This was the first conference Polsky had ever attended. She was happy to discover that, while other organizations charge for various activities, including the Pushing the Boundaries conference, the JCCGV and Vancouver Federation take into account the financial barriers many people with diverse needs face, and do not charge for such programs.
“I loved learning more about the youth-led mentoring programs in Israel, Krembo Wings,” said Polsky. “We got to spend time with them when we visited Israel. When I was younger, I never went to programs like that. I did volunteer and helped kids with learning disabilities learn how to swim. Given the chance, I was able to show that we all have something to give. Organizations like Krembo Wings ensure that the next generation will help each other to learn and achieve their potential, no matter who they are.”
Polsky said it is very important to hear from other Jewish groups about what they offer in their communities and what their issues are. In this way, she said, she and others can be stronger self-advocates and more involved in the community.
Maybe most encouraging for Polsky was realizing that she has partners in her goal for equal rights for community participation, and also that Jewish organizations are beginning to work together across Canada to remove barriers.
“I am overcoming these barriers through my membership with the Bagel Club community, with my family, who have been there for me, through volunteering and through my spiritual community,” said Polsky. “I feel it is my time to give back to the community that has given me so much over the years.
“The conference was about the lives of Jewish people with diverse abilities – and they should be at the table. I am proud that I was at the table with Leamore.”
Polsky said there is a lot to be gained from attending gatherings like Pushing the Boundaries. In particular, there is the opportunity to “exchange ideas and share resources,” said Polsky. “It’s also important to understand our history as Jewish people, and as people with diverse needs in this country. I’d like readers to recognize that we’re all partners in making the community better.”
Some conference highlights for Polsky included the synagogue panel on creating inclusive communities and the recreation panel, in which Cohen took part. There were other topics covered, as well.
“As a Jewish woman and a woman with diverse needs, it was hard, but important to learn about the eugenics movement in Canada,” said Polsky. “This movement meant that a woman who had a pregnancy where a child who was mentally or physically challenged would be encouraged to abort the pregnancy. Families were also encouraged to institutionalize their disabled children. And they also forced sterilization.
“We learned about the denationalization movement and the development of community living.
We also learned about integration into schools and housing developments that are currently being built, which are inclusive and accessible, in Ontario.”
Polsky said she is fortunate to be living in a cooperative, and living independently. She noted that some people with diverse needs, who may require semi-independent living, are still segregated in Canada today, due to zoning laws that keep them out of certain neighbourhoods, which she describes as “horrible.”
“Having participated in this conference,” she said, “I can tell other people what I have learned and I can encourage people in my community to vote and to get active in their communities. I can remind politicians how powerful we can be when we work together and that disabilities communities are large and strong, and that we can make a difference in all aspects of community life.”