“I learned about climate marches and I learned about dancing bubbies,” said my niece Fae, 9, when we were discussing Bonnie Sherr Klein’s new children’s book, Beep Beep Bubbie, over FaceTime. Among other things, my niece Charlotte, 7, learned “you can learn to ride a bike at 53 and anything is possible.… And I learned about grandmothers who can shush a crying boy.”
Amid much laughter, including talk about dogs pooping – Bubbie has a dog – and what my nieces recalled of Vancouver from their visit here last year, Beep Beep Bubbie offered more discussion than I had anticipated. But, before I get to that, I have to say, for the record, that my nieces have dancing bubbies in their lives, and bubbies who can shush crying children, so they more related to these aspects of Bubbie’s character than learned from them. With that qualification and butt covering, I continue with the review, starting with the basic story of the book.
It is Shabbat and Kate and her little brother Nate are going to visit their grandmother, who is going to take them to Granville Island to buy apples for Rosh Hashanah. The kids have been told there’ll be a surprise waiting for them at Bubbie’s. That surprise, though – Bubbie’s new scooter – isn’t a happy one initially for Kate, who “already missed the Bubbie she used to have. That Bubbie danced and took them to climate marches.” However, during the afternoon’s adventures, Bubbie’s scooter not only allows her to venture farther from home than she otherwise would have been able to manage, but has other advantages, as well.
After their trip to Granville Island, Kate shares a library book that she’s brought along for the visit. About American educator, activist and suffragist Frances Willard, Kate and Nate find out that Willard “fought for women to have the right to vote. When Frances was 53 years old, she learned to ride a bicycle to show that women could do anything.” A conversation ensues about why Willard wouldn’t have known how to ride a bike. “People were afraid women’s ankles would show under their petticoats,” explains Bubbie. “Can you believe it?”
Well, at my nieces’ house, this part of the book was met with disbelief and more laughter, as Charlotte was keen to show off her ankles, which were hard to see, given the placement of their computer and her being the height of a 7-year-old. But, before things deteriorated into mayhem, Fae said, “I also learned that girls are tough.” And, she “learned another reason why women weren’t treated fairly in the past.”
“And what was that reason?” I asked.
“Because women didn’t ride bikes because their ankles were going to show. And they couldn’t vote, [it was] like they didn’t have an opinion.”
“It’s definitely not fair,” said Charlotte about people thinking that girls showing their ankles was wrong.
All in all, Beep Beep Bubbie elicited much talk and not an insignificant amount of gymnastics. The illustrations by Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal are wonderfully colourful and fun; full of energy and movement. Both Fae and Charlotte gave a resounding “yes” when asked if they liked the pictures.
One the drawings is a two-page spread of Bubbie, Kate and Nate and the park, where they join in the fun of flying kites. One young person is in a wheelchair, and Charlotte asked why Bubbie had chosen a scooter instead. Not knowing the answer, I asked the author. Here is her response: “I chose a motorized scooter over a wheelchair, btw, because it felt more sportif,” wrote Klein in an email, “and I am lucky enough to be able to transfer, which keeps me a bit more mobile.”
I like knowing, but the reasons aren’t important, as far as the story goes. Art is to be interpreted and my nieces and I talked about a lot of ideas, from serious to silly, during our FaceTime book review session.
Published by Tradewind Books, Beep Beep Bubbie can be purchased from pretty much any online bookseller. Enjoy!
Aaron Friedland, creator and host of the podcast Impact in the 21st Century. (photo from Aaron Friedland)
If you’re looking for a new, uplifting podcast to cast away the oppressive weight of pandemic blues, consider Impact in the 21st Century, recently launched by Vancouverite Aaron Friedland. The Vancouver-based founder of the Simbi Foundation, which promotes literacy and education worldwide, felt it was time to give voice to the inspiring things that people are doing.
“There’s a lot of really bad news and horrible things going on and, as a species, we seem to be more interested in those stories,” Friedland told the Independent in a recent interview. “There are lots of podcasts available that celebrate big businesses and a very capitalist ideology. Our goal is to help showcase the amazing, impactful things that many brilliant people are doing and that often go unnoticed, and to mainstream what positive impact really means.”
To date, Friedland has interviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and scientific educator; David Suzuki, an academic, broadcaster and environmentalist; Maryanne Wolf, a Jewish author and Harvard academic researching the brain; Ndileka Mandela, the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela; and Alex Honnold, a rock climber and subject of the movie Free Solo. “It’s so nice to be the one doing the interviewing, and the people I’m speaking with are such brilliant minds with brilliant insights to share,” Friedland said. “I feel deeply privileged to be getting that information firsthand.” The plan is to release a new podcast every two to three weeks.
The Royal Bank of Canada has sponsored Impact in the 21st Century, but Friedland said he’s always looking for more sponsors. “Our goal is to reach a point where we have enough podcast sponsors that, with each episode we release, we can build another Bright Box,” he said. The Bright Boxes, which cost $55,000 per box, are classrooms comprised of shipping containers, refurbished with solar technology and aimed at enhancing learning in overcrowded classrooms in places that have little or no access to electricity.
Friedland’s next podcast will be an interview with Canadian cultural anthropologist Wade Davis. His dream interviewees are Elon Musk and David Attenborough, but he’s biding his time until those happen. “It could be they’re not ready yet,” Friedland quipped. “We look for subjects who have a track record of creating longstanding positive impact, and whose vision and values really align with ours.”
Listeners can stream Impact in the 21st Century anywhere they access their podcasts, or online at simbifoundation.org.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
On Nov. 19, the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria will host a webinar dedicated to Nature Israel (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, SPNI) and the organization’s role in addressing Israel’s environmental challenges.
For more than 60 years, SPNI has been dedicated to protecting and preserving Israel’s natural resources, environment, natural assets and landscape. The work carried out by SPNI now will determine what the land of Israel will look like for generations to come.
The Canadian Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (CSPNI) is a registered charity with the mission to raise awareness of, and funds for, the work of SPNI to protect and preserve Israel. CSPNI is, therefore, lending support to this program, which will be led by Jay Shofet, director of partnerships and development at SPNI.
A Brief History of Israel’s Environmental Movement: A Snapshot of Today’s Sustainability Challenges and Successes will highlight the programs run by SPNI. As well, Shofet will trace the growth of Israel’s environmental movement, from its early-decades focus on a romantic notion of conservation, through its growth and professionalization stage in the 1990s, to its grassroots focus on sustainability in the last decade. Then, he will give a snapshot of where things stand today: how a new ethos of dense, sustainable cities is slowly developing; how land-use planning affects everything; how the push for renewable energy is fighting against entrenched economic interests and old infrastructure; and how Israel’s world-class biodiversity is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation – and what SPNI is doing about it.
Premier John Horgan sent Selina Robinson a message: “A mensch is a good thing, right?”
Robinson, the NDP government’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, is seeking reelection in the riding of Coquitlam-Maillardville. She sees herself as the Jewish maven around the cabinet table.
“I said yes, who called you a mensch?” Robinson recalled. “He just wanted to double-check.”
As she and other New Democrats campaign toward the Oct. 24 provincial election, Robinson and fellow cabinet member George Heyman spoke with the Jewish Independent. (In this issue, we also speak with Jewish candidates and spokespeople for other parties.)
As minister of housing, Robinson takes pride in the development of a major initiative called Homes for B.C.: A 30-Point Plan for Housing Affordability in British Columbia. Her ministry engaged with housing groups, renters, developers, economists, local government officials, planners and other thinkers. Then they convened people in a “World Café,” an engagement exercise in which people from different perspectives sit at a table and must come to agreed-upon recommendations on a topic.
“It was from that that we picked the best ideas and so it really came from all sides of the housing sector rather than pitting them against each other,” she said, acknowledging that she had to convince some to buy into the process because bureaucracy is not always amenable to novel approaches.
She cited two particular areas that she wants to “kvell about.” BC Housing, the agency that develops, manages and administers a range of subsidized housing in the province, is building housing on First Nations land.
“The feds, I don’t think, are building a lot of Indigenous housing and they’re supposed to,” she said. “No other province has stepped up to do that.… You’re a British Columbian and you need housing … if it’s land on reserve, it’s land on reserve – we’ll build housing.”
By providing housing in First Nations communities, it also helps people remain at home, rather than moving to the city, where housing is even more expensive and possibly precarious, she said.
“I’m very proud of that,” Robinson said.
The other point of pride is, Robinson admitted, “a geeky piece of legislation.” When she stepped into the role as the government’s lead on housing availability and affordability, she recognized that there is no data on what kind of housing exists and what’s needed.
“Local governments are responsible for land-use planning and deciding what kind of housing goes where – this is going to be multifamily, this is going to be single-family – but, if you were to ask them, how much do you have, how much more multifamily do you need, they couldn’t tell you, because nobody was collecting the data.”
She brought forward legislation that mandated local governments to do a housing needs assessment every five years to identify whether more housing options are needed for different age groups and types of families.
She also cited the government’s development of social housing, through the allocation of $7 billion over 10 years to build 39,000 units. So far, 25,000 units are either open, in construction or going through the municipal development process.
“My biggest worry is that the Liberals [if they are elected] will cancel all of those that are still in the development stage because they did that in 2001 when they formed government,” she said. “We’re so far behind the eight ball because they did that. I’m not saying it would have fixed everything, but, if there were another 5,000 units of housing out there, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is because there would be another 5,000 units.”
Every Friday, Robinson lights Shabbat candles and then shares a reflection on social media about her week.
“Lighting the Shabbat candles just grounds me in my identity,” she said. “I make myself take 10 minutes on a Friday at sundown to stop and to clear my head and to remind myself why I do the work. It’s not for the pay. It’s not for any of that; it’s not worth it. It’s who I am, what are my values and what’s important to me? What did I hear this week that reminds me of why this work is important?”
Robinson admitted she’s being partisan in saying that she believes NDP values are Jewish values.
“From my perspective, taking care of the world – whether it’s the environment, the people and all that’s within it – is our collective responsibility,” she said, adding with a laugh: “I think all Jews are New Democrats who just don’t know it yet.”
* * *
George Heyman, minister of environment and climate change strategy, is seeking reelection in the riding of Vancouver-Fairview. He is a son of Holocaust refugees, who escaped the Nazis with the help of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who illegally issued visas to about 6,000 Jews, many of whose descendants now live in Vancouver.
In 2019, Heyman took a family trip to Poland, which broadened his awareness of his family’s history and where he met family members he never knew he had. The Independent will run that story in an upcoming issue.
Speaking of his record in government, Heyman expressed pride in bringing in CleanBC, which he calls “a very detailed, independently modeled set of measures to get us to our 2030 target and beyond.”
He also said the government “completely revamped the province’s Environmental Assessment Act, incorporating the principles of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Collaborating with the First Nations Leadership Council, the government adapted the legislation to bring in affected local communities at the beginning of a project, before a proponent spends millions of dollars then has to go back to the drawing board due to local concerns.
“We’ve been investing in clean technology, we’ve approved transit plans that were stalled for years that the mayors of Metro Vancouver thought were critically important,” Heyman added. “We’re going to see the Broadway [SkyTrain] line commence to relieve the tremendous congestion on the Broadway corridor, both on buses and on the roads. And we’ll be working on ultimately being able to work with UBC and the city and the federal government to extend that to UBC.”
The government, he said, updated the Residential Tenancy Act to address tenants who were being threatened with eviction for suspect renovations and that saw people getting notices of rent increases as high as 40% because of loopholes in the act.
“We closed those loopholes, we held rent increases to the cost of living unless there is a legitimate demonstrated need to do renovation and repair and it’s fair to receive some compensation rent to pay for that,” he said.
Like Robinson, Heyman cited the construction of affordable housing, as well as supportive housing, to get homeless people off the street and provide them with services they need. He said the government has created 20,000 childcare spaces in the province “with significant fee reductions for families as we work our way toward a $10-a-day program.” Increased staffing in schools, mandated by a Supreme Court decision during the previous regime, is also an accomplishment, he said, as well as adding more investments in new schools for seismic upgrades, fire safety and heating and ventilation systems.
On the opioid crisis, Heyman acknowledged a surge in deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. “While there is much more to do, we managed to flatten the level of deaths up until COVID hit,” he said.
Also parallel to the pandemic was a realization of “the terrible state of many of our long-term-care homes.”
“We saw that deteriorate under the previous government,” he said. “With COVID, we saw the results of that. We saw people dying because workers were having to go to two or three different care homes, increasing the risk of infection, simply to cobble together a living. We took measures to allow our healthcare workers to work in one institution without suffering the loss of pay and we’re also investing in more beds and more equipment for long-term-care homes.”
New Democrats have been governing in a minority situation with the support of the Green party since 2017. Horgan called the snap election on Sept. 21, facing criticism for breaking fixed election date legislation and going to the polls during a state of emergency.
Rachael Segal is media spokesperson for the BC Liberals. (photo from BC Liberals)
Facing a campaign unlike any other, with shaking hands and kissing babies prohibited by social distancing protocols, all parties needed to reimagine how they would reach voters. Rachael Segal, media spokesperson for the BC Liberals, had to figure out how to get her party’s message to British Columbians.
“We can’t have a media bus, so, as the person responsible for media relations, how I connect with media now is very different than how I would do it in a normal campaign,” she said. “I’d be on the bus, I’d be with the leader.”
Instead, the leader is often driving himself to the modest-sized events that typify the 2020 campaign. Instead of facing a phalanx of TV cameras and radio mics, party leader
Andrew Wilkinson speaks to a pooled camera, with his message then shared among the media consortium. It’s an experience all parties are dealing with. But the leaders, as well as candidates in 87 ridings across the province, still have to communicate their positions.
“Obviously, Andrew still needs to get out there and get his message out there,” said Segal. “We’re making announcements daily, just like we would on a campaign normally, they’re just different.”
Wilkinson, a medical doctor as well as a lawyer, is particularly sensitive to the health risks and safety of his team, Segal said.
Segal, who grew up in Kerrisdale, is the official campaign spokesperson for the party during the election and is second-in-command at party headquarters when in non-campaign mode. As senior director of the party, her role is a loosely defined collection of responsibilities that she describes as “basically whatever hole is there, I try and fix it.”
One of her primary responsibilities is stakeholder relations, which means meeting with particular community groups and connecting them with the leader and other members of the legislature.
“Andrew and I have done Shabbat dinners, we’ve done Rosh Hashanah meals, we’ve done tons of Jewish community events,” Segal said by way of example. She also hosts the party’s podcast and started a young professional women’s group “to try to engage the 30-to-50-year-old women demographic, which is the largest swing demographic in British Columbia.”
Segal came to the role in April 2019. She already had a long resumé in education, politics and media.
She attended Vancouver Talmud Torah elementary and Magee high school and received her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria, where she was the first president of the Jewish student organization when Hillel House opened there. She served as national president of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students before graduating from UVic in 2005. She then went to the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom, for a law degree, followed by a master of laws from Osgoode Hall, in Toronto.
She worked on Parliament Hill for Conservative MPs David Sweet and Scott Reid, as well as Senator Linda Frum, and was a senior policy advisor overseeing corrections and the parole board for then-minister of public safety Steven Blaney.
While studying in Toronto, Segal worked full time as an on-air legal and policy correspondent for Sun News, until that network shut down. She worked in criminal law and then civil litigation for a time but found it not her speed and returned to media, joining Toronto’s Bell Media radio station News Talk 1010. She returned to Vancouver in 2018 and covered as maternity leave replacement for the B.C. regional director of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. She joined the BC Liberal party staff three days after that position ended.
“This election is really about who British Columbians can trust to lead them through economic recovery,” said Segal. “When we think about the ballot question, that’s really what British Columbians are voting on. Who do they trust to lead them through the next stage of this pandemic from an economic perspective? We have an incredible team who are all very experienced. We have former ministers, we have doctors, we have lawyers, we have just a really diverse and interesting team of very smart people.”
Given significant turnover – seven cabinet ministers have opted not to seek reelection – Segal questioned who would be on the frontbenches of a reelected NDP government.
“The question is, what does an NDP cabinet look like in the next government and do they have the bench strength to be the best party to lead this province economically?” she said.
Segal takes seriously her position as one of the few Jewish individuals on the campaign team.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to represent the community within this political sphere and it’s something I take very not lightly,” she said.
Of her job on the campaign and her slightly less hectic role the rest of the time, she added: “My job is pretty different, wild, fun. Every day is a new adventure. It’s pretty great. And we have such an incredible team, so they make it all even better.”
Maayan Kreitzman said the Green party knew it was getting the “full package” when they tapped her as their candidate in the provincial election for the riding of Vancouver-False Creek. There are schisms in the environmental movement between those who see value in direct action protests and those who endorse electoral politics. Kreitzman backs both.
Kreitzman is a leading member of the Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion, a global movement that practises civil disobedience to draw attention to the climate and ecological crisis, she said, based on “a theory of change that learns from many movements in the past that have basically put their bodies in the way of injustice.” She cited as models the U.S. civil rights movement, the Indian independence movement and the suffragists.
The group shut down the Burrard Street Bridge last year and is currently involved, with other groups, in a camp in Burnaby that is physically blocking the construction of the TMX pipeline.
But Kreitzman has harsh words for the environmental movement and its limited impacts.
“The environmental movement over the last 30 years has won some battles but we’re obviously losing the war because the climate and ecological catastrophe continues unabated essentially,” she said.
While she believes in blockades, she also believes in ballots.
“I definitely believe in both,” she said. “I think when the Green party chose me as a candidate they knew that they were getting the full package. They were getting somebody who believes in direct action, who believes in doing things that are illegal when they are ethical and the right thing to do. There are other people in the Green party that believe that, too. [Former federal Green leader] Elizabeth May got arrested on Burnaby Mountain in 2018. I’m certainly not alone in that.”
Beyond the shortcomings of the environmental movement, she excoriated the political system’s status quo.
“It’s utterly failing. It’s not fit for purpose. It has not delivered the systemic changes to our economy that we need to see in order to actually have a sustainable life and future on this planet,” she said.
Above a range of policy topics she champions, Kreitzman wants to create a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice – this parliament of ordinary people selected to reflect demography “would devolve power from elected government to a more representative and radically democratic form of government.”
“Citizens’ assemblies go through a very rigorous and well-facilitated deliberative process where they have access to experts and all the best information and then they are empowered to make either decisions or recommendations, depending how their terms of reference are set up,” she explained. “The citizens’ assemblies are able to make way better, faster and more radical decisions on issues that are totally intractable for elected politicians because elected politicians operate on such short cycles and they have such perverse incentives. It’s very hard and we’ve seen how totally incapable elected politicians around the world are of making the kinds of decisions that we need in order to survive on this planet.”
Kreitzman has been thrown into politics mere days after completion of her PhD in resources, environment and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Her research specialized in sustainable agricultural systems and, more specifically, perennial agriculture.
She was born in Vancouver to a Canadian father and an Israeli-Canadian mother, attended Vancouver Talmud Torah and Eric Hamber high school and was active in Hillel at UBC, as well as in the Graduate Students Society.
She wants to win the election – but winning isn’t everything.
“This race is not just about that,” she said. “It’s also about telling the truth and just giving a platform to a sustainability scientist, a youngish person and somebody who is willing to talk very openly about the failures of our current government systems. Not just our current government and the NDP, but our current government system and their lack of democracy, and the failures of the environmental movement itself, because neither have been effective and so far nothing has really been effective.”
While she is critical of government generally, she has harsh words for the NDP government particularly.
“This government’s record on the environment has been a total loss, it’s a complete failure,” Kreitzman said. “They’ve embraced the oil and gas industry even more than the BC Liberals have and I never thought I would say those words, that the NDP government has actually been worse for climate change and the environment than the BC Liberals have been. It’s shocking, but it’s true.”
She referenced a report from Stand.Earth, which outlines subsidies to fracking and indicates that the oil and gas industry receives four times as much in provincial government subsidies than it produces in royalties to the province.
As the candidate in Vancouver-False Creek, she is sounding the alarm that sea-level rise will make parts of the most densely populated neighbourhoods of Vancouver uninhabitable.
* * *
Kreitzman’s colleague Scott Bernstein is running for the Greens in Vancouver-Kingsway. He sees it as an ideal opportunity to contrast NDP policy with his ideas because he is facing off against Adrian Dix, the minister of health.
Bernstein is director of policy at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, which is based in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University. While he has a graduate degree in environmental studies, his career has shifted to drug policy. He was a junior co-counsel on the landmark 2011 Insite case at the Supreme Court of Canada, which found that the federal government’s failure to grant an exemption allowing users to consume illicit drugs at the Vancouver safe consumption site breached the Charter of Rights because it undermined the “maintenance and promotion of public health and safety.”
He also worked at Pivot Legal Society in the Downtown Eastside and operated a private practice for a time as well, before coming to the drug coalition about three-and-a-half years ago. He has worked for George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, in New York, focusing on drug policy at the UN level and in Africa, and he spent two years with the U.S. Peace Corps in Uzbekistan.
The record-breaking recent months of opioid deaths contrasts, Bernstein said, with the response to COVID.
“There are a lot of structural problems with how the government is dealing with the overdose crisis and it really was highlighted when we had another public health crisis and, all of a sudden, we saw how the government could sort of snap to attention, dedicate funding, have information flow, have protocols and guidelines and resources available to address COVID where, in reality, the overdose crisis is now in the fifth year since it was declared a public health emergency in B.C. and we’ve never seen the response that we saw with COVID, that materialized in a few weeks,” he said. He credited retiring Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy as “a wonderful and caring person,” but added: “they also didn’t give her sufficient resources to deal with the problem and she doesn’t have a lot of power in the cabinet.”
* * *
Ian Goldman, the Green candidate in Vancouver-Fairview, grew up in Toronto and moved west in 1988 to attend law school at UBC. He later did a master’s in international relations, also at UBC, and has practised immigration law in private practice since 1998.
The first-time candidate is up against George Heyman, the NDP minister of environment and climate change strategy.
“It’s unfortunate that, in my area, the NDP have really strong support in the sense that he’s not really feeling pressure, I don’t think,” Goldman said. “Hopefully, I can make him feel some pressure. That’s the most important thing for me.”
The New Democrats have taken climate change more seriously than previous Liberal governments, he said, “But I think they’re more of a status quo party. They say they’re taking it seriously but then their actions show them out to be more status quo, no serious climate action, really.”
COVID is a serious issue, he said, but it has allowed governments at all levels to push environmental issues and climate change to the back burner, he argued.
“As soon as the pandemic’s over, people will wake up and say, oh my God, we’ve got a really serious issue here again,” said Goldman. “That’s why I joined the Green party. I’ve always been interested in environmental issues. My kids and I and my wife go for a lot of outdoor trips, we go hiking, a lot of outdoor activities we do together. That’s where my interest in the environment comes from.”
He added: “If people are really serious about tackling this issue, they should at least consider the Green party.”
* * *
Michael Barkusky, an economist and certified public accountant, is in a rematch with Andrew Wilkinson, now the leader of the Liberal party, in the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena. He acknowledged it’s an uphill battle in the Liberal stronghold.
“What I’m trying to do is strengthen the Green party in general,” he said. But it is also an opportunity to press the party leader on environmental issues.
“I think the BC Liberals need to improve their green credentials substantially to be relevant in the long term,” said Barkusky, who came to Canada from South Africa in 1980. (More about his background and career is in our story from the last election, at jewishindependent.ca/apartheid-impacted-views.) He said former premier Gordon Campbell was innovative on a range of policies, including the carbon tax. He said Campbell’s successor, Christy Clark, backtracked on Campbell’s environmental policies.
The Liberal party is, Barkusky said, a “broad church with some very conservative elements and [Wilkinson] probably can’t do a lot of things that he would do if he had a completely free hand. I think the pressure needs to be kept up on them as much as it has to be kept up on the NDP.”
As he campaigns, Barkusky said, voters tell him they think the NDP ran a good government in part because of the Green party’s influence.
“And now they [the NDP] are trying to say they’ll do a better job without us,” he said. “I can’t buy that.… Quite a lot of voters in the riding agree with me. They feel that we had good government in the last three years and they credit the Green party with being an element of it being good.”
While he disagrees with the Liberals’ promise to eliminate the provincial sales tax for a year, he said changing it could be justifiable. Reducing it from seven percent on most items, or changing the number of items it covers, is a discussion worth considering, he said. But he sees the promise as akin to the NDP’s promise in the last election to eliminate tolls on bridges.
“It’s just kind of instant popularity,” he said. “A relatively bad policy that will resonate well with a certain constituency.”
Barkusky finds it interesting that there are four Green candidates in Vancouver who are Jewish, and noted that the federal Green party just elected a Jewish woman to lead it.
“That’s a lot of tikkun olam consciousness,” he said.
Note: This article has been amended to reflect that Maayan Kreitzman is a leading member of the Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion, not of the British Columbia chapter, as originally stated.
The new black granite memorial wall at Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster allows people to memorialize loved ones buried in other cities. (photo from Schara Tzedeck)
What’s new at the cemetery? Not a question one tends to ask, but the Schara Tzedeck cemeteries in New Westminster and Surrey have seen some significant upgrades and additions in recent months.
At the New Westminster cemetery, which saw its first burial in 1929, 50 graves that did not have headstones have received permanent markers. More than 100 others will ideally also see stone markers added in the coming years as the cemetery board’s Chesed Shel Emet Fund is replenished.
There are plenty of reasons why a grave might not have a permanent headstone, according to Howard Jampolsky, executive director of the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board.
“Sometimes, somebody had no family, maybe they were destitute, alone in the world,” he said. “Sometimes, the families just don’t have money; sometimes, one spouse dies and they get a headstone and the other spouse dies and there is no one to put the headstone.”
Whatever the reasons, the graves, some dating back to the 1950s, had temporary markers.
The Chesed Shel Emet Fund was set up primarily with donations from cemetery board members, Jampolsky said, and the first batch of 50 headstones was purchased for these unmarked graves and placed in the last few months.
“We were hoping to do a big unveiling ceremony, where all the graves would be unveiled and we would invite the community,” he said. But COVID intervened. He hopes such a ceremony will occur in the future.
The headstones cost about $525 each and the board is welcoming donations from the community to the fund so they can proceed with placing more stones.
Also at New Westminster, a new black granite memorial wall has been created to commemorate people who are buried in other places.
“Sometimes, someone lives in Vancouver their entire life and they die and get buried in another place, maybe they’re sent to Toronto or Israel or somewhere else,” Jampolsky said. “This is an opportunity to memorialize somebody who lived in the city and contributed to the city’s life and they don’t have a headstone here. The other possibility is people who have parents or family buried in other places where they live and don’t have the ability to go and visit. If you want to come on the yahrzeit, you can come and put a rock on top of that.”
The New Westminster cemetery also has seen a green irrigation initiative recently completed.
“We spend a lot of money irrigating our green grass here, a lot of water,” he said. “We used potable city water.”
They have now drilled a well and are also capturing rainwater, which is pumped through the irrigation system. Not only is this better for the environment, Jampolsky said, but the $150,000 cost will be recouped in about eight years at current water rates. He sees the greening initiative as in keeping with Jewish burial tradition, which is respectful of the land, rejects concrete casings and does not include embalming.
In other significant news, the Surrey cemetery, which had its first burial about a dozen years ago, now has a chapel. Until now, funerals at the Surrey site were graveside only. A sad irony is that the pandemic has meant that, after the first couple of funerals in the new chapel, services had to be again curtailed to graveside only, and with limited attendance.
The $500,000 structure was completed in late 2019 and reflects the philosophy of the board, Jampolsky said, that all members of the community be treated equally. Those being buried in New Westminster had funerals in a chapel, while those in Surrey did not. The new Surrey chapel was funded within the existing budget, but, if a community member wanted to contribute to the chapel, Jampolsky said, naming opportunities could be considered.
“The other thing we’re doing in Surrey is spending more time and effort and money to make Surrey look a lot nicer,” he said. “We are doing more landscaping work, we’re planting flowers and doing things that make it look very, very nice. We’re putting a lot of effort into that property.”
The Surrey cemetery contains about 2,000 plots while the much older New Westminster site has about 10,000. While approximately 5,000 of the New Westminster plots are filled, Jampolsky acknowledges that he can’t accurately predict how long the cemetery has before it is full.
“It really depends,” he said. There are about 80 burials annually in New Westminster. That would suggest about 60 years before it is full. But the community is growing quickly, so perhaps it would be only 50 years. At the same time, a plot may be purchased and not used for decades, he said. If a young family purchased plots today, it is reasonable to assume some burials might not occur until the 22nd century.
Nigel Savage, president and chief executive officer of Hazon, is one of the keynote speakers for Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign opening on Sept. 8. (photo from JFGV)
Nigel Savage, president and chief executive officer of Hazon, is looking forward to addressing the Vancouver Jewish community Sept. 8 as one of the keynote speakers for Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign opening. “The pandemic is a reminder of why we have and why we need central institutions like federations for the Jewish community,” he said.
“Hazon is working to turn the Jewish community outwards, address environmental sustainability and to use that process to strengthen Jewish life,” explained Savage in an interview with the Independent. “I think of the Vancouver Jewish community as one made of people who choose to live in the Pacific Northwest and have a sensibility of caring for the world and its natural resources, so I want to sketch out what may be possible for all of us in the long term.”
Savage was a professional fund manager in London, England, where he worked for NM Rothschild and was co-head of UK equities at Govett. After nine years in the financial world, he opted to take a sabbatical year and study at Pardes in Jerusalem. “I had an amazing time and stayed on in Israel as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” he recalled.
A friend invited him to join a hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, and Savage, who described himself as “a chubby, nerdy, intellectual English kid who grew up in Manchester and never really set foot outdoors,” agreed. He loved the hike and, as he began doing more physical activities outdoors, recognized it as a great way to bring Jewish tradition to life and connect with others. “We didn’t enter Jewish history in a synagogue or JCC. We entered it in relationship to the land of Israel, with a relationship to food, land, climate, language. That’s what the Torah is a record of,” he said.
Savage’s time in Israel was the impetus for the creation of what is today one of the largest faith-based environmental organizations in the United States. Hazon’s goal is to strengthen Jewish life and contribute to a more environmentally sustainable world. It calls itself the “Jewish lab for sustainability” and strives to effect change through immersive experiences and by inspiring individuals and communities to commit to change – particularly with respect to food systems.
Hazon is focused on Jewish outdoor, food, farming and environmental education (JOFFE) and, since its inception in 2000, has been dedicated to helping establish and inspire change. “In the Bay Area, there’s Urban Adama and Wilderness Torah, and, in north San Diego, there’s Coastal Roots Farm. In Boulder, there’s the Milk and Honey Farm and, in Toronto, we have Shoresh,” he said.
“In each place, people are doing slightly different programs with similar goals,” Savage explained. “Those goals are to reconnect the Jewish community to land and food, to reconnect people to Jewish tradition, to reconnect people to each other and to use that process to strengthen Jewish life and create the kind of world we believe in.”
Savage’s list of accolades suggests that he is achieving his goal at Hazon. In 2015, he was awarded an honourary doctorate by the Jewish Theological Seminary and he’s been named a member of the Forward 50, the annual list of the 50 most influential Jewish people in the United States, on two occasions.
He noted that September 2022 is the start of a new seven-year cycle in Jewish life. “Imagine if the Vancouver Jewish community began to envision Jewish life in Vancouver over the next seven years. If we wanted the Vancouver Jewish community to be on the cutting edge of Jewish communities around the world around issues of sustainability by 2029, what would that look like?”
Savage suggested that every Jewish institution in the city could begin a process to establish a coherent food plan over the next seven years. It might include policies regarding use of plastic bottles, whether to serve meat and soda, carbon neutrality goals for community buildings, and other actions in relation to food and land use.
“At Hazon, we want to treat these questions as real questions and involve people in the Jewish community, from teenagers to rabbis. We want to start a real conversation which draws on Jewish tradition, the best of what’s happening in Vancouver and Canada, and use that process so that, by 2029, the Vancouver Jewish community has integrated food polices in all its institutions that reflect our values.”
Hazon’s goal is to invite communities to unpack questions like these and to act as a resource on matters of sustainability and Jewish efforts to promote it.
“If we think about the nature of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, these are chronic illnesses,” Savage noted. “The world needs us to slowly and steadily change how we’re living so that all these people can live sustainably on this planet. Right now, we have a 10- or 15-year window to change the trajectory of Jewish civilization. We can’t complete this task by ourselves, but neither are we free to desist from it.”
Savage will be joined at the Federation campaign launch by fellow keynote speaker Sarah Hurwitz, author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) and former speech writer for the Obamas. To register for the event, which starts at 5 p.m., go to jewishvancouver.com/faco2020.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
It is time for Jews to restore and transform the ancient and largely forgotten Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah l’Ma’aser b’Heimot (the New Year for Tithing Animals) into a day devoted to considering how to improve our relationships with animals. The holiday occurred on the first day of the month of Elul (Aug. 21 this year) and was initially devoted to counting domesticated animals intended for sacrificial offerings (Mishnah, Seder Moed, Tractate Rosh Hashanah 1:1).
There is a precedent for such a transformation. Rosh Hashanah l’Ilanot (New Year for Trees), a day intended for tithing fruit trees for Temple offerings, was reclaimed in the 17th century by mystics as a day – Tu b’Shevat – for appreciating nature and its beauty and bounty.
It is important that Rosh Hashanah la’b’Heimot (the New Year for Animals) becomes a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s powerful teachings on the proper treatment of animals and to a tikkun (healing) for the horrible ways that animals are treated today on factory farms and in other settings.
Currently, with regard to animals, Jewish religious services, Torah readings and education are primarily focused on the biblical sacrifices, animals that are kosher for eating, and laws about animal slaughter. This emphasis on animals that are to be killed should be balanced with a greater emphasis on Judaism’s more sympathetic teachings; for example, “God’s compassion is over all his works [including animals]” (Psalms 145:9) and “the righteous person considers the lives of his or her animals” (Proverbs 12:10). Another example is that farmers are not to yoke a strong and a weak animal together, nor to muzzle an animal while the animal is threshing in the field. As well, the Ten Commandments indicates that animals, as well as people, are to rest on the Sabbath day and there are many parts in the Torah mandating that Jews are to avoid tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, causing any unnecessary “sorrow to animals.” Moses and King David were deemed suitable to be leaders because of their compassionate care of sheep when they were shepherds.
Despite these and additional teachings, most Jews ignore the widespread abuses of animals. For example, egg-laying hens are kept in cages so small that they can’t raise even one wing, and they are debeaked – without the use of anesthetics – to prevent them from harming other birds by pecking them, due to their natural instincts being thwarted. More than 150 million male chicks are killed annually, shortly after birth, at egg-laying hatcheries because they can’t lay eggs and haven’t been genetically programmed to have much flesh. Dairy cows are artificially inseminated annually so that they will be able to continually produce milk, and then their babies are taken away almost immediately after birth, often to be raised for veal, under very cruel conditions.
Renewing and transforming the ancient holiday is especially important today because a shift away from animal-based diets, in addition to lessening the mistreatment of animals, would reduce the number of diet-related diseases that are afflicting Jewish and other communities. A shift would also reduce environmental and climate change threats to humanity that are greatly increased by the massive exploitation of animals for food. And it would encourage Jews to consider plant-based diets that are more consistent with Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people, and pursue peace and justice.
Transforming the holiday would show that Judaism is applying its eternal teachings to today’s important issues, and improve the image of Judaism in the eyes of people concerned about animals, vegetarianism, the environment and related issues, by reinforcing a compassionate side of Judaism. The holiday might even bring back some Jews who are currently alienated to some extent from Judaism, especially those who are concerned about animal welfare, and strengthen the commitment of vegetarian and vegan Jews who are already involved in Jewish life, but feeling somewhat outside the Jewish mainstream, as they are often among a small minority in their congregations.
The first day of the Hebrew month of Elul is an appropriate time for this renewed holiday because this date is the beginning of the month-long period of introspection during which Jews are to examine their deeds before the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Starting on that date and for the entire month of Elul (except on Shabbat), the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown in synagogues during morning services to awaken people to their responsibilities, and that is an appropriate time to consider how we can improve conditions for animals. It is significant that, for chiddur mitzvah, to enhance mitzvot (commandments), the shofar and other ritual objects should ideally come from animals that have been raised without cruelty and have died natural deaths.
A coalition of Jewish groups is leading a campaign to make this renewed holiday an important part of Jewish life today and I was part of recent Zoom events in the United States, United Kingdom and Israel, at which rabbis, Jewish vegetarian and vegan activists, and environmentalists discussed many issues related to the renewal initiative and answered questions about it. The group is also compiling lists of Jewish organizations, rabbis and other influential Jews who support the initiative. And it is planning to use the next year to create sample holiday haggadot, outlines of sample holiday seders, and other materials that can help expand holiday activities in the coming years.
Working to renew an ancient Jewish holiday that most Jews are completely unaware of may seem audacious, but it is essential, in my opinion, to helping revitalize Judaism, improving the health of Jews, sharply reducing the massive mistreatment of animals, and shifting our precious but imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.
Richard H. Schwartz, PhD, is professor emeritus, College of Staten Island, president emeritus of Jewish Veg and president of Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians. He is the author of several books, including Judaism and Vegetarianism and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, and more than 250 articles at jewishveg.org/schwartz. He was associate producer of the documentary A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.
Annamie Paul is running to succeed Elizabeth May as leader of the Green Party of Canada. (photo from Annamie Paul)
Annamie Paul wants to be the first woman of colour and the first Jewish woman to lead a political party in Canada. But, in the process, the human rights lawyer and former diplomat who is running to succeed Elizabeth May as leader of the Green Party of Canada has been taken aback by the overt antisemitism thrown at her since it became widely known that she is Jewish.
“You almost can’t believe what you’re seeing,” said the Toronto native, who has worked extensively overseas. “There are very explicit comments questioning my loyalty to Canada because I am Jewish. There are those who have suggested that I am seeking to infiltrate the party on behalf of Zionist elements.”
Paul said what disappoints her most is the almost complete silence from others when antisemitic posts are made on social media, such as the Facebook group for Green party supporters.
“The comments were whispers at first, innuendo, and now they’ve become very explicit,” she said. “If people are allowed to make these comments unchecked, it really emboldens them and that’s definitely what I’ve noticed over the last week or two.”
Amid a litany of such comments – including items not directly targeting her but equating Israelis to Nazis on Green-oriented social media sites – only one single individual not on her campaign team has called out the offensive posts. At the urging of Paul’s campaign, moderators removed some of the most disturbing ones.
“It’s taken me aback,” she said. “It wasn’t something I was fully prepared for, to be honest.”
She differentiates between people who are deliberately provocative and those who are uninformed.
“I accept that there are a certain number of people who still need to be educated … and, while it’s perhaps not my responsibility to do that, I’m willing to do that because I think if I can create a little more understanding, then that’s important,” she said.
Paul spoke at a Zoom event organized by Congregation Beth Israel and moderated by Rabbi Jonathan Infeld on July 8. That conversation was primarily about Paul’s life, Jewish journey and career. In a subsequent interview with the Jewish Independent, she delved more deeply into policy and her experiences with antisemitism and racism.
Born in Toronto to a family from the Caribbean, she was among the first students in Toronto public schools’ French immersion program. Her mother, a teacher, and grandmother, a nurse and midwife, worked as domestics when they arrived in Canada. Her mother went on to get a master’s of education and taught in elementary schools for more than three decades; her grandmother became a nurse’s aide.
Paul credits her mother’s broad-mindedness and spiritual bent for the openness that led her to embrace Judaism in early adulthood. Paul was converted by the Hillel rabbi while completing a master’s of public affairs at Princeton University. She also has a law degree from the University of Ottawa. She chose Ottawa in part because its law faculty emphasizes law through an Indigenous lens. In addition to seeking at an early age to be an ally to Indigenous peoples – she started law school at 19 – she saw parallels between the Canadian situation and her own heritage as a member of the Black diaspora.
“We have been stripped of all of the things that Indigenous peoples are fighting for still in this country,” she said. “Through colonialism, we lost our identity, we lost our culture, our language, our religions. We really can’t tell you anything with any great degree of precision about our ancestors. When I saw other peoples fighting for those things, I understood intuitively how important it was.”
Paul has worked as a director for a conflict prevention nongovernmental organization in Brussels, as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and as a political officer in Canada’s mission to the European Union. She co-founded and co-directed an innovation hub for international NGOs working on global challenges and has served on the board and advised other international NGOs, including the Climate Infrastructure Partnership and Higher Education Alliance for Refugees. She is married to Mark Freeman, a prominent human rights lawyer and author. They have two sons, one in university in London, U.K., the other in high school in Toronto.
Returning to Canada after spending about 13 years abroad, Paul looked at Canadian politics with fresh eyes. While she had been courted to run provincially by the Ontario Liberal Party in the early 2000s, she opted to run federally for the Green party in 2019. She took about 7% of the vote in Toronto Centre, which was won by Finance Minister Bill Morneau. She is one of nine candidates running for Green leader.
She chose the Green party because, she said, “we don’t have time to fool around with the climate emergency.”
“I celebrate the compromise that is the spirit of Canadian politics,” Paul said. “This is the Canadian way. But there are some things that you simply have to do all the way or it really doesn’t work. One of those things is the climate emergency. If we don’t hit our targets, then we are setting ourselves up for disaster. The Liberals, the NDP, the Conservatives, they’re just not committed to that goal and so I wanted to make it clear that I was aligning myself with the party that was very, very committed to reaching those targets.”
COVID-19, for all the health and economic devastation it has wrought, also presents opportunities, said Paul. In Canada, federal and provincial governments came together and political parties set aside partisanship to an extent. Canadians who may have been skeptical that a massive challenge like climate change could be ameliorated see what concerted governmental action – and massive investments – can look like. “[Canadians] know that money can be found if it’s needed and they know that we can mobilize very quickly,” she said.
The billions of dollars being invested into the economic recovery should be directed toward projects that explicitly advance a green economy, she said, such as a cross-Canada energy grid that produces electricity from renewable sources to be shared throughout the country. This is just one of a range of opportunities that Paul sees emerging from this extraordinary economic challenge.
“For a country as wealthy and well-educated as Canada, if we want to be, we can really be first in line for all of this,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
The Green leader has limited constitutional authority in a party dedicated to grassroots policymaking, Paul said. If party members adopt a policy that challenges the leader’s core values, the leader may be required to walk away. Such a scenario emerged in 2016 after the party adopted a resolution to boycott Israel. Following a showdown, the resolution was rescinded and May carried the party into the subsequent election. As a result, Paul said, the party is on record supporting Israel’s right to exist and opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Paul opposes the Netanyahu government’s Jordan Valley annexation plan because she believes it contravenes international law. But she also urged vigilance against those who might mask their antisemitism in anti-Zionism. And she stressed the unlikelihood of pleasing everyone on either side of the Israel and Palestine divide.
“I don’t feel that there’s anything these days that you can say in terms of that conflict where you’re not going to attract criticism that you were too soft or you were too hard,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”
But, while she doesn’t have the magic answer to resolve the longstanding conflict, her background in diplomacy and international law makes her confident in asserting that negotiated settlement is the route to any eventual solution.
“Dialogue always has to be the preferred option,” she said, adding that international law must be applied to all sides. “State actors, non-state actors, they are all subject to international law. Their obligation is to respect international law and to protect fundamental human rights. There are no exceptions to that.”
At a time when North Americans and others are facing our histories of racism and injustice, Paul finds herself at an opportune intersection.
“I’m very aware of what I represent as a candidate,” she said. “I’m a Black woman, I’m a Jewish woman.… I know people are very interested in my identities and I embrace that…. I would say, though, that [I hope] people will take the time to get to know me and not to create a one-dimensional image of me simply focused around those identities. I feel that I’m very prepared because of the work I’ve done, my academic studies, etc. I’m very well prepared to take on this role and all of the elements of this role.
“You’re not just an environmental advocate as the leader of the Green party, for instance, you also need to be able to talk about foreign policy, you need to be able to talk about economic theory, you need to be able to talk about rural revitalization and what are we going to do about long-term care and should we decriminalize illicit drugs. You need someone who is three-dimensional and I know that I’m three-dimensional and I hope people remember that.”
As a Jew of colour, Paul also has insights on antisemitism in the Black Lives Matters movements and racism in the Jewish community.
“The Black diaspora is not a monolith,” she said. “The Jewish community is not a monolith, either. Don’t ever take the actions of some members of the community as an indication of how the entire community feels.… I would just say don’t let that push you out of wanting to support the community in the way that you should. In terms of Black and Indigenous lives in this country, the statistics just take your breath away. Not just the criminal justice statistics but also health, education, life expectancy, they are really very troubling and those communities need as much help as they can get from people who really understand, who have suffered a great deal of persecution historically, as well, and have had to create opportunities and overcome barriers and still do.”
The leadership vote takes place Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. The deadline to join the Green party to vote in the election is Sept. 3.