Isaac Messinger being presented with a certificate of appreciation last year for his contributions to the Jewish National Fund of Canada and Beit Halochem. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
Isaac Messinger was born in Poland in 1929 and spent some of his early years in Siberia. Although his family tried to flee back to Poland when he was 12 years old, he ended up alone and orphaned in Russia and has spent the years since then living a very colourful life.
Among the notable moments, Messinger worked as a cowboy on horseback, chauffeur to a Polish officer, in a garage, as a prizefighter, a soccer player, a tinsmith and a traveling carnie with a roulette wheel. And he still had time to open a steakhouse and deal in diamonds, while lending money to some of the original landowners along the Las Vegas Strip.
Messinger has long been a strong supporter of Israel and he is currently focused on funding a project of JNF Canada that works with Israeli veterans, a special fitness centre at Beit Halochem Ashdod.
At first glance, the fitness centre at Beit Halochem looks like any other fitness club. There are lots of people working out on the equipment, weight training and stretching. Upon closer examination though, the difference is quite clear. Not only is much of the equipment and machinery slightly different, but the members are as well. Here, veterans young and old, with a wide spectrum of disabilities, come to improve their strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health. They exercise side by side, some on special equipment designed for wheelchair access or amputee-specific machines, and there are trainers on hand to explain and assist the veterans.
The physical rehabilitation aspects of working out in the fitness centre are clear to all. Less obvious is the psychological benefit that the disabled vets get from taking an active role in their rehabilitation.
This year’s Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner honourees are Michelle and Neil Pollock. (photo from Pollock family)
For their contributions to a diverse range of philanthropic causes, Neil and Michelle Pollock are being honoured at this year’s Negev Dinner.
“Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, is proud to have Dr. Neil and Michelle Pollock as our 2018 Negev Dinner honourees on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel,” said Ilan Pilo, shaliach and executive director of JNF Pacific Region. “Their longtime contribution to the community and their leadership are widely recognized, as they are inspirational philanthropists who go above and beyond to involve the community in creative ways to fund critically important projects. We are very pleased they have chosen to work with JNF and ALEH Jerusalem on the Outdoor Terrace Project and the Hydrotherapy Pool, which will benefit seriously disabled children and youth in Israel.”
ALEH Jerusalem provides 82 children and young adults with comprehensive professional care, including special education, as well as medical, supportive and therapeutic care.
“I’m honoured, as I know Michelle is, for us to have been recognized and included in this legacy of community leaders and builders, a few of whom I have been privileged to meet, and who have been mentors and role models for myself and others in our community,” said Neil Pollock. “I look forward to having the opportunity to contribute to the cultivation of future leadership in our community in a similar way.”
The Jewish National Fund is important to the family, said Michelle Pollock, because the projects it supports focus on infrastructure in Israel.
“They’re all reflective of Jewish values and helping with the viability and integrity of the Jewish state,” she said.
Michelle Pollock is a lawyer who practised litigation in Vancouver before devoting herself full-time to their family. She is the immediate past president of the board of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and has co-chaired the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign’s women’s division Lion of Judah category for six years. She has been involved with Jewish education and a host of other causes.
Dr. Neil Pollock is chief surgeon and medical director of Pollock Clinics. Over more than 20 years, he has developed minimally invasive techniques for vasectomy, circumcision and frenulectomy procedures. The Pollock Technique has a greater than 99.9% success rate and results in decreased risk of post-vasectomy pain. He has undertaken teaching missions to Rwanda, Congo and Haiti, where he trains local doctors in circumcision, and said the work he has done in Africa and Haiti is among the most meaningful contributions he could make to humanity.
“Our team successfully gave our surgical colleagues in those countries the surgical training, as well as the equipment and supplies, to safely carry out surgical procedures that will save, over the years to come, thousands of lives by reducing HIV transmission,” he said. “Circumcision has been scientifically shown to reduce HIV transmission by 60%. It has been equated to providing protection equivalent to a vaccine against the disease. Sharing my technique provided the mechanism to offer in those countries, for the first time, a safe, quick, painless approach for circumcision that families would happily and readily accept. I continue to search out places around the globe where myself and my team could have similar impact for communities at risk. God willing, there will be more surgical missions in our future.”
Pollock has also developed a unique surgical training program for mohelim, who perform brit milot. He is a mohel himself and, in lieu of accepting fees for his work, advises families to donate to the
Pollock Family Philanthropy Fund at the Vancouver Foundation in honour of the lifecycle event and to support those in need in the community. The philanthropy fund supports the surgical teaching missions to the developing world, as well as organizations including the Arthritis Society, B.C. Cancer Foundation, schools, social service and community agencies.
Pollock’s involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver includes four years as head of the major gifts division and, in 2015, he served as chair of the general campaign, which raised $8.3 million.
“Michelle and Neil Pollock are among the most committed volunteers in our community,” said Karen James, chair of the board of Jewish Federation. “When asked to help, they step up. The Pollocks have been involved with countless initiatives we’ve undertaken at Jewish Federation to address vital community needs…. In response to his work, Neil has been recognized by Jewish Federation’s board with the Woogman Award, for his consistent and conscientious leadership by example. The Pollocks truly help to make our community stronger.”
In addition to their shared involvement with Jewish Federation, the Pollocks support Jewish Family Services. Neil Pollock has served as a board and executive member and is a Friend for Life, a category of donors with lifetime giving of $100,000 or more. The couple also provide an annual matching gift for the Innovators Lunch to inspire philanthropy; these funds are dedicated to the Jewish Food Bank.
They additionally support the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel, where Neil Pollock is a member of the board of governors and of the fundraising and building committee. He described the Kollel as one of the “less visible but most critical, vibrant and productive organizations in our community today, providing inspirational and educational programming through lectures, social events connecting Jewish youth, hosting Shabbat and Jewish holiday celebrations, all in a safe and accepting environment where everyone can feel comfortable – from Reform to Orthodox.
“I personally am deeply grateful to the founder of the Kollel, Rabbi [Avraham] Feigelstock, for the many hours of teaching, counseling and support that he has quietly provided for me and so many others I know,” said Pollock. “He has sought to help us develop the leadership skills and sound judgment, through both his core Jewish teachings and by cultivating menshlichkeit values, that he hopes we can be guided by in our personal, business and community work, in turn, helping us to be better equipped to meaningfully give back to our community for the years to come.”
Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu, director of the Kollel, said Michelle and Neil Pollock have truly embraced the concept of tikkun olam.
“They both contribute meaningfully; not only financially, but also give time, expertise and insight,” said Yeshayahu. “Their personal involvement in the Jewish community is priceless. We so appreciate their community involvement and care, vision and leadership, and wish them continued success in all that they undertake.”
“It was through the JNF, in my elementary school years, that I was given my earliest opportunities to participate in and contribute directly to the growth and well-being of the state of Israel,” said Neil Pollock. “This helped me to appreciate the importance for Jews to be interested in and responsible for doing our part for our homeland, which has remained with me to this day. And now, again through the JNF, we have been given this very gratifying opportunity to personally identify and support a phenomenal project – ALEH Jerusalem – to again help the state and its people in need, in a very meaningful way.”
Michelle Pollock’s connection to JNF and Israel stem from her family’s history. Her mother’s father was sent from Poland to Canada, alone, at the age of 14, to make enough money to send for the rest of the family.
“It took him too long,” she said, “and his family was wiped out.”
Pollock’s mother, as a result, was raised in a home clouded by survivor’s guilt and where the past was not discussed. But Zionism was at its core.
“Support and survival of the Jewish state was a complete, tangible imperative because of her father’s experience,” said Pollock. “I see this now, reflecting back.”
The lessons of Jewish statelessness are embedded in her family.
“I can’t separate my Jewish sense of self from my support of Israel,” she said. “It’s all tied together. It’s one and the same.”
Neil Pollock’s philanthropic vision is both local and global.
“I have seen firsthand through my many years of volunteering with Federation, culminating in chairing the 2015 annual campaign, how critical the JFGV is for our community,” he said. “It is so important to have an organization to canvass so effectively the support of our community while carefully researching and assessing the needs of our community and its constituent organizations and thoughtfully allocating our resources in a balanced way, ensuring all facets of our diverse community needs are supported.”
Supporting JFS, and specifically the Jewish Food Bank, he added, “aligns with our core values regarding our responsibility to support those less fortunate and in need of the essentials, like food, shelter, medical care…. There is so much affluence in our community that, in our minds, there cannot and will never be, any justification for leaving anyone, any vulnerable individuals, behind.”
Most of the honourees at the Negev Dinner over the years have been older than the Pollocks, who have three children in high school. Far from approaching the end of their philanthropic endeavours, both talk enthusiastically about future plans.
Michelle Pollock has been very committed to Jewish education, originally when her kids were at Vancouver Talmud Torah and, more recently, supporting King David High School.
“The kids that go there and come out of there are so proud of their cultural heritage,” she said. “It’s an interesting thing to see in teenagers. It moves me greatly.”
Now she is turning more of her focus to Holocaust education and Israel advocacy, which her family history has taught her are closely interrelated. She plans to deepen her involvement with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
“I think Holocaust education is important. But, at this critical point, where we still have survivors, it’s imperative. Every single non-Jew that you touch with the story of a survivor, that is an invaluable experience. I think we all have a duty to do whatever we can to support Holocaust education.”
“The VHEC … all I can say is wow. For the past few years, I’ve been going to their symposium at UBC. It’s really unbelievable … being at UBC and being in this very secular place and looking at all these kids that have traveled by bus all day from all over the Lower Mainland, and watching them hear the stories of survivors and ask their questions. I think Holocaust education is important,” she said. “But, at this critical point, where we still have survivors, it’s imperative. Every single non-Jew that you touch with the story of a survivor, that is an invaluable experience. I think we all have a duty to do whatever we can to support Holocaust education. And I’m a huge fan of the [Holocaust] centre.”
She also recently joined the Israel and overseas affairs committee of Federation and hopes to advocate for Israel through that and other avenues.
“I see my focus for the next long while in those two areas because I really see them tied together,” she said. “Holocaust education and Israel advocacy. I think it will grow and change. I’ll just keep finding ways to contribute.”
As immediate past president of the JCC, she is continuing a commitment that began 14 years ago, when she first joined the board. Part of her motivation is that, coming originally from Montreal, she finds it can be more difficult to stay Jewishly connected in places like Vancouver, where the community is not as deeply rooted.
“I definitely think it’s easier in some of the older, more established Jewish communities and I think my personal passion is to do whatever we can to make it easier to be Jewish and live Jewish,” she said. “I think the JCC has all the programming and all the events that help you touch on Judaism in your daily life. But, even more than that, just walking in that building makes you smile in a uniquely Jewish way.”
Also from away, in his case, Winnipeg, Neil Pollock said he is grateful for being “so graciously welcomed and accepted in this community, and for the wonderful network of friends that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by.”
He is philosophical about his plans, hoping, he said with a laugh, to get better with age, “like the great wines in my cellar.”
“Every day we wake up, we are slightly different people, remolded and growing with all-new experiences,” he said. “Hopefully, we capture and deploy the insights we gain to allow us to be more mature and effective leaders.”
He continued: “While my kids are young and at home, they will continue to be my top priority. My business has now moved to a global level, so … I am more engaged, involved and excited now about future potential than ever.
“Often, I feel over-committed with my career, family and other things that happen in my life, but, at these moments, I try to remember that I also have a greater purpose and a greater responsibility and that is the one to my community,” he said. “I believe we all have an obligation to care for others and help those who are in need. We also must ensure that our Jewish traditions and values are maintained for generations that will follow, through our support of Jewish education and local Jewish institutions.”
He wants his experience to demonstrate that anyone can have an impact on the community.
“I hope that the great diversity of backgrounds amongst our community leaders serves as an example and inspiration to the many truly talented members of our community who may have ever questioned their ability to get involved and make a difference.”
“Some community members may believe that, in order to be an influential leader and have a meaningful impact, one must come from a family with a strong history of leadership and/or affluence,” he said. “This is not the case in our community. And I hope that the great diversity of backgrounds amongst our community leaders serves as an example and inspiration to the many truly talented members of our community who may have ever questioned their ability to get involved and make a difference.”
He added: “I want to thank all the community organizations that have welcomed us and provided us with the opportunity to become involved and give back.”
Asked about how he would like people to think of him in future, Pollock said, “I would like to be thought of and remembered in a similar way, I’m sure, to [how] most people would: as an individual concerned with things other than those that are immediately self-gratifying, and who is interested and active in doing his small part to ensure that opportunities to help others were not missed, and that meaningful efforts were undertaken to ensure the Jewish community and broader community in which we lived thrived.”
The JNF’s Negev Dinner takes place June 3. Honourary chairs of the event are Alex and Jodi Cristall and Harvey and Jody Dales. For tickets and more information, visit jnf.ca/index.php/vancouver.
Belkin Forest Grove was dedicated in Baal Shem Tov Forest on March 27.(photo by Lilah Weiss)
On March 27, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund held a special event in memory of JNF Canada friend and philanthropist Elliot Belkin. About 20 family members arrived from Canada for an organized tour of Israel during Passover. As part of their trip, they traveled to the north of Israel for a special ceremony honouring Belkin’s contributions to KKL-JNF.
When Belkin’s father, Morris, also a generous donor, passed away, Belkin created a forest grove in his memory in Biriya Forest, and brought his nephews, Kostia and Aurore Belkin, to Israel together with him. When Belkin passed away, his nephews continued the family tradition by donating a forest grove in his memory in Baal Shem Tov Forest.
“Aurore and I thought that it would make him very happy that there would be a forest grove in Israel in his name, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Kostia Belkin. “This is a modest gesture compared to what he did in his time, but we’re happy to be part of the tradition.”
The Belkin nephews unveiled a plaque honouring their uncle, and were presented a framed KKL-JNF certificate of appreciation. After the ceremony, the group planted cedar trees in the young forest grove.
About half the trees in Baal Shem Tov Forest were damaged in 2013 by a heavy snowstorm. New species of trees are being planted to ensure greater diversity, making the forest more resilient against weather damage.
Referring to the ceremony and tree planting, Belkin’s family said, “This has been one of the high points of our visit. These trees are like the children that Elliot never had.”
Kostia Belkin summed up the visit to Biriya Forest: “This has been an event that we will always remember,” he said. “We want to express our thanks to KKL-JNF for organizing this visit. Through their deeds, Morris and Elliot taught us about love of Israel and its people, and the symbolical meaning of planting trees in this soil.”
Left to right: Ilan Pilo, Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region; Col. Adam Susman, Israel Defence Forces defence attaché to Canada; and Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Ohel Yaakov Community Kollel. (photo from Community Kollel)
While acknowledging that the situation in the Middle East is constantly changing, Col. Adam Susman told those gathered at the Ohel Yaakov Community Kollel on July 18 that the biggest threat to Israel is Iran, “as it has been for years.”
Susman, who is the Ottawa-based Israel Defence Forces (IDF) defence attaché to Canada, was in Vancouver at the invitation of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region.
Born in the United Kingdom, Susman moved to Moshav Sde Nitzan in southern Israel at the age of 3, according to JNF’s website. He joined the IDF’s Givati Brigade in 1987 and became a battalion commander after serving as head of the anti-ballistic and training branches. In 2005, he was appointed commander of Hanegev infantry brigade and chief of staff of the Sinai division, protecting Israel’s southern border. In 2009, he became commander of the Dan district in Home Front Command, working to ensure the safety of civilians in the metro Tel Aviv area. Prior to his appointment as the defence attaché to Canada in 2014, Susman was head of the International Military Cooperation Department of the IDF General Staff.
Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Community Kollel was the emcee of the Vancouver event. “It is fitting to have this meeting during the weekly Torah portion of Matot-Masei,” he said in his opening comments. “In this parashah, a portion of the Jewish people stays behind on the way to the Holy Land, preferring to farm on the other side of the Jordan River rather than go in and fight for the land. They stayed there while the rest of the tribes fought and, later, they joined them. In Judaism, we have great respect for those who risk their lives to protect other people, and especially our homeland.”
Before introducing Susman to those gathered, Ilan Pilo, executive director and Jerusalem emissary of JNF Canada, Pacific Region, presented a brief video about JNF’s activities throughout Israeli history. He then invited the president of Royal Canadian Legion’s Shalom Branch, Ralph Jackson, to speak. Jackson, who introduced himself as “the only Jew in the Scots Guards during World War Two,” presented a donation of $5,000 to Susman for Beit Halochem, a nonprofit that cares for disabled Israeli veterans.
Leonard Shapiro, Shalom Branch vice-president, noted how the branch was formed during a time of great prejudice, when Jews needed their own veterans organization. “It has been a long time now since we’ve gone to war, however, thank God. We don’t get many new members. If anyone here would like to join and support our organization and activities, you don’t have to have been in the army, you just need to be over 18 and not have committed any horrible crimes. Little ones, OK,” he joked.
Susman shared a bit about himself and his experience in the Givati Brigade, which was the most highly decorated brigade in the 2014 conflict, a fact no doubt known to the many IDF veterans in the audience.
Susman is one of 16 Israeli attachés around the world – a small number that, he said, was due to Israel never having been part of a military coalition with another country. He outlined the ties between the Israeli and Canadian militaries, the chief threats to Israel today and the IDF’s response.
“There is cooperation between the IDF and the Canadian military strategically and practically,” he said. “The relations between the IDF and the Canadian military are good.”
Asked if the change of Canada’s federal government to the Liberals from the Conservatives had had any effect on that relationship, Susman said it had not.
Turning to the situation in Israel’s own region, he emphasized the lack of stability.
“The Middle East is an interesting neighbourhood, always changing – what I tell you today may not be true tomorrow,” he said.
“The biggest threat is Iran, as it has been for years,” he continued. “[Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad took every opportunity to say that Israel should disappear from the map of the world. The main threat they’ve posed has been building Hezbollah – without Iran, it would be a small organization. In recent years, Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria and they’ve lost a lot of people, but they’ve also gained a lot of operational experience. They have also steadily increased in rocket capabilities and can now reach Eilat.”
Susman said that Syria had previously been a big threat to Israel, but that’s no longer the case, due to its civil war and ISIS, as well as the reduction of the country’s chemical weapons by Western countries.
Hamas in Gaza is the next biggest threat, he said, noting that it is also supported by Iran. “They only exist to fight,” he said. “They are not building up Gazans as they claim. A good example is the tunnel found during 2014 Protective Edge, kilometres of resources that could [have been used] for clinics and schools. Gaza is a piece of cheese, there is 80 metres between the top and the water table, dotted with tunnels. That’s a major challenge.
“The Sinai is also a security problem,” he added. “Nobody controls it, and so everybody is in there. There was no Egyptian military following the peace agreement, so that’s the result. The MFO (Multinational Force and Observers) was created to survey the Sinai and, by the way, there are many Canadians in it.
“Some people say the IDF is a military that has a country,” quipped Susman. “We are strong, and we are good at finding solutions.”
Susman cited Iron Dome as an example. The IDF initially divided Israel into 157 zones with two missile interceptors for each missile. That was successful, he said, but each missile cost $70,000 so that intercepting one fired missile cost $140,000. Therefore, the IDF sought improvements. Israel was divided into 254 zones, he said, and each one had only one missile interceptor per fired missile. This system has a 90% success rate stopping missiles, which is still not good enough in Susman’s view. “We will improve yet further,” he said.
During the question-and-answer period, an audience member commented, “You said Iran is the biggest threat against Israel but you didn’t say what Israel is doing against Iran.”
“That’s right,” replied Susman without further explanation, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
The evening ended with the singing of “Am Yisrael Chai,” led by Yeshayahu.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Left to right: Shannon Gorski, Gary Averbach, JNF Pacific Region president David Goldman, Michael Averbach and JNF shaliach Ilan Pilo. (photo by Robert Albanese)
The soldout Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner on June 4 at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver honoured Gary Averbach and his two children who live locally, Michael Averbach and Shannon Gorski, for their service to the community. Proceeds from the gala will fund infrastructure improvements to the Israeli Scouts (Tzofei Tzamid) facilities in Raanana and Dimona, in order to make them more accessible for children and youth with disabilities. The Israeli Scouts, which runs programming for youth aged 9-21, has more than 80,000 members, including more than 2,500 children and youth with disabilities.
Left to right, Negev Dinner 2017 honourees Michael Averbach, Gary Averbach and Shannon Gorski (née Averbach). (photo from Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region)
“The important thing that I want to say is that I’ve accepted this honour because I’m sharing it with my kids,” Gary Averbach told the Independent about this year’s Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner, which will pay tribute to Averbach, his son Michael Averbach and daughter Shannon Gorski.
“Ultimately, it came down to my father being recognized,” said Michael Averbach. “He was apprehensive. Initially, he didn’t want to do this. He’s a very humble man and doesn’t like to be in the spotlight; in fact, he’s quite the opposite. But, he also understands it’s for a greater good and it will help build JNF, help fundraise and go towards a need in Israel.”
Even though the dinner on June 4 is sold out, community members can still support the Averbachs’ chosen project: the Tzofei Tzamid, the Israeli Scouts.
The Israeli Scouts run programs for kids 9 to 21. Their 80,000-plus members include more than 2,500 children and youth with disabilities.
Gorski and her father visited Israel in late February. She described the Scouts as “a rite of passage for Israelis.” In the program, she said, children with severe Down syndrome, kids with visual or hearing impairments or who are on the autism spectrum, “all of these children are being able to work side-by-side with their Israel Scouts’ peers and fully participate in the programs the Israeli Scouts offer. And that is what my family, alongside the JNF Vancouver community of supporters, are funding – the ability of the Israeli Scouts program in Raanana, to ensure that they have the proper resources and equipment when they take the Israeli scouts into the wilderness, as well as their own facility, to make it accessible for all.”
She said the organization’s mission “really resonated with my own philosophy, and that is one of inclusion … providing opportunities so that kids can develop skills, and leadership opportunities and life-preparedness. I see Israel already as such a leader in a lot of innovative ideas … and, when I got to see what they were doing in the area of youth services, they also are [excelling in that]…. When my father and I were there – to be able to see firsthand how happy these children were and how they were included, and listening to the testimonies of the parents, who are so appreciative and happy themselves, because what makes a parent happy is to see their child happy.”
Gorski, Gary and Diane Averbach’s eldest child, and Michael, their youngest, live in Vancouver, while their middle son, Blake, splits his time between Israel and Quebec City. The three Negev honourees are being celebrated for their many local community contributions.
Born in Vancouver to Louis and Betty Averbach, Gary Averbach – who is chief operating officer of Belmont Properties – has been involved in various capacities with JNF, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCCGV), the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver (JCF), Congregation Beth Israel and the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, among others.
Shannon Gorski, managing director of the Betty Averbach Foundation, has worked with marginalized people and at-risk youth for most of her life. In the Jewish community, she has served on the boards of JCCGV, Hillel BC and Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS); chaired galas and events, such as JCCGV’s Israel at 60, Beth Tikvah’s 40th anniversary and RJDS’s 18th gala; and sat on committees of JCF, King David High School and the Bayit.
Michael Averbach, who owns Averbach Mortgages and also works with Belmont Properties, has chaired the JCC Sports Dinner for many years (he co-chaired it this year with James Dayson), has co-chaired a Vancouver Talmud Torah Gentleman’s Dinner, is on the executive board of the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel and is active with Federation.
“We had a reception last night,” Gary Averbach told the Independent the morning after a Negev Dinner-related cocktail party at his home, “and I heard it enough times, that people understand, it’s so great your kids are carrying on your tradition. That’s the message I want to go out: how lucky I am to have kids that have carried forward what I believe in.”
The first Jewish organization Averbach got involved with was JNF, he said, and it is the only Israeli organization with which he has been heavily involved. “The local community, and especially things involving Jewish youth, means the most to me,” he said.
“I think it’s great what the JNF is doing now,” he added. Funding groups such as the Israeli Scouts, he said, “is a great step and it really makes the JNF more relevant to a lot more people all over, but certainly in Vancouver.”
Gorski said she has spoken to Israelis now living here about how integral the Israeli Scouts were to them. “In fact,” she said, “one individual in the community, who’s very active with youth in the community, said to me, ‘The Israeli Scouts saved my life.’ I was so, so moved by that.”
After she and her father visited the Israeli Scouts, Gorski joined JCCGV’s Bagel Club in Israel as a chaperone on their Birthright-style mission – “for many of these Jewish persons with different abilities and challenges,” she said, it was their first trip to Israel.
While she’s never been formally connected to the Bagel Club, Gorski said she has a step-uncle who is a participant and she was on the hiring committee for the current leader of the program, Leamore Cohen.
Worried about being away from her two children for so long, she asked them if they were OK with her leaving. She said her older son said, “What are your talking about? I’m excited for you. You’re going to Israel, and you’re going to do something that’s so important.
“That’s another reason why I get connected,” she said. “My father has been such a mentor to me and has instilled in me the importance of modeling behaviours of tikkun olam and just giving generously of your time. He used to say, when I was first asked to be on different boards, which he had been on, i.e. the JCC and involved with Federation, I basically said to him, ‘My biggest concern, Dad, is that I don’t have the capacity, the deep pockets that perhaps they think I do because of yourself,’ and he said, ‘You know what, the community, when they look at people to sit on their board and to participate and to volunteer … they look for the three Ws: wealth, wisdom and work. It’s not all three, it can be one…. They don’t just want the wealthy people.’ And he used to say it’s easy for somebody to write a cheque.
“He’s so humble,” she continued. “Every time that they would ask him to speak, he would always put the credit to those who were the worker bees, the people who were behind the scenes, who were doing the work, they were the ones who deserved the accolades…. For me, that’s been a lot of why I have focused on the Jewish community, but not just the Jewish community…. The fear among the older generation, which I’m entering into, is that, will the next generation be able to carry on and give with the three Ws … is Vancouver in good hands, is the Jewish community in good hands, is Israel in good hands?”
For his part, Michael Averbach – who has four children – has focused his attention mostly on the Jewish community. He was inspired, in his early 20s, by his father’s work on the campaign for JCCGV’s redevelopment. Achieving the goal, Averbach said his father “was so elated, so excited. He screamed out, ‘Yabadabadoo!’ It was the first thing that came to his mind, he was so happy.” Witnessing this reaction, he said, “I caught the bug. I got involved.”
Calling the JNF tribute “a huge honour,” he added, “If we can encourage other young philanthropists and people in the community who are thinking about getting involved to get off the fence and push forward, find something that resonates with them, then this is all very much worthwhile.”
Gorski echoed these sentiments. She said many of her peers “thought the JNF was restricted to selling trees … and, if you go to the Negev Dinner, you see a large demographic of the older generation and not a lot of young people.” With her brother and her joining their father in being honoured, she said, they have managed to share with their peers more about what JNF does – in Israel and around the world – and many “are coming to the Negev Dinner for the first time.”
While in Israel, Gorski organized a get-together for the Bagel Club with madrichim (counselors) from the Israeli Scouts. “They made friendship bracelets, they made pita over an outdoor fire, they were all conversing. It was a really fun evening,” she said. And, as it turns out, some of the Israeli Scouts will be in Vancouver around the time of the Negev Dinner, and some of them will be joining the festivities.
She also shared that it is JCCGV head Eldad Goldfarb’s hope that, along with Cohen of the Bagel Club, which is for adults, and Shirly Goldstein, who is the centre’s youth director, they will be able “to create a program of the two different groups – youth, and adults with special needs – working together with the same sort of philosophy that the Israeli Scouts follow, doing similar types of activities.”
The June 4 Negev Dinner at Four Seasons Hotel will also see Richmond Jewish Day School head of school Abba Brodt presented with JNF’s Education Award. For more information or to donate, contact JNF Pacific Region at 604-257-5155 or [email protected].
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is very pleased to honour the decades of service of with a special Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rosenberg is a professor emeritus of computer science at the University of British Columbia and a member of the BCCLA for nearly 30 years. His work focused on the implications of the internet for such important civil liberties areas as privacy and anonymity, free speech, access and ethics.
Rosenberg has focused his work on the developments of national and international privacy policies, particularly with respect to electronic media, in Canada, the United States and Europe, as well as national and international approaches to the regulation of free speech on the internet. As such, his work has been critical to promoting and protecting privacy rights.
The award was presented at BCCLA’s annual general meeting on May 11 at Vancouver Public Library.
* * *
The 2017 DOXA Documentary Film Festival awards were announced on May 13. Among them was Jewish community member Julia Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky, which received the Colin Low Award for Canadian Documentary (presented in partnership with William F. White). Jury members Tammy Bannister, Lisa Christiansen and Josh Cabrita said of the film: “In 20 years, if someone asks you, ‘Tell me about Fort Mac,’ you can tell them to watch a documentary that is both timely and timeless….”
Limit is the Sky follows six young Canadians, including refugees from the Middle East and Africa, who come to Fort McMurray, the capital of the third-largest oil reserve in the world. “Fort Mac” becomes a testing ground for these young dreamers as they struggle with their own perceptions of money, glory and self-worth amid plummeting oil prices, an unpredictable economy – and then a devastating wildfire. Limit is the Sky is produced by Bonnie Thompson and executive produced by David Christensen for North West Studio. It also received the 2016 Multimedia Award from the Petroleum History Society in Calgary.
Presented by the Documentary Media society, a Vancouver-based nonprofit, charitable society, DOXA ran May 4-14. Those who missed seeing Limit is the Sky during the festival can now purchase or rent it from the National Film Board at nfb.ca or from iTunes.
* * *
Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad of Richmond will be honoured by Oholei Torah Educational Institute, Chabad’s flagship Brooklyn school, on May 28 for his outstanding achievements in Jewish outreach and communal activity. The school has more than 7,000 alumni around the world.
Celebrating their 60th year of excellence in Jewish education, Oholei Torah called on community members worldwide to nominate 60 alumni who have shown an exemplary dedication to implementing the school’s ideals, specifically in furthering Jewish education and strengthening Jewish life. Baitelman was nominated by his peers for his enthusiastic and unwavering commitment to his Jewish community of Richmond and beyond.
“Oholei Torah Educational Institute prides itself on its training of devoted rabbis and inspired community leaders,” said Rabbi Joseph Rosenfeld, director of Oholei Torah. “Rabbi Baitelman truly lives up to the school’s ideals, and has dedicated his life to furthering Jewish awareness and Jewish education.”
With his profoundly sincere, caring attitude and inclusive approach, Baitelman inspires countless Jews from all levels of Jewish observance, with his welcoming outreach programs and thought-provoking classes. He encourages those around him to continue learning and embracing their Judaism through a wide range of educational programs and services – weekly Torah classes; Smile on Seniors lunches featuring entertainment and speakers; six-week Rohr Jewish Learning Institute classes; Simple Truths women’s learning; Land & Spirit, Israel Experience; National Jewish Retreat; Mom and Tot program; Hebrew school; Light of Shabbat kosher meals delivered to the homebound; CTeens club for Jewish youth; Minyanairs Club; and many other programs.
Information about the dinner at which Baitelman will be honoured can be found at oholeitorah.com. The community of Richmond and all of Chabad wish him yasher koach!
* * *
The Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, is pleased to announce that Abba Brodt is the recipient of JNF’s Education Award. We wish Brodt a hearty mazal tov on this well-deserved honour for his dedication and leadership in educating the next generation within the Jewish community. Brodt will receive the award at this year’s Negev Dinner on June 4 at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver.
Brodt is head of school at Richmond Jewish Day School, a position he has held for five years. Under his watch, RJDS has grown 40%; it is now a school of 105 students from kindergarten to Grade 7.
A trained social worker and former director of community planning for and campaign associate of the Jewish Federation, both in Montreal and Vancouver, Brodt switched into education in 2008. While working in a variety of roles in Jewish day schools, Brodt, or Mar Abba, as his students call him, completed a master’s at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration.
Brodt’s goals as a Jewish educator are to help educate and inspire the next generation of Jewish leaders and visionaries. He believes that the best Jewish education blends a love of Yiddishkeit, content and skill development, while promoting and developing the following three attributes in students: critical thinking, creativity and compassion.
Jewish National Fund, 1980. (photo from JWB fonds; JMABC L.11965)
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu examines arson damage in Beit Meir. (photo from Ashernet)
Last week’s wave of fires across northern and central Israel is estimated to have caused, so far, some half a billion shekels in damage, and total projections are higher. Several thousand homes have been either destroyed completely, or partially destroyed in the infernos.
In many cases, the fires have been set deliberately. Drones equipped with UV detection equipment filmed several instances of arsonists setting fire to brushwood around the Jerusalem region and in the north near Haifa, and several suspects have been arrested. Matters have been made worse by the fact that the winter rains have not yet started and the forests are very dry. Also, the temperatures have been higher than usual in most parts of the country.
Several countries, including the United States, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and Turkey, have sent fire-fighting aircraft to Israel to assist in getting the fires under control. The Palestinian Authority also sent firefighters to assist the Israeli teams to control the infernos.
On Nov. 27, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu toured one of the worst-affected areas, just west of Jerusalem, in Beit Meir. The prime minister saw at least 10 homes that had been destroyed and many others showing serious fire damage, making even those uninhabitable.
JNF Canada has started an emergency campaign, every dollar of which will go to rehabilitation and clean-up efforts. For more information, visit jnf.ca or call 604-257-5155.
Voters in the United Kingdom – well, in England and Wales, at least – have decided to quit the European Union. The referendum last week turned British politics, and world economic markets, upside down.
The potential for a Scottish withdrawal from the United Kingdom is again front and centre. More than this, politicians and commentators worldwide are extrapolating the vote’s meaning across Europe and North America to try to comprehend the potential impacts of a coalescence of disgruntled, anti-elitist, populist, nativist and xenophobic tendencies. Already, the result seems to have given licence to some people to act out on xenophobic hatred, with numerous incidents of verbal and physical assaults against visible minorities reported across Britain in just the couple of days following the referendum.
Among those who supported the losing “Remain” campaign are some who threaten to move to Canada. This is a default for Americans and now, apparently, Brits who dislike the democratic outcomes in their own countries. The Canada strategy is much talked about but rarely executed. Ironically, people from countries that move toward exclusionary practices and tightened immigration policies assume that Canada is an uncategorically welcoming place that would greet them with open arms. On Canada Day, of all times, we should take it as a compliment that our reputation is one of haven and acceptance.
And yet … while Europe may be aflame with xenophobia and demagoguery, Canada is not immune to strains of something nasty. The current example comes from none other than Canada’s Green party.
For a movement that ostensibly subscribes to the precept of thinking globally and acting locally, the policy resolutions for the party’s August convention are starkly parochial. Only two items proposed for consideration approach foreign affairs issues – and both attack Israel.
One resolution calls for the party to join the BDS movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the Jewish state. More hypocritically still, the Green party is seeking to have the Jewish National Fund of Canada’s charitable status revoked. That a Green party would target one of the world’s oldest and most successful environmental organizations is symptomatic of something irrational in the mindset of those who promulgated the resolution. Whether it advances to the convention floor – and what happens then – will tell us a great deal about the kind of people who make up the Green Party of Canada.
In a world where human-made and natural catastrophes seem unlimited, from the entire population of Green party members across Canada, only two statements of international concern bubble to the surface – and both are broadsides against the Jewish people.
Elizabeth May, the party’s leader and sole MP, said she opposes both resolutions but, since the determination of policy is made on the basis of one member one vote, there is a limited amount she can do. She met last week with Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, and said the Green party’s support for Israel’s right to exist is “immovable.”