The Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School Grade 11 history class for which King David High School teacher Anna-Mae Wiesenthal (middle row, second from the right), did a presentation on the Holocaust. Their teacher, Bonnie Burnell, is to Wiesenthal’s left. (photo from Anna-Mae Wiesenthal)
“They were in awe of the Holocaust survivor,” said Bonnie Burnell, a teacher at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary, describing the reaction of her students to survivor Robbie Waisman’s talk at a Yom Hashoah assembly at King David High School (KDHS) on April 24. “Looking at him as he spoke at the podium, they could scarcely imagine him on the inside of a Nazi concentration camp.”
Students from Prince of Wales Secondary School and, of course, from KDHS also joined the assembly, which was organized by KDHS teachers Anna-Mae Wiesenthal and Aron Rosenberg, and included Cantor Yaakov Orzech chanting El Malei Rachamim.
The multi-school initiative was led by Wiesenthal, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. Last year, she went to Austria and Poland with the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of Toronto. In addition to teaching about the Holocaust at KDHS, she has been giving presentations at various public schools. She told the Jewish Independent that students have been very engaged and have asked many questions. This outreach led to the recent assembly at KDHS, where other schools’ students were invited to attend.
“My students, in general, were impressed with the ceremony and glad that they had made the decision to come,” Burnell said. “We have had a real focus on racism in our curriculum this year, and this visit definitely adds something of central importance to that subject.”
Wiesenthal, who has taught at KDHS since 2006, became interested in focusing more on Holocaust education after attending an educators seminar at Yad Vashem in 2012.
“I feel Holocaust education is about giving voice to the millions of victims who were murdered simply because of who they were, and honouring their legacy and our history,” explained Wiesenthal. “It is about remembering the vibrancy of Jewish life both before and after the war. It is about preserving memory for future generations and across cultures. It is about taking the knowledge of unprecedented horrors, and keeping them in front of us so that we remain vigilant about our humanity in the face of genocides today.”
Wiesenthal also admitted to being inspired by a possible kinship with renowned Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Her great-grandfather, Mattityahu Wiesenthal, was a Russian boy saved from forced conscription in the Russian army by being “thrown across the river” from Russia into the town of Skala in Austria-Hungary, as many boys were at that time. As an orphan in Skala, he was taken in by Moshe Efroyim Wiesenthal, who supported many such refugee orphans, and the young boy took the family name Wiesenthal to honour his patron. Wiesenthal does not know if Moshe Efroyim was directly related to Simon Wiesenthal, but the latter remains one of her heroes, and she has been in touch with his granddaughter, Racheli Kreisberg.
Wiesenthal also recently initiated a pilot project at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), in which KDHS students trained as docents (museum guides) lead other students through the exhibit.
Another project was an art exhibit at KDHS, where her Jewish History 11 class viewed a video of a Holocaust survivor’s testimony, chose an aspect of the testimony that stood out for them and then created a work of art based on that aspect. Each work was accompanied by an artist’s statement, a picture of the survivor and why the student chose the testimony they did. Contributions included painting, sculpture, writing and music. “The quality of expression was very moving,” said Wiesenthal.
Rabbi Stephen Berger, head of Judaic studies at KDHS, said he is thrilled with the work Wiesenthal has been doing.
“She shares her passion with her students and fulfils the talmudic dictum, ‘Words that leave from the heart, penetrate the heart,’” he said. “Our school and students benefit immeasurably by having her as a teacher of history and Holocaust studies.”
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.
More than 170,000 elementary and high school students participated in CIVIX’s Student Vote program for the 2017 B.C. provincial election. (image from CIVIX)
More than 170,000 elementary and high school students participated in the Student Vote program for the 2017 B.C. provincial election, including students from King David High School and Richmond Jewish Day School.
After learning about the electoral process, researching the parties and platforms, and debating the future of British Columbia, students cast ballots for the official candidates running in their local electoral district.
As of 4:15 p.m. on election day, May 9, 1,092 schools had reported their election results, representing all 87 electoral districts in the province. In total, 170,238 ballots were cast by student participants; 163,923 valid votes and 6,315 rejected votes.
Students elected John Horgan and the B.C. NDP to form government with 60 out of 87 seats and 39.0% of the vote. Horgan won in his electoral district of Langford-Juan de Fuca with 55.7% of the vote.
Andrew Weaver and the B.C. Greens took 14 seats and would form the official opposition, receiving 28.5% of the popular vote. Weaver won in his electoral district of Oak Bay-Gordon Head with 48.9% of the vote.
Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals won 12 seats and received 25.4% of the vote. She was defeated in her district of Kelowna West by NDP candidate Shelley Cook; Clark receiving 32.1% of votes cast, compared to Cook’s 35.8%.
Students also elected independent candidate Nicholas Wong in Delta South. Wong defeated Liberal candidate Ian Paton by 10 votes.
This is the fourth provincial-level Student Vote project conducted in British Columbia. In the 2013 provincial election, 101,627 students participated from 766 schools.
Student Vote is the flagship program of CIVIX, a national civic education charity. CIVIX provides learning opportunities to help young Canadians practise their rights and responsibilities as citizens and connect with their democratic institutions. Its programming focuses on the themes of elections, government budgets and elected representatives.
The Student Vote project for the 2017 B.C. provincial election was conducted in partnership with Elections BC and with support from the Vancouver Foundation, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the Government of Canada.
Nov. 21 saw the start of King David High School’s now-established RAC Week. Started as part of the Random Acts of Kindness program – adapted as Random Acts of Chesed – this is a five-day celebration of paying it forward. Whether it’s picking up garbage, helping the homeless or moving furniture, every activity gives the students a chance to experience the rewards of helping others.
This year, The Giving Tree formed the basis for RAC Week’s good deeds. Illustrations from Shel Silverstein’s book about unconditional love decorated the main hall and foyer. Heartwarming messages read “Kindness is Contagious,” “Spread the Love” and “Smile! It’s RAC Week!”
RAC Week takes the students outside their comfort zones. According to the director of Jewish life at KDHS, Ellia Belson, this year’s destinations were chosen based on feedback gleaned from last year’s offerings. “The Grade 12s wanted to go where there was the greatest need,” she said.
Among the destinations were the Kerrisdale police detachment, Quest Outreach and Admiral Seymour Elementary School. At the school, which is on Keefer Street, they witnessed an unfamiliar degree of tension – and fighting – among the kids. KDHS student Ethan (Grade 10) described how he “tried to get people to play together who might not do so normally.”
Under the guidance of teacher Matt Dichter, Grade 8 student Noam accompanied Food Stash Foundation on their daily rounds. Started by David Schein, a former teacher at KDHS, the foundation was created to help reduce food waste in the Vancouver area. FSF collects leftover items from grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, at the end of each work day. Food Stash then delivers the food to where it’s needed most: more than 15,000 kilograms of food since September, said Schein. On the morning of Nov. 22, deliveries were made to the Kettle Society, Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House, Tenth Church and Oasis Café.
The RAC group from KDHS rescued food from COBS Bread, Greens, Fresh is Best and a number of other sites. The numbers speak volumes. Every year, each Canadian throws away approximately 127 kilograms of food. KDHS kids rescued 135 kilograms in a single day.
“I really liked working with the kids because it is a great way to raise awareness of food waste in the younger generation,” Schein told the Independent. “Half of food waste happens at home, so they can now go home and speak to their parents, start influencing food choices.” He added, “Saving me some lifting was also nice!”
With its emphasis on community service, RAC Week is a concentrated course in educating the emotions, as well as the intellect. Noam described how “it felt good to give back.” Asked whether his work with Food Stash had had an impact on his daily life, he answered with a definite yes. His intentions were clear, as he explained, “even finishing what’s on your plate” can have an impact on food wastage.
RAC Week offers a curriculum of social responsibility best taught outside the classroom, where students develop an awareness of other kids’ lives and struggles. The conversations that take place after the outings present an opportunity to reflect on these struggles and express gratitude for their own station in life. It also allows the students to teach one another, under Belson’s guidance, about what each group learned.
While the kids spoke animatedly about their excursions, their most energetic, personal and heartfelt responses were to Belson’s simple question, “What does chesed mean to you?”
At this, it seemed that half the students raised their hands, speaking with passion and clarity about “giving and not taking” (Ella). Connell quoted from the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, with the admonition, “Be a giver, not a taker.” Ethan spoke at length about how it’s easy to “take for granted a loving home, a loving family…. It’s a week to recognize that by giving back.” Jordana agreed, talking about the importance of seeing “how others live – even so close to us. It made a difference.”
Sometimes, the greatest lessons in life can be taught in the simplest of ways. Adi talked about “being a mensch, helping people who have less, making people feel happier, making them smile.”
Shula Klinger is an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at niftyscissors.com.
On Nov. 24., writer Penny Goldsmith spoke at King David High School about PovNet, a B.C.-based anti-poverty network.
When Storming the Digital Divide: The PovNet Story was published in August by Lazara Press, the Jewish Independent received a copy. A history told in words and through illustrations about the B.C.-based online anti-poverty community network, the JI waited until school started, as it seemed the perfect topic for King David High School teacher Aron Rosenberg’s social justice class. And it was.
Once students were into the rhythm of classes and the High Holidays had passed, Rosenberg met with Penny Goldsmith – PovNet founder and a longtime community organizer and advocate – to determine how to address the subject. Goldsmith wrote Storming the Digital Divide, while B.C. artist, writer and activist Kara Sievewright – who has been PovNet’s web coordinator and illustrator since 2005 – created the images, and there are additional drawings by artist, researcher and educator Nicole Marie Burton of Ad Astra Comix, which publishes comics with social justice themes.
Before Goldsmith even did her presentation to Rosenberg’s class on the morning of Nov. 24 – appropriately enough, a day that fell during KDHS’s Random Acts of Chesed Week – the students had homework. In pairs, they had to choose a bubble from the 12-page timeline laid out in the book, which, as the book notes, highlights “selected issues that are an important part of the history of work done by the many advocates and marginalized community members who use PovNet in British Columbia. It also scans the history of technology and organizing as it affects the anti-poverty movement in British Columbia.”
The timeline goes from 1971 – “The first email is sent” – to 2015, which contains several key developments, such as the province’s first seniors’ advocate (Isobel Mackenzie) being appointed and the release of a 40-page report in which “nine social services agencies from across B.C. have asked the ombudsperson of B.C. to launch a systematic investigation into service reductions at the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (the welfare ministry) that shut out many eligible people from accessing social assistance.”
For Goldsmith’s presentation, students were asked to consider their chosen bubble with respect to a few questions: “What does the information in the bubble mean for poor people? For anti-poverty advocates who work with them? For you?” Divided into groups, a table spokesperson shared some of the thoughts that arose from the brief group discussion of the questions. Student Leora Schertzer, in her role as master of ceremonies, made sure that every student who wanted to contribute aloud was invited to do so.
Alternating between group discussion and Goldsmith’s talk, which included visuals of some of the book’s illustrated pages, the students considered questions that Goldsmith and Rosenberg had prepared in advance, such as “What do you think the digital divide might mean?” “What do you think the difference is between charity and anti-poverty work?” and “How do you envision a future online world?”
Once the students had a chance to think about the issues, Goldsmith offered her thoughts, using portions of the book, beginning with an explanation of its title.
“From trying to get a job, finding adequate housing and accessing government services … to networking with fellow advocates and fighting for social change, the internet is now at the very least an essential service,” said Goldsmith. Regarding the accessing of government services, she gave the example of qualifying for welfare, which requires the completion of a 90-screen online application.
She offered a few definitions. “Collins English Dictionary defines the digital divide as ‘the gap between those people who have internet access and those who do not.’ Simple,” she said. “Dictionary.com expands the definition to include ‘the gap between those who are computer literate and those who are not.’ An important addition. Other dictionaries expand the definition to include marginalized communities in developing countries.
“According to a report from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre published in July 2016,” she said, “one-half of low-income Canadians are trading off other household goods or services in order to pay their communications bill – almost one in five (17%) indicated they went without other essential goods such as food, medicine or clothing in order to pay a communications bill.”
A lack of money is not the only barrier to internet access.
“An online space can, by its very structure, leave out marginalized communities,” Goldsmith explained. “If English is not your first language, online communication is not always as easy as being in the same room together with your peers. If accessing a computer is an issue, particularly in rural communities, if technology is daunting – people get left out of the conversation.”
It is these barriers that PovNet also works to diminish.
“PovNet is an online community of social justice advocates, activists, community workers and marginalized people who work in the anti-poverty world in British Columbia and across Canada,” said Goldsmith. “It hosts a public website that provides up-to-date information about welfare, housing and homelessness, unemployment, disability and human rights issues.
“PovNet’s community of users is vast,” she continued. “A disability rights organizer in Nelson goes to the PovNet website to get some information for a community workshop she is doing that night about changes to disability bus passes. A tenant in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver goes online to find an advocate to help him deal with a landlord trying to evict him. Several workers at a women’s centre in a small northern British Columbia town sign up for an online course at PovNetU about dealing with debt because they have so many clients coming into the women’s centre who are being harassed by a local collection agency.
“But what’s important,” she said, “is that everyone who wants to, has to have access to PovNet. That means money for computers, and government commitment to universal bandwidth and internet access. It also means that all of PovNet’s diverse communities have to feel that the network belongs to them.”
Storming the Digital Divide contains many illustrated stories from the online anti-poverty community, which bring the facts and figures closer to home, as well as the impact of PovNet over the 20 years since it began in 1997. While Goldsmith is no longer the organization’s executive coordinator – a post she filled for 18 years, until 2015 – she remains passionate about its work. And some of it rubbed off. Here are some of the comments students wrote after her talk.
• “Penny’s presentation exposed me to how reliant our society and greater world is on the internet…. Those who are unable to access the internet or technology are at an automatic disadvantage for workplace opportunities and almost all information.” (Justine Balin)
• “Listening to Penny’s presentation last week gave me an insight into the challenges that people without access to the internet face. Hearing about how some people have to choose between paying for internet access or having dinner made me realize how much I take having internet for granted. I also realized how big of a luxury it is to have my own computer and the privacy that comes with owning my own device. Before hearing Penny speak, I never realized how large of an issue internet access was…. Hearing about PovNet and how they advocate for internet access for those who need it really opened my eyes to a social justice issue that I would have otherwise been oblivious to.” (Talia Buchman)
• “In ‘A PovNet Timeline,’ I chose to focus on the  bubble that states that over 40% of people who died in B.C. of HIV-AIDS died because they never received the necessary treatment because they were poor. Reading this bubble disturbed me quite a bit. I was mostly disturbed because we, as a country, try so hard to be the best society we can possibly be (i.e. equal rights), however still tend to fail at the situation with people living in poverty. We advertise that Canada has free health care, but do we really?” (Michelle Nifco)
• “The cost to live in British Columbia has been rising steadily and the welfare rate has also been rising but not as fast as the cost of living. I am fortunate enough to not be relying on welfare and hope that I will never need to rely on it, but many Canadians rely on welfare cheques every month to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomachs.” (Elle Poirier)
• “What I found immensely important about my experience with Povnet’s work was what they called ‘A PovNet Timeline: A Selective History of Poverty, Anti-Poverty Organizing & Technology in B.C.’ The timeline was extremely motivational and taught me that if citizens have enough passion and drive, they can influence the powers that be, even when it may seem that said powers are completely inflexible or severely rigid. This premise was explored throughout a variety of different events within the timeline.” (Anthony Schokalsky)
Storming the Digital Divide ($12.95) is available from lazarapress.ca.
A concert at Deer Lake Park gets Matty Flader thinking about social media. (photo from deerlakepark.org)
King David High School’s creative writing course, taught by Aron Rosenberg, partnered with the Jewish Independent for their final unit of the school year. Students were challenged to write articles reflecting on their identity as young Vancouverites in the Jewish community. After brainstorming topics, the students agreed to focus an article on technology or print media, and how these things are changing and will continue to transform in the future. Here are some of their thoughts.
Phone-y confidence by Matty Flader
Last night, I went to a concert in Deer Lake Park, an outdoor venue, with my sister. We went to see the Lumineers, a folk band that has become fairly popular since their debut album in 2013. I was rather excited to see the show, as I am a big fan of the band’s music and unique style.
It rained throughout the concert, which was a major annoyance. Getting soaked and standing in the mud for a few hours is not everyone’s ideal evening, but it was worth it for the music. The band was excellent at performing live and it was an amazing show. One thing that almost did ruin my experience, however, was the sea of cellphones raised above people’s heads filming the concert. Almost everyone at some point had their phones out to film the concert to share with their friends over social media.
One thing I think our parents do not understand about our generation is that social media is a competition. We constantly compete by sharing statuses, photos and videos of anything significant we do. The goal is simple acknowledgement or validation from our peers; we want them to be jealous of how amazing our lives are. The most famous of our friends – the one with the most likes and shares – is the most successful among us, though we wouldn’t admit that aloud. Our generation lives in constant fear of being forgotten or ignored, and we use social media as a way to remind our friends of how exciting we are.
It is no longer innate to live in the moment. Now that everything is expected to be documented, we live our best moments through the small screens of our phones. Concerts are just the tip of the iceberg. I have encountered this issue at graduations, parties, hanging out with friends, and even spending time with one’s parents. Although I love modern technology, sometimes I wish I could exist without the ominous anxiety of social media.
Technology today by Eli Friedland
We live in a world where technology is the new alcohol. Rather than face reality, people stare at their screens, lost in the lives of others. Picture perfect images captured for eternity. Model-worthy smiles lighting up the screen. Are they real? That is the question most people fail to ask themselves when they zealously peruse the photos that flood their news feeds.
We live in a world where, rather than make conversation with those in front of us, we choose to talk to an online persona. We have closed the gap from those distant to us, yet we have distanced the gap from those closest to us. We ride the bus in silence, the only sound, fingers tapping away at screens. We receive validation from ambiguous “likes” and take pride in meaningless comments. We allow the world to pass us by as we scroll through the news in far off lands. We only see the perfect that happens to others, that which is posted online. Tired eyes scroll through vast oceans of pictures that have no end.
Constant alertness and comparisons are our 10 plagues. We need redemption from technology. I cannot bear to imagine a world in which people cannot talk, for technology has robbed us of our voices. I fear this more than anything and I know that G-d gave us a day of rest to prevent this plague from growing too large.
Every Friday at sundown, I power down. I turn my phone off, I put my laptop away and I put all electronics out of sight and out of mind. All week, I long for Friday, when I have a valid excuse to disconnect from technology. Rather than staring anxiously at my smartphone, I make myself smart. I read books, I learn from my family, friends and the rabbi’s lectures. I spend all week learning hacks for my phone but, come the weekend, I learn about people. Instead of awaiting a text or phone call that might never come, I knock on my friends’ doors and we go to the park, we walk, we talk. I play Bananagrams with my parents, I soak up the sun with my brother, I interact with humanity in a way unparalleled when phones are out. On the Jewish day of rest, I receive people’s undivided attention and they receive mine.
Death of print media by Noah Hayes
In Canada, print media’s roots go back to the Halifax Gazette, started in 1752. Since then, print media has reigned as the dominant form of news media all over the world. But it’s no secret that digital streams of information are pushing aside the morning paper. The reality is that your kids will likely wake up in the morning and go on their electronic devices to see the latest happenings, rather than wake up to a freshly printed newspaper, waiting to be read and, eventually, discarded.
As a high school student who values media but rarely in print, I am often confronted with the question of why we don’t really need print media anymore. If you need a plumber, a painter, a lawyer or a car, you’re likely not looking in your newspaper these days. It’s not like word of mouth is a modern concept but, with the internet as a platform to share recommendations and spread ideas, newspaper advertisements are less relevant.
Some may suggest that print ads – and not just in newspapers – can be more effective because they target specific geographic regions or interest groups. For instance, if I know of a wealthier area in the city that has lots of nice cars and is mostly made up of younger people, I can advertise a more expensive car that younger people would be more interested in on a bus stop, or even on the side of a bus that goes through there. In a rougher area of the city, I can advertise an entry-level car because more people might be willing to buy it.
What’s becoming more and more the reality, however, is that the internet can do the same thing, with even greater accuracy and efficiency; data tracking in this day and age is limitless. If you’ve been searching for a new pair of shoes on a website, ads for that website can appear on the next site you’re on, even if it’s totally unrelated to shoes. You’re being tracked on most sites that you go on. It’s 2016 and, even with Edward Snowden’s notoriety, people are still unaware of the trail they create just by going on their computer. And this trail is analyzed for more than just advertising.
What about entertainment? Many read print media to stay up to date or see an interesting piece from their favorite columnist in the morning. These newspapers or magazines now almost always have websites where you can also read your favorite columnists. If you go on Twitter, you can get live updates from your favorite journalist or news source, along with a link to articles they publish. Your dearest sports team probably has a website, along with sites dedicated to covering it, and their beat writer likely has a sturdy online presence, too. If you just want a gob of information to delve into, try going on Reddit or Buzzfeed. Some sites go well beyond the impersonal newspaper and literally let you customize your own homepage to only get info on the things you’re interested in. Want pictures? Check. Want funny pictures? Check. Want funny pictures of cats doing awkward, cute poses? Check.
The biggest reason why people seem to be migrating away from print media towards the internet is cost. Though newspaper and magazine companies can still charge you for reading their websites, most digital media is free. For these companies, why produce a print version if they’re also going to put their content online? Perhaps the sense of familiarity and comfort that comes with print media is its most effective selling point. The digital world hasn’t hit its peak yet because the older generation still values the routine and ritual of the morning paper or magazines.
As morbid as it sounds, the only part of print media that doesn’t seem easily replaceable is the “In Memoriam” section of the newspaper. There are few ways to find out about lost loved ones in the community, or the anniversaries of their passing. However, the community of the internet is much larger than the local communities that find solace in the local newspaper’s “In Memoriam” section and, one day, the internet will provide this service, too.
Digital media is simply too powerful. It’s a tool that can be used in dozens of different ways, an unstoppable machine that will eventually show print media the door, and make sure that door hits its tuchus on the way out.
Print’s ironic future by Leora Schertzer
Every day, more than two million news articles are published online. Millennials subscribe to a fast-paced lifestyle, making the internet a popular platform to read the news mere minutes after the fact. People share news and magazine articles with their friends and followers over Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and beyond. If you were to ask the average young adult where she or he reads about the latest happenings, the answer would most likely be through the shared articles of her or his online peers. Perhaps a more cultured individual would name a specific news source that she or he frequents to maintain a sharp awareness of the world, which would also be online.
Though the future of print media seems dire, I would argue that not all hope is lost. Many people still prefer paper copies of newspapers, magazines and books. Some claim that a good old physical copy feels more personal and less distracting. With access to literally millions of other articles online, users could feel rushed or anxious, knowing that there are so many more articles to be read. A real newspaper feels like your own and, with one’s options limited to one paper, consumers could feel satisfied with the articles they have read, rather than feeling they have merely grazed the tip of the iceberg of daily news.
Another reason print media may live on is for the sake of esthetic and irony, similarly to vinyl records. People still love their vinyl record collections, even though far more practical and efficient ways of listening to music are out there. Some may hang on to print newspapers and magazines for the novelty, or because they believe the “original way” is the “best way.” For this reason, print media may make a comeback within the next 40 years. Though print media will become more of a niche market in the near future, as it becomes less common or mainstream, it may ironically become more highly regarded – what becomes less viable, becomes more valuable.
Left to right: Esther Mogyoros, King David High School director of development; Shannon Gorski, PAC co-chair; speaker Josh Shipp; and Teaching for Tomorrow co-chairs Gaby Lutrin and Elaine Grobman. (photo from KDHS)
“What’s the difference between a watermelon and a cloud?” Josh Shipp asked the crowd. “Three percent. A watermelon is 94% water and a cloud is 97% water. All that separates them is three percent, but that little difference makes all the difference in the world. That little difference can be all that separates you from being average and being extraordinary.”
Shipp, a “teen expert” and motivational speaker, who graduated from Stanford and has lectured at Harvard and MIT, was speaking at Teaching for Tomorrow, an annual celebration of King David High School (KDHS), on May 17.
KDHS, which has 220 students and expects continued growth, is British Columbia’s only Jewish high school and one of six outside of Toronto. It is also one of the most successful Jewish high schools in Canada from the perspective of having growing enrolment each year.
The auditorium at the Chan Centre was packed, flanked on both sides by galleries full of KDHS students. After an introduction by emcee Liam Sasky, a Grade 12 student, the audience heard a concise, warm and humorous speech from school head Russ Klein. A musical interlude followed, with a duet about friends struggling with the romance that’s broken out between them. Following that came a video about KDHS and its values, focusing on the experience of current students and alumni – the students interviewed emphasized the sense of community at KDHS, and the feeling that they were known and valued personally at the school.
After that came the main event. Shipp was notable for his ability to get raucous laughter from the teens, who he seemed to hold in the palm of his hand throughout his talk. He peppered his speech with memorable images and questions, tech and pop culture references, and self-deprecating humor. Shipp, who was abandoned as a child and grew up a troubled delinquent in a series of foster homes, spoke candidly of his own horrific experiences of abuse and trauma. At the centre of his speech was the role that one caring adult can play; in his life, this was his foster father Rodney, who refused to reject Shipp, saving his life and turning it around. “All of you can be a Rodney to someone,” said Shipp. “Every child, every teenager, every human being is one caring adult away from success.”
Shipp challenged students to reach out to a “Rodney” in their own lives within 24 hours and say “thank you,” something Shipp said took him nine years to do after the day his Rodney turned his life around. Shipp also had a warning for students: face your ghosts.
“You guys are pretty serious here,” Shipp said. “I know it. I watched the propaganda video. You need to be unafraid to seek help for the things that are holding you back. This can be a problem in high-achieving communities like this. Don’t be afraid to seem weak, because talking about these things is not weak – it’s courageous.”
Matthew Gindinis a Vancouver freelance writer and journalist. He blogs on spirituality and social justice at seeking her voice (hashkata.com) and has been published in the Forward, Tikkun, Elephant Journal and elsewhere.
“Question Mark” by Sydney Freedman and Rachel Pekeles is among the works created by King David High School Grade 12 students. (photo by Nancy Current)
In conjunction with their current show at Zack Gallery, Visual Midrash, artists Robin Atlas and Nancy Current conducted a two-day workshop with the Grade 12 students of King David High School. Rabbi Stephen Berger, head of the school’s Judaic studies, and some of his more outgoing students talked to the Independent about the project.
“Every year, we do a project for Passover with our Grade 12 students,” said Berger. “The Haggadah is one of those Jewish texts that’s had the most number of interpretations throughout our history, as every generation and every family bring their own understanding. So, I ask the students every year to write their own versions, a short essay on one of the aspects of the Haggadah. This year, we decided to combine the writing with the visual component. The students pitched their ideas, which topic they wanted to explore. I tried to limit the same topics but I didn’t force anyone. They were free to choose. Now, after all the art is done, we’ll put the project online. We’re also going to publish a hardcopy as a pamphlet. One of our former students, Daniel Wiseman, is helping me with the particulars. We will distribute the copies at the JCC, at the synagogues and Jewish delis.”
The rabbi joined his students in creating his own interpretation of the Haggadah, using a sheet of matzah as the base for his artistic journey. “Matzah represents both our slavery and our freedom,” he said. His piece opens the pamphlet.
Like the rabbi, most of his students hadn’t done much visual art in years and were not going to pursue art as a career, but they enjoyed working on Visual Midrash for this assignment.
“They put so much thought into their pieces,” said Current. “Some of them first tried to come up with concrete images, but it’s hard without artistic training. Then Robin and I suggested they should think about some abstract interpretations. What ideas come to mind? What concepts are associated with those ideas? The results were amazing.”
One of the students, Izzy Khalifa, chose the most fun-filled tradition of Passover – the search for bread. “When I was a kid, it was a game in our home. I loved it,” she said. “Now that I’m older, I think it’s not simply a search for bread but it has a deeper meaning, like a search for yourself.”
“Judaism grows on you,” the rabbi remarked, and Khalifa agreed. She also liked working with the abstract concept. “People can take more from an abstract picture, interpret it in different ways,” she said.
Classmates Adi Rosenkrantz and Ashley Morris decided on more concrete imagery. Their blue heart on a blood-red background symbolizes the first plague of Egypt – the plague of blood. “The blue heart is like the heart of the Nile,” said Rosenkrantz. “The abrupt color change, from blue to red, from water to blood, disrupted the Egyptian way of life.” Their heart is almost anatomically precise. “I just did a unit on cardiovascular system,” Rosenkrantz explained, “and it was fresh in my mind.”
Ma’ayan Fadida and Shmuel Hart’s illustration was more metaphorical. They selected a controversial theme for their work – the wicked son. In their artistic interpretation, the wicked son walks a black path, which winds its way across the pink and orange brightness of other family members.
“We wanted to do one of the sons,” Fadida said. “This one makes the decision to separate himself from the others; that’s why his path is black. And the abstract allowed us to show how he was thinking.”
One of the most powerful pieces is a mixed media collage: a large black question mark with the background of newspaper snippets. Created by Sydney Freedman and Rachel Pekeles, it also touches on the story of the four sons but focuses on the son who doesn’t know how to ask.
“We wanted to take a complicated topic and present it as a symbol. The black mark blocks our ability to ask,” explained Freedman.
“The information is all there. You just have to be willing to look for it,” Pekeles elaborated. “It is a challenge. Sometimes, we choose not to ask when we should.”
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
The full cast of King David Players’ Little Shop of Horrors. (all photos from King David High School)
On March 16 and 17, the Rothstein Theatre was alive with music and a giant flesh-eating plant, as the King David Players presented this year’s theatre production, Little Shop of Horrors. Featuring a cast of students from every grade, the actors and musicians brought to life the dark comedy/musical. They played to full houses both nights.
Teachers Aron Rosenberg, Johnny Seguin and Anna-Mae Wiesenthal created the production, which involved 50 students, as well as other staff, parents and community supporters.
“When deciding what play to explore this year, we were looking for a musical that was light and fun and that was not too heavily based around social commentary (as is my usual inclination),” said Rosenberg in his director’s note. “I looked through a list of musicals and, remembering childhood evenings watching Little Shop of Horrors with Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and Bill Murray, I sent an e-mail to the administration ensuring it would be an appropriate choice.”
On closer look, the musical wasn’t that light.
“Three of the most problematic characters are Mushnik – the caricature of a greedy Jewish merchant – Audrey – the caricature of a helpless victim in an abusive relationship – and Orin – Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, and a caricature of a dentist with a self-acknowledged appetite for causing pain,” noted Rosenberg. “Perhaps this play’s innocuous reputation comes from an outdated attitude that treated ethnic stereotypes as playful, sexual violence as bland and dentists as inevitably painful. However, in 2016, our modern sensibilities force this play to take on a new life. The dark and irreverent humor of the play remains but, along with it, our cast has worked to uncover a respectful and critical look at the struggles of ethnic shop-owners in low-income neighborhoods, the horrors of domestic abuse and the ridiculousness of gender-inequity in relationships (not to mention the reality that dentists are no longer painful … usually).
“With all the creative commitment and hard work from our cast, crew and community, we are left with something not unlike our original goal…. The plot may not be light but the musical numbers are. And, as for social commentary and all this hullabaloo about the self-destructiveness of greed and power, you can take it or leave it. However, if you leave it, don’t be surprised when a giant human-eating plant comes a-knocking….”
Aaron Friedland at Semei Kakungulu High School in Uganda. Friedland has written the book The Walking School Bus, both as a first reader but also as a means to generate funds for students to access education. To get it published, he has started an Indiegogo campaign. (photo from Aaron Friedland)
During high school and elementary, “it was too easy for me to miss school,” said Aaron Friedland, currently a master’s in economics student at the University of British Columbia. In other parts of the world, children walk great distances to attain an education.
“Five years ago, I wrote a children’s book called The Walking School Bus,” Friedland told the Independent. It was “written with the realization that students in North America really take access to education for granted.”
It was on a trip to Uganda and South Africa, he said, when he really began to understand “the distances students had to walk to obtain an education and it was startling.”
Data from the Uganda National Household Survey Report 2009/2010 indicate that 5.5% of children aged 6-12 do not attend school because it is too far away, and the average high school-aged student must walk a distance of 5.1 kilometres to the nearest government school, more than 10 kilometres every day.
“I wanted the book to serve a purpose and the purpose was twofold. I wanted it to raise awareness … that students have to walk,” Friedland said about The Walking School Bus. “But I also wanted it to be a means to generate funds for students to access education and so, in that case, I’d say the school bus itself is metaphoric and it represents access to education.
“I submitted my manuscript to a publishing house just under a year ago and it was well received, so we started moving forward. But, in order to really have a book come to fruition, it costs quite a bit of money.”
On Nov. 9, Friedland started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $15,000 to cover the costs of publication, “everything surrounding the book,” which includes editors who specialize in children’s books and the illustrations. The campaign runs for 60 days.
The Walking School Bus has the capacity to “act as a first reader and, while it does have a picture book component, I’d also like it to serve as a coffee table book and a symbol for interfaith collaboration,” said Friedland.
Friedland’s concern about and involvement in interfaith work began in 2010, when J.J. Keki, a member of the Ugandan Abayudaya Jewish community and founder of the Delicious Peace fair-trade coffee cooperative, was invited to King David High School. Many students, including Friedland, “formed a pretty special bond with him.”
A bond that continued for Friedland. “When I was in first year [university] – while all my friends were going to Mexico and hilarious holidays – I went to Uganda with my family,” he said. “It was an amazing experience for us. We benefited so much more than the ‘recipient’ community. I recognized quite quickly that our aid had been negligible, but what it did for me was it provided me with a clear trajectory, which guided me for my four years at McGill.… At McGill, I started working with the Abayudaya community in Uganda, specifically with Delicious Peace…. What most amazed me – and my rationale for getting involved – was that they employed an interfaith collaboration model in which they united these previously disparate communities, the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, and formed one solid frontier in which they collaborated. In collaborating, there were a variety of positive spillover effects … you see higher levels of economic prosperity in that region on Nabagoya Hill than you do in comparable areas, you see how there is much more religious tolerance.”
About his experience in Uganda, Friedland, who has worked with UN Watch, said, “I have only seen the us-against-them mentality, and this is one of the first times I have ever seen this collaboration.”
About his most recent trip to Uganda, Friedland said, “Essentially, I have been working with three schools there as well as King David over here, kind of empowering their educational sector in the interfaith forum. And the three interfaith schools I’ve been working with are the three I’m the most motivated to help provide school buses.”
While interviewing students in Uganda, he said, “One of the girls that really stood out to me was a girl named Miriam, a lovely Jewish girl from [Semei Kakungulu] high school, an 18-year-old. She was telling me that, when she walks to school, she walks six kilometres in either direction. And, in extreme rainfall events, which is pretty much all of the rainy season, she will cross a river to school and, when she goes back, the river is often flooded and she cannot cross back, so that night she’ll spend at a friend’s.”
Friedland added, “When I think about the struggle that our counterparts make to go to school and we do not – we don’t have that drive. That is something I’d like to impress on people in North America. I’m not saying you have to feel bad, just appreciate your access and your ease in getting an education and take it seriously.”
The website thewalkingschoolbus.com was created by Friedland to support the book and bus project, and sales of T-shirts and various other merchandise go towards his efforts to increase access to education. He said, “I think, as a Jew in Vancouver, in a more liberalized society, that this is the model that we should be going for … we should be supporting interfaith.”
Friedland has most recently worked with a team to connect King David’s Marketing 12 class with the entrepreneurship class at Semei Kakungulu. About his master’s degree, he said he will likely be writing his thesis on “the positive economic spillover effects from interfaith collaboration and employing interfaith collaboration, as an economic development growth model in other places, particularly Israel.”
Purim Project co-chairs Rachael Lewinski and Rivka Moreno with premier sponsor, Remo Mastropieri of Real Canadian Superstore. (photo from Vancouver Hebrew Academy)
What do you get when you put 90 people in an auditorium filled with delicious snacks, drinks, piles of boxes and mounds of packing materials? The Greater Vancouver Jewish Day School Purim Project Packathon, of course! GVJDSPPP, for short. 😉
Each year, Vancouver Hebrew Academy, in partnership with King David High School, Pacific Torah Institute, Richmond Jewish Day School, Shalhevet Girls High School and Vancouver Talmud Torah, join together to promote community and raise funds for Jewish education.
Assembling the more than 1,300 mishloach manot packages is a huge undertaking, requiring planning, strategy and oversight. Not to mention an army of volunteers! As in past years, the packathon took place in the KDHS auditorium, and this year’s volunteers included VHA’s Grade 6 and 7 students, VTT’s Grade 6 students and more than 15 community volunteers. The pre-packing and labeling were done by students from VHA and PTI the day prior.
Purim is a time to promote unity and togetherness, and the packathon is an amazing opportunity to do just that. When students help and give back to a community that supports and gives to their school, the good will created goes full circle. “What a great way to start off Simchah Week at VHA!” said one of the VHA teachers.