When COVID-19 hit, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver quickly refocused its organizational resources on closing the annual campaign and addressing urgent community needs. Now, it is circling back to announce some terrific news, which is that the 2019 Federation annual campaign raised more than $8.9 million.
Here is a general breakdown of the funds raised:
$7.9 million in unrestricted funds to support programs and services locally, nationally and in Israel through the allocations process – an increase of $100,000 from last year;
$1 million in special project funding from donors who give above and beyond their annual campaign commitments to support programs that meet high-priority community needs; and
$40,000 to support the work of specific agencies from donors directing a portion of their increased gifts through Federation’s Plus Giving program.
The community’s generosity is making an impact here and around the world. Thirty-two local Jewish families will have safe, stable homes when they move into new affordable housing units this summer. Youth in Israel who were once considered at-risk are now skilled professionals whose expertise is sought after.
Federation gives a huge thank you to everyone who contributed and to everyone who volunteered to make the annual campaign a success, including the more than 250 community members who volunteered as canvassers and team captains.
Federation’s campaign chair, Jonathon Leipsic, once again demonstrated outstanding leadership, energy and passion for community as he led the Annual Campaign Working Cabinet. Kol hakavod and todah rabah to Leipsic and to each of these community leaders, who are on this dedicated team: Shay Keil, major gifts co-chair; Lana Pulver, major gifts co-chair; Michael Averbach, men’s philanthropy co-chair; Daniel Dodek, men’s philanthropy co-chair; Susan Hector, canvasser development; Al Szajman, marketing chair; Alvin Wasserman, campaign advisor; and Catherine Epstein, agency liaison.
The funds raised in this campaign will be distributed locally, nationally and in Israel during the 2021 allocations cycle, which will take place next summer. This is part of the two-year allocations cycle that Federation established after the 2008 economic downturn in order to provide greater predictability to its partners and to provide a measure of protection in the event of unanticipated fluctuations. The prudent contingency planning that Federation has been able to do as a result is part of what enabled it to provide emergency funding in April to community organizations that were hit hardest by COVID-19.
In addition, the community also depends on Jewish Federation to work with donors throughout the year to generate special project funding to meet high-priority needs. Combined with the annual campaign result, the total Jewish Federation raised this year was $10.3 million. While this strong result will help sustain the community, more resources will still be needed to address increased community needs related directly to the pandemic. A healthy annual campaign is just the start. With the challenges we’re all currently experiencing, Jewish Federation’s central role has never been more important.
Left to right: Lauren Miller Rogen, Seth Rogen, Mark Rogen, Sandy Rogen and Danya Rogen at the ceremony in New York City at which Mark and Seth were honoured with the Generation to Generation Activism Award from the Workmen’s Circle. (photo from Mark Rogen)
Vancouver’s Mark and Sandy Rogen have good reason to be proud of their children and the Jewish values with which they raised them. Some of those values were highlighted as 2019 came to a close, when Mark Rogen and his actor, writer and producer son Seth were honoured on Dec. 2 with the Generation to Generation Activism Award from the Workmen’s Circle in New York.
The award recognizes the Rogens’ work promoting Jewish culture and traditions, while also carrying on the traditions of tikkun olam, repairing the world.
“What made it meaningful for us and for everyone who came was that it was an award about values,” Mark Rogen said in an interview with the Jewish Independent after a game of basketball at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “It wasn’t about someone giving $2 million to get their name on a hospital. It was about recognizing people living in a positive way.”
Rogen said he and Sandy have always preached that value to their kids, along with the idea that they should always strive to “be a blessing.”
“That’s the way Sandy and I tried to raise Danya and Seth – to try to be a blessing and do what you can,” he explained. “Doing something one-to-one is just as good as doing something internationally. It’s where your heart is and I think Sandy and I are very happy to see that’s how Danya and Seth live their lives. That’s the pride.”
Rogen noted that, when his kids were young, they experienced many blessings. In those years, he said, the family had little money and institutions like Vancouver Talmud Torah, the JCC and Camp Miriam treated his children well, and “didn’t charge us a lot. So, Danya and Seth spent their formative years in the Vancouver Jewish community, and their friends today are from those years. Seth met Evan [Goldberg, his writing partner] at the JCC doing karate, and then they did bar mitzvah classes together.”
Knowing that his children are giving back as adults is important, said Rogen, who worked for the Workmen’s Circle for two years when the family temporarily moved to Los Angeles when Seth filmed Freaks and Geeks. Among other things, Seth and wife Lauren Miller Rogen founded Hilarity for Charity, which raises money for Alzheimer’s care, research and support.
That the recent award was a joint honour made it more meaningful to Seth Rogen. “To be honoured in any capacity is rare and lovely for me, but, to be honoured alongside my father was truly special and memorable,” he told the Independent. “My dad has always been dedicated to helping others and spreading goodness wherever he can. He worked for nonprofits most of my childhood and always strived to make the world a better place. He is someone I always go to for advice and his guidance is consistently geared towards not just what’s good for me, but what’s good for everyone.”
As for the Jewishness he often displays on screen, the actor said he rarely separates that part of himself from his work. “Being Jewish is inseparable from my identity in many ways, so it’s something I’ve always thought was good to acknowledge and integrate into my work,” he explained. “I simply am Jewish and I’m proud of myself and what I’ve done with my life.”
Seth Rogen’s biggest Jewish role, however, might be coming in the soon-to-be-released American Pickle, in which he plays a young man who comes to the United States in 1918 from a European shtetl, then gets trapped and preserved in a pickle barrel for 100 years before being united with his grandson in Brooklyn.
Danya Rogen – who is currently on the board of Vancouver Talmud Torah, on the personnel committee for Habonim Dror Camp Miriam and a regular participant on the JCC softball league team her father captains – joined many family members and friends in New York for the ceremony honouring her father and brother. She remembers her parents raising their awareness of important issues at a very young age.
“My parents, and my dad in particular, taught us to stand up for what we believe in and stand up for others who can’t do it for themselves,” she said. “My parents were also incredibly kind and generous, even when we didn’t have so much ourselves. All of those values have stuck with me my whole life. “I hope to live up to being a blessing and can pass those values on to my own children. I suppose the fact that I have become a social worker isn’t that surprising.”
Kyle Bergeris Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver sports coordinator, and a freelance writer living in Richmond.
Congregation Beth Hamidrash is celebrating its 50th year with a gala dinner to raise funds to better serve the congregation’s increasing number of young families. (photo from Beth Hamidrash)
“I want this to go on and on,” Albert Melul told the Independent about Congregation Beth Hamidrash. The longtime member said, “We have something precious. I don’t want it to be lost.”
Beth Hamidrash celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a gala dinner March 31. Melul, who hails originally from Tangier, Morocco, has been involved with the congregation from the beginning. In the early 1960s, when he worked as program director at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre, he was approached by some other members of the Sephardi community, who were looking for a space at the JCC for services. Melul helped the fledgling congregation get started.
In recent years, the synagogue has seen an increase in the number of young families attending services, with an average of 25 children present on Shabbat. In September 2018, the congregation hired Shira Puterman to lead their children and youth programming. The upcoming 50th jubilee celebration will raise money for the building of an expanded multi-purpose room to better serve these, and other, families.
The fundraising dinner, which will offer a door prize of two tickets to Israel, will include the induction of Beth Hamidrash’s new spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Gabay, by the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Gabay, who most recently worked as a high school teacher in the Sephardi community of Gibraltar, came into his position in the community following the departure of Rabbi Ilan Acoca in the summer of 2016. (See jewishindependent.ca/looking-to-the-future.)
“This is a huge honour and privilege. Frankly, to have such a distinguished personality visit us is incredible,” Gabay told the Independent.
Induction is common in the United Kingdom but may not be familiar to Canadians. “It’s when a senior rabbi officially welcomes a newer rabbi into a leadership position,” said Gabay. “The joke around the synagogue is that I’m going to be knighted.”
Mirvis, formerly the chief rabbi of Ireland, is known for his close connection to the British Royal Family – he took Prince Charles on a trip to Israel last year – as well as for his interfaith work, and he has a reputation for moderation and diplomacy. When a scandal broke out in the United Kingdom last year after an Orthodox day school censored all mention of homosexual victims of the Holocaust in its textbooks, Mirvis supported an initiative to introduce LGBTQ+ education into Jewish schools in the United Kingdom. In 2012, he appointed Lauren Levin as Britain’s first Orthodox female halachic (Jewish law) adviser at Finchley Synagogue in London.
In addition to Mirvis, several prominent local politicians are expected to be in attendance at the 50th jubilee, including Janet Austin, the lieutenant governor of British Columbia.
Beth Hamidrash is Vancouver’s only Sephardi synagogue, keeping alive the Jewish traditions of the Sephardim, the Jewish community whose roots go back to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. The Sephardim (from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sefarad) immigrated to North Africa, the Ottoman Empire and other parts of Europe, where they sustained their unique liturgies, customs and musical culture for centuries. Beth Hamidrash carries on these traditions, passing them onto each new generation.
The first meeting of the Sephardi community of Greater Vancouver was held in the late 1960s, followed by the first organized Sephardi prayer service. In 1973, the Sephardic Congregation was incorporated as a society in British Columbia, with the goal of establishing a synagogue. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, High Holiday services were held in the kindergarten classroom of the previous building of the JCC at 41st Avenue and Oak Street, and in the Vancouver Talmud Torah gymnasium. During the 1970s, the congregation began holding regular services at 3231 Heather St., in what was then a dilapidated former synagogue, which the congregation renovated and made into the beautiful congregational space there today.
The synagogue website notes that Beth Hamidrash congregants hail from Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Israel, India, France, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Russia, and many other parts of Canada and the world.
“What we have here is very special,” said Melul. “When you walk in the door here, you are a somebody. Our community is very warm, and we share each other’s sorrows and joys. When you visit this shul, someone will welcome you, someone will give you a siddur, someone will tell you when is Kiddish, someone will want to get to know you.”
“I landed in a spectacular community,” added Gabay. “The people are so kind and generous and forthcoming – they want to grow and they want to do. I really feel blessed to be here.”
To RSVP for the March 31 afternoon induction ceremony, email [email protected]. For tickets to the dinner gala, call the synagogue office at 604-872-4222 or email [email protected].
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter members with the fraternity’s “sweetheart,” Rachel Meadow. A “sweetheart” is elected every year at the chapter’s formal. (photo from AEPi)
The Vancouver chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the traditionally Jewish fraternity, is 20 years old this year. So is Benny Stanislawski, the chapter’s president, who will help oversee the anniversary celebrations next month.
AEPi, as it is commonly known, was not the first Jewish fraternity at the University of British Columbia. Another frat operated on campus in years past but eventually disbanded. In the summer of 1999, the former longtime international executive director of the fraternity contacted Jeff Waldman, a student at UBC, suggesting he consider founding a chapter. A group of eight “founding fathers” came together and Adam Propp, a high school friend of Waldman, also a UBC student, was chosen as the first president, or “brother master,” as the role is called internally.
Hillel has been on the UBC campus since 1947 and provided an avenue for Jewish fellowship and involvement for many students. But the founders of the fraternity saw advantages in creating the male-only society.
“I think all of us had different reasons,” Propp recalled. “For me, to be able to have an impact on the university experience for young Jewish men like myself was important. When I look back at it, Hillel appealed to many, but not all. [The fraternity] just appealed to a different set of people who might not have been attracted to Hillel right away. It was a way to get more people more active and involved in a Jewish experience on campus, especially since UBC is such a commuter school.”
Propp became philosophical reflecting on the chapter’s founding two decades ago, noting that, in the next few years, some sons of the original brothers will likely be pledging to the fraternity. In recent days, Propp has been reconnecting with many of the original brothers, as they plan to gather for the 20th-anniversary celebration with a series of events over the weekend of April 5-7.
The relationship between AEPi and Hillel differs from campus to campus and, at UBC, it has generally been extremely strong, sometimes highly symbiotic.
Gabe Meranda, who was executive director of the Vancouver Hillel Foundation at the time the chapter formed, admits he had some trepidation about a Jewish fraternity, not having had any experience with what is called “the Greek system.”
“I was skeptical at first, since I was cautious about fraternities. But these first few guys were so excited about launching the chapter in B.C. that I decided I must get behind it,” Meranda recalled. “I remember the night of their first party at Hillel. I didn’t know what to expect, but all seems to have gone well and it’s taken off from there.”
The chapter made Meranda an honorary brother and he still proudly has the pin, he said.
While fraternities have a reputation for certain excesses, Canadian campuses tend to be a little more low-key, in part because the lower drinking age in Canada means access to booze is not a motivator to joining a frat. What is less obvious to the general public are programs of leadership development, philanthropic ventures and, in the case of AEPi, Jewish cultural activities and, to varying extents, Israel programming or education.
Stanislawski stressed that AEPi has no political or religious orientation. Jewish young men, as well as non-Jewish ones who want to pledge – of which there are usually a few each year – are welcome without concern for their religious affiliation (or lack of affiliation) or their approach to Zionism.
The chapter’s main annual philanthropic event is Hoops 4 Health, an all-day, three-on-three basketball tournament that takes place this year on March 31 at War Memorial Gym. The chapter’s charity beneficiary used to be different health causes, but the Heart and Stroke Foundation has a special meaning to the brothers. A couple of years ago, an AEPi member, Nitai Weinberg, suffered a stroke at the age of 18. Now fully recovered, he and his brothers raised $8,000 for the cause last year, and this year have significantly upped their goal to $25,000.
As an example of the range of programs, the chapter recently hosted a presentation on sexual assault awareness, led by the UBC Mental Health Network. They also host “Greek Shabbats” at Hillel House, where members of all the university’s fraternities are invited.
“The Greek community is fairly large and it’s also influential,” said Lenny Tabakman, who was master brother last year and is chairing the organizing committee for the anniversary celebration. “A lot of people that join fraternities and sororities are leaders in their own community. The fact that they mingle with us and we get to meet the leaders of other communities, I feel like it’s beneficial for the Jewish community at large because we’re basically creating allies of the community by bringing them in. They probably would never even enter Hillel and, every week, we have people who are not Jewish come into Hillel and hang out with AEPi.”
These connections are helpful, Tabakman said, when issues like anti-Israel incitement happens on campus and allies are needed to counter them.
Tabakman sees fraternities in general as a place to nurture leadership.
“A fraternity is kind of like a learning laboratory where you get to practise your leadership skills and your teamwork skills,” he said. “It’s kind of a safe place to fail. It prepares you for the business world.”
AEPi has an added mission, agreed Tabakman and Stanislawski: “Developing leaders for the Jewish community.”
Founded in 1913, the fraternity now serves 190 campuses in seven countries; it claims 90,000 living alumni. The UBC branch, officially called the Beta Chi chapter, welcomes students from Langara, Simon Fraser, Emily Carr, Capilano and all post-secondary institutions in the region. The chapter usually has 40-plus brothers in any given year, peaking last year at 49.
“I’d love to see the organization get into the 70s,” said Stanislawski. But, given the limited number of Jewish students on campus, slow, steady growth is the realistic goal.
Samuel Heller, the current executive director of Hillel at UBC, congratulated the fraternity and thanked them for their contributions.
“Both the Hillel community and wider campus community are enriched by this brotherhood of young men who exemplify leadership and champion Jewish values,” said Heller. “Brothers of AEPi are a positive force on campus … by creating a group of young leaders who are changing the face of UBC and who, in turn, will change the world.”
Pat Johnson is an honorary brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi Beta Chi chapter.
Some people hate birthdays. They don’t want to
hear about them. They refuse to tell you their age, or even discuss such
matters. What’s that about? Other people are different about such things. I am
one of those.
When we were kids, birthdays were all about
celebrations. There was the cake, the gaudier the better. And the presents!
Didn’t we look forward to all that? There was all the fuss about getting
friends to attend. And even hard feelings if someone you thought was a friend
didn’t attend. Parents got into it and it could get all political. The “keeping
up with the Joneses” adage raised its ugly head and your party had to be as
spectacular as those of your friends. I remember once we had a small pony to
ride at a birthday. Some kids had a clown come to entertain the kids at their
party. When we were teens, they were just an excuse for a dance, with all the
to-ing and fro-ing between girls and boys. And getting money from the relatives
so we could add to the bank account for college was a very serious business.
In our parenting years, it was more about the
kids. Birthdays, if they were marked at all, were something quiet between
parental partners. At least, that’s the way it was for me. There had to be a
special something between the partners for fuss to be made on birthday
occasions. Many years of our lives went by with no conscious notice taken to
the passage of time. All of a sudden we were at 20-year anniversaries. Pity!
There is a lot to be said for marking occasions with some ceremony. There were
a lot of occasions we missed that should have been celebrated. Too bad about
that as I look back. Maybe things were better for you.
I find things are so much different for me
these days. I try to linger consciously on the special events, the birthdays
and other milestones as well. Like when we do yoga, we really concentrate on
feeling the now, our presence in the instant. Birthdays are great moments for
that. I track the dates and give advance notice to those who may have the
faintest of interest, sending out blindcopied email messages to all and sundry
alerting them to the occasion, so they can jump on the computer, the telephone,
or any other communication vehicle. They can pretend that they have known about
the matter all along, so the object of the interest will feel really
appreciated. It helps draw all of us closer together, reinvigorating our ties.
If we can be present for a birthday, that takes
the cake. Thinking of my own experience as the one being fêted, don’t we all
feel good when somebody makes a fuss over us, doing something that we wouldn’t
think of doing for ourselves? After all, we usually think of others. We would
feel too self-absorbed, even conceited, to make a fuss about ourselves. It’s so
much nicer when somebody else goes to the trouble of doing it. Doesn’t that
make us feel great! It does me.
And, know a secret? I’m no longer shy about
that stuff. I am totally obnoxious. I had a birthday when I was 75 and invited
everybody I could think of, especially those I really wanted to see. And I made
them travel, hundreds, even thousands, of miles to attend. Of course, I
insisted I wanted no other present than their presence. (And I graciously
accepted gifts from those who ignored my request.) All the cards and letters I
received were great. And one of my daughters assembled a book of my poems, with
pictures and comments, that is among my treasures today.
I held my 75th in my old hometown, thousands of
miles from where I lived. I went to a place where they had a chocolate fountain
for the kids. It was wonderful to see all those chocolatey faces. And my
son-in-law stepped in and picked up the tab. Wow! What a gift! Yes, I remember,
and am grateful. I would have been very happy to pick up the bill just the
same, but it makes one feel so appreciated. It was an orgy of
self-satisfaction. Aren’t I a brat! I know that. My Bride reminds me I am all
I did the same thing for my 80th in Dublin,
where my Bride and I were living at the time. I knew then that we would be
leaving to come back to Canada, so it was a great occasion to invite a few thousand
of my favourite people to say goodbye. A couple of my kids even came across the
big water to be there. It was another indulgence to my ego and I enjoyed it
thoroughly. We only live once, right? We have to celebrate survival. We may not
be around too much longer to do it.
So, I believe in indulging in all the things
now that I never gave a thought to during the years I was slugging it out,
making my way through life. Many of us are too busy during those years putting
one foot in front of the other. When younger, we did things the quickest way,
the most economical way. We shrugged off the sentimentality we might have felt,
that might weaken our resolve to forge ahead. In doing so, we surrendered a lot
of what might have been very good times, but we remember the few times we
weakened, now some of the best of our memories.
These days, I make a great fuss about every
birthday – even when it’s not mine!
Max Roytenbergis a
Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes:
Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online