Left to right: The Bayit president Michael Sachs, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie and Marc’s Mensches winner Taya Benson. (photo from the Bayit)
Marc’s Mensches winner Taya Benson fundraised more than $7,500 for the Richmond SPCA, where she also volunteers every week. She was awarded the cash prize on Sept. 26 at the Pizza in the Hut event for Sukkot, which was co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and Marc’s Mensches. The event brought out a diverse crowd of more than 200 people, including many local officials and civic election candidates.
While the Marc’s Mensches initiative continues, the program is in the process of switching objectives: instead of being a contest, it will be focused on working as a group to do acts of chesed (loving kindness) around the city and community. “People can still nominate [youth] for the monthly gift card draw,” Bayit president Michael Sachs told the Independent, “but the main focus in Year 2 is harnessing the power of these mensches and doing good all over.”
Election day for municipal governments across British Columbia is Saturday, Oct. 20. In Vancouver, advance voting opportunities are available until Oct. 17, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
Members of British Columbia’s Jewish community have been involved in many pursuits over the decades. With some notable exceptions, few have pursued elective office. And this election continues the tradition. Of the hundreds of people running for city councils, school boards, regional district boards and the Vancouver park board, the Independent has identified only four members of the community running in the Oct. 20 elections, though there may be others. Here is a glance at their platforms and motivations.
Herschel Miedzygorski Independent candidate for Vancouver city council voteherschel.ca
Herschel Miedzygorski’s priorities include clean and safe streets, increased night transit and more funding for the arts. He wants to deter real estate speculation and speed up permitting processes for middle-class homes.
Miedzygorski has had a career as a restaurateur in Vancouver and Whistler, running Southside Deli in the resort municipality for 25 years and being involved in food ventures in the city. He has sold his food interests and now represents Giant Head Estate Winery, based in Summerland, B.C., to restaurant clients.
“I was born and raised in Vancouver,” he said. “My father had a secondhand store on Main Street for 60 years, it was called Abe’s Second Hand. That was my mom and dad.… We all grew up on Main Street.”
Miedzygorski has coached football and soccer and spends time at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. He was asked to run with a couple of the city’s political parties, he said, but “I just want to be an independent voice.”
Steven Nemetz is running for Vancouver park board because the time is right.
“It speaks to me at this stage of my life – father, grandfather – and I grew up in the city,” he said. “I grew up intimately familiar – because my father was a great outdoorsman – with these parks.”
Nemetz is a lawyer and holds a master’s in business administration and a rabbinic ordination. He created the “pop-up shul” Shtiebl on the Drive for the High Holy Days this year.
Having lived in various cities, notably New York, Nemetz wants to bring to Vancouver some ideas that have worked in other places. Inspired by the High Line, a park created from an old elevated railway in Manhattan, Nemetz suggests saving the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts (which are slated for demolition) and creating an elevated park in the space between them and extending that park east and west. A second High Line-style recreation space could work along the Broadway corridor, he said, incorporating transit hubs, Vancouver General Hospital and other existing assets.
He advocates a “privileges card” for city residents that would mean they pay no parking fees at any parks.
“There are 650,000 residents of the city of Vancouver,” he said. “There are over 10 million visitors a year.” A slight price increase for non-residents could offset the loss of revenue from locals, he said. “The residents of the city of Vancouver pay taxes. They support their infrastructure. They shouldn’t have to pay more for the use of facilities that they primarily support by way of small nickel-and-diming, like parking at Kitsilano Beach and Jericho.”
Nemetz looks at Mountain View Cemetery, 106 acres at the heart of the city, and sees potential for repurposing it to respectfully accommodate more living residents.
“We are not talking amusement park,” he said. “It could be something very unique, world-class in a way, that’s different.”
Norman Goldstein Richmond First candidate for Richmond school board richmondfirst.ca
Norman Goldstein is a former Richmond school trustee seeking to return to the board.
“The best thing for all people, including the Jewish people, is an open, accountable government that adheres to the rule of law,” he told the Independent. “The laws need to be crafted by caring, competent people, who understand that the strength of a society rests on how fairly and inclusively all citizens are treated. This is what I believe and this shapes who I associate with and trust politically.”
His priorities for education include moving forward with the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy passed by the Richmond school board.
“This has been, unfortunately, a very polarizing issue in Richmond,” he said. “To my understanding, the opposition to SOGI is based either on misunderstanding what the policy says – please, read the policy – or on deep-seated prejudice that is not self-recognized as such.”
Goldstein holds a doctorate in mathematics and taught and researched at the university level. He later completed a master’s of computer science and spent 21 years at MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates in Richmond, retiring in 2013.
“The Richmond School District has had a long, proud history of inclusion,” he said. “A major tool in this endeavour has been to integrate all learning levels into the same classroom. This socializes students to understand and appreciate each other.”
Election day for municipal governments across British Columbia is Saturday, Oct. 20. In Vancouver, advance voting opportunities are available until Oct. 17, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Advance voting dates and times differ by jurisdiction. More details are at vancouver.ca/vote or on the website for your municipality.
Cutting the ribbon at the official opening of Storeys on Dec. 1. (photo from Shelley Karrel)
“Those involved in Storeys feel like a family,” said Brenda Plant, executive director of Turning Point Housing Society, speaking at the opening gala of the rental housing development in Richmond on Dec. 1. “We’ve been working on this together for eight years now.”
Storeys, on Granville Avenue, provides 129 units of affordable rentals, which have on-site supportive services. The project is managed by five nonprofits. The Jewish community’s Tikva Housing Society has three floors of housing for low-income families: 18 units in total with rents at 30% of a household’s income – known as the Diamond Residences at Storeys. The other organizations involved are Coast Mental Health, providing units for low-income clients who need mental health supports; SUCCESS, which provides units for low-income seniors; Pathways Clubhouse Society of Richmond, which provides supportive environments for individuals working towards mental wellness; and Turning Point Housing Society, which provides units for individuals in recovery from addiction.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie spoke of the importance of the new building, pointing out that the City of Richmond contributed $19.4 million to the project, or one-third of the construction funding. “Some of you here may remember this site as a former KFC and a small office building,” he noted. “Eight years later, here we stand.”
“The housing units provided in this unique project will make such a difference in the lives of those who benefit from them,” said Selina Robinson, B.C. minister of municipal affairs and housing, during her address. To the nonprofits who made it happen, she said, “You guys rock.”
The event also featured remarks by MP Joe Peschisolido (Steveston-Richmond East); Kathleen Kennedy-Strath, chair of the board of Coast Mental Health; Jessica Berglund, president of the board of Pathways Clubhouse; Queenie Choo, chief executive officer of SUCCESS; Gord Argue, board chair of Turning Point Housing; and Shelley Karrel, co-chair of Tikva Housing.
The provincial and federal governments contributed just over $5 million and donors almost $2 million. BC Housing was key in assisting with providing the construction loan and will help organizations in securing their long-term mortgages at favourable rates.
Tikva’s involvement in Storeys was initiated under the leadership of Susana Cogan, who passed away before it was completed, and Linda Thomas, executive director of Tikva Housing, attended the opening with the society’s administrator, Anat Gogo, who led the Independent and others on a tour of the building. The suites are modern and well-designed, many with great views.
Tikva is supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and worked with Jewish Family Services to place the tenants. The Diamond Foundation gave Tikva the equity to be able to be at the table with the other Storeys project partners. Tikva’s 18 units are now home to families and individuals, from children through seniors.
“What has happened is that we have created a real community within a community,” explained Tikva Housing’s Karrel of the Diamond Residences at Storeys. “At one point, when the elevator wasn’t working because of a power outage, one of the tenants offered to go check on everyone to make sure they were OK. We hope to have communal Shabbat dinners and holiday events for the tenants,” she told the Independent.
Storeys is located near Garden City Bakery, Brighouse Park, Richmond Public Library, and many other resources. The Bayit’s Rabbi Levi Varnai recently visited to put mezuzot on the doors of the Jewish homes.
“In order to honour everyone’s commitment, I have a little present,” said Turning Point’s Plant midway through her presentation. She then handed out Staples’ “that was easy” buttons – “because I want you all to know that we’re going to do this again.”
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.
Gordon Diamond hangs the mezuzah at the opening of the Diamond Residences on Oct. 17, as Rabbi Levi Varnai looks on. (photo by Shelley Karrel)
At the ceremony, donors were thanked, residents welcomed and mezuzot put up; present were members of the Diamond family and representatives of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Jewish Family Service Agency, the Bayit, Kehila Society and Tikva Housing Society. The residences are part of the Storeys Complex in Richmond, and the official opening takes place Dec. 1.
Richmond Jewish Day School vice-principal Lisa Romalis addresses a delegation of United Nations ambassador on Nov. 13.(photo from RJDS)
India Cultural Centre of Canada / Gurdwara Nanak Niwas in Richmond hosted 11 United Nations ambassadors on Nov. 13. These diplomats represented Finland, Ghana, Guatemala, Jordan, Mali, Mauritania, Peru, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vietnam and Canada. And they took time to meet with local residents, including representatives from Richmond Jewish Day School.
The ambassadors were in Vancouver for the Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial summit. While here, they met with the Gurdwara Management Committee (GMC) and members of the Highway to Heaven Association (HHA). Richmond’s Highway to Heaven is home to more than 20 places of worship, representing many different faiths, including Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and others.
An outstanding feature of this event was when two educators – Sukaina Jaffer, vice-principal of Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, and Lisa Romalis, vice-principal of RJDS, stood up, holding hands, and spoke about their students’ common activities.
The UN ambassadors, led by Marc-André Blanchard, ambassador of Canada to the UN, were keen to learn about the multiplicity of religious groups represented on this small stretch of No. 5 Road and their concerted efforts in promoting harmony and unity in diversity. They were impressed with the concept of the HHA, where people from different ethnic and religious groups come together to practise their faith and live as peaceful neighbours.
The UN ambassadors commended members of the HHA and GMC and, on behalf of cultural centre chair Asa Singh Johal, Balwant Sanghera, a member of the GMC and chair of the HHA, thanked the ambassadors for taking the time to meet.
Rabbi Adam Rubin, wife Judith and their children. (photo from Rabbi Adam Rubin)
When Rabbi Adam Rubin and his family visited Congregation Beth Tikvah in February of this year, they fell in love. “They seemed to like us, too, I guess, because I got the job,” the rabbi told the Jewish Independent.
Rubin was born in Santa Monica, Calif., and grew up in Tustin, a small community outside of Los Angeles. He went to a public high school, which had only a few Jews, and first found a connection to Jewish community when he went to Jewish summer camp in northern California.
Rubin worked as a counselor in his college years, then furthered his journey into Jewish culture with a trip to Israel. He had a remarkable experience there, staying with a working-class Israeli family and wandering around Jerusalem for hours every day, fascinated. After a friend handed him a brochure for Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, he was intrigued and made plans to study there.
After graduating from University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in American and European history, Rubin spent two years at Pardes. Despite the traditional yeshivah curriculum, there is no expectation of Orthodox observance. Free to experiment and find his own relationship with Judaism, Rubin became observant.
He studied Israeli politics and history and went on to do his doctorate at University of California, Los Angeles, in Jewish history, focusing on the Hebrew culture of the Yishuv in the 1920s and 1930s, in the era of Hayim Nahman Bialik. He was interested in people who came to Palestine to refashion Jewish life, as Ahad Ha-am (Asher Ginsberg) and the followers of cultural Zionism did. Cultural Zionism was more focused on the renewal of Jewish culture than the political renewal of a Zionist state.
Rubin settled into an academic life in Los Angeles, teaching rabbinical students at Hebrew Union College (HUC) as well as students at University of Southern California (across the street). After several years in academia, though, he was less than happy.
“The core thing in an academic life is research and writing,” he said. “I can do that, but I’m a people person, very social. I love to be with people, and my favourite part of the job was the faculty connection to the broader community, which HUC required of its teachers.” Also, over time, “the love of history faded and was replaced with the love of Torah.”
By that time, Rubin had become “egalitarian observant,” was involved in an independent minyan and had enjoyed a study chavruta (group, literally friendship) for years. He was “living a meaningful, wonderful Jewish life,” he said, “and didn’t feel like I needed to be a rabbi to do that.”
As he increasingly wanted to serve the Jewish community more directly and to be with people, he turned to the rabbinical path. After his ordination at Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, he became assistant rabbi at Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Seattle.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make this major transition without the support of my wife Judith,” said Rubin, noting that he needed to take a significant loss of income and become a student again to become a rabbi. His wife, an experienced elementary school teacher, will be teaching secular studies at Richmond Jewish Day School.
Although Rubin had a “great experience” at Beth Shalom, he wanted his own pulpit. “I used to joke that I was the oldest assistant rabbi in the U.S.,” he said.
The Rubins have two children: Elior, 7, who will be going to RJDS, and Na’amah, 3, who will be going to a francophone preschool.
The rabbi is looking forward to taking up the spiritual helm at Beth Tikvah.
“I love that Beth Tikvah congregation has a do-it-yourself spirit – a great deal of the religious life of the shul is done by the congregants themselves. I love how deeply committed our members are to the flourishing of the community, and how much they love and support one another.”
When asked what he hoped to bring to Beth Tikvah, Rubin replied, “My passion for exploring the spiritual riches of the Jewish tradition and sharing the sacred experience of living a life of mitzvot, combined with a commitment to the intellectual rigour and seriousness of deep Torah study.”
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.
Front row, left to right: Sgt. Pat Madderon, Canadian Forces Reserves; Ron Van Houten, B.C. Emergency Health Services; Brian McLeod, Richmond Fire; and Superintendent Will Ng, Richmond RCMP officer in charge. Back row left to right: Cpl. Dave Winberg; Cpl. Kevin Krygier; Councilor Bill McNulty; Councilor Derek Dang; Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie; Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman; and Peter Tellis, Richmond Fire. (photo from Chabad of Richmond)
More than 400 people came out on May 18 to show their appreciation for Richmond’s first responders, including the RCMP, Richmond Fire and Rescue, BC Ambulance and the Canadian Armed Forces. The First Responders Appreciation Event was held in conjunction with Richmond RCMP Police Week.
Presented by Chabad of Richmond, the festivities featured a kosher hot dog barbeque. Sergeant Safety Bear was on hand to meet the kids, and attendees got the chance to learn more about their local police. There was also free Project 529 bike registration, a chance for young people to try out the Youth Police Academy and a scavenger hunt. Donations were collected for the Jewish Food Bank.
Other event sponsors included Sneg Mortgage Team, SOS Emergency Response Technologies, ER Plus Risk Management, Vision Plus, Kehila Society, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and Real Canadian Superstore. The get-together offered people the opportunity to “strengthen bonds with faith-based communities,” said Chabad of Richmond’s Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman.
CTeen members with Rabbi Chalom Loeub. (photo from Chabad of Richmond)
Did you know that Richmond Jewish teens have a group of their own? It’s CTeen, which stands for Chabad Teen Network. CTeen Richmond, a program sponsored and hosted by Chabad of Richmond, is led by Rabbi Chalom Loeub.
“CTeen is open to all Jewish teens, regardless of their religious affiliation,” said Loeub. The international program run by Chabad Lubavitch is aimed at teens in grades 8 to 11. CTeen Richmond is currently comprised of a small group of teens, but wants to expand its numbers.
This unique program includes Sunday night learning, volunteering and socializing. Participants volunteer by cooking and baking for the Light of Shabbat meals, which are delivered to elderly Jews and those who have trouble cooking for themselves. The CTeens also cook and bake for the Smile on Seniors program at Chabad of Richmond.
Six CTeen youth from Richmond recently attended a CTeen Shabbaton in New York. This Shabbaton gathered 2,000 teens from around the world. It included Friday night programs, where they learned about Jewish history, as well as how Judaism relates to science. They also learned a bit about the Tanya, ate great food, met lots of other teens, sang, danced and had lots of fun. One of the Richmond CTeens described it as “inspirational.”
Friday afternoon, the teens got to explore New York in groups. Saturday evening, with stringent security, the CTeens took over Times Square for two hours, where they held Havdalah, sang and danced, and listened to motivational speakers on topics like Torah and the importance of doing mitzvot. Richmond teen Daniel Davydova, who went with his brother Itay, took from this experience the message that “together, we are the future.” He described the experience as “enlightening.” After the talks, the teens toured New York on buses.
The highlight of the Shabbaton for most of the Richmond group was visiting the Ohel, the holy site of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s grave. The teens found it extremely spiritual, and got the chance to write letters asking G-d for blessings for themselves and others. It was here they also wrote their personal “resolutions,” and committed to carrying these out.
Dana Sander, a Richmond CTeen member, called the visit “amazing” and said she’d recommend the CTeen Shabbaton to everyone. Fellow member Aaron Benatar said he loved “connecting with other Jewish teens from around the world.” He said that “standing shoulder to shoulder as a group” was very powerful. He said it “rekindled his Jewish spirit, and made him feel even more committed to helping the Jewish community through doing mitzvahs.”
The Richmond CTeen program focuses on Torah study and the importance of helping others. Eyal Levy, who’s been part of the program for a few months, is very enthusiastic about it. “I love the cooking most of all,” he said. “We get to cook for seniors who need it. I also love the socializing and games. Plus, we get to talk to the rabbi about topics that interest us.”
According to Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad of Richmond, “CTeen harnesses the incredible potential of teenagers by offering awesome programs that bring teens together to give back to their communities. CTeen welcomes every Jew and creates a sense of belonging.” The CTeen Network views the teenage years as a time not just for partying and frivolity, he added, but as a time of purpose and self-discovery. The goal is to connect participants to anything and everything Jewish.
Lesley Morris, left, and Gayle Robyn Morris at the Bayit’s Ladies’ Sushi Night. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
In every community, and ours is no exception, there are folks who frequently capture the spotlight for their work while others quietly get things done behind the scenes, flying below the media radar. In our new Kibitz & Schmooze profile, we’ll try to highlight members of Greater Vancouver’s Jewish community who are doing outstanding, admirable and mention-worthy work out of view of the general public. If you know of profile subjects who fit this description, please email [email protected].
As a specialist in communication disorders and founder of Advantage Speech-Language Pathology, Shari Linde’s days are filled with children and adults who need help for language or speech delays or disorders, stuttering, autism, voice problems, strokes, dementia and even accent reduction.
“I see adult immigrants whose accents affect how well they are understood. Sometimes their jobs depend on their ability to communicate in good English,” says the 48-year-old Edmonton native who moved to British Columbia in 1994.
“There are lots of tears in my office and the work requires a great deal of compassion,” she adds. “You have to be able to break difficult news to a family in this field. It’s good to know that you’re helping people and making a difference, but sometimes it’s very sad, too.”
Now residing in Richmond with her family, Linde’s Steveston-based firm of 10 therapists sees a constant stream of clients of all ages – not just because she and her team are great speech therapists, but also because there’s a dire shortage of speech-language professionals across the country. “There’s only 11 schools across Canada offering the two-year graduate program and UBC has only 36 graduates a year,” she explains.
A dynamic professional who thrives on challenge, Linde enjoys sharing her personal knowledge and experiences through regular guest lectures at the University of British Columbia and at conferences, rehabilitation agencies, schools and preschools.
She also supplements her private practice with medical-legal work as an expert witness in British Columbia and Alberta. Linde’s been called to testify in ICBC cases, medical malpractice suits and insurance claims, where she helps to determine the cost of future services and equipment for people whose communication deficits result from brain or other injuries. Some of it can be “pretty awful stuff,” she admits. “But I do it because it keeps me on my toes, it’s fascinating work and it gets me out of my normal routine of regular clients. It makes me think about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and what impact my work has.”
The impact can be immense for Linde’s speech therapy patients. “There are days where the changes required from a child are easily made, or when I see adults whose speech impediments are quickly resolved. In cases like that, you walk out of the office feeling victorious, like you know exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she says. “Other things I see make me sad and angry, such as the victims of accidents from drunk driving or abuse and kids with brain damage from strokes or serious medical conditions. Those are days when you go home extremely grateful for what you have.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Rose’s Angels co-founders Courtney Cohen, left, and Lynne Fader, surrounded by some of the 60 volunteers who came out Feb. 12 to make 1,000 care packages for those less fortunate. (photos by Lianne Cohen Photography)
On Feb. 12, this year’s Rose’s Angels event drew 60 volunteers to Richmond Jewish Day School to create a total of 1,000 care packages. Each package was delivered to service organizations within Richmond, such as the Jewish Food Bank, Chimo Community Services, Richmond Family Place and Turning Point Recovery, among others.
Rose’s Angels was created four years ago by Richmond residents Courtney Cohen and Lynne Fader, with the idea to make care packages for those less fortunate, in memory of Cohen’s late grandmother, Rose Lewin. Lewin’s generosity and constant willingness to help those in need is the inspiration for this project.
With the event growing over the last two years, Rose’s Angels partnered this year with the Kehila Society of Richmond, a not-for-profit society that offers seniors programming and outreach.
Cohen has made it her goal this year to connect with new programs and service providers that may be interested in receiving these special packages for their clients. Each care package contains a new pair of gloves, a toque, socks, non-perishable foods and hygiene-care items, with other items selected with consideration of the organization it is going to.
Rose’s Angels gratefully accepts donations year round through the Kehila Society, 604-241-9270 or [email protected].