הסוכנות לבטיחות תעופה של האיחוד האירופאי החלה לבדוק את מערך הבטיחות של מטוס בואינג שבע שלוש שבע מקס, בשדה התעופה הבינלאומי של ונקובר (ווי.וי.אר) בימים אלה. מדוע אם כן נבחר שדה התעופה הבינלאומי של ונקובר לביצוע טיסות הניסוי עלי ידי הסוכנות לבטיחות התעופה של האיחוד האירופאי? זאת בגלל מגבלות הטיסה בארצות הברית שהונהגו על ידי האירופאים לאור מגיפת קוויד-תשעה עשרה. יש גם לזכור שוונקובר קרובה מאוד לסיאטל שבמדינת וושינגטון ושם נמצא המטה של חברת בואינג האמריקנית.
ועל כן בימים אלה, לראשונה מזה כשנה וחצי, נחת בשדה התעופה הבינלאומי של ונקובר מטוס הבואינג שבע שלוש שבע מקס. זאת לאחר שהמטוס שקורקע בכל העולם בשל שתי תאונות קטלניות מאוד, שגרמו להרוגים רבים. הסוכנות לבטיחות תעופה של האיחוד האירופאי מבקשת אפוא לבחון עתה את מערך הבטיחות של מטוס הבואינג השבע שלוש שבע מקס, באמצעות מספר טיסות ניסוי שיערכו מעל שמי אזור ונקובר.
לדברי דובר הסוכנות לבטיחות תעופה של האיחוד האירופאי, הסוכנות נמצאת בתיאום ובשיתוף פעולה מלא עם מינהל התעופה הפדרלי האמריקני. זאת, כדי להחזיר לשירות בהקדם האפשרי את הבואינג שבע שלוש שבע מקס. למרות זאת יש לציין שלחברת בואינג נשארו עדיין מספר משימות ופעולות לבצע במטוס ובמערכותיו השונות, במסגרת בדיקות הבטיחות שלו לאור התאונות הקשות. הדובר מציין כי אפשר בכל מקרה בשלב זה לבצע כבר מבחני טיסה למטוס הנוסעים האמריקני המתקדם, כדי לאמוד את השינויים שכבר הוכנסו בו ע”י היצרנית האמריקנית בואינג, על מנת לשפר את מערך הבטיחות שלו.
מטוס בואינג שבע שלוש שבע מקס מקורקע מאז חודש מרץ שנה שעברה, לאחר ששתי התרסקויות של דגמים שלו הרגו לא פחות משלוש מאות ארבעים ושישה בני אדם. טיסה של חברת אתיופיאן איירליינס התרסקה מחוץ לבירה אדיס אבבה והרגה את כל מאה חמישים ושבעה האנשים שעל סיפון השבע שלוש שבע מקס. ואילו חמישה חודשים קודם לכן, טיסה של ליון אייר שהמריאה מג’קרטה צללה לאחר מספר דקות לים, כאשר על סיפונו של המטוס מאה שמונים ותשעה נוסעים.
לאחר בדיקות ארוכות מוצאו חוקרי התעופה של שתי ההתרסקויות, כי היו במטוסים חיישנים פגומים שהפעילו את המערכות הטייס האוטומטי שלהם, שדחפו את המטוסים דווקא כלפי מטה ובמהירות גדולה. ואילו הטייסים שניסו להילחם ולעצור את המערכות לא הצליחו ובסופו של דבר הם איבדו את השליטה. שני המטוסים התרסקו וכאמור גרמו לאבדות גדולות בנפש.
רשויות תעופה רבות ובעיקר רשות התעופה הפדרלית האמריקנית בדקו את השינויים הדרושים לביצוע, במערכי מטוס הבואינג שבע שלוש שבע מקס השונים, כולל בתוכנת המחשבים המורכבת שלו, וקבעו סידרה של אימונים וטיסות ניסוי. וזאת כדי לאפשר להחזיר לשרות את מאות מטוסי הבואינג שבע שלש שבע מקס קרוב לוודאי במהלך שנה הבאה.
יצויין כי רשות התעופה הפדרלית של קנדה (טרנספורט קנדה) החלה לבצע את טיסות הניסוי שלה במטוס הבואינג שבע שלש שבע מקס, בחודש אוגוסט האחרון. הטיסות של רשות התעופה הקנדית מתקיימות במתקני חברת בואינג בסיאטל. זאת כחלק מבדיקה כוללת של גורמים שמחוץ לחברה ומחוץ לארה”ב – כדי לאמת את השינוים שבוצעו כבר או שהומלץ לעשותם במטוס המדובר.
ואילו רשות התעופה הפדרלית האמריקנית שמופקדת על מתן אישור להמראה מחודשת של מטוס הבואניג שבע שלוש שבע מקס, החלה בסדרת הניסויים שלה כבר בראשית הקיץ הנוכחי.
Bonnie Nish, executive director of Word Vancouver. (photo by Andrew Bagoly)
“We believe that Word Vancouver is a vehicle for community connection. It is important on so many levels right now to provide a space for collaboration, discourse, and a safe and accessible platform for people to share their stories,” festival executive director Bonnie Nish told the Independent.
Normally, the annual event takes place in Downtown Vancouver and people drop in to see author talks and participate in other activities. This year’s festival will be online, running Sept. 19-27.
“Like most organizations, we knew we had to either cancel or pivot by late March,” explained Nish about the impact of COVID-19. “Our festival takes place in September, so we had more time than others to make this decision.
“Word Vancouver’s mission,” she said, “is to bring readers and writers together to celebrate literary arts. The question was could we make the change from an in-person festival to an online festival and still serve this mission. We decided that, yes, we could, and, in doing so, we might even extend our reach with the in-person barrier removed. We could now seamlessly collaborate with national partners like Word On the Street Toronto and authors who were not physically in Vancouver, while keeping our main focus on local authors.”
Several changes had to be made.
“We needed to get prepared for the new online delivery format,” said Nish. “With the live in-person festival, we would not have any pre-registrations, as people would just walk into the events as they happened at the Vancouver Public Library. Now, we have a complex communications plan, along with a registration system, so our audience can secure their place and be given step-by-step instructions on how and when to participate.”
On the down side, she said, “We were working with a great site management team last year and we are sad we aren’t able to have them on our team for this festival.”
There have been other challenges, as well.
“We have had to prepare for the decrease of revenue from the exhibitor booths by reducing our staffing substantially,” said Nish. “Our board is very supportive of our new situation but they are also very risk averse, as they should be. We have found the most amazing volunteers and, for that, we are truly grateful. Programming is reduced somewhat, but we still have managed to book 140 authors and schedule over 50 events. Our community collaborations are stronger than ever. We have reinvented the exhibitor platform and now offer online exposure both on our website and during the events. It is a hard sell to some, but we honestly think the reach and return for exhibitors will be close to on par with the in-person version.”
Of the 140 authors participating this year, many are members of the Jewish community, and the Independent was able to speak with two of them – Alex Leslie and Rhea Tregebov – in advance of the festival.
Leslie writes poetry and short fiction, but is working on her first novel. Her latest collection is Vancouver for Beginners (Book*hug, 2019), and its poems are filled with powerful imagery and strong views about her beloved city, where she was born and raised. Leslie’s unique use of language, infused with obvious passion for her subject matter, is energizing to read. Every one of these poems is political in that they call on readers to think about the way in which they inhabit the world, how they think of ownership, place, community and many other concepts. Most of the entries are short narratives (or microfictions) that, in a page, encapsulate the feeling of being in a certain neighbourhood; what we lose when we normalize poverty alongside great wealth; the opportunities we miss when we forget our past, or the misery in our present.
JI: Could you share a bit about your background, both as it pertains to writing, and to your involvement with the Jewish community?
AL: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a very young child. In my early 20s, I started taking short fiction more seriously as a writer and trying to publish in literary journals. It took awhile to place my first story, through a long period of reading, frustration, rejection and editing. From there, I published stories until I had enough to put together a manuscript, and that book, People Who Disappear, came out in my late 20s. I’ve essentially continued in the same way – working on material for long periods of time, attending readings, drilling away at projects around the time I spend on my paid work in the mental health field. I’ve always been a wanderer between fiction and poetry communities.
I’m a member of Or Shalom synagogue in Vancouver and co-curate a storytelling series there…. The Jewish side of my family is originally Ashkenazi, from shtetls in Ukraine, in the regions around Lvov and Odessa (when they immigrated they wrote down they were “Russian”). We’re what is called diasporic, as the communities we came from were lost to the Shoah (Holocaust).
JI: Jewish characters have appeared in your writings. What are some of the ways in which our Jewishness informs your political, cultural or other views/actions?
AL: Yes, my book of stories that came out in 2018, We All Need to Eat, centred around a young Jewish woman named Soma, and Jewish identity is a backbone of that book, as she processes the current rise of the alt-right and her family history that’s bound up in fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.
For me, a core Jewish value is tikkun olam, which translates roughly to “repair of the world/universe.” Tikkun olam influences my work in the mental health field, as there is the prerogative there of contribution and not turning away from difficult areas of the mind and the concept that energy and goodness can be found in dark places. Persistence and dark humour – humour where others may not find humour! – are practices I’ve taken from Jewishness as well.
JI: Do you still co-curate Koreh at Or Shalom? Why is it important for people to have a platform to publicly read their work?
AL: Yes! Our next Koreh is on Saturday, Sept. 12, for Selichot. We have 10 readers! I curate this with Or Shalom’s Rabbi Hannah Dresner. This Koreh is centred on the idea of the pandemic as a crossing or transformation and everyone is welcome to be part of our audience. Here is the link with the Zoom information: orshalom.ca/event/leil-selichot-a-koreh-event-with-high-holiday-melodies.
This is our third year of curating Koreh. I feel it’s a special space for people who may not consider themselves “writers” to share stories, poems and reflections on their experiences and how they relate to the world. We’ve had Korehs focused on the natural world, on repose/restoration, on sanctuary. Rabbi Hannah asked me to co-curate it with her when we started it up. It was really her concept in the beginning and it’s been a pleasure to get to know so many writers and listeners adjacent to Koreh.
JI: What compels you to write and publish?
AL: My love of writing coincided with my love of reading. I’ve honestly wanted to be a writer since kindergarten. I remember writing stories about our neighbours, and my mother copying them out again in her handwriting. As I got older and wrote more and more, publishing emerged as a natural goal.
I read constantly and loved that I could see the world precisely from another person’s emotional perspective. I suppose that I wanted to replicate that experience, and share in it. Also, for me, it was about language, and using and manipulating language as a medium. Selecting, ordering and controlling words is a fascination for me, the way I suppose a mathematician may feel about algebra, or an investor might feel about predicting stocks. It’s a system.
JI: What is the importance to you of words?
AL: I think that words can put you in another person’s mind, so the power here would be empathy, radical transportation. Words also have a power of deep-layered description – so the power would be complex evocation, mixing emotional and physical parts of reality, making something 2-D into something 3-D, like a life-giving power.
Words can also move us to action. During the pandemic, I have been reading a lot. Endless online stuff is tiring and alienating after a long period of time. I’ve read a few extraordinary novels during this time – two are Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami and Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. I also read Norman Doidge’s two books about neuroplasticity. I’m grateful for how these books moved me and took me out of this moment and showed me something I couldn’t have imagined on my own.
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Born in Saskatoon and raised in Winnipeg, Tregebov moved to Vancouver from Toronto in 2004 to teach in the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia. Though she retired in 2017, she holds the position of associate professor emerita and continues to teach a bit. She has written several children’s books and is working on her eighth collection of poetry. Rue des Rosiers (Wolsak & Wynn, 2019) is her second novel.
Based on events leading to the 1982 terrorist attack in Paris on Goldenberg’s Deli, which killed six people and injured many more, Rue des Rosiers is a poignant and lyrical story about two women with vastly different backgrounds but both trying to figure out who they are and their place in the world. Canadian Sarah Levine makes decisions by flipping a penny that she carries with her and, at 25, she is decidedly lost, for a number of reasons. When she has a chance to go to Paris, she does and, while there, her story crosses over with that of Laila, an Arab immigrant living in one of the city’s slum neighbourhoods. In the author’s notes, Tregebov writes that she hopes her novel will “act as a memorial to the six people who died in the attack.” It does that, and more.
JI: Rue des Rosiers has so many layers and motifs, tightly woven, not a phrase seems superfluous. Can you share some of your creative process, from the idea of the novel to its publication last year?
RT: The novel began with two impulses: to explore the relationships among sisters and to understand the impact of terrorism on perpetrators as well as victims. Both are rooted in personal experience. I am one of three sisters, and I was living in Paris in 1982 very near where the attack on Rue des Rosiers occurred. Working through these issues was a long, sometimes joyous, sometimes exhausting process.
JI: Could you speak a bit about how Judaism or Jewish community infuse your work and/or life?
RT: I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust and the moral issues the Holocaust raises are core. I also grew up in a vital Winnipeg community that modeled ethical commitment and progressive values that I still find of immense value.
JI: Coteau Books, which initially published your novel, has closed. What are some of your thoughts on the future of publishing?
RT: Small presses like Wolsak & Wynn (who, happily, have picked up the novel) are a mainstay of literary publishing. We still have an infrastructure of support that allows these smaller presses. I’m concerned that the consolidation that characterizes the larger presses may contribute to a narrowing of available voices and perspectives.
JI: In an interview, you say, “I’ve said that the book is trying to ascertain the humanity in inhumanity.” Are there any risks in doing this, in finding the humanity in inhumanity?
RT: It can be difficult to attempt to empathically understand behaviour that is anathema to one’s own moral schema. I didn’t want to justify or validate acts or attitudes that dehumanize the Other. But, as one of the characters in the book says, “I’m interested in goodness, the mystery of goodness.” And, to examine goodness, one has to examine evil as its corollary.
JI: In another interview, you mention being “intrigued by the problem-solving involved in writing a novel.” Can you flesh out that idea?
RT: These large projects are so complex and absorbing. In the early stages, you have to hold a world that isn’t yet fully formed in your head. I’ve joked that it felt like wearing a giant hat! I (mostly) love the cut and paste and revision aspects of writing, how solving one small element sometimes acts to realign the entire book in a positive way.
JI: I’m always intrigued by imagery that enriches the storytelling, but is not technically needed for the story to be told. In Rue des Rosiers, you write sentences like, “A scraggly American elm sapling is handcuffed to a post as if it’s committed some crime”; “A gardener in blue coveralls sweeps the sand path, wiping away the traces of pigeon footprints”; “Light is a wave and a particle and so are the bees.” When or how do these types of flourishes enter your writing process?
RT: I think they’re a natural product of my life as a poet. Much of my writing is about looking, and I process looking through words. So having imagery present in the narrative is integral in world-building.
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Word Vancouver is completely free and some events are already full, so visit wordvancouver.ca sooner than later. The festival is welcoming financial support via donations, its Adopt an Author and silent auction programs, information about which also can be found on their website.
The Ben and Esther Dayson Residences, on East Kent Avenue North, opened its doors to tenants last month. (photo from Tikva Housing)
The first tenants at the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences started moving into their new homes in late August. Managed by Tikva Housing, the 32 townhomes are located west of the River District, on East Kent Avenue North, a block from Riverfront Park.
The residences comprise four two-bedroom units (1,045 square feet), 24 three-bedroom units (1,175 square feet) and four four-bedroom units (1,305 square feet). The units were open to Vancouver-based families with one to six children, within a range of income levels. The site includes two towers that will be managed by the Fraserview Housing Co-op.
A part of the Vancouver Land Trust project, the residences share a number of amenities, such as green space and a playground. Rent will be targeted to approximately 30% of gross household income to a rent maximum. Tenants are expected to pay for hydro, phone, internet and contents insurance.
Anat Gogo, Tikva Housing’s manager of programs and donor relations, expressed her enthusiasm upon the launch. “I feel so excited for the community,” she said. “It will be a concentrated Jewish community. When you build neighbourhoods, you build community.
“The residences will also provide a home for essential workers, such as teachers, in our community,” she added.
The Dayson Residences are situated close to several daycares, elementary and high schools, as well as banks, shopping centres, grocery stores, libraries and hospitals.
The strong need for affordable housing in the region has been a prevalent concern for many years. A 2011 survey of the Greater Vancouver Jewish community identified more than 4,000 people (or 16% of the total community) who were low-income; the number included 600 children and 550 single-parent families.
To many local renters, Vancouver holds the unenviable distinctions of having the highest rents and the lowest vacancy rates in the country. At the start of the year, the rent for an average one-bedroom apartment in the city was more than $1,500 per month, while vacancy levels hovered around one percent.
Tikva Housing helps those who would be deemed “working poor” and cites the limited “life options” available to them in this expensive city. For example, to a person earning $2,000 a month, the affordable level for their rent should be a maximum of $600 per month. For the past decade especially, rents in the Lower Mainland have risen far beyond that level – thus leaving little money to set aside for food, medicine, utilities, transport or education to improve job skills.
“They save people from being on the streets. They save people from unsafe situations,” said Steve, a tenant at Tikva Housing’s Diamond Residences in Richmond. “It’s given me security. I don’t have to worry about making rent. It’s affordable. I buy our groceries. It puts me in a wonderful frame of mind. It allows me to be a good father. Without Tivka, I would not have been able to give proper care to my children.”
Tikva Housing’s stated mission is to provide a safe, stable and affordable home to every Jewish person in Metro Vancouver who needs one. Its services are geared primarily at low- and moderate-income adults and families.
It also operates the 11-unit Dany Guincher House apartments in Marpole and the 18-unit Diamond Residences cited above. Opening in early 2021 is the Arbutus Centre on the West Side – as part of a partnership with the City of Vancouver, the YWCA and the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia – which will bring another 18 studios and 19 one-bedroom units to low- and moderate-income members of the community.
As might be expected, the number of people turning to Tikva Housing has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In July alone, it approved a record number of eight recipients for the Tikva Housing Rent Subsidy Program.
“The subsidy allocation for the past five months amounted to just shy of $27,000 in addition to the existing allocations, and the need continues to grow,” Gogo said.
In August, Alice Sundberg, Tikva’s director of operations and housing, announced, “I am in conversation with a few private developers and nonprofit housing providers regarding potential projects in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey. I can’t say more about these opportunities at this time.”
Ben Dayson was a prominent figure in Vancouver and Richmond real estate and a philanthropist. Together with his wife Esther, they worked to help many charitable causes. Helping those in need find affordable housing was one of their primary objectives, through funds provided by the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation.
“Our family is focused on providing funding to areas of basic needs,” said their daughter, Shirley Barnett. “Obviously, housing is one of these areas we choose to support. As my parents, Ben and Esther Dayson, were in real estate development, it seemed natural to fund a complex such as this in their memory.”
Local Israeli Jews gathered at Vancouver Maritime Museum Aug. 29 to join groups around the world in supporting rallies in Israel for democracy. (photo by Zohar Hagbi)
In recent years and with greater intensity during COVID-19 and the current “emergency” coalition in Israel, many believe that the foundations of Israeli democracy are being challenged by a prime minister indicted on several criminal counts. On Aug. 29, several dozen Israeli expats, members of the Metro Vancouver Jewish community and others joined compatriots in 18 cities around the world to support the growing protests in Israel.
Hundreds of supporters, standing in unison with protesters in Israel, took a stand at their respective locations in Atlanta, Amsterdam, Basel, Berlin, Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, New York, Oslo, Paris, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, D.C. Another Canadian city, Calgary, has held a rally or two. On other weeks, protesters as far as Sydney, Australia, have expressed their support.
From the outset, Vancouver organizers drew inspiration and guidance from UnXeptable, a grassroots movement launched by a group of Israelis residing in the San Francisco Bay area. This tightly knit, completely self-funded team of volunteers put together position papers, crafted marketing materials and created social media channels that seeded the formation of similar groups dotting Western Europe and North America.
The prime minister’s official residence is located on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, making it and the neighbouring squares and streets the epicentre and namesake of the protests. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, the more serene and isolated location of the Vancouver Maritime Museum served as our venue. It was the third time we have come together to hold signs, wave the Israeli flag, chant and sing in solidarity with the countless protesters, of all stripes, on the ground in Israel. In contrast to local gatherings in previous weeks, this global rally saw a significant increase in participation. Whether this was due to the broad media coverage of police violence at Balfour the week before, the global nature of this particular event, or the remarkable planning, the result was a palpable level of energy and a sense of unity.
It was a windy day, which forced us to relocate from our usual spot on the north side of the museum to the warmer grass at the front of it. The venue was chosen over more central locations out of consideration for the safety of the people involved and other sensitivities. The goal of our gathering was, after all, to support the people in Israel, while reducing the chance of friction with anti-Israelis or with those who would mistakenly claim that our actions were akin to “airing dirty laundry.” Over the years, Israelis living abroad have faced significant pushback from many parts of the Diaspora community who have had difficulty understanding and accepting their criticism of Israel. As Diaspora Jews and others learn more about the serious challenges that Israeli society faces today, they may become a little more sensitive to the internal conflicts of many Israelis living abroad – people who have given some of the best years of their lives to defending the country they love and who are genuinely concerned by what is currently taking place.
Assembled in the various cities for more than an hour, the Vancouver group joined their peers around the world in a simultaneous Zoom-powered broadcast of the rally, dubbed “Halev BeBalfour” (“the Heart is in Balfour”). This coordinated event, quite possibly the first of its kind in Israeli history, took place at precisely 9 p.m. Israel time, was streamed on the new independent channel DemocratTV and, most importantly, screened on the side of a building at the neighbouring Paris Square for the protesters to see. During an allotted two minutes, each location was given the opportunity to express its support through speeches, chants or songs. As the cities took their turn, Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background, Berlin with its Brandenburg Gate, San Francisco with the Golden Gate and so on, Vancouver had its share of the focus.
Anyone who is interested can watch the video, available on DemocratTV’s Facebook page. It shows how Israelis worldwide have joined together to express their concern about the situation in Israel. In the video, you can hear people from Vancouver speaking about the need for the Israeli people to come together again and recover from the many years of divisiveness, the culture of corruption and the fear-mongering. The Vancouver group ended its two-minute segment calling for internal peace, and singing the late Arik Einstein’s “Ani Ve’ata Neshane et Ha’olam” (“You and I Will Change the World”) and “Kol Ha’olam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od” (“The Whole World is a Very Narrow Bridge”).
It’s no secret to anyone following Israeli news that, in past years, the country has suffered from growing internal tensions and political instability, which resulted in three elections within the span of a year. Those who yearned for a seemingly never-ending political deadlock to be broken and new national leadership to emerge in the March elections, from the combined front of Yesh Atid and the Blue and White party, were left disappointed. These voters reluctantly had to watch Binyamin Netanyahu dismantle the opposition and form what is quite possibly the most dysfunctional and largest government in the nation’s history, with a pandemic serving as its backdrop.
The focus and efforts required to address the deepening Israeli tribalism gave way to the government’s concerted fight against the virus. Israel, which was considered a role model of how to handle the health crisis by some countries early on, largely due to its aggressive lockdown, is now experiencing widespread infection. What remains from the unprecedented civilian cooperation at the start of the pandemic is record unemployment, thousands of closed businesses and a growing distrust in the motives of the country’s leadership.
As Israeli society is quite likely on the brink of a new lockdown, more and more Israelis of all political persuasions are demonstrating their frustration with the mismanagement of the crisis, their concerns for the future and their anger against corruption at the highest echelon of government. After years of ongoing investigations and constant delays, with the outcome of investigative case No. 3000 (aka the “Submarine Scandal”) still pending, Netanyahu was indicted in October 2019 on three counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Demonstrations, rallies and marches spanning hundreds of locations in major cities, road junctions and highway bridges near the prime minister’s private residence in Caesarea and in Balfour itself have consistently grown in attendance, culminating in weekly events at the end of Shabbat since June. Fueled by the unity of more than 20 grassroots movements, notably Ein Matsav (Unacceptable), Protest of the Individuals, Crime Minister, and the Black Flags, the assembly at Balfour drew an estimated 45,000 marchers and protesters at the end of August, much higher than the numbers reported by major media outlets such as Walla News and Ynet. While the protesters appear to come from all political factions, age groups, religious backgrounds and Jewish ethnic divisions, Netanyahu and his supporters have referred to them as “anarchists,” “aliens” and even “traitors.”
It’s quite possible that by the time you read this, the outcomes of the protests, the fragile political balance and the situation of the health crisis in Israel may be quite different. What won’t change, with time or distance, is that Israelis around the globe will continue their struggle to protect democracy. Our hearts remain with the people of Israel.
Adi Kabazoand his family moved to Vancouver from Israel in late 2002, when daughter Hilla was less than a year old. A high-tech marketing professional by trade and hummus maker by hobby, he keeps a close tab on Israeli affairs. The connection with Israel and sense of the obligation to uphold and protect Zionist and Jewish values is shared by Hilla, a first-year arts student at the University of British Columbia. Hilla has a strong interest in social justice and is an active member of the Camp Miriam community, as a volunteer and in her role as a summer camp counselor.
Rabbi Susan Tendler, her husband Ross Sadoff and their daughters Sofia and Daniella moved from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Richmond, where Tendler is the new spiritual leader of Beth Tikvah Congregation. (photo from Rabbi Susan Tendler)
Moving to a new city and starting a demanding and highly visible new job would be a challenge in the best of times. For Rabbi Susan Tendler, the recently arrived spiritual leader at Richmond’s Beth Tikvah Congregation, and her family of four, it was a little more complicated.
Not only has the COVID pandemic added complexity to every detail, the family was moving from the United States. This meant that, once they made it to British Columbia after a long, though enjoyable, drive across the continent, during which they took in some national parks and historical sites, they had to go into two weeks of quarantine in their new home.
The lemons of COVID were turned to lemonade by the reaction of the Beth Tikvah community. Tendler calls their reception “extraordinarily unbelievable.”
They arrived at the house, which had been equipped with bedding, toiletries, kitchenware and small appliances, a stocked pantry and refrigerator, and almost everything the new arrivals could want.
“People would from a distance greet us and somebody brought us dinner every single night that week. And people checked on us and would just drop off some milk or whatever we needed for the next week,” she said. While her husband, Ross Sadoff, returned to the States to collect their other vehicle, the rabbi and her daughters, 10-year-old Hannah Sofia and Daniella, who is 8, settled into quarantine.
“My girls and I sat in kind of a tent in our driveway,” she said, while congregants brought socially distanced greetings. “They drove by, honked at us and welcomed us. They had signs and balloons to make us feel welcome. The community, honestly, has gone above and beyond and really demonstrates what a caring community could be and just really made us feel welcome.”
The family moved from Chattanooga, Tenn., where Tendler had been rabbi for eight years at the Conservative B’nai Zion Congregation. She also served on the faculty of Camp Ramah Darom, in the foothills of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
She grew up in Virginia and previously held positions in congregations there and in North Carolina. Her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia is in religious studies with concentrations on Islam and Judaism. At the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, she received her rabbinical ordination and her master’s of education in informal Jewish education. She also completed a two-year rabbinic track at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. She describes herself as “an ardent Zionist.”
Coming to Canada generally and Beth Tikvah specifically seems bashert. Tendler and Sadoff met at a wedding at the Richmond shul. In fact, that was one of three coincidental meetings that happened before Tendler decided maybe she should consider them an omen.
“I started thinking, wow, maybe I should pay attention to this,” she said. “Why do I keep running into him?”
She had first met Sadoff in New York, when she was en route to Israel and he was rooming with a friend of hers. On a different trip to Israel, for a cousin’s bar mitzvah, the pair met again. The Beth Tikvah meetup was third time lucky.
Relocating to Canada was not in the cards until recently, but it was something like a long-held dream.
“My husband used to say to me years ago, hey, do you think we can move to Canada?” Tendler recalled. “I’d say, Ross, I’m a female rabbi. The chance of that, at this point in time, is very slight. A decade ago, there were many fewer female rabbis in Canada.”
In fact, Tendler is the first female pulpit rabbi in a Conservative shul in British Columbia.
A few factors account for the family’s attraction to Metro Vancouver. For one thing, they wanted a Jewish day school, which Chattanooga has not had for a number of years.
“We are very excited about RJDS [Richmond Jewish Day School] because we think it will offer the flexibility that our kids will greatly benefit from,” she said.
The family loved Chattanooga, but even at one of the most diverse public schools in town, not being Christian was sometimes an issue.
“In some ways, we felt like we were undermining our family values,” said Tendler in the context of raising their kids. “We just wanted them to fully embrace and love who we were raising them to be and the values we were raising them to honour and realizing that, in some ways, we were undermining them constantly.”
A lockdown that took place after false alarms of a threat at the kids’ school made Tendler and her husband ponder school security and the prevalence of gun violence in their country.
“We say things are going to be different but nothing changes,” she said. “I went to Washington, D.C., after the shooting in [Parkland] Florida and we say things are going to change but nothing changes. At some point, you have to do something different. The lobbies are too strong and we can’t even talk in the States about gun safety. It’s all like, you’re taking away my rights. Well, what about public safety?”
Possibly above all, the family just thought that British Columbia would feel like home.
“I think that, in many ways, my family moved here for holistic health reasons,” she said. “We just wanted a place that felt healthier and was more aligned with our values.”
Even comparatively small things like an efficient recycling program make Tendler feel kinship with her new hometown. “It’s a small thing but, in general, I just feel that our values and what we want to teach our children are more in line with Canada, at least with British Columbia and Vancouver, with open-mindedness and, I would say, respect for other people.”
While the transition to their new hometown was complicated, they made the best of it. During the transcontinental road trip, they stopped at sites like the St. Louis Arch, the Badlands, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore.
“We took some little hikes and saw bison and prairie dogs,” said Tendler. “It was fun.”
Rivka Campbell, a co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada, speaks at a school event. (photo from JOCC)
The spirit of openness and inclusion that many Jewish organizations express in their literature and social media posts is frequently not felt by Jews of colour, according to several members of the community.
Jews of colour, who are said to represent about 12% of the overall Jewish community, constitute a broad spectrum of people, including those of African, Middle Eastern, East Indian, Asian, Indigenous and Latin American descent, yet they are vastly underrepresented in congregation attendance, on organizational boards and throughout the community as a whole.
Rivka Campbell, a co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada (JOCC), says the unwelcoming feeling happens immediately upon entering a Jewish institution. She refers to it as the “question or questions” that are asked: Do you know this is a synagogue? What made you decide to visit? When did you convert?
“These are not the sorts of questions that most Jews who attend a synagogue or other places associated with Judaism have to answer, and it is really none of anybody’s business,” Campbell told the Independent.
In a recent Jews of colour webinar run by Moishe House Montreal, participants relayed numerous negative and often disturbing experiences, some of which caused them to distance themselves from Jewish circles.
“I have withdrawn from synagogue life and gone into online mode,” Deryck Glodon, Campbell’s JOCC co-founder, stated. “I don’t want to be in a position where people make you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. People don’t know that Jewish diversity exists.”
Another participant mentioned a rabbi who once told him to choose between being black and being Jewish. Yet another recalled several untoward remarks made in Jewish settings about Filipino people, which happened to be part of this person’s heritage.
“It’s driving many Jews of colour away from any involvement within the broader community,” noted Campbell, who is executive director for Beit Rayim, a Conservative synagogue and school in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Campbell, the sole Canadian recipient of the Union of Reform Judaism’s JewV’Nation inaugural fellowship – a leadership development program – has had numerous encounters with misconceptions. She is often asked if she is Ethiopian. Once, at a Kiddush, she had to explain to someone that being a person of colour does not correspond to a fondness for fried foods.
A noticeable thread during the Moishe House webinar was the wide disparity between the progressive causes supported by Jewish leaders and the experiences of people of colour within the community.
Many Jews of colour feel that, despite some good intentions by Jewish organizations, there are always those moments when they have to prove who they are, when they just want to be, Campbell explained. The hope, she said, is that, one day, Jews of colour won’t have to spell out what Jewish diversity is.
“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s solidarity with Dr. Martin Luther King happened 55 years ago – we need to do something now and not rest on our progressive laurels,” she said. “Nor should we forget that Rabbi Heschel was not universally praised from within the Jewish establishment for his civil rights stand.”
As for what clergy and lay leaders can do, Campbell pointed to the resources found on Union of Reform Judaism website regarding diversity, equity and inclusion for all members of the community.
For the broader community, she said, “It is not a big deal to be welcoming. Treat me the same as anyone else. You have to see me as a Jew first. ‘Shabbat Shalom’ should flow off the tongue as easily with me as anyone else.”
She continued, “Our diversity as Jews of colour adds to the diversity of Judaism. This can be turned into a very positive thing.”
On this hopeful note, in 2017, Campbell started work on a documentary that shares several stories of people from various backgrounds within the Jewish community and is designed to show the richness therein. Its objective is “to discuss how we are starting to embrace our differences and how we can do a better job of celebrating our diversity.”
Campbell’s first involvement with Jews of colour groups began at the time social media was gaining momentum. After locating ones on Facebook, she found their focus to be American-centric. In 2012, she started her own Facebook group, A Minority Within a Minority: Jews of Colour, a Canadian-focused group.
The need to move beyond Facebook ensued and, together with Glodon, she started a website and reached out to “people in the real world to have gatherings and lunches.”
“The aim was to have an in-person connection, to do things like teaching, research and advocacy,” said Campbell. The group was incorporated as a nonprofit and, at some point, she would like it to be a charitable organization.
JOCC hopes to expand its presence outside of Ontario and Quebec, and would like to have more exposure in British Columbia. Campbell spoke at Beth Tikvah
For more information about Jews of Colour Canada, visit jewsofcolour.ca or their Facebook page, facebook.com/joc.canada.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
The falafel plate at Ofra’s Kitchen. (photo from Ofra’s)
Ask Ofra Sixto what makes her Israeli-Moroccan restaurant successful and she’ll unabashedly tell you: it’s keeping a positive attitude. But it takes a whole lot of moxie, too.
After all, it isn’t easy to launch a new restaurant in the midst of an unexpected economic shutdown and to create enough name recognition that patrons are willing to line up at your door for takeout. But that all speaks to the allure of Ofra’s Kitchen, which opened this past December, just as the holiday season was coming into full swing. Sixto, who owned a Moroccan restaurant on Hastings Street with her brother years ago, said it’s been her dream to open another restaurant – this time centring on vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Her previous restaurant was called Jacqueline Moroccan Food and was named after her late sister. When her brother was forced to return to Israel, the two siblings realized they would have no choice but to close the restaurant.
Jacqueline’s “was very successful. Very,” Sixto acknowledged.
It was the venue’s eclectic Israeli-Moroccan cuisine that later gave her the idea for a vegetarian follow-up focusing on classic Israeli dishes and flavourful specialties from around the Middle East.
“There is a great need, I think, for good vegetarian cuisine,” she said.
As a “flexible vegan,” Sixto said she often has trouble finding truly appealing food when she eats out. “When I go to a restaurant and I ask, ‘Do you have anything vegetarian?’ they push a salad. I’m not a rabbit, I want something substantial, right? So, when you come to my restaurant, you actually eat food. You eat really, really good and healthy and fresh and made-on-the-spot food that makes you feel good.”
The choices run the gamut from iconic falafel and pita, shakshuka and Israeli salad to lesser-known Iraqi kube and delicately spiced Moroccan beet salad. Diners can also enjoy an array of traditionally made desserts and Turkish coffee.
Asked about her favourite dish, Sixto admitted she is partial to eggplant, which plays a starring role in several of her popular dishes. Her sabih – a Tel Aviv specialty that consists of fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, tahina and an Israeli chutney – can be ordered as a pita sandwich or as a platter. She also serves homemade babaganoush and eggplant salad, early pioneer dishes that are still popular in Israel today.
“And, of course, my falafel is the best in town,” she said. “Not only by what I say but everybody else who eats it. It’s fresh, it’s crunchy outside, it’s moist and soft inside. It’s beautiful.”
But cooking isn’t the only exceptional quality that she brings to Denman Street. A big heart and an innate sense of civic responsibility are helping mobilize a small movement to ensure that those who can’t afford to eat at Denman’s restaurants also have food to eat.
Earlier this year, Sixto noticed that the number of individuals on Denman who were homeless was growing. She said the economic shutdown, which closed many establishments and sections of streets in downtown Vancouver, exacerbated the homeless problem, forcing many people onto Denman from Robson and Granville. Rather than ignoring the issue, Sixto decided to do something to help.
“When I would walk [to work] I would see so many homeless people. I decided, you know, I need to do something about it. I have the means and I could help – whatever my capacity is, right? So, I started feeding the homeless by giving away soup and falafels.”
And her reputation began to grow. “I mean, they are hungry,” said Sixto. “They get drinks, they get food, whatever they need.”
In time, she decided she could do even more. “I decided to make it a social thing and make people be a part of the solution.”
She began letting customers know that each $5 they donated would go toward feeding an individual who was homeless. Sixto said the idea is catching on. “It’s amazingly successful,” she said.
So far, Sixto estimates she has given out in excess of 1,300 meals. She admitted that the donations she receives don’t fully cover the out-of-pocket expenses. “But it doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “It’s not about that $5 that people give. It’s about the acknowledgment of the situation.
“You know, I speak with [the people living on the street],” Sixto said. “I stop and say, how are you today? Did you eat anything? How are you feeling? They are people. They were babies. Somebody loved them or not when they were babies, you know? Something happened to these people along their lives [before they got to where] they are. Nobody chooses to live on the street because it’s fun, right?”
In June, the province of British Columbia issued a revised health order to guide restaurants in how they can operate safely during the coronavirus pandemic. Sixto has taken those rules to heart. Her seating is about half-capacity, with tables situated two metres apart. And she has some gentle ground rules: patrons must agree to sanitize (either with hand sanitizer or by handwashing) when entering the restaurant and wear a mask when walking to and from the table.
Sixto also supports the province’s request to record the contact information of at least one customer per table. According to the province’s health office, the information is retained only in case COVID-19 contact tracing is necessary. Sixto said most people appreciate the effort that restaurant owners are making to keep their venues safe and comfortable.
When it came to navigating the recent shutdown, Sixto said her landlord played a big role. “My landlord is amazing,” she said. The temporary rent reduction allowed her to keep operating – “I never closed, not even for one day.”
Ofra’s Kitchen, located at 1088 Denman St., in Vancouver (604-688-2444, ofraskitchen.com), is open Israeli hours, starting at 11:30 a.m. and closing at “8ish” in the evening.
“As long as there are people, I’m feeding them. If you come by and I am there, I will open the door and seat you,” Sixto said. “Just like Israeli hours.”
Jan Lee’s articles and blog posts have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism, Times of Israel, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.
A husband competes with his oldest daughter for his wife’s affections, a man ponders whether he is more attracted to a 10-year-old girl or her divorced older sister, a woman has an abortion she didn’t necessarily want, a young man violently rebels against his abusive father. Jonah Rosenfeld tackles difficult subject matter in his short stories, with no compulsion to solve any particular problem or correct behaviours, but to explore the thoughts and feelings of his characters, and thereby offer insight into parts of humanity that we may shy away from contemplating. English readers can now access these stories and ideas, originally conceived in Yiddish, thanks to a newly published translation by Langara College’s Rachel Mines.
The Rivals and Other Stories (Syracuse University Press, 2020) comprises 19 of Rosenfeld’s stories. Born in Chartorysk, Russia (now, Chortorysk, Ukraine), the prolific writer lived from 1881 to 1944, immigrating in 1921 to New York, where he was a major contributor to the Forverts. In total, he wrote 20 volumes of short stories, a dozen plays and three novels. Rosenfeld’s “stories provide a corrective to the typical understanding of Yiddish literature as sentimental or quaint,” writes Mines in the book’s press materials. “Although the stories were written decades ago for a Yiddish-speaking audience, they are surprisingly contemporary in flavour.”
The first Rosenfeld story Mines read, in Yiddish, was The Rivals (Konkurentn), six or seven years ago. “I’d only been studying Yiddish for a few years at that point and was reading to improve my language skills,” she said. “I was so impressed with the story that I decided, just for practice, to translate it into English. Later on, I found out that an English translation had already been published in [Irving] Howe and [Eliezer] Greenberg’s A Treasury of Yiddish Stories, but, by then, I was hooked on both Rosenfeld and Yiddish translation.”
Mines was a Yiddish Book Centre Translation Fellow in 2016 and The Rivals was her translation project during that fellowship year. “I’d already translated several stories before that, but 2016 was when everything started coming together in terms of improving my skills as a translator,” she said.
The project was her own idea, not work assigned by the Yiddish Book Centre, although the centre did support it.
“I should also mention,” she added, “that Vancouver is a veritable hotbed of Yiddish translation (who knew?), with a number of active translators, all of whom have been helpful at various times. Helen Mintz, in particular, was a huge inspiration and support. Her book of translations, Vilna My Vilna, a collection of Abraham Karpinowitz’s short stories, was published (also by Syracuse UP) in 2017. Helen and I spent several years together on Skype, regularly workshopping each other’s translations and helping each other out with advice and information. We’re still doing that, in fact.”
It is his exploration of the psyche that attracts Mines to Rosenfeld’s work.
“I’m interested in psychology – always have been – and particularly in people’s unconscious, and sometimes counterintuitive, reasons for thinking and behaving the way they do. So Rosenfeld’s insight into the darker corners of the human mind was an instant draw. I should say that his stories stand up very well to many current theories of human thought and behaviour. For example, the protagonist of The Rivals is a classic malignant narcissist – he ticks all the boxes. It’s interesting to note that Rosenfeld’s story was first published in 1909, several years before Otto Rank’s and Sigmund Freud’s theories of narcissism came out. Rosenfeld was an intuitive psychologist, and a very perceptive one.
“Another reason Rosenfeld’s stories appeal to me is that they work very well in a 21st-century, multicultural setting,” she said. “I’ve taught a number of the translations to first-year students at Langara, and students are attracted by his stories’ takes on immigration, women’s rights, male-female relationships, generational conflict, culture clash – this list goes on. Clearly, these ideas are as relevant today as they were when the stories were first written.
“Finally, I like Rosenfeld’s attitudes to his characters, even the less admirable ones. He seems interested in and sympathetic to their dilemmas; as an author, he doesn’t judge or blame his characters – he leaves that up to his readers. I like that Rosenfeld is more interested in exploring his character’s situations and psychology than he is in blaming or moralizing.”
Mines, who is retiring this year, taught in the English department at Langara College since 2001. One of the department’s main offerings has been a first-year class on the short story, she said. “Around the time I started translating, I started introducing stories with a Jewish theme to my classes. A bit to my surprise, despite coming from non-Jewish backgrounds, my students found the stories interesting and engaging, so I gradually added more and more stories with Jewish content. The last few years, I’ve been teaching Rosenfeld’s stories exclusively. My students love the stories and readily identify with (or at least understand) the characters and their predicaments. We’ve had many lively discussions!”
In an introductory chapter to The Rivals, Mines poses several questions she hopes keen PhD students or other researchers will take on, including where Rosenfeld’s place might be in the American literary canon. With the disclaimer that she is “just a lowly translator,” Mines said, “But, if pressed for an answer, I’d have to say it’s Rosenfeld’s psychological insights. He’s not entirely unique – other Jewish and/or American authors of his time were psychologically astute and wrote compelling character studies. But Rosenfeld went a bit beyond, in that his stories are almost Greek tragedies – his protagonists fail in their quests (for love, belonging, security, etc.) not because of external forces, but because of some internal, self-defeating habit of thought that they may not be consciously aware of. Rosenfeld isn’t the only author to explore this type of psychological dichotomy, but he does so very consistently.”
Susi and Mænni Ruben, Copenhagen, 1960s. Mænni Ruben’s autograph book, compiled in Theresienstadt, is the focus of a new online exhibit launched by the Victoria Shoah Project. (photo from Victoria Shoah Project)
The Victoria Shoah Project has launched a virtual exhibit of an autograph book compiled by Mænni Ruben, a Danish violinist and graphic artist held prisoner at Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp outside of Prague.
The 1945 Theresienstadt Autograph Book Exhibit features panels and the 40-page book itself, which is replete with signatures, sketches and aphorisms from Ruben’s friends and acquaintances who were also incarcerated at Terezin.
The book records the closing period of the war as survivors were being liberated. It is a story not only of the horrors of Nazism, but of long-lasting friends, and the music and art that united them during dreadful times.
Ruben died in 1976 in Copenhagen. Though he never lived in or visited Canada, the book remained with his widow, Susi, who remarried after his death and settled in Victoria. Upon her passing, in 2018, the book came into the hands of Rabbi Harry Brechner of Victoria’s Congregation Emanu-El. He subsequently showed it to member Janna Ginsberg Bleviss, who became the coordinator of the exhibit project.
“When the rabbi showed the book to me last year, I could see right away that it was special and should go to a museum. It is in remarkable condition for being 75 years old and is a tremendous addition to Holocaust studies,” Ginsberg Bleviss said.
“I was fascinated by the book – who were these people and what happened to them? Reading the pages filled with optimistic greetings, illustrations and pieces of music was like finding a hidden treasure, waiting to be opened. I wanted to discover who these people were and hear their stories,” she added.
“This virtual launch [which took place Aug. 20] is meant to honour both Mænni and Susi, and the memory of those whose lives intersected in space and time in the Theresienstadt camp. None of the artists, musicians, composers or rabbis who wrote in the book are alive, but we can sense their lives through their traces here,” said Dr. Richard Kool, a member of the Victoria Shoah Project.
A number of panels show the powerful drawings of artist Hilda Zadikow, whose husband, sculptor Arnold Zadikow, died at Theresienstadt. One depicts the coat of arms of Terezin under a Magen David made of barbed wire. Another features three sad, grey sketches of the camp itself. In a third, there is a happier scene of colourful opera figures.
Her inscription in the autograph book reads, “Your old friend Hilda Zadikow wishes you all the best and delight in beauty.”
A poignant message comes from Rabbi Leo Baeck, an intellectual and leader of the German Jewish community and the international Reform movement, who wrote: “What you forget and what you don’t forget, that is what decides the course of your life will take.”
Pianist Alice Sommer Herz, the subject of the 2007 book A Garden of Eden in Hell and the 2013 Oscar-winning documentary The Lady in Number 6, was another prisoner at the camp. Sommer Herz, who died at age 110 in 2014, wrote in Ruben’s book: “In memory of music at Theresienstadt and in strong hopes of a better future.”
And a touching note comes from Miriam Pardies, someone Ruben seems to have known only in passing: “We know each other only from having greeted each other in a friendly way, but that too is a good memory,” she writes in the book.
“There is a huge educational value to these pieces for students learning about the Holocaust, or for researchers who want to continue exploring the stories of these most interesting people during an important time at the end of the Second World War,” remarked Brechner.
Ruben and his family were sent to Theresienstadt in 1943. A place where the Nazis kept prominent Jews, the camp housed musicians, intellectuals, artists, religious leaders and hundreds of children. In 1944, the inmates performed a concert for German visitors and the visiting International Red Cross – the performers were forced to act as though life at the camp was normal.
Losing his father at the camp, Ruben returned home after the war. A few years later, he met his wife. They married and both played in the Copenhagen Youth Orchestra – she on cello and he on violin. Mænni Ruben also worked as a graphic designer and Susi Ruben as a fashion designer; they were together for 24 years.
After her husband died, Susi Ruben’s company sent her to Israel, where she met Dr. Avi Deston. They married in 1978 and went to South Africa for 13 years, where Deston taught physics at the University of Transkei. On his retirement, they came to Victoria, in 1992.
The autograph book will be donated to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg for their Holocaust gallery. To view the virtual exhibit, go to terezinautographbook1945.ca.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
The new black granite memorial wall at Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster allows people to memorialize loved ones buried in other cities. (photo from Schara Tzedeck)
What’s new at the cemetery? Not a question one tends to ask, but the Schara Tzedeck cemeteries in New Westminster and Surrey have seen some significant upgrades and additions in recent months.
At the New Westminster cemetery, which saw its first burial in 1929, 50 graves that did not have headstones have received permanent markers. More than 100 others will ideally also see stone markers added in the coming years as the cemetery board’s Chesed Shel Emet Fund is replenished.
There are plenty of reasons why a grave might not have a permanent headstone, according to Howard Jampolsky, executive director of the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board.
“Sometimes, somebody had no family, maybe they were destitute, alone in the world,” he said. “Sometimes, the families just don’t have money; sometimes, one spouse dies and they get a headstone and the other spouse dies and there is no one to put the headstone.”
Whatever the reasons, the graves, some dating back to the 1950s, had temporary markers.
The Chesed Shel Emet Fund was set up primarily with donations from cemetery board members, Jampolsky said, and the first batch of 50 headstones was purchased for these unmarked graves and placed in the last few months.
“We were hoping to do a big unveiling ceremony, where all the graves would be unveiled and we would invite the community,” he said. But COVID intervened. He hopes such a ceremony will occur in the future.
The headstones cost about $525 each and the board is welcoming donations from the community to the fund so they can proceed with placing more stones.
Also at New Westminster, a new black granite memorial wall has been created to commemorate people who are buried in other places.
“Sometimes, someone lives in Vancouver their entire life and they die and get buried in another place, maybe they’re sent to Toronto or Israel or somewhere else,” Jampolsky said. “This is an opportunity to memorialize somebody who lived in the city and contributed to the city’s life and they don’t have a headstone here. The other possibility is people who have parents or family buried in other places where they live and don’t have the ability to go and visit. If you want to come on the yahrzeit, you can come and put a rock on top of that.”
The New Westminster cemetery also has seen a green irrigation initiative recently completed.
“We spend a lot of money irrigating our green grass here, a lot of water,” he said. “We used potable city water.”
They have now drilled a well and are also capturing rainwater, which is pumped through the irrigation system. Not only is this better for the environment, Jampolsky said, but the $150,000 cost will be recouped in about eight years at current water rates. He sees the greening initiative as in keeping with Jewish burial tradition, which is respectful of the land, rejects concrete casings and does not include embalming.
In other significant news, the Surrey cemetery, which had its first burial about a dozen years ago, now has a chapel. Until now, funerals at the Surrey site were graveside only. A sad irony is that the pandemic has meant that, after the first couple of funerals in the new chapel, services had to be again curtailed to graveside only, and with limited attendance.
The $500,000 structure was completed in late 2019 and reflects the philosophy of the board, Jampolsky said, that all members of the community be treated equally. Those being buried in New Westminster had funerals in a chapel, while those in Surrey did not. The new Surrey chapel was funded within the existing budget, but, if a community member wanted to contribute to the chapel, Jampolsky said, naming opportunities could be considered.
“The other thing we’re doing in Surrey is spending more time and effort and money to make Surrey look a lot nicer,” he said. “We are doing more landscaping work, we’re planting flowers and doing things that make it look very, very nice. We’re putting a lot of effort into that property.”
The Surrey cemetery contains about 2,000 plots while the much older New Westminster site has about 10,000. While approximately 5,000 of the New Westminster plots are filled, Jampolsky acknowledges that he can’t accurately predict how long the cemetery has before it is full.
“It really depends,” he said. There are about 80 burials annually in New Westminster. That would suggest about 60 years before it is full. But the community is growing quickly, so perhaps it would be only 50 years. At the same time, a plot may be purchased and not used for decades, he said. If a young family purchased plots today, it is reasonable to assume some burials might not occur until the 22nd century.