רוג’ה אומידבקאש (בת עשרים ושלוש) היא אחת ממאה שבעים ושישה הנוסעים, בהם חמישים ושבעה מקנדה, שנספו בהתרסקות המטוס הנוסעים של חברת התעופה הבינלאומית האוקראינית, שלוש דקות לאחר שהמריא משדה התעופה בטהרן בדרכו לקייב, לפני יותר משבועיים. זאת על ידי מערכת ההגנה האווירית של משמרות המהפכה האיראניים. לממשלה האיראנית לקח מספר ימים להודות באחריות למעשה שטיל צבאי הוריד את המטוס האזרחי – דבר שהביא להפגנות של אלפים בטהרן ובערים אחרות נגד ראשי המשטר ובראשם המנהיג העליון, עלי חמינאי.
אומידבקאש הגיעה מטהרן ללמוד בקנדה בחודש ספטמבר האחרון. היא החליטה ללמוד מסחר אלקטרוני בבית הספר לכלכלה ועסקים ‘גוסטבסון’ של אוניברסיטת ויקטוריה (עיר הבירה של מחוז בריטיש קולומביה). כיוון שכמו סטודנטים זרים אחרים התגעגעה הביתה, לפני מספר שבועות היא ניצלה את חופשת הסימסטר (לקראת חג המולד), וטסה למספר שבועות לטהרן לשהות עם בני משפחתה. לאחר מכן אומידבקאש עזבה את איראן במטוס שכאמור התרסק, ולחברתה הטובה מובינה רפיפור (בת שמונה עשרה) יש רק זכרונות טובים ממנה.
“רוג’ה הגיעה לכאן ללא משפחה וחברים וגרה עימנו באותו חדר במגורי אוניברסיטת ויקטוריה. אנחנו היינו בעצם המשפחה שלה או יותר נכון להגיד האחיות הטובות שלה” אומרת לידיעות אחרונות רפיפור שלומדת ביולוגיה. החברה הצעירה השנייה של רוג’ה היא נאסים הדדי (אף היא בת שמונה עשרה) שלומדת בפקולטה למדע.
אומידבקאש ורפיפור הגיעו מטהרן ישירות לוויקטוריה אך לא הכירו אחת את השנייה. הן שנפגשו במקרה אצל אותו משרד עורכי דין לענייני הגירה, שעזר להן להשיג את אשרת הלימודים בקנדה. בקמפוס של אוניברסיטת ויקטוריה הן הכירו את הדדי שגם היא ילידת טהרן, אך גרה קודם לכן למשך שנתיים בטורונטו.
מה היו התוכניות לעתיד של אומידבקאש?
“לצעירים כמונו קשה לחשוב בשלב זה על התוכניות שלנו לעתיד אך הבנתי מרוג’ה שהיא רוצה עם סיום הלימודים לחזור לטהרן ולהצטרף לעסק של אביה שעוסק ביבוא ויצוא. נדמה לי שיש לו גם משרדים בדובאי”.
איזה טיפוס היא הייתה?
קודם כל אני חייבת לציין שכולם אהבו את רוג’ה. היא יצרה לה כבר חברים חדשים כאן ובמקביל לחברים הרבים שהיו לה באיראן, עימם היא שמרה על קשר מאז ימי בית הספר היסודי. היא באמת הייתה חברה טובה. כמובן שהיא הייתה גם בקשרים עמוקים וחמים עם בני משפחתה. רוג’ה הייתה חכמה, קולית ומאוד נחמדה וכן עזרה לכולם בעת הצורך. תמיד חיממה את הלב של כולנו. אני יכולה להוסיף שאם היו עוד אנשים בעולם כמו רוג’ה העולם היה מקום טוב יותר לחיות בו”.
מיד עם הפרסום הידיעה על הפלת המטוס לאחר שקיבלה את החדשות הרעות שגם רוג’ה אומידבקאש חברתה נהרגה, התקשרה רפיפור למשפחתה בטהרן והם אלה שיצרו קשר עם משפחתה של רוג’ה. לרפיפור עוד לא יצא לדבר עם ההורים של רוג’ה, מריאם ואומיד אומידבקאש, אך היא יודעת מהוריה שהם ממש בשוק ומאוד קשה להם להתמודד עם האסון הכבד. לרוג’ה יש אחות צעירה בשם רוז’ינה (בת תשע). לדברי רפיפור זה מאוד מאוד קשה להסביר לה שאחותה הגדולה והאהובה לא תחזור עוד לעולם.
כיצד את מתמודדת עם מותה של חברתך הטובה?
“אני משתדלת להיזכר בזכרונות הטובים שהיו לי והיו לנו עם רוג’ה. אני חושבת כל הזמן מה היה קורה אם היא הייתה כאן עימי בוויקטוריה.
Cooper & Levy store, 104-106 1st Ave. S. near Yesler Way, Seattle, 1897. The store was one of the major outfitters of the Klondike Gold Rush. (photo from Asahel Curtis Collection, University of Washington UW 4770)
The archival images and newspaper headlines contained in the Gold Rush exhibit now on display at the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria (JCCV) evoke a sense of the hysteria that gripped the West Coast more than century ago, in spite of the risks involved in traveling to a severe and treacherous terrain. And Jews were not immune from the mania, as the three-panel display, entitled “The Jewish Presence During the Klondike Gold Rush 1897-1918,” distinctly demonstrates.
The exhibit will be at the JCCV through January. It brings with it a number of revisions from the one that toured Canada from 2016 to 2018 and included a stop in Vancouver.
“During its previous run, we received a lot of additional information from people who visited the exhibit, so much so that we couldn’t include it all in the current display. We are seriously thinking about doing a book starting later this year,” Rick Karp, president of the Jewish Cultural Society of Yukon (JCSY), told the Independent.
Once the previous display returned to Whitehorse, Karp followed up on the input he received and updated the three panels and the booklet accompanying the exhibit.
“As well, we revised the video that details the finding of the Jewish cemetery from the Gold Rush in Dawson, the cleaning and bringing it back to its original condition, and the rededication ceremony,” Karp said. “All the information about the cemetery in the accompanying booklet has been added, as well as the section entitled ‘The History of the Jews in the Klondike Gold Rush’ and the ‘Stories of the Gold Rush.’”
A significant addition to the Gold Rush stories is that of Joseph Barron, one of the first to open a mercantile store in Dawson. Barron came from Winnipeg and followed the stampede of 1898. He mushed into the Yukon via the White Pass route, bringing with him a stock of merchandise.
His beginnings in the north were not the most fortuitous. He lost his supplies on three occasions to fire between 1899 and 1901. Undeterred by adversity, he restocked and started over.
The Barrons would become a prominent Calgary family. Joseph’s son Abe founded the law firm Barron & Barron, which is still operated by the family today. His other son, Jacob (J.B.), was a leading businessman and theatre owner in the city, building Calgary’s first high-rise, the Barron Building, and breaking ground on its first Modern Orthodox synagogue, Shaarey Tzedec (which was demolished in 2013).
Joseph Barron’s wife and children did not come to Dawson until 1902. The younger Barrons only stayed for two years before they left to complete their education. The senior Barrons eventually left Dawson to join their children in Calgary in 1915.
Henry Isaacs was another entrepreneur who ventured north. He earned the moniker “the Butter King of the Klondike” upon learning about a technique using sea water to re-churn a shipment of what others had considered rancid butter into something edible.
Among the most enterprising adventurers was David Gross, a Russian immigrant and dropout trained as tailor, who, not yet 20 years of age when he made the journey north, found ways to make money selling groceries, stoves and other provisions, though his primary business was a clothing store. His ingenuity led him to see opportunities where others did not. For example, if butter had turned rancid and was unsalvageable for food purposes, he would sell it as axle grease for squeaky wheels. After learning that water can only penetrate an inch or two into flour, he would purchase large sacks of flour other merchants thought had been drenched and, therefore, ruined and then sell the flour that the water had not reached at a much higher price. Gross also became active in the nascent movie theatre business in Dawson City.
Yet the prize for the most daring Jewish seeker of fortune would have to go to Max Hirschberg. After losing his supplies en route and then finding, in 1890, that many of the good claims in Dawson had been staked, Hirschberg pushed on to Nome, where more gold was reported to be, on a bicycle!
Later in life, before his passing in 1964, he recounted the 11-week journey in which he made his way along a two-inch trail, confronting snow-blindness, exposure and exhaustion, nearly drowning in the Shaktoolik River and losing $1,500 in gold dust. When his bike chain broke, he made a sail from his coat and rigged it to his bicycle, then crossed the Norton Sound to Nome.
Interest in the Jewish community during the Gold Rush was ignited after the discovery of the aforementioned Jewish cemetery in Dawson City in 1995, and its ensuing restoration in 1997 and 1998. “The discovery of lives lost inevitably leads to questions about lives lived,” the exhibit booklet reads.
“The Jewish Community Centre of Victoria is excited to host the mobile exhibit. We would like to thank Rick for making it possible,” said Larry Gontovnick, president of the JCCV.
After it completes its current tour around Canada, the exhibit will be on permanent display at the Dawson City Museum in the Yukon. A duplicate copy will tour various communities in the United States.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Avigail Landman, right, and Rawan Halabi with an experimental prototype device. (photo from Ashernet)
Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a prototype system for efficient and safe production of hydrogen using only solar energy. Published in the journal Joule, the study was led by Avigail Landman, a doctoral student in the Grand Technion Energy Program, together with Rawan Halabi, a master’s student from the faculty of materials science and engineering, under the joint guidance of Technion and University of Porto (Portugal) professors. The system contains a tandem cell solar device. Some of the sun’s radiation is absorbed in the upper layer, which is made of semi-transparent iron oxide. The radiation that is not absorbed in this layer passes through it and is subsequently absorbed by a photovoltaic cell. Together, the two layers provide the energy needed to decompose the water into hydrogen and oxygen. The innovation is a continuation of the theoretical breakthrough by the Technion research team presented in a March 2017 article in Nature Materials. Hydrogen is a highly sought-after material in many areas of our lives and, today, most of the world’s hydrogen is produced from natural gas, but this process emits carbon dioxide, whose environmental damage is well known.
הממשלה הקנדית פירסמה אזהרת מסע לישראל, עזה והשטחים – לאור הגברת המתיחות במזרח התיכון, והפעילות של האמריקנים מול האיראנים והפוך. אזהרת המסע שפורסמה בראשית החודש עדיין תקפה.
לגבי ביקור בישראל נאמר באזהרת המסע שיש לנקוט באמצעי זהירות מירביים. עוד נאמר כי מצב הביטחון בישראל עשוי להשתנות בצורה משמעותית ולכן יש לעקוב מקרוב אחר הנעשה.
באזהרה נאמר עוד כי יש להימנע לחלוטין מלהגיע לרצועת עזה, בזמן שהסיכון גבוה לפעילות טרור ופעילות צבאית עויינת באזור. לגבי השטחים נאמר שיש להימנע מלהגיע אליהם אם אין צורך בכך, לאור הסכנה הביטחונית הרבה. זאת למעט רמאללה, יריחו ובית להם שנחשבות לערים בטוחות יחסית. עוד נמסר כי אם אין צורך בכך יש להימנע מלהגיע לגבול של ישראל ורצועת עזה, לאור הסכנה של משלוח טילים מעזה לישראל.
באזהרת המסע נאמר שיש להימנע לחלוטין מהלגיע לרמת הגולן בגבול של ישראל וסוריה, בעיקר לאור הגברת הפעילות הצבאית של ישראל באזור. זאת למעט הכפרים הדרוזים באזור.
כן יש להימנע לחלוטין למהגיע לגבול של ישראל ומצרים, עד למרחק של חמישה קילומטר ממנו. זאת למעט העיר אילת.
עוד נאמר כי יש להימנע לחלוטין מלהגיע מלהגיע לגבול של ישראל ולבנון, עד למרחק של חצי קילומטר ממנו. זאת לאור פעילות צבאית באזור.
לא בדיוני: בית המשפט העליון בקנדה העניק אזרחות לבנים להורים מרגלים רוסים
בית המשפט העליון של קנדה החליט לפני מספר שבועות להעניק אזרחות קנדית לשני בנים של הורים שהיו מרגלים רוסים.
אלכנסדר וויבילוב (כיום: בן עשרים וחמש) נולד בקנדה למרגלים רוסים שחיו בסתר, בקנדה ובארה”ב. המשטרה הפדרלית האמרוקנית (האף.בי.איי) חשפה את שני ההורים שהשתייכו לרשת ריגול גדולה בשנת אלפיים ועשר. במסגרת חילופי מרגלים בין ארה”ב ורוסיה ההורים ושני ילדיהם חזרו בחזרה לרוסיה.
סיפור החיים של ההורים היווה בסיס לסדרת הטלוויזיה האמריקנית הבדיונית “האמריקנים”. לאחר שהוריו נעצרו החליטו במשרד הפנים הקנדי להפקיע את האזרחות של אלכסנדר וויבילוב, בטענה שהוא לא זכאי להיות קנדי. נשמעו אף טענות שהוא היה מודע לפעילות הריגול של הוריו למען רוסיה. עתה כאמור בית המשפט העליון הפך את ההחלטה ודחה את כל הטענות נגד הבן. גם אחיו הגדול של אלכנסדר ווילוב – טימופיי וויבילוב (כיום: בן עשרים ותשע) “יהנה” אף הוא מהחלטת בית המשפט ויקבל אזרחות קנדית קבועה. תשעת שופטי בית המשפט העליון ציינו בפסק הדין כי במשרד הפנים הבינו את חוק האזרחות הקנדי בצורה לא נכונה, ומנעו שלא בצדק את האזרחות הקנדית של אזרח קנדי.
זוג ההורים המרגלים הגיעו לטורונו בשנות השמונים וקראו לעצמם דולנד הית’פילד וטרייסי אן פולי. כאן נולדו שני בניהם טימוטי ואלכנסדר. לאחר מכן ההורים עברו לאירופה ובסופו של דבר הגיעו לקמבריג’ בארה”ב (בשנת אלף תשע מאות תשעים ותשע). כאמור ההורים נעצרו על ידי השלטונות האמריקניים לפני כתשע שנים לאחר שהתרברר שהם מרגלים רוסים. אלכסנדר וויבילוב אמר לתקשורת במספר הזדמנויות כי הוא לא ידע שהוריו היו מרגלים ונדהם לכן ממעצרם. לדבריו אם הוריו החליטו להיות מרגלים אולי הם לא היו צריכים להביא בכלל ילדים לעולם. וויבילוב שהגיע בחודש דצמבר לביקור בטורונטו לאחר (שפורסמה החלטת בית המשפט העליון להעניק לו בחזרה את האזרחות), לא יודע עדיין היכן יתגורר באופן קבוע מעתה ואילך. גם עתידו של אחיו טיפופיי וויבילוב לא ברור בשלב זה.
Jane Remocker and her daughter, Catriona, holding a photo of Geoff Remocker, who passed away in 2016 from pancreatic cancer. (photo from BRCAinBC Committee)
Education is a key goal of the upcoming One in 40: From Awareness to Empowerment event being held at Congregation Beth Israel on Jan. 8.
“BRCA 1 and 2 is the code for variant mutations of two genes known to increase the lifetime risk of several serious cancers, including breast and ovarian cancers and other cancers linked to reproduction in women and prostate cancers in men, as well as pancreatic cancers and melanoma in all genders,” explains the BRCAinBC Committee’s project primer. One in 40 is the probability of carrying the genes among Ashkenazi Jews – compared to a risk of 1/500 to 1/1000 in the general population.
The BRCAinBC Committee, organizer of the One in 40 event, describes itself as “a group of concerned members of the Jewish community in British Columbia, many of whom have been affected personally or in our families by the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes and genetically linked cancers.”
The committee’s work is supported by Beth Israel, which is its home, as well as many other community members, organizations and institutions, including the B.C. Cancer Agency, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Diamond Family Philanthropic Fund.
“There are currently no efforts being made in British Columbia to create awareness or cover general genetic testing for people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage – in the past, this was due to the prohibitive expense of testing,” notes the primer.
“There have been significant recent gains in the medical community around improving the affordability of testing for genetic mutations,” it continues, “however, awareness of risk is still low amongst members of the Jewish community and, currently, holding a risk profile of being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent is not sufficient to be covered for genetic testing under B.C.’s Medical Services Plan (MSP).”
The impetus for the committee and the One in 40 event was the death of Geoff Remocker of aggressive prostate cancer in 2016. After he died, his wife, Jane Remocker, and the family met with Beth Israel’s Rabbi Jonathan Infeld. She explained to the Jewish Independent in a phone interview that, as members of the congregation, there were donations being made to the synagogue in her husband’s honour, and the rabbi wanted to know where the family wanted to direct the funds. The couple’s youngest daughter, Catriona, who works in the healthcare field, suggested they do something with respect to BRCA genes. Since they weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do on the topic, the donations were held in a discretionary fund until Jane Remocker scheduled a meeting with the rabbi and her daughter two years later, in June 2018.
“By then, she and I had ideas and came up with our three basic goals,” Jane Remocker told the Independent. The three short-term goals of the committee were education and awareness within the Jewish community, and easier access to information about the BRCA genes; advocacy, which involves providing information about and access to screening options, both private and public; and fundraising to cover what has become the One in 40 community-wide education event and the BRCAinBC.ca website, which will be launched in January.
Since Geoff Remocker didn’t meet the criteria for B.C. Cancer Agency’s Hereditary Cancer Program, which offers genetic counseling and testing for “residents who may have inherited an increased risk for specific types of cancer,” he signed up for a B.C. Cancer study of drugs that treat prostate cancer, which included gene testing.
Remocker said he signed up for the study because, “as he said to me, ‘I don’t think the drugs will help me, I think it’s too late. But, if there’s a gene that’s driving this cancer to be aggressive and resistant to treatment needed, that knowledge will help other people.’” It was discovered that he was indeed a BRCA carrier.
Part of the issue, said Remocker about why her husband wasn’t eligible for the Hereditary Cancer Program, was that, while they knew some of her mother-in-law’s medical history, they knew nothing about her father-in-law’s side of the family, who came from Poland and Russia.
“And this is not uncommon,” she said. In addition to this generation not talking about health issues, in general, there wasn’t so much knowledge about health back then.
While a lack of family medical history can be one obstacle in getting genetic testing, she said, another is that many people don’t realize that men can be carriers of the BRCA mutant genes.
“They thought it was only a gene that affected women as breast cancer,” said Remocker. It is important, therefore, and a goal of the committee’s educational program, to make sure that Jewish men – especially if they have roots in Europe – know that they are possible carriers and, therefore, consider getting screening.
Confirmed panelists for the One in 40 event are Dr. Rona Cheifetz, medical lead of the Hereditary High Risk Clinic, B.C. Cancer Agency; and Dr. Intan Shrader, who, along with Dr. Sophie Sun, is co-medical director of the B.C. Cancer Hereditary Cancer Program. The panel will also feature medical oncologist Dr. Daniel Khalaf of the B.C. Cancer Agency and Jewish community member Tovah Carr, a BRCA carrier. There will be a chance for audience members to ask questions.
Keynote speaker Libby Znaimer of Zoom Media is national spokesperson for Pancreatic Cancer Canada; she is a cancer survivor and a BRCA gene carrier. Her personal fight against breast and pancreatic cancer is the subject of the 60-minute documentary Cancer Saved My Life, which discusses “the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations that predispose people to pancreatic cancer, and the connection between BRCA and breast and ovarian cancer,” as well as the “groundbreaking research going on in Canada and Israel, where there is a BRCA-rich population.”
The BRCAinBC.ca website will be “a one-stop place for people to go to get information about the genes and the mutations that indicate the cancer risk and where they can go for private screening if they don’t meet Hereditary Cancer’s criteria or they don’t want to wait,” said Remocker.
Hereditary Cancer has a long wait list, she said, so the website will have some options for private screening. “We’ve researched and found a number of accredited medical genetic labs that do specific inherited Jewish genes screening and we know that, [for] at least two of them, the results are accept[ed] by the Hereditary Cancer Program.”
Currently, the cost for private testing is about $250 US, said Remocker. This alternative means that, “instead of waiting six to 12 months to get your first interview with the Hereditary Cancer Program, you get a saliva test, you apply. They send the package to you, you send it back and you get your results anywhere from two to six weeks.”
A person can then take those results to their family doctor, she said, as a referral is needed for the HCP.
The website will also feature personal stories of those who have been affected by the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, as well as links to current research and resources.
Michelle Capobianco, the executive director of Pancreatic Cancer Canada, will be in attendance at One in 40, Catriona Remocker told the Independent. “[T]hey are considering working with us to roll out similar events to Jewish communities across Canada to improve awareness,” she said.
Prof. Gregg Gardner has held the Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at the University of British Columbia since 2011. (photo from UBC Media Relations)
Gregg Gardner conveys an infectious exuberance when speaking of the $1 million donation from the Diamond Foundation to the University of British Columbia this September.
“None of this would have been possible in terms of Jewish studies at UBC without the Diamond family,” Gardner, an associate UBC professor, told the Independent. “Their sense of giving is felt not just here but throughout the broader community.”
The Diamond Foundation’s most recent gift to the school will build on achievements of the Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at UBC to date, with a particular focus on the expansion of Jewish studies programming both in the classroom and beyond the UBC campus.
“The gift is part of a larger initiative which will really go a long way in helping to create and augment programming, assist in having students travel to Israel, bring in new speakers and assist in new research,” said Gardner, current holder of the Diamond Chair.
He plans to invite an array of speakers during the 2020 and 2021 academic years.
“The money from the Diamonds can be used to bring in authorities in various aspects of Jewish research to Vancouver. Once here, they can speak at the university as well as at synagogues, retirement homes or cultural centres in town,” he said.
Gardner also hopes the new funds can serve as a stepping stone towards such things as creating a centre for Jewish studies at UBC and, ultimately, bringing the field of Jewish research at the institution to a level commensurate with that of other universities in North America.
Students at UBC, he said, have shown a widespread interest in Jewish studies, and this interest extends well beyond their own personal background.
The Diamond Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics was established in 2001. Gardner has held the position since 2011, with his research concentrating largely on the history of Jewish thought. At UBC, his classes focus on the history of religions, together with exploring Jewish history, texts and traditions.
In 2018, he teamed up with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to lead a group of UBC students in an archeological field school at Horvat Midras in Israel, a site that may have been developed by King Herod. There, they helped excavate a pyramid that marked a tomb from the first century and an elaborate underground system of tunnels and caves that served as hideouts for Jewish rebels against Rome in the second century.
The Diamond gift will additionally allow Gardner himself to present more lectures locally and internationally. Heretofore, he has given has public talks at Hillel BC (UBC) and academic lectures at Oxford, Cambridge and Yale universities.
Gardner has authored several academic papers and books, including The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism (Cambridge University Press, 2015), which examines foundational rabbinic texts and places their discourses on giving within their historical – second- and third-century – contexts.
The Diamonds are equally enthusiastic about the results their donations have brought and will bring.
“We wanted to enhance the current chair and enable Dr. Gardner to play a pivotal role in generating sophisticated research and understanding of Jews and Judaism,” said Leslie Diamond. “He has inspired students and the community by enriching their knowledge of Judaism through his courses, public talks and events with visiting scholars.”
She added, “I am very proud with what our funding of the Jewish Chair in Ethics and Jewish Law has accomplished.”
The Diamond Foundation has long played a pivotal and prominent role in Vancouver philanthropy. Created by Jack, z’l, and Gordon Diamond in 1984, its mission is to improve the quality of life for people in the communities in which the Diamonds live and do business. It donates to organizations throughout the Greater Vancouver area, including schools, hospitals and numerous Jewish organizations. The foundation seeks investments in organizations and issues that strengthen Jewish community life throughout the city and its environs. At age 25, family members are invited to become directors of the foundation.
Jack Diamond arrived in British Columbia as a near-penniless refugee from Poland in 1927 and went on to create the province’s largest meat-packing firm, Pacific Meats. He is credited with setting up Vancouver’s first kosher butcher shop and was instrumental in building the Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, among countless other endeavours.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
No one was injured and police are ruling out antisemitic motivations after an intruder caused a standoff in Victoria’s Emanu-El synagogue.
Victoria police were called to the historic Blanshard Street synagogue shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 9 after a report of an unwanted man inside the building.
“Upon arrival of officers, they attempted to speak with the man, which was not successful,” according to a police statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team was activated along with crisis negotiators.”
The standoff lasted nearly four hours.
“Shortly before 12:30 p.m., the man, who was suffering a mental health crisis, was apprehended and transported to hospital with non-life threatening injuries,” according to police.
Rabbi Harry Brechner, spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El, which is Canada’s oldest synagogue in continuous operation, issued a statement later in the day.
“A mentally ill person brushed past a Gan Shalom (daycare) parent and managed to enter the building not due to any fault of the daycare parent,” Brechner wrote. “Another daycare parent quickly called emergency 911 and the police were dispatched. The police were remarkably responsive, communicative and efficient. Our daycare children were never in a dangerous situation and, for most of the incident, they were not aware that anything unusual was happening.
“This mentally ill man held himself up in the balcony of the sanctuary; we were not successful at talking him down and out of the building. The police provided a transit bus for the daycare to transport the children to the other Gan Shalom daycare and the children felt like they were going on a field trip. It took the police a bit of force to subdue and retain the intruder and we are left with some broken windows and a mess to clean up. I am super-thankful to Victoria’s finest for their professionalism in containing this situation and ensuring that everyone was safe,” said Brechner. “This incident had nothing to do with antisemitism and could have occurred in any downtown building. The incident is a difficult and powerful reminder of the intensity and difficulties associated with our current mental health crisis.”
The rabbi concluded: “I want to also state that the Gan Shalom staff and Gan Shalom parents who stayed by to ensure that the children were safe were remarkable and very calm. We are very safe, our protocols were tested and proved efficient.”
Chiune Sugihara, 1941. This year’s Raoul Wallenberg Day event includes the screening of Persona Non Grata: The Story of Chiune Sugihara. (photo from Vilnius-Green House exhibit)
On Sunday, Jan. 19, the 15th annual Raoul Wallenberg Day event pays tribute to courageous actions by diplomats Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiune Sugihara of Japan. During the Second World War, they engaged in selfless acts of civil courage, at grave risk to themselves and their families, to rescue many tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
This year, the Vancouver-based Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society focuses on the story of Sugihara. The event features a showing of the biographical film drama Persona Non Grata: The Story of Chiune Sugihara. As a consular official for Japan in eastern Europe during the Second World War, Sugihara saved thousands of refugees by issuing transit visas that allowed people to escape Nazi German forces. Once reviled in Japan, today Sugihara is considered a hero, with museums and a memorial site.
The keynote speaker on Jan. 19 is George Bluman, a local descendent of Sugihara visa recipients and an international expert on Sugihara’s life. Some of those saved by his visas ended up in Vancouver and other parts of Canada.
When possible, the Civil Courage Society also presents an award to an individual associated with British Columbia who, at significant personal risk, helped improve the lives of others while defying unjust laws or norms, past or present. Past recipients include Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh, Chief Robert Joseph and Mary Kitagawa. Their stories inspire Canadians to act with courage and live by their moral values.
This year’s event – sponsored by the estate of Frank and Rosie Nelson, and supported by several organizations and volunteers – is being held at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, and it begins at 1 p.m. Admission is free; donations are appreciated. A reception follows. For more information, visit wsccs.ca. New volunteers and nominations for the Civil Courage Award are always welcomed.
Musician Myrna Rabinowitz, left, and Jewish Senior Alliance’s Shanie Levin. (photo from JSA)
The theme of this year’s Jewish Seniors Alliance-Snider Foundation Empowerment Series is “Be inspired!” and the first of four sessions was called Be Inspired through Story and Song.
Held at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture on Nov. 29, Gyda Chud, co-president of the JSA, introduced the two presenters, referring to each as “a gift to our community”: storyteller Shanie Levin, who is a member of JSA’s executive board and on the editorial board of JSA’s Senior Line magazine, and singer-songwriter and guitarist Myrna Rabinowitz.
Rabinowitz opened with the Yiddish song “Abi Gezunt” (“As Long as You’re Well”) and the audience echoed enthusiastically the refrain, “As long as you’re well, you can be happy.”
Levin followed with a story by Kadya Molodowsky, the first lady of Yiddish poetry. A House with Seven Windows is about a proud, strong heroine in the mid-19th century who embraced the dream of “normalizing” Jewish life through a return and settlement in the land of Israel.
Other songs by Rabinowitz included the Yiddish translation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as well as “Sleep Little Boy,” a Yiddish song that she wrote eight years ago for her first grandson. She ended with the Yiddish rendition of “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof (Tog Ayn Tog Oys).
Tall Tamara by Abraham Karpinowitz, both sympathetically comic and painfully tragic, was another inspiring story of Vilna’s poor and the unexpected dignity available to one woman through a chance contact with Yiddish literary culture.
Levin also shared Ted Allan’s Lies My Father Told Me, about the relationship between a 6-year-old child and his grandfather that transcends the differences in ages with deep connection. This story was made into a Golden Globe-winning film of the same name.
The last story Levin read – If Not Higher by I.L. Peretz – was about a rabbi who demonstrates that doing good deeds on earth may be a more exalted activity than doing God’s will in heaven.
Chud thanked the performers and urged the audience to attend upcoming JSA events, the next one being the screening of the movie Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Jan. 15.
Marilyn Berger, who initiated the Light One Candle project and designed a card to help JSA celebrate Chanukah, encouraged the audience to spread the light and make a special donation to help JSA continue its peer support program, as well as its advocacy work.
Dr. Yosef Wosk, right, with Max Wyman, 2017. (photo by Fred Cawsey)
The Yosef Wosk Poetry Initiative at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, which began in 2009, marked its 10th year with a celebratory gathering of artists and poets and with the publication of a commemorative book earlier this year. In addition, the Yosef Wosk Poets’ Corner, along with the adjacent Poet Laureates Garden, was inaugurated on the newly renovated top floor of the downtown central Vancouver Public Library – it was named in recognition of Dr. Yosef Wosk’s decades-long support of the VPL.
Wosk was an early major donor to the redevelopment of the eighth and ninth floors and the roof of the central branch of VPL and was asked to serve as honourary chair of the VPL campaign in 2018/19. The architect for the renovations, as for the library itself, was Moshe Safdie, while Cornelia Hahn Oberlander designed an extensive garden to complement her roof garden that crowns the award-winning structure.
In the library world, Wosk – who has established more than 400 libraries on all seven continents over the past 20 years – was able to fund more than 50 new initiatives in 2018/19, including 20 libraries in remote Himalayan villages and 37 in Jewish communities throughout the world.
As a writer and publisher, Wosk’s work has appeared in a number of publications. Most recently, these include having curated and written the preface for Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal, featuring photographs by Gidal from Wosk’s and the Israel Museum’s collections (Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem and New York, 2019). He also initiated and funded a biography, written by Christopher Best, of Faye Leung, the effervescent pioneer in the Chinese and real estate communities, affectionately known as the Hat Lady (Warfleet Press, 2020).
Wosk’s essay “On the Wings of Forever” was published in the online Ormsby Review this year in collaboration with the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars. The editor’s preface notes that: “With prose as profound and learned as it is clear and accessible, here Wosk examines and appreciates the role of museums and museum workers in the digitizing modern world. It’s not gloom ’n’ doom. Instead, he outlines what he calls ‘a stirring vision, one of innovative technology on a human scale, heart-centred and soul-sized.’”
In collaboration with the Canadian Museums Association, Wosk helped transform the President’s Award into the President’s Medal; he also commissioned the medal and wrote the introduction in the booklet that accompanies the honorific, which was first awarded in 2019.
The province-wide Max Wyman Award for Critical Writing in the Arts, which was inaugurated by Wosk in 2017, formed an alliance this year with the VIVA Awards (the Shadbolt Foundation), which will begin in 2020.
In academia, Wosk was reappointed this year as an adjunct professor in humanities at Simon Fraser University and completed four years as a Shadbolt Fellow at SFU, where he was recently named a Simons Fellow.
During the year, Wosk served on 11 boards in the Jewish and general communities in areas such as education, medical research, museums, libraries, literature, business and the arts. These boards have included the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board, CHILD Foundation, Museums Foundation of Canada and Pacific Torah Institute. He was also an ambassador for the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale and is completing a second term with the B.C. Arts Council.