Next week, Temple Sholom and UnXeptable Vancouver, with Israeli protest group Safeguarding our Shared Home and US-based registered charity America-Israel Democracy Coalition, will host a discussion about how the Jewish community in Vancouver can support the pro-democracy protest efforts in Israel.
The event, scheduled to take place at Temple Sholom on Sept. 26, beginning at 7 p.m., will feature a discussion with Michal Muszkat-Barkan, PhD, of Safeguarding Our Shared Home, and Ora Peled Nakash of the America-Israel Democracy Coalition. Attendees will hear their perspectives and engage in a dialogue about the efforts by the Israeli democracy movement to build a strong civil society upholding Israel’s Declaration of Independence and its commitments to Jewish history, Jewish values, democracy, equality and justice.
Israel’s pro-democracy movement brings together nearly 200 different organizations. These organizations span various facets of Israeli society, including religious and secular groups, LGBTQ+ and women’s rights advocates, military veterans, medical professionals, anti-occupation activists, and many community-specific groups.
“The pro-democracy movement isn’t about politics, it is about the soul of the country,” said Jonathan Barsade, president of the America-Israel Democracy Coalition. “In modern history, the soul of Israel has been a critical element for the well-being of the Jewish community worldwide. That is why it is so important for the Israeli movement to engage and include the international Jewish community in this momentous event.”
In partnership with JSpaceCanada, Arza Canada, Ameinu Canada and the New Israel Fund of Canada, the gathering at Temple Sholom mirrors in many ways the inclusivity of Israel’s pro-democracy movement, by bringing together the leading organizations of progressive Jewry in Canada to engage in dialogue at a critical time in the history of the Israel-Canada relationship. It will be the first opportunity in Canada for Canadian Jews to meet with Israeli protest leaders live and in-person.
“We are honoured to host this event at Temple Sholom, which provides a platform for open dialogue and the exchange of ideas,” said Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom. “By bringing together these influential Israeli protest leaders and showcasing the multifaceted nature of Israel’s pro-democracy movement, we aim to promote understanding and empathy while answering their call for solidarity from diaspora Jews.”
Daphna Kedem, lead organizer of UnXeptable Vancouver, added, “as an Israeli expat and proud member of the Vancouver Jewish community, I know how much pain both these communities feel about the current political climate in Israel. It is my hope that, through listening to those on the ground most affected by the potential regime change in Israel, we can work together – diaspora and Israeli Jews – to keep Israel Jewish and democratic, as stated in its Declaration of Independence.”
The Sept. 26 event is open to the public, and all interested individuals are encouraged to attend. Admission is free, and light refreshments will be provided following the discussion. All those wishing to attend should RSVP at bit.ly/SaveIsraeliDemocracy.
Hosted by Chabad Richmond, Aleeza Ben Shalom, star of the Netflix series Jewish Matchmaking, will take centre stage in-person for a one-night-only event on Nov. 27 at the River Rock Show Theatre. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
Remember the famous song from Fiddler on the Roof: “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch”? Well, fast forward a century, and things haven’t really changed that much. Jewish singles are still searching for their bashert, except they’re getting tired of swiping right or left to find their soulmate, so they’re turning to the ages-old tradition of matchmaking. Enter the world’s most famous Jewish matchmaker – Aleeza Ben Shalom.
Hosted by Chabad Richmond, Ben Shalom, star of the Netflix series Jewish Matchmaking, will take centre stage in-person for a one-night-only event on Nov. 27 at the River Rock Show Theatre.
Attendees will get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at this hit TV reality show (signed for another year), discover secrets to successful relationships, and explore the intricate art of finding the perfect match. Ben Shalom – a self-described “marriage-minded mentor,” matchmaker and dating coach – will share her passion and insights into love, relationships and the basic Jewish values that inspire her to transform Jewish singles into Jewish couples.
“The time-honoured tradition of matchmaking, going back to the beginning of our people, has been central to bringing together Jewish couples and building Jewish homes. Focusing on core values that guide Jewish life, matchmaking ensures the continuity of our people for generations to come,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, director of Chabad Richmond. “In a world where everyone has spent the last three years getting very comfortable in isolation, the hurdles and opportunities for people to connect have been challenging. Never have I had so many people of all ages reach out to me asking me to make a match!”
Baitelman joked that matchmaking wasn’t covered in rabbinical school, but he views matchmaking as an emerging growth area in our community.
Ben Shalom, who has ushered at least 200 couples to the chuppah (wedding canopy) during her 15 years as a matchmaker, guides individuals of all ages on their quest for love and companionship. With her unique blend of warmth, humour and wisdom, she is committed to the matchmaking process. She adapts the model of formal Orthodox matchmaking (known as “shidduch dating”) to Jewish singles from all religious backgrounds, including secular, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, from across Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. She’s out to show the world that Jewish matchmaking is not some antiquated practice, but rather a relevant and successful process for lots of singles. She admits that it’s no easy task, but believes it’s worth the effort.
Born and raised in suburban Philadelphia in a secular Jewish home, Ben Shalom has been happily living in an Orthodox Jewish marriage for more than 20 years. She and her husband, Gershon, moved to Israel in 2021. They have five children and Ben Shalom entered the world of matchmaking in her 20s, when she was looking for a job that would give her a flexible schedule around childcare.
Tickets to hear Ben Shalom are $54 for general seating and $90 for preferred seating. Also, consider a VIP sponsorship opportunity at chai ($1,800), double chai ($3,600), triple chai ($5,400), $10,000 or $18,000. This inNludes a personal meet and greet with Ben Shalom over cocktails, forshpeis (appetizers) and conversation.
Elana Wenner, who became the director of programming and development at the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC (JMABC) on Aug. 1, brings an enthusiasm and desire to make the stories of the local Jewish community better known and more meaningful.
Born and raised in Vancouver, one of Wenner’s aims is to stress the stories of Jewish people in British Columbia and how all can benefit from, and are connected to, those first Jews who came to the province.
“The story is not just history, it is an ongoing, living story that we are all part of,” she said. “It is something that includes every single Jewish person in BC. We are preserving, maintaining and sharing the stories, but I would also add … we are helping to create new ones.”
Before working at JMABC, Wenner, who obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s in Jewish studies from McGill and Concordia, respectively, taught at King David High School and Vancouver Talmud Torah, schools she herself attended growing up here.
“Coming into this job combines my two-dimensional interest in history and my interest in education, and bringing stories to life to not just children but anyone who is interested,” she said.
Another of Wenner’s goals at the museum is to make exhibits not merely interesting but accessible and enjoyable, believing people will remember things when they feel a strong emotional connection with it.
“My philosophy of education is always about interactive, experiential education – things that people can actually be a part of and interact with instead of just being part of an audience,” she explained. “The idea is people will come, interact and engage with the story and be able to walk away with a piece of it that is a part of them.”
Wenner’s experience as a teacher will help in dealing with any possible challenges the new position may bring, she said. “I have discovered that teaching is a great place to figure out things because it includes the skills one needs for any other job.”
Since starting in August, Wenner has been busy researching places and venues, interacting with current donors, making sure that members are keeping up with their annual contribution and seeking donors elsewhere, as well as handling grant applications and marketing. She is also managing the JMABC social media accounts and providing informational fliers about the museum to synagogues during the High Holiday season.
“I am trying to get awareness of who we are, as many people did not know there is a Jewish museum in Vancouver and I would like the word out there that we exist because we have a lot to share,” she said.
“The history of Jewish Vancouver is such a good story and it deserves to be told [but] so many people just don’t know about it,” she added. “I am lucky to be one of the few who has spent some time digging deeper into this story.”
Wenner herself descends from a family that has been in Canada a long time by local Jewish standards – her ancestors arrived in Saskatchewan in 1888 – and that, she said, helped spark her interest in history and, specifically, Jewish history.
“My ancestors took photos of everything on a Brownie camera,” she recalled. “They developed their own film and it’s almost as if some of them are selfies. They were taking photos of casual life. It is rare to find non-formal photos of that period. You see what life was like, you see how people dressed.”
Daniella Givon, president of JMABC, said of Wenner’s arrival at the museum, “The board of JMABC is very excited to welcome Elana. Elana is full of energy and has a vision for the organization and her role in it. She has been familiar with JMABC since a young age, and has always cared about the organization. We feel fortunate to have her aboard.”
JMABC has several events scheduled for the coming year. On Nov. 21, the museum will hold its annual general meeting, which will feature the launch of Land of Hope: Documents on the Canadian Jewish Experience (1627-1923), edited by Richard Menkis and Pierre Anctil.
Later this fall, in partnership with Jewish Family Services, JMABC will put together the Supper Club, a series of dinners designed to share food and stories that reflect the diversity of the Jewish community in the province. Past menus have included Sephardi meatballs, namoura (orange cake) and Syrian-Argentinian fusion.
For the spring, Wenner is planning a pop-up exhibit that will showcase the original JMABC collection, when it used to be situated at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “We are hoping to revamp the exhibit and connect the story to where the Jewish community in Vancouver is today,” she said.
During warmer periods of the year, JMABC will continue to offer historic walking tours of Mountain View Cemetery and the Oakridge, Strathcona and Gastown neighbourhoods.
To find out more and to view current online exhibits, visit jewishmuseum.ca.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
The Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library welcomed Jill Pineau as its new head librarian in August. She takes over the position from Maiya Letourneau, who is now a teacher/librarian at King David High School.
“It’s been a lot of fast-paced learning. Maiya has helped to make the transition as seamless as possible and I really admire the way she ran the library for the last two years,” Pineau said in a recent interview with theIndependent.
“The library’s staff, Megan Rodgers and Anita Brown, our dedicated volunteers and all of the staff at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCCGV) have also been very supportive,” said Pineau. “The Waldman Library is well-loved and well-used by community members and managing it is a big role for anyone to take on, but I’m so happy to be in a role that I know will challenge me to learn something new every day, and I’m really enjoying the work so far.”
As she settles in, Pineau will be drafting a strategic plan to work on priorities for the next year. Fundraising, she noted, remains a continual project for the library, as it relies on donors to provide resources and services to the community. Each year, the library runs a telethon in August and a book sale in February. To this, Pineau hopes to add a third fundraiser in an effort to sustain a steady stream of donations.
Further, she intends to offer compelling programs and services that meet the needs of library patrons. She would like to expand the library’s collection with titles by Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ authors, along with more children’s books for the library’s storytime programming.
“I also want to focus on marketing and outreach efforts geared towards the wider public to attract new users into the library,” said Pineau, who is currently arranging to have a few fall events up and running. “Waldman Library could be a great resource for non-Jewish Vancouverites to learn about Jewish history and topics, and I’d love to see it used that way a little bit more in the future.”
Born in Alberta, Pineau grew up in Mattawa, a small town in northeastern Ontario. She moved to Kingston, where she studied at Queen’s University before moving to Vancouver in 2021 to attend the University of British Columbia.
“I was attracted to UBC’s Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) program because I was looking for a way to get into the information field, and I really wanted to try out life in BC. I love research, project management, connecting with people and having autonomy in my day-to-day work, and the program was very in line with these interests,” she said.
Though still early in her career, Pineau brings a range of skills and experience to the job. She has held research assistant positions for various nonprofit organizations and the City of Kingston. While pursuing her MLIS degree, she worked in two special libraries, spending a year managing projects at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs Library in Victoria and completing a practicum credit at Lululemon’s Raw Materials Library, a library of fabric and related items.
“Special libraries are unique because they serve a specific user group or purpose, often through a special collection,” Pineau explained. “That focus allows for interesting projects and interactions.
“I love Waldman Library, and I would classify it as a special library because about 90% of its holdings are by Jewish authors or relate to Jewish history and topics. We also have a large collection of Hebrew books. But the library is still very much a public library, open to all and aiming to serve its community thoughtfully. In this way, it’s a very dynamic and exciting place to work for me.”
Pineau also has spent time as a journalist, first with the community paper in Mattawa, then with Queen’s Journal while in university. When the pandemic started in 2020, she freelanced for the Kingston Local and the Kingstonist.
“I loved the autonomy that type of work afforded me, but I had a mind to continue developing and focusing my career and that’s what ultimately brought me to graduate school,” she said.
Established in 1994, the Waldman Library is located on the second floor of the Vancouver JCC and is open Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The library maintains six computers, which are open to users.
In the past 12 months, more than 4,500 visitors came to the library to read, study, work, play and socialize, said Pineau. During this period, close to 3,600 books, DVDs and other materials were checked out, and the library added 475 titles to its collection. Overall, the library has more than 15,000 titles in its collection.
In acknowledging the support of the community, Pineau said, “I want to say thank you to all of the library’s patrons, who have been so kind and welcoming over the last few weeks. It’s been lovely connecting with a new community – I’m very happy to be here.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Vancouver Public Library’s 2023 writer in residence is Vancouver author Aren X. Tulchinsky, the writer formerly known as Karen X. Tulchinsky.
Tulchinsky is a novelist, screenwriter, video editor and writing mentor, and an out and proud member of the LGBTQ2S+ community. He is the recipient of awards such as the One Book One Vancouver Prize and Vancity Book Prize for his written works, which include The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky,In Her Nature,Love Ruins Everything and Love and Other Ruins.
He has also written for and edited on numerous television series, including The Nature of Things for CBC. His short film, Ms. Thing, has screened internationally in more than 50 film festivals and won the Audience Choice Award at the Queer Fruits Film Festival in Australia.
“My passion has always been to tell stories, especially stories set in communities that have been historically underrepresented in Canadian literature,” said Tulchinsky. “I am Jewish from a working-class background. I came out as a lesbian as a teenager, and now identify as a transgender man. As a member of several marginalized communities, I have always written from the heart and I welcome the opportunity to mentor emerging writers on their own journeys – especially those from underrepresented communities, such as BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ writers.”
This fall, Tulchinsky will work directly with aspiring writers through a series of writing workshops, individual consults and special events at the library. He’ll also be working on a new novel, Second Son, which follows a transgender man who is grieving the premature death of his father, coming to terms with the loss of his only brother 10 years earlier, and learning to love himself in the process.
Aug. 29-30, 17 families – each serving as Chabad shluchim (emissaries) – came together for an event known as a Kinus Hakhel. (photo from Chabad Lubavitch BC)
In a display of unity and camaraderie, 17 families – each serving the Jewish population across British Columbia as Chabad shluchim (emissaries) – came together Aug. 29 and 30 (12 and 13 of Elul) for an event known as a Kinus Hakhel. It was a celebration of shared purpose and a recommitment to serving the community.
Representatives from Chabad in Victoria, Nanaimo, Richmond, Surrey, Coquitlam, the University of British Columbia, Downtown Vancouver, Kitsilano and Kelowna joined the central Chabad Lubavitch BC in this heartwarming event. The theme of “sheves achim gam yachad” (“dwelling together in unity”) permeated the atmosphere with feelings of support for one another. It served as a reminder of the strength that arises from collaboration and left a mark on all those present.
Chabad today is the largest Jewish organization in British Columbia, with a presence in 10 cities across the province, 11 synagogues, 17 permanent rabbis and rebbetzins, three mikvahs, eight supplementary Hebrew schools, four Camp Gan Israel summer camps, dozens of weekly Torah classes, private counseling and social services.
Rabbi Yitzchok Wineberg, the head shaliach of British Columbia, reflected on the past 50 years of Chabad’s presence here. He congratulated all the shluchim for their dedication and hard work, acknowledging the efforts they have invested in reaching out to every Jew, no matter their affiliation or background, and establishing communities all over the province.
Rabbi Avraham Feigelstock, av beis din (the rabbi presiding over the religious court), director of BCK and one of the senior shluchim in British Columbia, took the opportunity to encourage the establishment of a vaad hapo’el, a permanent action committee, to take the inspiration from the Kinus and use it as a positive force for expansion.
The Kinus also featured an all-night farbrengen (spiritual gathering) led by Rabbi Sholom B. Levitin, regional director of Chabad-Lubavitch in the Pacific Northwest, lasting from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., where participants engaged in discussions and spiritual connection.
In the spirit of this Hakhel year (an assembly that takes place every seven years), with the call of uniting men, women and children, a children’s program ran throughout the entire two days with more than 60 young shluchim participating. A special thanks goes to Tamara Feigelstock, who ensured that the youngest members of the shluchim had an enriching experience.
The Kinus wrapped up with a banquet. Featured speakers were Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman (Chabad Richmond) and Rabbi Shmuly Hecht (Chabad of the Okanagan Valley), plus a special Zoom address by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chair of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad Lubavitch worldwide.
An unexpected, moving moment came at the banquet when Arnold Silber, Chabad’s first friend and supporter in British Columbia, took the stage. With emotion, he shared his deep connection to Chabad and to the Jewish community. He announced, “Don’t worry about paying for this gathering; I will cover the entire bill.” His generosity underscored the sense of unity and support that defined the event.
Silber also reflected on the past 50 years and expressed pride on his association with Chabad. He spoke metaphorically about how he had planted a tree a half-century ago and now sees a thriving forest. The growth and impact of Chabad in British Columbia fills him with joy and nachas (pride), he said. He pledged to continue and expand his support and partnership with Chabad’s “army of light and kindness” in the province. And he shared his vision of building an even stronger, more vibrant Jewish community in the future.
The Kinus Hakhel took place thanks to the dedicated efforts of Rabbi Dovid and Chaya Rosenfeld, co-directors of the central Chabad in BC, and the various planning committees. For the men’s program, that was Rabbi Meir Kaplan (Chabad of Vancouver Island), Rabbi Benzi Shemtov (Chabad of Nanaimo) and Rabbi Mottel Gurevitz (Chabad of Coquitlam). For the women’s events, Blumie Shemtov (Chabad of Nanaimo) and Rivki Yeshayahu (Kitsilano) coordinated the program, and the youth program was planned by Esti Loeub (Chabad of UBC) and Rivky Varnai (Richmond). Special thanks to Henia Wineberg (Lubavitch BC) and Chanie Baitelman (Chabad Richmond) for the beautiful setup.
As the shluchim of British Columbia left the gathering, they carried with them not only a renewed sense of unity but also a strengthened commitment to their shared mission. This gathering in Vancouver wasn’t just an event; it was a celebration of community, purpose and the enduring spirit of Chabad.
More than 200 kids went to Camp Gan Israel this summer. (photo from Camp Gan Israel)
More than 200 children attended Camp Gan Israel this summer. They had a varied schedule, with baking, crafts, skateboarding, swimming, sports and field trips to such places as Stable Harvest Farm, Wild Play Adventure Park, Playland, Science World and Sasamat Lake. A special highlight was the camp’s theme song and dance, which was picked up by almost 400 Camp Gan Israel’s around the globe.
“Camp shows children that Judaism is fun, joyful and alive,” said camp director Chaya Rosenfeld. “The staff set an amazing example of being proud and enthusiastic about their Judaism and there is no substitute for a camp experience.”
Seventeen staff members were flown in from California, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, New York, Montreal and Toronto.
Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld of Lubavitch BC added, “The cost-of-living crisis is really hitting families hard. Almost 90% of the campers received a discount to attend camp, with a percentage receiving a full scholarship. No one is turned away for financial reasons and we are really grateful to our supporters for giving the children the opportunity to experience the summer of a lifetime.”
This photo was taken from about a block away from the Okanagan JCC just after the evacuation. (photo by Anne Zazuliak)
On Aug. 17, the McDougall Creek Fire, which began 10 kilometres northwest of West Kelowna, descended upon the community and brought an evacuation order to those on the west side of Okanagan Lake. By that evening, winds pushed flames across the lake to Kelowna, sparking more fires and bringing about further evacuation orders.
Aug. 18 and 19 saw the conflagrations at their most dangerous, according to members of the Okanagan Jewish community who spoke to the Independent before it went to press. On Aug. 18, Kelowna International Airport suspended all flights coming in and out of the city. Later in the day, the province issued a state of emergency for the area.
By Aug. 21, the situation was under more control, with the airport opening for a few hours and an evacuation order around the University of British Columbia campus in Kelowna downgraded to an evacuation alert. Garbage pickup and other services also resumed.
Okanagan Jewish Community (OJC) board members said several families within safer zones were able to house evacuees. Before the evacuation orders, the OJC had messaged members requesting accommodations, support and contact information so that, when the orders came, it had a list in place to make sure everyone evacuated would be assisted.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Shmuly Hecht of Okanagan Chabad House spent a few frantic days, along with members of his family, checking in on people, collecting food and supplies, baking hundreds of loaves of bread and ensuring that people in the community would have shelter. During the worst of the wildfires, Hecht’s office was turned into temporary accommodation for an elderly West Kelowna couple.
“As soon as it started, we were thinking we have to help,” said Hecht. “Anyone in a position to help should be honoured and privileged to do so. In our upbringing, this is why we are alive, this is why we are here – to serve, especially in times of need.
“I feel that everybody – even if you yourself are running and in a time of need – can begin the process of healing when your first thoughts are, how can I help someone else who may have even less than me? There is always someone who has less, and we can be of support to them. It reminds us of what life is all about.”
Hecht told the Independent he had met with one member of the community who had lost their home.
On Aug. 25, Steven Finkleman, OJC board past president, said, “Things are certainly much better now. I believe that the fires on the Kelowna side of the lake are being brought under control, and I believe that, as of last night, the evacuation orders and alerts on this side of the lake have been canceled.”
At the time, however, evacuation orders were still in place in parts of West Kelowna, though the dangers were receding.
“The active fire might seem to be a bit more distant from civilization and parts of it might be left to simply burn out, as long as people and property are not in danger,” said Finkleman, who thanked emergency services in the region, which, he emphasized, prioritized life, structures and forests, in that order.
“Certainly, the stress levels and anxiety of everyone were challenged at the peak of the event. Several persons do live in ‘interface’ areas, where the homes are scattered amongst the trees and forest. These persons in Kelowna are always at increased risk. The colour of the orange sky and the fact that Kelowna was the most polluted city in the world (for a time) added to everyone’s stress levels. Most persons needed to stay home, only venturing out for food and supplies, and having masks on to filter the air,” Finkleman said.
Many organizations and individuals stepped forward to offer help, he added. At times, there were so many food donations that organizations struggled to keep perishable items fresh.
Finkleman praised the level of support that came from the Vancouver and elsewhere. “We seem to be getting closer and closer to the Vancouver Jewish community, and I think it is important that Vancouver be aware of what we have gone through here. Support by email, phone calls, etc., has been tremendous, from the Vancouver Jewish organizations and from the clergy that we know well across Canada and who are participating in our Shabbaton weekends. We even have received an invite from a stranger in West Vancouver stating that she is able to put people up if they have evacuated from Kelowna to the Lower Mainland. Incredible support, really.”
The OJC, which houses Beth Shalom Synagogue, is situated in an area that was ordered to evacuate. During the height of the fires, nobody was allowed to enter the building, where two Torah scrolls are kept, due to an RCMP barricade. Community members told the Independent that the constant police presence around the centre made them feel comfortable that the building was safe and secure.
Members of the OJC executive recognized the need to bring people in the community back together, as fire dangers eased. On Aug. 27, they organized a beach barbecue that was well-attended. Over the Labour Day long weekend, Rabbi Russell Jayne from the Beth Tzedec in Calgary will lead services at Beth Shalom.
“We believe it’s vital for our community to be together after a crisis like this, so we are going ahead with all our planned events and High Holidays,” said David Spevakow of the OJC board.
“Our local talent, Evan Orloff, will be leading our High Holiday services. Everything is a go,” he said.
“These High Holy Days will definitely be emotional, with the scorched earth, smoky skies and long recovery all creating quite a tangible backdrop to the season of reflection and self-examination,” said Abbey Westbury, a member of the OJC board. “We have tried to keep our messaging buoyant, but we are ready for the tears. What a few unimaginable years we’ve had. Ready for a new start, indeed.”
Life will get back to normal at Okanagan Chabad House, as well, Hecht stressed, despite having fallen behind with regular obligations during the fires.
Citizen West performs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign launch Sept. 10, 7 p.m., at Congregation Schara Tzedeck. (photo from Citizen West)
The word “fun” came up more than once in the Jewish Independent’s interview with the three tenors who comprise Citizen West. The group will help launch this year’s Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign on Sept. 10, and the audience should expect a wide range of music, an abundance of positivity and a high-energy – and fun – performance.
Marc Devigne, Cody Karey and Omer Shaish are all accomplished musicians in their own right. Internationally renowned individually, together they have entertained audiences in more than 150 countries. With their multilingual repertoire, their message is that “we are all global citizens and, through music, we can connect with individuals of all cultures and backgrounds.”
“Music unites and connects us through harmony and a common rhythm and is spiritual in its nature,” Karey told the Independent. “I feel my most spiritually connected when experiencing a profound shared moment, and singing or performing from a stage, especially with such amazing company, really does that for me.”
Karey, who is based in Vancouver, explained how he, Toronto-based Devigne and Miami-based Shaish, came together.
“Citizen West is the product of all of us colliding at slightly different times over the last several years,” he said. “We all set out as solo artists and ended up having parallel careers. Initially, we were competitive rivals, but, as we all became connected and got to know each other, it was clear to us that we could really do something special if we combined our efforts and worked together. The three of us have been officially performing as Citizen West since 2020, but our individual connections and the idea of Citizen West go back years earlier. Our pianist, Trevor [Hoffmann], was instrumental (pun intended) in the earliest days of Citizen West as we developed our repertoire and arrangements, so this reunion performance alongside him will be a little extra special.” (Hoffmann is from Maple Ridge.)
While living in different places and following their own professional paths, Shaish said the trio see each other relatively often.
“We perform a lot as headliners on cruise ships,” he said, “so we get to sing together and travel the world together. It’s a lot of fun! The ships have brought us to some really interesting places, such as Alaska, Easter Island and even Antarctica. Those were great experiences to share with these two. We also perform on land, of course, and we come up with new repertoire all the time. We have four produced sets and, on top of that, we try to cater to our clients’ vision and needs.”
Regarding that, campaign director Gayle Morris shared with the Independent Federation’s vision of the Sept. 10 event. “This year, we wanted to try something fresh, drawing upon the incredible success and positivity of last year’s ‘Amazing Happens’ campaign,” she said. “We want our community to leave the evening inspired and excited by a creative approach to campaign opening. Citizen West are an incredible trio of tenors and a
pianist, whose extensive repertoire of music means there’s something for everyone to enjoy!”
When asked for a hint about the repertoire they will perform at the launch, Shaish said, “I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I can say that there’s going to be a wide variety of genres, from classical music and Broadway to pop music, rock and even a splash of Hebrew!”
For Shaish, who is from Tel Aviv originally and grew up in Israel, this show will be special.
“Living in the U.S., I often find myself shifting between my roots (Jewish/Israeli music) and my other passion toward pop music and musical theatre,” he said. “I’m truly excited about this performance, because this is the first time that these two worlds collide.”
“There’s always so much more to learn, live and experience, and I feel that it’s with this outlook that Citizen West can explore and take stylistic chances with many genres,” added Devigne, who grew up in a small French community in Manitoba. Karey grew up in Fort St. James, B.C.
“There is a fraternal sense of camaraderie and connection when we work together,” said Karey. “Our slightly different quirks and styles complement each other well and create a compelling blend. The experience of being on the road is very different when you have good people to share that with. It’s also quite fun!”
Devigne echoed this sentiment. “There’s a sense of brotherhood that comes with being in a group,” he said. “It opens up more creative opportunities as an artist and brings more colour, layers and texture to songs. It’s a nice feeling to be on stage and know you have people you can rely on to support and elevate a performance. We feed on each other’s energy on stage and it makes for a great time. We draw inspiration from each other and I truly believe it lifts us all to be better artists and performers when we perform together.”
“I think it goes with the theme of this event,” said Shaish, referring to the Federation campaign launch. “We all discovered the ‘power of community’ or the ‘power of together.’ There’s something very special and powerful in sharing the stage. When the three of us blend with harmonies and our unique chemistry, it feels like true magic.”
The campaign’s opening event – “Celebrate the Power of Community” – takes place Sept. 10, 7 p.m., at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue. It also features Eric Fingerhut, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federations of North America, as keynote speaker; Barak Loozon, strategic advisor to the office of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, speaking about Herzog’s dialogue initiatives; and campaign chair Shay Keil, a senior wealth advisor at ScotiaMcLeod and supporter of many Jewish community organizations and initiatives, sharing his story about how Federation campaign donors helped inspire his Jewish journey. For tickets ($18), visit jewishvancouver.com.
Grace Hann, Jewish Seniors Alliance senior peer support services trainer and supervisor, and co-trainer Miguel Méndez. (photos from JSA)
For a senior experiencing loss, isolation, health challenges, a change in housing or other stressors, knowing that someone cares can make a world of difference. Jewish Seniors Alliance’s Peer Support Services trains people aged 55+ to be that someone – seniors helping seniors.
JSA offers at least two peer support training sessions a year, and the next one begins Sept. 20. The training, conducted over Zoom, is free. It comprises 11 sessions, or 44 hours. Participants will learn active listening and other communication skills, how to set boundaries, about aging and the health issues that can accompany it, about available community resources, and more. Upon successfully completing the course, volunteers (who are required to pass a criminal records check) will receive a certificate from Senior Peer Counseling of B.C. and be matched with a senior in the community.
The Jewish Independent spoke with Grace Hann, JSA senior peer support services trainer and supervisor, and co-trainer Miguel Méndez about the program.
JI: When did the peer support program start, and how has its effectiveness been measured?
JSA: The peer support program started in 2011, inspired by [JSA president emeritus] Serge Haber’s vision to support vulnerable seniors in the community. We gauge the program’s effectiveness through detailed statistical analysis. This includes client satisfaction surveys administered after six months, then again after one year, and annually thereafter.
JI: What qualities do your most successful volunteers possess?
JSA: Key qualities for a thriving volunteer-client relationship are empathy, patience and compassion. It’s also crucial for volunteers to be receptive to new ideas during training, which enhances their understanding of the challenges many seniors face.
JI: What is the biggest challenge you face while training volunteers?
JSA: Most volunteers join our training eager to learn and contribute. The training refines their listening skills, helps them establish healthy boundaries, and fosters an understanding of underlying issues many seniors confront, such as grief, loss, and the challenges of connecting with new communities.
JI: What surprises you most about your day-to-day work?
JSA: We’re continually surprised by the deficiencies in our medical and social support system. Many case managers from various health units emphasize their shortage of time and personnel to provide adequate emotional support for seniors. Heart-wrenching sentiments from vulnerable seniors, like “I no longer matter in society” or “My friends have all died,” often resonate with us.
JI: What are the most significant changes you have noticed in the needs of seniors over the last five years?
JSA: There’s a growing mental health support gap for seniors. Many are grappling with conditions like anxiety and depression. At JSA, we receive increased requests from professionals seeking support for such individuals.
However, our volunteers are not mental health experts. While we acknowledge the need, we must be cognizant of our role and limits as volunteers. Additionally, many seniors are anxious due to rising housing and grocery costs, severely affecting those with limited incomes.
JI: How has your training program adapted post-COVID?
JSA: During the pandemic, we transitioned our training to a digital platform, Zoom, allowing many seniors to engage without leaving their homes. We’ve maintained this digital approach, which now attracts participants from a broader geographical range.
JI: Is there a piece of advice or aspect of training that you consider most impactful to your volunteers?
JSA: Role-playing is an exceptionally effective tool. It elicits profound feelings and introspection, heightening volunteers’ empathy and allowing them to better understand others’ experiences. Since our training is experiential, volunteers gain by sharing their own wisdom and experiences.
JI: Anything else you’d like to add?
JSA: Conducting initial client intakes can be deeply emotional. For instance, a recent case involved a 91-year-old woman, previously independent, whose life altered drastically after a spine fracture from a fall. With no family and deceased friends, she faced a significant emotional void. While we can’t mend her physical injuries, we can offer invaluable emotional support, offering hope and the comfort of knowing someone cares. This not only benefits her but also gives our volunteers a sense of purpose and the gratifying feeling that comes from assisting others.
Alisa Dressleris a fourth-year student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. She is an avid reader and writer, and the online director of the arts and culture publication MUSE Magazine. Bressler is a member of the Vancouver Jewish community, and the inaugural Baila Lazarus Jewish Journalism Intern.