A fundraiser for the Louis Brier Home and Hospital is urging community members to make a two-year commitment so the facility can rely on sustainable funding to plan for the future.
“We are asking for people to consider making a commitment for two years so that we can tell the Louis Brier ‘we have raised this much money, we will know that it’s there for two years, you go ahead and make the plan you need to make that will take maybe two years to come to fruition and to give the maximum benefits to your residents,’” said Bernard Pinsky, co-chair of the Sustain, Maintain and Enhance campaign.
The last campaign raised $600,000 in each of three years, Pinsky said, and organizers hope this effort will be at least as successful, if not more. The campaign has been underway for several weeks and culminates at the end of this month. A major celebration – Eight Over Eighty – takes place May 25, when eight individuals and couples will be recognized for lifetimes of dedication to building community.
The campaign is important to the facility, Pinsky said, because the calibre of the home and hospital depends on the support of donors. The Louis Brier does not receive funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver allocations or from United Way, Pinsky said, and the Jewish-specific components of the home’s character are not funded by government allocations.
“In order to make sure that we have the best facilities for seniors in our community the Louis Brier Aged Foundation needs to raise the money to distinguish it from other seniors facilities – many of which are very good, but they do not have the Jewish component,” he said.
Pinsky identified programs and activities such as kosher food, daily services, Shabbat services on Fridays and Saturdays, Yiddish and Hebrew classes, Jewish-themed discussion groups, films, lectures and performances as examples of the type of “extras” the fundraising supports. Louis Brier also has top-notch physiotherapy, art therapy and music therapy programs, he said. The differences made by these services are significant, he added.
“Most people in the Jewish community have had someone connected to them who has been in the Louis Brier and we also know from people who have loved ones, relatives or acquaintances in other facilities that the Louis Brier is a step above in many respects,” said Pinsky. “And we owe it to the people who established this community to give them the kind of dignity and the kind of retirement and life that they would want at this stage of their lives and it’s only us who can help because nobody else will pay for that.”
Harry Lipetz, co-chair of the campaign with Pinsky, emphasized the Louis Brier’s dependence on the generosity of the community. “The Louis Brier Home and Hospital doesn’t have memberships such as synagogues [do] to draw upon,” said Lipetz, who is also president of the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation. “We simply rely on the entire Jewish community.”
Lipetz said the Louis Brier’s reputation is due to the resources provided by community support. “The level of care that’s provided is probably rated the highest in British Columbia due to the additional funding that the foundation provides annually,” he said. “I am satisfied that our efforts really do bring quality of life to people, as we say, ‘adding life to years and years to life’ is something we are accomplishing.”
Lipetz asks people to take the initiative to support the campaign. “We have a limited ability to reach out to individuals,” he said. “It is a relatively large Jewish community. We would hope that individuals would come forward whether they are contacted or not to support this campaign.”
Left to right, Ari Cipes, Rabbi Shmuly Hecht and Ezra Cipes have joined forces to help make Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s Tiferet, the only kosher uncooked wine in Canada. (photo from summerhill.bc.ca)
The rolling hills and verdant valleys of British Columbia’s Okanagan region are home to more than 200 wineries, many of which are internationally renowned and award-winning. In fact, a number of Canada’s most prestigious wineries call this region home – Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, Sumac Ridge, to name a few – with one singled out as “B.C.’s most visited winery” by Tourism Kelowna.
There are several possible reasons for Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s popularity. It could be the incongruous sight of the enormous, dazzling white pyramid towering over the central terrace (more on that later). Perhaps it’s because of the estate’s Peace Park or the quality of its 100 percent organic vineyard. Then there’s the winery’s most recent offering, Tiferet (Hebrew for beauty/glory), a new, top-of-the-line kosher wine whose very name reflects the exceptional landscape from which it was created.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery was founded by native New Yorker Stephen Cipes, who moved to the Okanagan with his young family in 1986 and felt an immediate spiritual connection with the land. The developer-turned-vintner purchased Summerhill Vineyards, replanted the existing table grapes with winemaking European grapes and set to work. Located on Kelowna’s Lakeshore Wine Route, the mid-size winery has been producing organic, award-winning wines ever since, making a name for itself in European capitals.
Now, three of Cipes’ four sons are involved in managing the family business. Chief executive officer Ezra Cipes spoke with the Jewish Independent from his office, which overlooks the magnificent, blue waters of Lake Okanagan.
The immediate question at hand was why the winery had decided to produce a kosher wine, especially an extremely limited edition one (1,200 bottles) with a hefty price tag ($100 per bottle). Cipes explained that he was inspired by his friendship with Okanagan Chabad Rabbi Shmuly Hecht and a desire “to share the beauty of natural, uncooked wine with Hecht and all Sabbath observant Jews.”
Cipes and Hecht formed a deep bond while “studying texts together and drinking mevushal [cooked] wine together,” Cipes explained. “None of [the cooked kosher wines] can compare with living, uncooked wine, and I realized that Rabbi Hecht did not know the pleasure of living wine. There was none available to share with him, so we decided to make it ourselves, and we set out to make it as beautiful as possible. We used the best grapes of the vintage, bought the best barrels from France and now, a year and a half later, I am pleased to say that the wine we made exceeded my expectations.”
Kosher winemaking is somewhat complicated. Governed by the same kashrut laws pertaining to food (prepared under supervision of a rabbi, containing only kosher ingredients, using rabbinically certified equipment), kosher wine is further divided into two categories: uncooked and cooked. Although both are considered equal with respect to kashrut, their production and final result couldn’t be more different.
To qualify as kosher uncooked wine, the wine’s entire production – from “vine to wine” in vintner vernacular – must be handled exclusively by Sabbath-observing Jewish males. And that includes pouring. Understandably, it is well-nigh impossible for commercial producers to comply with these conditions and most opt to make the cooked category of kosher wine, if they produce such wine at all. Kosher cooked winemaking allows non-Jews of both genders to handle production and serving, however, the other regulations are no less strict. For a wine to qualify as kosher cooked, it must be heated to 1850F, which, well, cooks it. And therein lies the rub.
Exposure to such high temperatures significantly compromises the wine’s flavor and texture and, while most producers now use flash-pasteurization techniques to minimize the damage, there is simply no way around it. “Wine is a living thing…. By cooking the wine, we are destroying the wine,” Cipes’ explained matter-of-factly. The dilemma facing kosher wine vintners is best summed up as having to choose between quality and quantity, taking into account the obvious economics that accompany those choices.
Which brings us back to Tiferet, whose kosher uncooked status partly explains its steep price. Cipes acknowledged the challenge of producing uncooked wine and described Tiferet’s creation as “a labor of love.”
“The complication is that only the hands of Sabbath-observant Jews could touch the wine, equipment or any unsealed vessel containing the wine,” he said. “We had to make the wine away from our regular wine cellar, and without the trained hands of our regular team. But otherwise, it was the most simple and natural process: crush the grapes, allow the fermentation to happen … press the juice from the skins … age in barrels, blend the barrels … allow the solids to settle … rack the wine … and seal it in a bottle. Rabbi Shmuly or myself was there every single day except for Shabbos, checking the temperature of the room or performing some task. For such a simple process, the quality of the wine comes from the quality of the fruit, the careful handling, and creating the correct conditions for the fermentation and maturation.”
Tiferet was made with a relatively new “meritage” blend (merit/heritage), a delicate balance of Bordeaux-inspired grape varieties – merlot (60 percent), cabernet sauvignon (20 percent) and cabernet franc (20 percent) – cultivated in the semi-arid conditions of an Osoyoos organic vineyard and then brought to Summerhill to be turned into something that sounds much more than a run-of-the-mill premium wine.
“Making [Tiferet] with the rabbis changed its way,” Cipes said, trying his best to explain his sense that something else was at work during the creation of Tiferet. “In a way, the wine made itself, there was some magic that happened there. It’s hard to put my finger on it … a certain element of magic happened naturally that wouldn’t have happened otherwise … it was the work of the elements, and of natural forces beyond our control. We can only take credit for partnering with these forces to create this incredible wine.”
The description of Tiferet on Summerhill’s website diverts sharply from adjectives usually associated with wine flavor and aromas. Forgoing the more mundane “‘fruity” or “crisp,” Summerhill goes out on a metaphorical limb declaring, “Tiferet has the aroma of baby’s breath and the flavor of mother’s milk.” (If you’re wondering, as did I, the reference is not to genus Gypsophila, most commonly found in English country gardens!)
On the telephone, Cipes struggled to articulate the sensory sensations evoked by this wine. “It has a sweet milkiness … an unusual flavor, a sweet dairy note that doesn’t linger for long … it’s almost an effervescence. The texture is … full- bodied, soft and kind of silky in your mouth, elegant, fresh, fruity. There’s an added complexity to the wine,” before returning to the rather odd-sounding, “It’s like baby’s breath.” Tiferet wine, Cipes concluded, is for a drinker who “want[s] to have an experience of beauty.” With my request for a sample politely but firmly declined, and a price tag sadly out of reach, I’ll just have to take his word for it.
But, wait. What about the promise for more about that huge, looming pyramid, rivaling only the great pyramids of Egypt for alignment and precision? And the new-age-sounding Peace Garden? You’ll have to visit the winery in person to learn more – and, while you’re there, could you bring me back a bottle of that magic?
Nicole Nozick is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and communications specialist.
Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, was in Vancouver on April 10, and addressed a roundtable lunch organized by CJPAC. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) hosted a community roundtable lunch on Thursday, April 10, with Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
“CJPAC seeks to activate the Jewish community in the Canadian political process, and roundtables such as these provide opportunities to build relationships and engage with elected officials from all political parties,” explained Mark Waldman, CJPAC’s executive director, in an email after the event.
“CJPAC is a multi-partisan, national organization that has been active in Vancouver for many years,” he added. As an example of the organization’s work locally, he noted, “Recently in Vancouver, CJPAC hosted an event called Women in Politics, which was attended by more than 30 women. Participants engaged on a personal level with former and current female politicians from a number of political parties and levels of government.”
Thursday’s lunch meeting took place in a boardroom at Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP downtown. It seemed like a couple of dozen community members were in attendance. As they were leaving, Trudeau spoke briefly with the Jewish Independent before heading to another appointment.
“… I’m glad to say that any government of Canada will be supportive of Israel, not for ideological or political or strategic reasons, but because the values Israel stands for are Canadian values of openness, of respect, of democracy, of equality, and we need more of that, particularly in the tough neighborhood that Israel is in.”
“It went great,” he said about how the roundtable went. “We talked about, obviously, Canada’s support of Israel, which is extremely important to me and the point I made is that I am an unequivocal supporter of Israel. We need a two-state solution of a Jewish state on one side and a Palestinian state. Where I take issue a little bit with the prime minister these days is just that he’s tended to make it a little more of a domestic football, with some people being more supporters of Israel than others, and I’m happy to say that I love the prime minister for his support of Israel and thank Mr. Mulcair for his personal support of Israel as well, and I’m glad to say that any government of Canada will be supportive of Israel, not for ideological or political or strategic reasons, but because the values Israel stands for are Canadian values of openness, of respect, of democracy, of equality, and we need more of that, particularly in the tough neighborhood that Israel is in.”
Domestically, there have been changes made or proposed at the federal level over the years that, in the opinion of some, challenge those very values of openness, respect, democracy and equality, a recent example being Bill C-23, or the Fair Elections Act. When asked to describe his vision of the role of a federal government, Trudeau responded, “First of all, we have to understand that Canada is a federation, not a unitary state, so how we engage with different levels of government as a federal government – partnership with provinces, partnership with municipalities – and understanding the work together that we do as different levels of government all serves the same citizens.
“Giving a government a majority doesn’t give them the capacity to perpetuate themselves indefinitely by tricking the rules; that’s what happens in developing countries, that’s not what’s supposed to happen in Canada.”
“But even within the way Parliament functions,” he continued, “I made a strong commitment last June towards open Parliament, which would mean less whipped votes; open nominations, which would mean no omnibus bills, no misuse of prorogation, a lot more openness, the transparency around online posting of our expenses. Actually, what we announced in June last year then triggered similar announcements from everyone and now all of Parliament is starting to post online, and that was something that we triggered. So, I think when you look at that, when you look at the partisan approach to the Fair Elections Act – which is a very unfair elections act – I’m certainly trying to get the message out to Canadians that we do not need elections to be fixed in advance in favor of the Conservatives, and that’s exactly what’s happening. Giving a government a majority doesn’t give them the capacity to perpetuate themselves indefinitely by tricking the rules; that’s what happens in developing countries, that’s not what’s supposed to happen in Canada.”
With the defeat of the Parti Quebecois on April 7, there is reason to believe that its proposed Charter of Values will also go by the wayside. However, at least some of the sentiment that allowed it to be proposed in the first place – fear over immigration – likely still exists and, over the last few years, more than one European government has called multiculturalism a failure. In light of this, the Independent asked Trudeau what he thought about the future of multiculturalism in Canada.
“Multiculturalism in Canada is about building a diverse, flourishing fabric of a country that is strong, not in spite of its differences, but because of those differences.
“The German model of multiculturalism failed because they brought over temporary workers from Turkey and never allowed them citizenship, didn’t treat them like Germans and, even a few generations in, they never became [citizens]. Multiculturalism in Canada is about building a diverse, flourishing fabric of a country that is strong, not in spite of its differences, but because of those differences.
“And, I’ll say two things on Quebec. First of all, I, as of last fall, spoke very strongly in a number of editorials to Canadians to not get overly worked up about this Charter of Values, to trust Quebecers because Quebecers were not going to accept this, and I was pleased to see them show that on Monday night, and show that very strongly.
“But the second element: it does demonstrate how politicians can twist perceptions, and a lot of Quebecers who initially expressed support for the idea of the charter did so thinking they were sticking up for equality; you know, ‘liberating people from the oppressive yoke of religion,’ because, of course, in Quebec, that’s what happened through the sixties with their Quiet Revolution. But, as soon as people explained to them, no, this is about people having to choose between their religion or their job, Quebecers said, well, that doesn’t work at all, and that’s exactly what we have.”
When asked if he had any final words before the interview ended, Trudeau said, “Just what a pleasure it is to be out here in Vancouver. I had a great conversation with a number of strong members of the Jewish community and, unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time, so I look forward to coming back and doing this again soon.”
From left, Meryle Kates, executive director, Toronto chapter, Stand With Us, and British journalist and author Melanie Phillips. (photo from Vancouver Hebrew Academy)
On April 1, at the fourth annual Faigen Family Lecture Series presented by Vancouver Hebrew Academy, British journalist and author Melanie Phillips tackled what she called “the herd of elephants stomping around the furniture.”
From 9/11 to the 7/7 bus bombings in London, through the Spanish train and Mumbai bombings, the activities of Hezbollah and Iran, she said, “There is a refusal in the West to acknowledge the link between all these disparate events … that all these phenomena, which take different forms, are a variation of the Islamic religious war, or jihad. Now, we know that this is the case because the perpetrators tell us this – they tell us this over and over again in varying terms.”
More than 150 people filled the downstairs auditorium at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue to hear Phillips speak, which she did after brief remarks from VHA board co-president David Emanuel; Gina Faigen, whose father, Dr. Morris Faigen, z’l, created the lecture series; and Meryle Kates, executive director, Toronto chapter, Stand With Us, who introduced Phillips.
Phillips, author most recently of The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power (Encounter, 2010), said that, in Britain, when 9/11 happened, they were told it had nothing to do with religion: “It was to do with poverty, it was to do with lack of education, it was to do with alienation from the surroundings of society.” Referring to the perpetrators of terrorism, she said they were not poor, they were well-educated and, in Britain, they were being alienated, not by Western influences, but by Islamic preachers. Nonetheless, the British were told, “It was Bosnia, it was Chechnya, it was Kashmir and, above all, it was Palestine. So, the way of solving this problem … was you dealt with grievances. Get rid of the grievances, and you will get rid of the problem of terrorism…. It ignored the fact that all these people said over and over again they were doing it for religious reasons, they were doing it in order to defend God against modernity, against America, against the Jews and against the West. It ignored the verses of the Koran which framed these declarations of war being perpetrated on Jews and on the West.”
Phillips said the British government now has decided “what we’re living through is the perversion of the religion,” but it is more accurate to say we’re up against an interpretation of the religion with which not all Muslims agree and, indeed, of which many Muslims are “the principal victims.” However, she noted, offering the British security service as her source, between 2,000 and 4,000 young British Muslims are considered to be “active terrorists” and “they believe the true number is far greater than that.” She added, “opinion polls show that some 40 to 60 percent of British Muslims want to live under sharia law. Now, this is no small matter. Sharia law is in direct conflict with the state, it recognizes no such authority.”
Britain has a “very, very serious problem of religious fanatical radicalization but it has not accepted this.” Only recently, she said, it was reported that the prime minister has set up an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood.
Phillips argued that reticence in dealing with terrorism comes from a decent impulse most people have: the fear of being intolerant. She said we must never forget that there are many Muslims “who come to the West because they actually subscribe to Western ideals in that they want to live in peace and freedom, they want to have jobs like everybody else, they want to bring up their families in peace and security like everybody else…. There are people who are so enraged by Muslim, by Islamic terrorism … that they forget that, and I think it’s very important that we don’t forget that. But it’s equally important that we don’t ignore the other side of the story.”
Liberal democracies welcome minorities, she said, as contributing to and enhancing the culture. “The quid pro quo, however, is that minorities have to, in their terms, sign up to a kind of overarching national story, an overarching set of values.” If the rule of law doesn’t apply to everyone, she continued, then a country is no longer a liberal democracy.
In the late 1980s, Phillips began writing about the “cultural vacuum” she perceived was developing. “I started writing about things to do with family, with education, with multiculturalism. It just seemed to me that, over the years, something was going very, very wrong with all these issues; values were being turned on their heads.” She gave the example of family breakdown becoming more of an entitlement, a person’s right rather than a thing that should be avoided if at all possible. She spoke of education in Britain as becoming more child-centric, the belief that imposing constraints and rules on children limited their creativity, leading to illiterate and innumerate children. As well, she said, certain self-defined victim groups were being given a free pass on their behavior because they were supposed victims of the majority.
“… the culture of the nation, as expressed in education, as expressed in the laws passed by that nation … was deemed to be illegitimate because the nation was deemed to be illegitimate. Why? Because nations led to nationalism, and nationalism led to prejudice and war, and if you wish to avoid prejudice and war, you basically abolish the nation … you set up institutions which trumped the nation, transnational institutions, which bound nations together under an umbrella of common values, and those were deemed to be more legitimate than the nation because those brought people together, they were inclusive, they didn’t separate.”
She described human rights laws as pitting one set of rights against another, rather than being universal, as was claimed, and contended this was part of a more general view that “the culture of the nation, as expressed in education, as expressed in the laws passed by that nation … was deemed to be illegitimate because the nation was deemed to be illegitimate. Why? Because nations led to nationalism, and nationalism led to prejudice and war, and if you wish to avoid prejudice and war, you basically abolish the nation … you set up institutions which trumped the nation, transnational institutions, which bound nations together under an umbrella of common values, and those were deemed to be more legitimate than the nation because those brought people together, they were inclusive, they didn’t separate.”
In Phillips’ view, multiculturalism doesn’t mean that we should simply be tolerant and respectful of minorities, but rather, as a doctrine, says that every single culture should be regarded as having identical value as every other. “So, that means that you cannot hold liberal values because … if you’re up against a culture which basically believes that women are second-class citizens or that gay people should be killed, then you as a liberal society cannot impose your view that gay people should have civil rights and that women should have equality because you are being racist, because you are imposing your culture on their culture … consequently, it’s a liberal death warrant, it’s a liberal society’s death warrant, multiculturalism.”
As with other isms, Phillips said, multiculturalism has become unchallengeable. This has happened, she argued, because the West has told itself that religion is bunk. “In other words, instead of adhering to a program which owes its origins to what are considered to be divinely inspired rules of behavior, man … shapes the world, or reshapes the world, according to his own wishes…. So, we have a whole range of ideologies which now govern our assumptions in the West. We have materialism, the idea that everything … must be explained by material explanation. We have moral and cultural relativism, the idea that what is right for me is what is right…. We have deep-green environmentalism, which says that the world would be a great place if only it wasn’t for the human race mucking it all up.”
Phillips said that ideologies replace truth by power. “In the non-ideological world, one looks at facts and evidence and then other facts and evidence and one reaches a conclusion. With an ideology, you start with the conclusion…. The idea governs how you look at the world and, if there is evidence that conflicts with that idea, you have to wrench the evidence to fit that idea … one group fights for supremacy over another group, and that’s how you lose the sense of a national overarching set of values.”
On a whole range of issues, “it is no longer possible to have a rational discussion with people who believe in these ideologies, as upon each issue there can be only one story for them…. Reason is replaced by bullying, intimidation and the suppression of debate.”
Ideologies drive out reason, she said. “And, if there is no truth, there can be no lies either because truth and lies are merely alternative narratives in the jargon of the time.” On a whole range of issues, “it is no longer possible to have a rational discussion with people who believe in these ideologies, as upon each issue there can be only one story for them…. Reason is replaced by bullying, intimidation and the suppression of debate.”
Phillips noted the irony in the West’s replacement of religion with secular dogma. “Just as with medieval Christianity, with Islam through the ages, these ideologies represent a perfectly closed thought system which brooks no alternative because … each of them aspires to create a perfect world, they are synonymous with virtue and, therefore, brook no opposition.”
They have turned evidence and logic on their heads, she said, in a way that is particularly relevant to Israel. “Because of the ideology of multiculturalism and minority rights, self-designated victim groups, defined as those without power, can never do wrong, while the majority groups can never do right. So, it follows, the Muslim world can never be held responsible for blowing people up because they are, as people of the Third World, victims of the West.”
In this scenario, she explained, Jews can never be victims, they are not a minority because they are held to be all-powerful and in control of the media, Wall Street and America – “so much of the hateful discourse about Israel follows from that.” Phillips said this echoes the narrative within Islam. “Because Islam considers itself to be the perfect, unchallengeable word of God, it can never do wrong.” All aggression by Islam is, therefore, seen as “automatically self-defence,” while Western or Israeli “real self-defence is said to be aggression.”
Added to this, she said, is “transnational progressivism,” in which nations are innately divisive and Western nations “innately colonialist, rapacious and cruel.” Israel, therefore, is “triply damned”: “It’s a nation, bad. It’s a Western nation, very bad. It’s a Jewish, Western nation, racist. So, when Israel goes to war to defend its people against the thousands of rockets coming at it from Gaza or whatever it is, the thousands of rockets are regarded as immaterial. What is important is Israel’s military self-defence in the interests of a Western, ‘racist’ nation. Terrorism, by contrast, becomes resistance.”
The utopian nature of ideologies makes them, “by definition, the most high-minded of ideas and thus the most high-minded people subscribe to them, the intelligentsia, which wear them as badges of conscience.” Among the things this explains, she said, is “the phenomenon of left-wingers, high-minded people devoted to human rights and sexual promiscuity marching shoulder to shoulder on the streets of London and elsewhere with radical Islamists devoted to killing homosexuals and stoning adulterous women to death under the common band of human rights.”
Worse, she added, is that, when utopia “fails to materialize, and utopia always fails to materialize, its adherents, its proponents, are so enraged by the failure of what cannot fail … that they select scapegoats on whom they turn to take out their rage over the thwarted establishment of a perfect world, and the scapegoats become enemies of humanity.”
One of the commonalities between all these disparate ideologies, she said, is “hostility to Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people.” She attributes this, in part, to the fact that it was Judaism that laid down the moral foundations of Western morality, “which is under attack from moral relativism.” And herein lies her solution.
In Phillips’ opinion, “the essence of the problem is the displacement of religion, especially biblical morality, and its replacement by secular ideology.” So, the religious basis of the West needs to be restored. She thinks this is possible for two main reasons. “First, people are not adverse to spirituality…. What they don’t want to believe in is in organized religion, but that’s very different from saying they don’t want to believe or that they don’t instinctively believe in something that is supernatural…. The second is this, there’s an assumption in our modern world that in one box is reason and in another box is religion and the two can never meet…. The fact is that religion was the wellspring reason, order, progress, human dignity and liberty…. Without the Hebrew Bible, these things … would not have existed and, I would suggest, that as religion has been progressively edged out of Western life, so truth and morality have crumbled, leading to irrationality, prejudice and so forth.
“Western science grew, essentially, out of the revolutionary claim in the Bible that the universe was the product of a rational creator who endowed men with reason so that he could ask questions about the natural world.”
“And it was not just any religion that created reason and progress,” she continued, “but very specifically Christianity and the Hebrew Bible from which it sprang, the Hebrew Bible…. Western science grew, essentially, out of the revolutionary claim in the Bible that the universe was the product of a rational creator who endowed men with reason so that he could ask questions about the natural world…. The problem arose in our modern times, when science overreached itself and sought to explain the inexplicable … and so, scientific materialism became a kind of faith in itself, an explanation for all things, but that isn’t actually the case.”
It is the same with equality, she said. “It is the Hebrew Bible again which tells us that we are all created equal in the eyes of God and, therefore, we have to respect each other as human beings and, without that biblical story, equality would not exist, nor would we have our assumptions of putting the interests of others first, which lie at the very heart of a civilized … society.”
The task of the West, she said, is “to re-Christianize, as the previous pope well understood. And I realize that to use those terms, to say the West must re-Christianize, causes a terrible frisson, not least among people in this audience. Christianity has not been an unalloyed pleasure for the Jewish people, but if we wish to defend and protect and assert Western culture, we have to accept that Christianity is at the root of Western culture, with all its freedoms and all its values…. And at the root of Christianity is the Hebrew Bible.”
As Jews, we must “help reconnect the Western world with those Jewish roots and values which are the root, are the very core, of the Western culture,” she said. “We have to stand up very clearly for stating the truths about the state of Israel, its history and its present situation.”
Phillips called the “attack on Israel” the most important “cause of our time, not just because we are Jews and we should care about the existence, survival and security of the state of Israel,” but “because attitudes to Israel are attitudes to truth, to justice, to morality, to decency, to civilization. If people are on the wrong side, essentially … of Israel, they are on the wrong side of truth, justice, morality and civilization…. Western culture is currently at great risk because its understanding of itself has been smashed into fragments. The way to save it … is by putting those fragments back together again…. The challenges are truly formidable but if, and only if, we have faith in ourselves, it can and must done.”
After a 15-minute Q&A, VHA head of school Rabbi Don Pacht concluded the evening on a light note, thanking Phillips for an informative lecture, as well as for her “wholesale endorsement of the Hebrew Bible,” of which he’s “a huge fan.” He also thanked the Faigen family for their sponsorship of the annual event.
Earlier this month, Kaplan’s Deli & Catering at 5775 Oak St. closed. On March 6, there were three signs on the door, one noting that the locks had been changed, and two concerning monies that had to be paid within five days. On March 18, the signs were still there. The doors were still locked. The property management company was continuing its search for new tenants.
Whether or not one frequented the deli, it is sad to see it go. Opened by Ida and Abrasha Kaplan in October 1967, Kaplan’s (with variations on what descriptors followed the name) was a veritable institution in the community. Its opening was heralded with a two-page spread in the Jewish Independent’s predecessor, the Jewish Western Bulletin.
Owners of two Pheasant Delicatessen locations at the time, the Kaplans kept Pheasant’s longstanding 4030 Cambie St. location until, it seems, from the pages of the JWB, April 1969, when it was taken over by Sigy and Molly Robbins. It looks like Pheasant lasted until 1972, when the Pyrogy House starts being advertised in the Bulletin at 4030 Cambie St.
The Kaplans bought Pheasant from Helen and Jack Finkelstein in 1962. The Finkelsteins had owned it since 1952. The for-sale notice the year prior noted the deli’s “good turnover” and “illness reason for selling” – the Finkelsteins bought it from Mrs. Sarah Nager, who seems to have been the first Jewish proprietor of the deli that first appears in the B.C. city directories in 1947.
The Kaplans opened Kaplan’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, “[j]ust a couple of stores over from their former Oak and 41st location (their popular Pheasant Sandwich Bar and Delicatessen),” reads the Oct. 20, 1967, article on the opening. With a seating capacity of 58, the restaurant’s modernity and beauty was lauded, as was its family atmosphere.
In the March 19, 1981, JWB, Mr. and Mrs. Serge Haber ran an ad announcing Kaplan’s new management, and “the introduction of new delicacies from Montreal and Toronto to the already large list available.” As did the Kaplans, Serge and Elinor Haber would run holiday greetings and advertise regularly in the JWB.
In 2000, Haber sold Kaplan’s to Marshall Cramer, in part, Haber told the JWB at the time, because Cramer agreed to keep the staff and run the business as it had been in the past.
Cramer had the store at 5775 Oak St. until 2012, when Howie English took it over. Full of optimism when interviewed by Menschenings’ Alex Kliner, English would not succeed in his hope to “make Kaplan’s the most famous deli in North America.” Unless someone in the community buys the name and reinvents the restaurant, he’ll have been its final owner.
Cousins Michael, left, and Sam Zipursky co-founded FreshGigs.ca. (photo from Michael Zipursky)
When FreshGigs opened for business four years ago, they took the job-hunting business by storm, generating quick growth and interest. So it makes sense that they would link themselves up with another up-and-coming concept taking the world by storm.
FreshGigs.ca, a Vancouver-based jobsite that focuses on marketing and creative talent, has become one of the first companies in the city to accept the new, revolutionary Bitcoin currency as a form of payment.
Bitcoin is the first decentralized digital currency. Ideal for conducting international transactions due to the lack of fees or bank-adjusted exchange rates, Bitcoin has gained popularity since first being introduced in 2009.
“We see it as another currency and option for people to make payments to post their jobs,” FreshGigs.ca co-founder Michael Zipursky explained in an interview with the Jewish Independent. “Employers can pay for their jobs with Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Paypal and, now, Bitcoin. We focus on providing our clients the best service possible and giving them choices is part of that.”
Bitcoin made its first splash in Vancouver in the fall when the first Bitcoin ATM was installed in a Waves Coffee House in Downtown Vancouver. There, customers need to have their palms scanned in order to make transactions worth up to $3,000.
Zipursky said FreshGigs.ca is moving with the times because they see it as another step in fulfilling their original mission. “We started FreshGigs.ca because many people we knew were very skilled at what they did, they were great at marketing, advertising and design, yet they had trouble finding a job,” he said. “At the same time, employers are looking for qualified talent and didn’t have any good options in these industries. We saw an opportunity to create a jobsite that would connect these two groups in a meaningful and effective way.”
Today, FreshGigs.ca is serving companies like Best Buy, Canada Post, Tourism Whistler, Vancity and the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.
FreshGigs.ca went ahead with the decision to accept Bitcoin despite the controversy that has surrounded its introduction into the marketplace. Financial institutions have cautioned that the electronic currency can too easily be used for money laundering or to fund illegal activities. The European Banking Authority has cautioned that Bitcoin lacks adequate consumer protection, as it can be stolen and chargebacks are impossible. The government of China recently restricted Bitcoin from being exchanged for local currency and, last year, the FBI seized 144,000 Bitcoin worth $28.5 million from an online black market. However, the use of Bitcoin continues to grow as its value increases. As well, more large or reputable international companies have jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon, leading many to believe that it is here to stay, despite the pushback. Virgin Galactic, the Richard Branson-owned company aiming to send people to space is accepting Bitcoin, as has popular blogging platform WordPress. Many other organizations, such as PayPal and eBay are making plans to follow suit.
To use Bitcoin with FreshGigs.ca, a client simply needs to go to the Bitcoin payment page and enter the required information to process the order.
Gary and Nanci Segal learn about bees at the Hebrew U Rehovot campus, home of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
This year, for the first time in Vancouver, Jewish National Fund and Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are together hosting the Negev Dinner.
The dinner will pay tribute to businessman and philanthropist Gary Segal, whose “remarkable heritage” is “led first and foremost by a love of humanity, a love of the land of Israel and a deep social commitment and yearning for tikkun olam,” said JNF Pacific Region shaliach Ilan Pilo. The event will raise funds for an educational outreach program led by JNF at Hebrew U’s Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre.
“Gary and [his wife] Nanci wanted to support the JNF and HU and, when this project came up, they simply realized the importance of doing it,” Dina Wachtel, executive director of CFHU Western Region, told the Independent. In the program, she explained, “They are taking mainly at-risk youth from the periphery of the country, both geographically and socially, many of whom are kids of immigrants and hard-working citizens, and are offering them a lifetime opportunity … interaction with PhD and graduate students who teach them science and ecological sciences. Basically, these kids are exposed to a world that, for the most part, they are not familiar with and, by exposing them to hands-on lessons in science and allowing them to learn presentation and leadership skills, we are literally transforming their sense of pride and ability to believe in themselves that, yes, they can reach university and that it is not beyond their reach.
“Both Gary and Nanci know that Israel’s number one capital is its human resources and, by investing in these kids, they are literally investing in Israel’s most precious capital.”
Vice-president of Kingswood Capital Corp., Gary Segal’s philanthropic endeavors are numerous. Locally, they include – but are not limited to – Ronald McDonald House, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, Jewish Community Foundation, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, Kollel, Vancouver Talmud Torah Foundation and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. Among the work Gary and Nanci Segal (and their family) support is that of Dr. Rick Hodes, medical director of Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
“It was important to me to support a project that would have a direct impact on underprivileged youth, including the Ethiopian community that I have become involved with over the years; at the same time, it would have to be one that fits the mandates of both organizations,” explained Gary Segal about the choice of the JNF-HU project for the proceeds of this year’s Negev Dinner.
Seeing the JNF and CFHU projects firsthand
The Segals were in Israel earlier this month on a trip with Pilo and Wachtel. “The two days I just spent in Israel witnessing firsthand the outreach activities of the Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre at Hebrew U affirmed the absolute merits of this project and how it aligns perfectly with my stated goal for this dinner,” said Segal.
“I witnessed the enthusiastic way in which these young students embraced the wide range of activities, and heard from them directly how much they love being part of it,” he added. “These children would not have the opportunity to be exposed to such things through their homes and resource-challenged schools alone. A clearly devoted and emotionally invested teacher that I spoke with recounted how she overcame her own disadvantaged background to become a teacher, and how important it is to her to give these children the understanding and belief that they can aspire to a better life through advanced education. Most of the participating children have parents either in low-level jobs or else unemployed, and many of them come to school hungry so, on her own account, she brings food to school to be able to feed them. In addition to stimulating an interest in science and the environment through this youth centre program, the children go back and do research and make a presentation to the student body and parents, as well. The teacher explained how this develops public speaking and leadership skills and instils in them a new sense of self-confidence. At the same time, for the parents, it leads to a sense of pride in their children.”
The trip to Israel “was a mixture of viewing projects, gaining perspectives on Israel from a variety of people, experiencing the specific science outreach program we are supporting through the upcoming dinner, and having some fun,” Segal said.
In Jerusalem, the couple visited Mahane Yehuda, Teddy Park, the Old City and the Western Wall. On erev Shabbat, they had dinner at the home of Rabbi Ehud Bandel, the first Israeli native ordained in the Masorti (Conservative) movement. One evening, they took in a musical comedy show by the Voca People and, another night, Gary Segal dined with two Knesset members from the Yesh Atid party, Ronen Hoffman and Karine Elharrar. “Ronen is head of the Israel/Canada relations committee and has prior experience in various Israeli peace efforts; Karine is involved in disabilities awareness and accessibility,” explained Segal.
Sunday was spent touring JNF projects, he continued. They visited a new water bio-filteration pilot system in Kfar Saba, the Biriya Forest (“which sadly suffered a lot of tree-branch destruction from the winter snowstorm”) and the Hula Valley bird sanctuary park. “We saw everything in a somewhat different light,” he said, “as it was an extremely hazy day due to dust from Africa having spread all the way to Israel.”
On Monday, the Segals met with HU president Menahem Ben-Sasson on the Mount Scopus campus before heading to HU’s Safra Givat Ram campus to meet with Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre administrators and get an overview of the program they are sponsoring.
“Interacting with these lively and outgoing youth over the course of these two days was most definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me and Nanci, and my ability to converse directly with the kids in Hebrew made it particularly fun and personal for me,” said Segal. “In the spirit of my own quest for new experiences as an adult, I did something I never thought I would do – in one of the Monday morning labs, the instructor was talking about the West African python snake wrapped around his neck and, when he went to pass it to me, I actually took it from him and held it while encircled by some curious yet wary girls in the class – my first close-up, hands-on interaction with a snake.”
On the way to Tel Aviv, Segal said they stopped at the JNF Canada Park so that he and Nanci could “plant an olive tree and see the commemorative plaque for the grove we planted in 2000 in honor of our daughter Stephanie’s bat mitzvah.”
Before checking into their hotel, they met with the new Israeli health minister, Yael German, who, Segal noted, “before national office … was the very successful mayor of Herzliya for 15 years.” She gave them over an hour of her time, he said, discussing with them some of the many issues with which the ministry is dealing.
“Tuesday involved a visit to the Hebrew U Rehovot campus, home of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment,” said Segal. “We first were introduced to some of their international activities to assist countries to alleviate problems of hunger, disease and poverty through technical training and technology transfer. We heard about some fascinating research projects being undertaken in this regard, and had the opportunity to hear from a half-dozen post-graduate international scholarship students from Africa and Asia who are there to gain knowledge that can be implemented back home.”
For the rest of the morning, the Segals tagged along with children visiting from the periphery community of Kiryat Malachi. They saw the mechanical milking process and, said Segal, “another first for me, tasting fresh (sterilized) goat milk. We then moved on to a session learning about live bees and the workings of the hive and honey making. Before leaving the campus, we had lunch in the cafeteria with the children…. It gave me the opportunity to have a very moving and enlightening talk about the outreach program with one of their obviously very dedicated teachers.
“We then departed campus for the last element of our outreach experience – a visit to the periphery community of Kiryat Ekron. The mayor of this community of 11,500 people was very happy to take the time to greet and accompany us at the school, and the proud principal of the school explained to us how she had a vision to bring such a science-outreach program to her school and had searched far and wide and negotiated for about a year to make her vision a reality. We sat in on an entertaining chemistry class being led by the same Hebrew U graduate student we first met the day before in Jerusalem while leading a class there on trees and the environment. As we were leaving the school, I saw the presence of JNF here, too, in an outdoor classroom structure that had been funded by them. Another fond memory from this visit was successfully coaxing a number of young girls to serenade me with one of their favorite Israeli pop songs in Moroccan Arabic.”
The next day and a half comprised visits to more JNF activities, “including the Be’er Sheva River Park, the older settlements and newer pioneer settlements near the Gaza borders, and the impressive Sderot high school.” The region’s mayor explained the “programs available to the students, as well as the challenges of being in such a dangerously exposed area.”
Rounding out their 10-day trip, the Segals met JNF world chairman Efi Stenzler, spent time with friends and took a helicopter ride over the country with Wachtel.
A longtime involvement
Segal’s connection to JNF and HU extend much further back than this recent visit, of course. “From my Talmud Torah and Camp Hatikvah days,” he said, “I grew up with a strong feeling of connection to Israel and an understanding of its importance to the Jewish people. In terms of JNF specifically, though I felt I was already very familiar with the general nature of JNF’s activities in Israel through the blue pushke box, Tu b’Shevat, attending Negev dinners and my many discussions over the years with different Vancouver JNF emissaries, I must say that I was very impressed on this trip seeing the breadth and depth of JNF’s projects from before statehood through today, and the vast impact they have on the quality of life, security and future prospects of the Israeli people. They touch upon these areas in so many different ways.
“Regarding Hebrew U,” he continued, “I can honestly say that my decision to attend Hebrew U in 1971/72 for my second year of university studies played a pivotal role in developing many of my life interests and activities…. That was a very exciting and stimulating year and a half, from the first few months on kibbutz through the end of the school year in Israel, then followed by three months of adventure travel with my good buddy Ben Goldberg in East Africa, including being in Uganda during Idi Amin’s reign of terror. This opened up a whole new desire to learn about the developing world, leading to my post-BA year of travel across Asia and the Middle East in 1974/75. You could say, in a way, this all sowed the seeds for my current philanthropic work in Ethiopia and my interest in the Ethiopian community in Israel.”
The 2014 Negev Dinner takes place on Sunday, April 6, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, starting at 5:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 604-257-5155 or e-mail [email protected].
On Dec. 16, 2013, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners filed an application with Canada’s National Energy Board for permission to proceed with its proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline system between Edmonton and Burnaby. “If approvals are received, the expansion is expected to be operational in late 2017,” says the company’s website. It also notes, “The proposed $5.4 billion project will increase capacity on Trans Mountain from approximately 300,000 bpd [barrels per day] to 890,000 bpd.”
One of the leaders of the fight against this project is Sundance Chief Rueben George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN), who will be addressing this year’s Outlook fundraising dinner later this month. “I guess how I got involved, in a way, is embedded in me, with my cultural and spiritual teachings,” he told the Independent in a phone interview.
These teachings, he explained, include the protection of “the things that are sacred to us, and that’s our children, our families and also our land and our waters. You look at any religious or spiritual belief and you can see that water is used in most ceremonies and, in a sense, fire, too, because you have candles or incense, and we use sage or sweetgrass. We use the elements of … fire, earth, water and sky. We learn through the ceremonies that there is a sacredness to it, just like there is a sacredness to our children, so it was a natural transition for me to go from director of community development for Tsleil-Waututh Nation, overseeing all the social programs, employment and training, and education programs” to being, among other responsibilities, program manager of TWN’s Sacred Trust. The trust “is mandated to oppose and stop the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project,” explains its website.
“When we started,” said George of the fight against the pipeline expansion, “there was Rex Wheeler and Ben West and a [handful] of others. Rex Wheeler is one of the fathers of Greenpeace, and Ben West is one of the managers at ForestEthics. They couldn’t believe it when they saw a tanker going through our [TWN] territory, the Burrard Inlet, almost four years ago … and so they found us…. But we’ve been fighting the battle against things like this for years, and being traditional stewards of our lands. We did elk re-introduction programs, we’re doing salmon enhancement programs and, when we do things like that, those things benefit everybody. So, we’ve been doing this work and, with our treaty lands and resource payments, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation [has been doing it] for years as well, and my grandfather Chief Dan George did similar work.”
In addition to the pipeline, said George, “We’re also keeping a close eye on the whole that’s being distributed from Vancouver. There’s uranium going out of Vancouver, there’s a whole bunch of toxic and very dangerous things that are going through our waters and we’re watching those very carefully, as well.”
When the struggle against Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion began, said George, the concern was mainly about Enbridge Inc. (Enbridge’s at-least $6.5 billion Northern Gateway project to build a new twin pipeline system running from near Edmonton to Kitimat was approved by the NEB last December, with 200-plus conditions.) Public awareness of Kinder Morgan was limited when TWN became involved, said George, but that has since changed.
Last fall, TWN received the gift of a totem pole from Lummi Nation in Washington state. “They wanted to work together with my nation because they see what we are doing against Kinder Morgan, and [it’s similar to] what they’re doing against the coal in Cherry Point,” explained George. “But they did a journey from Montana to Vancouver with that totem pole and in every nation they stopped at, there were prayers and there was a gathering, and through that process, they had 7.5 million people witness part of that journey … through internet or TV or newspapers. And then, when we went to Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations Earth Summit, there were a couple of pictures that were taken … [with] indigenous people around the Amazon, and there is 1.2 million views on that. So, from nobody having awareness to this, to bringing it to the international stage and showing the world that not only are the tankers not a good idea, the pipelines are not a good idea, [and] the Alberta Tar Sands are an atrocious idea, just like the rest of it.”
For economic prosperity, said George, “we don’t need this destruction that’s happening to our earth and our atmosphere and our waters. We need the world to know that we have green-energy alternatives. Tsleil-Waututh Nation, we own and we manufacture and we sell wind turbines.” He called it “ridiculous” that the Canadian government has given some $1.4 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel companies who are “not working for change.”
He held up TWN as one of the First Nations from which people could learn “what a government should be like.” He said that, when its wind turbines and other investments have success, “it’s not going to be an individual that’s taking off and becoming a billionaire” looking out for their own best interests.
“Instead of taking millions of dollars and negotiating with Kinder Morgan, we said no…. Like the 160 nations that signed the Fraser declaration [to ‘not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon’], they said no, too….”
“We have a collective of a nation that did a referendum,” he said. “Instead of taking millions of dollars and negotiating with Kinder Morgan, we said no…. Like the 160 nations that signed the Fraser declaration [to ‘not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon’], they said no, too…. When we do have success with our economic development – we’re not a perfect system but we’re working towards it – but when we do have success, that money supplement[s] … every program of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.”
He gave the examples of environmental programs, such as those dealing with elk and salmon, as well as “social development, we help people to get off social assistance; and we help with the healing of our communities from the genocide that has happened [as a result of] the residential school experience; we have education; we have employment and training. All these programs are supplemented by our drive towards self-sufficiency. So, that, to me, is a government.
“And, when we make decisions for the better of our future generations, we sacrifice,” he admitted. “It would be easy for a lot of people to negotiate and say, yeah, I’ll take 10, 20 million dollars and let this pipeline go through, and maybe we’ll take some of the things that they’re offering and help our people out of poverty … but this is the sacrifice that we make. This is the sacrifice we have to do to create change. This is the sacrifice we have to do to have positive success that will go along the lines of what our culture and our spirituality teach us, and that’s not to cause destruction to what we [consider] sacred.”
George stressed the need to work with business partners who have the same values. He said that “this Canadian government, this Harper government, they don’t have the values that they’ll put forth to protect the sacred, their own children. Because they can’t make those decisions for themselves, we will – we will make those choices for them.”
George isn’t afraid of the David-versus-Goliath element of the struggle. He explained that indigenous people, who once “populated the Burrard Inlet with 15,000 people – we went down to 13 people, we were almost extinct. But those 13 people fought and they strived, and they maintained, and they stood up for the land, they stood up for the people, they stood up for those cultural indigenous rights. And I’m talking about those teachings of humanity, of love and respect, and honor and dignity and pride. If we treat well those things that we care for, like the land and the water and individuals, we’ll be making the right decisions.”
“My grandfather once said, if you’re going to be a pipe carrier or a longhouse West Coast ceremonial person, or you’re going to be Catholic or Jewish or Muslim … it doesn’t matter what you are, as long as you’re good at it. When you’re good at it – he meant, by following those teachings, what they represent and how you’re to live your life – there’s no boundaries between us and we can have a good relationship with one another.”
And his interfaith work has shown him that, when people recognize and live by “those fundamentals of humanity … there’s no differences between us. When we’re born, we’re born with no prejudice, no anger, no hate, no judgment…. It’s this society that we live in that warps us in the way we’re thinking…. My grandfather once said, if you’re going to be a pipe carrier or a longhouse West Coast ceremonial person, or you’re going to be Catholic or Jewish or Muslim … it doesn’t matter what you are, as long as you’re good at it. When you’re good at it – he meant, by following those teachings, what they represent and how you’re to live your life – there’s no boundaries between us and we can have a good relationship with one another.”
Emphasizing that pipelines and other such projects are not a First Nations or environmentalist problem, but rather everybody’s problem, George encouraged people to get involved. About his upcoming talk in the Jewish community, he said he hopes that “our collective religions and spiritual beliefs when we come together like this, where I come to be with your beautiful people, that we can spread the messages out, the teachings of humanity, and we can connect to those ones who don’t understand and bring some understanding of the true facts of what’s happening, and we can join together and make a movement that can create a better future for all of our future generations.”
The Annual Vancouver Outlook Fundraising Supper ($40/person) featuring Chief Rueben George will take place at the Peretz Centre on March 23, 6 p.m. An RSVP is requested to 604-324-5101.
Members of the Momo Minyan. (photo by David Berson)
Sometime in the next three months, two Tibetans will arrive in Vancouver from Arunachal Pradesh, a poor, remote region in the far northeast of India. When they get here, a group of Jews from Vancouver’s Or Shalom Synagogue will be waiting for them, ready to aid with their resettlement in this country. The group, which calls itself the Momo Minyan – momo after a Tibetan steamed dumpling – formed in June 2013 with the sole purpose of helping these Tibetans create a new life in British Columbia. In February, they completed and filed the sponsorship papers. Now, they wait. When the newcomers arrive, their work will begin in earnest.
The group will be supporting the two Tibetans financially, but their involvement will go beyond hard cash. “It means receiving them at the airport, finding a place for them to stay, ensuring they get registered for health benefits, helping them learn the language and find a job, and assisting them as they integrate socially,” said David Berson, a member of the minyan. The group will be responsible for accommodating the Tibetan refugees and ensuring they can access the services they require. It promises to be no small undertaking.
Back in 2010, at the urging of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to allow 1,000 Tibetans from this rugged, contested area to resettle in Canada. Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China as “South Tibet” and for the past 55 years the strip of land along this border has been home to thousands of Tibetans. To determine who was chosen to go to Canada, a lottery was held in the village’s public square, eventually granting a new life to one-sixth of the Tibetans from this area. The first wave of 55 arrived in Canada in December 2013. By the program’s conclusion, there will be approximately 200 refugees in British Columbia and others in Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto.
To make the transition to Canada possible, each one required sponsorship by a Canadian group or individual before they could obtain special travel documents and enter the country as landed immigrants.
Vicki Robinson, a facilitator for the Momo Minyan, said Or Shalom is the first synagogue in Canada to sponsor Tibetans under this program. The minyan has partnered with the Tibetan cultural society in this project. The United Church of Canada, a government sponsorship holder, has also helped to get the applications completed. “The United Church has a lot of experience in resettlement, working with the Canadian Immigration Committee and getting all the permits lined up,” Berson said. “They’re a conduit more than a partner for us.”
The Momo Minyan will be responsible for the Tibetans’ entire integration package, including finding and paying for an apartment, paying for health insurance and food. “Until we know who we’re absorbing, it’s difficult to know what kind of work will be appropriate,” Berson said of the process. The refugees, who have varying levels of education, come from poverty-stricken villages in this region, where they have limited access to medical care and often have to send their children away to school. “Their lives are threatened and they are a stateless people living in a disputed territory,” he noted.
The Tibetans have neither Chinese nor Indian citizenship. Some have more work experience than others, said Berson, who recently learned the Tibetans in this area tried to cultivate apple orchards for the past 10 years, but were more successful growing kiwi. Some worked in the agricultural sector in Israel, as foreign workers, he added. “The Canadian government is going to Arunachal Pradesh this month to interview them, so we’ll hear very soon about the Tibetans we will be receiving.”
The minyan has begun fundraising in the Or Shalom community and will extend its efforts to the wider community once more is known about the particular immigrants they are sponsoring. Eligibility for social assistance is not a possibility under the agreement with the Canadian government, which estimates sponsorship costs at $12,000 per person per year. With the cost of living in Vancouver, that won’t be enough, Berson said. “It’s guiding our efforts in terms of fundraising, but we think we’ll need more than that. The government is very nicely providing them with landed immigrant status, but not any other aid, per se, in the process. After five years, they will be eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship like any other landed immigrant.”
Members of the Momo Minyan united in a mutual agreement to participate in this humanitarian effort, one that resonated with many in the synagogue, Berson said. “The opportunity for us to be able to extend our hospitality to another group that has suffered exile and have a diaspora is probably one element why I got involved. The Tibetans are amazing people but they’re very reserved and shy in their mannerisms,” he added. “There’s going to be big cultural differences.”
Robinson was eager to step forward and join the minyan after visiting Tibet in 1994. “The Tibetan people stole my heart,” she admitted. “They are amazing, beautiful, spiritual, good people who are struggling in a very difficult situation. Since my visit there, I’ve been involved working with the Tibetan community in exile. I spent time working with the Tibetan Women’s Association in India for a year, where I met Tibetans from Arunachal Pradesh.” Robinson’s family came to Canada fleeing persecution, which was another reason she wanted to get involved. “I thought this would be good work to do – a way of giving back to the country that welcomed us,” she said.
Those interested in contributing to the resettlement efforts can contact Berson by email at [email protected].
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
In the early 1980s, Alberta teacher James Keegstra was charged with wilful promotion of hatred for teaching high school students that the Holocaust was a myth and that Jewish people were responsible for much of the world’s evil.
For Robbie Waisman, a Vancouver businessman, news of Keegstra’s teachings revived an exchange from decades earlier that he had repressed. Waisman – at the time he was Romek Wajsman – was one of the youngest prisoners in Buchenwald concentration camp, in eastern Germany. While trying to get to sleep in the crowded barracks one night, young Romek had an interaction that would resonate decades later in the lives of tens of thousands of young North Americans.
As Waisman recalled: “This one voice said, ‘Hey kid,’ addressing me, ‘if this is over and you survive, remember to tell the world what you have witnessed.’ I didn’t answer. Again, a second time. And then another voice says, ‘Leave the kid alone. Let’s all go to sleep. None of us are going to survive.’ I’m trying to fall asleep. Again: ‘Hey kid, I haven’t heard you promise.’ I wanted him to leave me alone so I said, ‘OK, I promise.’”
Yet, for 36 years, as Waisman rebuilt his life in the aftermath of the Shoah that destroyed nearly his entire family, everything he knew and most of European Jewish civilization, he remained publicly silent about what had happened to him and what he had seen. As it was for most survivors, the pain of the past was unbearable. The motivation to move ahead, to make good on the promise of survival, consumed Waisman and other survivors. Those who had spoken out in the first years after liberation were often hushed up, accused of being macabre, of living in the past, of not moving forward. Many adopted silence.
For Waisman, and some other survivors who had kept their stories private, it was the Holocaust denial that sprang up in the 1970s and ’80s that ended their silence.
Now, after speaking hundreds of times to audiences, most often of high school students, but also to churches and First Nations communities, Waisman is being honored for contributing to understanding and tolerance in Canada. He is to receive the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award, which recognizes volunteers who help others and build a “smarter and more caring nation.” He was nominated for the honor by his longtime friend, Derek Glazer.
Waisman cannot estimate the number of times he has spoken or the accumulated number of individuals who have heard his story. But he has thousands of letters – most of them from young people – telling him how the experience of meeting him has changed their lives and caused them to commit themselves to humanitarianism and social justice. And, as much as he is pleased to receive the commendation from Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, it is these letters, and the hugs and words he receives from young people, that he says are the real compensation for what he does.
“These kinds of letters are my reward. Never mind the award that I’m going to be getting. This is the reward. This is what keeps us going. If I can inoculate young people against hatred and discrimination, I honor the memory and I give back for my survival,” he said.
“In most cases, when I go to speak, I get hugs from people, and I get tears, and they come and they are so grateful. I always hear this: ‘You’ve changed my life. Thank you.’”
“We encourage them. We empower them. And we make them appreciate life and what they have around them. I feel we are doing noble work. We are changing some of the kids’ lives,” said Waisman, referring to himself and other survivors who speak.
He added, “Some people think that we sadden the children,” referring to himself and other survivors who speak. “No. We encourage them. We empower them. And we make them appreciate life and what they have around them. I feel we are doing noble work. We are changing some of the kids’ lives.”
Yet, even as he is being recognized for speaking to thousands, Waisman recalled that the first time he publicly spoke of his experiences, he vowed it would be his last. Motivated by the Keegstra affair, Waisman contacted Robert Krell, a founder of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, to say he was ready to speak. A school visit was arranged and Waisman told the students of his experiences. The reaction was poor. Some students fell asleep – though Waisman thinks it was not because the narrative was boring, but the opposite: it was too graphic. The students tuned it out as a sort of emotional defence.
“I came home and I was completely out of it,” Waisman said. “I had to lock myself in a room because it was so painful.”
Krell talked him into trying it once again and, this time, Krell, a psychiatrist, was in the audience. On Krell’s advice, Waisman developed a different approach. “I tell my story, but I don’t go into details,” he said. “I tell them about my life at home [before the Holocaust], with my family, and I tell them about my life afterwards.” He usually shows a video clip that provides a graphic depiction of the Holocaust, but his own presentations put a face to the Shoah but do not dwell on the atrocities he personally witnessed and experienced.
“All in all, as you can see from the letters, I seem to connect, telling the importance of being a decent human being and the responsibility they have toward humanity to make this place a better world,” said Waisman.
It is estimated that between 89 and 94 percent of Jewish children who were alive in Europe in 1939 had been murdered by 1945.
Waisman’s survival is an example of how many extraordinary incidents, fortunate coincidences and unlikely near-misses were required for a Jewish child to endure that era. In the dystopia of Nazism, children were deemed non-productive “useless eaters.” They also represented the future of the Jewish people, so the Nazis took special steps to ensure the deaths of as many children as possible. It is estimated that between 89 and 94 percent of Jewish children who were alive in Europe in 1939 had been murdered by 1945.
The Wajsman family were stalwarts of the community in Skarzysko, Poland. After the Sabbath candles were lit, neighbors would pour into the Wajsman home to listen to the wisdom of Romek’s father, Chil, a haberdasher and an admired leader in the synagogue and community. Romek was the youngest, aged eight when the Nazis invaded Poland, with four brothers and a sister.
Romek’s first break came when the ghetto in Skarzysko was about to be liquidated, in 1942. One of Romek’s older brothers had been forced into labor at a munitions factory. At four in the morning on the day the ghetto was to be liquidated, Romek’s brother appeared and took him to the factory, where he would survive as a useful – if extremely young – munitions worker.
When the Russians advanced on Poland in 1944-45, the Germans moved the munitions workers into the German heartland – and Romek was taken to Buchenwald. There, he met another boy, Abe Chapnick.
“We sort of supported one another,” Waisman said. “We had numbers that we were called by in Buchenwald, but we called each other by name and kept our humanity intact.”
Buchenwald was not primarily an extermination camp, yet Waisman was well aware that if they were not useful to the Germans, they would not survive. What helped the two boys live was the fact that Buchenwald was a camp originally intended for political prisoners, not necessarily Jews, and while the Nazis ran the overall affairs of Buchenwald, many internal matters were left to a committee of prisoners. “They protected us,” said Waisman.
He remembers a particularly fateful moment.
“We were marched out in line and an SS comes up and screamed at the top of his voice ‘All Jews step out!’” Romek and Abe looked at one another. “I thought, ‘What are we going to do?’” Waisman said. “Before we could make up our minds, Willie [Wilhelm Hammann, the German prisoner who was in charge of the barrack] stood in front of us and screamed at the top of his voice at the SS: ‘I have no Jews!’”
The same process unfolded in other barracks and when the Jewish inmates stepped out, they were shot. “That was two or three days before liberation,” Waisman said.
When liberation finally came – at 3:45 p.m. on April 11, 1945, the day Waisman counts as his “birthday” – their troubles were not yet over. They were moved to better quarters but remained at Buchenwald for two months, while authorities attempted to determine what to do with millions of displaced persons across Europe.
Romek had looked forward to going home, to being reunited with his family. “After liberation, we couldn’t grasp the enormity of the Holocaust,” he said. “I saw people around me die, but I didn’t see the whole picture. I wanted to go home because I thought everybody would be at home.”
Eventually, 426 of them, all boys, would be taken to France, to a makeshift orphanage where they were expected to resume their lives and studies as if their experiences had been merely some sort of routine disruption.
While Waisman and Chapnick had been the youngest in their barrack, at liberation they would discover there were hundreds more children, from 8 to 18, in the camp. Eventually, 426 of them, all boys, would be taken to France, to a makeshift orphanage where they were expected to resume their lives and studies as if their experiences had been merely some sort of routine disruption. They acted out in ways that made their new caretakers fear them as animalistic and potentially dangerous.
“We were angry and full of rage when we couldn’t go home after liberation,” Waisman said. “We came to France and there were all these people that wanted to help us out and came to deal with us. Professionals and volunteers to help us out, people that spoke our language [but] when we wanted to speak and share some of the pain, they weren’t interested. It was too soon. Psychiatry wasn’t as advanced as it is now. They’d say, ‘We are not interested. Just never mind. Forget about it. Move on. Go back to school. Continue your schooling.’
“I can’t repeat what we told them what to do,” Waisman said, laughing. “After all, we knew best.”
Waisman would discover decades later that a report commissioned by the French government declared that these “boys of Buchenwald” would never rehabilitate, they had seen too much, been too damaged and would not live beyond 40. The report recommended that the government find a Jewish organization to look after them.
In fact, in addition to the most notable boys of Buchenwald – Elie Wiesel, the renowned author and humanitarian, and Yisrael Meir Lau, who would become a chief rabbi of Israel – almost every one went on to succeed in life beyond all expectations. For Waisman, who is still active in the hotel industry, this was a direct result of a single determined man.
“Manfred Reingwitz, a professor at the Sorbonne – he wouldn’t give up on us. He used to always give us these wonderful discussions and spoke to us about the importance of moving on. It didn’t register. He took a lot of abuse, but I remember the one crucial time. There were four of us, including myself, and he sort of said, ‘I give up’ and then he turned around … ‘By the way, Romek, if your parents stood where I am standing right now, what do you think they would want for you?’ he said in an angry voice. And, of course, we don’t answer anything and he walks away. We looked at one another and it resonated. We didn’t say anything. But we sort of began a different attitude, a different way of looking at things.”
This was the moment when Waisman and most of the others, like so many survivors, began a process of throwing themselves into careers, family and community work.
He and his sister Leah were the only survivors from their family of eight. (Leah married in a DP camp, moved to Israel and Waisman sponsored them to come to Canada in the 1950s.)
Slowly, Romek’s life took on a form of normalcy. Under the auspices of Canadian Jewish Congress, he would arrive in Halifax and travel by train to Calgary, where he would begin Canadian life with the help of a local family, start his career and meet his wife, Gloria. The couple would move to Gloria’s native Saskatchewan for two decades before coming to Vancouver.
“For, I think, close to 36 years I went on with my life,” Waisman said. The other boys of Buchenwald progressed similarly, many settling in Australia, as well as in Israel, the United States and elsewhere. “I made a life … my Holocaust experience was there, but I put it aside…,” Waisman said. “And then Keegstra came along teaching his students that the Holocaust was a myth, that it didn’t happen.” And Waisman became one of the most active survivor speakers, putting a face to history for thousands of young people.
“One and a half million Jewish children were not as lucky as I was, and the other boys of Buchenwald [were], and so I sort of began to think about it and said, ‘I made it. I have a sacred duty and obligation to [share my experiences with younger generations] and when I’m doing this I honor the memory of the one and a half million.’
“Our survival meant something,” he said. “After all these years, I felt that I had to do it, that it’s a sacred duty.”