The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is alerting Holocaust survivors and their families not to be taken in by an “odious” scam that promises to unlock Swiss bank accounts in exchange for personal information.
CIJA became aware of a campaign that appears to be targeting the Jewish community and which in one case advised a Calgary resident that one of their relatives killed during the Holocaust had left $75 million in a Swiss bank account. The letter bears the name of a consulting firm, a New York address and phone number. Sara Saber-Freedman, CIJA executive vice-president, said she contacted the letter writer by phone, but when she refused to give him her cell number, he hung up on her.
In the letter, copies of which were sent to others in Canada, the writer claims he is able to access the funds if the recipient of the letter provides extensive personal information. Saber-Freedman said, “It’s exactly like every other one of those scams that you read about and you get by email all the time.”
While frauds of this type prey on people’s trusting nature, this particular fraud “is revolting,” she said. “To use the Holocaust in this context is just vile.” Survivors are elderly and can be vulnerable to this sort of pitch, she added.
Sidney Zoltak, co-president of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, said similar “sick kinds of operations” have come up before, promising survivors they could recover funds on insurance policies and properties in Poland. He advised survivors and their families to pursue claims through reputable organizations. While the current campaign did not ask for money up front, Zoltak said, “this is the beginning. Once you get to speak to someone who is really smooth, they can talk you into a lot of things.” They prey on the vulnerable and they’re ready “to take away their last savings and leave them penniless. They don’t care as long as they score,” he added.
Saber-Freedman said she has informed U.S. law enforcement and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre about the letters.
Volunteers at the drop-in centre work together to offer legal advice, medical care, transportation passes, child care, nutritious meals, friendship and more. (photo from New North London Synagogue)
What would your daily life be like if you were not free? For starters, you would have to learn the skills of surviving while in a state of constant fear. Are you facing torture or rape? Are you in jail for a crime you did not commit? Is there a gun pointed at you because you are gay? If the opportunity to escape persecution presented itself, would you risk your life for a chance at freedom?
Every day in the news, we hear of courageous people doing just this – risking their lives to be free. No matter how dangerous it may be to attempt escape, flight offers their one hope for freedom. The lucky ones end up in free countries. What happens later, though, for those whose hope of establishing legitimacy, of officially being recognized as refugees, is gone? How do undocumented asylum seekers get by?
I was honored when my cousin invited me to volunteer with a group of asylum seekers while vacationing in London, England, last year. Though I was only there for three hours, I caught a brief glimpse into their lives and it has left a lasting impression on me.
Since 2006, New North London Synagogue has been running a monthly asylum drop-in centre. Launched by volunteers, the group works with asylum seekers whose claims have been denied. The group offers medical treatment, legal advice, healthy meals, food parcels, transportation passes, clothing and diapers. The drop-in centre is housed at an elementary school, which I’m told is not large enough to accommodate the more than one thousand people who come from metropolitan London to get assistance.
Asylum can be defined as “a place offering protection and safety; a shelter.” Judging by the crowds in need at the New North London Synagogue, Britain would seem to have failed to offer these protections. Most of the asylum seekers that use the centre’s services have chosen to stay and live in abominable destitution rather than accept deportation to the places from which they risked their lives to escape.
Researching the situation of asylum seekers through the Refugee Council of the United Kingdom, I learned many facts, including:
• The vast majority of people seeking asylum in Britain are law-abiding people;
• Many asylum seekers fear approaching the police to report incidents of assault or sexual harassment. They fear that reporting crimes will expose them to being placed in detention and eventually deported;
• Immigration officers have the power to detain asylum seekers, even if they have not committed any crime; even on mere suspicion.
My cousin, Catherine, is a regular volunteer. Her fluent French is an asset and she often serves as an interpreter. I was there in August and Catherine was worried that there might not be enough volunteers. Thankfully, there were plenty on that day.
Fifteen minutes before opening, a briefing takes place to explain the events of that afternoon. I volunteer to help with the children, as that’s where I think I can be of best use. The children have a section to themselves, but parents may not leave their children unsupervised. In the briefing, we are forewarned that some of the children have difficulty interacting and some may not be comfortable with play because the toys available are foreign to them.
Upon arrival, everyone receives a name tag. New asylum seekers are interviewed. Some queue for legal or medical advice. Everyone enjoys a nutritious meal. There are people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, South Sudan, Zaire, Nigeria and Turkey. It is fascinating to hear the various languages and dialects being spoken.
Eventually, I sum up the courage to sit down and speak to people. I talk to a blind woman from Iran who has been coming to the drop-in centre for several years. She lives in a little room, a good 15 miles away. She has no kitchen facilities and must rely on the kindness of friends for food and other necessities.
A Nigerian family of four has been coming for eight years. They ask me about Canada. They have family in Toronto and have heard such wonderful things about this country but, at this point, they do not dare to make enquiries about moving to Canada. As I hold their youngest child, it’s hard not to feel sad that this little boy, despite being born in Britain, may not be afforded legal status.
A single mother tries to gulp down some lunch and socialize with friends while chasing after her active 2-year-old twin girls.
A situation that touches me deeply is assisting a young paraplegic man from central Africa. He tells me that he arrived in England eight months prior. Once a Paralympian, his proficiency at manoeuvring his rickety manual wheelchair around narrow corridors and cracked sidewalks is impressive. All his family remain in Africa. He tells me that his goal is to become a lawyer. I guide him to the bus stop where it will take him roughly two hours to get home.
Little children are sitting at tables, munching on snacks and playing with the large assortment of toys. All are supervised by a group of caring volunteers who take time to play and read with them.
Surveying the scene it’s hard not to feel that the situation these people face is grim. It’s a harsh reminder that all is not OK in Britain – or in the world, for that matter. Indeed, there are many British who wish asylum seekers would go away and take their problems with them. There’s a post on the New North London Synagogue website that seeks to clarify the situation: “All of our clients have fled persecution and many have been tortured. Yet myths prevail that this group are here for benefits, free housing and to take British jobs. In fact, asylum seekers are not allowed to work and many receive no accommodation or government support.”
At the same time, despite the despair, positive moments are in evidence. Expressions of a caring community are everywhere, woven into every activity. Camaraderie can be felt in the crowded rooms. In fact, if someone were to walk in off the street, they would see what looks to be a happy afternoon gathering. People sit in groups, smiling, laughing, exchanging information and eating a plate of nutritious food. Children play, interacting with each other. Enthusiastic volunteers, teenagers and senior citizens and all ages in between, are connecting and offering advice. Many of them are former asylum seekers who have been given permission to stay in Britain and are volunteering to give back to the community.
On that day in August, the hope was that people would leave the drop-in centre with renewed hope, their spirits lifted, and that volunteers would feel they have played at least a small role in brightening someone’s day.
We must all be active in raising awareness of refugee issues, so that refugees and asylum seekers can know the peace and freedom we are so blessed to enjoy. This Pesach, at my family seder, we will read the Haggadah, celebrating our people’s journey to freedom. My family and I will stop to think of all the refugees of today who have had to make their own exodus from persecution, extreme hunger and violence, and even from modern-day slavery. Stateless, many are forced to continue to wander in an urban wilderness. May they find peace and comfort in a new land.
Jenny Wright is a singer, music therapist and freelance writer in Vancouver who is interested in setting up a similar drop-in centre here. If you are interested in learning more, email [email protected].
Dr. Neil Pollock instructs a team of surgeons in Rwanda on carrying out his technique of circumcision. (photo from Dr. Neil Pollock)
Dr. Neil Pollock specializes in circumcision, from newborn to adult, and adult vasectomy. As a leading expert in circumcision, he has traveled around the world to train physicians and, this summer, he will head to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to teach a team of doctors in medical newborn and infant circumcision.
“After carrying out 50,000 infant circumcisions and traveling recently to Turkey, China and Africa to exchange ideas, I have evolved my technique to make it applicable to infants, children, teenagers and adults,” Pollock told the Independent in a recent interview. “I have developed a technique to do circumcision in this older age group under local anesthetic without using sutures and using, instead, a cyanocrylate skin glue that closes the wound. Being able to do the procedure under local anesthetic and with skin glue instead of a general anesthetic in hospital provides for a much simpler, easier, quicker, safer and improved cosmetic outcome for patients.”
This method, he said, is unique. “I’m unaware of this approach being used anywhere in [Canada] except in my clinics. The older age group is currently requesting circumcision for reasons like reduction in disease transmission, preference of their partners and improved hygiene.”
In 2008, Dr. David Patrick was the head of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Pollock said he was asked by his colleague “to teach my surgical techniques for circumcision in Rwanda, where they were using scissors and stitches, without anesthetic, and their surgeons desperately required training in an alternative quick, safe and painless infant circumcision technique that would be accepted by their population. In coordination with their surgeons, I planned with my team a five-day surgical training mission that year and flew to Rwanda. I have been in contact with these surgeons by email since my trip and they have informed me that they are using my technique effectively and safely throughout the country now.
“The impact of our humanitarian effort became known in the international medical community, which led to Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, professor at [the University of California, Los Angeles] Medical School, contacting me recently and asking me to essentially replicate the work I did in Rwanda, but this time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where they are being overwhelmed by the number of patients requiring treatment for AIDS and would receive huge benefit from introducing a preventative strategy to reduce AIDS transmission, such as infant circumcision, which will reduce the risk of their circumcised infants later contracting AIDS when they hit sexual age, by over 60 percent. Its impact and effectiveness has been referenced metaphorically to be like a vaccine.” Circumcision, he added, “works to reduce AIDS by removing the portal of entry of the virus, which is the foreskin.”
Klausner, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases and the program in global health at UCLA, is an advocate in the use of medical male circumcision for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. He volunteers with GHESKIO, an organization run out of the Centre for Global Health at Weill Cornell Medical College in partnership with the Haitian government. Operating primarily in Port-au-Prince, their work is supported by Haiti’s first lady and has a mission to combat HIV and improve conditions of maternal and child health. GHESKIO will host Pollock’s training in Port-au-Prince.
Raised in Winnipeg, Pollock explained that he decided to become a doctor “because I had a strong interest in sciences, medicine and surgery from a young age.” Early in his career, he decided to create a special focus on circumcision and vasectomy, and built a highly focused practice and a well-tested – and respected – technique.
“My interest in developing a safe, quick and painless approach to circumcision for the medical community in B.C. arose initially from some of the rabbis approaching me approximately 20 years ago and encouraging me to become a mohel in Vancouver,” Pollock said.
The benefits of newborn and infant circumcision are many, but the rates of the procedure vary from region to region, and remain contentious to those opposed to what’s seen as elective (non-consenting) surgeries for babies.
Pollock noted, “The most important change recently in how the medical community has come to view circumcision is expressed in the … consensus statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics released in late 2012 declaring that ‘the medical benefits of infant circumcision outweigh the risks.’ This is the strongest statement of support ever issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The benefits of circumcision are multiple; they include reduction in the risk of urinary tract infection, which can lead to kidney infection and renal failure, reduced risk of cancer of the penis, cancer of the cervix in partners, reduced risk of balanitis (which is infection of the foreskin), and other foreskin-related problems, like phimosis.” As well, circumcised males also experience a “reduction of multiple sexually transmitted diseases, like HPV, herpes and AIDS transmission. The latter is exponentially more important in places like Haiti and Africa, where a large number of the population has AIDS in comparison to other regions of the world where AIDS is less common.” Possible risks include “bleeding and infection,” he added, “but, in experienced hands, risks are extremely low.”
Rwanda and Haiti share a history of national trauma, which has led in both countries to poor health outcomes. In 1994, at least 800,000 Rwandans were massacred by their countrymen in a genocide. In 2010, Haiti, already the victim of more than two centuries of extreme poverty, dictatorships and U.S.-led military interventions, experienced a 7.0 earthquake that resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000, and displaced 1.5 million of the tiny country’s 10 million people. Since then, Haitians have been hit by serious outbreaks of preventable disease, including cholera, tuberculosis and AIDS. According to the United Nations, life expectancy is 61 years for men and 64 for women.
The health challenges that Haitians are very similar to those experienced in Africa, and the training is seen as critical in addressing those obstacles. “Like there was in Rwanda, there is a need to train surgeons in Haiti to carry out a quick, safe and painless infant circumcision technique,” Pollock explained. “In regards to what accounts to gaps in circumcision rates, there may be a deficiency in trained surgeons to carry out the surgery in an acceptable manner, along with variations in social and cultural norms that influence the choice to have circumcision.”
The ultimate intention of the training, Pollock said, is “to set up a national program accepted by the population, to introduce infant circumcision safely and effectively, and have it evolve to become a widespread practice throughout the country, thereby reducing the transmission of multiple diseases, including AIDS.”
Pollock’s visit to Haiti will involve intensive training. “My goal is to carry out a similar plan to what we executed in Rwanda. I worked with physicians there weeks ahead to set up a surgical schedule of 20-to-30 infants per day, over four-to-five days of operating. After working with doctors on models that I brought to demonstrate the technique and do the primary teaching, they moved to assist me with the surgeries and eventually carry them out under my supervision on the infants booked for circumcision.”
The training in Haiti, part of a nongovernmental public health initiative, will be partially supported by charitable donations. “The commitment from my end for Haiti will include a week away from my practice and the commitment to help raise the $25,000 for the mission to take place. The plan is to raise $25,000 from the Vancouver community in the next seven days or so as to be able to launch the teaching mission in Haiti by the end of the summer. During the week in Haiti, I will train two physicians, who will then train other physicians once our team leaves. I will maintain follow-up with these physicians to help them manage any issues that should arise.” The goal is to create a sustainable public health campaign and donated funds not only will go towards covering the costs for the week, but also for “the next 500 infants once we leave.”
Readers who would like to donate to the effort “will support an initiative, which will undoubtedly over the years save thousands and thousands of lives,” Pollock said. “It’s intended that Haiti will become a training centre for circumcision in the Caribbean. It is likely that my technique, once taught in Haiti, will soon be shared with multiple countries throughout the Caribbean, multiplying its effect to save lives throughout the entire region. So, I’m asking readers and members of the community to reach deep and consider making a financial donation to help us raise $25,000 in the next [several] days to allow this mission to proceed.”
To make a donation, contact Dr. Neil Pollock at 604-644-5775 or [email protected]. “We will make it very easy for people to donate, and make arrangements for their cheques (made payable to the Vancouver Foundation) to be picked up by our team,” he said. Donations can also be mailed to 4943 Connaught Dr., Vancouver, B.C., V6M 3E8.
Marc and Chantal Belzberg with MK Danny Danon, centre, at OneFamily’s August 2013 launch of Longing for a Hug, an exhibit of original artworks created from the personal stories of bereaved Israeli children. (photo from Finn Partners)
In the summer of 2001, Jerusalemites Marc and Chantal Belzberg were busy planning their daughter Michal’s bat mitzvah. Relatives from Vancouver and New York were booking their flights to Israel in anticipation of what was to be a huge and festive family gathering. Then, on Aug. 9, 2001, just one month before the bat mitzvah celebration, a suicide bomber entered the Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem and executed one of the most notorious terror attacks of the Second Intifada. The family was faced with an uncomfortable question: How could they possibly celebrate in the face of such great tragedy?
The Belzbergs decided to cancel the party and instead committed themselves to a bat mitzvah project. They would visit and console the injured and bereaved families of the Sbarro bombing, and the money that Michal’s extended family would have spent coming to Israel for the celebration would be collected and turned into a fund for these victims of terror.
Less than a week later, another suicide attack wounded 15 Israelis in a café. The needs were clear, and the Belzbergs felt that they had to try to assist these latest victims of terror, as well.
“It turned into a family project, a long-term commitment that we took on after several months of working with the victims,” Chantal Belzberg, now the executive vice-chair of OneFamily, recalled. “We came to the simple conclusion that if they need help, they are our family. We wanted to help every one of them.”
The small family project quickly blossomed into a large nonprofit operation. From the tragedies of the Second Intifada, OneFamily, a national organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families, was born. Though maintaining the organization was a daunting task, a strong family history of commitment to the Jewish community prepared them for the challenge.
The Belzberg family has roots in Vancouver that go back 46 years, when they moved here from Edmonton in 1968.
“I went to Eric Hamber High School but, for Grade 10, my parents sent me on a program called Haddasim,” Marc Belzberg recalled, referring to the program sponsored by Hadassah-WIZO that sent groups of Canadian teenagers to Israel for the year in order for them to serve as youth ambassadors upon their return. Along with the deep connection he forged with the land of Israel, he also developed a love for philanthropy, a familial commitment he picked up in his youth.
“My father, Samuel Belzberg, was involved with and actively supported so many institutions and programs, both in Vancouver and throughout North America. He supported Simon Fraser University and started a leadership program called Action Canada for the 15 best and brightest future leaders in the country. In the Jewish community, he supported the Conservative synagogue Beth Israel and [an] Orthodox synagogue, Schara Tzedeck. He invested in Jewish education in Vancouver through his work with Vancouver Hebrew Academy, Vancouver Talmud Torah, the former Maimonides [Secondary School], and now King David High School, as well as NCSY, and he helped preserve Jewish history, contributing to the foundation of the Wiesenthal Centre and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.”
Imbued with a sense of communal responsibility and a love for Israel, Marc and Chantal Belzberg moved their family to Jerusalem in 1991. With the foundation of OneFamily 10 years later, they continued the family legacy of philanthropic work.
OneFamily supports victims of terror from the time of impact, and continues to provide assistance, be it emotional or financial, for as long as needed, Marc Belzberg explained. “Today, the support required is so different. People don’t know what is going on here in Israel, like they did during the intifada. Thank God, attacks are not happening on a large scale like they were, but they are happening on an individual level: an officer is stabbed, a soldier is killed while sleeping on the bus. But there are no more headlines like there used to be.”
This reality makes the work undertaken by OneFamily even more important. “OneFamily does not just provide an emergency response, we are in it for the long term,” said Marc Belzberg. “That means we are there for the young man who is scared to start his own family due to trauma a decade earlier. We are there to pay for IVF treatments for the woman over 40 who lost her children. And we are there for the woman who cannot support her children due to severe PTSD from three separate terror attacks.”
A quarter of OneFamily’s budget goes to the children’s division, because, as Chantal Belzberg explained, children have the greatest chance of fully healing from trauma. Each child is paired up with a volunteer counselor who builds a relationship with the child(ren). They are present for important dates, such as the yahrzeit (anniversary) of family members who were killed.
As a “full-service” organization, OneFamily helps victims throughout the entire healing process and provides financial aid, including lobbying the government to ensure that victims are receiving the funding to which they may be entitled. They also provide social services, including psychological treatment, Shabbat retreats, summer camps and other activities to help bring victims together. She summarized OneFamily’s approach simply: “Victims can help each other. Healing happens better together than alone.”
While the headlines about Israel focus on peace talks, it is important to remember the individuals who have suffered throughout the conflict and need continuing support. As the Belzbergs see it, every last one of them is family.
A horse figurine is evidence of early Jewish ritual practice. (photo by Clara Amit/IAA.COM)
One might think that a significant archeological find a few hours’ walk from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem would turn up artifacts we would recognize as Jewish. But since the Judaism of the day was not what we know, the find yielded ritual objects that seem vaguely pagan, almost heretical by today’s standards.
Shua Kisilevitz, the archeologist who was part of the team that excavated the site at Tel Motza, about seven kilometres west of Jerusalem, prefers the phrase “pagan Yahwism” to describe the religion of the era.
Last December, Kisilevitz and three fellow archeologists announced what they called an “unusual and striking” find, unearthed in construction for a highway: the 2,750-year-old walls of a temple, along with a cache of ritual objects that included a pedestal decorated with lions and sphinxes, pendants, pottery and vessel fragments, and figurines – two human and two animal – that may or may not have depicted deities.
The dig provides “rare archeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general and in the Jerusalem region in particular,” the team announced.
The uniqueness of the find is even more remarkable, the archeologists said, because of its proximity to the First Temple, built, according to the Bible, under King Solomon in 960 BCE. But archeologists know little about the period’s religious practices because there are hardly any remnants of ritual buildings from the era, according to Kisilevitz.
While more study is needed, the find provides valuable insights into what those rituals might have been, she said in an interview prior to her recent talk on the subject at the University of Toronto. While those practices may seem strange and un-Jewish today, they were in keeping with the rules of the time, Kisilevitz said.
Previous excavations showed that Motza functioned within the royal administration of the Kingdom of Judah, she said. “It was very much connected to Jerusalem. [It couldn’t] create its own religion. The people of Motza didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Oh, we want to create something new.’ They couldn’t break off so easily.”
The artifacts are important because they reflect a formative time for Judaism, she noted, adding they show that the ancient Israelite faith was not always centralized in Jerusalem and its practitioners may have used ritual objects now forbidden as graven images. “There are all these presumptions we have which we project onto the early formation of religion,” Kisilevitz said. “This temple finally shows us how the religion started out and what it really looked like at the time. They [were] doing what was common in the period.”
The find also conforms to biblical accounts, which mention local religious precincts outside Jerusalem, she added. And “Motza” is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin, which bordered Judah.
Kisilevitz, who works for the Israeli Antiquities Authority and is in Ontario for several months on an exchange with the University of Toronto, said the team does not know whether the human and animal figurines served a religious purpose. “It’s kind of tricky and a little bit hard to say,” she noted.
The archeological team believes the temple at Tel Motza must have functioned before religious reforms enacted in the times of kings Hezekiah and Josiah, which abolished all ritual sites outside Jerusalem and concentrated religious practices solely in the Temple.
Kisilevitz believes the artifacts do not conflict “at all” with modern understanding of Judaism. “We just have to change the way we think of the religion at the beginning.”
Ron Csillag is a Toronto freelance writer. A version of this article was originally published in theCanadian Jewish News.
Former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar (at head of table) joins David Meidan, to Amar’s right, to inform Iranian Jewish families of the fate of their family members. (photo by Ashernet/IGPO)
For the past 20 years, the fate of eight Iranian Jews who were attempting to escape to Israel has been unknown. On Thursday, March 20, former Mossad official David Meidan, who was charged with the inquiry into the disappearance of the eight Jews (plus three other Jews who were last heard from in 1997), told the families in Jerusalem that there is enough reliable information to conclude that all eight of the original Jews were captured and murdered while making their escape.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the Mossad had been tracking the 11 Jews who had fled Iran in four separate groups, eight in 1994 and the remaining three in 1997. The Iranian Jews vanished without a trace during their clandestine attempts to reach Israel. Families were left clinging to the hope that they had been kidnapped, or perhaps held in captivity by foreign governments. The Mossad did not provide detail into when or where the eight were killed, or by whom.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that the Mossad had relied on a “reliable source” for the information. An inquiry into the fate of the additional three Iranian Jews, who were last heard from in 1997, is ongoing.
The original eight Jews included Babak Shaoulian-Tehrani, 17, of Tehran; Shahin Nik-Khoo, 19, of Tehran; Salari Behzad, 21, of Kermanshah; Farad Ezati-Mahmoudi, 22, of Kermanshah; Homayoun Bala-Zade, 41, of Shiraz; Omid Solouki, 17, of Tehran; Rubin Kohan-Mosleh, 17, of Shiraz; and Ibrahim Kohan-Mosleh, 16, of Shiraz.
The three Jews whose fates remain currently unknown are Syrous Ghahremani, 32 at time of disappearance, of Kermanshah; Ibrahim Ghahremani, 61, of Kermanshah; and Nourollah Rabi-Zade, 52, of Shiraz.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the families and pledged to continue the investigation into the disappearance of the remaining three Iranians.
Meidan, the veteran Mossad official overseeing the investigation, was also involved in the negotiations for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit. After retiring two years ago, Meidan was approached by Netanyahu to continue to investigate the two cases.
Before the findings were presented to the families, the report was sent to former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, who ruled that the information was reliable according to halachah, Jewish law, a ruling that would allow the wives of the victims to remarry if they wish.
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.
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Dov Elbaum speaks in Vancouver on March 30. (photo by Sasson Tiram)
Israeli journalist, writer and television host Dov Elbaum will be visiting Vancouver for a Cherie Smith JCCGV Jewish Book Festival-sponsored talk at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on March 30.
Starting his career in print media, Elbaum moved into book publishing and writing for television. Eventually, he moved in front of the camera; since 2007, he has hosted the popular parashat hashavua-themed show Mekablim Shabbat (Welcoming Shabbat). Elbaum is also involved in academic research and teaching on secular Jewish culture, and is the founder of the BINA Secular Yeshiva in south Tel Aviv. He is in Vancouver promoting the new English translation of his 2009 book Into the Fullness of the Void: A Spiritual Autobiography, and the Jewish Independent talked to him about his journey, Judaism in North America and Israel, and secular Jewish renewal.
JI: You have quite an interesting biography. While rejecting the ultra-Orthodox community you grew up in, you’ve remained deeply involved and curious about being Jewish. Where are you in your journey now?
DE: My journey from the world that I grew up in has been a long journey and it isn’t over yet. Still, I have gone through many significant points along the way. At the beginning, I was trying to get away, but today I find myself looking for a way to get to a renewed approach to Jewish culture, one that comes not through guilt or fear or obligation, but through love. And, when I approach Jewish culture in this way, through love, I see how my own path can help build connections to Jewish culture within secular Israeli society.
In the past in Israel, access to Judaism was through religious denominations, specifically Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. Today, I am trying to find a way for secular Israeli Jews to approach Judaism positively, and not through negative definition, sof, which synagogues they don’t go to, or which mitzvot they don’t observe. In doing so, I am trying to develop new, nontraditional frameworks through which secular Israeli Jews can explore and express their Judaism. This is my current station on my journey.
JI: On the one hand, tshuva (return), on the other, she’ela (“lapsed”). Can you comment on the macro meaning of these opposite phenomena in Israeli society and perhaps what the numbers are in the two directions?
DE: I don’t think anyone has exact numbers of hozrei b’she’ela and hozrei b’tshuva in Israel. I imagine that the numbers are similar in both directions, though I might tend to believe that there are somewhat more hozrei b’tshuva. This is due largely to the fact that institutions of hazara b’tshuva receive a great deal of funding from the Israeli government as well as philanthropy from Israel and abroad.
But let’s talk about these phenomena spiritually rather than sociologically. I don’t like use of the words she’ela and tshuva in the context of exit from or entry into orthodoxy. I think that the meanings of these words in Judaism are much deeper than their current sociological use. In spiritual terms, she’ela and tshuva should be processes in every person’s life, and not connected to any one movement, denomination or label.
JI: Many of the progressive movements in Judaism in Israel have their origins in North America. How do you see North American Judaism influencing the religious landscape in Israel and vice versa?
DE: I think that Israeli culture has received quite a lot of gifts from North American Jewish thought. And, yes, I believe it’s true that a lot of the spiritual renewal in Israel has received spiritual and financial support from North American Judaism. I can also say that we Israeli Jews must give credit and appreciation to North American Judaism for teaching us how Judaism can develop and can be understood pluralistically.
At the same time, I think a most meaningful laboratory for Jewish renewal can happen when taking place in the Hebrew language and in the landscape of Jewish culture and society, as found specifically in Israel. When these ideas of Jewish renewal and pluralism come into contact with Jewish Israelis, the impact is fascinating; [it’s a contact that is experienced] much differently and more intensely so than in the Diaspora. Thus, when North American Jews come to visit and engage with Israel, they can influence as well as learn a great deal from Israel. We have much to learn from one another.
JI: In a lecture given by Micha Goodman, he suggests that Judaism in North America has been influenced by Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teachings, which were focused on the human experience. On the other hand, he says that Yeshayahu Leibovitch detested this approach, instead putting God at the centre regardless of whether this made Jews themselves feel spiritually enriched. Is this a good metaphor for Judaism in North America versus Israel?
DE: I don’t agree. I love and appreciate Micha Goodman, but I think such a metaphor of North America equals Heschel and Israel equals Leibovitch is not so precise. In fact, in recent years, I would say that Heschel’s ideas have had a much stronger impact in Israel [than those of] Leibovitch.
I don’t think that Leibovitch’s ideas had such a tangible impact on broader Israeli society. He voiced an important voice and many have been interested in his ideas, but still I don’t see the impact so directly on the ground. Heschel’s ideas, on the other hand, have had a very significant impact. Today, I feel that most of the secular Jewish renaissance movement in Israel feels closer to Heschel than to Leibovitch.
JI: There seems to be an awakening of interest in secular Jewish learning in Israel with BINA, your organization, and many other secular Jewish midrashot that have opened in recent years. Why is this happening now?
DE: I can think of a few reasons. First of all, I think that the assassination of Prime Minster [Yitzhak] Rabin in 1996 shook Israeli secular society profoundly. Secular Israeli society started to feel that they were losing hold on the country, and losing it to a particular group of religious Israelis whose mindset they no longer understood, whose world they no longer understood. Hence, a renewed interest in Judaism and the world of Jewish religion.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, secular Israeli society has been in an ongoing process of being emptied of the values upon which Israel was established. And now, the vacuum has expanded so much that secular Israelis have come to realize that if we want to continue to live in this wonderful and dangerous place called Israel, it needs to be clear to us what we are doing here. If a person doesn’t understand his or her role or purpose in this place called Israel, he or she won’t last here long. So, secular Israelis are starting to ask each other the most elementary questions of identity and purpose, and are going back to the old sources.
JI: Given all these movements, it seems possible to be both secular and connected to Judaism, but can there be continuity of such a connection over generations?
DE: First of all, that’s a great question. How do we pass these ideas and values to the upcoming generations is one of the deepest and most essential questions of Judaism. Take a look at the Sh’ma: “… and you shall teach them to your children and speak of them….” The Sh’ma asks us to make our values present in daily life. And I believe therein is the solution. In Israel, it is also easier. We speak Hebrew and live the Jewish calendar and, through the language and calendar, we can make Jewish culture present in a very tangible way. In Israel, it’s easier to be a secular Jew than in other places, because the language and the place make it easier to actualize Jewish culture in daily life without being religious in a traditional or halachic sense.
JI: Is there a manner in which knowledge and ownership of Judaism in Israel translates to political power?
DE: In the last elections, the Jewish secular renaissance in Israel earned a certain amount of political entrance through the election of MK Ruth Calderon and a few other MKs … that have understood the power and influence that this movement has, and they have seen fit to give expression to it…. The ignorance among the general public regarding the possibility of having a profound Jewish identity without connection to traditional organized religion is still widespread, and we have a lot of work to do, especially with everything that relates to public awareness and the establishment of new secular yeshivot that should receive government funding just like any other educational institution, which is something that has yet to happen.
JI: Can you talk about/explain the popularity of your show Mekablim Shabbat?
DE: I think it’s been popular because of all the things we’ve just mentioned. Israeli society has been thirsty for years for Jewish content without vestments of religion. On the show, I try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be religious in order to approach the Jewish canon, to read and explore it, to ask questions about it and about life, and to use it in order to think and to express ourselves. Israeli society has been very thirsty for meaningful Jewish content, but they don’t want it all wrapped up in religion. When I present it … without religious garb, they can connect to it.
JI: What would you like to share with the Vancouver community when you are here?
DE: That the time has come for these two different movements … to come together and think about how we can contribute to and learn from one another. We must learn from one another’s knowledge and experiences and explore how we can strengthen one another, and not let certain negative forces control and dominate the global sphere of Jewish culture and spirituality.
I look forward to opening up a dialogue and exemplifying some of the fruits of our labor in Israel through a re-reading of the Jewish sources, specifically one of the most-read texts in the Jewish tradition – the story of the Exodus from Egypt in the Passover Haggadah.
Maayan Kreitzman is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
Tickets for Dov Elbaum’s March 30, 6 p.m., talk at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver ($14/$10) are available at the centre, 604-257- 5111 and ticketpeak.com/jccgv.
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].