Shiva Delivers organizers Madison Slobin, left, and Becca Schwenk. (photo from Shiva Delivers)
When 25-year-old Vancouverite Becca Schwenk considered how she could make a small impact to reflect Jewish compassion, care and kindness for local Black families during the Black Lives Matter protests, the Jewish ritual of shivah came to mind. She knew the power of shivah meals to soothe people in times of grief, so she and her longtime friend Madison Slobin, 26, decided to coordinate Shiva Delivers, a collective effort whereby Jews would cook a dinner meal for a Black household in Vancouver.
“We hoped it would lighten their load and bring a bit of joy,” Schwenk said. In emails, Facebook and Instagram posts sent to members of the Jewish community, the pair noted that “this past week has been one of grieving for Black folks. Not only have Black lives been disproportionately impacted and lost due to COVID-19, but we have witnessed police officers murder Black people in broad daylight, as well as in their own homes. As Jews, we know what it feels like to experience a collective tragedy, especially in the past two years, as antisemitic violence has been on the rise. We also know how much it has meant to us when other communities have demonstrated their solidarity.”
They encouraged volunteers to “cook with your loved ones, and have critical conversations about unlearning anti-Blackness and racism. It’s a beautiful thing when we can hold one another accountable, free of judgment, and keep our hands busy in some challah dough,” they wrote.
Their message spread quickly through social media and, within 24 hours, they had volunteers signing up to cook meals. Ultimately, they received 90 meals that they were able to deliver to 48 Black families in the Lower Mainland, from Surrey to East Vancouver and the University of British Columbia.
“People made beautiful, multiple course dinners including salmon with dessert, brisket and matzah ball soup, roast chicken with vegetables and delicious cakes,” Schwenk said. “It was really clear that considerable effort went into each dish and we felt really proud to drop these meals off.”
Those preparing the meals represented the diversity of the Vancouver Jewish community and deliveries came from Orthodox Jews, mixed families, rabbis and people from all political spectrums.
“We didn’t explain much about our initiative when we sent out the notification, but people just got it,” Slobin said. “We were unified by the instinct to do tzedakah through our collective love language of delicious food. I found it beautiful that our community is so united about the idea that Black lives matter, and that they really wanted to provide comfort to Black families during this time.”
The two friends are both professionally involved in human rights work. Slobin works for Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services, while Schwenk is a diversity and inclusion consultant for Cicely Blain Consulting. Even though they’re not planning to organize a second Shiva Delivers event immediately, they hope it will inspire members of the Jewish community to do more.
“This was a way for us as a community to say, ‘We know how valuable comfort and nourishment are in moments like these, and we’ve got your back,’” Slobin said. “I want to see how folks draw inspiration from this and tap into the potential for solidarity beyond the Jewish community.” She noted that other Shiva Delivers initiatives were held in other parts of Canada and in the United States.
Feedback from recipients of the meals was overwhelmingly positive and grateful. “Thank you so much for doing this,” one recipient wrote. “We are grieving such a tremendous loss of life in the middle of this pandemic, where we are isolated from our wider community and loved ones. This helps a lot.” Another recipient said the display of kindness and generosity towards the Black community at this time was especially meaningful: “It means so much to be seen in our grief, and held and cared for in this way. Such community-to-community support is so deeply valuable and I truly believe it is our way forward into a collectively liberated world. Thank you for looking out for us and sending us love in my personal favourite love language – good food!”
Reflecting on the power of their event, Schwenk and Slobin said it provided “a glimpse into a hopeful future of what solidarity can look like. It allowed us to imagine a world where traditions are not only respected, but provide cross-cultural comfort.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
University of British Columbia’s Dr. Tirosh Shapira, left, spoke at a June 18 Temple Sholom-hosted webinar emceed by Rabbi Dan Moskovitz. (screenshot)
“COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 has a different type of genetic material than we have. It is an excellent saboteur … and can mutate easily. Thus, if we develop a drug against it, we will likely, over time, begin to see some resistance,” University of British Columbia microbiologist Tirosh Shapira told a Zoom audience in a June 18 webinar.
“In my research,” he said, “instead of looking for one drug, I am looking for four. I am trying to create a cocktail similar to what is applied with treating HIV. We are looking for drug combinations.”
There is an added level of complexity involved in seeking such combinations, he noted, as certain drugs can negate the effects of others.
Shapira is among a select group of Canadian scientists hunting for a cure to COVID-19. He earned his PhD from Australia’s University of Queensland, where he specialized in molecular toxicology for global food security. Before devoting his efforts to COVID-19, his research at UBC led to a novel treatment against tuberculosis and the development of methods to improve drug discovery.
To the web audience hosted by Temple Sholom, Shapira spoke on the topic of drug development in British Columbia, particularly as it pertains to the new coronavirus. He also provided an overview of modern drug discovery and a look at the advanced facility for virology research at UBC.
“Viruses are a large array of different agents,” explained Shapira, “each with unique characteristics, and depend on their hosts in order to replicate and create more copies of themselves … they vary greatly. However, some share similar properties.”
Knowing, for example, the similarities of the common cold and SARS, scientists can gain a better understanding of how the biology of COVID-19 might play out. This type of application led to the discovery of the effectiveness of the drug Remdesivir against the MERS virus, for instance.
Citing the history of combating viruses through treatments, Shapira showed a graph of the downward trend of infections from tuberculosis, starting in the late 19th century. He used this to elucidate the factors needed beyond drugs to control an epidemic, such as economics, sanitation and education.
“On a global scale, sanitation and containment are extremely important for an immediate response to an immediate threat,” he said. “Understanding SARS-CoV-2 is based on understanding similar viruses. The best way to defeat new viruses is through social adjustments.”
Shapira distinguished between the classical and modern approach to drug discovery. The classical approach, he said, is to look under a microscope and examine what is there, while the modern approach considers all possible compounds and is less concerned about the biology.
According to Shapira, the modern approach essentially throws everything at a problem. This, in turn, reduces the research bias on the part of the scientist, has fewer developmental pitfalls and is more “statistically robust,” thereby making it more likely for discoveries to pass clinical trials.
Biology, he hastened to add, is still important – the quality of the test model will determine the quality of the outcome. “Good, sound biology brings good, sound compounds that are good pharmaceuticals,” he said.
When considering how to target a virus, Shapira told the online group that a researcher will look at known antivirals, U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, drugs in clinical trials and natural products, the source of most new antibiotics and antivirals.
Drug development is a complex, multi-stage process which has greatly advanced in the past 20 years, he said. In the United States, for example, it begins with pre-clinical trials in labs and with animal testing. Next come clinical trials focusing on safety and efficacy, before moving to randomized testing. Afterwards, there are FDA trials and ultimately production.
UBC’s FINDER (Facility for Infectious Diseases and Epidemic Research), where Shapira conducts his research, has an automated workstation and screening microscopes that handle the large workload of sorting through tens of thousands of compounds without introducing human error.
Due to restricted access to the highly infectious coronavirus, research in Canada can only be performed at a limited number of contamination-free facilities, which also include the University of Toronto and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
In their studies, UBC’s researchers use lab-grown organs in a dish and a live virus, explained Shapira. FINDER has previous experience with this model from the outbreak of the Zika virus. At FINDER, the UBC team screens the thousands of compounds with collaborators around the world.
Shapira, the only microbiologist conducting research on the COVID-19 virus in British Columbia, estimated that there are 200 biologists and another 2,000 people working on various studies, including in economic areas, related to COVID-19 in Canada.
“SARS-CoV-2, despite being a present threat, will pass,” said Shapira. “But other infectious diseases will emerge in this age of easy travel. Preparedness is key. We will gradually reopen as we are better able to monitor the spread of the virus. We will find a treatment.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Help Each Other Today’s Ilya Goldman, left, and Carlos Taylhardat. (photo from Help Each Other Today)
Ilya Goldman and Carlos Taylhardat have created Help Each Other Today, a messaging platform that connects people who need help with those who want to help.
Goldman, a computer programmer and software engineer, was born in the former Soviet Union and made his way to Israel in 1990. He and his family moved to Vancouver in 1994.
“Eventually, I started my own marketing company (internet-exposure.com) in 2001,” said Goldman. “Recently, because of COVID-19, business did slow down, basically because not as many clients are working right now – a lot of my clients were local businesses.”
In light of the new situation, one of Goldman’s clients, Carlos Taylhardat of artofheadshots.com, started creating coronaSOS.com. While putting the site together, Taylhardat contacted Goldman and Goldman saw in it the potential to help many more people. So, together, they created helpeachothertoday.com.
“I wanted to move beyond just helping people during the coronavirus,” said Goldman. “I wanted to make it available for people when they need help, even after the pandemic is over. Also, I wanted to automate how people are being matched.”
People wanting help and people offering help first need to sign up for to the service, which they can do at no cost. Then, they can post an offer of or request for help that falls within the site’s categories of Delivery, Financial Support, Peer Emotional Support, or Any.
When posting, people need to submit a location, as the platform matches helpers and people needing help based on location, with people able to access posts in their area.
“Helpers will see help requests in their area and can decide if they want to help that particular person,” said Goldman. “Once they decide to help, they essentially offer this help, and they can chat on the website and arrange how.”
Taylhardat and Goldman have been volunteering their time and resources to help people during the pandemic. They considered incorporating ads into the platform, but decided not to, as they felt it would distract from the core concept of the website.
While no one monitors conversations, if ever an abuse of the system comes up, Goldman will step in and block users as needed. So far, no abuse has been reported.
Requests have ranged from a need for groceries or diapers to help with the cost of a wheelchair or in finding public housing.
“Unfortunately, not all help requests can be answered,” said Goldman. “And, unfortunately, not every place has helpers available to help with every request. That’s why we’re trying to get more attention to the website, so all people who need help can register there … and, also, so people who can help can be there for those in need.”
Right now, help and helper posts are only shared within a city, but Goldman is working on a system that will let users choose a post radius.
“Currently, I think we’re helping in 1,091 cities around the world,” he said. “As we move further, we probably will be doing it one country at a time – starting with the U.S. and Canada, and then expanding it further.”
A recent Help Each Other Today media release noted, “The COVID-19 pandemic has made huge changes in all our lives and, often, those who were most vulnerable at the onset were also disproportionally affected by the virus – both by the disease itself and by its huge economic impact. On the other hand, this crisis also shows the great willingness of people to help each other, as many people donate their time and money to help those in need.”
“Social distancing is not social indifference,” Goldman told the Independent. “So, spread the word, post it on your social media, and help more people help each other.”
COVIDhelp Vancouver founders Imaan Jiwa, left, and Riva Siddiqui. (photo from COVIDhelp Vancouver)
An all-female team of Vancouver-area university students has created a platform to link people who may be more likely to succumb to COVID-19 with volunteers who can help them with essential tasks.
COVIDhelp Vancouver was launched by the University of British Columbia’s Imaan Jiwa and Riva Siddiqui shortly after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in the spring. Soon thereafter they were joined by Jewish community member Rebecca Baron, who came on board as director of outreach communication.
The organization’s objective is to assist anyone they can, i.e., seniors and the immune-compromised, with such activities as grocery shopping, dog walking and the delivery of medicines. Volunteers also provide companionship for those who have been isolated as a result of the virus, through both online and socially distanced chats.
The students have provided a few ways for volunteers and clients to connect: the internet, telephone and a mobile app.
“We are trying to get to as many people as we can and create a platform to support our community,” Baron told the Jewish Independent. “This service is intended for anyone who needs support during this time, whether they are seniors, people with compromised immune systems, those who have recently returned from abroad, single parents, students unable to travel back home, frontline workers, or anyone else.”
As for her own involvement, Baron credited Vancouver Talmud Torah. “It taught me a lot about chesed [loving kindness] and helping people in the community,” she said.
Currently a third-year student in UBC’s Global Resource Systems Program, with a focus on global health and nutrition, Baron’s contributions to the community and beyond have been recognized. In 2017, she was the inaugural recipient of Temple Sholom’s Teen Tikkun Olam Award for her research on air quality and her efforts to address gender inequality in the sciences. That same year, she was one of the 18 young people honoured by the Jewish Independent with a JI Chai Award, receiving it for her science research and promotion, as well as her extensive and varied volunteer work.
Besides uniting volunteers with people in need, Baron’s other current pursuits include improving global literacy and advancing education for girls to ensure that all women receive equal opportunity in the workforce.
At present, there are more than 40 volunteers who have accomplished more than 30 tasks, and the COVIDhelp Vancouver team expects those numbers to grow.
The services offered are free, but the client has to arrange for payment of groceries and other goods. They can do this by paying the supplier directly or by ensuring the volunteer has the funds, pre-paying the helper via an e-transfer or PayPal payment, with cash as a last resort.
“All necessary precautions are maintained,” Baron said. “Our volunteers wear masks, use gloves and hand sanitizers and maintain social distance.”
She noted, “The current senior demographic in Vancouver makes up more than 15% of our entire population and this includes our grandparents, neighbours, great-aunts and -uncles. Those who are more likely to become severely ill or require intensive care might also experience a higher level of social isolation. The effects are compounded for those who don’t have access to technology platforms or have limited experience navigating the web. To help them stay connected, feel involved, purposeful and less lonely, we have created a COVID helpline. Now, all they have to do is dial our number and help will be on the way.”
COVIDhelp Vancouver stresses that all volunteers and users must adhere to health and hygiene requirements. Volunteers are screened before any client’s contact information is released.
Both founders of COVIDhelp Vancouver, Jiwa and Siddiqui, are masters of business management candidates at UBC. Jiwa, who just finished a bachelor’s degree in psychology, has a strong interest in the connections between social entrepreneurship and technology. For her part, Siddiqui hopes to create stronger pillars in society by strengthening social connections.
Other members of the team include volunteer coordinator Aimee Gray, who is completing her BSc in psychology at the University of Victoria and who also has an interest in learning about growing businesses, and Camryn Pederson, a UBC psychology student who wants to destigmatize mental illness and bolster community ties through volunteerism.
Those who wish to volunteer can do so by downloading the Zelos Team Management app on an iPhone or Android device, register as a volunteer and join the COVIDhelp Vancouver workspace. Volunteers should be healthy, display no symptoms of COVID-19, have not traveled or been in contact with anyone ill within the past 14 days and be practising social distancing.
On July 6, using a Shavit-2 rocket, Israel successfully launched the Ofek 16 reconnaissance satellite into Earth’s orbit. The first Israeli satellite (Ofek 1) was launched in 1988. Investment in this field produces strategic defence systems, but also innovations that assist industries in coping with various technological obstacles. Israel is one of 13 countries in the world with full space capabilities (launching satellites), alongside the United States, Italy, France, Japan, India, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and South Korea.
נשיא ארה”ב, דונלד טראמפ ,וראש ממשלת קנדה, ג’סטין טרודועניין בחדשות (Shealah Craighead, 2018)
ראש ממשלת קנדה, ג’סטין טרודו, לא יתערב הליך המשפטי שמתנהל בבית המשפט העליון של מחוז בריטיש קולומביה בוונקובר, להסגרת סמנכ”ל הכספים של ענקית התקשורת הסינית וואווי וסגן יו”ר מועצת המנהלים, מנג וואנג’או, לארה”ב. הליך ההסגרה צפוי להימשך עוד חודשים ארוכים ואולי שנים. נקבעו כבר דיונים בביהמ”ש לראשית שנה הבאה שיכללו את טענות ההגנה שנשיא ארה”ב, דונלד טראמפ, התערב בהליך ההסגרה משיקולים פוליטיים. פרסום הספר החדש שמסעיר את ארה”ב “החדר שבו זה קרה” של היועץ לביטחון לאומי לשעבר של טראמפ, ג’ון בולטון, מחזק את טענות ההגנה בנושא.
טרודו הגיב למכתב של חברי פרלמנט ודיפלומטים קנדים לשעבר שנשלח אליו בשבוע שעבר, ובו הם מציעים ששר המשפטים הקנדי, דיוויד למטי, יתערב בתהליך ההסגרה וישחרר את וואנג’או. כך שמקביל סין תשחרר את שני הקנדים שהיא מחזיקה בהם כבר יותר משנה, היזם מייקל ספאוור והדיפולמט לשעבר מייקל קובריג, שמואשמים בריגול. מעצר הקנדים נועד להפעיל לחץ על קנדה לשחרר את וואנג’או. ממשלת סין לא חוסכת שום הזדמנות להתקיף את קנדה ובעיקר את טרודו לאור מעצרה של וואנג’או.
טרודו אמר בתגובה למכתב כי קנדה לא תיכנע ללחץ של הסינים באמצעות מעצרם של הקנדים אותו הוא מכנה “סיטואציה נוראית”, וכי אסור לקנדה: “לתת למדינות לחטוף קנדים כדי להשיג את מבוקשן מאוטווה”. טרודו הוסיף כי שיחרור וואנג’או כדי לתפתור בעייה קצרת טווח תסכן אלפי קנדים שנוסעים לסין וברחבי העולם, בעקבות כך שממשלת קנדה תודיע למדינות העולם, שאפשר להשפיע על מדיניותה על ידי מעצר של אזרחיה באופן אקראי.
טרודו ממשיך לתמוך בעצמאות מערכת המשפט והתביעה הקנדית, בזמן שמתנהל הליך הסגרת וואנג’או לארה”ב, לאחר שנעצרה בוונקובר בסוף אלפיים ושמונה עשרה לבקשת האמריקנים. לאור מעצרם של שני הקנדים טרודו ציין כי קנדה “פתוחה לכל פעולה נגד סין כל עוד שלא תסכן קנדים אחרים בעתיד”.
וואנג’או (בתו של מייסד וואווי הביליונר רן זנפיי) שוהה בוונקובר בביתה המפואר, בתנאים מגבילים שנקבעו ע”י ביהמ”ש, לאחר שהפקידה ערבות של עשרה מליון דולר. במהלך היום היא יכולה להסתובב בתחומי העיר בלבד כאשר צמיד אלקטרוני מוצמד לרגלה, ביחד עם אנשי ביטחון (במימונה).
לטענת משרד המשפטים האמריקני וואנג’או העקפה את הסקנציות האמריקניות על איראן, ועשתה עימה עסקים באמצעות חברת מדף מהונג קונג בשם סקאי.קום. זאת תוך שהיא מציגה מצג שווא לבנקים האמריקנים שסקאי.קום כביכול היא חברה נפרדת מוואווי. כתב תביעה האמריקני כנגד וואווי, וואנג’או ובכירים נוספים בחברה, כולל עשרים ושלוש עבירות פליליות. בהן: הונאת ארבעה בנקים להסוות קשרים עם מסחריים עם איראן, גניבת סודות מסחריים וטכנולוגיות מחברת טי. מובייל, זיופים, הלבנת הון, ניסיונות לשיבוש חקירה והשמדת ראיות. לדברי האמריקנים הפעילויות הבלתי חוקיות של וואווי ומנהליה נמשכו למעלה מעשור.
ביהמ”ש בוונקובר קבע לפני כחודש שהעברות שמיוחסות לוואנג’או בארה”ב תקפות גם בקנדה, ולכן הליכי הסגרתה לארה”ב גם כן תקפים. ביולי ואוגוסט תציג התביעה מסמכים נגד הנתבעת ובספטמבר ההגנה תגיב עליהם. בראשית פברואר שנה הבאה ידון ביהמ”ש בטענות ההגנה שיש לבטל את הליך הסגרת וואנג’או, כיוון שהופרו זכויותיה, עת עצרה בשדה התעופה של ונקובר. ההגנה טוענת עוד שהתביעה האמריקנית הטעתה את ביהמ”ש בנוגע לעובדות הקשורת למעצרה. עוד טוענת ההגנה כאמור שטראמפ, משתמש במעצרה של וואנג’או כקלף מיקוח במלחמת הסחר שלו עם סין, והוא ציין כי יתערב לשיחרורה אם זה יביא להסכם טוב יותר עם הסינים. ההגנה תיעזר בספרו החדש של בולטון שבאחד מפרקיו מצויין כי בארוחת חג המולד לאחר שוואנג’או נעצרה, ציין טראמפ לכאורה על הלחץ שזה יצר על הסינים, תוך שהוא מכנה את וואנג’או “איוונקה טראמפ של סין”. בסוף אפריל ביהמ”ש בוונקובר צפוי להכריע אם תוסגר וואנג’או לארה”ב.
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives.
Like print media as a whole, Jewish newspapers worldwide have been struggling in recent years. The coronavirus, with its economic impacts, was the last straw for Canadian Jewish News, which announced its closure in a message to readers April 13, with the words: “Everything has its season. It is time.”
From the ashes of that flagship media outlet, though, has emerged not one but two new ventures – and rumours of a possible revival of CJN itself.
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives and the people behind them think there’s room for a range of online voices, even if a national hard-copy print media option isn’t in the picture.
The Record is the brainchild of Bernie Farber, former chief executive officer of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, and Ron Csillag, a longtime reporter and editor with CJN, whose writing has appeared in the Jewish Independent. TheJ.ca, which has been in the planning stages longer, was started by Winnipeggers Marty Gold and Ron East. The editor is Dave Gordon, a Torontonian whose writing has appeared frequently in the Independent, as well as scores of other Jewish and non-Jewish publications.
Farber and Csillag admit they don’t have a business plan beyond getting writers and editors to work for free – and they see their online venture as a stopgap that would probably cease or merge were CJN to return. The individual rumoured to be considering a rebirth of the paper opted to not comment for this story.
Farber, who was with CJC from 1984 until it was subsumed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in 2011 and served as its head from 2006, said they launched CJR on the fly, trying to fill a need in the immediate aftermath of CJN’s demise.
“Our goal is not to become a new Canadian Jewish News,” he said. “When and if they were able to come back up … we would find some way to amalgamate. Nothing is written in stone…. We expect to continue into the fall at this point, hopefully.”
The online news and commentary site operates under the auspices of a nonprofit organization and has no money to speak of, other than enough to cover registration fees and miscellaneous costs, said Farber.
“Everybody who wrote and who is continuing to this day to write for the newspaper is doing it pro bono,” he said. “These are skilled, professional journalists who are, for the most part, people who are used to being paid for their work and have chosen to do this as a donation at this time to the community. It really is a grand mitzvah, Canadian Jewish-style, and it’s working.”
The platform got 22,000 hits in the first week, said Farber, who serves as publisher. “It’s going up from there almost exponentially.”
The model upon which their editorial approach is based is akin to CJN, he said, with a range of opinions represented.
“We’re trying to have a big tent,” he said. “We already got into some hot water because we published a piece by Dr. Mira Sucharov. She’s a wonderful writer, she’s on the edge, people don’t like what she writes, but tough shit. People are allowed to have their opinions.”
JI readers will be familiar with Sucharov’s writing. As for coverage of Israel-related topics, Farber said they will follow a similar open approach.
“It’s not that we don’t support Israel,” he said. “We’re a news source, we’re an information source. We run opinion. We’re not going to [say] you can only write good things about Israel or good things about the Jewish community. We want there to be some spark to it where people can say, no, I disagree with that. We do have an option for feedback and we do get letters to the editor. That’s the Jewish community, right? They are vibrant, they come from all over the place and we want to be able to reflect that.”
Farber and Csillag are well-known figures in the Jewish and larger Canadian scene, which is one of the reasons, they say, that the president of York University reached out to them before releasing a much-awaited report of an investigation around a violent confrontation on campus last November between pro- and anti-Israel groups. The Record got embargoed exclusive access to the report before other media. “It demonstrates how, in a short period of time, we have become a reasonable voice in the community,” Farber said.
Csillag, the editor, said they chose, at the launch on May 21, to “flood” the site with stories to keep readers engaged and coming back. Now, the aim is to post two stories a day plus any breaking news.
“People are talking about it, people are complaining about it,” he said. “I got my first bit of hate mail, which is good. That’s when you know you’re making a difference.”
Finding writers to work for free has not been a challenge. “People have been coming out of the woodwork. I never knew that pretty much everyone on the planet was a writer,” Csillag said, laughing.
Challenges they have not ironed out, they admit, include finding reliable reporters outside Ontario and a steady source of news from Israel, since they don’t have the resources to pay for a news service.
If CJN is not revived, Farber said, “I think we have to get together with serious-minded people within the community and say the CJN is gone and we are here. We don’t have a real business model to be honest. What you see is what you get…. We would have to ramp up to a real business model.”
Farber added that Canada, with the world’s fourth-largest Jewish population at 400,000, should be able to sustain at least two national Jewish media platforms.
That confidence is shared by Gordon, who equates the situation to the old joke about the Jew who, when rescued from a deserted island, was asked why he built two synagogues on the island. One, he told rescuers, was his shul; the other was the one he would never set foot in.
TheJ.ca has been in the planning stages for more than a year. Gordon came on a few weeks before launch. Like the Record, TheJ.ca has little overhead, since everyone associated with it works remotely. They have a few investors and some steady advertising agreements. The online nature of the platform also means no printing or distribution expenses.
Gordon touts the diversity of the large stable of writers.
“One of the things that I think is our proudest asset are individuals from the widest array possible, individuals who are liberal to conservative, Jew and Arab, religious to secular,” he said. “We have four gay columnists, we have Jews of colour who are contributing, we have coast-to-coast contributors and, in that respect, I want to say that, not only do we deliver the unexpected, but we represent the previously unrepresented.”
On Israel coverage, though, they aim to determine suitability of opinions based on the “three Ds” formulated by Natan Sharansky to determine if criticism of Israel is antisemitic: delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, and subjecting Israel to double standards.
“In terms of Israel, we’re not going to make it a secret: we’re very pro-Israel, very Zionistic,” said Gordon. “It’s a good read to say that we are centre-right. We will still strive to maintain a kind of balance in terms of Israel reporting … we will tilt from time to time liberal but not left.”
Their aim is to post a batch of new content twice a week.
While Gordon is based in Toronto, TheJ.ca was born in Winnipeg. Marty Gold, a longtime broadcast journalist and publisher, and Ron East, a former pro wrestler and physical education teacher who has also been involved in publishing, are longtime friends who were critical of existing Jewish media.
East is son of the late Israeli military commander, author and counterterrorism expert Yoram Hamizrachi East. When Winnipeg saw an influx of Israeli immigrants a few years ago, the father and son launched a Hebrew-language publication to help the newcomers navigate their city. The 500 copies were routinely snapped up, he said.
The idea for the new media platform came after Gold and East felt that the established Jewish media and communal organizations in the city were not adequately confronting anti-Israel activity.
“There wasn’t really a pro-Israel, Zionistic platform out there,” said East. “We found that our local media here in Winnipeg, as well as when we started looking at Canadian Jewish News and others, were giving more and more room … and more and more credibility to what we would describe as anti-Israel, anti-Zionistic and, in some cases, pro-BDS Jewish movements. Those voices became louder and louder and the Zionistic pro-Israel voices seemed to be drowned out. We felt that it was important to provide a platform that would allow for those voices.”
While TheJ.ca is an online media platform, they are mooting a print digest that might be issued a couple of times a year. They are also working on a way to format content so that it can be easily downloaded and printed for people who prefer to hold their newspaper in their hands. Also in the hopper are plans for region-specific landing pages, so readers in Vancouver or Halifax, say, could access both items of national and international interest, as well as local news relevant to them.
The design of their site, said East, is particularly aimed at reaching younger readers. They credit Gordon’s experience in the field for bringing together a diverse group of writers from across the country.
The Jewish media scene has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. The emergence of the internet more than two decades ago has undermined print media of all types, with publications for small or niche demographics experiencing particular challenges as well as advantages. The pandemic, which led to an unprecedented global economic shutdown in March, had immediate repercussions. Much of the advertising in the Independent, for example, is for upcoming community events, all of which were summarily canceled. Non-essential retailers closed, making advertising extraneous.
The Independent has continued publishing on a reduced schedule.
Winnipeg’s Jewish Post & News announced in April that it was ceasing printing, but started publishing a print edition again at the end of May.
The difficulties nearly led to the dissolution of the world’s oldest English-language Jewish newspaper, Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, which was saved by a conglomerate of philanthropists. The rival Jewish News, which had also announced its liquidation and was set to merge with the Chronicle before the surprise bailout, will, for now, continue publishing independently.
In an article recently about the state of Jewish journalism, the Times of Israel reported that New York’s Jewish Week made a dire plea for support and a leader in the American Jewish Press Association – of which the Independent is a member – acknowledged that COVID has presented a serious challenge to an already struggling sector.
The world’s third-largest Jewish community, in France, is in a different boat. In the 1980s, the French government opened radio airwaves to private groups and Jewish radio stations play a role in that country similar to the role newspapers play in most other Jewish communities.
When COVID-19 hit, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver quickly refocused its organizational resources on closing the annual campaign and addressing urgent community needs. Now, it is circling back to announce some terrific news, which is that the 2019 Federation annual campaign raised more than $8.9 million.
Here is a general breakdown of the funds raised:
$7.9 million in unrestricted funds to support programs and services locally, nationally and in Israel through the allocations process – an increase of $100,000 from last year;
$1 million in special project funding from donors who give above and beyond their annual campaign commitments to support programs that meet high-priority community needs; and
$40,000 to support the work of specific agencies from donors directing a portion of their increased gifts through Federation’s Plus Giving program.
The community’s generosity is making an impact here and around the world. Thirty-two local Jewish families will have safe, stable homes when they move into new affordable housing units this summer. Youth in Israel who were once considered at-risk are now skilled professionals whose expertise is sought after.
Federation gives a huge thank you to everyone who contributed and to everyone who volunteered to make the annual campaign a success, including the more than 250 community members who volunteered as canvassers and team captains.
Federation’s campaign chair, Jonathon Leipsic, once again demonstrated outstanding leadership, energy and passion for community as he led the Annual Campaign Working Cabinet. Kol hakavod and todah rabah to Leipsic and to each of these community leaders, who are on this dedicated team: Shay Keil, major gifts co-chair; Lana Pulver, major gifts co-chair; Michael Averbach, men’s philanthropy co-chair; Daniel Dodek, men’s philanthropy co-chair; Susan Hector, canvasser development; Al Szajman, marketing chair; Alvin Wasserman, campaign advisor; and Catherine Epstein, agency liaison.
The funds raised in this campaign will be distributed locally, nationally and in Israel during the 2021 allocations cycle, which will take place next summer. This is part of the two-year allocations cycle that Federation established after the 2008 economic downturn in order to provide greater predictability to its partners and to provide a measure of protection in the event of unanticipated fluctuations. The prudent contingency planning that Federation has been able to do as a result is part of what enabled it to provide emergency funding in April to community organizations that were hit hardest by COVID-19.
In addition, the community also depends on Jewish Federation to work with donors throughout the year to generate special project funding to meet high-priority needs. Combined with the annual campaign result, the total Jewish Federation raised this year was $10.3 million. While this strong result will help sustain the community, more resources will still be needed to address increased community needs related directly to the pandemic. A healthy annual campaign is just the start. With the challenges we’re all currently experiencing, Jewish Federation’s central role has never been more important.
Dr. Paige Axelrood and Ivan Sayers were among the 25 British Columbians honoured with a 2020 BC Achievement Community Award. (photos from BC Achievement Foundation)
On April 27, Premier John Horgan and Anne Giardini, chair of the BC Achievement Foundation, named this year’s recipients of the BC Achievement Community Award. Among those honoured were Jewish community members Dr. Paige Axelrood and Ivan Sayers. “These days more than ever, our communities are made stronger by British Columbians who go above and beyond,” said Horgan. “Thanks go to all of the BC Achievement 2020 Community Award recipients for helping build a better province for everyone.”
“It is an honour to celebrate the excellence and dedication of these 25 outstanding British Columbians,” added Giardini. “On behalf of all of us at the BC Achievement Foundation, I thank each of them for strengthening their communities and inspiring others to community action.”
As the founder of the Scientist in Residence Program, Axelrood developed and built an educational program to support teachers and help students discover their inner scientist. Elementary students across the Vancouver School District have experienced real science and discovered the natural world through the Scientist in Residence Program. Axelrood’s vision to partner teachers with scientists to facilitate hands-on, inquiry-based lessons has helped change the delivery of science education.
Sayers is the honorary curator of the BC Society for Museum of Original Costume and curator emeritus, Museum of Vancouver. Specializing in the study of women’s, men’s and children’s fashions from 1700 to the present, Sayers has produced historical fashion shows and museum exhibitions all over western North America. A lecturer and mentor, his fashion shows have supported countless nonprofits over the years.
The BC Achievement Foundation is an independent foundation established in 2003, whose mission is to honour excellence and inspire achievement. This year’s selection committee members were Mayor Lee Brain of Prince Rupert, Mayor Michelle Staples of Duncan, and past recipients Lolly Bennett, Aart Schuurman Hess and Andy Yu.
The recipients of the 2020 Community Award will be recognized in a formal presentation ceremony in Victoria, in the presence of Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of British Columbia. Each recipient receives a certificate and a medallion designed by BC artist Robert Davidson. For more information on the award and its recipients, past and present, visit bcachievement.com.
Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Issa receives an award, virtually, from Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, director of the Combat Antisemitism Movement. (screenshot)
During a worldwide virtual event this month involving Jewish leaders and government officials from various countries, one of the leading figures in Sunni Islam was recognized for his work opposing antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa is the secretary-general of the Muslim World League and is a former minister of justice of Saudi Arabia. The Muslim World League is funded by the Saudi government, is based in Mecca and positions itself as a force for modernization and moderation in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world. Earlier this year, Al-Issa led an historic trip of senior Muslim clerics and leaders to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The online event, titled How Muslims and Jews Can Combat Anti-Semitism Together, featured Al-Issa via video from Saudi Arabia, joined by U.S. government officials including Sam Brownback, a former senator now ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and Elan Carr, special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism. The event was sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation and the Combat Antisemitism Movement, which bills itself as a non-partisan, global grassroots movement of individuals and organizations, across all religions and faiths, united to combat antisemitism. The organization’s director, Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, presented Al-Issa with the movement’s first annual award recognizing Muslim leadership against antisemitism.
“We have been reminded that, even in countries as advanced and multicultural as the United States, misunderstanding and mistrust is dangerous when allowed to fester,” Al-Issa said in an address that was translated from Arabic. “It can lead to anger, violence and social divisions that help no one. Everywhere in the world, we face challenges in building the bridges of communication, partnership and friendship. But, in a world with many complicated threats, from terrorism to global pandemics, our partnerships are more important than ever.”
He talked about the unifying global fight against coronavirus which, he said, “does not care if a person is Muslim or non-Muslim, Jew or non-Jew, Christian or non-Christian … rich or poor, educated or non-educated.”
That unity is a model for opposing the spread of hatred and intolerance, he said, even as extremists attempt to exploit the current uncertainty to push hatred and division.
He spoke of his visit in January to the death camp in Poland, as well as his numerous visits to synagogues and Jewish museums.
“I stood united alongside my Jewish brothers and said, ‘never again.’ Not for Jews, not for Muslims, not for Christians, not for Hindus, not for Sikhs, not for any of God’s children,” said Al-Issa. “History’s greatest horror, the Holocaust, must never be repeated.… The 1.1 million people murdered at Auschwitz were human beings, just like any other, just like any Muslim. And even though it has been 75 years since the gates of the Auschwitz death camp were torn down, creating a better world for future generations is a constant struggle that we must not give up on.”
He cited murders of Muslims in New Zealand, Christians in Sri Lanka and Jews in the United States as indications of the work remaining to be done.
“Whereas Jews and Muslims lived centuries together, in these last decades we have sadly grown apart,” he said. Since taking the helm of the Muslim World League in 2016, he has tried to build bridges with Jewish and Christian communities. He has also been vocal in fighting Holocaust denial in Muslim circles.
“There are those who still try to falsify history, who claim the Holocaust, the most despised crime in human history, is fiction,” he said. “We stand against these liars, no matter who they are or where they come from, for denying history can only serve to further the aims of those who perpetrate hateful ideas of racial, ethnic or religious purity.”
Continued genocides, in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Myanmar, show that the lessons of the Holocaust are universal, he said.
“Muslims have a responsibility to learn them, heed the warning of history and stand as part of the international community to say, ‘never again,’” Al-Issa said. “We will act together to make just peace a reality for Jews and Muslims, and for all people, religions, civilizations and cultures.”