Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken on Victoria Rumble Room Oct. 14. Shanken has very much been the face of the Jewish community in recent days. (screenshot)
An emergency fundraising campaign in response to the devastation in Israel raised more than $15 million in Metro Vancouver in less than two weeks.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver is spearheading the Israel Emergency Campaign. In his weekly email last Friday, Oct. 20, Federation chief executive officer Ezra Shanken announced the record total that had been raised to that point. By comparison, last year’s entire annual campaign raised $10.2 million.
Shanken told the Independent that, within the $15 million-plus total, is another new record for the local community: nine gifts of $1 million and a gift of $2 million.
Despite the great success, Shanken said the money will barely begin to approach the needs created by the human and material destruction caused by the Hamas terror attacks and the ongoing aftermath.
“As excited as I want to be,” he said, “I felt like $20 million, which is where we would like to get to, is not even going to be enough. The destruction, both in human life and in physical property, is so immense in the south, the risk is so high in the north, the mental health needs are so huge over there, that those alone are multi-, multi-million-dollar needs.… The damage is so deep that it’s going to take a lot for us to be able to make an impact.”
The Jewish Federations of North America set a goal of $500 million for the combined campaign and was already well past the two-thirds mark at the end of last week. Other Israel-based and Israel-supporting charities are also raising money and delivering support through funds and on-the-ground projects.
The speed and magnitude of the local emergency fundraising effort, Shanken said, may be a consequence of the community campaign already underway for the redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. He calls it the “JWest effect,” referring to the name of the redevelopment project. Sensitizing philanthropists to community needs may have sowed the field for the extraordinary generosity shown when this unanticipated catastrophe occurred. The feeling that this is an unprecedented historical moment is also a factor.
For media in British Columbia and at public events, Shanken has very much been the face of the Jewish community in recent days. Speaking personally, he described the flood of contradictory emotions he has experienced.
“This time has been a mix of incredible pride and incredible pain,” he said. “They come in different waves. I have incredible moments of pride and incredible moments of resolve and strength and incredible moments of weakness and pain and depression.”
Shanken continued: “It’s a tough time for all of us, it’s a tough time for me.… But I believe more than ever that these are the moments where we are really forged in these fires and we will be a stronger community because of what we’re going through in this moment.”
The inhumanity witnessed not only in Israel but closer to home, with protests and statements effectively supporting and celebrating the mass murders, has stiffened his resolve, he said.
“I feel a need to stand up against those who are really trying to push us down in this moment,” he said. “I feel strong, I feel determined, I feel righteous in this moment in pushing back against those who are going to minimize the deaths of these folks, that are going to make us feel that we don’t have a right to grieve, we don’t have a right to defend ourselves, we don’t have a right to care for each other. I have no stomach for that anymore and we’re not going to keep our mouths shut on this.”
Funds raised will be allocated through several different projects working directly in Israel (click here for story). While most of the devastation from the Oct. 7 attacks is in the country’s south, the Vancouver Jewish community’s partnership region, Etzba HaGalil, the Galilee Panhandle, and other parts of northern Israel, have experienced attacks from the terror group Hezbollah, from their bases in southern Lebanon. Kibbutzim, villages and towns within a several-kilometre range of the Lebanon border have been largely evacuated. In all, about 200,000 Israelis from the north and south have so far been displaced by the crisis.
“The north is a major, major concern for Israel, it’s a major concern for us,” said Shanken. “So, we are trying to get them prepped up and ready, get emergency war rooms together in community centres, those kinds of things. We’re looking at some other kind of resiliency-building pieces in subsequent tranches of money that will be sent.”
Donations to the Israel Emergency Campaign can be made at jewishvancouver.com/israel-fund.