Cynthia Ramsay (in 2017). (photo by Lianne Cohen)
When we decided to have a celebration marking 18 years since the beginning of the latest chapter of the Jewish Independent’s nearly-nine-decade history, it made perfect sense to focus on the future as much as the past.
The centrepoint of the JI Chai Celebration is the JI’s 18 Under 36 Awards. The day’s headlines might be cause for dejection, but anyone who works with, or spends any time with, members of this community’s younger generations knows that the future is bright.
This truly is reason to celebrate.
I am amazed to think I’ve owned the newspaper for longer than some of our awardees have been alive. I don’t feel that old. On the other hand, it does seem like another lifetime when Kyle Berger, Pat Johnson and I bought the Independent’s predecessor, the Jewish Western Bulletin, from publishers Sam and Mona Kaplan. Kyle was 24, Pat was 34 and I was 29 – we all would have qualified for the JI’s 18 Under 36 Awards, and I’d like to think we might have offered some tough competition.
I would say to younger audiences, as both a promise and a warning: beware of how way leads on to way. Sometimes wonderful things happen and the mission of your life presents itself without you even realizing what’s happening.
My roots are not here. My immediate family has lived in Ontario for a long time now. And, when I came here about 25 years ago from Ottawa, I intended to spend a year in British Columbia, get my master’s in economics at Simon Fraser University, then return east and do a PhD in economics at University of Toronto.
But, I got a job in Vancouver as I was finishing my MA, and worked as an economist until, one day, I took a phone call from the then-publisher of the Jewish Western Bulletin. I’d never heard of him … or it. My involvement with the Vancouver Jewish community was through music – with the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir, with whom I still sing today, and Beth Israel Choir. The paper was looking for someone to fill in writing editorials and I was looking for a change, so I agreed to take the job – for the summer.
As I mentioned, one thing leads to another, and the Kaplans, who had published and edited the JWB since 1960, wanted to retire. Pat and Kyle, my then-newfound friends and colleagues, suggested we put in a bid to buy the paper. I didn’t think the Kaplans would sell it to such a green team, as there were some other serious bidders with far more experience in business.
But the Kaplans saw something in the three of us that I certainly did not. They were Orthodox Jews, Zionists who brokered no criticism of Israel, and believed in advocacy journalism. We were secular, Zionists of a rather more open-minded variety, firm advocates of free speech and believed that journalism should be as objective as possible. Despite our obvious differences, I think the Kaplans recognized in us something of the inevitable future.
While Kyle and Pat have moved on to other endeavours, they thankfully remain involved in the paper and are there to help and offer advice, with Pat still doing much writing, as well as serving on the editorial board.
Looking back at the past 18 years, I can say that, while we’ve had challenges, we’ve overcome them and we’ve had many more successes. And this is one of the major reasons for the JI Chai Celebration. We want to celebrate the fact that, with the community’s help and the hard work and dedication of so many over the decades, the Jewish Independent, this community’s newspaper, is a vibrant and evolving enterprise.
Still … it is no secret that the newspaper industry is a tough one these days, to put it mildly. We must find a way to keep the Independent a sustainable and quality publication – not just for the coming months, but for the coming generations. The funds raised through the JI Chai Celebration will go, in part, toward a study of North American Jewish community newspapers and other examples of community journalism, which might direct us to best practices and models for the future of the JI.
The incredibly generous financial support of Joseph and Rosalie Segal and family, and the support of Mary-Louise Albert of the Rothstein Theatre and Chutzpah! Festival, laid the foundation for this celebration. The contributions of Gary Averbach, Shirley Barnett, David Bogoch, LKP Holdings (Tzipi Mann and family), JB Newall Memorials, Olive+Wild, Red Truck Beer, Vancouver Learning Centre, Web exPress, Yosef Wosk and so many others made it all possible. Led by talented event manager Bonnie Nish, all of this came together in three months.
Everyone performing here today is donating their time, as is the bartender and the volunteers you’ve seen on tickets, at the auction tables, ushering, all about. And about that auction table – thank you so much to all the donors to the auction and those who contributed the prizes for tonight, including the gift packages for the 18 awardees.
In addition to funding a study that can set the course of the paper’s future, revenue from this event will help stabilize the Independent and let us continue the important role we play as a mirror to and a voice of this community.
To ensure that independent Jewish journalism survives and thrives in this city and province, though, it ultimately depends on you. I ask you to support this newspaper by reading, sharing, subscribing, advertising or donating.
If you still wonder why and for whom we need to continue building this community and strengthening the media that shares its stories, look only to the 18 individuals being honoured tonight and to the future that they represent.