Michael Fish initiated a unique VSO-JFSA collaboration, which will see JFSA clients attend the symphony on Nov. 15. (photo from Michael Fish)
“There is a direct relationship between cultural experiences and good health. Whether it’s participation in the arts or appreciation for the arts, there is an emotional response for those who engage in these experiences,” said Joel Steinberg, president of Jewish Family Service Agency (JFSA).
Steinberg was offering this observation in the context of a unique opportunity that JFSA has to help 200 clients attend a special concert of music by Jewish composers performed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) at the Orpheum on Nov. 15.
Michael Fish, who has been a board member for the VSO for four years, wanted to encourage more Jewish community involvement with the symphony.
“In an effort to promote the VSO, as well as bring our community more into the fold, I decided to try to do something special,” Fish told the Independent. “With the support of the VSO’s conductor and musical director, Bramwell Tovey, the VSO agreed to put together a concert of all Jewish composers that I could use as a vehicle for my goal.”
Fish continued, “I then approached Jewish Family Service Agency and asked if they would be interested in sending some of their clients to an evening of Jewish music with the VSO. Knowing that many of their clients would not have the means to purchase a ticket for themselves, I took it upon myself to raise the funds from within the Jewish community to make it happen. I was thrilled at the fantastic response.”
According to Steinberg, Fish has used his advocacy very effectively for JFSA. In addition to organizing this concert, Fish secured a full page in VSO’s Allegro magazine recognizing “Friends of JFSA,” thereby helping JFSA communicate its mission to VSO patrons.
“Many people do not realize that about 10 percent of our clients are non-Jewish,” said Steinberg. “They are mostly users of home support and counseling services, both of which are fee-for-service and help generate critical revenues for our organization to support our other programs. This is a great opportunity for JFSA to raise its profile in the general community while benefitting our clients.”
According to Alan Stamp, JFSA’s director of counseling, the agency sporadically provides “tickets for inclusion” to clients who are in need and who have identified an interest in the arts. The program is managed by JFSA social workers on a case-by-case basis. One of the challenges with the existing system is that tickets are often donated last minute by supporters of JFSA who realize that they will not be able to use them. It can be difficult to match tickets with clients, many of whom face mobility challenges, on short notice. This event with VSO is on a different scale.
Silkie Wong, who works in development and communication at JFSA, has been assisting the department’s director, Audrey Moss, with coordinating the project from the JFSA side. Wong noted that JFSA organizes transportation where possible to ensure that clients can attend, as some of their clients find it difficult to get out on their own. Wong pointed out why this type of event is important: “This is a unique and meaningful experience. Attending cultural events enables our clients to live life, not just survive it.”
Steinberg hopes this avenue for inclusion, initiated by Fish, will spur others to step up and bring such more initiatives forward. “We hope that we will have an ongoing partnership with VSO, and that more of our friends connected to other organizations will help us open more doors and build similar partnerships,” said Steinberg.
Fish considers this is a win-win situation. He is excited about the beautiful music that both JFSA clients and members of the greater community will share, as well as the concert’s potential to raise the profile of VSO in the Jewish community. He summed up by saying, “The musicians will be playing to a larger audience, JFSA’s [clients and] patrons will enjoy a great evening, and perhaps the VSO will pick up a few patrons along the way. What could be better than that?”
To learn more about this concert, visit jfsa.ca.
Michelle Dodek is a freelance writer and community volunteer living in Vancouver.