I recently was appointed board chair for Tikva Housing Society. When I was asked to join the board three years ago, I knew nothing about Tikva or their invaluable work. However, as a real estate professional, I did have a keen understanding of the housing affordability crisis in the Lower Mainland, and knew that our Jewish community was not immune to the crisis. Hence, I understood the importance of Tikva Housing, which is why I joined the board.
Tikva is a charitable, nonprofit society providing access to affordable housing for low- to moderate-income Jewish individuals and families. Every year, in March, the society turns to the generosity of the community to support its mission and now, more than ever, Tikva needs that help.
The widespread effects of COVID-related job loss have placed many members of our Jewish community at risk of homelessness. Tikva offers short-term rent subsidies for those living in market rental housing who are facing a temporary crunch and are unable to afford their rent. The demand for this kind of assistance has increased greatly in the last 12 months. The amount of subsidies that we can provide is directly in correlation to the amount that we can raise from private donations and foundations, and donations are urgently needed to help people stay in their homes. There are already more than 200 Jewish people on a waitlist for affordable housing, and the demand is only growing.
With all levels of government focused on affordable housing in general, we are seeing numerous initiatives being considered and Tikva is in conversation with government agencies and housing developers to explore new partnerships. Currently, Tikva owns and/or operates 61 affordable housing units in the Lower Mainland: 11 units at Dany Guincher House in Marpole; 18 units at the Diamond Residences (Storeys) in Richmond; and, thanks to the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation, 32 townhomes were added last summer. The Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in Vancouver’s River District form a family-oriented community with more than 60 children.
This coming summer will see Tikva tenants occupying 37 units at the Arbutus Centre on Yew Street. The cost to Tikva will be a nominal $1,500 per unit annually, and the Diamond Foundation has pledged to cover this expense for all 37 units for the first five years.
In 2022, 20 units on the third floor of a five-storey building will be home to Susana Cogan Place. In partnership with Polygon, BC Housing will provide full financial support for this project, which is named in memory of Tikva’s founder and affordable-housing trailblazer, Susana Cogan, z’l.
Expanding Tikva’s affordable housing portfolio means that more low- to moderate-income Jews can stay close to their synagogues, schools and the multitude of Jewish community amenities. While Tikva Housing will operate a total of 98 units by the end of summer 2021 and 148 by the end of 2022, it’s still not enough to meet the needs.
Housing is the cornerstone and foundation of a dignified life. The Hebrew word tikva means hope. Please support Tikva Housing Society’s current campaign, which runs to March 22, and help us bring hope – and housing – to those most in need in our Jewish community.
Storeys, the Diamond Residences, is among the affordable housing sites where the new TCL will be working. (photo from jfsvancouver.ca)
Jewish Family Services has launched a new tenant community liaison (TCL) position to provide stability and support for JFS clients receiving a Tikva Housing subsidy or who are housed in one of Tikva’s rental buildings for low- and moderate-income Jewish adults and families.
The purpose of the TCL position, which is funded by the Ben and Esther Dayson Foundation and a grant from the federal government, is to increase the long-term success of housing vulnerable and at-risk Jewish community members.
“Once JFS clients are settled in as new tenants, they often struggle to adjust to living in a permanent housing situation,” said Tanja Demajo, director of family and adult resources at JFS. “Many of our clients have a history of addiction, mental illness, a physical disability, and/or family abuse, so adapting to life in a new community is a challenge for them.”
The new TCL will act as a link between JFS and Tikva Housing to ensure that tenants who need support are settled in successfully and to help them understand their roles, rights and responsibilities. In addition, the TCL will provide workshops and counseling, as well as community-building activities, such as holiday celebrations and networking events. Tenants will also learn about appropriate services or resources.
Alice Sundberg, director of operations and housing development at Tikva Housing, said, “We value the collaborative relationship we have with JFS to make sure that those most in need in our community get access to affordable housing. The tenant community liaison will help to ensure that the people we serve have more than just a roof over their heads. We plan to work closely with the TCL to connect our more vulnerable tenants to support services, job and educational resources, as well as enhanced links to the Jewish community and culture.”
Affordable and social housing has become a critical issue in the Lower Mainland for almost all income levels. Following the trend in the general population, the part-time JFS housing coordinator has seen more than a 20% increase in the number of people asking for assistance, with an average of 55 new calls a week.
In the city of Vancouver, monthly rent of $1,730 for a one-bedroom unit is considered affordable. When a person on disability makes a yearly income below $18,000 per year and the minimum wage is $12.65 an hour, it is not surprising that the percentage of homelessness has increased by 30% since 2014. The 2017 Homelessness Count in Metro Vancouver confirmed that some of the main barriers to finding housing are the high cost of rent and the lack of income and shortage of units that suit clients’ needs.
As the Jewish community responds to the issue of affordable housing, the tenant community liaison is a step forward. “Lack of support for affordable and social housing damages clients lives and affects all of us directly or indirectly,” said Demajo. “Having a home is not a luxury, it is a basic need.”
Left to right: Anat Gogo, Tikva Housing administrator; Philip Dayson, donor; Shirley Barnett, donor; Heather Kenny, Tikva board member; Alice Sundberg, Tikva director of operations; Eric Fefer, Tikva development committee member; Shelley Karrel, Tikva board chair; and Kasimir Kish, Tikva board member. (photo from Tikva Housing)
There is so much in the news about Vancouver’s housing crisis – unaffordable rents, no vacancies and reno-viction notices. Having a safe, secure and affordable home is one of the most basic needs, which helps people to feel a sense of belonging and well-being. Many in our community lack this basic right.
On a daily basis, Tikva administrator Anat Gogo hears about people looking for affordable housing.
“It might be because they are in an abusive situation and need to make a change, or they are paying almost 50% of their monthly income on housing,” she said. “Whatever the reason, we do what we can.”
Thanks to the generosity of donors, Tikva has two residences that are fully occupied – Dany Guincher House and the Diamond Residences – and soon to open is the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in the Fraserview district. These 32 new townhomes include two-, three- and four-bedroom units and, in adjacent towers, there is a common room where tenants will be able to gather for special events like Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations.
In addition, more than 35 individuals and families are supported through the Esther Dayson Rent Subsidy Program.
Alice Sundberg, director of operations and housing development at Tikva, said the need to continue to increase “inventory” is constant.
For more information and to find out how you can help, contact Tikva Housing at 778-998-4582 or visit tikvahousing.org.
Avie Estrin at Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society’s new laneway house. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Fred Dexall used to live in a group home in Kerrisdale. “I didn’t like it there,” he recalls. “The problem is they were very unfriendly. Everybody [kept] to themselves.”
When the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society opened the first home for members of the Jewish community with mental health issues, in 2001, Dexall was the first resident. He remains there today.
“I’m happy here,” he said. There is more freedom to do one’s own thing than in the “dictatorial” group home he left, he said. Plus, the residents enjoy a Jewish lifestyle, celebrate the holidays, have Shabbat dinners on Fridays, attend the Bagel Club on Mondays and participate in other aspects of Jewish communal life. Every day, volunteers shuttle kosher meals from the kitchen at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital for Yaffa residents.
“Some of us have other disabilities besides mental illness,” said Drexall. “I have epilepsy and it’s all looked after.”
The organization is in the midst of a significant expansion. The house where Dexall has lived for 17 years is operated by Yaffa under a lease from the Vancouver Resource Society, a nonprofit providing accessible housing to people with disabilities, which owns the home in a quiet south Vancouver residential neighbourhood.
In 2010, Yaffa bought the house next door, welcoming more residents. Now, a sparkling new two-storey laneway house has just been completed behind the second home and renovations are taking place on the two houses to further increase capacity. Yaffa also has five units in a 51-unit building in Dunbar, which offers more intensive 24/7 care for residents. In an agreement with the Coast Foundation, B.C. Housing and the City of Vancouver, Yaffa has perpetual lease of these five spaces in return for funding a kosher kitchen in the facility.
Avie Estrin, the president of the society, is carrying on a family tradition. His parents, Aaron and Tzvia Estrin, were among the founding members of the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society and Aaron was pivotal in raising the capital to launch the residential facility and purchase the second home. Their collective passion comes from firsthand recognition of the need. Avie Estrin’s brother, Marc, is a resident.
“I think it was front and centre for us because we had the awareness that many people – most people – simply aren’t privy to,” said Avie Estrin. “You see what people go through and the reality is, there was no other option. Remarkably, even though mental illness has been around forever, there was simply nothing in the Vancouver Jewish community to address it. Montreal had Jewish mental health housing facilities, Toronto had facilities. Vancouver had nothing.”
An ad hoc group of families came together to form the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society, with no organizational support at the outset.
“We had to do something and it was meeting after meeting after meeting in somebody’s private home and, ultimately, they did make it happen,” said Estrin. “Once it got a little bit of momentum, then there was a little bit more attention. It got the ball rolling, but those first few years were very much uphill.”
Now, the facilities house 13 people. With the completed laneway house and upcoming renovations to the unfinished basement in the second house, the organization will welcome five more residents.
With 13 people in the south Vancouver homes, plus five in Dunbar, that makes 18, Estrin noted, “which is chai, which, again, is quite significant to us.”
Estrin said that, even with this expansion, the organization is only making a dent in the demand. With a rule of thumb that 10% of the population has a mental illness and half of those are acute, the Vancouver Jewish community, he estimates, probably has about 1,200 people who would meet Yaffa’s criteria for residency, which is based on DSM-IV Axis 1: “Schizophrenia, manic-depressive, things like that,” Estrin said.
He acknowledges the organization’s limits.
“We are doing what little we can,” he said, “and you might say, ‘well, it’s a little,’ but I would respond by saying something is better than nothing.” With the increase in capacity to 18, he reframed his response: “At this point, I would suggest to you that more is better than something.”
One of the other things the renovation project will ameliorate, Estrin hopes, is the gender imbalance. Because the nature of Yaffa House is a collective living model, there have been logistical challenges in mixing genders.
“By happenstance, we’ve become kind of an all-guys facility as things stand right now and it’s not because there are less women out there who are affected. There is an equal number of them,” he said. As the redevelopment continues, plans will incorporate accommodations for women, adjacent to the men’s accommodations, but with added privacy.
To complete the development and to support daily operations, Estrin is making a call for support, not only financial – though he stresses that is most welcome – but also for volunteers who can fill various capacities either as members of the board or in helping out at the homes.
Travis Hanks of Haeccity Studio Architecture. He and his colleague Shirley Shen made a presentation at the launch of CoHo on May 12. (photo by Noam Dolgin)
A diverse group of people a couple of dozen strong, all looking for solutions to Vancouver’s housing crisis, met on May 12 to brainstorm and learn. The meeting was organized by CoHo BC, an organization founded by Jewish community member Noam Dolgin, which describes itself as “an initiative to support, encourage and simplify collaborative ownership of property in B.C.”
The gathering took place at the home of Celia Brauer, another Jewish Vancouverite who herself is looking at co-housing options. “I have been loving this house and surrounding green space for 18 years now,” she said in the press release about the meeting. “I would very much enjoy sharing this corner of paradise with someone, especially since it would allow me to remain here.”
After getting to know one another a bit, smaller groups were formed to share ideas of their ideal dwellings and produce a collaborative vision for a home that included them all.
It was clear that everyone present had already given the idea some thought. One team envisioned a shared home with a combination of private areas and shared spaces – such as a library, places where people could work and places kids could play, plus a carport for a shared vehicle – as well as a backyard. (All three mini-groups dropped the idea of a front yard as an unneeded encumbrance.) The other two teams came up with different visions: one imagined private houses sharing courtyards and outdoor spaces on the same lot; another saw a shared structure with self-contained living spaces within it.
Following this exercise, architects Travis Hanks and Shirley Shen of Haeccity Studio Architecture made a presentation on the firm’s Micro-op concept, which won the Urbanarium Missing Middle Competition. (Urbanarium is a registered nonprofit founded by a group of architects, planners and others committed to re-imagining the city.)
Haeccity’s “missing middle” project is about providing alternatives to houses on the one end, and high-rises and condos on the other. Hanks and Shen are exploring ways to increase density on lots that are in the “buffer zones” of major arterials, between single-family neighbourhoods and commercial areas.
Hanks and Shen described the concept: a three-storey building of six or seven housing units that would fit onto a single-family lot of about 33 feet by 122 feet without impinging on the space or esthetic values of adjacent single-family homes. It could be in two buildings, separated by a common courtyard, with the flexibility of a combination of one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging in size from 525 square feet to 1,350 square feet.
Haeccity’s proposal imagines new urban policies that would provide both more affordable housing and more community-rich neighbourhoods. The housing would be purchased like in a co-op model, where tenants would buy shares in the community. Although this would make buying in more affordable, as well as potentially foster community, intergenerational connection and other benefits that come from long-term residents, many of those at the May 12 meeting were concerned about the lower return on investment such a community would entail, should residents decide to leave. Hanks and Shen were clear that there was a trade-off involved.
“If we’re going to get serious about affordability,” said Hanks, “we have to get serious about separating from the market.”
In his presentation on the CoHo project, Dolgin explained, “CoHo aims to be a portal for information. It is also a ‘matchmaking service’ for homeowners, buyers and sellers to find others with complementary housing needs.”
Dolgin said he plans to collect information that will make it easier to understand people’s needs and to connect like-minded people together. Citing a 2016 Ipsos Reid poll – which found that 11% of respondents would consider buying real estate with a friend or business partner and three percent would consider buying with a stranger – he said openness to co-housing is steadily growing in Vancouver, especially among millennials. What is missing, he said, is an infrastructure to help make it happen.
Brauer then briefly outlined the housing offer she would like to make and led interested guests on a tour. She is offering to sell 60% of her property to someone willing to share it so that she can stay within her community, in the neighbourhood she’s known for almost two decades. She would like to build her own small house in the back of the lot. The only access to her envisioned laneway house would be from the front street. In a kind of microcosm of the needs of the larger co-housing community in Vancouver, Brauer’s plan will be dependent both on finding the right shidduch (match) and on the city being willing to accommodate the project.
“The next step for CoHo BC involves building the community through a series of events, social media and networking,” said Dolgin. “We need to work together to spread the word about this organization and this housing type. People in B.C. are constantly searching for community and affordability, so I truly believe collaboration and some form of communal living or co-ownership is a viable option that would appeal to more than 10% of the population. Our job is to create the community and infrastructure to facilitate and encourage this type of housing.”
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
(image courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign has a brand new look this year, one that will hopefully convey an important message to the community.
“We’d exhausted photographic resources we’ve used in past years and things weren’t looking fresh anymore,” said Alvin Wasserman, a volunteer on Federation’s working cabinet.
Past years have featured photography, but finding those photographs had always presented a challenge. “When you’re talking about housing or food security, people are naturally reticent to be shown,” he explained. “Often we were scrambling for stock photography or images that other federations have used, and that wasn’t as representative of our community as we wanted it to be.”
When the cabinet read the campaign brief that Federation put together this year, the group realized the theme was the existential issues our community is facing. “The brief was about people’s inability to connect with Jewish life because of the high cost of living or because they were moving further outside of the core,” Wasserman told the Independent. “It was about Jewish people having to make serious choices about buying groceries or being involved in Jewish life, so we decided the new look for the campaign should be an illustration, which is an allegory through which you can tell stories.”
This is a pivotal year for the community, added Al Szajman, who has served as marketing chair for the past nine campaigns and helped develop the marketing and communications strategy. “Certainly, the different look helps draw attention to our very focused messaging this year.”
The messaging centres on the importance of maintaining our Jewish community, particularly in the face of the cost of living in Vancouver. “Everybody who resides locally understands that, if you’re living in Vancouver, costs are crazy,” Szajman said. “It’s very hard for many in our community to deal with those costs, plus having the incremental costs of trying to live Jewish and be connected to the community through various services and events. This campaign is about finding ways to help our partner agencies provide services to people locally and make opportunities available at lower rates than otherwise might be available.”
He noted that up to half of the Jewish community of the Lower Mainland now lives outside of Vancouver in cities including Surrey, Delta, Langley, Burnaby, Maple Ridge and Coquitlam. “A lot of these areas don’t have easy access to Jewish services, a Jewish connection. This whole notion of affordability and access is critical,” he noted. “If we’re not a community, what are we? We’re nothing.”
Shelley Rivkin, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver vice-president, said the campaign exists to fund solutions that keep people connected. “If we want to have a strong community, we need to make it easy for people to participate, whether they’re living in places like Abbotsford or Squamish and come to the programs we and our partners now offer there, or whether they’re overwhelmed by the cost of living in Vancouver and need more robust subsidies. At the heart of it, there is a sense that we as Jews need each other and we are meant to be a part of a community. That’s what we needed to convey this year.”
Illustrator Paul Gill created the illustration, a Star of David comprised of a community where a couple of people are falling off the edge of one of the triangles. “It describes the issue in a really interesting manner,” said Wasserman, who worked with a creative team that included Kelsey Dundon, Camilla Coates and Becky Saegert. The video in honour of Federation’s 30th anniversary, which was screened at the campaign launch Sept. 13, was produced by Eli Gorn. For more information, to watch the video or to donate to the campaign, visit jewishvancouver.com.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
We are taught from an early age that giving, repairing the world and being kind are the tenets of living a Jewish life. In our community we don’t have to look very far to find people who fit this description. One of the latest projects that has come to fruition is the Diamond Residences in the Storeys complex in Richmond. Thanks to the generosity of the Diamond Foundation, Tikva Housing Society now owns 18 (chai!) units that are being rented at below-market rates to people in the community for whom stable, safe housing was unpredictable and unaffordable, at best.
Tikva Housing partnered with four nonprofit societies and the City of Richmond to build these and other apartments. Tikva worked hand in hand with community agencies such as the Jewish Family Service Agency to place tenants in need in these units, as well as with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and B.C. Housing. Most of the tenants will have moved into their units by the end of this month.
The Diamond Residences will house six singles and, of those, five are seniors. Also, 12 families and a total of 22 children will be living there. One 83-year-old woman cried when she was told she would be moving into a studio unit, as she has not had a place to live for years and was sleeping on someone’s couch. A single Israeli mother with two children is moving into a three-bedroom unit; her kids have never had their own rooms. Another single mother with three children has been sharing a two-bedroom place and has not had her own room in two years. One family has moved to Greater Vancouver from out of town and can now attend Shabbat services, be close to their family and the Jewish community. There are many more such stories.
– Courtesy of Tikva Housing Society
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Simon Fraser University recognized four distinguished alumni on Sept. 13 at Four Seasons Hotel. Among them was Gary Cristall, co-creator of the Vancouver Folk Festival.
The annual awards, presented by SFU and the Alumni Association, recognize those whose accomplishments and contributions reflect the university’s mandate of engaging the world. An advocate for the arts and human rights, Cristall has been a cultural groundbreaker, having co-founded the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 1978. In an industry plagued with an unscrupulous reputation, Cristall has been instrumental in fighting for the rights of artists to be treated professionally and with respect while also defending their rights to fair performance fees and copyright ownership.
Cristall served as acting head of the music section of the Canada Council for the Arts and was the founding president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the first union at the Canada Council. Today, Cristall continues to serve as a prominent mentor and educator, assisting artists in building their careers and guiding communities in enhancing dynamic cultural interactions that enrich and benefit a healthy, democratic society.
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After a grueling 33 hours of programming, DragonFruit – Benjamin Segall, Jacy Mark, Viniel Kumar and Pritpal Chauhan – completed StoryTree and demonstrated it live to a panel of judges at Hack the North, an international student hackathon held at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, which this year took place Sept. 15-17.
Canada’s biggest hackathon, Hack the North was founded and is organized by Techyon, a student-run nonprofit organization, in partnership with Waterloo Engineering. The event brings together 1,000 students from top universities across 22 countries in the world. Students collaborate and create impactful new hardware projects or mobile and web applications of their own design for a weekend at the University of Waterloo, all expenses paid.
DragonFruit’s StoryTree was one of the 14 projects chosen out of the more than 250 demonstrated at Hack the North. StoryTree is an online workspace for aspiring authors to collaborate on books together. All you have to do is write a paragraph or a chapter, or even just a sentence, and, as more and more people add or branch off from a story, that story you’ve always wanted to write becomes a reality.
DragonFruit will be continuing the project and are looking for alpha testers for January 2018. If anyone is interested in being a part of this project or for more information on it, contact them via facebook.com/dragonfruitcode or dragonfruitcode.com.
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Rehearsals have started for Two Views from the Sylvia, a new musical theatre production by Kol Halev Performance Society. This original production – which will be at Waterfront Theatre Nov. 8-12 – tells the story of the iconic Sylvia Hotel and its historic connection to the local Jewish community and the city of Vancouver.
Two Views from the Sylvia comprises two one-act plays.
The first play, Sylvia’s Hotel, is set in Vancouver in 1912. It brings to life the origin of the Sylvia Hotel, named for Sylvia Goldstein (Ablowitz) and the story of the Goldstein family who built it. Young Sylvia Goldstein and the legendary Joe Fortes, the beloved English Bay lifeguard, develop a bond that helps Sylvia realize her dreams.
In the second play, The Hotel Sylvia, the story continues as we meet the characters whose lives and loves became interwoven with the story of the Sylvia over her 100-year history. It includes vignettes revealed to the production’s researchers by Huguette, the front desk clerk who worked at the Sylvia for 35 years.
Jewish community members play key roles in both plays. In the lead roles are Advah Soudack (as Sylvia) and Adam Abrams (as Abraham Goldstein); Anna-Mae Wiesenthal and Joyce Gordon are cast in important supporting roles. Behind the scenes are Sue Cohene (producer) and Heather Martin (associate producer), as well as Gordon (assistant producer) and Abrams (graphic designer and webmaster) and Gwen Epstein (production team). Marcy Babins and Michael Schwartz collaborate in their roles at the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, which has created an historical photo display to accompany the production.
Two Views from the Sylvia is a project of Kol Halev in partnership with the B.C. Arts Council, Government of British Columbia, City of Vancouver, Granville Island Cultural Society, CMHC Granville Island and the JMABC. For information and tickets ($28), visit sylviamusical.com.
– Courtesy of Kol Halev
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Bema Productions’ Victoria Fringe Festival play Horowitz and Mrs. Washington was a great success. All seven performances at Bema’s Black Box Theatre at Congregation Emanu-El were sold out and the production company’s work was once again as one of the best dramas in the Victoria Fringe.
Mrs. Washington is hired to nurse Sam Horowitz, who’s been mugged and had a stroke. She’s a determined tyrant and he’s a bigoted Jewish widower. The two must find a mutually beneficial relationship when his daughter tries to make him leave his home. The play by Henry Denker reflects the attitudes of the 1970s and illuminates the power to be found in ordinary lives.
“The electric performance of the actors enabled the audience to visit uninhibitedly the issues of racism, stroke recovery and aging in place,” reads the review “Bravo Bema!” on Emanu-El’s website.
“For the most part,” said the review, “the actors were provided with a very humorous script that relied on stereotyping but went beyond it for its punchlines. The audience was asked to stretch their imaginations – who would have considered invoking Michelangelo to explain why the naming of a grandson ‘Douglas’ instead of ‘David’ was inappropriate? There were a few moments when the pace flagged but very few.”
While the play “revealed little about the face of contemporary racism,” the “potential disempowering of aging adults by their loving offspring is an issue of contemporary concern.”
The Bema production was directed by Zelda Dean and Angela Henry and was performed by David Macpherson, Rosemary Jeffery, Christine Upright, Alf Small, Cole Deo and Graham Croft.
– Courtesy of Bema Productions
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Chabad North Shore hosted a challah bake at Mia Claman’s store in West Vancouver on the night of Sept. 6. Miki Mochkin taught a class on baking challah to local women. While the bread was rising, she explained the significance of each ingredient for Jewish women. From the sweetness of the honey to the harshness of the salt, every element serves to remind the baker of its symbolic role in our lives as women and mothers.
– Courtesy of Shula Klinger
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In the photo, left to right, are Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, King David High School head of school Russ Klein, Vancouver Catholic Diocese Archbishop Michael Miller, Vancouver Police Chief Constable Adam Palmer, B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein and MLA Andrew Wilkinson. On Saturday night, Sept. 16, at the synagogue, this panel of speakers took on the topic Our Leaders: Are They Above the Law? Infeld framed the contemporary discussion around a talmudic discussion regarding an important rabbi in a community, rumours surrounding his conduct and whether the rabbi should be excommunicated. The panelists took this starting point to talk about their own professions, present-day accountability standards and various other issues.
Vancouver is in the throes of an affordability crisis. It’s in the news, provincial politicians are talking about it as they campaign for the upcoming election, the city is implementing new taxes, but does anyone have the solution?
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver decided it would seek some answers. On March 29, the first-ever Federation-sponsored Affordability Summit took place at Temple Sholom. Attended by more than 60 individuals, including New Democratic Party members of the legislature Selina Robinson and George Heyman, the goal was to give direction to Federation’s planning around affordability and being Jewish in Vancouver.
The evening, introduced by Temple Sholom Associate Rabbi Carey Brown, raised the pressing issue about why the Jewish community needs to deal with affordability beyond the basic human issues.
“This evening stemmed from the awareness that we all feel affordability impacting the sustainability our community,” she said. The other reality, she said, is that as Jews become more geographically dispersed, they are no longer near Jewish infrastructure like synagogues, day schools and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, so their participation in the community diminishes.
Participation in Jewish programming and activities is expensive in itself. Jewish community professionals are seeing a rise in requests for assistance for schools, summer camps and JCCGV activities. This also raises issues about the long-term sustainability of the community’s institutions if families cannot afford to live near enough to use them.
The event’s keynote speaker, Richard Fruchter, executive director of the Jewish Family Service Agency, addressed affordable housing, food security and a steep rise in demand for food banks, and raised some suggestions for solutions, including universal childcare, affordable transit and some novel taxation changes.
Eric Fefer, chair of the Tikva Housing Society board, said his organization is in the process of expanding the number of subsidized housing units in its portfolio, with 10 new units called Storeys (Diamond Residences) opening this summer in Richmond.
Starting this fall, applications will be accepted for the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences, a project Tikva Housing is undertaking in conjunction with Vancouver Community Land Trust. The development will include 32 townhomes and apartments of two, three and four bedrooms. These homes, in the River District of south Vancouver, are expected to be available for occupancy in summer 2018.
These new homes will provide families with subsidized housing in the vicinity of Jewish amenities, but Fefer acknowledged this increased supply doesn’t begin to touch demand.
Following the event’s main session, breakout groups convened to discuss topics in greater depth. In addition to issues of food security and housing, affordable childcare advocate Gyda Chud presented solutions for universal childcare. A session on Jewish education was led by Daniel Held, executive director of the Julia and Henry Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education in Toronto. He shared insights into the efficiencies Toronto is seeking in their Jewish education system to lower the cost of Jewish day school.
The Jewish education session was an example of using the experience of a community like Toronto’s, with greater breadth and depth of experience than ours, to identify ways to be more inclusive and to reduce costs so more Jewish children can access what Held referred to as “high impact Jewish education experiences.”
The Affordability Summit’s results were recorded by each breakout group moderator and then graphically represented by a talented artist who integrated the ideas for the group to see. Each group produced a few suggestions and this information will be used by the Federation’s planning council to help inform the way forward.
For more information on how to become engaged in activities surrounding affordability in Vancouver, contact Shelley Rivkin, vice-president, planning, allocations and community affairs at Jewish Federation at [email protected] or 604-257-5192.
Michelle Dodekis a freelance writer living in Vancouver and the president of the Hebrew Free Loan Association.
נתן שרנסקי (צילום: Nathan Roi via Wikimedia Commons)
הפדרציה היהודית של אזור ונקובר ממשיכה לקבל תמיכה רחבה לאור החלטתה לקיים את המופע של הזמרת אחינועם ניני, במסגרת חגיגות יום העצמאות. עתה מתברר שראשי הסוכנות היהודית בישראל שלחו אגרות ברכה לפדרציה על שהזמינה את ניני ליום העצמאות. יו”ר הנהלת הסוכנות, נתן שרנסקי, שלח אגרת אישית למנכ”ל הפדרציה, עזרא שנקן. שרנסקי מצדיע לארגון על פעילותו הענפה והישגיו למען הקהילה היהודית של ונקובר וכדי לתמוך בצורה איתנה בישראל. שרנסקי אומר: “באופן טבעי בישראל ובעולם הרחב יש הרבה דעות וויכוחים צורמים על הדרך הנכונה לשלום. אבל בשום מקרה איננו יכולים להרשות לעצמנו שהדעות השונות יחתרו ויפגעו בערכי הליבה שמאחדים אותנו, ברצוננו להגיע עתיד יהודי חזק עם מדינת ישראל יהודית ודמוקרטית במרכז. דווקא בימים קשים אלה כשאויבים מבחוץ שואפים לעשות דלגיטימציה לישראל, חייב להיות מקום למגוון דעות רחב”. לסיום דבריו מוסיף יו”ר הסוכנות: “כמו אחד שלעתים קרובות היה לו העונג להינות מהקול היוצא דופן של נועה בעלת הכישרון המרהיב, אני משבח את הפדרציה של ונקובר ואני יודע שחגיגות יום העצמאות שלכם יהיו נפלאות”. ואילו מנכ”ל הסוכנות, אלן הופמן, מציין באגרת שלו כי הסוכנות תומכת בפדרציה של ונקובר על שהזמינה את נועה להופיע ביום העצמאות. לדבריו: “קנדה וישראל חולקות את אותם ערכים דמוקרטיים המאפשרים מגוון רחב של דעות, כולל גילויים מגוונים של ציונות. דיאלוג כולל על ישראל הוא בליבה של מאמצי הסוכנות היהודית לבנות עתיד יהודי משגשג וישראל חזקה”.
הפדרציה קיבלה כאמור אגרות תמיכה רבות על הזמנתה של ניני להופיע בוונקובר, בין היתר ממנכ”ל הפדרציה של ונקובר לשעבר, מרק גורביס, שמשמש כיום סגן נשיא בכיר של הפדרציות היהודיות בצפון אמריקה, ראשי הפדרציות היהודיות של קנדה ורבנים.
שנקן אומר כי דברים מדהימים קרו בשבוע האחרון, בהם למשל ההכרזה ששגרירות ישראל והקונסוליה הישראלית יתנו חסות רשמית לאירוע יום העצמאות בוונקובר. שנקן: “הייתי בר מזל על כך שנפלה בידי ההזדמנות לדבר עם אנשים רבים אשר חולקים אהבה עמוקה למדינת לישראל, כולל חברים בקהילה שלנו, רבנים שלנו וראשי ארגונים יהודים ברחבי העולם. כל אחד מהם מראה בדרך המגוונות שלו כיצד הם אוהבים את ישראל, וכל אחד מראה באופן מדהים כיצד הם חולק את אותה אהבה לקהילה שלנו. אנו גאים בהם שהם תומכים בקהילה שלנו”.
הפדרציה של מטרו ונקובר גייסה 8.3 מיליון דולר בקמפיין האחרון לשנת 2016. בפועל גיוסו כשלוש מאות אלף דולר יותר לעומת הקמפיין של אשתקד. בפדרציה מסבירים את החשיבות שבגיוס הכספים מהקמפיין: “יש להאכיל את הרעבים, לטפל בזקנים ולטפח את הדור הבא”. בפדרציה מודים לתורמים על המחויביות שלהם לקהילה, לערכים של חסד לתיקון עולם ולצדקה. תוצאות הקמפיין מאפשרות לפדרציה ולארגונים השונים להגיע לרבים יותר בקהילה ולהגיב בצורה יעילה יותר מתמיד לצרכי הקהילה.
יו”ר הפדרציה, סטיבן גרבר, אומר: “העלות הגבוהה של החיים בוונקובר מגבירה את הקשיים של החברים רבים בקהילה להתקשר עם החיים היהודים, משתי סיבות עיקריות. או שהם אינם יכולים להרשות לעצמם לגור קרוב לתוכניות ולשירותים יהודיים, או אינם יכולים להרשות לעצמם להשתתף בהם. גיוס הכספים מתייחס לסוגיות כמו אלה, מאפשר לבנות קשרים בין חברי הקהילה לבין אזורי השותפות שלנו בישראל ומסייע ליהודים במצוקה ברחבי העולם”.
As the Jewish community expands into Coquitlam and other cities in the Lower Mainland, there must be an adjustment in the allocation of community resources. (photo by Greg Salter via Wikimedia Commons)
The face of Vancouver’s Jewish community is changing, with 36% born outside of Canada – the largest percentage in any Jewish population in the country.
In the Grade 1 classroom at Richmond Jewish Day School, half of the class is learning English as a second language, its students hailing from Israel and Argentina and speaking a mixture of Hebrew, Russian and Spanish.
“There’s definitely a growing number of Israeli families in all our Jewish day schools,” said Abba Brodt, principal at RJDS. Among them is the second wave of Russian Jews, comprised of Russian emigrés who made aliyah as children and moved to Vancouver after doing army service in Israel and starting their families. “They maintain strong Russian ties but have an incredibly strong connection to Judaism and Israel,” he said.
The new arrivals place extra demands on Jewish day schools in terms of meeting their children’s language needs, and RJDS has had to shift resources internally so the children of new immigrants can learn successfully in class.
“When people come, what’s our obligation to them?” Brodt pondered. “They want their kids to get a Jewish education as they get established. Many of these parents come without jobs, are not established financially and are trying to adjust, but it takes many, many years. The only menschlik thing to do is to open our doors, figure it out and let them know they’re not a burden at all. I think that’s the right approach for any Jewish organization in town. The faster we help them get on their feet, the better for the community.”
Adjustment is easiest for the youngest children. Brodt recalled a Russian-Israeli family that arrived in June 2014 with a child who couldn’t speak a word of English. “He entered kindergarten and by December that year he was speaking to his parents outside of school hours in English!”
At Vancouver Talmud Torah, head of school Cathy Lowenstein has also witnessed an influx of new immigrants from Israel, as well as from Brazil, Estonia and Hungary. “For students in the younger grades, ESL support isn’t as much of an issue, as they can really immerse themselves in language much faster than students in intermediate grades. But, over the past few years, we’ve increasingly had to allocate budget to students who require ESL support,” she said.
That can be difficult because the ESL needs vary year by year. “Often, these students don’t present until late summer, so we’re left trying to reallocate dollars in August so that we can properly help them transition into the school,” she explained.
Tuition assistance is provided on a case-by-case basis, Lowenstein said. “Even though we may have allocated our cap, we do our very best not to turn away a family wanting a Jewish education,” she said.
The high cost of living in the Lower Mainland is having far-reaching effects on the 26,250 Jews who call this corner of the West Coast home. Approximately 14,000 of them live in Vancouver, close to 6,000 in Richmond and the remainder in outlying cities including Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Maple Ridge and Langley, where Jewish resources are few and far between. That’s because the high price of housing forces many new arrivals into these outlying areas, where accommodation is a little more affordable.
While RJDS has space available for more students, the challenge lies in reaching those Jewish families who live in the suburbs.
“We know there are 700 Jewish school-age kids in the Tri-Cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody and, as much as the schools may want them, how many families are going to have their kids get on a bus for an hour’s commute each way?” Brodt said. “You have to be super-committed to do that when there are good public schools around. If I could create a pipeline to Burnaby, I’d do it, but the possible customer base there is not ready to make that sort of commitment. They’re managing their Jewish lives out there, as is their right.”
At the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, vice-president of community affairs Shelley Rivkin noted that more than 850 children now live in underserved areas beyond the borders of Vancouver and few are receiving any Jewish education. “With community support, Jewish educators can develop innovative programs via which these kids can access that education, sharing fully the richness of our traditions and strengthening their Jewish identities,” she said.
In one such program, Federation collaborated with the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and funded a pilot project to enable Jewish children living in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody to attend Jewish summer day camp. The project made transportation and fee subsidies available to 22 kids.
Federation has established a regional communities task force that began work last month. In the meantime, the organization contributes to a shuttle bus in Richmond that helps seniors attend various community activities, and Burquest seniors can enjoy another day of programming thanks to additional funding provided to Jewish Family Service Agency. For young families, PJ Library is an important outreach program, Rivkin said. “For many young families who are raising children in interfaith households and/or who live in the suburbs, PJ Library is a primary Jewish connection. Recently, 100 people attended a PJ Library Chanukah event in Coquitlam.”
Federation is seriously focused on the future of the Lower Mainland’s Jewish community and anticipating programming to reach its needs over the next 15 years.
“Our population of seniors is expected to double by 2030 and an increased number of them will be 85 or older, so programs and services for this group will need to be expanded,” said Rivkin. “As issues of affordability persist, we expect there to be more Jews moving to more affordable suburbs that have little or no Jewish infrastructure. We expect these regional communities to play a larger role, and Jewish Federation will increase its focus on programs and services to reach them.”
The cost of living in Vancouver will likely continue to impact those who pay a premium to live near Jewish services and institutions, but find that the cost of Jewish life prevents them from participating. “We expect that increased subsidies for program participation will be needed,” she added.
According to the National Housing Survey in 2011, 16% of the Lower Mainland’s Jewish community lives below the living wage of $36,504. Among Jewish immigrants to the Lower Mainland who arrived between 2005 and 2011, that low-income rate is 25%. As one communal effort in dealing with this issue, Tikva Housing Society will expand the affordable housing stock for the Jewish community by 42 additional units in Vancouver and Richmond by 2017.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. A longer version of this article was published in the Canadian Jewish News.