There was no question that Zac Abelson (centre) would attend the Excelerate23 Summit in New York City this past March. (photo from Zac Abelson)
“I believe my Excel journey is only just getting started,” Zac Abelson told the Independent. “The last summer and the Excelerate conference have solidified my belief that there are not only bright young leaders in the world that will one day make an incredible impact, but that the Jewish community will forever be one that is strong, defiant, welcoming and passionate.”
Born in South Africa, Abelson moved to Canada with his family when he was 8 years old. “I have now lived in Vancouver for 15-plus years, being part of the Chabad Jewish community while growing up in South Surrey,” he said. “I learned my bar mitzvah on a tape recorded by my grandfather with the Chabad rabbi and went back to do my bar mitzvah with my grandfather in South Africa.”
Last year, Abelson was one of 60 international students chosen for a Birthright Israel Excel summer internship in Israel. One of the highlights of working with Deloitte, the company with which he interned, was “getting to learn and understand how the Israeli culture conducts business and truly see the impact they have on the world without most people knowing,” said Abelson.
Birthright Israel Excel, which started in 2011, is described as a business fellowship that offers select students an internship in Israel, followed by membership in a “community of peers focused on professional development, personal growth, Israel engagement and philanthropy.”
The most exciting part about being selected for the program, said Abelson, was the people.
“Excel selects not only the best and brightest but also the most genuine and caring individuals,” he said. “Being able to spend 10 weeks in a tight-knit community made every moment a life-changing experience and every memory one I will never forget. Mix those people with all that Israel has to offer and you have a recipe for an incredible summer.”
It was “an adjustment to be surrounded by so many talented people from the best schools in the world,” he acknowledged. “One can see it as daunting, but I chose to see it as an opportunity to learn and mix with the people who will push me to be a better version of myself.”
Abelson has just completed his studies at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, graduating with a bachelor of commerce. “I now work full-time in real estate development,” he said, “helping shape and grow diverse and sustainable communities.”
In March, Abelson was one of more than 300 Birthright Israel Excel fellows from around the world who gathered in New York City for the Excelerate23 Summit.
“Having had such an incredible time with the Birthright Excel community this past summer in Israel, attending the Excelerate Summit in New York City was no question,” he said. “The opportunity to again be surrounded by such incredible Jewish leaders and innovators is rare and one I wanted to take full advantage of.”
Throughout the March 24-26 weekend, attendees participated in networking, industry panels and discussions about topics such as business development, Jewish identity and Israel engagement. The summit also held workshops on combating antisemitism.
Among the events Abelson attended was one entitled Scrappy to Scaled: How Entrepreneurs Turned Startups into Sustained Multi-Figure Operations.
“This was a fantastic session where we truly got to hear the grit required to turn an idea into a reality,” he said. “What I found fascinating was listening to Nathan Resnick – seeing how, rather than conforming to the expectation of what businesspeople and investors would look for, he allows his true light and personality to shine through, ultimately getting investments in the person over the product.
“Additionally, listing to [activist and former NBA player] Enes Kanter Freedom speak about his journey from hatred of the Jewish people to now embracing the community was eye-opening. It was unbelievable to see how his deep passion for acceptance and the international community drives him every day despite all that he has had to sacrifice. It also puts into perspective the sad reality of how stuck in the past the world still is and how unwilling to speak on important issues many sporting organizations still are.”
When asked what three things he would recommend about the Excel program, Abelson said, “One, you don’t know the value of an international network until you truly have one. Excel has allowed me to since travel the world and feel comfortable knowing there will always be an Excel fellow somewhere close by.
“Two, the feeling of connecting with like-minded, passionate and bright Jewish business leaders … will fill you with joy and hope for the future of both Israel and the world.
“Three, the Excel experience is more than just adding the internship to your resumé. It’s an experience of a lifetime that everyone in interviews will be intrigued with and ask you more about. Few in the workplace have such a wonderful story to tell.”
The Jerusalem Business Development Centre (MATI) helps people create or expand businesses in Jerusalem. Two leaders of the Israeli organization visit Vancouver on May 11 as part of a Canadian tour. (photo from CFHU Vancouver)
Every year, the Jerusalem Business Development Centre, known in Hebrew by the acronym MATI, helps thousands of people create or expand businesses in Jerusalem. It does this through a range of services – from personal mentoring to training in various fields to the granting of loans – focusing its efforts on new immigrants, the ultra-Orthodox and residents of East Jerusalem.
On May 11, as part of a Canadian tour, Michal Shaul Vulej, deputy chief executive officer of MATI, and Reham Abu Snineh, MATI’s East Jerusalem manager, will be in Vancouver for “a conversation about shared living in Jerusalem, about mentoring and creating entrepreneurial opportunities for women and promoting diversity as strength.”
Abu Snineh joined MATI in 2011, as a project coordinator for a program to promote women’s entrepreneurship in East Jerusalem. Today, she heads the East Jerusalem branch, leading a team of seven employees.
“The beginning was challenging,” she told the Independent. “The decision to join an Israeli organization was inconceivable. I was afraid of the reactions and criticism of those around me. It also took me awhile to get comfortable with the staff. In addition, I did not speak Hebrew. I grew up in East Jerusalem and studied for my law degree and, later, further degrees in Jordan. All of my studies were in Arabic and I had never considered working with an Israeli organization. I realized that, if I ever wanted to really be able to help my community, I had to find a way to move forward and, over time, things settled down and today I feel completely part of the team.”
For Abu Snineh, it’s the social impact of MATI that most excites her – “The feeling that I am helping people in a difficult socioeconomic situation; helping individuals, families and women to improve their economic situation in general.”
For Shaul Vulej, it’s the “combination of social welfare and the entrepreneurship and business development – the stories of the women who manage to start a business, make a living and be financially independent, and even employ other women.”
MATI measures success by the number of participants, the number of businesses that develop, the number of businesses that expand and the number of new jobs that are created in Jerusalem because of its activities. All MATI’s programs include participant feedback, an annual review and an evaluation process.
Abu Snineh and Shaul Vulej shared one of MATI’s success stories with the Independent, that of Hiba, a fashion design instructor. They said Hiba, 36, grew up in East Jerusalem in a traditional Muslim family and was married at age 16. Despite various factors hindering her progress, she studied fashion design and proceeded to hold several jobs. She wanted to establish a sewing and fashion design school, so she joined some of MATI’s programs: the business establishment and management course, a digital marketing workshop and, recently, a program for import/export from Turkey, which will allow her to import fabrics herself. Together with her artisan husband, she rented an apartment and currently trains several groups, as part of a professional training project for teenagers, and promotes her business.
About 60% of MATI’s clientele are women, who have a range of educational backgrounds. The organization focuses on residents of East Jerusalem who are looking for employment, people who want to start a business, and existing business owners who need assistance to take the next step.
Abu Snineh described some of the challenges people living in East Jerusalem face. Difficulty communicating in Hebrew contributes to a “difficulty in being able to develop entrepreneurship and businesses that can be relevant also in Western Jerusalem, a barrier in the ability to market and sell goods and services to the Hebrew-speaking public, a barrier in dialogue with institutions and authorities in the business framework.”
A lack of trust in the Israeli government system, which does not recognize many of the East Jerusalem businesses as legal entities, has “created a situation where legal business owners in the country received grants, [while] many of the businesses in East Jerusalem (mainly small and medium-sized ones) were left without the financial security granted to others,” said Abu Snineh.
Other factors include the political and security situation, digital barriers that make it difficult to market outside of East Jerusalem or online, insufficient knowledge about business laws, “which blocks the ability to make the business legal and granting rights alongside obligations,” and “a lack of domestic and foreign tourism.”
When asked how Vancouverites could help or participate in MATI, Abu Snineh and Shaul Vulej said, “To help us establish the first hub in East Jerusalem…. A hub would provide the appropriate and technology atmosphere similar to other areas in the world.”
Also needed, they said, is support for “all the ongoing programs that provide for the progress of Arab society in East Jerusalem” and for “a program for the advancement of women in East Jerusalem.”
The May 11 event is presented by the Jerusalem Foundation in partnership with Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, and it is sponsored by the Asper Foundation, as well as the Canadian Memorial United Church. It takes place at the Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace, 1825 West 16th Ave., starting at 7 p.m. To reserve a spot, visit cfhu.org/upcoming-events or call 604-257-5133.
Hüttenbach in Medan in 1880s. (photo from KITLV Album Or. 27.377)
Jewish communities in Indonesia have always been tiny, though their history is long. Jewish merchants are recorded in Sumatra as early as the 10th century, and diasporic and Israeli newspapers regularly report on the very small groups of Jews now living in Indonesia. (A 2022 article estimated that there were only 50 Indonesian Jews, and perhaps 500 Jewish expatriates.) However, the largest communities with the most substantial record are those in the late colonial cities of Batavia (now Jakarta), Surabaya and Manado.
The digitization of Dutch archives, both from European publications and the colonial newspapers, has facilitated research about the history of Jewish groups in the Indonesian archipelago. In this article, we offer some notes towards a history of some Jewish merchants in Medan between the 1870s and 1940s, as tobacco plantations on Sumatra’s east coast developed.
The Deli region on the east coast of Sumatra was not developed until the mid-1860s, when a few Dutchmen accepted an invitation from the sultan of Deli to establish tobacco plantations in the area. By the late 1890s, it had become one of the most profitable parts of the Dutch empire.
Deli tobacco leaves were “thinner than cigarette paper, and softer than silk,” and quickly the plantation zone’s tobacco became highly valued. The result was a brown “gold rush” of Deli tobacco in the late 1870s, attracting German, Swiss, English and Polish planters, as well as Dutch, to the new “dollar land.” Planters, tolerated and sometimes abetted by colonial authorities, instituted a brutal and often murderous system of exploitation of imported Chinese and Javanese labour.
Before long, merchants established themselves to serve the European population’s taste for European goods and technology. Among these new arrivals were several Jews, including Ashkenazi Jews from the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, as well as others who relocated from existing Baghdadi Jewish communities in Penang and Singapore. There are also scattered accounts of Jews in the Dutch army serving in Sumatra.
We know very little about how many Jews tried their luck in the eastern coast of Sumatra, but we have not yet found any evidence of a synagogue (as in Surabaya) or a dedicated cemetery (as in Aceh). The most consistent record of the community available today is not from the colony but rather from Amsterdam’s Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad (New Jewish Weekly). The first mention we have found in that newspaper was a report of an August 1879 anonymous donation of 60 guilders originating in the Sumatra’s east coast and destined for the Dutch branch of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, an international Jewish educational charity.
Between 1899 and 1901 the NIW published letters from N. Hirsch, a non-commissioned officer initially writing from the fortress of Fort de Kock (now Bukit Tinggi). In his letters, when not speculating that some Indonesians might be descendants of the lost tribes, Hirsch is troubled by the challenges of Jewish life in the Indies, without religious or community institutions. Months after his first letter, Hirsch joyfully reported the arrival of a kosher butcher and, in 1901, having since moved to Padang, on holding the first religious services at his home.
However, the bulk of sources concern a few European Jewish merchants who became prominent in Medan. Among the first Europeans to come to Deli were members of the Hüttenbach family, an established and assimilated merchant family from the German Rhineland city of Worms. The eldest son, August Hüttenbach, began working for the German-Jewish company Katz Brothers in Penang in 1872 at the age of 22. Katz Brothers, which had arrived in Penang in 1864 at the height of the tin rush, invested in all kinds of business, including supplying ships for freight. When the Dutch-Aceh war broke out in 1873, the company provided logistics and supplies to the Dutch military, and the Hüttenbach family’s shipping business ran a regular service to the Aceh ports.
While August became a prominent merchant in the British Straits settlement colony port of Penang (now in Malaysia), his younger brothers Jacob and Ludwig Hüttenbach settled across the Strait of Malacca, in Deli. In 1875, they opened the first European store in the harbour settlement of Labuhan Deli to cater to all the needs and requirements of the Dutch government, plantations and industrial groups.
Gradually, the family firm developed into a general merchandise company supplying all sorts of goods from Europe, and even establishing its headquarters in Amsterdam and another office in London. With their own shipping lines at their disposal, they were for a time the only importer in Deli. When the Hüttenbach enterprise moved its Sumatran operations inland to the developing city of Medan in the 1880s, the street on which they established their business was named Hüttenbach Street (today Jalan Ahmad Yani VII).
Hüttenbach enterprises supplied all manner of goods and services, ranging from live water buffalos and Brazil nuts to Bordeaux wines. It furnished machinery, tools, motors, electrical goods, harnesses, saddles, guns, ammunition, watches and clothing, and served as an agent for brands including Ford, Cadbury, Heineken and Guinness Stout, as well as other European trading, insurance and manufacturing companies. In the 1910s, its annual imports totalled 1,200,000 guilders and it supplied across the whole of Sumatra.
At the turn of the 20th century, Jacob and Ludwig retired to Europe and left Heinrich Hüttenbach (1859-1922), the youngest of the brothers, in charge of the company. Heinrich, who had been a well-known planter in Malaya, moved to Medan to run the company. A small glimpse of the brutality of plantation life is visible in the German primer Heinrich wrote to provide instruction for Europeans learning plantation Malay (Anleitung zur Erlernung der Malayischen Sprache), including instructions such as: Lu orang bôhong. Lu bukan sakit. Lu malas sadja. Saja mau kassi pukul sama lu. (You are a liar. You are not sick. You are just lazy. I will hit you.)
Selling to the sultans
Medan’s growth attracted other Jewish merchants, who also opened stores selling European consumer items such as clothes and luxury goods. Two German Jews, Louis Kellermann of Leipzig and Max Goldenberg of Hamburg, opened the S. Katz & Co. shop in the Kesawan shopping street. The Katz Brothers, a prominent firm of Singapore and London, did not appreciate what appeared to be an appropriation of their name, and put a notice in the local newspaper, the Deli Courant, making clear that no connection existed. We cannot know whether Katz’s implication – that Kellermann and Goldenberg were seeking to capitalize on a familiar trading name for their profit – was correct.
Among S. Katz’s employees was Russian-born Alfred Aron Arnold Zeitlin (1863–1938). Partnering with Goldenberg, Zeitlin opened a new store called Goldenberg & Zeitlin in November 1898, on the same main shopping strip, Kesawan Street. Majestic by all accounts, they specialized in the importation on luxury items such as jewelry, music boxes, typewriters, hunting rifles, glassware, curtains, suitcases, cigars and so on.
Other competitors were not far behind. An English-language travel guide to Sumatra in 1912 highlighted one of them: “A visit should also be paid to the establishment of Messrs. Cornfield. The firm are the official suppliers to the various sultans, and make a specialty of superior diamond jewelry of every description, although their stock includes well-selected continental fancy goods, pictures and also the latest modes.”
Wilhelm Cornfield (1862–1908), an Austrian Jew, had come to Deli in the 1880s, first working as a cutter at the S. Katz shop. In 1893, Cornfield started his own business as a tailor, offering European clothing with imported fabrics. Before long, he carried a complete range of clothes and luxury goods from London and Paris.
The first generations of merchants eventually left or passed away and were replaced by their children. When Wilhelm Cornfield passed away in 1908, his children expanded their father’s business. In particular, his son Isidore (1885-1923) became an investor in many luxury stores in North Sumatra, and also owned tea and coconut plantations on the east coast of Sumatra.
Jewish merchants competed to import European consumer goods, their firms merging, dividing and often clashing with one another. In 1915, the Hüttenbachs’ company split into a wholesaler business and the retail business. The retail business was managed by Isidore Cornfield while Heinrich Hüttenbach maintained the import interests. This split, however, caused a legal dispute between Hüttenbach and Cornfield about the management of the new department store. In the end, Cornfield won the case and opened Medan’s Warenhuis(Warehouse) in 1920, the first department store in Sumatra, the remains of which still stand. The Hüttenbach firm, on the other hand, was declared bankrupt in December 1921, after 46 years of business, due to the global financial crisis and mismanagement.
The bankruptcy resulted in Heinrich Hüttenbach’s return to Amsterdam. A few months later, he went missing on a passage from Amsterdam to London, and was declared dead five years later. The Cornfields, too, suffered great misfortune. Isidore and his wife, opera singer Henriette Zerkowitz, returned to Vienna, where he died of heart disease in October 1923 at the age of 38. By 1939, now run by his brother Adolf, the Cornfield fashion store, in financial trouble, was liquidated, closing its doors in July 1939 after more than 50 years of trading. Most likely, as the Depression caused a decline in demand for Sumatra tobacco, consumer luxury goods were no longer a viable business.
Like many other German and Dutch Jews, most of these merchants were assimilated to European society and identified with national groups in the colony. They belonged to Dutch and German clubs and contributed to patriotic celebrations. Indeed, Hirsch complained of the European Jewish merchants that they represented themselves as Christians, were lost in bitter competition with one another, and were utterly lacking in piety. With many secular and/or assimilated Jews, there seems to have been little impetus to form Jewish institutions.
Dutch Jews and war
At the end of the First World War, there was high demand for expatriates to come to the Deli region to manage plantations and serve the colony. Many Dutch Jews responded and went to work for plantations, Dutch companies or the government; there are also a few examples of Jewish doctors. But newspaper archives suggest that numbers remained tiny, and only from the mid-1920s is it possible to speak of community activities.
One tantalizing biography from the 1920s is that of writer, painter and planter László Székely, born to a Jewish family in what is now eastern Hungary, with a birth name given as László or Smiel Ziechrman. Arriving in Sumatra in 1914, his life and work is rather overshadowed by an affair with a Dutch planter’s wife, Madelon Lulofs, that scandalized Deli colonial society. After divorce and remarriage to Székely, Lulofs, in works such as Rubber (1931), became one of the principal literary voices critical of Dutch colonial power. Székely also wrote literary sketches of his own, mostly for the Hungarian press. His novel, translated into English as Tropic Fever: The Adventures of a Planter in Sumatra (1937), provides a candid picture of colonial planters’ life in Sumatra, now considered an important social commentary on that vanished society. The couple settled in Budapest in 1930.
When Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, the Jewish community raised funds to support relief efforts, but, by March 1942, Sumatra, too, had fallen to the Japanese. Some Jewish families found themselves under threat at both ends of the world: persecuted in Europe on the basis of their Jewish identity, and in the Indies as Dutch enemies of the Axis Japanese. Adolf Cornfield died in a Japanese internment camp. A Dutch Jewish physician who worked on the east coast of Sumatra, Dr. Hans Koperberg, was also captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. In a book of poetry titled Bittere pillen en scherpe pijlen (Bitter Pills and Sharp Arrows), he wrote about his experiences of being moved from one camp to another, dedicating his book “to my two sisters murdered by the Huns, Uncle Dr. Felix Catz and Aunt Brama and to all the friends murdered by the Japs.”
Our investigations have so far found little record of Jews in Sumatra after the Second World War. Survivors left for the Netherlands or perhaps Australia and, by 1958, Sukarno had expelled all Dutch citizens from Indonesia.
Budiman Minasnyis a professor of soil landscape modeling at the University of Sydney with an interest in Indonesia colonial history. Josh Stenberg is a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at the University of Sydney. An earlier version of this article was published in Inside Indonesia 146: Oct-Dec 2021.
My Way Bikery owners Moshe and Leah Appel. (photo from My Way Bikery)
Vancouver Island’s only kosher bakery started the new secular year with new owners, Moshe and Leah Appel, and a slightly new name. What was formerly known as the Bikery is now My Way Bikery. The Victoria location, at 8-1701 Douglas, inside the Public Market at the Hudson, remains the same, though the selection has expanded to include more than baked goods.
Certified pareve kosher by Kosher Check and supervised by Rabbi Meir Kaplan from Chabad of Vancouver Island, My Way Bikery encourages customers to “challah” at them anytime. The bakery also delivers to customers and businesses all around Victoria, and people throughout Greater Victoria can place orders using SkipTheDishes, DoorDash and Uber Eats. Beyond Victoria, the bakery delivers as far up Island as Parksville and Qualicum Beach every Friday, with a minimum order of $25 placed by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
“I’m the baker,” Leah Appel told the Independent.
“I’m everything else,” followed Moshe Appel.
Originally from Montreal, the couple have known each other since they were 7 years old, but only got together after being in and out of each other’s lives for decades.
“My background is essentially in call centre work – inbound sales, inbound customer service and inbound security, things like that. But I’m extremely active in the Jewish community here in B.C., especially since first moving to Nanaimo,” said Moshe Appel.
“The idea for the business really didn’t come to fruition until I reunited with my childhood friend (and now wife), who is a classically trained baker and someone who has been in market research and management. Coming from Montreal as we both have, we were shocked at the lack of good Jewish food in B.C., and on the Island in particular.”
The Appels, who have always enjoyed cooking traditional Jewish recipes for their friends and family, started selling their goods at local markets a couple of years ago. The realization soon struck that they would need a larger space for their production. Serendipitously, they came across an opportunity last year when their friend Markus Spodzieja, founder of the Bikery, announced his intention to sell the business. The Appels purchased it, merging their original bakery name (My Way Bakery) with the Bikery to, as they say, “keep the nostalgia of Markus’s brand alive while adding our own recipes to the mix.”
According to the Appels, Spodzieja will be moving home to Nova Scotia to care for his grandmother.
The business obtained its first name, the Bikery, in 2017, when Spodzieja sold baked goods out of a 250-pound mobile vending bicycle as part of a pilot project for the City of Victoria’s Mobile Bike Vending Permit. It moved to its present location in 2021.
“I met Markus when he first opened the Bikery and I was one of his first customers, but it was purely luck that I asked his advice for starting a business in Nanaimo and he handed us the business in Victoria. Unwilling to miss this G-d-given opportunity, we jumped on the chance,” Moshe Appel recalled.
“We are keeping much of the same menu as Markus did, but expanding it to include soups, salads, more breads and Jewish dishes and, in a few months, plan to expand it to include cholov Yisroel dairy products as well.”
The menu lists dozens of items. There are savoury pastries and shakshuka, halva and combos (including pita and Leah Appel’s hummus). Some of the popular items are the My Way Sandwich, potato salad, kimmel rye, peanut butter cookies and Israeli salad. A current hit is Those Darn Cookies, a sweet made with chocolate chips and almonds.
Among the new touches are jelly chal-nuts, Leah Appel’s take on a jelly donut; challah dough stuffed with sweet jelly and topped with raw cane sugar; and Oyvegg, a roll with Daiya “cheese,” an egg, garlic aioli, lettuce and tomato.
The Appels are even offering goodies for canines – Dunstan Donuts. “Named after Dunstan, who was a very good boy,” the menu reads, “these certified-kosher pareve dog treats are made with oats and bananas and taste amazing! Dunstan’s Donuts are delicious enough for you, but made just for your four-legged friend!”
Favourites from the Bikery, including numerous varieties of pretzels and bagels, lemon-poppyseed muffins and challah in all shapes, sizes and flavours, are still available.
The Appels say they are in preliminary talks to open a storefront location in Nanaimo.
My Way Bikery is located toward the back of Victoria’s Public Market, which is situated close to City Hall and Centennial Square – a few blocks away from the Empress Hotel and Parliament – in a building that operated for several decades as a Hudson Bay department store. It is open Monday to Thursday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday hours will be extended in the spring, as the days grow longer.
Toward the end of last year, Israel signed an historic agreement with Lebanon, enabling both countries to enjoy an abundance of natural gas located deep below their respective territorial waters.
Now, Israel can continue exploring its northern Karish gas field without the risk of Hezbollah missiles overhead. And Israel will receive indirect royalties from Lebanon’s Kana field – with no peace treaty (yet), royalties will be paid via a third country. Add that to potential revenues from Israel’s other natural gas finds in the Mediterranean, and there’s the opportunity of Israel replacing Russia as Europe’s main natural gas provider. Israel will become more than just the land of milk and honey.
Optimistic forecasts of a natural gas Sovereign Wealth Fund are for billions of shekels in tax revenue. Trusting that the new ruling gas triumvirate – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Energy Minister Israel Katz – will optimize our natural gas and its wealth fund, then Israel becomes the land of milk, honey, natural gas and an overflowing wealth fund.
Hopefully, Lebanon’s natural gas opportunity will help their economy. Then it, too, will be a country overflowing in natural gas and with its own wealth fund.
Israel’s 2022 inflation rate was 5.3%, its highest since 2008. Within the OECD, Israel had the third lowest rate, behind Japan’s 3.0% and Switzerland’s 3.3%. How’s that for our little shtetl! Can’t even compare these rates with the much poorer performing OECD countries such as Estonia at 23.6%, Lithuania at 24.1% and Turkey at 83.5% (yikes!).
Israel’s rate was even lower than the 6.3% of Canada, whose neighbour to the south experienced a similar level. As for Israel’s neighbours, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were at 4.4% and 3.3% respectively … pretty good. Egypt suffered a 24.4% inflation rate, Syria a rate of 105% and Lebanon 189.4%, one of the highest in the world! Israel, the land of milk, honey and competitive inflation rates.
Then there’s the judicial reforms bonanza. Israel’s new justice minister, Yariv Levin, is looking to overhaul the system by granting the government – through a simple majority vote – the right to overturn High Court decisions and by giving politicians more power in appointing Supreme Court judges. Detractors are concerned this gives the government way too much say over legal matters and threatens our democracy. Supporters – largely those who voted for the new government – believe these changes will strengthen the legislature’s ability to enact the will of the electorate. Theirs, anyway.
Karnit Flug and Stanley Fischer, former Bank of Israel governors, are firmly in the former camp. They’re concerned these reforms will harshly undermine the High Court’s authority and concentrate too much power with the government, hurting Israel’s sovereign credit rating, destabilizing the economy and reducing the standard of living.
Netanyahu – the free market czar who revolutionized Israel’s economy as finance minister and who extracted natural gas from our sea as prime minister – believes his judicial reforms will rejuvenate the economy by reducing excess regulation and judicialization.
Adding to the festivities. Israel’s anti-reform (and largely anti-government) movement had its third weekly 100,000-person protest in Tel Aviv last month. A sea of people storming the city square, waving flags of blue and white, singing folk songs and Hatikvah and shouting slogans of support for the high judges. Israel, the land of milk, honey and a real judicial balagan.
It’s here! 7-Eleven opened its first store in Israel. In downtown Tel Aviv (of course), with plans to roll out hundreds of branches throughout our little shtetl over the coming years. Hello, Slurpees! Those multi-coloured slushies were a staple of my Canadian childhood. Although now I am more a fan of the fresh Dole bananas sold at the stores in the United States and Japan, which I’d buy as a healthy snack while on overseas business trips. Looking inward, does this mean the demise of Israel’s famous mom-and-pop stores, found in neighbourhoods across the country, the Bella’s and Yankela’s, which add to Israel’s heimishe-like atmosphere? That would be a pity! Israel becoming the land of milk, honey, Slurpees … and Dole bananas.
On a much lighter note, what about Israel’s maple syrup revolution? It was once only available from specialty food stores, and at an exorbitant price. But what’s a poor Canadian immigrant to do? I paid the ransom and our family enjoyed Shabbat morning French toast, pancakes and waffles. Whenever visiting Canada, I stocked up with the stuff, packing carefully bubble-wrapped bottles of both real and imitation maple syrup into my suitcase.
But, thanks to free trade. Real maple syrup – the organic kind from Canada – became super cheap in Israel, even less expensive than in Canada! And it’s available everywhere, even at Bella’s and Yankela’s. Now when I return to Canada, I take back Canadian maple syrup as gifts. Dare I say it … Israel, the land of milk, honey and Canadian Maple Syrup, eh.
Bruce Brownis a Canadian and an Israeli. He made aliyah … a long time ago. He works in Israel’s high-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Brown is the winner of the 2019 AJPA Rockower Award for excellence in writing, and wrote the 1998 satire An Israeli is…. Brown reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal.
Omnitsky Kosher on Oak Street, just south of 41st Avenue. (internet photo)
There was a time – at least within the lifetime of older readers – when there seemed to be a kosher butcher on every corner of Winnipeg’s old North End. An exaggeration, maybe, but, in the 1930s, there were enough kosher butchers in Winnipeg to form their own shul. The last kosher butcher in Winnipeg – that would be Omnitsky’s – closed in 2008 and, at about the same time, fresh kosher slaughter also came to an end in the region.
Now, Omnitsky Kosher in Vancouver – the offspring of Omnitsky’s in Winnipeg, and the last kosher butcher in Western Canada – is also facing the prospect that the end is near.
“I love my business and the people I am able to interact with,” said Eppy Rappaport, the long-time owner of Omnitsky, “but I am getting tired. I am 65. I would never want to feel that my business is becoming an anchor pulling me down.”
The son of the late Elaine and Rabbi Shalom Rappaport (who is remembered fondly by two or more generations of Rosh Pina Synagogue families) was in Winnipeg the weekend before last for a family simchah and sat down with this reporter to reminisce about growing up in Winnipeg and his career as a kosher butcher, both in Winnipeg and Vancouver.
The Rappaport family arrived in Winnipeg in January of 1967, when Rabbi Shalom Rappaport began his 20-year tenure at Rosh Pina Synagogue.
“I was 10 years old,” Eppy remembered. “We were coming from San Diego. Morley and Shiffie Fenson met us at the airport with parkas, gloves and toques.
“I had been promised that I would have a lot of fun playing in the snow. I was really eager to build my first snowman – but quickly learned that snow in Winnipeg in January was not the right kind of snow for a snowman.”
The third of four siblings, Eppy, on arrival, was enrolled in Grade 4 at the Talmud Torah on Matheson and continued on to Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate at the same location to graduation in 1975.
Eppy has particularly warm memories growing up with members of the Benarroch family. “My brother, Danny, and I were close to all four of the Benarroch brothers – Yamin, Joseph (Yossi), Michael and Albert. They all felt like brothers to us,” he recalled.
“We grew up with the Benarroch kids,” Eppy said of him and his brothers and sister. “Our two families spent a lot of time together because of our shared religious observance. Every Sunday in the spring and summer, the Benarroch clan would spend the day at Birds Hill Provincial Park and we would always be included.
“Generally,” he continued, “I found the Jewish community in Winnipeg to be warm and loving. Even after having been away for 22 years, the social connections I made here remain strong.”
Eppy was studying sociology at university – working on his master’s at the time – when Bill Omnitsky approached Rabbi Rappaport about wanting to sell his kosher butcher shop. “Dad asked me if I would be interested in going into the business,” Eppy recounted. “I was planning on taking a year off from university in any case and decided to give it a try. I never looked back.”
Eppy joined Bill Omnitsky in business in 1973 and bought the store outright in 1983.
“Bill Goldberg was my first customer,” Eppy recalled. “I still have that first dollar from him.”
While the young kosher butcher may have loved Winnipeg, one feature he didn’t like was winter. Thus, in 1995, he turned Omnitsky’s in Winnipeg over to his older brother, Alan, who had previously joined him in business, and moved to Vancouver, where he opened Omnitsky Kosher, the only kosher butcher shop in the city. (Alan Rappaport subsequently ran into health problems and sold the store in 2002.)
“I was ready for my next challenge,” Eppy said of his decision to open a second Omnitsky in Vancouver. “People in Vancouver were welcoming. Many told me how much they appreciated having access to fresh kosher meat.”
While British Columbia’s Jewish population is around 30,000, the religious community, naturally, is much smaller. “Nonetheless,” he said, “people like quality products. Many of my customers aren’t Jewish. There are a lot of Muslims, for example, who shop at our store.”
In 2015, Eppy relocated, moving Omnitsky Kosher to a larger location in what used to be Kaplan’s Deli, which had closed after 55 years in business. In his new premises, Eppy also opened a deli.
While the government-imposed COVID restrictions of the past two years have been challenging for many small businesses, that has not played a role in Eppy’s desire to sell. “Our business actually thrived over the last two years,” he said.
Eppy doesn’t have a timeline yet. He said he doesn’t want to leave his customers in the lurch (that includes some members of the Winnipeg community who have organized to occasionally bring in by truck large orders from the Vancouver butcher shop). However, if he can’t find a buyer, at some point, he will have no choice but to liquidate the business.
While Eppy is contemplating divesting himself from his own business, he is not yet ready to retire completely. “I would like to keep working in the food business in some capacity,” he said. “I may be able to help other businesses from an operational perspective. That I consider my specialty.”
Incidentally, Eppy and his wife Ellen (the daughter of the late Albert and Sheila Lowe) have two daughters, Aviva and Lauren, who are both pursuing careers in the food sector. Aviva, the proud father reported, is working on a second master’s degree at McGill University in the field of dietetics, while Lauren works as a senior scientist for Starbucks in Seattle.
Myron Love is a freelance writer. This article was originally published in Winnipeg’s Jewish Post & News, jewishpostandnews.ca.
Siblings Becky, left, and Margaux Wosk (photo from We Belong!)
The first-ever We Belong! Festival will take place Aug. 27 in Downtown Vancouver. Organized by siblings Margaux and Becky Wosk, We Belong! is a “one-of-a-kind creative arts market with a focus on giving disabled artists the opportunity to showcase and sell their art.”
Margaux Wosk is a self-taught artist, an activist and a disability rights advocate, fighting for disabled small business owners to get resources. Becky Wosk is an artist, designer, writer and musician; she and Emmalee Watts form the duo Hollow Twin.
Margaux Wosk started their business, Retrophiliac (shopretrophiliac.com), more than 10 years ago. Its focus is on visual art.
“Being an openly autistic person,” said Wosk, “I found that there was a void in the marketplace for the type of items I wanted to see and purchase.
“My business has really ramped up in the last five years,” they continued, “and I focus on autistic, neurodiversity and disability pride items, such as enamel pins, patches and stickers. I design retro-inspired pins, stickers and patches as well. I also have other items I offer and I have over 26 retailers between Canada and the United States.”
Wosk also uses their business “as a way to talk to the government about disabled small business owners” and they have gone to the provincial budget meeting two years in a row “to rally for funding and resources for other people like myself.”
They explained, “Currently, as it stands, we have no resources, and any of the funding that goes to ‘inclusive employment’ only goes to employers that hire disabled people, not disabled people who own their own business.”
Part of the mission of the We Belong! Festival is to raise awareness.
“I have been part of other markets and I do enjoy it, but none of them meet all of my needs,” said Wosk. “I find that sometimes there are financial barriers, sometimes the events are just too long and I find that it can take a toll on my mind and body. I wanted to create something with little barriers for other disabled artists and we were lucky enough to be the recipients of the Downtown Vancouver BIA’s [Public Space] Vibrancy Grant. This way, we won’t have to charge our vendors any costs and we can provide them tables, canopies and chairs. I want people to see what we’re all capable of.”
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association helped secure the market’s space at 855 West Hastings St. (Lot 19), and it is being provided free of charge. The location, which is between Burrard and Howe streets, is close to Waterfront Station and other public transit points.
“Once the location and date were confirmed,” said Becky Wosk, “we were able to figure out how many vendors we can accommodate and, from there, we put out a call to artists/makers. We have a specific budget to work with, so we have been able to gather quotes for the supplies we will need to make this event successful.
“When working on an event,” she said, “it’s important to work backwards from the date that you have secured and determine what needs to be ordered/booked in advance of that date – for example, canopies need to be booked 30 days out etc. [There are] lots of small details to be mindful of!”
In addition to the vendors who will be selling their creations, the market will include four nonprofits: Artists Helping Artists, Curiko, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Art Hive, which is run by Leamore Cohen, and the BC People First Society, on whose board Margaux Wosk sits, as regional director, Lower Mainland West.
While the deadline to apply as an exhibitor has passed, the Wosks are still looking for volunteers to help with set up and tear down. Anyone interested should email [email protected].
A Caplansky’s Deli fan takes a selfie with the restaurant’s founder, Zane Caplansky. (photo from Zane Caplansky)
As Zane Caplansky describes it, his journey in the world of deli, which ultimately led him from Toronto to Tofino, began on a hot summer night in 2007.
Sitting in a bar on Toronto’s Dupont Street, Caplansky was “hangry” (hungry and angry). He thought to himself, “Why can’t you get a decent smoked meat sandwich in this city? I am going to have to do it myself.” Toronto offered nothing that, to his tastes, compared to Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal.
As a child, whenever grownups would ask what he wanted to do when he was older, he said he wanted to own a restaurant. As an adult, he had worked in restaurants in every capacity, from dishwasher to manager, but not as an owner.
“That night, in a fit of hanger, I had a deli epiphany. Deli is so me. Deli has shtick, deli has chutzpah, deli has flavour. I am not a fine dining or fast food person. I am a deli guy,” he told the Independent. “That night, I resolved that this is what I was going to do.”
He opened Caplansky’s in 2008 in a dive bar in the Little Italy neighbourhood – it began as what many regard as Toronto’s first “pop-up restaurant.”
Shortly thereafter, David Sax, author of the book Save the Deli, wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail about the return of Jewish food to downtown Toronto.
“Every Jew in the city saw that headline and we got slaughtered. Everyone showed up and wanted a sandwich,” said Caplansky.
Following that success, he started what was to be his flagship location, not far from Kensington Market. There is also a Caplansky’s Deli at Toronto’s Pearson Airport in Terminal 3.
After a few years, the stresses of running the downtown business and continued complications with his landlord led him to consider a change.
In December 2017, he had a conversation with his wife, who hails from Tofino. “We were in the guest room of my in-laws when we decided to close the downtown Toronto restaurant and move here,” he said. “Now we are living our dream. The restaurant at the airport has afforded us the financial freedom to do what we have done.”
From 2011 to 2016, Caplansky had a line of mustards. From its earliest days, the restaurant used the mustard on all the food items it sold, and people would send him emails, asking how they could get some for home.
When considering what to do after settling in Tofino in early 2019, Caplansky returned to the idea of mustard. Later in 2019, when he was asked by the Toronto Blue Jays to open a kiosk at Rogers Centre, he saw it as an opportunity to relaunch the product.
“The aura of Major League Baseball is a very special thing. And the mustards were a hit,” he said. “As a Blue Jays fan, it was such a big deal to see fans eating my food in the stands.”
When the pandemic struck in March 2020, Caplansky was prepared. People started ordering products online and, as Caplansky recounts, business boomed. Retailers and distributors, too, were receptive to working with him and his products are now sold in nearly 500 retailers across Canada and the United States. His biggest problem, he said, is keeping up with demand.
“It’s going at a pace I never would have imagined,” he said.
Presently, Caplansky is focusing on four key mustards: ballpark, old fashioned, horseradish and spicy.
“To me, deli is the food you celebrate with. Our mustard connects with people to a degree that I never truly appreciated or anticipated. The secret ingredient of our product is resilience. I think people really identify and connect with it,” he explained.
Caplansky takes pride in creating what he calls a “unique quirk” around his deli. Oftentimes, people would come into the restaurant and tell him that, despite its mere 15-year history, they remember coming into Caplansky’s with their parents and grandparents. Despite this chronological impossibility, he would never correct them.
“It was amazing to us that people thought that it had been around forever. The idea of a deli holds a place in people’s minds,” he mused. “It’s truly a blessing.”
The entrepreneur has appeared on CBC’s Dragons’ Den several times and been a regular on Food Network Canada.
Joseph and Rosalie Segal (seated) and family at the 2016 Summer Garden Party fundraiser for Vancouver Hebrew Academy. (photo by Jocelyne Hallé)
Joseph Segal, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who was recognized by the governments of British Columbia and Canada with the highest civilian honours, a Second World War veteran who helped liberate the Netherlands, a businessman who founded and led iconic companies and a community-builder whose imprint on the Jewish and general communities in Vancouver is indelible, passed away May 31. He was 97 years old and was actively engaged in philanthropy to his final hours.
Segal was born in 1925, in Vegreville, Alta. After the death of his father, when Joe was 14, the family experienced financial hardship and young Joe Segal experienced hard labour while building the Alaska Highway. He fought in the infantry in the Second World War where, with his compatriots in the Calgary Highlanders, he participated in the liberation of the Netherlands.
After the war, he arrived in Vancouver and, with $1,500 in savings, started selling war surplus goods, then founded Fields department stores. Eventually, his business took over the Zellers store chain – which Segal described as “a case of the mouse swallowing the elephant” – and, later, obtained a large share of the venerable Hudson’s Bay Company before he launched Kingswood Capital Corp., which has interests in real estate, manufacturing and finance.
In recent years, while lauded for his business acumen, Segal was most prominent as one of Canada’s leading philanthropists. For his work in both fields, he was a recipient of both an Order of Canada and an Order of British Columbia.
In addition to leaving his mark on a vast number of institutions and causes in the Jewish community, he was a strong supporter of charities such as Variety Club, the United Way, Vancouver General Hospital and B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Among his community roles was serving on the board, and as chancellor, of Simon Fraser University. Perhaps his most visible contribution in Vancouver was his donation to SFU of the historic Bank of Montreal building at 750 Hastings St., creating a home for the Segal Graduate School of Business.
In 2010, Joseph and his wife Rosalie donated $12 million to the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundations to create the Joseph and Rosalie Segal and Family Centre, a 100-private-room acute care centre serving the mental health needs of people in crisis.
Joseph and Rosalie Segal modeled philanthropy for the successive generation of their family, including children Sandra, Tracey, Gary and Lorne, their spouses and, now, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
At Joe Segal’s funeral on June 1, Gary Segal reflected on his parents’ 74 years of marriage, calling it “a love story for the ages.”
“My father worshipped my mother, he relied on her support and wisdom and insights,” he said. “They were true partners in everything they did and accomplished in life.”
Gary Segal called his father “a natural-born philosopher, a generous man, caring. He would never forget anything or anybody. He was passionate about life. He had many dreams – his own and those that inspired others. He had the ability to talk to people and make everybody, no matter what stage in life, feel important, like they mattered, that somebody cared about them.”
Although he knew the impact that his father had had on the world and the people in it, “to see these genuine expressions of sorrow and appreciation for the person my father was has been truly extraordinary for me and for my family.”
He shared three core tenets of his father’s philosophy:
• Don’t worry about what you can’t control, worry about what you can.
• You need to commit to life and you need to commit to happiness.
• Money is only worth something if you do something good with it.
Gary Segal quoted actor John Barrymore, who said, “You’re never old until regrets take the place of dreams.” In that respect, said Segal, although his dad lived to 97, “My father was not old. He never aged. Right up to the last minute, he was young. He was always young at heart, in spirit, and right up to the end, he had his dreams.”
Longtime friend and book collaborator Peter Legge reflected on a half-century of friendship after the pair met when Legge was an adman at radio station CJOR.
“Joe was a man who shared all he could with those who needed help,” said Legge. “Never to lift himself up, but to lift up those who needed help.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Wineberg noted that some people are saying the passing of Joe Segal is the end of an era.
“I beg to differ,” said the city’s longest-serving rabbi and Chabad emissary. “Joe didn’t live his life for himself or for himself and Rose. He lived his life for his children, for his grandchildren, for his great-grandchildren. They were there to observe everything he did and be inspired by it…. This family will continue his legacy. It’s not the end of an era, it’s a milestone. It’s a date that we all know we are going to have to face one day and, especially at such a funeral, we think about our own mortality. But it’s not just what you’ve accomplished in your lifetime. It’s what’s going to be accomplished after you leave this world. For that reason, I feel it’s not the end of an era. It’s just a continuation, and God should help that we should celebrate many happy occasions together in the future and we should be there for one another just as Joe was there for everybody else.”
Rob Schonfeld, a grandson, said that it may sound strange to be shocked that a 97-year-old man has passed away.
“But Grandpa Joe was so larger-than-life and still 100% on his game,” he said. “None of us really internalized that this day was going to come.”
Of Segal’s 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, Schonfeld said: “We all had really unique and different relationships with him. None of them was the same and it’s because he always treated us as individuals. He respected us as grown-ups – even when we were little kids. I think that allowed each of us to bond with him in really different ways.”
Schonfeld shared one of his favourite “Joe-isms” – “You can’t ride two horses with one ass” – and said Segal’s secret weapon was “reading everything in sight.”
Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt of Congregation Schara Tzedeck compared Segal with the biblical Joseph. The moment before the Exodus, the rabbi observed, Moses was looking for the bones of Joseph to carry with the Israelites to the Promised Land.
“He’s fulfilling a promise, granted, but it’s more than that,” said Rosenblatt. “Moses needs a symbol of what it means to succeed materially in this world and to succeed with others. Joseph is that symbol. He is a symbol of somebody who can have material success and can have spiritual success as well. There are two chests that walk with the Jews through the desert. One holds the tablets that Moses brings down from Sinai and the other one carries Joseph. Our Joseph is a little like that, too. He is a lesson, a paragon, a role model, an icon. Just like the biblical Joseph, his personality, his legend, survives even him. Joe Segal will continue to be that for so many in our community.”
The rabbi remarked that he was professionally forbidden from sharing the many stories of individuals who Joseph Segal helped when called on to assist an individual or family in crisis.
Rosenblatt added that Segal specifically asked for donations in his memory to be given to Yaffa House and to the Jewish Food Bank.
The Independent spoke with some of the people who worked with and knew Segal in different capacities.
David Levi served with Segal on the board of the Phyliss and Irving Snider Foundation and is on the board of governors for Camp Miriam, one of the causes Segal championed.
“Over the years, he’s given [Camp] Miriam quite a large amount of money and he was always very supportive of giving money to the camp and the kids. It was a central focus of his,” Levi said, noting that Camp Hatikvah was another cause Segal admired.
“Joe’s view, I think, on camp in general is that it built a connection to Judaism for kids at a young age and he saw camps making that connection to the Jewish community and to Israel. Those were important things for him,” Levi said.
“The thing about Joe was his complete commitment to the community – to the Jewish community and to the larger community.” But Levi stressed that large gifts to major organizations were not the only way the legendary philanthropist operated. Echoing Rabbi Rosenblatt, Levi referred to “Joe’s secret life.”
“He would get calls not only from individuals but from rabbis and other leaders in the community on a very personal level for people who needed a hand up or needed some financial means for a brief period of time,” Levi said. “It was smaller amounts of money, but, in his mind, as important as the organizations that he worked with. People would call and say we have this family and they are really having a tough time and they need an injection of $1,000 or $500 and Joe would quietly do that. He never really talked about it. He certainly never talked about the individuals he supported. But he was always available for those kinds of emergency calls.
“He believed in hard work but he also believed that people who had difficulty in achieving the kinds of things that he would hope everybody would be able to achieve, people who are challenged by mental or physical disabilities, he would help in any way he could,” Levi said.
Bernie Simpson, who is also on the board of Camp Miriam, echoed Levi’s reflections of Segal’s support for Jewish camping.
“For over 50 years, Joe was a strong supporter of Camp Miriam,” said Simpson. “He joined the late [B.C. Supreme Court] Justice Angelo Branca, who was the chair of the finance committee of Miriam in rebuilding the camp in 1970. Fifteen years ago, Joe was responsible for the building of the camp infirmary through the Snider Foundation, honouring Joe and Rosalie Segal’s close friends Mike and Rita Wolochow.… Joe’s support of the camp policy that every child should have a Jewish camping experience, regardless of their financial means, goes back to when he was a youth himself from very humble beginnings. Several years ago, he praised the camp and its leadership for their devotion to the youth whose attendance at camp was possible through the campership fund. He will be sorely missed.”
Simpson said Segal was in frequent contact with his wife, Lee Simpson, when she was president of the board of the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation, to catch up on developments at the Jewish home and hospital.
“I understand, from other organizations, he would constantly keep in touch with what was going on in the community,” said Simpson. “He looked at the big picture.”
In a message to the Independent, Vancouver Hebrew Academy (VHA) said, “Mr. Segal took his responsibility to the Jewish community very seriously and he showed it in many ways. Of course, he was a strong financial supporter of Vancouver Hebrew Academy, as he was for many of our institutions, but his advocacy went further than that. He believed strongly in Torah education and what it means to the future of the Jewish people. In the summer of 2016, Joe and Rosalie were the honourees at VHA’s Summer Garden Party. There, Joe spoke passionately and emotionally of the importance of our mission.”
Rabbi Don Pacht, VHA’s former head of school, remembers fondly the conversations with Joe Segal about the school, the community and his admiration for those who chose to dedicate themselves to building community.
“I often came away from our visits encouraged in the work we were doing,” said Pacht. “Mr. Segal always had words of wisdom to offer … and sometimes a bottle of scotch too!”
Michael Sachs, executive director of Jewish National Fund of Canada, Vancouver branch, reflected on a long relationship.
“He was a titan in the business world and a leading philanthropist to all communities, but most of all he was a family man through and through,” said Sachs. “I have many fond personal memories with Joe from my childhood up until a few weeks ago. He touched everyone in our community and I count myself amongst one of those touched.”
Segal’s legacy was celebrated and remembered outside of the Jewish community, including by many organizations that Segal, wife Rosalie and the family had collectively supported.
“Joe was an enthusiastic champion of the university,” Simon Fraser University said in marking Segal’s passing. “His advice, energy and wisdom supported eight presidents and his business savvy and connections helped SFU to thrive. His commitment to community-building and philanthropy was recognized in 1988 with a doctor of law, honoris causa, from SFU and in 1992 with the President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award, honouring his innovation, optimism and strong sense of public service to SFU’s community.”
The VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation issued a statement honouring Segal.
“A pledge of $12 million in 2011 to initiate planning of a new purpose-built mental health facility was the largest individual donation to this cause in B.C. at the time. This commitment initiated a $28 million fundraising campaign and the construction of an $85 million purpose-built mental health facility which stands as his legacy: the Joseph & Rosalie Segal & Family Health Centre.”
It continued: “Joe never retired, and his mind and memory were sharper at 97 than many people years his junior. Until very recently, he remained active in business, working from home as was required throughout the pandemic. Similarly, he continued to support the causes he cared about, offering sage advice, wisdom and guidance. He continued to support VGH and UBC Hospital’s most innovative clinician-researchers and surgeons, kicking off a campaign in support of the Vancouver Stroke Program and seed-funding research for innovative medical talents, as well serving as the honourary chair of the Brain Breakthroughs Campaign.”
Coast Mental Health declared Segal “B.C.’s most significant supporter of mental health services.” His devotion to the cause began in 1999, when he first attended the Courage to Come Back Awards, where he heard people share personal stories of living with mental health and emotional challenges. His devotion to the cause was born out of a belief that no one is immune from the detrimental effects that mental illness can have if not properly treated.
Lorne Segal has chaired the Courage to Come Back Awards for the past 17 years, and the family as a whole has championed the cause.
Shirley Broadfoot, the founding chair of Courage to Come Back, recalled meeting Joe Segal for the first time.
“He was inspired by the power of the evening but said, ‘You really don’t know how to fundraise.’ It was true. We didn’t. So his son, Lorne, took on the role of chair for Courage and all that changed. Through Lorne’s leadership, Courage has risen to be the largest event in Vancouver. We could never have imagined that the awards would flourish and go on to give hope to people for 24 years, including through a global pandemic, while raising over $22 million and honouring 139 heroic British Columbians,” she said.
Coast Mental Health chief executive officer Darrell Burnham added: “Joe Segal was an incredible leader who gave so much to the community of Vancouver. I met Joe in the ’90s, and I was so pleased when he chose mental health as one of his philanthropic causes. Joe knew everyone in the city. He also had the charisma to engage other philanthropists in social causes that needed visibility and support. When Coast Mental Health Foundation and the Courage to Come Back Awards took shape, it was Joe Segal and his family who stepped up to provide financial assistance to support Coast Mental Health.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, said Segal “was not only a titan in the business and philanthropic worlds, but a genuinely caring and compassionate person – a true mensch. He is among a generation of leaders who helped shape our Jewish community.… Joe was a steadfast supporter of countless worthy causes both within and beyond our Jewish community, including the work of our Federation and our partners. We are deeply grateful to him for his incredible generosity over the decades.”
Martin Thibodeau, RBC’s B.C. region president, will be honoured at the Ben-Gurion University Gala Dinner June 14. (photo from RBC)
On June 9, Ben-Gurion University president Daniel Chamovitz and members of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University (CABGU) will visit Vancouver to recognize the launch of its new School of Sustainability and Climate Change (SSCC) and the local supporters who have helped make its opening possible. In particular, Royal Bank of Canada and Martin Thibodeau, RBC’s B.C. region president, will be honoured at the event.
SSCC opened last October at BGU’s Be’er Sheva campus, where its growth has been rapid. Seven months old, the school currently offers two undergraduate degrees and four graduate-level environmental science-related degrees. Its two graduate fellowships, which have supported work in renewable energy and smart city design, were funded by RBC.
“The RBC Research Fund at BGU’s School of Sustainability and Climate Change [is] being established in Martin’s honour, [and] will enable undergraduate and graduate students to be trained as, and pursue meaningful careers as, climate change innovators, entrepreneurs and policy experts,” said David Berson, who serves as CABGU’s executive director for the B.C. and Alberta Region. The funding that is raised at the gala will help further SSCC’s research programs.
SSCC’s mandate isn’t just to address environmental concerns at home in Israel, said Chamovitz. It will have a global reach, as well. BGU is currently working to cement research partnerships with universities and countries that have similar interests in addressing climate challenges. Chamovitz said RBC’s investment in its new school will provide a pathway to meeting that global need.
“RBC was one of the early supporters of SSCC, and this support was essential for leveraging subsequent support,” he said. “The Royal Bank of Canada believes in us,” and that support has served as an encouraging model for other companies to invest in BGU’s programs as well, he said.
Lorne Segal, president of Kingswood Properties and director of the Vancouver Board of Trade, who is an honorary co-chair of the June event with his wife, Mélita Segal, said corporate sponsorship is crucial to startup programs like SSCC. He said corporate support is also vital to finding answers to environmental challenges like global warming.
“Sponsorship from leading businesses and industry leaders does provide imaginative solutions to complex issues impacting our people and the planet,” he said. “Without significant and generous sponsorship support, this crucial work, simply put, would not be possible.”
Segal said supporting initiatives that bring about positive change is part of Thibodeau’s nature.
“Martin Thibodeau truly is a lifelong builder of community,” said Segal. “He is deeply praised by Ben-Gurion University for his commitment to the cause of finding solutions to climate change. It is truly remarkable how much he and RBC Royal Bank have done to enhance the capacity of the Ben-Gurion University community programs and agencies, and advance the conversation on Canada’s transition to a net-zero economy.”
Thibodeau’s support of Canadian Jewish communities and of Israel goes back decades. Originally from Quebec, he served as RBC’s regional president in Montreal until he moved to Vancouver. He oversees some of the largest – and smallest – branches and more than 4,000 employees.
In 2015, while working in Montreal, Thibodeau volunteered as a co-chair for Quebec’s largest multi-day walk for women’s cancers, held by Pharmaprix, to raise money for research at the Jewish General Hospital. “I have been involved with the Jewish community for almost my entire RBC career,” he told the Independent.
He is a strong supporter of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and their community initiatives, and he has been to Israel several times. It was in 2014, said Thibodeau, that he and his wife, Caroline, visited Be’er Sheva and learned of BGU’s environmental research. “[I was] so inspired by the research [and] the innovation,” he said, noting that it wasn’t hard to get behind the creation of a school that was working to find solutions to climate concerns.
“It’s right there in front of me every day,” he said. “I am a proud father of three children and I believe we have a responsibility to make sure that our climate can continue to thrive, and well beyond my lifetime. It is my personal belief that we need to do that today more than ever.”
Thibodeau said it’s been an interesting journey since that first visit to BGU in 2014. “It’s become such a tough priority for the world,” he said of climate change. In Canada, among other things, he supported RBC’s Blue Water Project, which helped provide clean water access to Canadian communities.
Still, Thibodeau is a reticent honouree. He admits that he is uncomfortable with the idea that he will be the guest of honour at a gala, even if it is for a cause he loves. “I’m very humbled,” he said. “I don’t like to have that kind of spotlight on me.” But, he said, raising money for research that might one day create a safer and better environment, that is something he will gladly get behind.
The gala will also acknowledge Lorne and Mélita Segal, who are well-known for their philanthropy and other work. Both have been recognized by Capilano University with honorary doctor of letters, and Lorne Segal has a doctor of laws (hon.) from the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He was inducted into the Order of British Columbia for his work as founding chair of Free the Children’s WE Day Vancouver and as chair of the Coast Mental Health Courage to Come Back Awards. The Segals regularly open their home to fundraising galas.
“When Lorne and I built our home, we didn’t really do it for ourselves but, rather, to share it with the community,” said Mélita Segal. “Whether it was Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, Arts Umbrella, Chor Leoni, JNF [Jewish National Fund] or WE Charity … it has been a great joy for us and very fulfilling to give back and share in this way.”
Berson described the Segals as “tireless builders of community, leading by example while creating opportunities for people in the business world to make a difference in the lives of others. Ben-Gurion University, Canada, is genuinely fortunate to have their leadership for this event and for our organization.”
Jan Lee is an award-winning editorial writer whose articles and op-eds have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism and Baltimore Jewish Times, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.