Burquest Jewish Community Centre has invited a series of local Jewish leaders to visit the centre and discuss their approach to Jewish practice. A Coat of Many Colours: Conversations about Jewish Practice takes place every other Sunday, through Dec. 11. It started Oct. 16.
Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan – rabbi emerita of Or Shalom (Renewal), volunteer at Beth Israel (Conservative) and director of inter-religious studies and professor of Jewish studies at Vancouver School of Theology – began the series with a talk called An Integrative Spirituality.
On Oct. 30, 1:30 p.m., Congregation Har El’s Rabbi Philip Gibbs speaks on The Conservative Synagogue and the Modern Jew.
“As a Conservative rabbi, I believe that Jewish law develops over time so that even a deep commitment to live according to Jewish values, traditions and rituals can fit with modern sensibilities,” he said. “At the same time, as a community leader, I also recognize that not every person wants to or is able to follow the discipline of an observant life. The synagogue acts as a spiritual toolbox with the many rituals and values that can add meaning to your life. The tension between an individual’s interest and the communal practice is both a challenge to create a welcoming space and an opportunity to explore the deeper meaning of our tradition. We will look at a few examples of how a synagogue could approach rituals like kashrut, prayer and Shabbat.”
Rabbi Tom Samuels of Okanagan Jewish Community Centre, Beth Shalom Synagogue, will give the Nov. 13, 1 p.m., talk, on the topic From Synagogue to Home.
Samuels, who does not identify with any singular Jewish denomination, institution, theology, pedagogy and the like, said, “My session will explore the idea of relocating the North American model for ‘doing Jewish religion’ from the synagogue building to the home. In response to the destruction of the Second Temple, a new Judaism emerged called Rabbinic Judaism. The ancient rabbis established a new locus of Jewish identity and connection to the home, and specifically, to the shulchan, the Shabbat table. Using the model of the Chassidic tish (or botteh, or what Chabad Lubavitch call the farbrengen), we will experience the seamless tapestry of Torah learning, tefillah (prayer), singing and eating that could be replicated by Jewish communities, with or without a local synagogue, throughout North America.”
On Nov. 27, 1 p.m., Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz will speak on These Are The Things – 10 Commandments for Living a Purposeful Life.
“Reform Judaism in general emphasizes the moral ethical commandments as being obligatory while the spiritual ritual commandments are more subjective to the individual worshipper with the autonomy to make meaningful, informed choices in their personal practice,” said Moskovitz. “My current rabbinate as senior rabbi of Temple Sholom is shaped by an emphasis on finding meaning through Jewish custom and practice, social justice work, inclusion, outreach to the unaffiliated and developing a relational community.
“I will present a passage from the Mishnah called Elu Dvarim, which details 10 commandments that, if followed during your life, receive reward now and for eternity…. I will present and we will discuss how the application of these particular commandments to your life, regardless of your faith tradition or whether or not you even have one, is one answer to the eternal question what is the meaning of life.”
Rounding out the presenters will be Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Chabad Lubavitch, on Dec. 11, 1 p.m., with a topic to be announced.
Further information on presentations and presenters is available under events at burquest.org.
Temple Sholom treasurer Daniel Gumprich, left, president Melody Robens-Paradise and Rabbi Dan Moskovitz. (photo from JCF)
Temple Sholom has a new $1 million endowment fund that will provide the congregation with stable, long-term income for the synagogue in perpetuity.
“We chose to establish this fund at the Jewish Community Foundation because we know that they will manage it carefully and expertly. We are thrilled that Temple Sholom will be able to rely on income from the fund to meet its needs for generations to come,” said the family who seeded the fund.
It was important to the family that they be able to leverage their giving to inspire others. So, in addition to seeding the fund, they established a program to match contributions, which not only maximized their own impact but that of every donor who joined them in giving.
“The foundation supported our staff and leadership to confidently approach congregants about contributing to the fund,” said Cathy Lowenstein, director of congregational engagement at Temple Sholom. “We were able to give everyone the opportunity to participate, which created the momentum necessary to reach our goal.”
“The endowment will ensure our ability to serve every facet of our congregation through dynamic programming, strong leadership and robust outreach for generations to come,” said Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz. “It also means we can undertake a long-term approach to planning, because we have the financial strength to adapt to the changing needs of our congregation.”
Many local Jewish agencies, congregations and other organizations have endowment funds at the Jewish Community Foundation, including the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, Jewish Family Services Vancouver, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and others. In addition, individual fund holders often choose to support an organization through their own donor-advised or -designated funds.
Diane Switzer, chair of the foundation’s board of governors, said, “We are very proud to manage endowment funds on behalf of so many crucial organizations across our community, and we take our responsibility to manage these investments prudently extremely seriously. This is how we carry out the important work of building and enriching our community.”
People can make a contribution to the Temple Sholom Endowment Fund via jewishcommunityfoundation.com. They can also establish a fund for an organization or an area of need about which they care by contacting JCF executive director Marcie Flom at 604-257-5100.
* * *
Alex Leslie’s Vancouver for Beginners was one of the works shortlisted for the 2020/2021 City of Vancouver Book Award. The honour recognizes authors of excellence of any genre who contribute to the appreciation and understanding of Vancouver’s diversity, history, unique character, or the achievements of its residents.
In the poetry collection, “[n]ostalgia of place is dissected through the mapping of a city where Leslie leads readers past surrealist development proposals, post-apocalyptic postcards, childhood landmarks long gone and a developer who paces at the city’s edge, shoring it up with aquariums.”
* * *
Prairie Sonata by Sandy Shefrin Rabin was named one of the best books of 2021 by Kirkus Reviews. The novel tells the story of Mira Adler, a teenage girl growing up on the Prairies after the Second World War, and what she learns about life and love from her Yiddish and violin teacher, Chaver B, a recent immigrant from Prague. Kirkus called it “a compelling work with a wistful longing for days of childhood innocence. A poignant and eloquent reflection on tradition, family, friendship, and tragedy.”
Winner of the Independent Press Award, and named a 2021 New York City Big Book Award Distinguished Favourite in the young adult fiction category, Prairie Sonata has been introduced into high school curricula.
* * *
The Canada Council for the Arts’ 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards winners include, in the drama category, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes by Hannah Moscovitch.
“Hannah Moscovitch’s play is an articulate, poetic, beautifully written play with characters who are complex and complicated,” noted the peer assessment committee. “A superb piece of writing that shines as a play, as a living piece of theatre and, no doubt, literature that will endure.”
In the drama, “[t]he archetypal student-teacher romance is cleverly turned on its head for the post-#metoo era…. Jon, a star professor and author, is racked with self-loathing after his third marriage crumbles around him when he finds himself admiring a student – a girl in a red coat. The girl, 19-year-old Annie, is a big fan of his work and also happens to live down the street. From their doorways to his office to hotel rooms, their mutual admiration and sexual tension escalates under Jon’s control to a surprising conclusion that will leave you wanting to go back and question your perceptions of power as soon as you finish.”
Or Shalom members Lorne Malliin and Marianne Rev organized a demonstration at the office of Harjit Sajjan, federal minister of national defence and MP for Vancouver South. (photo from Lorne Mallin)
The heat dome that sent much of British Columbia into an unprecedented spell of sweltering weather, followed by wildfires that have destroyed vast swaths of western North America, including the B.C. town of Lytton, and extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida have put climate and the environment at the top of many people’s priorities. With the federal election now days away, all federal parties have honed their pitches to voters on issues of the environment.
Jewish activists have been vocal on these issues recently, reflecting the growing realization that impacts of climate change are not a remote future potential but an immediate and measurable phenomenon.
Marianne Rev, a member of the tikkun olam committee at Or Shalom synagogue, was one of many Jewish people who participated in a series of demonstrations at the offices of scores of members of Parliament on July 29. With her friend and fellow Or Shalom member Lorne Mallin, Rev organized an event at the office of Harjit Sajjan, federal minister of national defence and MP for Vancouver South. Other local demonstrations took place at the offices of Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray and North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson, who is also the federal minister of environment and climate change.
“It was part of an action organized by 350.org,” Rev told the Independent. The organization 350.org was founded in 2008 to build a global climate movement and was so named because 350 parts per million is the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (Concentrations are now 414.6 parts per million.)
“I’ve been increasingly involved in climate action, political action, climate justice,” said Rev, a retired physician.
While she was told in advance that Sajjan would not be available to meet on July 29, Rev was disappointed that, when her group of about 25 activists arrived at the office, it was closed. Nevertheless, she and a small group of others met with the minister on Aug. 9.
“We had an excellent meeting,” she said. “There were two very specific asks.”
Her group, as well as those participating across the country, asked MPs for a moratorium on all new or expanded production and transporting of fossil fuels, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. Second, they demanded a “just transition” away from fossil fuels to allow workers in those industries to shift to other sectors.
Rev said the response her group got from Sajjan was voiced by Wilkinson in the media.
“He blurted out the party line, which, shockingly, Wilkinson repeated many times over on the morning of the ninth, when the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] put out their report saying that we are code red for humanity,” she said. “[The government says] that we need the TMX to fund the transition to renewables. As such, it’s completely false.… It’s totally fallacious political B.S. that has been put out on the population for decades. Renewable energy is free. It’s not free to get there, but wind and sun is free.”
Rev gives credit to Adam v’Adamah, one of British Columbia’s pioneering Jewish environmental groups, and said that the environment and climate are logical concerns for Jews.
“Jews have always been very interested and driven regarding social justice, and the environment and climate are very much climate justice issues,” she said.
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom, concurs.
“I’ve been involved with [environmental issues] informally for my entire life, but formally, as a congregation, three years ago we launched an initiative to make clear that the climate and the environment is a Jewish issue,” he said. “I see it in very religious terms in the sense that we are commanded to be guardians of the earth, stewards of the earth. So, it’s a mitzvah, a religious obligation, to be good stewards of the earth. I challenged my congregation to join me in that effort and I challenged our Jewish community and they’ve responded, to put this on our community agenda, to see this as a pressing concern for the Jewish community and for the Jewish people. The Jewish Federation has an environmental task force now. We have been talking with CIJA [the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs] to get it on their list of priorities and to get the politics out of it and to see it for what it is, which is an existential threat to this world that we are commanded to be caretakers and stewards of.”
As Jewish voters ponder their ballot choices, Moskovitz has some thoughts.
“Rhetoric is lovely and nice and, for the most part, all the campaigns, as I hear them, say basically the right things about the environment,” he said. “But who is doing something or who is in a position to do something? The time for talking is over.… If you don’t do what you’re preaching or praying for, then it’s just noise and we can’t afford more noise because, if we’ve seen anything over this past summer, with the fires here and in the States, and, as we saw the impact of what staying home during the early part of COVID did for our environment in allowing it to rest and to have its own sabbatical year … we can see that we can’t keep using and abusing this God-given gift, which is the world we live in. We are just renters here. We don’t own it.”
Zoom presentations became a regular affair at Beth Israel during the pandemic. Inset: JFS director of programs and community partnerships Cindy McMillan provides an overview of the new Jewish Food Bank. (screenshot from BI & JFS)
As Vancouver-area synagogues cautiously edge their way toward reinstituting in-person religious services, many rabbis are doing a rethink about the impact that the past 17 months of closure has had on their congregations.
Finding a way to maintain a community connection for thousands of Jewish families became an imperative for all of the synagogues early on in the pandemic. Not surprisingly, for many, the answer became cutting-edge technology. But careful brainstorming and halachic deliberations remained at the heart of how each congregation addressed these urgent needs.
“We immediately realized that services per se were not going to work over electronic medium,” Congregation Schara Tzedeck’s Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt told the Independent.
He said Orthodox rabbis across the world were already discussing halachah (Jewish law) in light of the pandemic when the province of British Columbia announced the shutdown in March of last year. “We realized that we weren’t going to offer any services,” he said. “We can’t have a minyan online.”
But that didn’t mean they couldn’t offer support. Schara Tzedeck’s answer to that need was only one of many innovative approaches that would come up. For example, to help congregants who had lost family members, the Orthodox shul devised a new ritual, as the reciting of the Mourner’s Kaddish requires a minyan (10 men or 10 men and women, depending on the level of orthodoxy, gathered together in one physical location).
“What we did is immediately [start a Zoom] study session in lieu of Kaddish. [The Mourner’s] Kaddish is based on this idea of doing a mitzvah act, which is meritorious for the sake of your loved one, so we substituted the study of Torah for the saying of Kaddish,” he explained.
For many other communities, such as the Conservative synagogue Congregation Beth Israel, the deliberations over how to apply halachah in unique moments such as these were just as intense. For these instances, said BI’s Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, rabbis saw another imperative.
“This is what is called she’at had’chak, or a time of pressure,” Infeld said. “It’s a special time, it’s a unique time, and so we adapted to the time period.”
The concept allows a reliance on less authoritative opinions in urgent situations. So, for example, with respect to reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, Infeld said, “We felt that, especially in this time period, people would need that emotional connection, or would need that emotional comfort of saying Mourner’s Kaddish when they were in mourning, and so we have not considered this [internet gathering to be] a minyan, except for Mourner’s Kaddish,” Infeld said. He noted that the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, which reviews halachic decisions for the Conservative movement, has adopted the same position.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay, who leads the Orthodox Sephardi synagogue Congregation Beth Hamidrash, said that although his congregation would not hold Mourner’s Kaddish online, venues like Zoom played a vital role in allowing the congregation to meet during shivah, the first seven days of mourning. Like a traditional shivah, which takes place in the mourner’s home, often with a small number of visitors, an online shivah gave community members a chance to attend and extend support as well.
“That was actually an especially meaningful [opportunity],” Gabay said. “The mourners, one after another, told me that, first of all, you don’t often get the opportunity to have so many people in the room, all together, listening.”
For members of the Bayit Orthodox congregation in Richmond, an online shivah meant family on the other side of the country could attend as well. “What was most interesting, of course, was the people from all across the world,” remarked Rabbi Levi Varnai. “You can have people who are family, friends, cousins, from many places in the world, potentially.”
Vancouver’s Reform Congregation Temple Sholom also came to value the potential of blending online media with traditional venues. Rabbi Dan Moskovitz said the congregation had been streaming its services and classes as much as a decade before the pandemic arrived. But lifecycle events, he said, demanded a more personal approach, one that would still allow families to actually participate in reading from the Torah scroll, while not violating the restrictions on large public attendance.
“The big change is that we brought Torah to everybody’s home,” he said. Literally. Moskovitz or his associate, Rabbi Carey Brown, would deliver the scroll in a large, specially fitted container, along with a prayer book, instructions and other necessary accoutrements.
“We had a document camera so, when we streamed, you could look down on the Torah as it was being read on screen. Those were very special moments on a front porch when I would deliver Torah, socially distanced with a mask on, early on in the pandemic,” he said. “I had a mask and I had rubber gloves and they had a mask, and you put something down and you walked away. We got a little more comfortable with service transmission later on.”
Switching to online media also has broadened the opportunities for classes and social connections. Infeld said Beth Israel moved quickly to develop a roster of classes as soon as it knew that there would be a shutdown.
“We realized right away that we can’t shut down. We may need to close the physical building, but the congregation isn’t the building. The congregation is the soul [of Beth Israel]. We exist with or without the building,” he said. “And we realized that for us to make it through this time period in a strong way, and to emerge even stronger from it, we would have to increase our programming.”
He said the synagogue’s weekly Zoom and Learn program has been among its most popular, hosting experts from around the world and garnering up to 100 or more viewers each event. The synagogue also hosts a mussar (Jewish ethics) class that is regularly attended. “We never had a daily study session,” Infeld said. “Now we [do].”
For Chabad centres in the Vancouver area, virtual programming has been a cornerstone of success for years and they have expanded their reach, even during the pandemic. “We have had more classes and more lectures than ever before, with greater attendance,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, who runs Chabad Richmond.
Zoom and other online mediums mean that the centres don’t have to fly in presenters if they want to offer an event. Like other synagogues, Chabad Richmond can now connect their audiences directly with experts from anywhere in the world.
“We can’t go back”
All of the synagogues that were contacted for this story acknowledged that online media services had played an important role in keeping their communities connected. And most felt that they will continue to use virtual meeting spaces and online streaming after the pandemic has ended.
“As our biggest barrier to Friday night participation was the fact that many families were trying to also fit in a Shabbat dinner with small children, the convenience of the Friday livestream is worth including in the future,” said Rabbi Philip Gibbs, who runs the North Shore Conservative synagogue Congregation Har El.
“We’re scoping bids to instal a Zoom room in our classroom space so that we can essentially run a blended environment,” Rosenblatt said. “We anticipate, when restrictions are lifted, some people will still want to participate by Zoom and some people will want to be in person.”
However, some congregations remain undecided as to whether Zoom will remain a constant in their services and programming.
Rabbi Susan Tendler said that the virtual meeting place didn’t necessarily mesh with all aspects of Congregation Beth Tikvah’s Conservative service, such as its tradition of forming small groups (chavurot) during services. “We are talking about what that will look like in the future,” she said, “yet realize that we must keep this door open.”
So is Burquest Jewish Community Association in Coquitlam, which is looking at hybrid services to support those who can’t attend in person. “But these activities will probably not be a major focus for us going forward,” said board member Dov Lank.
For Or Shalom, a Jewish Renewal congregation, developing ways to bolster classes, meditation retreats and other programs online was encouraging. Rabbi Hannah Dresner acknowledged that, if there were another shutdown, the congregation would be able to “make use of the many innovations we’ve conceived and lean into our mastery of virtual delivery.”
For a number of congregations, virtual services like Zoom appear to offer an answer to an age-old question: how to build a broader Jewish community in a world that remains uncertain at times and often aloof.
The Bayit’s leader, Rabbi Varnai, suggests it’s a matter of perspective. He said finding that answer starts with understanding what a bayit (home) – in this case, a Jewish house of worship – is meant to be.
The Bayit, he said, is “a place for gathering community members and for coming together. The question, how can we still be there for each other, causes us to realize that we can’t go back to as before.” After all, he said, “community service is about caring for each other.”
Jan Lee’s articles, op-eds and blog posts have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism, Times of Israel and Baltimore Jewish Times, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.
The bodies of 215 children were recently discovered buried adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (photo from flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos)
Jody Wilson-Raybould, member of Parliament for Vancouver-Granville and a member of the We Wai Kai Nation, told students at Vancouver Talmud Torah Elementary School last week that most of her family members attended residential schools and she spoke of the tragic legacy of that project, which devastated Indigenous communities for generations.
“Residential schools, these institutions, are a very dark part of our history,” she said, speaking directly to students at a ceremony organized to mourn the 215 children whose bodies were recently discovered buried adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Most of the city’s rabbis were also in attendance.
“They were in existence for over 100 years in Canada, from the 1870s to 1996, when the last one closed in Saskatchewan. The last one closed in British Columbia in 1984,” said Wilson-Raybould of the residential schools. “These institutions were created by the law of Canada and run by churches. There were 139 residential schools across the country and it’s estimated that 150,00 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children attended the schools, forcibly removed from their homes, compelled to attend, and the purpose of residential schools, as stated by the first prime minister of this country, was to remove the Indian from the child, to get rid of the ‘Indian problem’ in this country.”
She added: “People have asked me, as I know they’ve asked many Indigenous peoples, how do you feel? I feel angry. I feel frustrated. And I feel a deep sense of sadness, because this is not an isolated incident. There will be more that will be revealed and we have to recognize that every Indigenous person in this country has a connection to residential schools and the harmful legacies that still exist. But I am still optimistic. Optimistic that, through young people like you … that we can make a change in this country.”
Speaking of her family’s experiences, Wilson-Raybould singled out her grandmother, who she has frequently cited as her hero, and talked of the courage and resilience her grandmother exhibited.
“Most of my relatives went to residential schools,” she said. “My grandmother, Pugladee, was taken away from her home when she was a very young girl and forced to go to the Indian residential school St. Michael’s, in Alert Bay. She faced terrible violence at that school, but she escaped from that school and she made it home and she is the knowledge keeper in my nation.”
Emily Greenberg, Vancouver Talmud Torah head of school, welcomed guests in person and online, expressing empathy for Indigenous Canadians, faced again with the reminder of this country’s past.
“Their wounds have been reopened once again and their suffering renewed,” she said. “Today, our community gathers to grieve with them and open our hearts to their struggles.”
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom contrasted the lives of the children buried in Kamloops with the lives and educational experiences of the Talmud Torah students attending the ceremony, who, he said, “are immersed in their own language and culture and traditions” – the very things Canada’s residential schools system was designed to extinguish in Indigenous young people.
“Our hearts break today not only for the loss of life,” said Moskovitz. “They break for the loss of childhood, the loss of innocence, the loss of joy, of play, of family, of heritage that was stolen from those children by the misguided aims of our nation. It was a different era. It was a different time, but if our people, the Jewish people, have learned anything from our history of trauma and persecution, it is these words: that those who do not study history are bound to repeat it. Echoed by the warning of the Jewish people from the Holocaust, from the Shoah – never again – we have learned, and we know in our souls, that the greatest tribute we can offer these children and their families is not words of condolence, but acts of conscience. The purpose of prayer is to lead us to action, to make our prayer real, not in heaven but here on earth.”
Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel said that “the children who we are remembering today were forced to go to schools and to a specific school that ripped away their culture, attempted to take away from them their language, attempted to take them literally away from their families.” Addressing the students, he emphasized the message Moskovitz shared: “Today, we are remembering children who had the exact opposite of the opportunities that you have.”
Or Shalom’s Rabbi Hannah Dresner expressed the unity of Jewish, Indigenous and all peoples. “We share a destiny as co-inhabitants of this land and because we are of the same holy stuff, the same flesh and blood and the same God-breath,” she said, encouraging members of the Jewish community to “respond not just in our sentiments but through ongoing engagement service and grace.”
Dresner said: “Justice is what love looks like in the public sphere. Loving our neighbours, our fellows, as ourselves. And so, we stand with Indigenous fellows in love, for justice, for the actualization of recovered records and supportive measures for holistic, multifaceted healing and reparation.”
Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt of Congregation Schara Tzedeck spoke of the Jewish concept that one who extinguishes even a single life is considered to have destroyed an entire world. “Today, we remember, at a minimum, the destruction of 215 worlds,” he said. “A significant portion of these children died while trying to escape to reunite with their families. They died of exposure in the cold, the frost, simply trying to do one thing that every human being would … simply trying to return to their own families.”
Carrie Plotkin, a Grade 5 student, read the poem “You hold me up,” by Monique Gray Smith. “It was written to encourage us young people, our care providers and our educators to talk about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with our friends, classmates and families,” she said.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay of Beth Hamidrash read a 1936 poem from Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Carlebach of Hamburg, Germany. Cantor Yaacov Orzech sang Psalm 23.
The 215 bodies were discovered using ground-penetrating radar. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that 4,100 children died at residential schools from abuse, neglect, diseases and accidents. Many were never repatriated to their families and communities and, in many cases, deaths were sloppily recorded using just a given name or a surname and sometimes even completely anonymously. Advocates are calling on the government to commit to identifying more remains and to releasing archival documentation on the schools that has remained sealed.
Jody and Harvey Dales cut the ribbon at the Kitchen’s opening on April 18. On their left is Tanja Demajo, JFS chief executive officer; on their right is Janelle Zwarych, JFS director of food security. (screenshot)
Along-in-the-works food hub was launched by Jewish Family Services in a virtual grand opening April 18. Dubbed the Kitchen, the facility will be home to a range of JFS programs that target food insecurity.
“We believe that nourishing and good food has the power to connect people, to build a healthy community and to inspire us to engage in conversations about social justice,” said Tanja Demajo, chief executive officer of JFS. “The Kitchen is not a place but a destination, a destination in which community involvement breaks down the wall between the givers and receivers. We strive to empower people to make personal choices, to advocate for themselves and have access to the basic resources needed for healthy lives.”
The opening of the Kitchen, located on East Third Avenue between Quebec and Ontario streets, is the culmination of more than two years of work, during which JFS and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver have implemented recommendations from their joint Food Security Task Force report, which was released in 2018. Initiatives already undertaken include an expansion of the JFS food program to hub models that recognize and accommodate the 50% of clients now living outside Vancouver city limits. They have also developed new programs, such as Breakfast Club for kids and meals for seniors. Healthy cooking classes have been delivered and, at the start of COVID, food programs were shifted to delivery-only. With the support of RBC, JFS purchased a food van to facilitate movement of goods between suppliers, warehouses and hubs.
Demajo especially thanked Jody and Harvey Dales, who ceremonially cut the ribbon at the new facility.
“Their belief in dignified access to food, in JFS and this community’s ability to undertake this project is what made this dream a reality,” she said.
Bill Kaplan, JFS board chair, put the landmark event in context.
“JFS has been serving our community since 1936,” he said. “Although the context of our times change, our mission has not. We continue to serve our community as an extension of our family and, today, we are here to mark a special occasion in that service…. The name, the Kitchen, captures everything we hope this space to become – a warm, inviting place for members of our community to be welcomed, nourished and cared for. There will be healthy food, cooking classes, counselors to talk to, space for workshops, all provided here at this new location. It’s how we can meet the real needs of our community in an environment that is both dignifying and empowering.
“The tagline that we chose is ‘Nourishing Lives,’ which captures not only the physical nourishment that we receive through food, but a more holistic purpose as well. It’s within community that the act of giving and receiving nourishment takes place. This connection is the context for relationships – for someone to check in with you, to ask you how you’re doing, give a listening ear, give a helping hand. In these times especially, we need human connection for the nourishment of our souls. That is something we aspire to with the space and, as a community, we invite you to join us in that purpose.”
Stan Shaw and Simone Kallner, co-chairs of the JFS Food Security Committee, celebrated the launch and thanked those who made the project possible.
“Our new food hub facility is a wonderful example of what the Jewish community is doing to provide inclusive and dignified and respectful and reliably secure access to food to the most vulnerable among us,” said Shaw. “It’s a dream that’s come true. I am inspired to have been a part of such a wonderful team, including the staff and incredible volunteers at Jewish Family Services that have made this possible.”
Kallner added: “This new space will give people somewhere to go for support, connection, social gatherings … where everyone feels the comfort, warmth and inclusivity that our community can offer. It has been a true honour and privilege to be part of this amazing project alongside an incredibly talented, dedicated and heartfelt committee.”
She thanked Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, and Marcie Flom, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation, for invaluable support.
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom affixed the mezuzah and spoke of how hunger, by definition, is a problem that is largely out of sight and, as a result, too often out of mind.
“But this building, these people, this sign on the door, this address, this community program – they change everything as of this moment,” he said. “Hunger in the Jewish community is no longer invisible…. With this building and our community’s public and intentional dedication to supporting it, staffing it and promoting its many services, hunger in our community can no longer be overlooked, it can no longer be ignored. The very real pain of an empty stomach, that too many in our community experience on a regular basis, it cries out to us, it cries out for immediate attention, immediate action. This building, and what takes place here, they are the shofar blasts that must wake us up to the most solvable problem in our community. We can end hunger in the Jewish community. We can fix this.”
Torah, he added, commands farmers to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that the hungry can obtain food.
“When we go shopping, our modern equivalent of harvesting our fields, we must buy extra food for the food bank every single time, and we can bring it here,” he said. “Open your hand to those in need, we read in Torah. It’s through our tzedakah and that of our Jewish community, through food drives and bar/bat mitzvah projects, donations made in honour and memory of our loved ones, all the ways Jews have given throughout time and all the ways that we give of our resources, all of those things will sustain this place and will fulfil the commandment to extend our hand to those in need.”
Janelle Zwarych, director of food security at JFS, led the virtual tour through the facility.
“The Kitchen means so much more than just food,” she said. “At any good party, it’s where everyone comes together, it’s a place of warmth, a place of creativity and a place of fun. Our place, the Kitchen, means all of those things rolled into one.”
In addition to being a place for the storage, sorting and delivery of food to clients, there is space for group cooking and classes, as well as community meals, when health protocols permit. There are offices where clients can meet with caseworkers to access government supports or borrow equipment from the Red Cross while picking up groceries. There is a small library, a kids’ zone with toys and books and working space for volunteers.
B.C. Premier John Horgan opened the commemorative event. (screenshot)
A uniquely British Columbian virtual commemoration of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, took place April 8, convened by the Government of British Columbia in partnership with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Pacific Region.
Premier John Horgan opened the event.
“On Yom Hashoah, we remember the six million Jewish lives that were lost during the Holocaust. We also remember and honour the millions who lost their lives or were murdered because of their ethnicity, sexual identity or disability,” said the premier. “Today, we also pay tribute to Holocaust survivors and, as that community grows smaller, it’s all the more important that we work together to carry that message forward – that we will never forget and it will never happen again, especially in light of the ongoing threats of violence and discrimination Jewish people are facing worldwide today.”
Horgan noted an incident in Victoria where a Chabad centre was defaced with antisemitic graffiti a day earlier.
“These are the types of acts we must stand together and fight against with a united voice, regardless of where we come from, regardless of our orientations or ethnicities or our faith. We must stand against antisemitism and racism whenever we see it,” said Horgan. “As we light the candles at Yom Hashoah in remembrance, we must remain vigilant and, as we take action today and honour those who lost their lives and those who have struggled since the Holocaust, we must again remember that we cannot repeat our past.”
Michael Lee, MLA for Vancouver-Langara, also spoke.
“As the living memory of the Holocaust fades, the important act of remembering and coming together each year grows in importance,” he said. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we never forget and such a thing never happens again, because, sadly, this is not just about remembering history, but about standing together today against the racism, bigotry and antisemitism that still exists in our world.… As a community, now and every day, we must stand against these acts of hate and bigotry.
“Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are reminded of why it is so important to come together, to reflect and to ensure that the past is not forgotten. We must remember both the parts of this dark, dark history that we must not let be repeated and the acts of heroism that took place amid such tragedy. Even during a period of humanity’s darkest chapters, there was still good in the world, people who risked their lives to hide and save others from the Shoah. Amidst the horrors and atrocities, there were tales of love, hope and bravery, including with the many righteous among nations, people who demonstrated that light can triumph over darkness. Today, we reaffirm our commitment to never forget; remember the victims, the survivors and the heroes; and we pledge to build a better world in their memory.”
Dr. Robert Krell, founding president of the VHEC, lit six memorial candles. The premier lit a seventh candle “to honour the millions of Roma, Slavic, LGBTQ2+ and people with disabilities who lost their lives.”
Krell, speaking on behalf of Holocaust survivors, noted that 1.5 million of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were children. An estimated 93% of Jewish children in Europe were murdered, which makes his survival extremely remarkable. The fact that both his parents survived, when more than 80% of Dutch Jews were killed, is additionally miraculous.
“I had lost all grandparents, uncles and aunts,” Krell said. “One first cousin remained. The war left its mark and I bear a special responsibility to remember what happened and try to derive lessons from that unfathomable tragedy. The tragedy was unique in its objectives, its focus and its ferocity. Jews were extracted wherever they resided, whether Paris, Prague or Vienna, whether city or countryside or the isles of Rhodes or Corfu. The enemy pursued us and tortured and murdered without mercy, without exception.”
While Dutch citizens remember the Canadian military’s role in liberating that country, Krell also noted Canada’s failure to save European Jews before the war.
Krell also addressed the issue of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism. Around the world, he said, 34 countries have adopted the definition, as has the province of Ontario.
“As a survivor who has been deeply involved in Holocaust remembrance and education, it strikes me as unconscionable not to accept the IHRA definition to assist us all in recognizing the signs and symptoms of the scourge of Jew hatred,” he said.
Yom Hashoah fell the day before the federal New Democratic Party convention that was to consider a resolution rejecting the IHRA definition. The matter never made it to the floor, but another resolution condemning Israel passed by an overwhelming margin.
“It is my hope that we will soon see the provincial government’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” said Krell.
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom also took up the issue of the antisemitism definition.
“The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism is, I think, the tool that guides us in our work to combat anti-Jewish sentiments,” he said. “I want to urge our provincial government to join other jurisdictions in embracing the action that is required to combat both historical and contemporary hatred of the Jewish people.”
He added: “When we think of the death of a human being, we mourn the loss of the body and the soul, but, in my work, standing with too many grieving families at graveside, it is not the body that we miss most, that is merely the vessel for the soul, the part of that person that is unique in all the world,” he said. “That’s the part that we fall in love with and are forever changed by. The soul of another leaves an imprint on our heart. So, today, we remember six million murdered Jewish souls, their lives that have been extinguished, their dreams unrealized, their loves and relationships gone forever. We pray that those dear souls are comforted and embraced under the wings of God’s presence and that now, remembered so publicly, will never be forgotten.”
Moskovitz then chanted El Moleh Rachamim and a version of the Mourner’s Kaddish that includes the names of the Nazi death camps.
In addition to the B.C. event, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre also partnered on April 8 with the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto, the Azrieli Foundation, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, Facing History and Ourselves, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, March of the Living Canada and UIA in a Canada-wide Yom Hashoah online program that included survivor testimony from individuals across the country and a candlelighting ceremony.
A day earlier, the VHEC partnered with the Montreal Holocaust Museum for a virtual program focusing on the importance of remembrance in the intergenerational transmission of memory. Survivors and members of the second and third generations spoke about their experiences. Video recordings of all three events are available at vhec.org.
Lana Pulver has agreed to lead the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s 2021 annual campaign. She comes to this role with vast volunteer experience. She has served the past two years as the campaign’s major gifts chair and served as both chair and vice-chair of women’s philanthropy. She served on Federation’s board of directors for five years, including on the executive committee. And, she served on the board of governors of the Jewish Community Foundation for 12 years, during which time she chaired both the professional advisory and development committees – not to mention the numerous roles she’s held with other organizations and her professional accomplishments.
* * *
Family physician Dr. Anna Wolak, medical director at King Edward Medical Centre in Vancouver, has been appointed the associate head of the department of family medicine at Providence Health Care.
* * *
Artist Lilian Broca was invited to contribute to Letters from the Pandemic: A 30th Anniversary Commemorative Public Writing Project of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program of Simon Fraser University. The project is hosted by The Ormsby Review and her letter, which was published in February, can be found at ormsbyreview.com/2021/02/14/broca-pandemic-magdalene. She addresses the letter to Mary Magdalene, the subject of her latest mosaics series.
* * *
On March 11, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom and his family took the Oath of Canadian Citizenship, making them now both Canadian and American citizens.
University of British Columbia’s Dr. Tirosh Shapira, left, spoke at a June 18 Temple Sholom-hosted webinar emceed by Rabbi Dan Moskovitz. (screenshot)
“COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 has a different type of genetic material than we have. It is an excellent saboteur … and can mutate easily. Thus, if we develop a drug against it, we will likely, over time, begin to see some resistance,” University of British Columbia microbiologist Tirosh Shapira told a Zoom audience in a June 18 webinar.
“In my research,” he said, “instead of looking for one drug, I am looking for four. I am trying to create a cocktail similar to what is applied with treating HIV. We are looking for drug combinations.”
There is an added level of complexity involved in seeking such combinations, he noted, as certain drugs can negate the effects of others.
Shapira is among a select group of Canadian scientists hunting for a cure to COVID-19. He earned his PhD from Australia’s University of Queensland, where he specialized in molecular toxicology for global food security. Before devoting his efforts to COVID-19, his research at UBC led to a novel treatment against tuberculosis and the development of methods to improve drug discovery.
To the web audience hosted by Temple Sholom, Shapira spoke on the topic of drug development in British Columbia, particularly as it pertains to the new coronavirus. He also provided an overview of modern drug discovery and a look at the advanced facility for virology research at UBC.
“Viruses are a large array of different agents,” explained Shapira, “each with unique characteristics, and depend on their hosts in order to replicate and create more copies of themselves … they vary greatly. However, some share similar properties.”
Knowing, for example, the similarities of the common cold and SARS, scientists can gain a better understanding of how the biology of COVID-19 might play out. This type of application led to the discovery of the effectiveness of the drug Remdesivir against the MERS virus, for instance.
Citing the history of combating viruses through treatments, Shapira showed a graph of the downward trend of infections from tuberculosis, starting in the late 19th century. He used this to elucidate the factors needed beyond drugs to control an epidemic, such as economics, sanitation and education.
“On a global scale, sanitation and containment are extremely important for an immediate response to an immediate threat,” he said. “Understanding SARS-CoV-2 is based on understanding similar viruses. The best way to defeat new viruses is through social adjustments.”
Shapira distinguished between the classical and modern approach to drug discovery. The classical approach, he said, is to look under a microscope and examine what is there, while the modern approach considers all possible compounds and is less concerned about the biology.
According to Shapira, the modern approach essentially throws everything at a problem. This, in turn, reduces the research bias on the part of the scientist, has fewer developmental pitfalls and is more “statistically robust,” thereby making it more likely for discoveries to pass clinical trials.
Biology, he hastened to add, is still important – the quality of the test model will determine the quality of the outcome. “Good, sound biology brings good, sound compounds that are good pharmaceuticals,” he said.
When considering how to target a virus, Shapira told the online group that a researcher will look at known antivirals, U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, drugs in clinical trials and natural products, the source of most new antibiotics and antivirals.
Drug development is a complex, multi-stage process which has greatly advanced in the past 20 years, he said. In the United States, for example, it begins with pre-clinical trials in labs and with animal testing. Next come clinical trials focusing on safety and efficacy, before moving to randomized testing. Afterwards, there are FDA trials and ultimately production.
UBC’s FINDER (Facility for Infectious Diseases and Epidemic Research), where Shapira conducts his research, has an automated workstation and screening microscopes that handle the large workload of sorting through tens of thousands of compounds without introducing human error.
Due to restricted access to the highly infectious coronavirus, research in Canada can only be performed at a limited number of contamination-free facilities, which also include the University of Toronto and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
In their studies, UBC’s researchers use lab-grown organs in a dish and a live virus, explained Shapira. FINDER has previous experience with this model from the outbreak of the Zika virus. At FINDER, the UBC team screens the thousands of compounds with collaborators around the world.
Shapira, the only microbiologist conducting research on the COVID-19 virus in British Columbia, estimated that there are 200 biologists and another 2,000 people working on various studies, including in economic areas, related to COVID-19 in Canada.
“SARS-CoV-2, despite being a present threat, will pass,” said Shapira. “But other infectious diseases will emerge in this age of easy travel. Preparedness is key. We will gradually reopen as we are better able to monitor the spread of the virus. We will find a treatment.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
From left to right: Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, Meha Qewas, the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Hesen Mostefa, Brenda Karp and two of the Mostefas’ children. (photo from Temple Sholom)
“I am not scared,” says Meha Qewas, sitting at her small dining table with her 1-year-old daughter on her lap. In front of us is a plate of knefa, a very rich, sweet cheese dish covered in syrup, together with huge tumblers of juice many times bigger than what I’m used to being offered. Meha clearly values hospitality. The only thing sweeter than the mid-morning “snack” is the ebullience and warmth that flows out of Meha and her husband Hesen Mostefa.
When she says she is fearless, Meha is talking about finding work in Vancouver. Despite the challenges, she is confident both in her new friends in the Vancouver Jewish community and in her own ability to master English and overcome whatever other obstacles she may meet. Her confidence is not groundless: Meha was the main force behind and organizer of getting her husband and three children first out of Syria, then out of Iraq, the country where they took refuge for five years. “I wanted my children out of there,” she says, recalling the sight of Syrian children and youth in Iraq taking up smoking and selling candy on the street to make income for their families in the packed, rat-infested refugee housing.
Hesen also has a remarkable story to tell. Trained as a surgeon in Syria, he volunteered in Iraq with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which eventually hired him as a doctor. During the years they spent in Iraq, Hesen put in long days with MSF while Meha struggled to take care of the children, run a household and plan their flight from Iraq. Eventually, Meha succeeded in securing passage to Canada with the help of sponsors from Vancouver’s Temple Sholom.
Temple Sholom’s efforts to sponsor Syrian refugees started with a High Holidays sermon from Rabbi Dan Moskovitz about the refugees’ plight. Members of the shul immediately formed a committee of volunteers to bring in at least one family, and others, if possible.
Meetings with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Anglican Diocese followed (the diocese is a federally approved sponsor for refugees with which other groups can team). The committee learned about private sponsorship and began working through Mosaic, a local agency that serves newcomers and refugees, and were connected to the Mostefas. The process to bring them to Canada was started.
In December 2015, however, Canada pulled some immigration services out of Iraq and began working through Jordan. A letter that Moskovitz gave to Senator Mobina Jaffer about the Mostefa family and their situation apparently found its way to the prime minister, and services in Iraq were reinstated as a result.
“In the end, over 200 people from shul got involved,” Moskovitz said. “I met personally with anyone who expressed concern about whether bringing in the refugees was a good idea. Most got on board with the initiative and I’m happy to say that, now that they [the Mostefas] are here, everyone in the community is thrilled.”
The synagogue’s efforts did not end there. They have since brought in another family, Bawer Issa, Shinhat Ahmed and their newborn son. The Issa family was welcomed at a Shabbat service in the synagogue on Aug. 25 (it can be seen on YouTube). Bawer spoke movingly at that event, recounting how some people had asked him if he was surprised, as a Muslim, that he had been rescued by Jews.
“We were not surprised,” he told the congregation. “Growing up in Iraq, we were brainwashed at school every day to hate Israelis and Jews as our number one enemy. My Kurdish father always told us not to care what they said, not to believe it. He told us that Israel had been the first to send aid when Saddam Hussein bombed us with chemical weapons.” Citing Israel’s continued support for Kurdish self-rule, Bawer said that he had already known that Jews were their friends.
At the upcoming biennial meeting in Boston of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the umbrella organization of the Reform movement, a resolution – that Moskovitz helped write – will call for the sponsorship of 36 more refugee families by Canadian congregations.
The wider Vancouver community is invited to welcome the Issa and Mostefa families on Sept. 10, at 11:30 a.m., at a reception at Temple Sholom that also marks the first day back of the synagogue’s Hebrew school. An RSVP is requested to 604-266-7190 or via templesholom.ca/get-know-new-canadians.
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.