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.
Last fall, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver surveyed the impact of inflation on its community partner organizations. As with many recent reports on the effects of rising prices, the feedback was sobering, said Shelley Rivkin, vice-president of global and local engagement at Federation, which conducted the survey.
When asked about how the rise in food and fuel will affect their ability to provide the same level of service, 95% of the organizations that responded said they were either concerned or very concerned about inflation. A similar response was returned when community members were asked about paying school, camp, synagogue or Jewish community centre membership fees.
For social service and housing providers, the main concerns were the level of care, due to reduced staffing; the number of affordable housing units available; food programs for students and families in need; and low-cost (or free) social and recreational programs for seniors. Other organizations cited concerns about the future of kiddush and seniors lunches, volunteer appreciation, building maintenance and upkeep, prepared meals for food bank recipients, and membership subsidies.
The survey notes that rising costs are affecting, to varying degrees, the ability of agencies to maintain their current level of service, recruit and retain staff, raise funds and balance budgets. Some organizations have been unable to provide staff with a cost-of-living-adjustment raise, thereby threatening their capacity to retain staff and deliver programming, and higher salary expectations mean that positions are vacant for longer, limiting the ability to grow programs. Food costs for hot lunches are up 20% and there has been a 25% increase in salaries for kitchen staff.
Rivkin stressed that, in the four months since the survey was conducted, costs have come down for some items, but the price of food continues to rise.
“Our agencies and synagogues survived COVID, and we thought we were past the difficult times,” she said. “However, we are now seeing the impact of inflation on them. When we decided to undertake the survey, we had no idea about the depth and breadth of the impact of inflation or that these pressures would affect everything from staff salaries to the cost of paper supplies. We are now working with our community agencies to explore ways to reduce costs. We recently hosted a lunch-and-learn featuring speakers from the Buying Networks Canada.”
The Buying Networks Canada is a Toronto-based organization that helps nonprofit, charitable and faith-based organizations across Canada save money on such things as food and beverages, office supplies and equipment, maintenance, and numerous other products and services.
In the summer of 2022, Jewish Family Services (JFS), one of Federation’s community partners, released information on the impact of inflation. Among the points in the JFS report were an increase in the number of clients asking for food voucher assistance, a record number of intakes for home support and the challenges Ukrainian newcomers on a limited income face with rents and food costs.
Food insecurity, according to JFS, has grown in recent months and the organization expects an increase of 150 new clients, if trends continue. Higher prices at the gas pump have resulted in fewer volunteer drivers. The greater need for services has translated into a higher workload for JFS staff.
“Community that JFS serves is on fixed income, and those individuals are the ones who suffer tremendously during this time,” said Tanja Demajo, chief executive officer of JFS. “What that means for JFS is that the number of people reaching out for help is on constant rise. Between the rise in prices, number of clients and cost of staffing, we as an agency have to ask ourselves what is our priority. This is the time when we get clarity, more than ever, who we are and what we need to do. Our goal has always been not to leave anyone behind. We hope that, even during the challenging times such as these, we can remain true to that.
“Since COVID,” she added, “staffing has been a significant challenge. It is very uncomfortable for many agencies to speak about issues of salaries, but the reality is that the professional staff has always been underpaid in the nonprofit world. With inflation, this issue has further grown and, unless taken seriously, it may impact the whole social sector in irreversible ways. Providing social support is based on relationships, and with constant changes those relationships get eroded.”
Anat Gogo, executive director of Tikva Housing Society, another Federation partner agency, is also concerned. “Inflation significantly impacts the delivery of housing programs due to increased costs and reduced availability of resources,” she said. “It can also make it more difficult for low-income households to afford adequate housing, so we are reaching out to our donors to assist us in ‘gapping’ the additional … funding needed to meet our commitment to the delivery of affordable housing and rent subsidies.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
לאור תוצאות הבחירות הכלליות האחרונות שנערכו בישראל בראשית חודש נובמבר, צפוי שההגירה אל קנדה תגדל. יש ישראלים שיתייאשו מהמצב החדש בישראל, כאשר ממשלת ימין קמה בהשתתפות המפלגה הימנית קיצונית הציונות הדתית, והם מבקשים לעזוב את ישראל. כך ישראלים מתבטאים בפייסבוק
בשנים האחרונות ההגירה מישראל לקנדה נמצאת במגמת עלייה ועתה צפוי שיותר ישראלים יעברו אליה. לפי פייסבוק תומכי בנימין נתניהו, שקראו למתנגדיו “שמאלנים בוגדים” קוראים להם עכשיו “שמאלנים למטוסים”. ואכן יש סברה ישראלים לא מעטים יעזבו לחו”ל. אחד אנשי הימין כתב בפייסבוק: “לאור תוצאות הבחירות אנשי השמאל עוזבים את הארץ ולכן משבר הדיור מגיע לקיצו”. אחר מאלה שרוצים לעזוב שואל באמצעות פייסבוק: “איך עוזבים את ישראל ומהר?” התגובות: “מבקשים מקלט מדיני, משיגים דרכון פורטוגלי, זה הרבה יותר קל ממה שחושבים”. משפחה ישראלית שעברה להליפקס לפני חמש שנים כותבת בפייסבוק לאחר קיום הבחירות: “למדנו לאהוב את החיים כאן בקנדה. את השלווה, את הנופים, את האדיבות ואת השקט. אז נכון שלא הכל מושלם. ולא הכל קל. ולא הכל מרגישים שייכים. אבל בשורה התחתונה, מרגיש שכנראה עשינו את הדבר הנכון. ישראל עומדת היום בצומת דרכים, ואים להסתמך על הבחירות האחרונות, כנראה שאנחנו כבר אחרי הפניה”. תומך נתניהו שואל בפייסבוק היכן הם אלה שטענו כי אם ביבי חוזר הם יעזבו את הארץ?”
כאשר היאוש גבר ולא רואים אופטימיות בטווח הקצר או אפילו הרחוק יותר, וכאשר ערכי הדמוקרטיה של ישראל הולכים ונמסים ולעומתם ערכים ימניים קיצוניים שתופסים מקום מרכזי במדינה, יש כאלה החושבים שהגיע הזמן לעזוב. כאמור קנדה היא אחד היעדים החמים בעולם כיום עבור ישראלים, שלא רוצים לעבור לאירופה או לארצות הברית
חברת דיווידשילד המתמחה במתן שירותי ביטוח עבור ישראלים הגרים בחו”ל, מסבירה מי זו קנדה: מדובר במדינה הצפונית ביותר בצפון אמריקה, המעוררת אצל רבים אסוציאציות של קור ושלג, אבל במציאות מדובר באחת המדינות הנחשקות בעולם להגירה ולרילוקיישן עם אוכלוסייה רב תרבותית, כלכלה יציבה, טבע מרהיב, נופים עוצרי נשימה ואיכות חיים גבוהה. קנדה נחשבת לאחת ממדינות ההגירה הפופולריות ביותר בקרב ישראלים, אם זה בזכות הכלכלה החזקה שלה, אפשרויות התעסוקה הרבות, קשרי המסחר הטובים ואיכות החיים הגבוהה. קנדה נחשבה למדינה ליברלית בעלת חוקי הגירה נוחים מאוד, שמטרתם למשוך אליה כוח עבודה משכיל ומקצועי. במהלך השנים עברה מדיניות ההגירה הקנדית שינויים רבים וכיום היא מתבססת בעיקר על קריטריונים כמו השכלה, גיל, ניסיון מקצועי ושליטה בשפות. המקצועות המבוקשים בקנדה, שעבורם הסיכוי הגדול ביותר לקבל אישור עבודה, הם בתחומים הבאים: רפואה וסיעוד, מחשבים, הנדסה, חינוך לגיל הרך, מרצים באקדמיה, תרגום, פסיכולוגיה וניהול בכיר
קנדה היא מדינה ענקית, השנייה בגודלה בעולם, עם צפיפות אוכלוסייה קטנה יחסית לשטחה הגדול – מה שמהווה אטרקטיביות רבה עבור ישראלים המעוניינים ברילוקיישן. כלכלתה של קנדה נחשבת ליציבה מאוד, שוק העבודה מגוון ושכר העבודה נחשב גבוה ביחס לשעות העבודה
אפשרויות התעסוקה בקנדה עבור מהגרים ישראלים נעות בין עבודות של צעירים, כמו: עבודה בעגלות ובמכירות, עבודת שיפוצים, טיפול בילדים והדרכות נוער בקהילות היהודיות; ועד משרות בחברות ההייטק הגדולות, בתחומים כמו הנדסת תוכנה; כמו כן, משרות בתחומי הסיעוד והרפואה בבתי החולים המתקדמים ביותר בקנדה
ישראלים המעוניינים ברילוקיישן לקנדה צריכים קודם כל למצוא מעסיק חוקי שידאג עבורם לויזת עבודה. החברה המעסיקה צריכה להיות בעלת משרדים הנמצאים בקנדה ועליה לקבל היתר ממשרד העבודה הקנדי להעסקת עובד שאינו קנדי
עם איכות חיים גבוהה, שירותי בריאות טובים, חינוך איכותי, כלכלה יציבה, חברה מקבלת, קהילה יהודית ענפה, שיעור פשיעה נמוך יחסית וטבע מרהיב – החיים בקנדה נחשבים בהחלט לנוחים ומלאי הזדמנויות
מערכת הבריאות בקנדה נחשבת לאחת מהטובות בעולם ומורכבת בעיקרה ממערכת ציבורית, הממומנת על ידי הציבור (בקנדה אין כמעט בכלל רפואה פרטית, כולל בתי החולים). כל אזרח קנדי, מהגר או תושב קבע זכאי לכיסוי רפואי מלא, כלומר כל ביקור רפואי, אשפוז בבית חולים וביצוע בדיקות רפואיות ניתן בחינם ובאופן שוויוני (למעט תרופות וטיפולי שיניים). העובדה כי כל השירותים הרפואיים ניתנים בחינם, אינה גורעת מאיכותם – ההפך: תקציב הבריאות בקנדה הוא גבוה מאוד, מה שמבטיח שירותים רפואיים איכותיים ויחס אישי
הדבר הראשון שעליכם לחשוב עליו כאשר אתם מתכננים מעבר מגורים לקנדה הוא כמובן עניין המגורים. אם אתם נשלחים לרילוקיישן, סביר להניח שהחברה המעסיקה תדאג עבורכם למגורים מסובסדים על חשבונה באזור העבודה. אם אתם עצמאיים או שעליכם למצוא מקום מגורים בכוחות עצמכם, זכרו כי גובה שכר הדירה משתנה בהתאם לאזור המגורים, הביקוש וסוג הדירה. פעמים רבות משתלם יותר לבחור במקום מגורים מעט רחוק מהמרכז ולהשתמש בתחבורה הציבורית היעילה
עניין נוסף שיש לדאוג לגביו כאשר עוברים עם ילדים לקנדה הוא החינוך. קנדה נחשבת למדינה שמשקיעה רבות בחינוך ומערכת החינוך שלה נחשבת לאחת הטובות בעולם. בקנדה יש מבחר גדול של בתי ספר ציבוריים ולצדם בתי ספר פרטיים, חלקם הגדול הוא בתי ספר יהודיים. ההרשמה לבתי הספר נעשית ישירות דרך מוסד הלימודים
הבחירה בין חינוך ציבורי ופרטי תלוי בשיקולים אישיים וכלכליים, אך שתי האופציות יבטיחו לילדכם חינוך איכותי. הלימודים במערכת הציבורית הם ליברלים יותר ויחשפו את ילדיכם למפגשים עם תלמידים ממגוונים אתניים שונים. הלימודים במערכת החינוך היהודית הפרטית אינם זולים וכוללים לצד הלימודים במקצועות הכלליים גם לימודי עברית ויהדות. חשוב לדעת, כי כל תלמיד חדש הנכנס למערכת החינוך הקנדית צריך לעבור מבחן באנגלית ובמתמטיקה כדי לקבוע את רמתו. מומלץ לקבוע מועד לראיון עוד בטרם הגעתכם לקנדה
אם חשובה לכם הקהילתיות, השמירה על הצביון היהודי והקרבה לישראלים נוספים, בקנדה אתם בהחלט תרגישו בבית. יהדות קנדה היא הרביעית בגודלה בעולם (אחרי ארה”ב, צרפת וישראל) וכיום חיים בקנדה למעלה מארבע מאות אלף יהודים. הקהילות היהודיות במדינה נחשבות מפותחות מאוד, בעלות קשרי קהילה חזקים והן מעניקות תמיכה רבה וסיוע למהגרים חדשים. המוקד המרכזי של ישראלים בקנדה היא העיר טורנטו, העיר הגדולה בקנדה ובירת מחוז אונטריו, בה מתגוררת הקהילה היהודית כוללת כמאתיים אלף אלף יהודים. יעד נוסף מרכזי עבור מהגרים ישראלים היא העיר מונטריאול הנמצאת במחוז קוויבק, המחוז הגדול בקנדה. במונטריאול נמצאת הקהילה היהודית השניה בגודלה בקנדה שמונה קרוב לכמאה אלף איש. בערים נוספות שבהן תמצאו קהילות יהודיות הן: ונקובר, ויניפג, אוטווה וקלגרי
מעבר מגורים עם כל המשפחה הוא לא קל אף פעם, אבל כשמדובר במדינה כמו קנדה סביר כי לצד קשיי המעבר, תחוו קליטה נעימה בזכות החברה הקנדית המקבלת והקהילה היהודית והישראלית המחבקת. עם זאת, יש לקחת בחשבון את כל ההשלכות והאתגרים העומדים בפניכם בעת מעבר למדינה רחוקה וקרה כמו קנדה
קושי נוסף עמו אתם צפויים להתמודד הוא מזג האוויר. קנדה היא מדינה קרה מאוד, עם חורף סוער וטמפרטורות שצונחות אל מתחת לאפס, לישראלים המגיעים ממדינה חמה לוקח זמן להתרגל לקור הקנדי. היתרון כאן הוא שכל שנה תזכו לראות שלג, הילדים יוכלו לבנות בובות שלג וללמוד לגלוש
Unemployed tour guide Hannah Rosenberg is now serving up hot dogs for about $12.50 Cdn an hour. (photo by Gil Zohar)
For Anglo tour guides who have been unemployed since March 2020, the Israeli government’s recent decision to impose a seven-day quarantine requirement for visitors from the United States because of the coronavirus – that resulted in the cancellation at the beginning of August of 42 10-day Birthright trips – was another blow to a hard-hit industry.
Compounding the gloom caused by the week-long isolation order are two other decisions. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control recently warned against travel to Israel due to the rise in cases of the coronavirus as the Jewish state experiences another wave of COVID-19 infections and death. And, at the end of June, Bituach Leumi (Israel’s social service agency) ended payments to unemployed guides under the age of 60.
Hannah Rosenberg, 30, who completed a two-year certification course at the Hebrew University, leading to a series of Ministry of Tourism licensing exams in February 2020, is currently grilling hot dogs at Zalman’s in downtown Jerusalem for NIS 32 (about $12.50 Cdn) an hour. She remembers how the good times suddenly ended.
“March 18 (2020) was my last tour,” she recalled. She was two days into a seven-day tour with an American family visiting Jerusalem and the Galilee when a phone call from the U.S. State Department cautioned the family to leave immediately, lest they get stuck without a flight out. “It was a lie,” said Rosenberg, a native of Jupiter, Fla., the first of many she has heard from government officials.
“I applied to Bituach Leumi,” she said, “and was denied because I had not been working for the previous six months, during which I was studying for the tour guide exam.”
An ever-resourceful veteran of an Israel Defence Forces combat intelligence unit, Rosenberg kept applying and, after nearly a year, was given NIS 1,200 ($475 Cdn) monthly beginning in February. That payment ended in June.
“My parents are helping,” she said. “It’s the first time since I was a kid. It’s a hard thing to ask.”
Notwithstanding the hardship, Rosenberg has no plans to leave Israel. “I’m here for good,” she said, sharing that she still plans to pursue her dream to become an archeologist.
Mark Sugarman, 68, who made aliyah from Boston in 1971 and became a licensed guide in 1992, has had a relatively easier time. He’s simply become retired – but not by choice. His last tour was in March 2020, he said.
“We finished the tour, the typical 10-day Christian pilgrimage tour of the holy places. It was grueling. It was like being in the army and doing miluim (reserve duty). I was exhausted…. I went into a voluntary two-week quarantine. I didn’t know if I was infected and I didn’t want to infect anyone close to me…. By the time I came out of quarantine, we were in the first lockdown. I was stuck at home with my wife and dog in Talpiot. I was knackered,” he said, using a word he learned from his British clients.
“I applied for everything. A month later, I turned 67, so I officially reached the age of retirement and I got Bituach Leumi. I couldn’t get unemployment … because I took old-age pension, I wasn’t eligible. Whatever I get, I’m grateful.”
He added, “When I was working, I saved money. The last four years before COVID was a fat period. Now, it’s lean. I’ve been in the business for close to 30 years. I remember the Second Intifada, from 2000 to 2004, and that was a harder period than now. Everyone had to scramble at the time. I know how hard it is for my colleagues who have young families.”
Sugarman would like to go back to the United States for the unveiling of his mother’s headstone in November, but it’s problematic at this time.
“It’s been hard,” he said. “My mother’s funeral was on Zoom. Since the pandemic started, I [have] lost three family members and two friends. We were cut off from each other physically. People dying were isolated from their loved ones. Together with the loss of income, that’s been the hardest part.”
Daniel Gutman, 41, has worked as a tour guide since 2009. The Dallas, Tex., native remains philosophical about the situation. “I’ve had a little bit of work here and there, with some people visiting, family and seminaries and yeshivas, which needed two to four guides per capsule. That helped a little but, basically, I haven’t worked in the last 18 months.
Since Bituach Leumi stopped its payments at the end of June, Gutman said it has been challenging. “The government bailed us out for 18 months after they put me out of work. It was enough to survive. Now I’m back to March 2020, to square one, figuring out what I’m going to do. I’m dipping into my savings.”
On the positive said, he said, “Although I’ve taken a hit financially, I’ve had an 18-month sabbatical to be with my family.” But, he added, “I’m looking forward to getting back to showing people the country I love.”
Even during times of war and terrorism, tourists used to arrive, Gutman said. But not now. “Is there [national] value in tourism?” he asked. “If so, the government needs to support tour guides. Money has gone to bail out tour operators and hotels.”
Gutman loves his career and said he has no plans to retrain. “I am optimistic this will end.”
Chicago-born Ami Braun, 43, another veteran guide, also has scrambled to survive since benefits ended in June. He recently sent an email promoting online sales of the Four Species (etrog, palm, myrtle and willow) for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot. And he has conducted some virtual tours for the Beit Avi Chai community centre. “I have been a licensed guide for 14 years. This is my passion. I am doing whatever I can to stay afloat,” he said.
Braun has returned to guiding part-time at the Kotel Tunnels. “The pay is like a student job,” he noted. “It’s not something to live off of.”
In addition to being a writer, I’ve been a licensed guide for more than a decade. For the longest time after March 2020, I dreamed, every night, about guiding. It was a great adventure showing tourists my country, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt, and I touched the hearts of a lot of people who fell in love with Israel. But those days are gone. I’ve been able to devote my time to editing a book about Hebron’s Jewish community, and to researching a study about Nazi collaborator Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the years 1941 to 1945 living in Berlin and aiding the Third Reich. I’ve had clients send me to Portugal and to Germany, but now travel has all but ended. Every summer since 2005 my wife and I have visited family in Canada. This year was the first time we haven’t gone. We’ve cut back on all expenses, including hosting Shabbat guests.
Still, I consider myself fortunate. I have my good health, interesting research, food in the fridge, and a wonderful wife and friends. Everything else doesn’t matter.
Gil Zohar is a writer and tour guide in Jerusalem.
Alex Cristall, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board chair, arrived early at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Jan. 26 to sign community recovery cheques for grant recipients. (photo by Rob Trendiak)
On Jan. 26, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver released the first round of community recovery funding to address the urgent needs arising from the pandemic’s impacts. A total of $416,000 in grants was distributed among 21 partner agencies and community organizations.
“When COVID first hit, we immediately developed a comprehensive strategic approach to address its impact,” Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of Jewish Federation, told the Independent. “We met with our partner agencies to learn firsthand about how they were coping, and we released $505,000 in emergency funding just days into the initial lockdown.
“We then worked closely with major donors to launch the Community Recovery Fund, which became a key focus of the annual campaign. We also established the Community Recovery Task Force, comprised of well-respected and experienced community leaders, to work with us to respond effectively to the immediate and long-term consequences of COVID that are affecting our community agencies. During the annual campaign, we asked donors to make an additional gift to support community recovery, if they could.
“We have always been fortunate to have an extremely generous community, and the depth of giving this year has been extraordinary,” he said. “Community members have responded to the call to help in unparalleled ways, however they can. They understand the breadth and scope of need, the immense challenges facing organizations, individuals and families, and that recovery will take some time. Most of all, they appreciate that we are all partners in recovery, and have really stepped up to play their part.”
The initial relief grants were distributed to 19 of Jewish Federation’s partner agencies, as well as to the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and the Hebrew Free Loan Association.
“For the first round of grants, all Jewish community organizations were invited to apply for up to $25,000, regardless of their size,” explained Risa Levine, chair of the Community Recovery Task Force. “Our priority was to meet organizations’ urgent needs resulting from the pandemic, and to ensure they could continue to deliver their programs and services. In the next few weeks, as part of this initial round of funding, we will be recommending grants for synagogues and other places of worship. These grants will be awarded in late February.
“The task force expects the two rounds of funding after that will focus on longer-term needs,” she said. “For example, are there organizational changes that would substantially increase an agency’s capacity to deliver their programs? We also recognize that the pandemic has gone on longer than anyone anticipated, and that the uncertainty of what lies ahead continues. New needs may emerge and COVID-related government subsidies, which have helped a lot of our agencies, may end. So, ensuring organizations’ ongoing sustainability in the face of pressures created by the pandemic will continue to be a priority.”
When the task force met with community organizations last summer and fall, the focus was on understanding how the pandemic had affected the programs and services they offer. While the details differed, said Levine, “they all had been impacted by COVID in similar ways.
“Based on this information, the task force identified six themes, which ultimately became funding categories for the recovery grant application: technology upgrades; critical social services; COVID-related expenses; revenue and rental losses; mental health support for staff and community members; and organizational capacity. Community organizations were invited to apply for a grant to meet urgent, COVID-related needs in two of these six categories.”
The recovery grants comprise but one of three funding streams being distributed in the next couple of months. Other financial assistance will come from the Jewish Community Foundation’s Unrestricted Grant Program, and allocations from the Federation’s annual campaign.
“The Jewish Community Foundation’s Unrestricted Grant Program is designed to complement Jewish Federation’s annual campaign allocations by providing charitable organizations with seed money to support new, innovative programs and services,” explained Shanken.
Grants awarded through the program “give charitable organizations the opportunity to pilot initiatives that address the community’s evolving needs, or to launch startup and capital projects,” he said. “Once the programs demonstrate success over several years, they may then qualify for ongoing funding through Jewish Federation’s allocations.
“This year,” he added, “the foundation adapted some conditions of the program to be as responsive as possible to organizations challenged to deliver their programs and services in new and innovative ways. In this way, the Unrestricted Grant Program is complementing the work of Jewish Federation’s Community Recovery Task Force, which has identified areas of critical need through its consultation process with community organizations.”
The Unrestricted Grant Program funds for 2021 will be awarded in mid-February.
“Jewish Federation has always been proactive and strategic about preparing for crises, so that we can lead a coordinated community response,” said Shanken. “And, while this is unlike anything the community has ever been through, we are in a strong position to respond. We have in place the infrastructure, the community planning expertise, and the staff and team of experienced leaders needed to respond swiftly and effectively to the enormity and ongoing uncertainty of COVID’s impact.
“We know how vital it is to get funds working in the community, and this involves so much more than fundraising,” he noted. “As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to adapt our strategic approach so that we are well-positioned for today and tomorrow, and to convene with all of our stakeholders so that we have our finger on the pulse of the community and can problem-solve together. We’re also collaborating with Jewish federations across North America to leverage their collective knowledge and capacity.”
Levine acknowledged the board and staff of our local Jewish Federation “for their vision and professionalism in organizing the task force and leading the recovery process, as well as the many generous donors who have supported this crucial work.”
She said, “I have been inspired and buoyed by the commitment and passion of everyone involved in the task force’s work to ensure that our community continues to function effectively: by the task force members for their dedication to the work, and by the community organizations for their candour and resilience in adapting their operations to meet the needs of community members.
“The biggest challenge,” she said, “has been to focus and refine our work to be able to respond effectively to the needs we learned about. Hearing firsthand about the challenges that organizations faced revealed the enormity of COVID’s impact through a sharper, more personal lens that added another layer of urgency to our work.”
Despite the challenges, Shanken said, “I remain positive because of the tremendous fortitude and the outpouring of compassion and generosity that I see every day. I am incredibly proud of how this community has pulled together to tackle the road to recovery, and am convinced that we will emerge stronger.”
Plans are for Jewish Family Services to open a food centre in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood this year. (photo from jewishvancouver.com)
The Tu b’Shevat More Than a Bag of Food program – a day of giving, of cooking and of education on food security in the age of COVID-19 – concluded with a panel discussion on the importance of good food, supply chain challenges, and the ensuing impacts and issues facing the Vancouver Jewish community.
The Jan. 28 program was presented by Congregation Beth Israel and Jewish Family Services (JFS), and the discussion event featured Mara Shnay, founding member and chair of the JFS client advisory committee; Cindy McMillan, director of programs and community partnerships with JFS; Dr. Eleanor Boyle, an educator and writer on food and health; Krystine McInnes, chief executive officer of Grown Here Farms, a company that supplies more than 1.5 million families with produce in Western Canada; and Dr. Tammara Soma, assistant professor at the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University.
Moderator Bernard Pinsky began by highlighting the connection of the Jewish community and providing food. “Feeding the needy is an act of chesed,” he said.
“For people who are food insecure, it is not about having enough for food,” explained Shnay. “It is about not having enough money for anything – to buy a new pair of shoes, to replace a phone, to go to the dentist or to take one’s kids to the movies, and it is about living in that kind of poverty. In Vancouver, housing security is inextricably linked to food security. The income of many JFS clients is less than their rent,” she emphasized.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the circumstances of many JFS clients, particularly seniors, who are at higher risk of contracting the disease and, therefore, should refrain from using public transport or going to stores. Consequently, shopping has become increasingly expensive for them.
McMillan said the food needs within the Jewish community more than doubled in the past year, with children comprising 20% of those seeking food services. The number of Jewish families and seniors living in poverty has been rising for several years in the Lower Mainland, well before the pandemic started, she added.
To help combat the challenge, JFS will open an as-yet-unnamed food centre in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood in the spring of 2021. “There will be a community kitchen, a place for social gathering, opportunities for general food knowledge, cooking classes, meals and a warehouse with increased storage for dry goods and perishables,” said McMillan.
The centre will also have a market-style food pantry for people to choose their food according to their customs and cultures, and the offerings will extend to outlying communities in the Greater Vancouver area through a pop-up van. The centre’s emphasis will be on supplying healthy food in a dignified manner to those in need, she explained.
Boyle spoke of food security in a wider sense – “We have food security when everyone is confident they can put adequate, healthy food on the table,” she stated.
There are systemic problems in Canada, she pointed out, as the country exports half the food it produces. “Food is treated like any other consumer good, like cars or shoes. It is run largely by private industry and, for business, social good is not a priority, profit is,” Boyle argued.
She advised involving government in the food industry, as is done in other sectors, such as education, transportation and health. More money, she suggested, should go to those who have trouble buying food, perhaps in the form of guaranteed income. The federal government could also pay farmers to grow certain amounts of healthy foods, like lentils, which would be available at below-market rates to everyone. This would in turn enhance food security and health for everyone with no stigma attached to buying this food; rich and poor would be paying the same price at the grocery checkout, said Boyle.
“There needs to be a shift from big agriculture to a more diversified local system,” she continued. “We created these current systems, and they should work for us. Change can happen. We will need to face down climate change and make food systems more sustainable,” she said, urging support for local food that is sustainably produced, as well as for people to waste less food and to eat a more plant-based diet.
McInnes elaborated on Boyle’s points by listing a number of problems in the supply chain, the agriculture and retail sectors, and government policy. “We are in a game in which corporate interests win and farmers lose, and consumers don’t understand that they are playing the card of the unwitting party that made it all happen,” she claimed.
Reeling off some concerning figures, McInnes reported that 85% of the space in grocery stores is controlled by four or five companies, that retail mark-up of local produce is 150% to 200% on average and that 92% of Canadian farmers do not have a succession plan.
Soma, meanwhile, spoke of food as spirituality and food as a right. She questioned, from an ethical perspective, the policies of big agriculture, which, for example, kills male chicks because they cannot produce eggs.
“Food as a right is not a secular concept, it is an act of spiritual justice to promote equity,” said Soma. “Food is a means of building relationships and a means of showing that you care and love someone.”
She added, “Without food security, we will not have peace and we will not have unity. The further the distance between the food and the one who eats it, the more the waste. There is a loss of connection.”
To watch the food security panel discussion or the Hilit Nurick and Rabbi Stephen Berger cooking session that took place earlier on Jan. 28 (and to download their red lentil soup recipe), visit bethisraelvan.ca/event/tubishvat5781.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Many businesses are shifting their focus to ecommerce, and many new ecommerce businesses are popping up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. British Columbia has recognized this by launching a plan to support these businesses.
Whether your business operates its own ecommerce site or operates through a service like Shopify or Etsy, how you deal with conflict in the ecommerce environment is up to you. I always caution people against finding website policies and legal documents online, as I’ve yet to see one that adequately deals with the concerns of the business.
The other areas that I find suffer from a one-size-does-not-fit-all problem are dispute resolution and intellectual property.
There are many types of disputes that can arise and many types of resolution tools. No one tool is the best for all situations.
Ecommerce businesses have certain aspects that make arbitration the best path, and some that would be more appropriate for the court system.
For example, intellectual property disputes often have to be tried in Supreme Court, not Small Claims. The cost of making a claim in Supreme Court is often higher than the cost of arbitration.
Arbitration is often used for ecommerce disputes because you can select an arbitrator with the specialized knowledge needed to understand the claim. If arbitration is an appropriate dispute resolution tool, you should discuss with your lawyer what set of rules and what type of panel will be used.
Let’s say you craft custom mezuzot and you sell them through Etsy. There are two main areas where I see disputes arising.
One of them is sale completion, like payment, delivery, etc. This is pretty standard business stuff, such as, who is responsible for the mezuzah after payment is made but before either the payment is received or the product is delivered? There is a wealth of case law dealing with this, and it’s important that you understand what kind of insurance you’ll need in case it’s stolen or lost during that interim period.
Another type of dispute arises from the originality of your artwork. The mezuzot themselves are covered by copyright law, as are the photos of them, but how will you deal with someone who makes unauthorized copies of either the mezuzot or the photos? If the copies are slightly different, who will be the best person to determine whether there is infringement?
Let’s say you have a site called TeleSeder. You sell an app and run a course to help people run their Passover seders through videoconferencing software, like Zoom or Skype. Someone signs up for the course, pays for everything, and then turns around and creates VirtuaPesach. It does almost exactly the same thing – it’s clearly using your idea, including a similar app and course, right down to the course materials. But the person running VirtuaPesach has done their homework on copyright and made sure that they’ve made enough changes to escape a claim for copyright infringement.
Copyright doesn’t protect ideas; it protects the specific works expressing those ideas. But that’s not fair, you say. They came to my site, even paid for my materials, and then ran off with them to create a competitor!
You can put remedies – as long as they’re not excessive and they’re realistically tied to the problem – right into the agreement. There’s a way that the agreement can say, “Not only will you not steal my idea, but if you do, whatever you create with it will be mine.” Enforcing that could put the brakes on VirtuaPesach and hand over all of its assets to TeleSeder. The extent to which you can do that depends on circumstances, of course, but this is something to consider when transitioning to an online business.
Using carefully crafted online documents for your ecommerce business helps protect you and your business. From securing what’s yours to controlling dispute resolution before a dispute arises, an ecommerce venture has new challenges and new spins on old challenges that can be managed by getting the right advice.
Jeremy Costinis a business and estates lawyer practising in Vancouver. He sits on the board of directors and is the chair of the governance committee of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and is a frequent guest instructor at the Law Society of British Columbia.
Disclaimer: This article should not be construed as legal advice. Only your lawyer can give you proper advice specific to your needs.
COVID-19 continues to impact our community. Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver estimates that local needs may increase by 50% over the next year. Therefore, it has established the Community Recovery Task Force, chaired by Risa Levine.
The purpose of the task force is to examine the myriad operational and financial issues facing our community as a result of COVID-19, and to assist Jewish Federation in responding to these challenges and changes, both presently and in the long-term. Through consultation with Federation’s partner agencies, the task force will be assessing the consequences of the pandemic on vulnerable community members, as well as on the ability of community organizations to deliver their core programs and services. Task force members will be looking to new, innovative approaches to enhance community organizations’ capacity, and recommending solutions that will support a strong, resilient and financially stable recovery as well as future sustainability.
The task force members have all held leadership roles with a variety of community organizations, and collectively represent the diversity of our community in terms of geography and life stage. In addition to Levine, they are Andrew Altow, Jill Diamond, Michelle Gerber, Hodie Kahn, Candace Kwinter, Shawn Lewis, David Porte, Justin L. Segal and Isaac Thau.
The task force is an integral part of Federation’s response to COVID-19, as is its three-phase approach to recovery. In phase one, it released targeted emergency funds in the first few weeks of the pandemic to address immediate and urgent community needs. As a second phase, it is currently working closely with major donors to maintain their support through the next two annual campaigns and to consider making contributions above and beyond their campaign gifts to support community recovery. In the third phase, every community member will have an opportunity to make a difference in our community’s recovery through participating in the annual campaign, which officially launches in September.
To learn more about the task force, to read the latest annual report or to donate, visit jewishvancouver.com.
– excerpted from the weekly email message of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives.
Like print media as a whole, Jewish newspapers worldwide have been struggling in recent years. The coronavirus, with its economic impacts, was the last straw for Canadian Jewish News, which announced its closure in a message to readers April 13, with the words: “Everything has its season. It is time.”
From the ashes of that flagship media outlet, though, has emerged not one but two new ventures – and rumours of a possible revival of CJN itself.
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives and the people behind them think there’s room for a range of online voices, even if a national hard-copy print media option isn’t in the picture.
The Record is the brainchild of Bernie Farber, former chief executive officer of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, and Ron Csillag, a longtime reporter and editor with CJN, whose writing has appeared in the Jewish Independent. TheJ.ca, which has been in the planning stages longer, was started by Winnipeggers Marty Gold and Ron East. The editor is Dave Gordon, a Torontonian whose writing has appeared frequently in the Independent, as well as scores of other Jewish and non-Jewish publications.
Farber and Csillag admit they don’t have a business plan beyond getting writers and editors to work for free – and they see their online venture as a stopgap that would probably cease or merge were CJN to return. The individual rumoured to be considering a rebirth of the paper opted to not comment for this story.
Farber, who was with CJC from 1984 until it was subsumed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in 2011 and served as its head from 2006, said they launched CJR on the fly, trying to fill a need in the immediate aftermath of CJN’s demise.
“Our goal is not to become a new Canadian Jewish News,” he said. “When and if they were able to come back up … we would find some way to amalgamate. Nothing is written in stone…. We expect to continue into the fall at this point, hopefully.”
The online news and commentary site operates under the auspices of a nonprofit organization and has no money to speak of, other than enough to cover registration fees and miscellaneous costs, said Farber.
“Everybody who wrote and who is continuing to this day to write for the newspaper is doing it pro bono,” he said. “These are skilled, professional journalists who are, for the most part, people who are used to being paid for their work and have chosen to do this as a donation at this time to the community. It really is a grand mitzvah, Canadian Jewish-style, and it’s working.”
The platform got 22,000 hits in the first week, said Farber, who serves as publisher. “It’s going up from there almost exponentially.”
The model upon which their editorial approach is based is akin to CJN, he said, with a range of opinions represented.
“We’re trying to have a big tent,” he said. “We already got into some hot water because we published a piece by Dr. Mira Sucharov. She’s a wonderful writer, she’s on the edge, people don’t like what she writes, but tough shit. People are allowed to have their opinions.”
JI readers will be familiar with Sucharov’s writing. As for coverage of Israel-related topics, Farber said they will follow a similar open approach.
“It’s not that we don’t support Israel,” he said. “We’re a news source, we’re an information source. We run opinion. We’re not going to [say] you can only write good things about Israel or good things about the Jewish community. We want there to be some spark to it where people can say, no, I disagree with that. We do have an option for feedback and we do get letters to the editor. That’s the Jewish community, right? They are vibrant, they come from all over the place and we want to be able to reflect that.”
Farber and Csillag are well-known figures in the Jewish and larger Canadian scene, which is one of the reasons, they say, that the president of York University reached out to them before releasing a much-awaited report of an investigation around a violent confrontation on campus last November between pro- and anti-Israel groups. The Record got embargoed exclusive access to the report before other media. “It demonstrates how, in a short period of time, we have become a reasonable voice in the community,” Farber said.
Csillag, the editor, said they chose, at the launch on May 21, to “flood” the site with stories to keep readers engaged and coming back. Now, the aim is to post two stories a day plus any breaking news.
“People are talking about it, people are complaining about it,” he said. “I got my first bit of hate mail, which is good. That’s when you know you’re making a difference.”
Finding writers to work for free has not been a challenge. “People have been coming out of the woodwork. I never knew that pretty much everyone on the planet was a writer,” Csillag said, laughing.
Challenges they have not ironed out, they admit, include finding reliable reporters outside Ontario and a steady source of news from Israel, since they don’t have the resources to pay for a news service.
If CJN is not revived, Farber said, “I think we have to get together with serious-minded people within the community and say the CJN is gone and we are here. We don’t have a real business model to be honest. What you see is what you get…. We would have to ramp up to a real business model.”
Farber added that Canada, with the world’s fourth-largest Jewish population at 400,000, should be able to sustain at least two national Jewish media platforms.
That confidence is shared by Gordon, who equates the situation to the old joke about the Jew who, when rescued from a deserted island, was asked why he built two synagogues on the island. One, he told rescuers, was his shul; the other was the one he would never set foot in.
TheJ.ca has been in the planning stages for more than a year. Gordon came on a few weeks before launch. Like the Record, TheJ.ca has little overhead, since everyone associated with it works remotely. They have a few investors and some steady advertising agreements. The online nature of the platform also means no printing or distribution expenses.
Gordon touts the diversity of the large stable of writers.
“One of the things that I think is our proudest asset are individuals from the widest array possible, individuals who are liberal to conservative, Jew and Arab, religious to secular,” he said. “We have four gay columnists, we have Jews of colour who are contributing, we have coast-to-coast contributors and, in that respect, I want to say that, not only do we deliver the unexpected, but we represent the previously unrepresented.”
On Israel coverage, though, they aim to determine suitability of opinions based on the “three Ds” formulated by Natan Sharansky to determine if criticism of Israel is antisemitic: delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, and subjecting Israel to double standards.
“In terms of Israel, we’re not going to make it a secret: we’re very pro-Israel, very Zionistic,” said Gordon. “It’s a good read to say that we are centre-right. We will still strive to maintain a kind of balance in terms of Israel reporting … we will tilt from time to time liberal but not left.”
Their aim is to post a batch of new content twice a week.
While Gordon is based in Toronto, TheJ.ca was born in Winnipeg. Marty Gold, a longtime broadcast journalist and publisher, and Ron East, a former pro wrestler and physical education teacher who has also been involved in publishing, are longtime friends who were critical of existing Jewish media.
East is son of the late Israeli military commander, author and counterterrorism expert Yoram Hamizrachi East. When Winnipeg saw an influx of Israeli immigrants a few years ago, the father and son launched a Hebrew-language publication to help the newcomers navigate their city. The 500 copies were routinely snapped up, he said.
The idea for the new media platform came after Gold and East felt that the established Jewish media and communal organizations in the city were not adequately confronting anti-Israel activity.
“There wasn’t really a pro-Israel, Zionistic platform out there,” said East. “We found that our local media here in Winnipeg, as well as when we started looking at Canadian Jewish News and others, were giving more and more room … and more and more credibility to what we would describe as anti-Israel, anti-Zionistic and, in some cases, pro-BDS Jewish movements. Those voices became louder and louder and the Zionistic pro-Israel voices seemed to be drowned out. We felt that it was important to provide a platform that would allow for those voices.”
While TheJ.ca is an online media platform, they are mooting a print digest that might be issued a couple of times a year. They are also working on a way to format content so that it can be easily downloaded and printed for people who prefer to hold their newspaper in their hands. Also in the hopper are plans for region-specific landing pages, so readers in Vancouver or Halifax, say, could access both items of national and international interest, as well as local news relevant to them.
The design of their site, said East, is particularly aimed at reaching younger readers. They credit Gordon’s experience in the field for bringing together a diverse group of writers from across the country.
The Jewish media scene has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. The emergence of the internet more than two decades ago has undermined print media of all types, with publications for small or niche demographics experiencing particular challenges as well as advantages. The pandemic, which led to an unprecedented global economic shutdown in March, had immediate repercussions. Much of the advertising in the Independent, for example, is for upcoming community events, all of which were summarily canceled. Non-essential retailers closed, making advertising extraneous.
The Independent has continued publishing on a reduced schedule.
Winnipeg’s Jewish Post & News announced in April that it was ceasing printing, but started publishing a print edition again at the end of May.
The difficulties nearly led to the dissolution of the world’s oldest English-language Jewish newspaper, Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, which was saved by a conglomerate of philanthropists. The rival Jewish News, which had also announced its liquidation and was set to merge with the Chronicle before the surprise bailout, will, for now, continue publishing independently.
In an article recently about the state of Jewish journalism, the Times of Israel reported that New York’s Jewish Week made a dire plea for support and a leader in the American Jewish Press Association – of which the Independent is a member – acknowledged that COVID has presented a serious challenge to an already struggling sector.
The world’s third-largest Jewish community, in France, is in a different boat. In the 1980s, the French government opened radio airwaves to private groups and Jewish radio stations play a role in that country similar to the role newspapers play in most other Jewish communities.
Left to right: MP Joyce Murray, MLA Selina Robinson and Vancouver Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung spoke at a June 3 webinar hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. (photos from the internet)
“Intense” was the word used by speakers from all levels of government to describe their experiences during the pandemic emergency.
In a June 3 webinar on Zoom, federal and provincial cabinet ministers and a Vancouver city councilor addressed COVID-19: What’s the New Normal? The event was hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
Joyce Murray, member of Parliament for Vancouver-Quadra, is Canada’s minister of digital government, a role that took on sudden significance when even Parliament began operating virtually and almost all federal civil servants are being asked to work from home.
“It’s been an incredibly intense time,” she said. “I never thought I would work harder than I do as a minister in Ottawa, but I would say these last few months have been much more intense than I expected.”
A million Canadians were able to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) on the first day, which Murray said illustrates the scope and speed of the government’s electronic mobilization.
Responding to a question from an audience member, she acknowledged that there may be some inequities in the program – some people are earning more not working than a neighbour might earn on the job – but the decision was made to ramp up immediately, knowing that anomalies were likely.
The federal government has not decided when to reopen the U.S. border, Murray said. The current, extended closure ends June 21.
“Our primary focus is the safety of Canadians,” she said. “We’ll be taking the advice of public health officials and thinking about all of the different ramifications and make a decision when the time comes.”
The discussion was moderated by James Moore, a former Conservative MP, who pressed Murray on the unanticipated federal expenditures resulting from the pandemic.
“Fortunately, Canada entered this in a very strong fiscal position compared with most of its G-20 partners,” she responded. “So we were ready and able to respond and there is now approximately $150 billion in direct support to Canadians that has been put on the table. That makes it one of the most ambitious response plans in the world. But our view is that we had fiscal firepower, it was right to use it and it will help our economy emerge more quickly and more strongly when the pandemic allows us to do that safely. Our focus right now is on helping Canadians and getting that right.… We will return to a strong fiscal position when it’s time.”
Selina Robinson, British Columbia’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, noted that the provincial government stepped up with $5 billion in emergency funding.
“It would be very, very hard coming out of this if we had people who were evicted from their homes and couldn’t put food on the table,” said Robinson, who is MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville. “I think everybody agrees that we needed to invest in people, so that they can continue to feed their families.”
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has warned that no pandemic in history has not had a second wave. Robinson said British Columbia and other jurisdictions are ready for that potential.
“I think we’re far better prepared for any future waves, given the experience we’ve had over the last few months,” she said.
Murray lamented the sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, while Moore warned that U.S. President Donald Trump “is going to run for reelection against China, and not against Joe Biden” – he fears the repercussions for Asian communities in North America as a result.
Robinson said the Jewish community is uniquely placed to be allies to those affected by this phenomenon, as well as to racialized individuals during the parallel upheavals around race, police violence and Black Lives Matter.
“I’m really proud to be part of the Jewish community and knowing that our history as a Jewish community has historically stood up for these values, to make sure that there is space for everyone and for standing up when we see injustice,” she said. “We will continue to do that and I urge everybody who is participating to make sure that you use your voice however and wherever you can.”
Sarah Kirby-Yung, a Vancouver city councilor, also spoke from a personal perspective, noting that her immediate family is of Asian descent.
“I’m incredibly distressed when I hear from members of the Asian community, seniors and vulnerable people particularly, who are afraid to leave their home or go for groceries or are changing their pattern because of who they are,” she said.
Vancouver’s budget has taken a swift kick during the pandemic, but Kirby-Yung rejected the rumour that the city is approaching bankruptcy.
“We are looking at about a $150 to $200 million projected revenue gap for Vancouver through the end of 2020,” she said. “Vancouver is not going bankrupt. We are in reasonable shape, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be very thoughtful about our spending in our decisions.”