Minister and MP Harjit Sajjan speaks at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Dec. 5, while Jewish Federation chief executive officer Ezra Shanken looks on. (photo from Jewish Federation)
On Dec. 5, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC) announced that it has received $25 million in support from the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage. The funding will be used for the redevelopment of the 3.3-acre property at West 41st and Oak Street. It will support the transformation of the JCC into a state-of-the-art multigenerational community hub in the Oakridge area with more childcare spaces, expanded seniors programs, arts and cultural spaces, and an expanded Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
“The Government of Canada stands with Jewish communities across Canada and around the world. Today’s investment is part of our commitment to an inclusive Canada that is strong and proud of its diversity. Supporting cultural facilities is essential, not only to retain their viability today, but to help them flourish for generations to come,” said Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez.
“The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver is now another step closer to building a larger community hub where Vancouverites of all backgrounds can connect through shared experiences, while allowing the centre to continue providing services and supports that enrich quality of life in our city,” said Harjit Sajjan, minister of international development, minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada and member of Parliament (Vancouver South).
The redevelopment of the JCC is the cornerstone of the overall site redevelopment plan, which will also provide permanent homes for more than 20 not-for-profit community organizations and two residential towers that will provide mixed-use rental housing, some to be at below-market rates.
The JCC, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and King David High School have signed a memorandum of understanding that will see them work together to fulfil a shared vision rooted in extensive community and public consultation.
“The funding from the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage contributes the resources necessary to support and sustain the Jewish community in Vancouver,” said Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the JCC.
“The new space is poised to be a connection point that people of all ages and from all walks of life can enjoy for generations to come, and the legacy of this redevelopment will last a lifetime,” he added.
“This announcement is the result of efforts that spanned many years,” said Ezra Shanken, Jewish Federation chief executive officer. “We want to thank the Government of Canada and our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, for their work on this.”
Monday’s announcement builds on the $25 million funding provided in 2021 by the B.C. government and a $25 million gift and community match from the Diamond Foundation.
– Courtesy Government of Canada and
Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver
Neil Pasricha, the keynote speaker at Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s The Community of Awesome event Oct. 3, contends that people can be more content in their lives if they take two minutes every morning to finish these three thoughts: “I will let go of … I am grateful for… I will focus on….” (screenshot)
In lieu of the traditional large in-person event that launches the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign, a livestream broadcast from Hillel House at the University of British Columbia Sunday night highlighted the successes and challenges of the pandemic year.
“Donors have given more generously than ever before,” said Lana Marks Pulver, chair of the annual campaign. “Organizations have innovated faster and better. Volunteers have dedicated countless hours pitching in wherever they are needed – that includes more than 200 volunteer canvassers for the annual campaign.
“The pandemic has shown us that we are really good at overcoming challenges,” she said. “We know that, whatever the future holds, we can be there for one another and we will be there.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation, thanked sponsors, in particular Air Canada, which has provided five tickets to anywhere in North America, one for each of the five Jewish day schools in the region, to give to an educator to reconnect with family.
Candace Kwinter, chair of the Federation board, noted that, early in the pandemic, a think tank had predicted that 25% of B.C. nonprofits would not survive the economic and social consequences of the crisis.
“We are very proud that no local Jewish organization has folded,” said Kwinter. “And thank goodness, because demand for their programs and services has only grown.”
A video highlighted the work of Jewish Family Services Vancouver, one of 32 partners supported by the annual campaign. Their services include the Jewish Food Bank, a crisis line and programs for seniors to use iPads to connect with one another.
In the last fiscal year, Kwinter said, Jewish Federation distributed $11.8 million, including $3 million through the Jewish Community Foundation. In addition, the foundation distributed more than $270,000 through their unrestricted grant program, to allow community organizations to adapt.
The Oct. 3 event’s keynote presenter was Neil Pasricha, who is the bestselling author of seven books, including You are Awesome, The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome. He is one of the most popular TED Talks presenters. After obtaining his MBA from Harvard, he worked as director of leadership at Walmart for a decade.
The Toronto-based speaker focused on how to be happy, noting that the pandemic has resulted in higher rates of anxiety, loneliness and suicide than ever. With the enthusiastic energy of a 1950s disc jockey, Pasricha disputed what he called the assumption that happiness flows from great work, which leads to big success and then to happiness.
“It’s the opposite,” he said. “You have to be happy first, then you do great work and the big success follows.”
Happy people, he said, are 31% more productive, have 37% higher sales and are 300% more creative.
“Happy people get promoted 40% more often,” he added. “More importantly, happy people live an average of 10 years longer.”
He suggests that everybody take two minutes in the morning to write down three commitments.
“When you wake up, I want you to spend two of the 1,000 waking minutes a day doing a little exercise,” Pasricha said. “You write down these three things. I will let go of … I am grateful for… I will focus on.…”
When we consciously think about and write down the things that bother us, he said, we live life with greater contentment and happiness.
“Saying something that is bothering you, writing it down, actually helps you get it off your chest.”
The Dayson and Barnett families were on hand to celebrate the opening of Tikva Housing Society’s Ben and Esther Dayson Residences. (photo from Tikva Housing)
Although the weather was not ideal, almost 100 people attended the opening of Tikva Housing Society’s Ben and Esther Dayson Residences on Sept. 26.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event had to be held outside under tents. Rhonda Sacks, chair of Tikva, welcomed everyone and thanked the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation and the Dayson and Barnett families for their ongoing generosity and support. She acknowledged the three generations of the Dayson and Barnett families who were present and the importance of the younger ones to witness this momentous occasion.
Sacks recognized the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver for understanding the immediate need for affordable housing in the Jewish community and thanked them for their leadership and advocacy. Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation, brought greetings and reiterated the importance of not only saying thank you but also showing the younger generation how, because of their great-grandparents, the community is taking care of those in need of affordable housing.
Philip Dayson spoke on behalf of the family and mentioned that it was the desire of his mother, Esther Dayson, to help those less fortunate and to have a lasting legacy, like these townhomes.
Many of the residents in attendance took the opportunity to personally thank the donors and their families.
Hannah Amar, one of the residents at the Dayson Residences, spoke on behalf of the 32 families who live there. She spoke of the importance of having safe and secure accommodation, especially during COVID, and how grateful she is to Tikva and to its donors for her beautiful home.
This housing development is part of a partnership of the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Community Land Trust; there were many donors and partners on the project.
More than 100 people live in the residences, including almost 60 children. As one of the residents said, “The sense of community and Jewish life is beyond what we could have imagined. We are so fortunate to be living here.”
The event also paid tribute to Susana Cogan, z’l, who was the driving force behind Tikva Housing from 2009 to 2017. Cogan was instrumental in developing these residences, as well as others that Tikva owns and/or operates. A commemorative bench in her memory sits adjacent to the children’s playground.
For more information about Tikva Housing, call the office at 778-998-4582.
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.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken holding a T-shirt featuring Dr. Patricia Daly, vice-president of public health and chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. The Facebook post thanks Daly for always being there, throughout COVID-19, “behind the scenes providing valuable support.” (photo from facebook.com/jewishvancouver)
The largest capital project in the history of British Columbia’s Jewish community – the redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver site – is going ahead as planned, despite the pandemic. This and many other projects are continuing as planned, says Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken, in part because the agency has been preparing for a crisis for more than a decade.
As the Jewish Federation is set to launch the 2020-21 annual campaign, the Independent spoke with Shanken about the achievements and challenges of a year that started out relatively normally and veered suddenly into the utterly extraordinary.
While the COVID-19 crisis wreaked havoc on communities worldwide, and upended 2020 in unpredictable ways, Shanken said that Federation has been prepared for a crisis and that means the community remains in a position of economic and social health. After the 2008 economic recession, the organization launched a multi-year planning and allocations process intended to smooth economic ripples and equip partner agencies with reliable income expectations.
Federation raised $10.3 million this year – $8.9 million through the 2019 annual campaign and $1.4 million in special targeted funds from donors toward specific high-priority community needs such as supplemental education, to expand Jewish Family Services’ food hubs and to increase outreach to suburban and remote Jewish communities. Dr. Jonathon Leipsic was campaign chair. Alex Cristall, Federation board chair, and Shanken, provided a comprehensive overview of the year’s achievements in the 2019-20 annual report, available online at jewishvancouver.com.
When the pandemic struck, Federation launched an emergency campaign to help agencies meet the challenge of providing services to their constituencies while confronting the health crisis and its associated economic implications. The amount raised so far is not being announced, but $505,000 in funding has been released, for services like food and housing supports through JFS; to the JCCGV to help with service delivery; to supplemental and day schools to assist with tuition subsidies and transitions to online learning; for emotional support for seniors through the Jewish Seniors Alliance; and more.
A crisis like COVID, said Shanken, can have unintended consequences in helping communities overcome divisions and work together to reduce duplications of effort.
“Crisis often opens the door for opportunities for collaboration that never would have existed before for myriad political reasons,” he said. “People have far greater clarity around what the big picture looks like when they are in crisis. They are willing to forgo those smaller, often political complications that don’t allow for the advancement of big-ticket projects.”
Programs and projects that were underway before COVID include a Jewish Day School Council, chaired by Hodie Kahn, which began a year ago to undertake a benchmark study on the costs of education for each of the five schools in Metro Vancouver’s Jewish community. The findings of the report are expected to point the direction toward new funding models for Jewish education.
Community security also remains top of mind. This year saw the largest number of community organizations receive federal funding for security upgrades to facilities – Federation’s community security advisory committee, chaired by Bernard Pinsky, helped secure more than $225,000 from the federal Security Infrastructure Program. Security training sessions were provided to 160 community members.
A significant portion of campaign funds support programs abroad, including in Israel, especially in Vancouver’s partnership region, the Upper Galilee Panhandle. A connection with Jews in far-eastern Russia is also enjoying support from Vancouver’s campaign.
The challenges presented by the pandemic brought out the best in the community, Shanken said.
“It’s unprecedented in its negativity and it’s unprecedented in its positivity,” he said. “It’s unprecedented in the way that we are seeing need but it’s also unprecedented in the way that we are seeing cooperation to address that need. It’s really been a beautiful thing to see the community come together, agencies across the spectrum working together to ensure that we really have a great community as we come out of this.”
He recalls a phone call he received at the height of the lockdown.
“Somebody called me up one time when we were knee-deep in this thing and said to me, you know, Ezra, if you want to go through a crisis, go through it with the Jewish community, because we do it better than anybody,” he said. “I actually think that there is some truth to that. We really are very, very good at coming together at these critical moments. You see that materializing in the way that our agencies are working together, the way our donors are working together, the way our volunteers are coming now to serve, people are delivering food packages, over 1,300 people are being fed a week, that’s being done on the backs of volunteers and amazing professionals, multiple agencies working in conjunction with each other to make that happen. And that’s only possible because people’s best selves are emerging during this moment.… What strikes me is we really, really do, as a Jewish community, show our best selves in times of crisis.”
Shanken credits Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, for forging ahead with plans for the redevelopment of the site.
“I think people are still very passionate about seeing this project move forward,” said Shanken. “We are committed to continue to walk down the road. I can’t tell you when we will get a shovel in the ground, but I will tell you we have not put this on hold.”
Though this has been a most unusual year, so far, Shanken is bullish on the Metro Vancouver Jewish community.
“I believe it in my soul that the best years for our community have yet to happen,” he said. “We have had an amazing run over the past decade or more. Our community is incredibly strong, well positioned to emerge from COVID better than it’s ever been. But, for us to emerge in that way, it requires a commitment from our community to seize on the moment and bring us to that place that I know we can get to. The call that I would have for people is to join up, because we have an unprecedented opportunity to do truly great things for this community and to make us even stronger than we’ve ever been.”
Pam Wolfman and Ezra Shanken talk with the JI about how Jewish Federation and our community are facing the challenges of COVID-19. (photos from JFGV)
This year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut community celebration will feature international singers, actors, chefs and politicians. And the audience will also be from around the world.
On April 29, 11 a.m. PST, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is hosting a one-hour virtual celebration for Israel’s 72nd birthday, which will be followed by other programming. With the theme of “What Israel Means to Me. What Israel Means to Us,” the hour-long event will include Matisyahu singing a medley of “One Day” with representatives from the
Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether communities and other Jewish leaders sharing messages of hope and celebration; actor Joshua Malina talking about Israel’s battle against COVID-19; singing brothers Ben, Henry and Jonah Platt; chefs debating the merits of falafel and cookbook author Adeena Sussman teaching how to make it; Isaac Herzog sharing a story about Israel’s War of Independence and paying tribute to former Israeli president David Ben-Gurion; footage of Israel’s official Independence Day Ceremony on Mt. Herzl and a message from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin; and the singing of Hatikvah.
Normally, of course, our community would be marking the occasion locally, but COVID-19 changed all of that.
“The Yom Ha’atzmaut event is complex to organize, from the standpoint of searching for the artists who will perform, fundraising and marketing, and other logistics. We usually start planning the event almost as soon as the day after the prior year’s celebration, so there was a lot of work to un-do,” Pam Wolfman, chair of the local Yom Ha’atzmaut committee, told the Independent. “Everyone involved in our event planning has been extremely supportive, and we were able to cancel our event without any significant financial penalty.
“If there is a silver lining to be found, it is the opportunity to be able to join together with JFNA and Jewish communities from all over the world to celebrate ‘with’ Israel. It’s definitely something to look forward to!”
Thanking If’at Eilon-Heiber, Jewish Federation’s director of overseas and Israel affairs, and the whole Federation team, Wolfman said, “I also want to express my gratitude to our Yom Ha’atzmaut sponsors, donors, community partners and those who purchased tickets before the event was changed for all their support.”
For Wolfman, the annual event is important for several reasons.
“I’ve always felt so grateful to live in Vancouver, in large part because we have such a vibrant and diverse Jewish community,” she said. “Jewish Federation’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut event allows everyone in our community to come together to celebrate and unite around Israel – the beautiful country, her people, the wonderful music and culture – and to simply have an evening of fun!
“When it became clear that we would have to cancel our original plans due to COVID-19, it was very disappointing for all of us on the Yom Ha’atzmaut committee and Jewish Federation staff. And we all felt strongly that it was vital to continue this cherished tradition for our community. Joining Jewish Federation of North America’s online event was a great solution.”
“Our community is experiencing tremendous upheaval and, at the same time, we have seen signs that we are more resilient and connected than ever,” Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, told the Independent about the current situation.
“Our community organizations have been hit very hard – the challenges they are experiencing are unprecedented. Nearly all of them were forced to close their physical doors, and they remain closed for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Many of them have lost their sources of revenue, be it rental or programming income, or from having to cancel scheduled fundraising events. And, many of the people they serve have increased needs during this crisis and are turning to the Jewish Family Services Community Care Hotline for assistance.
“It is heartening to see how swiftly and effectively many of our community organizations have pivoted,” he said. “The day schools have transitioned quickly to online learning, while the JCC, synagogues and other organizations have introduced a wide variety of online programs and services. Young adults have stepped up to volunteer to help seniors.
“Our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, is working with all levels of government to secure support for nonprofit organizations, and has played a major role in achieving success on that front – not just for the nonprofits in our community, but for nonprofits across Canada.”
Jewish Federation is monitoring the community’s health and the impacts of COVID-19, said Shanken. “We are in constant contact with our partner agencies, and responded quickly to address urgent increased community needs by releasing more than $500,000 in targeted emergency funding to see them through the first 30 days of impact. We know that this is but a first step, and that more vital financial, operational and emotional support will be needed. We’ll continue to work closely with our community agencies and organizations to assess their needs, identify opportunities for collaboration, and determine where best to focus our short- and long-term support for the greatest impact.
“I see the strength of our community every day,” he added. “While there are many challenges to overcome, if we continue to stick together and care for each other, I believe we will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to define where our community will be.”
Shanken has joined various efforts on the ground, helping deliver seder meals with Lubavitch BC, for example.
“Anytime we are able to bring warmth and connection into people’s lives is extremely valuable, especially at times like these,” he said. “Delivering food and medicines, calling people to see how they are holding up – these points of connection can make an incredible difference in someone’s life.
“The COVID crisis, while extremely challenging in so many ways, has prompted many of us to pause to check in with loved ones, friends, colleagues or someone we might know in the community, to get back to basics and remember what is truly important. The tremendous outpouring of support that I have witnessed on so many levels has been inspiring, and a shining example of klal Israel.”
Jewish Federation has a COVID-19 resources page on its website, jewishvancouver.com, which will “help community members easily find information about the many programs and services that are available through community organizations and government agencies,” said Shanken. “We’ll continue to provide the community leadership, planning and crucial planning assistance that our community relies on, as we navigate this pandemic together. It’s what we’re here for.”
He stressed, “Even though we are all physically apart, it is easier and more important than ever to connect.”
As for our local annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, Shanken said it “has always been a special opportunity to bring our community together and show our support for Israel. We are reminded daily that Israel is also in a time of crisis. This year, with our participation in JFNA’s virtual celebration, it will be even easier for people to take part in the event. Every year, we think about other Jewish communities that are also celebrating Israel’s independence. This year, we can literally celebrate with them, in real time. It will be a great show of solidarity at a time when we especially value connection.”
In addition to the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, this year’s commemoration of Yom Hazikaron will also take place online. “As bereaved families live with their loss daily, we gather once a year to recognize their grief and pain, and to give them a communal hug,” said Geoffrey Druker, chair of Jewish Federation’s Yom Hazikaron committee, in a release.
From April 26 to 28, community members will be able to light virtual candles for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, and there will be a remembrance ceremony on Zoom on April 27, 7:30 p.m., which will include poems, readings, songs and a moment of silence. To be a part of the gathering, register at jewishvancouver.com/yhk2020.
A rendering of the development that is planned to replace the current Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. (image from JCCGV)
A recently signed agreement is a significant next step in the largest infrastructure project in the history of British Columbia’s Jewish community. The deal is expected to create a new Jewish community centre, as well as at least 300 rental housing units and larger, renewed facilities for many communal institutions, replacing the existing, almost 60-year-old community centre.
A memorandum of understanding between the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver was signed last month. The agreement will likely see the land owned by the JCC transferred to a new community-wide agency. According to a joint statement by the two organizations, the proposed new 200,000-square-foot “recreational, cultural and community centre [will include] new childcare spaces, more services for seniors, an expanded space for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a new theatre and more.” At least 15 not-for-profit community organizations are anticipated to be housed there, as well as updated and enlarged facilities for arts and culture, aquatics, and fitness programs. Mixed-use rental housing units included in the plan are expected to be offered at or below market value and be open to everyone.
The project will advance based on a collaborative fundraising initiative. A campaign goal has not been announced.
“This agreement is an important initial step toward acting upon the community’s vision for a revitalized JCC that would become a legacy for the Jewish community and the city,” Salomon Casseres, president of the JCC board, said in the statement. “Our board is excited to partner with Jewish Federation. We believe that this collaboration puts the project on a strong foundation for success, from a community, financial and governance perspective.”
“An opportunity like this comes along perhaps once in a generation, so we are very proud to be working closely with the JCC on this historic project,” Alex Cristall, Jewish Federation’s board chair, said in the statement. “Jewish Federation takes a broad, long-term view of the sustainability, growth and evolution of the local Jewish community, and we believe that this project will create a strong core that will ultimately allow us to increase our reach and our impact.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation, told the Independent that the collaboration is a “big win” for the community.
“Federation has always been a proponent for the concept of working together on projects that have an impact that’s beyond the reach of one agency and we are thrilled that the JCC agrees with us that this is one of those projects,” he said. “It absolutely should be common in all cities.… For me, it’s best practice.”
The new JCC will strengthen the entire community, he said, adding that the impacts will reach far beyond the Oakridge neighbourhood.
“We are not just creating a strong future for that 41st and Oak corridor, the Vancouver Jewish community, but I believe we’re creating a strong future for the community across the Lower Mainland as a whole,” Shanken said, expressing his gratitude to the JCC and its leadership.
“I think the JCC has shown immense foresight and courage in coming together with us, to have the openness to work through the challenges and opportunities that exist in partnership, and I believe that this partnership will glean really great results for the Jewish community as a whole,” he said.
Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the JCC, said working together hand in hand is the best way forward and the partnership is a natural one. The collaboration between the JCC and Federation is the largest partnership, but is part of a broader engagement process, he added.
“The master planning process of this legacy community project has involved an extensive engagement effort by the JCC, reaching out and having conversations with more than 30 Jewish community organizations, many stakeholders, donors and community members,” said Goldfarb. “The JCC, as we know it today, is home to 15 different Jewish community organizations and the new redevelopment might increase these collaborations opportunities.”
Discussions about the partnership between the two organizations have always been very collaborative, open and in good faith, Goldfarb said.
“This project is about creating a JCC for the future of the community, with more and better childcare, seniors, wellness, arts, culture and education state-of-the-art spaces, but is not limited to only that,” he said. “Our vision is to create an innovative community site which will include a brand new J, as well as a welcoming and collaborative home for many other community organizations and, of course, the much-needed large rental affordable housing towers.”
Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the JCC site redevelopment plan in September 2018. Several major steps remain in the design and planning process, as well as the raising of the millions of dollars required to complete it.
Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, speaker of the Knesset, addresses delegates in the parliament’s Chagall Hall. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Before the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America began on Oct. 22, a local delegation, headed by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board chair Karen James and chief executive officer Ezra Shanken, toured Vancouver’s partnership region, the Upper Galilee Panhandle, which includes Israel’s most northerly communities.
Shanken said that a “mirror” volunteer board of community members from across the panhandle region has been created, including people who are sourcing projects, bringing them in and deciding, along with funders from Vancouver, which critical projects within the region will receive support.
“Those can be everything from a kitchen that we just opened that’s helping developmentally challenged individuals learn cooking skills, or we are looking at education programs … really trying to lift up the north,” he said.
The periphery in Israel has always faced more challenges than the centre of the country, Shanken added. Trying to rebalance that situation, he said, involves engaging the people in the partnership region to take ownership of the projects funded from Canada.
“One of the great things that we saw was the graduation of [the first cohort of] something called Galilee Up, which is something we’ve been working on,” he said. “It’s a leadership development program where we looked around the table and said, who’s going to be the great volunteer leaders of tomorrow?”
More than 20 individuals with leadership potential, mostly younger adults in the early stages of their careers, have been brought together, participating in courses at Tel Hai College. On the Vancouver group’s October visit, the cohort pitched concepts that could help improve the region.
Shanken also celebrated the reopening of a medical centre in Kiryat Shmona, for which Vancouverites had advocated alongside residents of the panhandle.
“This was a huge, huge win for us,” he said.
Democracy in Israel
Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein assured delegates that the health of democracy in Israel is strong.
“Purposely misquoting great American author Mark Twain, I can say that the rumour of the demise of Israeli democracy has been slightly exaggerated,” he told a special evening plenary held in the Knesset’s Chagall Hall. “Israeli democracy has been strong, is strong and will be even stronger.”
He encouraged Diaspora Jews to write, email and telephone members of the Knesset with their concerns.
At the same event, Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition, offered an alternative view, warning that the Nation State Law undermines the democratic leg of the “Jewish, democratic state.”
She said that her opposition to the law is not based on what is in the law, but what was left out. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that Israel is a Jewish nation, but guarantees equal rights for all its citizens.
“When the state of Israel was established,” she said, “all the Jewish leaders signed – we’re talking about socialism, communism, revisionism, Charedim – they decided, this is a moment in which they should put aside all the differences and say that Israel is being established as a nation state for the Jewish people, but also giving equal rights to all its citizens.”
This assurance is missing from the Nation State Law, she said.
“And it’s not that somebody forgot it,” she stressed. “It was part of the discussion here. I wanted to add in the first article of this bill: keeping Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. The answer was no. Let’s refer to the Scroll [Declaration] of Independence. The answer was no. I said, let’s have equality. The answer was no. Israel is a democracy and we will keep Israel as a democracy, but, frankly, this is a challenge now.”
Livni added that Diaspora Jews who spend a certain amount of time every year in Israel should have the right to vote in Israeli elections.
“Our decisions as an Israeli government affect your lives as well,” she said.
Trauma experts thanked
Stacy Kagan, the vice-mayor of Parkland, Fla., fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Israel, but acknowledged she never envisioned it would be under such circumstances. Kagan was at the General Assembly to thank Israeli emergency responders for stepping up after the mass murder at a high school in her city last February.
“In the days following the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school, grieving and in shock, we received an outpouring of support from across the country, across the world and Israel,” she said. “Within days, experts from the Israel Trauma Coalition were on the ground in Parkland. They were training our local counselors, who were there themselves and unprepared to address the impact of a large-scale attack that terrorized our local residents. The team from the Israel Trauma Coalition was nothing short of incredible. Their experience was invaluable.
“Today, I stand before you not only as an elected official, but as a Jewish woman who has always wanted to visit Israel,” she said. “I’ve dreamed of this but never made it until now. I never could have imagined that I would be here under these circumstances. As a Parkland resident, I come here to express my appreciation to the Israel Trauma Coalition, the entire Federation movement and the people and government of Israel for standing with us. This was our time of need. You showed up. You gave us strength and you taught us how to be resilient. As a wife, a mother and a consoler to those families and children that were taken by this horrible tragedy, I am here to say todah. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.”
Danna Azrieli, co-chair of the General Assembly, spoke of the Zionism of her childhood, which was mixed with the intergenerational trauma of being a second-generation Holocaust survivor.
“I struggle with anxiety and fear that an enemy may lurk in a place I don’t expect,” she said. “I am always vigilant. I’m the graduate of a 95-day outdoor leadership training course, just in case, one day, I will have to survive in a forest. And I hope that my overactive antennae that work overtime all the time and have deeply psychosomatic effects on my health will save me if ever, one day, I am faced with an unexpected horror in a restaurant or dance club.”
Since moving to Israel, she has witnessed brutality on both sides, she said.
“I have been within six metres of a terrorist running down the main street of the city where I live,” Azrieli told the plenary. “I saw his knife. I saw him sweat. I heard the sirens because he had just stabbed a 70-year-old lady in the coffee shop on the corner. And I also saw the total abandonment of morality, the bestiality, that overcame my Jewish neighbours when they ran the terrorist over with a car and hit his legs with a stick as he was face down at the bus stop while they were waiting for the police to arrive. I am a product of all of these things.”
Deborah Lyons, Canada’s ambassador to Israel, delivered an address that repeatedly brought the audience to laughter and their feet. Citing the Federation movement’s commitment to helping people in North America, Israel and throughout the world, she said, “Your goals are nearly interchangeable with those of the Canadian government.”
She said, “We both are committed to supporting the most vulnerable around the world … regardless of background. And we both are strongly supportive of Israel, its future and a deepening, closer relationship with Canada.”
Both federations and the Canadian government are facilitating cultural and economic missions to Israel to strengthen connections, especially in the business sector. In recent months, Lyons said, Canada’s governor-general, prime minister and a large number of senior cabinet officials have traveled to Israel.
“Our international leadership is perhaps best demonstrated by our recent partnership in rescuing White Helmet volunteers in Syria, one of the best moments of my career,” she said.
Along with allies, “Canada and Israel answered the moral obligations to ensure the swift evacuation of 422 members of this incredibly brave civil defence group, and their families. It was the support from Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and, in particular, the incredible professionalism and heart of the IDF that brought that evacuation about.”
The ambassador added that combined efforts include batting antisemitism.
“Canada has worked alongside Israel to produce an internationally accepted working definition on antisemitism and we will continue to work with Israel to combat this ill everywhere – wherever, whenever,” she said, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will officially apologize for Canada’s turning away of the refugee ship MS St. Louis in 1939.
She reiterated Canada’s support for a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians and spoke personally about her experiences living in Israel for two years now.
“It’s a complicated, invigorating and empowering place that can touch every emotion and challenge every belief,” she said. “It’s filled with energy, with incredible vitality and with endless warmth. I come from Canada – I know warmth when I feel it.… It’s simply very alive here.”
The most emotional presentation of the General Assembly was delivered by Miriam Peretz, winner of the 2018 Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society, whose story of the price Israeli families pay for the security of the nation had audience members sobbing. Earlier this year, Education Minister Naftali Bennett delivered the news of the award to her by arriving at her front door, the same door where, a decade ago, officers arrived to deliver, for the second time, the worst news a mother can receive.
“Ten years ago, on the eve of Passover, three angels knocked on my door,” Peretz said. “They didn’t bring with them the prophet Eliyahu. Rather, they were the bearers of terrible news. My second son, Eliraz, a deputy commander of Battalion 12 of Golani – a father of four little children, the biggest was 6 years old, the littlest was 2 months old; she didn’t know her father – he was killed fighting the terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“As soon as I saw who was outside my door, I ran. I shut the door. I shut the window so no one could enter,” she recounted. “When they finally came in, I begged them and asked them, please don’t say the word, don’t deliver the news. Just let me [have] my son for one more minute. Because, as long as you don’t say this horrible news, my Eliraz still lives for one more minute. It has to be a mistake, I explained, for I had already paid the ultimate price of our country’s survival. A dozen years earlier, my firstborn, Uriel, an officer in a special unit of Golani … was killed fighting the Hezbollah in Lebanon. And, if it’s not painful enough, my dear husband, unable to bear the loss of Uriel, died five years after of a broken heart.
“So it was the eve of Passover and we were gathered to the seder without Uriel, without Eliraz, without Eleazar, my husband,” she continued. “And we read … we cried when we read in the Haggadah, l’dor v’dor, in every generation they rise up to destroy us…. There is no mother in Israel that wishes her children to be a combat soldier. When we have these children, we only pray to Hashem to let them be alive, to keep them healthy, but not to be soldiers. And my children, every time, when called upon to defend our nation, they did not hesitate. They said simply, Ima, it’s our turn.”
Peretz spoke of her childhood in Morocco and how, one night, her father told the family that “this night we will meet the Moshiach, the Messiah. I asked my father how he looked? And he said he will come with an open shirt, with shorts and with sandals. This is the shaliach of the Jewish Agency.
“They took us from the alleys of this place in Morocco to this country,” she said. “When we arrived to Haifa, I saw my father kneeling and kissing the ground when he said the Shehecheyanu. I didn’t understand the behaviour of my father and I never imagined that, one day, I will kiss this earth twice, like my father, when it covered the bodies of my children on Mount Herzl.”
She said that, after the death of her second son, she asked: “What can I do with this grief and sorrow? I can continue to sleep on my bed, to cry about my destiny, to blame the government, the IDF – this is not my way. I chose to continue and to hold the life. I chose to look outside … to see all this land and ask myself, every day, what can I do to be worthy of them? They gave their life for me. I didn’t want to waste my life, because life is not how many years you are here. It’s what you do with this minute that God [has] blessed you.”
Peretz has devoted the years since to comforting bereaved families and wounded soldiers.
“She did not choose the circumstances of her difficult life,” Bennett has said of Peretz, “but chose to live and revive an entire people. She is the mother of us all.”
“It’s not only my personal story,” Peretz told the General Assembly. “It’s the story of this land. It’s the story of faith and hope. It’s the story of the price that we pay for the existence of this state.”
למזל בודדים השתתפו בהפגנת ארגוני הימין הקיצוני נגד ההגירה לקנדה, ביום שבת מול בית עיריית ונקובר. מולם עמדו כארבעת אלפים אזרחים שהגיעו למחות נגדם. (צילום: Cynthia Ramsay)
ראשי הקהילה היהודית בקנדה פרסמו בימים האחרונים הודעות פומביות המגנות נחרצות את השנאה והגזענות בקנדה, ארה”ב וספרד. זאת לאור האירועים האחרונים שהתרחשו בצפון אמריקה ובאירופה.
יו”ר מועצת המנהלים של הפדרציה היהודית של אזור מטרו ונקובר, קרן ג’יימס אמרה בהודעתה: “אנו מקפידים להביע גינוי נגד כל הביטויים של אפליה, שנאה, גזענות, שנאת זרים, הומופוביה ואנטישמיות בחברה שלנו. הם מאיימים על החברה הרב-תרבותית שלנו שהיא מסבירת פנים, אוהבת ומגוונת. ובמיוחד הם מתנגדים למחויבות שלנו לקבל ולהכליל שהם הערכים שהקהילה היהודית תמיד דוגלת בהם. אנו מביעים דאגה עמוקה ביותר מהאירועים שאורגנו על ידי הארגונים התומכים בעליונות הגזע הלבן והמתנגדים להגירה, בונקובר. צריך שיהיה ברור שאנו מגנים בצורה חד משמעית את העצרת הגזענית הזו. הקהילה שלנו יודעת היטב, כי כל ביטויי השינאה המכוונים למיעוטים בסופו של דבר מאיימים על החברה כולה. צריך לגלות אפס סובלנות לכל הביטויים הגזעניים בחברה שלנו. עלינו לזכור שקנדה אינה חסינה מאתגרים של אפליה, שנאה, גזענות, שנאת זרים, הומופוביה ואנטשימיות. בואו נעבוד ביחד כדי להבטיח שכולם ירגישו רצויים בעיר שלנו”.
מנכ”ל הפדרציה היהודית של אזור מטרו ונקובר, עזרא שנקן, אמר בהודעתו: “אני חייב קודם כל לנצל הזדמנות זו כדי לגנות את אירועי האלימות בשרלוטסוויל ובספרד בשבוע שעבר. אני בטוח שאתם מזדעזעים כמוני על השנאה והגזענות, הרצח חסר הטעם של הת”ר הייר בשרלוטסוויל ושל שלושה עשר האנשים בספרד, כאשר עשרות נוספים נפצעו. אפשר להרגיש זאת בקלות גם בקנדה, בזמן שאנו מתגאים כל כך במרקם הרב תרבותי של ארצנו, ואנחנו גם מתחלחלים מעצרות שנאה כמו זו שהייתה בשרלוטסוויל. למרבה הצער אנו לא חסינים לגמרי וכפי שאתם יודעים התקיימה עצרת של הימין הקיצוני ביום שבת האחרון מול בניין עיריית ונקובר. הפדרציה שלנו בשותפות עם המרכז לענייני היהודים וישראל בקנדה פרסמנו הודעה המגנה את עצרת הימין הקיצוני. אנו תמיד נשמיע את קולנו במחאה כאשר אנחנו רואים גזענות ושנאה, ואנו גם שמחים לראות שגם ראש העיר של ונקובר, גרג רוברטסון, היה קולני בהתנגדותו ואמר כי לשנאה ולגזענות אין מקום בעיר הזו”.
למזל בודדים השתתפו בהפגנת ארגוני הימין הקיצוני נגד ההגירה לקנדה, ביום שבת מול בית עיריית ונקובר. מולם עמדו כארבעת אלפים אזרחים שהגיעו למחות נגדם. כוחות מתוגברים של המשטרה נכחו במקום והם תארו את האירועים “כידידותיים”. בסך הכל רק חמישה מפגינים נעצרו על ידי המשטרה ושניים נוספים הובלו אל מחוץ לאזור ההפגנה.
מנכ”ל המרכז לענייני היהודים וישראל בקנדה, שמעון פוגל, אמר בהודעתו בין היתר את הדברים הבאים: “אנו מזועזעים מן הדימויים העולים משרלוטסוויל. תצוגה של נאצים והתומכים בעליונות של הגזע הלבן מזעזעת ומגעילה, את כל בני הרצון הטוב. עבור הקהילה שלנו, ובמיוחד עבור ניצולי השואה זה במיוחד צורם ומזכיר לנו את הרגעים האפלים ביותר בהיסטוריה שלנו. עבור אלה שמחוץ לקהילה היהודית, שרלוטסוויל צריכה לשמש תזכורת נחרצת לכך שהאינטישמיות היא אמיתית, הרסנית וקשורה קשר הדוק עם צורות אחרות של גזענות ושנאה. הקהילה היהודית מכירה היטב את השפעת השנאה הזאת. גם במדינה פלורליסטית כמו קנדה, היהודים נותרו הקהילה הדתית הממוקדת ביותר לפשעי השאה. ברור שאנו לא חסינים, אבל אנחנו לא לבד. קנדה היא בין המקומות הטובים ביותר בעולם להיות בו יהודים. יש לזכור שהמצב הביטחוני שלנו בקנדה לא השתנה גם היום”.
עלות נזקי השריפה הענקית בפורט מקמורי מוערכת כבר בתשעה מיליארד דולר. (צילום: YouTube)
העלות הגבוהה של נזקי השריפה הענקית שהפכה את פורט מקמורי לעיר רפאים, מוערכת כבר בתשעה מיליארד דולר. אין ספק שמדובר באסון הגדול ביותר בתולדות קנדה. נזקים גדולים נגרמו לרכוש, בתים, דירות, עסקים, חנויות, מוסדות, רכבים, ציוד, קווי חשמל, קווי מים, קווי ביוב ותשתיות אחרות. הליך השיקום הארוך ימשך חודשים ארוכים ואולי אף שנים.
השריפה שהחלה ביום שבת שעבר (ה-30 באפריל) והפכה תוך יומיים-שלושה לשריפה מפלצתית, גרמה לכך שממשלת מחוז אלברטה הכריזה על מצב חירום כולל וכ-90 אלף תושבים מאזור פורט מקמורי והסביבה, נאלצו לעזוב את בתיהם ולעבור למקומות בטוחים יותר. הליך פינוי התושבים נמשר מספר ימים והוא הגיע לסיומו בסוף השבוע האחרון. טורים טורים ארוכים של אלפי תושבים שממתינים בסבלנות במכוניותיהם לצאת את האזור הפגוע, הפכו לתמונת היום באמצעי החדשות, שברקע נראית השריפה הענקית שכאילו לקוחה מסרט אימה נוראי. ומצד שני התמונות הקשות של אזורים נרחבים שנחרבו לחלוטין לאחר שהשריפה עברה בהם והפכה כל דבר לאפר, מזכירים אזורי מלחמה קשים. מתברר שהמציאות הקשה של פורט מקמורי קשורה בה עולה על כל דימיון פרוע.
בשלב זה אין הערכה מתי יצליחו מאות הכבאים שהגיעו מכל רכבי קנדה, עשרות כלי הטיס (מטוסים והליקופטרים), בליווי ציוד כבד, להשתלט על השריפה שרק הולכת וגדלה. שטח השריפה נאמד כבר ביותר ממיליון וחצי דונם והיד הקשה שלה עוד נטויה. מזג האוויר החם מאוד והרוחות החזקות מנפיקים אנרגיה נוספת לשריפה, שעברה כבר את פורט מקמורי והיא נעה עתה לכיוון צפון מזרח – אל עבר מחוז ססקצ’ואן. תחזית מזג האוויר מצביעה על התקררות מה בחום אך זה לא יספיק להשתלט על השריפה. גם הגשם שצפוי לרדת באזור לא בטוח שיעזור בהרבה, כיוון שלא נראה שהוא יהיה חזק במיוחד. הליך השתלטות והכנעת השריפה הקשה הזו ימשך בוודאי עוד מספר ימים. בינתיים איכות האוויר באזור הפגוע גרועה מאוד ואפילו באזור נברסקה שבצד האמריקני של הגבול, מדווחים כבר על איכות אוויר גרועה.
פורט מקמורי היא העיר המרכזית הסמוכה לחולות הזפט בהם נמצא מאגר הנפט הגדול ביותר בקנדה, שנחשב לשני בגודלו בעולם אחרי ערב הסעודית. מרבית חברות האנרגיה באזור נאלצו להפסיק את פעילותן ולהשבית את קווי הנפט לאור החשש שהאש תגיע גם אליהם. הירידה בתפוקת הנפט מעלה את מחירו בשוק העולמי, אם כי לא נראה שזה יואיל לענף האנרגיה של אלברטה שסובל קשות בשנתיים האחרונות, מירידה דרסטית של מחירי הנפט בשוק העולמי.
גופים רבים נתרמים לעזור לעשרות אלפים התושבים שהפכו כל כך מהר להומלסים. לרבים מהם לא היה לאן לחזור והם יאלצו להתסגל למציאות קשה זו. הצלב האדום של קנדה מרכז את מרבית מאמצי העזרה לתושבים. הארגון הצליח בתוך ימים ספורים לרכז תרומות בהיקף של יותר מארבעים ושישה מיליון דולר. הממשלה הפדרלית הבטיחה לתרום למען התושבים סכום זהה לסכום שיגוייס על ידי הצלב האדום. ממשלת אלברטה מפעילה קרן חרום מיוחדת לנזקקים שהיקפה יותר מ-200 מיליון דולר.
הקהילות היהודיות ברחבי קנדה נתרמות אף הן לאזור לנפגעי פורט מקמורי והסביבה, והן מפעילות קרנות מיוחדות לגיוס כספים עבורם. מנכ”ל הפדרציה היהודית של אזור מטרו ונקובר, עזרא שנקן: “ביחד עם כל הפדרציות היהודיות בקנדה אנו מגייסים כספים לעזור לנפגעי אלברטה. מאה אחוז מהתרומות יוקצה לטובת הנפגעים באמצעות הפדרציה היהודית של אזור אדמונטון”.