Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart pins the Freedom of the City medal to Dr. Yosef Wosk’s lapel in a ceremony May 31. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
Yosef Wosk, a scholar, educator, author, businessperson, art collector, explorer, rabbi, peace activist and philanthropist, has been awarded Vancouver’s Freedom of the City.
The top honour bestowed by the City of Vancouver, the Freedom of the City is in recognition of Wosk’s philanthropic work benefiting libraries and museums, academic excellence, nature conservation, health care, community and social services, heritage preservation, science, humanities, reconciliation, and the arts in Vancouver and around the world.
The honour was bestowed by Mayor Kennedy Stewart at a ceremony May 31 at the Roundhouse Community Centre. Also recognized that night with an award of excellence was Jewish Family Services’ the Kitchen.
Born in Vancouver in 1949, Dr. Yosef Wosk is a multidisciplinary thinker and community activist who founded the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars, the Philosophers’ Café, and a number of schools. He has championed museums and libraries on every continent, assisted individuals and institutions with publication grants, planted hundreds of thousands of trees, and endowed the City of Vancouver’s Poet Laureate. His extensive travels culminated in expeditions to both the north and south poles.
Wosk is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Member of the Order of British Columbia, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. He is the recipient of both the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, the United Nation’s Culture Beyond Borders Medal, the President’s Award from the Canadian Museums Association, and a Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Community Service from the NAACP.
The Freedom of the City is the highest award given by the City of Vancouver. The city grants the honour only in exceptional cases to individuals of the highest merit. The recipient is usually someone who has gained national and international acclaim in the arts, business, or philanthropy, and who has brought recognition to Vancouver through his or her achievements.
The city began honouring individuals with the Freedom of the City Award in 1936. While several Jewish community members have been awarded the medal – most recently landscape architecture Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, just four days before she died on May 22, 2021 – Wosk and his late father, Morris J. Wosk, are the only father-son recipients in its history.
Yosef Wosk delivered an address to the audience, who assembled to witness a number of civic awards presented by the mayor and city councilors. Among the organizations recognized – in the category of Healthy City for All – was the Kitchen, a program of Jewish Family Services Vancouver.
Recognizing the vulnerability of people with food security challenges in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, JFS transitioned to delivering food for those most in need. The number of people they served and the frequency of food distribution more than doubled, and JFS saw the need to open a new multipurpose space in Mount Pleasant in March 2021.
The new purpose-designed food distribution centre has enabled JFS to establish all of its food operations under one roof, store and distribute a larger supply of food, prepare meals in-house, and eliminate the need to set up and reassemble the food bank every second week.
The Kitchen now provides a wider array of options, particularly for those with specific dietary needs, and serves a more diverse group of people across Vancouver. Produce, dairy, and healthy and nutritious food items are part of an ongoing food preparation operation that prepares and delivers vegan meals to community members and local Jewish day schools from the main Mount Pleasant location, as well as six satellite locations in the Vancouver area.