Left to right, Sasha Gerson, Joanna Wasel and Frances Belzberg will be honoured by CHW on Sept. 22. (photos from CHW Vancouver)
Welcome to September! A few signals that summertime is ending are the kids going back to school, the Jewish holidays quickly approaching and the return of Jewish community gatherings like the upcoming Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW) Vancouver luncheon.
On Sept. 22 at the Richmond Country Club, CHW is holding an event to honour exceptional volunteers. As a volunteer organization driven by women, which focuses on the welfare of children and women in Israel but is also concerned with the health care of all Israelis, CHW often chooses to recognize the contributions of local women who make a difference to the lives of those in our local community.
This year, the organizing committee of the luncheon, headed by CHW volunteer Toby Rubin, selected three visionaries who have put their considerable talents as organizers, motivators and mentors to work to improve various areas of Jewish life in Vancouver. Sasha Gerson, Joanna Wasel and Frances Belzberg represent three different generations of volunteers and all contribute in diverse ways to the community.
Gerson is well known in the Russian-Jewish community. For years, she helped immigrants settle in Vancouver through her work at Jewish Family Services. Her most public role is as an award-winning radio host. Twelve years ago, she and her partner, Dmitry Shiglik, launched Radio VERA, a weekly Russian-English talk show. Her motivation is to bring Jews together, and her volunteer activities through the radio have included organizing trips to Israel, festivals for children and music events. She interviews people primarily in Vancouver but has guests from Russia and Israel on her show. She is also a CHW volunteer, currently serving as treasurer of CHW Vancouver.
Familiar to those who are connected in any way to Camp Hatikvah, Wasel is known as a volunteer extraordinaire. She is currently serving her fifth year as president of the Camp Hatikvah board and, during her presidency, she has expanded participation in the camp’s programming. One of her most important legacies is the introduction of Family Camp, which was first held eight years ago. This program has brought a camp experience to more than 220 people every year since its inception.
“You’re never too old or too young to be a camper!” said Wasel of Family Camp. She sees the weekend-long experience as a chance for adults to make new friends. “People bond and it establishes a foundation for the Camp Hatikvah community. In addition to being good, quality family time, we see it as a community-building experience,” she said.
Camp Hatikvah is associated with the Young Judaea movement, a Zionist organization that dates back to 1917. Historically, CHW has been associated with Young Judaea, as well, providing funding for national programs including Biluim Canada and Israel.
The third honouree, Belzberg, has had a life-long commitment to philanthropy and Jewish community building. She has been involved with CHW for 67 years, most of those in Vancouver. Having contributed in the early years of her marriage to Hadassah in Edmonton, Belzberg knew that joining a Hadassah chapter when she moved to Vancouver would help establish close friendships in a new city. She continued as a volunteer in many leadership roles, including chair of the Hadassah Bazaar, and on the national board as well.
Belzberg’s dedication to community extends beyond CHW. She also has served as Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s first women’s division chair and has held many other leading fundraising roles, including with St. Paul’s, B.C. Children’s and Vancouver General hospitals. She was a founder of the Dystonian Medical Research Foundation and was recognized for her diverse and numerous efforts with the Order of Canada in 1995. Belzberg has given countless hours as a volunteer, driven by a belief she explained this way: “Without community involvement,” she said, “there will be no future for the Jewish people. It is up to us to combat antisemitism and make sure our communal organizations remain strong.”
Those who attend the Sept. 22 luncheon, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will have the opportunity to hear a short address by each of the honourees. Proceeds from the event will benefit one of the many educational projects CHW supports in Israel – the CHW Centre for Clinical Training and Community Care, Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem, is one of the fastest-growing institutions of higher learning in Israel. It is a pluralistic college with a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees, from health and life sciences to information and computer technology.
Luncheon tickets are selling fast, said Rubin. With more than 100 already sold and capacity at 150, those interested should purchase tickets soon. For more information or to register, call the CHW office at 604-257-5160.
Michelle Dodek is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.