Burquest Jewish Community Centre has invited a series of local Jewish leaders to visit the centre and discuss their approach to Jewish practice. A Coat of Many Colours: Conversations about Jewish Practice takes place every other Sunday, through Dec. 11. It started Oct. 16.
Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan – rabbi emerita of Or Shalom (Renewal), volunteer at Beth Israel (Conservative) and director of inter-religious studies and professor of Jewish studies at Vancouver School of Theology – began the series with a talk called An Integrative Spirituality.
On Oct. 30, 1:30 p.m., Congregation Har El’s Rabbi Philip Gibbs speaks on The Conservative Synagogue and the Modern Jew.
“As a Conservative rabbi, I believe that Jewish law develops over time so that even a deep commitment to live according to Jewish values, traditions and rituals can fit with modern sensibilities,” he said. “At the same time, as a community leader, I also recognize that not every person wants to or is able to follow the discipline of an observant life. The synagogue acts as a spiritual toolbox with the many rituals and values that can add meaning to your life. The tension between an individual’s interest and the communal practice is both a challenge to create a welcoming space and an opportunity to explore the deeper meaning of our tradition. We will look at a few examples of how a synagogue could approach rituals like kashrut, prayer and Shabbat.”
Rabbi Tom Samuels of Okanagan Jewish Community Centre, Beth Shalom Synagogue, will give the Nov. 13, 1 p.m., talk, on the topic From Synagogue to Home.
Samuels, who does not identify with any singular Jewish denomination, institution, theology, pedagogy and the like, said, “My session will explore the idea of relocating the North American model for ‘doing Jewish religion’ from the synagogue building to the home. In response to the destruction of the Second Temple, a new Judaism emerged called Rabbinic Judaism. The ancient rabbis established a new locus of Jewish identity and connection to the home, and specifically, to the shulchan, the Shabbat table. Using the model of the Chassidic tish (or botteh, or what Chabad Lubavitch call the farbrengen), we will experience the seamless tapestry of Torah learning, tefillah (prayer), singing and eating that could be replicated by Jewish communities, with or without a local synagogue, throughout North America.”
On Nov. 27, 1 p.m., Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz will speak on These Are The Things – 10 Commandments for Living a Purposeful Life.
“Reform Judaism in general emphasizes the moral ethical commandments as being obligatory while the spiritual ritual commandments are more subjective to the individual worshipper with the autonomy to make meaningful, informed choices in their personal practice,” said Moskovitz. “My current rabbinate as senior rabbi of Temple Sholom is shaped by an emphasis on finding meaning through Jewish custom and practice, social justice work, inclusion, outreach to the unaffiliated and developing a relational community.
“I will present a passage from the Mishnah called Elu Dvarim, which details 10 commandments that, if followed during your life, receive reward now and for eternity…. I will present and we will discuss how the application of these particular commandments to your life, regardless of your faith tradition or whether or not you even have one, is one answer to the eternal question what is the meaning of life.”
Rounding out the presenters will be Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Chabad Lubavitch, on Dec. 11, 1 p.m., with a topic to be announced.
Further information on presentations and presenters is available under events at burquest.org.
Zoom presentations became a regular affair at Beth Israel during the pandemic. Inset: JFS director of programs and community partnerships Cindy McMillan provides an overview of the new Jewish Food Bank. (screenshot from BI & JFS)
As Vancouver-area synagogues cautiously edge their way toward reinstituting in-person religious services, many rabbis are doing a rethink about the impact that the past 17 months of closure has had on their congregations.
Finding a way to maintain a community connection for thousands of Jewish families became an imperative for all of the synagogues early on in the pandemic. Not surprisingly, for many, the answer became cutting-edge technology. But careful brainstorming and halachic deliberations remained at the heart of how each congregation addressed these urgent needs.
“We immediately realized that services per se were not going to work over electronic medium,” Congregation Schara Tzedeck’s Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt told the Independent.
He said Orthodox rabbis across the world were already discussing halachah (Jewish law) in light of the pandemic when the province of British Columbia announced the shutdown in March of last year. “We realized that we weren’t going to offer any services,” he said. “We can’t have a minyan online.”
But that didn’t mean they couldn’t offer support. Schara Tzedeck’s answer to that need was only one of many innovative approaches that would come up. For example, to help congregants who had lost family members, the Orthodox shul devised a new ritual, as the reciting of the Mourner’s Kaddish requires a minyan (10 men or 10 men and women, depending on the level of orthodoxy, gathered together in one physical location).
“What we did is immediately [start a Zoom] study session in lieu of Kaddish. [The Mourner’s] Kaddish is based on this idea of doing a mitzvah act, which is meritorious for the sake of your loved one, so we substituted the study of Torah for the saying of Kaddish,” he explained.
For many other communities, such as the Conservative synagogue Congregation Beth Israel, the deliberations over how to apply halachah in unique moments such as these were just as intense. For these instances, said BI’s Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, rabbis saw another imperative.
“This is what is called she’at had’chak, or a time of pressure,” Infeld said. “It’s a special time, it’s a unique time, and so we adapted to the time period.”
The concept allows a reliance on less authoritative opinions in urgent situations. So, for example, with respect to reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, Infeld said, “We felt that, especially in this time period, people would need that emotional connection, or would need that emotional comfort of saying Mourner’s Kaddish when they were in mourning, and so we have not considered this [internet gathering to be] a minyan, except for Mourner’s Kaddish,” Infeld said. He noted that the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, which reviews halachic decisions for the Conservative movement, has adopted the same position.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay, who leads the Orthodox Sephardi synagogue Congregation Beth Hamidrash, said that although his congregation would not hold Mourner’s Kaddish online, venues like Zoom played a vital role in allowing the congregation to meet during shivah, the first seven days of mourning. Like a traditional shivah, which takes place in the mourner’s home, often with a small number of visitors, an online shivah gave community members a chance to attend and extend support as well.
“That was actually an especially meaningful [opportunity],” Gabay said. “The mourners, one after another, told me that, first of all, you don’t often get the opportunity to have so many people in the room, all together, listening.”
For members of the Bayit Orthodox congregation in Richmond, an online shivah meant family on the other side of the country could attend as well. “What was most interesting, of course, was the people from all across the world,” remarked Rabbi Levi Varnai. “You can have people who are family, friends, cousins, from many places in the world, potentially.”
Vancouver’s Reform Congregation Temple Sholom also came to value the potential of blending online media with traditional venues. Rabbi Dan Moskovitz said the congregation had been streaming its services and classes as much as a decade before the pandemic arrived. But lifecycle events, he said, demanded a more personal approach, one that would still allow families to actually participate in reading from the Torah scroll, while not violating the restrictions on large public attendance.
“The big change is that we brought Torah to everybody’s home,” he said. Literally. Moskovitz or his associate, Rabbi Carey Brown, would deliver the scroll in a large, specially fitted container, along with a prayer book, instructions and other necessary accoutrements.
“We had a document camera so, when we streamed, you could look down on the Torah as it was being read on screen. Those were very special moments on a front porch when I would deliver Torah, socially distanced with a mask on, early on in the pandemic,” he said. “I had a mask and I had rubber gloves and they had a mask, and you put something down and you walked away. We got a little more comfortable with service transmission later on.”
Switching to online media also has broadened the opportunities for classes and social connections. Infeld said Beth Israel moved quickly to develop a roster of classes as soon as it knew that there would be a shutdown.
“We realized right away that we can’t shut down. We may need to close the physical building, but the congregation isn’t the building. The congregation is the soul [of Beth Israel]. We exist with or without the building,” he said. “And we realized that for us to make it through this time period in a strong way, and to emerge even stronger from it, we would have to increase our programming.”
He said the synagogue’s weekly Zoom and Learn program has been among its most popular, hosting experts from around the world and garnering up to 100 or more viewers each event. The synagogue also hosts a mussar (Jewish ethics) class that is regularly attended. “We never had a daily study session,” Infeld said. “Now we [do].”
For Chabad centres in the Vancouver area, virtual programming has been a cornerstone of success for years and they have expanded their reach, even during the pandemic. “We have had more classes and more lectures than ever before, with greater attendance,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, who runs Chabad Richmond.
Zoom and other online mediums mean that the centres don’t have to fly in presenters if they want to offer an event. Like other synagogues, Chabad Richmond can now connect their audiences directly with experts from anywhere in the world.
“We can’t go back”
All of the synagogues that were contacted for this story acknowledged that online media services had played an important role in keeping their communities connected. And most felt that they will continue to use virtual meeting spaces and online streaming after the pandemic has ended.
“As our biggest barrier to Friday night participation was the fact that many families were trying to also fit in a Shabbat dinner with small children, the convenience of the Friday livestream is worth including in the future,” said Rabbi Philip Gibbs, who runs the North Shore Conservative synagogue Congregation Har El.
“We’re scoping bids to instal a Zoom room in our classroom space so that we can essentially run a blended environment,” Rosenblatt said. “We anticipate, when restrictions are lifted, some people will still want to participate by Zoom and some people will want to be in person.”
However, some congregations remain undecided as to whether Zoom will remain a constant in their services and programming.
Rabbi Susan Tendler said that the virtual meeting place didn’t necessarily mesh with all aspects of Congregation Beth Tikvah’s Conservative service, such as its tradition of forming small groups (chavurot) during services. “We are talking about what that will look like in the future,” she said, “yet realize that we must keep this door open.”
So is Burquest Jewish Community Association in Coquitlam, which is looking at hybrid services to support those who can’t attend in person. “But these activities will probably not be a major focus for us going forward,” said board member Dov Lank.
For Or Shalom, a Jewish Renewal congregation, developing ways to bolster classes, meditation retreats and other programs online was encouraging. Rabbi Hannah Dresner acknowledged that, if there were another shutdown, the congregation would be able to “make use of the many innovations we’ve conceived and lean into our mastery of virtual delivery.”
For a number of congregations, virtual services like Zoom appear to offer an answer to an age-old question: how to build a broader Jewish community in a world that remains uncertain at times and often aloof.
The Bayit’s leader, Rabbi Varnai, suggests it’s a matter of perspective. He said finding that answer starts with understanding what a bayit (home) – in this case, a Jewish house of worship – is meant to be.
The Bayit, he said, is “a place for gathering community members and for coming together. The question, how can we still be there for each other, causes us to realize that we can’t go back to as before.” After all, he said, “community service is about caring for each other.”
Jan Lee’s articles, op-eds and blog posts have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism, Times of Israel and Baltimore Jewish Times, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.
Left to right are Lynne Fader (Kehila Society), Adam Ben-Dov (Connect Me In), Toby Rubin (Kehila Society), Michael Sachs (with daughter Desi and son Izzy), Monica Flores and Steve Uy (Garden City Bakery). (photo from Kehila Society)
The Covid Challah Initiative was started by Michael Sachs and is a partnership between Richmond’s Kehila Society, Richmond’s Garden City Bakery, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Connect Me In and North Vancouver’s Congregation Har El. The initiative aims to ensure that everyone in Metro Vancouver who needs a (free) challah is delivered one. (For the story of how the initiative started, see citynews1130.com/2020/05/03/challah-delivery-covid-richmond-family.) To sign up for a challah contact, visit jewishvancouver.com/challah-delivery. Each week’s registration opens on Monday and closes Thursday at noon – and people need to register each week, as this is not a recurring service.
T’ruah students help plant trees in the Hebron Hills. (photo from T’ruah)
U.S.-based T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights works in Jewish social justice circles in Israel and North America.
“We work with human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians…. We’ve also worked on introducing rabbis and rabbinical students, and also congregations, to what’s happening in West Bank and more,” executive director Rabbi Jill Jacobs told the Independent.
T’ruah, which supports a two-state solution, offers the Year-in-Israel program for rabbinical students.
“Students study in Jerusalem at various institutions,” said Jacobs, “but they don’t necessarily get to see human rights issues up close. We take them once a month to see a human rights issue on the ground, either in the West Bank with Palestinians, in Bedouin Israeli communities in the Negev, asylum seekers, etc.”
At these sessions, students meet with Israeli human rights and other leaders on the ground. The program is held during students’ free time, separate from their regular studies.
“The goal of the program is to help them develop a rabbinic moral voice,” said Jacobs. “As rabbis, they’re going to be called on to speak about Israel. The question is, how do they talk about Israel as a rabbi? Rabbis talk out of their values, and also are generally dealing with politically diverse communities…. So, the question is, how can a rabbi speak in a way that will push people to listen to perspectives they might not otherwise listen to, [based on] Jewish texts and Jewish values?”
Jacobs recognizes that the information they provide is not comprehensive. Their focus is to give students the opportunity to interact with human beings – to meet Palestinians, Bedouins and others and learn from them what their life experience is like.
“It’s also crucial to us that they are meeting with Israeli human rights leaders,” said Jacobs. “Very often, there’s a dichotomy that suggests that being pro-Israel means supporting the right-wing government of [Binyamin] Netanyahu and that being pro-Palestinian means being against Israel. We’re pro-human rights and we want them to meet Israelis working every single day to push for human rights in their own country because they love their country. We want them to see that there are actually people who are changing the situation.
“We hear a lot from the students that our program gives them hope. Sometimes, they are so hopeless about what is happening in Israel and then they meet people, both Jewish and Palestinian communities, who are trying to change their situation.”
One T’ruah graduate is Rabbi Philip Gibbs, spiritual leader of Congregation Har El in West Vancouver.
“During my year in Israel, during my second year of rabbinical school, I had the opportunity to then be a fellow with T’ruah for their rabbinical student program,” Gibbs told the Independent. “I really appreciated the opportunity, both because, at least the year I was doing it, there was clearly a huge focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, also because the way, in terms of educating about social justice issues in Israel, they were able to show some of the other issues happening – whether it was meeting with Bedouins, talking to some asylum seekers from Africa … really seeing what their home-grown needs are and seeing how it developed into a strong sense of the how they were fighting for many of those needs through the legal systems in Israel.”
Gibbs met with Palestinians who had been displaced from the Jerusalem area after the 1967 war. “We had the chance to hear their narrative,” he said, “highlighting how their status as refugees during that conflict had really come into question because of both the policies of Jordan, as they were occupying the area, as well as some of the motivations of different settler organizations in their attempt to create a much stronger Jewish presence behind the Green Line… I felt like that was more educating us in understanding the way that the nature of a lot of these neighbourhoods had been going back and forth.
“For the Israeli settlers, they felt they were reclaiming a neighbourhood that was Jewish. For the Palestinians that had been living there, their legal status was caught up in layers of legal confusion of having that area under control of many different authorities over the past 150 years.”
Gibbs has not yet had an opportunity to bring this part of his rabbinical education to his congregation directly, but it has definitely played a role in how he shares his perspective regarding, for example, the upcoming Israeli election.
“I’m making sure there’s a deeper sense of having the recognition that a lot of these questions that are coming up, some of these issues are on the minds of most Israelis … but that, no matter what, a lot of the work that human rights organizations are doing, a lot of that is going through the overt legal system of Israeli government.”
Regarding the many Israelis he has met who work for human rights organizations, Gibbs said he appreciated the way their main motivation was a deep sense of trying to make their country the best it can be, noting that every government needs to be transparent in their treatment of their citizens, allowing for a certain amount of criticism.
“That’s something coming from a place of love and it’s the most ideal way to get things done in a constructive way,” said Gibbs. “People can debate about how much people living outside of Israel are supposed to be making any sort of direct intervention, which happens on both sides of the political spectrum, but, I think, there’s absolutely nothing that we should hide in terms of understanding the full array of political work happening in Israel.”
Joel Harrington chats with Ande Axelrod from Tagua, who makes jewelry from nuts grown in the Amazon (treatsdesigns.com), at a gathering of B.C. artisans at the North Shore Jewish Community Centre (Har El Congregation) on Oct. 16. (photo by Shula Klinger)
Rabbi Philip Gibbs is the new spiritual leader of Congregation Har El. (photo from Rabbi Philip Gibbs)
Rabbi Philip Gibbs, who took up the pulpit at Congregation Har El / North Shore Jewish Community Centre in July, had an unusually straight path to Judaism in many ways, at least for someone living outside the Orthodox world.
“Judaism was always part of my life,” Gibbs told the Independent.
Growing up in Marietta, Ga., he attended a Reform synagogue, went to Hebrew school and lived in a home life structured by Judaism. He found Judaism both comforting and intellectually engaging. He loved the thorny moral questions of Jewish tradition and studying Torah stories for guidance about how to live in the world. By the time he finished high school, he was on the regional board of the Reform Jewish Youth Movement (NFTY).
Being a leader in NFTY helped Gibbs see what it meant to bring others to and through the experience of Judaism – and the seed of a rabbinic calling was planted.
Gibbs went to college at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and graduated in 2012 with a double major in Hebrew and the humanities. He also attended summer programs for intensive Talmud study and, as he settled into “that place of serious learning about Judaism,” he felt at home. He was enamoured by how the Jewish community supported each other in times of crisis and celebration, giving a wider sense of meaning to even happy moments.
Gibbs attended the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), attracted “by its academic emphasis and its acknowledgment of the evolution of Judaism.” It also fit his personal level of observance.
He focused on Talmud and halachah (Jewish law) at the seminary and became the secretary of the committee on Jewish law and standards. He became passionate in his interest in halachah, both theoretically and as a “road to values.” He enjoyed taking ritual practice and explaining “the goal and meaning of it from a place of depth.”
Gibbs graduated with a master of arts in Talmud and received his rabbinic ordination earlier this year.
As a rabbinical student, he was engaged with global social justice and human rights issues, and became a member of Rabbis Without Borders. In his second year, after touring Hebron with T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights organization, he was featured in an article in the Forward about younger rabbis willing to grapple fully with the moral complexity of life in Israel.
Gibbs connected to Congregation Har El, which has been without a permanent spiritual leader for just over a year, through the JTS matching process for new rabbis. He had been to Vancouver before and looked forward to flying out for the interview.
“B.C.’s wilderness and outdoors activities are a big draw for me,” said Gibbs, who led the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute camp Ramah in the Rockies and is looking forward to the hiking and skiing opportunities available in the Vancouver area. “I grew up doing a lot of hiking in the southeast and led backpacking trips with Conservative movement summer camps. When I got here, I was also thrilled to find a community of very nice and caring people, a place that wanted depth in what they were doing.”
Gibbs said his main priority right now is getting to know the community before he begins putting together any new ideas. He is also getting to know Vancouver.
“It’s great,” he said. “One of the first things I did was get a bike – it’s a city very easy to get around in. My first view was before the forest fire smoke came in, and it was absolutely beautiful.”
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Jeffrey and Elizabeth Nider, a local couple from Vancouver, were part of more than 200 North American immigrants to move to Israel on July 4. (photo from Nefesh b’Nefesh)
The board of directors of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the board of governors of the Jewish Community Foundation are pleased to announce the appointment of Marcie Flom to the position of executive director of the foundation. Marcie brings more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience to the role.
Marcie previously served as both director of JCF and vice-president, financial resource development, of Jewish Federation, where she was responsible for the revenue functions of the organization, including the annual campaign, special projects and corporate funding of nearly $15 million annually. Prior to that, she had a consulting practice and held leadership roles at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company and the National Ballet of Canada.
“I am very pleased to welcome Marcie into her new role,” said Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of Federation. “Marcie has extensive development and planned giving experience, along with a solid record in major gift fundraising, which perfectly positions her to lead the foundation through the next phase of growth.”
“I am thrilled with Marcie’s appointment and look forward to continuing our strong working relationship,” said Judi Korbin, chair of the foundation’s board of governors. “In addition to her decades of experience and stellar track record, Marcie’s work is characterized by her donor-centric approach. On behalf of the board of governors, I would like to say that the Jewish Community Foundation is extremely fortunate to have Marcie as its new executive director.”
This newly created role is one of several outcomes of the strategic planning process recently undertaken by JCF under the leadership of Korbin and with professional guidance from a strategic management and development consultant. It is a central component of the three-year operational plan approved by Jewish Federation’s board of directors and adopted by the foundation’s board of governors. The foundation’s new strategic and operational plans were driven by Jewish Federation’s 2020 Strategic Priorities, and will serve to support the organization’s overall goals of generating the resources required to address the community’s current, emerging and future needs.
“The foundation is investing in resources, including full-time staff for the first time since the economic downturn in 2008. Re-investing in staff resources will enable the Jewish Community Foundation to grow, which is critical to the long-term viability of the Jewish community. The board of governors remains committed to ensuring the philanthropic goals of the foundation’s fund holders are fulfilled, that our community organizations are strengthened and that the continuity of the Jewish community is ensured through legacy planning,” said Korbin.
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At the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual general meeting on June 20, Karen James became the new board chair, while Stephen Gaerber is now immediate past chair. Marcie Flom was appointed executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation and Diane Switzer was appointed an honorary life director of Federation. The Young Leadership Award was presented to Bryan Hack and Mike Sachs, the Elaine Charkow Award to Lisa Pullan for her ongoing leadership role in women’s philanthropy and the inaugural Bob Coleman Award to Risa Levine for her leadership role on the local allocations committee, positively impacting Federation’s partner agencies.
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Rabbi Philip Gibbs is the new spiritual leader of Congregation Har El in West Vancouver.
Gibbs grew up in Marietta, Ga. He went to college at Washington University in St. Louis and graduated in 2012 with a double major in Hebrew and humanities. After college, he attended rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, receiving a master of arts in Talmud and rabbinic ordination in 2017. During his time at JTS, he had the opportunity to work in different synagogues and appreciated the warmth and mutual support in synagogue communities.
Following his love of the outdoors, Gibbs led the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute at Ramah in the Rockies, and is looking forward to hiking and skiing in the Vancouver area. He served as the secretary to the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards. Playing violin since childhood, he also had the opportunity to join the JTS house band, the Committee on Jewish Music and Standards, for celebratory occasions.
The entire community is invited to come and meet Gibbs at a Shabbat dinner at Har El on July 28. For more information about the event, click here.
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A true mensch resides in the Vancouver Jewish community, and that person is Aria Smordin. Aria has just returned from a gap year in Israel and, while there, did something that greatly impacted the lives of children with special needs in Jerusalem. Aria participated in the Shalva Ambassadors Program, investing time and energy volunteering at the Shalva National Centre.
At the centre, life-changing services are provided to thousands of flourishing kids every year. As an ambassador, Aria not only volunteered every week, but was responsible for bringing in new volunteers. Many of them ran the Jerusalem Marathon for Shalva, threw parties for the Shalva kids (where they all danced like crazy) and sleepovers, and even got their hands dirty painting the recycling centre and working in the therapeutic garden.
Aria’s choice to be in a position of giving is a true inspiration to us all.
In Aria’s own words, “Volunteering at Shalva was rewarding, uplifting and gratifying. There is a strong feeling of love and homey-ness that permeates the entire (beautiful) building. From the first time I visited Shalva, to all the times I came back to volunteer, these feelings always remained the same. The service Shalva provides and the care they take in doing so is inspiring. I am truly thankful that I was able to assist in carrying out their mission.”
Thank you, Aria. We at the Shalva National Centre are looking forward to seeing what you do next and to writing about next year’s fleet of mensches from Vancouver!
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Jeffrey and Elizabeth Nider, a local couple from Vancouver, were part of more than 200 North American immigrants to move to Israel on July 4, on a chartered Nefesh b’Nefesh flight, the organization responsible for removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of immigration to Israel.
The charter flight took off from JFK Airport in New York City and is in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and Jewish National Fund-USA.
The Niders will be moving to Beit Shemesh with their four children, ages 10, 7, 5 and 2. Both Jeff and Elizabeth will enrol in Hebrew classes and Jeff will be looking for work in pharmaceutical sales or in business development for a medical startup.
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The 35th Annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards were held on June 26 at the Commodore Ballroom, saluting excellence in theatre. Among the winners was Itai Erdal for O’wet/Lost Lagoon, presented by Alley Theatre in association with Full Circle: First Nations Performance, in the category of outstanding lighting design, small theatre.
With numerous theatre companies in the small theatre category, eight companies earned a Jessie, with Reelwheels (Rena Cohen, managing artistic director) leading the group with total of three for their production of Creeps, which co-starred David Bloom and David A. Kaye. The winners were Lauchlin Johnston for outstanding set design; the production itself for outstanding production of a play; and, for significant artistic achievement, Paul Beckett, Bloom, Genevieve Fleming, Brett Harris, Kaye, Aaron Roderick and Adam Grant Warren, recognized for outstanding ensemble performance.
Among the nominees for other awards in the small theatre category were Erdal for Walt Whitman’s Secret, the frank theatre company (outstanding lighting design) and Cande Andrade for am a, Mindy Parfitt and Amber Funk Barton Present (significant artistic achievement, outstanding innovation in video design).
In the large theatre category, Ryan Beil was nominated for outstanding performance by an actor in a lead role (Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Arts Club Theatre Company), Erdal for outstanding lighting design (Moonlodge, Urban Ink) and Amir Ofek for outstanding set design (Pericles, Bard on the Beach).
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In recent decades, many individuals and organizations in Germany have raised awareness of a once-vibrant Jewish history and culture in their communities through educational programs, exhibitions, restoration of synagogues and cemeteries, installation of Holocaust memorials, genealogical research, development of websites, publications, stolpersteine, public programs and other activities. They have forged meaningful relationships with former residents and descendants of those who once lived in their towns. They are teachers and engineers, publishers and judges, artists and bankers, lawyers and business executives, and they come from every corner of the country. These volunteers have devoted countless hours to such projects.
The Obermayer Awards recognize and encourage those who have been devoted to such activities and bring international attention to their work. Five individuals and/or organizations are honoured each year.
The award program was initiated in 2000 by Dr. Arthur S. Obermayer and the awards are co-sponsored by the Berlin Parliament and the Leo Baeck Institute. They will be given in the Parliament’s Plenary Chamber on Jan. 22, 2018, as its principal Holocaust Memorial Day event. They follow in the tradition of recognizing righteous gentiles who protected Jews during the Holocaust.
Many American Jews have been beneficiaries of the work of these dedicated Germans, and the majority of the nominators have been American Jews – Canadians are also eligible to receive the award.
For more information, visit obermayer.us/award. A hard copy of the call for nominations can be requested by sending a letter to the attention of Betty Solbjor, Obermayer Foundation, 15 Grey Stone Path, Dedham, MA, 02026, or by email to [email protected]. The deadline for submission this year is Sept. 12.
Pamela Geller is a bully of global standing. And recently she turned her sights on our community.
Geller is an American writer, blogger, activist and president of the American Freedom Defence Initiative, which the respected Southern Poverty Law Centre calls an anti-Muslim hate group. Her provocations came to greatest public attention when she opposed construction of an Islamic community centre in New York City that was criticized for being somewhat adjacent to the World Trade Centre site.
Somehow, earlier this month, a local Shabbat dinner discussion that was to be facilitated by a New Israel Fund of Canada representative drew her attention.
On July 8, Geller posted on her blog an article titled “United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism supports boycott against Israel.” Like almost everything else on her website, the short piece is deceptive, manipulative, unfair and false. In it, she accuses Congregation Har El in West Vancouver, which was set to host the event targeted to the under-40 crowd, of supporting “the boycott against Israel” and writes that “the traitors of New Israel Fund give information to the United Nations to harm Israel’s soldiers.…”
The New Israel Fund describes itself as the “nation’s leading organization committed to democracy and equality among all Israelis.” It supports human rights organizations in Israel, among which people of almost any political persuasion could probably find something objectionable. But NIF unequivocally does not support the boycotting of Israel. Whatever one might think of its political orientation or those of the frontline groups it funds, it is a legitimate nonprofit agency functioning under the laws of Israel. If it weren’t, the Israeli government would have shut it down.
But the legitimacy of the New Israel Fund is, at best, secondary to the larger issues here. Never mind that Geller extrapolates one event at a single synagogue to represent the views of the entire global Conservative movement – that is silliness that doesn’t warrant refutation – the fact is that Geller was able to kibosh an event in our community. Given the power of bullying in general, and the power of this bully in particular, we cannot blame the organization involved for shying away from the event, though we regret that it happened.
Two other New Israel Fund of Canada events are scheduled to take place in Vancouver in the fall. On Sept. 9, a symposium featuring Ronit Heyd, executive director of Shatil, and Jonathan Kay, editor-in-chief of The Walrus magazine, will engage with the audience on the topic The Backstory: Behind What You Know About Israel. On Nov. 16-17, Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, will tackle the topic From the Back of the Bus to the Top of the Agenda.
Any external threats to these events proceeding should be met by our community with a united voice – regardless of our political views. It is our community’s right to discuss whatever issues we deem important – and to determine where the limits, if any, of that discussion lay.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will speak at the Rothstein Theatre on Jan. 17. (photo from Shmuley Boteach)
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will be in Vancouver later next week to talk about his most recent book, Kosher Lust: Why Love is Not the Answer. Boteach, a rabbi, author, television host, pundit and in-demand speaker who has been called “America’s Rabbi,” is being presented by the North Shore Jewish Community Centre/Congregation Har El with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. His talk will be followed by a Q&A and a meet and mingle over refreshments.
Boteach described Kosher Lust as “a revolutionary book,” in an interview with the Jewish Independent. “Most books about marriage, about sex or about romance, are about how you can create love in a relationship, how you can increase love. This book argues that love has been the problem all along. Why do we have such a high divorce rate? Why, if [marriages] do work, they work on a practical level but not on a level of deep desire? And my book argues the reason is that love has always been the problem.” He stressed, “The foundation of a marriage is supposed to be lust and desire, rather than love and friendship.”
In recognizing that “we live in a modern world where marriage as an institution is in common decline,” Boteach said he is “trying to make arguments for sustaining, enhancing and promoting marriage.” The bestselling author said his newest book “gives us three rules of lust. Number one, unavailability; number two, mystery; number three, sinfulness.” The book “teaches couples how to bring the three rules of erotic lust into their marriages and relationships.” These three rules of lust are from the Song of Solomon on which, he explained, the book itself is based.
Untangling the first rule, Boteach said that unavailability is “what we call erotic obstacles, erotic impediments [or] things which frustrate desire.” These include “things that get in the way of desire … that actually increase desire,” he said.
A problem with modern marriage “is that there is no mystery,” he said. “Marriages today are based on openness and a lack of mystery, and constant availability…. I actually argue a different kind of marriage.”
When asked how an ideal marriage would look, Boteach said, the “whole belief that marriage is about this constant openness and constant availability is incorrect.” Jewish law, he suggested, argues instead “for ‘sinful’ marriages. Notice that husband and wife become forbidden to each other for a period [of time] every month [during niddah]. Then, you have the element of sinfulness under the laws of modesty that are all about things being concealed, mysterious, covered, not just always available.”
Are there dangers or limitations to lust? “From a Jewish perspective, all things in life are neutral, and it really depends on their application as to whether they are positive or negative,” he said.
“There is unkosher lust,” Boteach added, “like what a husband will feel towards a woman who is not his wife. Unkosher lust is the kind of lust that is generated by pornography and the objectification of women and demeaning women.” Kosher lust, however, “like the desire that a husband has for his wife and that a wife has for her husband, is a beautiful thing and a ‘kosher’ thing.”
His book contends that “women are as lustful as men are,” Boteach explained. “One of the central arguments in my book is that women are much more sexual than men, and female sexuality has been belittled in our time and prior to our time.” Women “lust in a uniquely feminine way … in a much deeper more emotional way,” Boteach suggested, while men “lust in a uniquely physical way, that is often very two-dimensional, very predictable, very monotonous and very boring.”
The book has received several positive reviews in mainstream media, but also a critical review in Haaretz, Boteach said. In his opinion, this is “no coincidence … because Jews are the ones who always have an issue with a rabbi giving them advice about sex, because so often we belittle our own religion.”
Boteach continued, “I am not looking to write specifically to a Jewish audience. I am writing to a mainstream audience…. Jews have to learn how to assert their Jewishness in the midst of a multicultural society. And that’s what I do … I’m promoting Jewish identity, which can be affirmed and asserted anywhere and everywhere. We can’t create ghettoized Judaism that is only affirmed in the presence of other Jews. But I also believe that the universal teachings of Judaism are universally applicable and, therefore, it’s not just for Jews.”
The prolific author – he has published 30 books to date – will continue to focus his writing on relationships, but he is also continuing his foray into television with a new pilot for a show to be broadcast in Canada on Vision TV.
Boteach will speak Jan. 17, 7 p.m., at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre. Tickets are available online at harel.brownpapertickets.com.