On Nov. 16, Vancouver city council became the latest Canadian jurisdiction to adopt or commit to using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
The decision received support from organized Jewish community representatives, including both the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
“Defining antisemitism is an essential step towards recognizing its manifestations and being able to counteract it,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and chief executive officer, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “Today’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by Mayor Ken Sim and Vancouver city council is a clear stand against the rise in acts of hatred against members of the Jewish community.”
Developed by IHRA’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is grounded in the research of the international experts on antisemitism and the Holocaust. It is supported by the United Nations, the European Union and 30 countries, including the United States and Canada.
“History has repeatedly shown, what begins as hatred of Jews never ends as hatred of Jews. Canadians must stand united with the Jewish community in the fight against antisemitism,” said Fogel. “The decision made by Vancouver city council today is a victory for all who stand against hate – no matter which group is the immediate target.”
“Today, Mayor Sim and the vast majority of Vancouver city council sent a strong message that antisemitism has no place in society,” said Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. “To combat antisemitism effectively, it must first be defined. The IHRA definition will help the people of Vancouver identify and combat antisemitism in all its forms. The rise of antisemitic hate crimes across the country has meant that fighting antisemitism must be a priority for all Vancouverites and Canadians, not just members of the Jewish community.”
Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung introduced the motion to adopt the IHRA definition.
“Nobody should have to live in fear because of who they are. It was an honour to bring this motion forward to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism,” she said. “We stand united with Vancouver’s Jewish community in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the troubling rise of hate incidents in our city.
“The best means to combat hate is through education, and the IHRA definition can help foster a deeper level of understanding,” she said. “Education is more powerful than any punitive actions could ever be.”
“We are proud to stand with the Jewish community both in Vancouver and around the world,” said Sim. “Antisemitism has no place in our city, and today we take an important step towards building a more inclusive and safe society for all.”
In his weekly email message Nov. 18, Shanken wrote, “In 2019, when the IHRA working definition of antisemitism was first brought before council [by Kirby-Yung], thousands of you wrote letters and signed up to speak in favour of the motion. From community members and leaders to elected officials, clergy, partners agencies, and more, your words were powerful and you were heard by this council – even if your letter was from 2019.”
Shanken highlighted the work of several community leaders: Nico Slobinsky, senior director of CIJA-Pacific Region; Geoffrey Druker, chair of CIJA’s local partnership council; Candace Kwinter, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver; Lana Marks Pulver, chair of the Federation annual campaign; Nina Krieger, executive director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (who has been a member of the Canadian delegation to the IHRA since 2012); and Corrine Zimmerman, president of VHEC.
Tikva Housing Society is thrilled to share that the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation has provided a grant of $255,000 to support Tikva’s mission to offer affordable housing solutions to the Jewish community.
“A gift of this magnitude provides help and hope at a time when economic uncertainty is definitely impacting housing insecurity,” said Anat Gogo, executive director of Tikva Housing Society. “The Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation’s tremendous generosity means that we will have the financial resources to build capacity on an operational level. Tikva is on an unprecedented growth trajectory and this gift is critical to support our growing housing portfolio, allowing us to say ‘yes’ to a number of new opportunities on the horizon.”
The need for affordable housing continues to be first and foremost on the minds of many in the Jewish community. This gift will be put to work, empowering individuals and families by providing affordable housing – allowing them to build long-term change in their lives and beyond.
Tikva Housing Society is grateful to the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation for its partnership in addressing the issue of housing insecurity. Tikva appreciates the foundation’s focus on strengthening the capacity of the community’s organizations and its commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world.
* * *
Vancouver Talmud Torah, Congregation Beth Israel and Jewish Family Services are elated to share with the community that a gift of $100,000 has been received from the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation to support the Vancouver Jewish Community Garden. This gift enables the building of the garden to begin in earnest and it is anticipated that construction will begin this fall. Thanks to the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Transformation Grant and the Diamond Foundation, the garden will be located and built above the shared BI and VTT parkade.
The garden aspires to positively impact many members of the local Jewish community and to be a hub for celebrating and honouring nature, imparting Jewish teachings and values, promoting collaboration, and enhancing the community’s well-being. Studies show that spending time outdoors in nature has been directly linked with lessened anxiety and depression for adults and children alike and helps people better manage stress.
“It is exciting and encouraging to see several important communal institutions come together collaboratively to advance such a positive new opportunity. The Vancouver Jewish Community Garden will be an opportunity to teach community members of all ages about agriculture and the importance of a healthy earth, to enable volunteers to contribute to our community and to help feed those in need. The Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation is pleased to help advance the project towards completion,” noted Bernard Pinsky, Roadburg board chair.
* * *
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver is delighted to welcome two new members of its team: Gayle Morris and Alisa Farina.
Morris is the new director of the Federation annual campaign, the community’s central fundraising initiative. Building relationships is central to this role, and Morris brings an incredible depth of experience in that area, and so much more. She is an accomplished and multifaceted sales, marketing and business development leader who has extensive experience in both innovative startups and not-for-profit organizations. She is also an active member of the community with extensive volunteer involvement.
Farina has been hired as the child, youth and young adult mental health worker, and Federation is grateful to the Mel and Gerri Davis Charitable Trust for the support to enable the creation of the new position.
Farina holds a bachelor’s in child and youth care and comes to the job from a 25-year career with the Burnaby School District, the last 10 of which she focused on working with high-risk, vulnerable youth and their families. Farina is currently completing her master’s degree in clinical counseling. She grew up in the Lower Mainland and was involved with BBYO and Camp Miriam.
Lana Marks Pulver, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign chair. (photo from JFGV)
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign is entering the homestretch with an ambitious set of goals. This year, the theme is “strengthened by where we have been, inspired by where we can go.”
“The goal for this year’s campaign is both quantitative and qualitative,” campaign chair Lana Marks Pulver told the Independent. “We aim to raise a minimum of $9.5 million, and we want to strengthen the culture of gratitude within the Federation organization, that affects all constituents, including donors, volunteers and staff.”
As has often been said in the past 21 months, these are times like no other in recent memory. The pandemic has touched us all, yet, for some, the campaign points out, it has “caused a cascading effect of challenges.”
“The goals haven’t shifted due to the pandemic, but the needs have certainly increased because of it. Therefore, we hope to raise more than our financial target to ensure all our partner agencies survive the current uncertainty in which everyone is operating and all community needs are being met,” Marks Pulver said.
“The past year-and-a-half was extremely tough on our community and our partner agencies. However, with the incredible show of support from donors and volunteers, our community proved to be resilient. Our partner agencies were able to survive the uncertainty and continue to provide their much-needed services because of the support from Jewish Federation and our donors.”
Groups within the community that were already vulnerable have faced more challenges. Among the groups Federation is helping are low-income individuals, the elderly and youth struggling with mental health concerns.
Well before COVID-19 hit, the region was one of the most expensive places in the world in which to live and it has become increasingly unaffordable; many, as a result, are left with hard choices regarding paying for rent, bills and food. Meanwhile, most seniors in the community are eager to reconnect socially and spiritually after extended separations from their families and communities.
Increasing numbers of youth, too, are contending with anxiety and depression as they encounter isolation from their peers and continued disruptions to their routines. At one local Jewish school this past year, the demand for counseling services doubled. In light of such statistics, Federation has formed a committee of local professionals and volunteers to develop a comprehensive approach to assist both youth and their families.
The basic plan involves employing a community mental health professional to offer counseling at community locations; collaborating with other mental health organizations in supplying professional development to those working directly with children and youth; and encouraging youth to take leadership roles in raising awareness among their peers about the importance of accessing appropriate support.
The pandemic has had a negative impact on youth mental health globally, including in Federation’s partnership region in Israel. The Mervo’ot HaHermon Regional Council has witnessed a rise in troubling behaviour among youth, especially those whose routines and social opportunities have been disrupted and who may not have supportive adults in their lives. Demand for services in the Israeli municipality has grown by 35%, according to Federation. Because of the need, and based on a successful pilot program in the spring of 2021, Federation is helping efforts to enhance counseling services and create new educational and social programming, in the hope that early intervention will lead the youth in this region along a healthier path.
Marks Pulver concedes that, while there are hurdles to overcome in organizing a campaign in the midst of a pandemic, the community response has been unflaggingly supportive.
“Typically, the campaign goes hand-in-hand with community gatherings,” she said. “A big part of campaign is the opportunity to connect with other community members at events. The pandemic has prevented us from having these gatherings in person and, instead, we have resorted to virtual ones. However, people are ‘Zoomed out’ and tired of the online events; therefore, making it more challenging to get people together.
“Recent experiences, however, have demonstrated the strength of our community and how we come together to help others in a time of need,” she stressed. “This show of support, both financially and with volunteerism, is beyond inspiring and I, personally, am incredibly grateful to be part of this community, that steps up and makes a difference.”
Marks Pulver, who has served as women’s philanthropy chair at Federation and was major donors chair for the past few years, sees her role as campaign chair as a natural progression and feels honoured to lead this year’s effort.
“I am proud to be serving alongside women chairs of both Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation. I believe you get out of life what you put in, and it is this belief that inspires me to volunteer. I also thoroughly enjoy working with others in the pursuit of helping others, and feel grateful for the opportunity to be able to make a difference.”
Newcomer to Vancouver and longtime National Council of Jewish Women of Canada member Rachel Ornoy, left, cheers the Purse Project volunteer gang on.
Members of National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Vancouver section, under the guidance of Cate and Jane Stoller, stuffed purses with cosmetics, toiletries, comfort candles, chocolates, gift cards, pyjamas and other useful items on the morning of Sept. 27 for partner agency Atira Women’s Resource Society, a not-for-profit organization committed to the work of ending violence against women.
Thank you to everyone who dropped off purses, helped fill the bags and collect their contents – more than 100 purses were delivered to Atira. Also thank you to Jane Stoller for putting together the hostess table with coffee and Timbits. It was a lovely pre-Kol Nidre morning mitzvah and it was great to have a socially distant visit with our NCJWC Vancouver friends.
* * *
This year’s Project Isaiah campaign required Jewish Family Services (JFS) to change the way it looked at the traditional food drive. From Sept. 8 to Sept. 29, JFS ran its very first virtual community food drive, ending with a COVID-19-safe drive-thru drop off.
Despite the needs being greater than ever – more than double compared to last year – this year’s Project Isaiah campaign has been the most successful food drive in the past 10 years. Thanks to donors, the Jewish Food Bank will be able to feed 700 clients (up from 450 last year) over the next four to six months; recipients include 175 children and 118 elders within our community.
* * *
Carolyn Digby and Aaron Klein were wed in a romantic ceremony, surrounded by family and friends, Nov. 9, 2019, at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver. The couple resides in Toronto, where both are pursuing studies, Carolyn in a clinical psychology counseling master’s program, and Aaron in aerospace engineering, doctorate program.
* * *
The Peretz Centre has appointed Liana Glass to lead the centre’s pnei mitzvah program. The Peretz pnei mitzvah – pnei (faces) rather than b’nei (“sons of”), to reflect a gender-neutral descriptor – is a two-year program in which students meet once every second week for two hours, culminating in a group ceremony. The next intake period is this fall.
Glass, who has earned a master’s of community and regional planning at the University of British Columbia, has considerable experience in teaching and facilitating groups from diverse backgrounds, most recently as a research intern with Vancouver’s Social Purpose Real Estate Collaborative.
Glass’s path to secular Judaism was not a straight one. After studying Yiddish at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute’s summer program in 2017, she found that “Yiddish opened up a secular avenue for me to explore my Judaism and connect with it on a different level. It allowed me to reexamine Judaism in the larger context of my life and as part of my cultural identity. The prospect of helping pnei mitzvah students find that sense of connection through the various subjects we’ll explore in class is extremely exciting.”
“In our search, we indicated that we were looking for a candidate who is dynamic, enthusiastic and firmly committed to secular Jewish ideals and learning. Liana brings all that and so much more. We’re looking forward to working with her and seeing where she’ll be taking the program next,” said David Skulski, Peretz Centre general manager.
* * *
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver elected its 2020-2021 volunteer board of directors at its annual general meeting Sept. 30. New directors, elected for a two-year term, are Hodie Kahn, Shay Keil, Kyra Morris, Lisa Pullan and Stan Shaw. Each of them brings a background of community leadership and past contributions to Jewish Federation.
Kahn is currently chair of Jewish Federation’s Jewish Day School Council, whose work addresses the ongoing enrolment and financial stability needs facing the day schools; she is also a member of the Community Recovery Task Force. Keil is chair of major gifts for the Federation annual campaign and a member of the Jewish Day School Council; he is a past co-chair of men’s philanthropy. Morris is the new chair of the Axis steering committee, which oversees Federation’s programs for young adults. Pullan has lent her fundraising and leadership expertise to Federation for many years, including chairing women’s philanthropy and serving on the board in that capacity. And Shaw has held several leadership roles with Federation; he co-chaired the Food Security Task Force and is now bringing his cybersecurity expertise to the new cybersecurity and information protection subcommittee.
Returning directors elected for a two-year term are David Albert, Bruce Cohen (secretary), Alex Cristall (chair), Jessica Forman, Rick Kohn (treasurer) and Lianna Philipp. They join the following directors who are in the middle of a two-year term, and will be continuing their service on the board: Jim Crooks, Catherine Epstein, Marnie Goldberg, Candace Kwinter (vice-chair), Melanie Samuels and Pam Wolfman.
Joining or continuing to serve on the board are Sue Hector (women’s philanthropy co-chair), Karen James (immediate past chair), Jonathon Leipsic (campaign chair), Shawna Merkur (women’s philanthropy co-chair) and Diane Switzer (Jewish Community Foundation chair).
At its Oct. 14 annual general meeting, the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society confirmed the society’s board of directors: Rita Akselrod, Marcus Brandt, Jeremy Costin, Michelle Guez, Belinda Gutman, Helen Heacock-Rivers, Philip Levinson, Michael Lipton, Shoshana Krell Lewis, Jack Micner, Talya Nemetz-Sinchein, Ken Sanders, Joshua Sorin, Al Szajman, Robbie Waisman and Corinne Zimmerman. For more information, visit vhec.org/who-we-are/#board.
COVID-19 continues to impact our community. Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver estimates that local needs may increase by 50% over the next year. Therefore, it has established the Community Recovery Task Force, chaired by Risa Levine.
The purpose of the task force is to examine the myriad operational and financial issues facing our community as a result of COVID-19, and to assist Jewish Federation in responding to these challenges and changes, both presently and in the long-term. Through consultation with Federation’s partner agencies, the task force will be assessing the consequences of the pandemic on vulnerable community members, as well as on the ability of community organizations to deliver their core programs and services. Task force members will be looking to new, innovative approaches to enhance community organizations’ capacity, and recommending solutions that will support a strong, resilient and financially stable recovery as well as future sustainability.
The task force members have all held leadership roles with a variety of community organizations, and collectively represent the diversity of our community in terms of geography and life stage. In addition to Levine, they are Andrew Altow, Jill Diamond, Michelle Gerber, Hodie Kahn, Candace Kwinter, Shawn Lewis, David Porte, Justin L. Segal and Isaac Thau.
The task force is an integral part of Federation’s response to COVID-19, as is its three-phase approach to recovery. In phase one, it released targeted emergency funds in the first few weeks of the pandemic to address immediate and urgent community needs. As a second phase, it is currently working closely with major donors to maintain their support through the next two annual campaigns and to consider making contributions above and beyond their campaign gifts to support community recovery. In the third phase, every community member will have an opportunity to make a difference in our community’s recovery through participating in the annual campaign, which officially launches in September.
To learn more about the task force, to read the latest annual report or to donate, visit jewishvancouver.com.
– excerpted from the weekly email message of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken
Screenshot of Noa’s official website, where she shows that she retains a sense of humor towards the press: “Believe half of what you hear and nothing of what you read! :)”
Internationally known, award-winning Israeli singer and songwriter Achinoam Nini – who has served in the Israel Defence Forces, who has been a goodwill ambassador for Israel and who has been honored for her peace work – has been invited to headline the Vancouver Jewish community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations this year. Apparently, this is a controversial choice for some in our community.
Nini (widely known as Noa) is clear about her political views and, so far, her critics have come up with the following to explain their upset at her invitation. She hates – a strong word, but it applies in this case from what we’ve read – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. She rejected an award from one artists organization and resigned from another because they honored someone she thought was too right-wing. She may have written in a since-deleted Facebook post that she supported B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and New Israel Fund for their work supporting peace. In 2012, she expressed hope that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas could help bring peace to the region. Also in 2012, she took part in an alternative Remembrance Day event organized by Combatants for Peace, which describes itself as “a group of Palestinians and Israelis who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence in our region: Israeli soldiers serving in the IDF and Palestinians as combatants fighting to free their country, Palestine, from the Israeli occupation.” The ceremony mourned Palestinians and Israelis who had been killed in the conflict.
One of her critics has compiled a curious mix of her posts to supposedly show why she is an inappropriate choice to perform, including: “We believe in two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, supporting, protecting and nurturing each other…. We believe in three simple steps: recognize each other, apologize to each other and share the little we have.” We, too, believe in two states for two peoples, and in reconciliation.
With plenty of Vancouverites apparently scouring the internet for “evidence” against her, there may be more to come. Nini’s political views are not above criticism. Nobody’s are. But she stands behind her opinions, acts on her beliefs, and is very clear about who she supports – some people might be surprised that B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence are not among those listed on her website as groups she endorses – and who she doesn’t support. Unlike some of her local critics, who are hiding behind the anonymity of social media and don’t put their names and reputations behind their opinions, Nini owns her views. Whether or not you agree with her, that’s worth respect.
Should we be inviting someone with whom we don’t all agree to headline our Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremonies? What about someone who criticizes the Israeli government?
We who love and support Israel understand that holding a large community-wide celebration once a year feels good and offers a sense of solidarity. But what kind of Jewish community is it that doesn’t brook differences in opinion? Such uniformity certainly does not reflect one of Israel’s – and Judaism’s – greatest attributes and secrets to continuity: openness to debate and discussion.
Skipping over what Judaism says about character assassination, the harm that can be done with words, the fact that lashon hara is worse than theft because money can be repaid but the destruction of a person’s reputation can never be completely mended, is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed when making out a Yom Ha’atzmaut invitation list?
As we argued in this space last week, it is our view that boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) is a movement steeped in racism (though not everyone who supports BDS is an antisemite, of course). Rightly, Canada, the United Kingdom and other democratic countries formally condemn BDS. If we were to draw a red line not to be crossed, support for BDS might qualify as a deciding factor in whether or not to bring an artist to perform at a Yom Ha’atzmaut – or any – event. It also might not.
Despite what the emails in your inbox might say, Nini has explicitly said that she is against BDS. At most, she might associate with groups that might have supporters that also support BDS – groups that are legal in Israel and part of the vital discourse there.
In a democracy, all voices that don’t incite hatred against an identifiable group are to be, if not welcomed, at least tolerated. This includes those who believe that Nini should not sing for Vancouverites on Yom Ha’atzmaut this year. However, the right to speak is not predicated on being right. This applies to Nini as well as her detractors.
Some people are demanding that the invitation for Nini to perform at our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations be rescinded. If successful, it won’t matter much to Israel’s future, or to Nini’s. We should not overinflate our self-importance. But such an act – a boycott of Nini – would certainly affect our community’s future. It would be a signal of intolerance, of closed-mindedness and an unwillingness to brook the very presence of a Jew, an Israeli, a veteran of the IDF and a great singer, simply because some disagree with her politics – and, worse, that we rely on innuendo and rumor to make our decisions. How solid a foundation is that upon which to build our community? What lesson would that teach our children? This is what we talk about when we talk about Achinoam Nini.
As of Nov. 24, the Government of Canada was processing 4,511 applications for privately sponsored Syrian refugees (not including Quebec, which has its own procedure). The map shows communities where private sponsors have submitted an application. (image from cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/welcome)
Vancouver’s Jewish community is mobilizing to welcome refugees from Syria. The federal government has announced that 25,000 Syrian refugees will come to Canada before the end of February. While most of those will be government-sponsored, groups of Canadians, including many in the Jewish community, are leaping at the opportunity to be a part of the resettlement project.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Anglican church to streamline the process. The federal government has a number of sponsorship agreement holders, which are established, experienced groups that are engaged in aiding refugees on an ongoing basis. To expedite the process, the Jewish community is primarily working through the partnership with the Anglican Church of Canada so that synagogues and other Jewish groups that may want to sponsor can do so efficiently.
“The Anglican diocese, rather than setting up a separate relationship with each of the synagogues, proposed that there be one memorandum of understanding with the Jewish community,” said Shelley Rivkin, Federation’s vice-president for planning, allocations and community affairs. “We will be the holder of the memorandum of understanding so the synagogues will raise the funds and issue a tax receipt. The funds will then come to us and be in a restricted account and, as those funds are distributed, they will go directly through us so that the diocese is not having to deal with multiple parties.”
Or Shalom Synagogue has already raised two-thirds of the funds necessary to sponsor three families. Natalie Grunberg, a member of the Or Shalom Syrian Refugees Initiative, said they are expecting their sponsored refugees as early as January. The group has launched a series of events, including a concert of Syrian music, to raise awareness and money for the project. The federal government estimates the cost of sponsoring a refugee family for a year to be about $30,000, but Vancouverites involved in the process are working on an assumption of about $40,000, based on housing costs here.
Or Shalom is working through existing partnerships they have built over the years. Rather than going through the Anglican church, they are working with the United Church of Canada. Grunberg acknowledged that some in the Jewish community have differences with the United Church’s stand toward Israel, but the priority was to expedite the refugee sponsorship process and they believed working through existing relationships would be most effective.
Grunberg is noticeably proud of her congregation’s efforts so far.
“We’re a very small synagogue and we’re sponsoring three families,” she said.
Through existing relationships with the Syrian community here, Or Shalom will focus their sponsorship efforts on reunifying families that already have some members in Metro Vancouver and also on members of the LGBT community.
Temple Sholom is also rallying for refugees. Almost immediately after announcing the idea during the High Holidays, the synagogue raised enough money to sponsor one family.
“We’ve now decided to sponsor a second family,” said Rabbi Dan Moskovitz.
He acknowledges that there have been some anxieties among his congregation about bringing Syrian refugees here.
“I met with every person that voiced that concern to me,” he said. “I met with them personally. We talked about it. We talked about the people that we are bringing in – they were concerned about terrorists coming across – we talked about the difference between private sponsorship, as we are doing, and what we’ve been seeing in Europe with refugees flooding across borders … that we were sponsoring families with young children, that our sponsorships were family reunification, so they would have real roots here in B.C., particularly in Vancouver. We acknowledge the fears but at the same time we also recognize that this is a crisis and that the Jewish tradition teaches us quite clearly to love the stranger. Israel is doing things for refugees on the Syrian border right now with their hospitals and we had to do our part.”
Moskovitz cites Torah as the basis for his enthusiasm.
“Thirty-six times in the Torah, in the Bible, it says to love the stranger because you were once strangers in the land,” he said. “The Jews were once refugees ourselves and this goes all the way back to the land of Egypt and the slavery of the Israelites under Pharaoh, where we were running for our lives; in that case from the famine, according to the biblical story, and the Egyptian people welcomed the Jewish people, welcomed us in and gave us food and shelter and we lived there for 435 years, according to the Bible. From that and so many other times in the Bible, the most often-repeated commandment in all of Jewish tradition is to love the stranger, to love the immigrant; love the stranger, because that was you once.”
More modern Jewish history is also a factor, he added.
“We are largely still here even though throughout our history people have tried to destroy us because at critical times in our history some people took us in,” said Moskovitz. “We like to think we did it all by ourselves and there is no doubt that there is a tremendous resiliency of the Jewish people but, at the same time, we have been the beneficiary of others sheltering us at times of mortal danger.”
Congregation Beth Israel has created a task force to look into possibly sponsoring a Kurdish Syrian refugee family. Executive director Shannon Etkin said the group will analyze the resources available within the congregation community to provide for a family beyond the minimum requirements set out by the federal government.
Other synagogues, organizations and individuals who may not have the resources to directly sponsor a refugee or family are being encouraged to support on-the-ground efforts by the Joint Distribution Committee, which is aiding refugees in Turkey and Hungary. This support is being organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
“They’re doing a lot of direct aid for women and children and also doing some work with frontline responders,” Rivkin said.
Leah Stern in Haiti, where she was helping orphaned and abandoned children. (photo from Leah Stern)
While London-based journalist and content producer Leah Stern was unable to be the guest speaker at this year’s Choices, the annual campaign event of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s women’s philanthropy, the Jewish Independent had the opportunity to chat with her over the phone prior to her scheduled talk. Hopefully, she will have the chance to come to Vancouver on another occasion, as she is a fascinating and accomplished person.
Born and raised in Miami, Stern made aliya after graduating university. In her career to date, she has been the face of the evening news on the Israel Broadcast Authority and a correspondent for CNN, she has liaised with the Vatican on behalf of the Israeli government and worked with nonprofits in South America. She is currently communications director in London, England, for OurCrowd, a high-tech, crowdfunding platform created by venture capitalist John Medved, for which she travels to Israel every couple of months. This is only a partial resumé.
JI: You made aliya in 2002. What led to that?
LS: Growing up in Miami Beach, everyone was very materialistic, focused on clothes, cars, houses, etc., and I wanted to run away from it all. My brother went to Israel to serve in an elite military group during the Second Intifada and my mother and I decided to follow him there. She went first, I came after.
JI: How did you get into journalism?
LS: That started with a program I saw in Miami on CNN with coverage of Scuds falling in Sderot and I saw a woman running in fear along the street. Suddenly, I thought, I need to be there in the thick of it all. When I finally went, I was only 21. At first, when I arrived, I could not find a job, so I folded laundry, made pizza and worked as a housekeeper.
JI: What happened next?
LS: I decided to volunteer for the Magen David Adom (MDA). That consisted of a week indoctrination course and then riding in the back of an ambulance to callouts. My first call was to a bus bombing in Jerusalem on May 18, 2003. I remember riding in the back of the ambulance, going at 100 miles an hour, running through red lights and then we came upon the shell of the bus. My first memory is seeing the bodies of college students my age, all sitting exactly as they were in that last moment before the explosion, one was reading a book, one was eating a sandwich. That picture still resonates with me today.
JI: Did that experience have an impact on your career?
LS: I did the MDA job for about three months. I was so affected by it I decided to … blog about it. I sent articles back to Miami. I wanted to give a different view than the jaded coverage by CNN and Fox. I thought I could make an impact on people by reporting the truth of what was happening through my eyes, and not through the eyes of the foreign press that did not understand the contextual background to the story.
JI: You also worked for the Jerusalem Post?
LS: Yes. I applied and got an internship as the funeral reporter. I did that for awhile but I wanted to go to the next level. So, I applied to IBA, the Israel Broadcast Authority, the only government-run, English-speaking channel in Israel, to be a news anchor. I bombed the audition. I said, “Baby Netanyahu” instead of “Bibi Netanyahu.” I thought I would never get the job. But the bureau chief called me that night and said, “You were absolutely terrible but there is something about you. Come in tomorrow for another screen test.” So, I studied the names of all of the people in the Knesset and practised in front of the mirror, and I got the job.
JI: What happened at IBA and where did you go from there?
LS: I started off as a newsreader but eventually my boss let me go out in the field. I went out as a one-woman band. I went and bought a video camera and all the equipment. I would mic myself up and take my camera out on a tripod and do the interview, write the text and send it to my editor in three-minute news package format while sitting in the front seat of my Peugeot. These were some of the most incredible days of my life, being in the thick of things.
It was during this time that I came to realize that there were so many stories that were not being covered, i.e. co-existence, Israeli doctors working with injured Palestinians, stories that I felt would change the world’s perception of what was happening in Israel. So, I started to tell them and sent some to CNN and they must have liked them because I got invited to Atlanta and met with Ted Turner, who offered me a job as a correspondent. Wolf Blitzer sort of took me under his wing.
JI: What were some of the stories you covered for IBA and CNN?
LS: I was sent all over, to Ethiopia to cover the migration of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel … to the Vatican to cover the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005. I went to Baghdad and Kabul and all over the Arab world.
JI: Were you concerned about any danger in covering some of these assignments?
LS: No. I was a CNN producer, an American journalist on an American passport and did not at any time feel in danger. I was running on pure adrenalin, and was determined to tell the story for people who did not have a voice.
JI: You accompanied the Israel Defence Forces during the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. What was that experience like?
LS: For me, this was the first time that I found myself reporting on a big story alongside the major players of the world media…. I had just interviewed Ariel Sharon and was forming my own opinion on this. I was conflicted, lots of questions were running through my mind, like, was the government right? What were these people entitled to? [Stern ended up making a documentary about the experience, called Disengagement (2006).]
JI: Were you treated any differently for being a woman reporter?
LS: War reporting is a man’s world. Here I was a young, blond, American, female journalist with not great Hebrew, with an English accent, with very seasoned male war reporters, trying to be one of the guys. I had to earn the respect. It was not easy. It took time.
JI: How did people react to you in the various areas you visited?
LS: Good reporters get people to open up to them and to trust them. You have to ask the tough questions, be relatable, get people to be real. I let people know I would tell their story … like they told it to me.
JI: Has your attitude towards covering the news changed over the years?
LS: I always remember the quote from Abba Eban, “To be a realist in Israel, you have to believe in miracles.” My time in Israel was one miracle after another. When I did my first stand up in front of the camera during the Second Lebanon War, a rocket landed near me and I was not afraid. I felt as if the camera would protect me and I was so dedicated to telling the story that I did not think of any danger. But one of my colleagues, Steve Sotloff, was beheaded by ISIS, and that was a wake-up call for me. I would not go back to some of those countries now even though I have been offered opportunities to report in Iran and Syria.
JI: In addition to reporting, you did a three-year diplomatic stint at the Vatican as a liaison for the Israeli government. What was that like?
LS: I studied Italian because I had to read 20 newspapers a morning and brief the Israeli ambassador on what Italians were saying about Israelis. Twice a week, I also got to sit in on meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and his cardinals…. I learned what it meant to be an Israeli diplomat in the Vatican. It was very interesting but it was also the first time I had to be careful about being open about my Israeli and Jewish status.
JI: What does your future hold?
LS: I am writing a book, but I am not sure what to focus on. I think writing a memoir is a bit egotistical at the age of 35. I have been roaming the world for 15 years, I am ready to put down some roots and I am getting married again next year.
JI: Do you have any advice for women considering career options like yours?
LS: I believe in tikkun olam, to make the world a better place. I think the best advice I can give is to be strong and to follow your dreams. Remember that small things make a difference. Don’t be afraid to try. Put yourself out there. Make an impact.
Tova Kornfeld is a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
A film that brings Palestinian and Israeli women together in a weight-loss group. Who would have thought that was possible? American-Israeli Yael Luttwak did, and she made it happen. Luttwak, the keynote speaker at Choices, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual women in philanthropy event, held on Nov. 1 at Congregation Beth Israel, captivated the audience with her story.
“The idea came to me at a time when
I was attending Weight Watchers in Tel Aviv,” said Luttwak. “The peace process had broken down and Ariel Sharon had been hospitalized and I had this image of Sharon and [Yasser] Arafat jogging together on the beach and working it all out. It struck me, as I listened to women in my group who were uninhibited in sharing their struggles with health and weight and body image, that there was so much humanity in that room. What if we could capture this humanity and bring together women who otherwise would never have an opportunity to meet?”
She set out to find women who would be willing to participate in this social experiment. She approached Orthodox women, West Bank Muslims, American-born settlers and Bedouins. Fourteen women agreed to get involved. The Jerusalem Cinémathèque in East Jerusalem became the meeting place. Filming took six weeks.
The women metamorphosed during the process, as they started to come to the meetings in nicer clothes and make-up, and they began to share their thoughts (and recipes). “This was the first opportunity for Arab women to meet Jewish women that were not soldiers, and for Israeli women to meet Arabs that did not want to kill them. At the beginning, everyone was nervous, but very polite (unusual for the Middle East) but, within a few hours, they were all talking and sharing stories.”
The women found common ground on many issues that emphasized their similarities. Even when there was political turbulence, violence on the streets of Jerusalem and curfews, the Arab women would cross the checkpoints to attend the meetings. When Luttwak asked what it was about the group that kept them coming, they answered that it was their only opportunity for hope. And so, the 2007 documentary A Slim Peace came to be. It premièred at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and screened in the United States on Sundance Channel.
While promoting the film, Luttwak was approached by English philanthropist Dame Hilary Blume, who offered to seed fund more women’s groups. She told Luttwak, “Don’t waste your talent on films. You have hit on something. You are building bridges. This is your destiny.” As a result, the nonprofit Slim Peace developed and, over the past eight years, it has opened 33 groups in six cities and two countries. Luttwak said, “It’s a train I cannot stop.” She has also been able to keep making films about contemporary issues. Her final messages – we all have to do our part for tikkun olam (repair of the world) and to never give up hope.
Prior to Luttwak’s talk, Ricki Thal addressed the audience: “My name is Esther Zuckerman Kaufman and I was born in Warsaw, Poland, on Oct. 11, 1920. I was one of the Jews on Schindler’s List.” Everyone’s attention caught, Thal then told the story of her grandmother and grandfather, Leon, both saved by Oskar Schindler. They never spoke about their wartime experiences and the family had no idea that they were Schindler Jews until they all went to see Steven Spielberg’s movie. That moment changed Thal’s life. It led her to explore her family’s history, to participate in March of the Living on two occasions, as a student and as a chaperone, and to become involved in the Jewish community. Kaufman died in 1999 but not before she appeared in New York on The Phil Donahue Show to tell her story to television audiences. Thal finished almost as she began: “My name is Ricki Thal and I was born in Vancouver in 1979 and I am proud to be the granddaughter of Esther and Leon Kaufman.”
CBC television personality Belle Puri emceed the night, co-chair Debbie Jeroff gave opening remarks and Stephen Gaerber brought greetings from Federation. Two video presentations, a raffle and a meal catered by Susy Siegel completed the night, and then 500 Jewish women went out into the rain inspired, full of good food and hope.
Neil Pollock, chair of the Jewish Federation annual campaign. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
There’s just under one month left to contribute to the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign, which supports dozens of local community organizations, as well as partner agencies in Israel and overseas. The Jewish Independent spoke to this year’s campaign chair Neil Pollock via email about his reasons for being involved, and the importance of the campaign to the community.
JI: You’ve taken over the general chair position from Harvey Dales. I know you’ve done so much community work, but did he offer you any advice specific to the campaign that you could share?
NP: Harvey is a good friend, and working as his wingman for a few years before succeeding him as campaign chair was a tremendous learning experience for me. Harvey is, as we all know, a terrific leader and great asset to this community. In fact, if I recall correctly, it was at one of his last meetings as chair that Harvey inspired the concept for our new face-to-face incentive, which has been so well supported by donors and canvassers.
This year, every time a donor meets with their canvasser in person, an additional $500 will be donated to the campaign. It’s an important way we’re engaging in genuine conversations about our community and its needs, as well as donors’ values and interests. It’s also a key way in which we’re growing the campaign. If anyone reading this wants to meet face to face, but doesn’t have a canvasser, just contact the Federation office and they’ll set it up for you.
JI: What motivated you to take on the position of general chair?
NP: I thought I might be able to help out the community a little, and I was honored to be asked to serve. My wife, Michelle, and I have made a very conscious effort to live and practise our Jewish values – especially tikkun olam, chesed and tzedakah. We do this through our volunteer work in the community, and in our home with our children. It’s made our kids more aware of the responsibility we all share in building a better, stronger community, and of all of us being responsible for each other.
JI: The campaign theme is “Securing Our Future.” What does that mean to you in terms of the Jewish community?
NP: The theme has a few meanings. In one sense, it’s about community continuity and engaging the next generation – two of the priority areas for our work. We need to continue to fund young adult programming through Hillel and Axis. We also need to support innovative new Jewish education programs that will reach the more than 850 children in underserved areas who aren’t currently receiving any Jewish education. We live in this incredible city, but the cost of living is so high that many people are struggling with how they can stay connected Jewishly. Nearly half of community members are living outside the city of Vancouver, and funding new programs that reach them where they live is critical to their community involvement.
In a very literal sense, it’s about making sure everyone in our community feels safe. Our Federation has been very proactive in terms of security, conducting a community-wide training program and providing grants for security upgrades, but security is an ongoing need in our community. We need to increase funding for our community institutions so they remain safe, and ensure emergency preparedness.
What some people might not realize is that, every year, Jewish Federation receives more requests for support than there is funding available. On top of that, there are critical programs and services that need more funding than they currently receive. If we want to secure our community’s future, we need to close these gaps while at the same time addressing the issues of affordability and accessibility.
JI: Are there any special projects/ causes that the campaign is hoping to fund?
NP: We’re seeing a real shift in our community that’s creating issues of affordability and accessibility. More and more families are moving to underserved communities outside of the city of Vancouver. It’s just too expensive for them here. When they move, they become beyond the reach of most of our community institutions. We need to find new ways to make community accessible for them. For many of those who live close to the centre of Jewish community life, the cost of doing so is creating other barriers, notably affordability. The high cost of living here has a direct impact on the ability of regular families to engage in Jewish life. These are the issues Federation is addressing through the campaign and in coordination with its partner agencies.
JI: What is the campaign goal this year?
NP: Last year, we reached a record result of $8 million – and we are determined to surpass that. As community needs continue to grow and evolve, so must our response, so must the campaign.
JI: Until when does the campaign run?
NP: The campaign runs from September through to the end of November, which is very short, compared to other communities. One of the reasons we’re able to raise funds in such a condensed period is the incredible work of our canvassers. Supporting them in their work is something I’m passionate about, and we’re putting special emphasis on that this year. We’ve worked with a group of generous supporters to develop a new incentive: for every new canvasser who joins our team, an extra $1,000 will be donated to the campaign. Twice the mitzvah!