Left to right are Stephen Gaerber (Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board chair), Mayor Ilan Orr of Yesod Hamaaleh, Mayor Rabbi Nissim Malka of Kiryat Shmona, Mayor Giora Saltz of Galil Elyon, Vancouver Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer, Mayor Binyamin Ben-Muvchar of Mevoot Hahermon and Ezra Shanken (Federation CEO). (photo by Rhonda Dent courtesy of JFGV)
One of the goals of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver is to strengthen the community’s partnership region in Israel, Etzbah HaGalil (the Galilee Panhandle). The efforts of Federation are combined with five other Jewish communities across Canada (Atlantic Canada, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton). Known as the Partnership2Gether (P2G) Coast-to-Coast initiative, this is the framework on which relationships between the people of Etzbah HaGalil and these communities of Canada are built and strengthened. The relationships foster a love of Israel and a long-term commitment to Jewish peoplehood, promoting the growth and health of each community involved.
The P2G Coast-to-Coast’s partnership is governed by a joint steering committee comprised of representatives from five Israeli and six Canadian partner cities, and Federation recently hosted the committee’s biannual meetings from June 15-17. Representatives from the local community included Stephen Gaerber, national chair of the Coast-to-Coast partnership; Karen James, chair of the Israel and overseas committee and P2G; and Pam Wolfman, chair of the local Gesher Chai (Living Bridge) committee. The meetings were an opportunity for representatives from Israel and across Canada to review funded projects together and explore potential investments in Etzbah HaGalil’s ongoing progress in three key areas: youth and education, the Gesher Chai program (which includes people-to-people exchanges between the two countries) and capacity building (social programming and regional development).
Etzbah HaGalil is geographically, economically and politically isolated. Residents often miss out on the social, educational and employment opportunities available to those living in central Israel. Through P2G, Federation strategically invests funds to reverse the north’s overall vulnerability by laying foundations for community resilience, emergency preparedness and economic growth.
One of the many projects in which Federation is investing is a new initiative called Green Farms, which develops and supports organic farming in the region. Through a partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at the University of British Columbia Farm, two professors mentor and work closely with Israeli farmers; they have been to Israel and will be going again. During the recent P2G meetings, committee members visited UBC Farm to see their environmentally responsible farming project. Committee members were surprised to discover such a beneficial program in our own backyard. “I was impressed by the extent of the farm, the diversity of plants grown, and how they are mentoring some Israeli farmers,” shared James. The goal of the program is to build a healthier, more sustainable food system in northern Israel. Program like this are a key focus of the partnership and of Federation’s investment.
Micha Biton headlines the community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations April 22. (photo from Micha Biton via Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
Seven years in the making, Laura Bialis’ documentary Rock in the Red Zone premièred last October at the Haifa Film Festival, and has since enjoyed several other prominent screenings in Israel. Less than a kilometre from the Gaza Strip, Sderot has been a favorite target of Hamas rocket fire for the last decade and a half – but it has also been the birthplace of a unique style of rock music, producing more than its share of popular bands and singers. One of the rock pioneers featured in the documentary steps off the Israeli silver screen and into Vancouver’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on April 22 to lead our community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations – Micha Biton.
JI: Your stop in Vancouver is part of a North American tour for Like Water. Are you traveling with a band? If so, who and what instruments?
MB: Exactly a year ago, my fifth album, Kmo Mayim (Like Water), was released in Israel and we performed a series of concerts around the country in celebration of the release – a tour that was very successful and drew attention from radio, television and media outlets. Subsequently, I performed in both San Francisco and New York and realized that, despite the fact that over half of the audience does not understand Hebrew, the music touched the hearts of those who heard it. For this concert in Vancouver, I am coming with five amazing musicians: Yossi Shitrit (electric guitar), Shir Yerushalmi (electric guitar), Hillel Shitrit (keyboards), Itamar Abohasera (drums), Shai Zrian (bass).
JI: In which other cities are you performing on this tour? For how long are you here?
MB: We are coming directly from Israel, and Vancouver is the first city on our tour. After Vancouver, I will perform in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I’ll be in North America for less than two weeks. Due to my heavy performance schedule in Israel, I couldn’t carve out more time to tour on this trip, but I always manage to make a little time to take in the atmosphere of the cities in which I perform. This is not my first time in Vancouver – last year, during the war between Israel and Gaza, I brought my whole family to Vancouver to visit my wife’s family and I fell in love with your beautiful city and people. I’m excited that on my second trip to Vancouver I will get to perform for the wonderful people that I met in Vancouver.
JI: Like Water is your fourth solo recording?
MB: Kmo Mayim is my fourth solo recording, but it is my fifth album. In 1997, I produced my first album, Tanara, with a group of talented musician and it received critical acclaim in Israel. Soon after, I became a solo artist and, over two decades, I recorded four albums of original music. For me, Kmo Mayim is a very personal album that I wrote about relationships – friendships, love, connection with God. Every song tells a different story, and every story has an open-ended moral attached to it. I’m very proud of this album and I’m happy that my audiences like it.
JI: You are one of the pioneers of the renowned rock music scene in Sderot. Could you share a bit about its development, how it has changed over the years?
MB: In the 1990s, I created a band called Tanara, a period that saw an incredible explosion in the Israeli music scene, especially in Sderot. Bands like Tippex, Knesiyat Hasechel and ours developed a new sound that was special and unique to Sderot, combining rock music with the Moroccan/ethnic sounds of our neighborhoods and our childhoods. In those early days, Sderot was underdeveloped and family-oriented. We didn’t have much to do, so music became our lives and we played and composed in the bomb shelters all of the time. (In those days, we used the shelters for writing music and rehearsing for concerts. Today, unfortunately, they are used as shelters from the rockets fired from Gaza.) In addition, it was a town where everyone knew everyone – there was no such thing as a stranger in our town, and the warmth created by this strong community significantly influenced our ability to create something unique musically.
JI: How about your own style? How would you describe it now versus when you first started out?
MB: My musical style hasn’t really changed much over the years. I’ve been very successful continuing to write ethnic rock in the style that I helped to create and I am lucky that my audience appreciates my style and my sensitivity. While my roots are strongly planted in Sderot, I am different than most of my fellow musicians from the area. At the age of 10, after my father died, I left my Moroccan biological family and was fostered by an Ashkenazi family in Jerusalem. From that early, tender age, I started to live between two cultures, understanding the beauty of each, and using both of them to influence the way I compose and the way I live. It turns out that my foster mother, Galila Ron-Feder, was a modestly successful author in Israel who shortly after my arrival chose to write an entire book based on my life and my journey (and I was only 10!). This book, El Atzmi (To Myself), became her most successful book. It became a series of books, and then a movie. It has been translated into 27 languages. The influence of Galila and her world, and the world of my parents together, helped me to create a new world of my own. My music and the lyrics that I write are very connected to the fact that I have lived most of my life straddled between these two worlds.
JI: A 2007 New York Times article refers to “Biton’s anthem for Sderot,” which was “I don’t leave the town for any Qassam.” What is it like living in Sderot these days? Are you hopeful for the future?
MB: In the quiet days of peace, we love living in this area. My nine brothers and sisters and their families live in Sderot, and my family and I live on the border between Sderot and Gaza in Netiv Haasara, a moshav where we can see Gaza from our backyard. This is my home, and we are very drawn to this place. For the past 10 years, we have lived with the reality that at any moment, day or night, the sirens will start and we have 15 seconds to run to our bomb shelters. Our children have grown up with the feeling that life is beautiful but uncertain. This past summer, and several times in the past, we have been forced to leave our homes and our community because of the imminent danger that the conflict caused. Rockets fell on our yard. A rocket hit my wife’s parents’ home, who live a block away from us, destroying precious family heirlooms. For every rocket that fell last summer, there are hundreds of rockets that have landed around us in the past 10 years that go unreported but, for us, they are very real. When we came to Vancouver last summer, my 4-year-old son looked at me and asked, “Abba, why don’t they have tzeva adom (warning sirens) here in Vancouver?” and I explained to him that not everyone has to deal with rockets falling on their heads all of the time. It was a very sad moment for me.
In 2007, when I wrote the song ‘I don’t leave the town for any Qassam,’ I felt that people were deserting Sderot and all of her beauty because of the situation. I wanted to give them strength and remind them that it was critical to stay and to fight for our hometown. Less than a year later, I wrote HaTzad HaMuar (The Lighted Side) from the same place in my heart. Despite all of the pain, I wrote, don’t forget the light, the hope, the optimism. Because that is really what Sderot is all about. Not a place where rockets fall, but a place of warmth and love and peace.
JI: In the same article, you speak about Hagit Yaso as a star almost certain to rise to the top. She has, of course. And she played here in Vancouver last year for Yom Ha’atzmaut. Are there any current young Sderot musicians for whom we should be keeping watch?
MB: Hagit is an amazing singer and an extraordinary human being. I’m proud to stay that she was one of my most talented students when I taught music and theatre in Sderot. I am so happy for her success and that she represents a new generation of musicians that has emerged from Sderot. The wonderful thing about this young generation is that they are succeeding to continue the tradition of Sderot, bringing exciting new musical projects to Israel and to the world. During one of my tours, I invited her to the stage to sing with me, and it was a really beautiful moment of connection between the pioneers of the music scene and the young musicians of this generation.
One of the new, talented musicians climbing up the ladder at the moment is my cousin Tzafrir Yifrach, who concentrates on world music. He has exceptional talent and is performing quite a bit these days around Israel, and musicians from all over Israel love coming to his recording studio in Sderot to work on their own projects with him. Another rising talent is Nir Vaknin, who is in the process of finishing his debut album.
JI: If there is anything else you’d like to add, please feel free.
MB: During the time that I was in production for Kmo Mayim, I started another project with a musician from the U.S., Lisa Tzur, who was the executive producer of Kmo Mayim. I’ve traveled a lot in North America and have performed at synagogues where the singing was so beautiful that I never forgot it. I wanted to be a part of that somehow. Taking words from the prayer service and from Psalms, as well as a few original texts, we recorded a project that is different than anything else that I have recorded. The idea was to create music that was accessible and singable by audiences that were not necessarily Israeli. Lisa comes from that world (as a lifelong member of the Reform Jewish movement and as an ordained rabbi) and together we created something very special that will be released this summer both in Israel and in the world.
Masha Shumatskaya’s visit here was part of an American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee tour of North American cities. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
All Masha Shumatskaya wants is for the fighting to stop so she can go home. The 24-year-old Jewish Ukrainian English teacher was living and working happily in the city of Donetsk until April 2014, when pro-Russian separatists arrived two hours north of her hometown and declared their intention to form a people’s republic.
Until that moment, her life had been quite ordinary. Shumatskaya, a slender beauty with gentle eyes, was one of some 15,000 Jews in Donetsk, a city that boasts a Jewish community centre, a Chabad-run synagogue, a kosher café and various Jewish youth and cultural groups. “I never once experienced antisemitism growing up there,” she said. “I was never afraid to say I was a Jew.”
By May 2014, the pro-Russian separatists had moved into Donetsk and were threatening the safety of civilians. They bombed the Donetsk airport and the violence forced the closure of many schools and business offices in the city. Shumatskaya and her friends began making plans to move to other cities in Ukraine, such as Kiev, Odessa and Kharkov. She chose Kharkov, five hours’ drive from Donetsk, leaving her parents behind.
But Shumatskaya is one of the lucky ones. There are some 7,000 Jews still living in the war zone in Ukraine, many of them elderly. They’re dependent on the Joint Distribution Committee’s aid for food, medical support, rental subsidies and basic necessities.
Shumatskaya was in Vancouver recently as a guest of JDC, where she met with Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver representatives and media to tell her story. With her was Michael Novick, executive director of the American Jewish JDC in Bellevue, Wash. “The situation in Ukraine has become a high priority for the JDC,” he said. “It’s not just the Jews, mostly elderly, still living in the conflict zone, but also the 2,500 Jews who’ve fled and need assistance, and another 60,000 Jews we’ve been helping all along with basic humanitarian supplies.” The JDC estimates the cost of its monthly relief for these Jews to be more than $387,000 US.
The political unrest has had widespread effect. The Ukrainian economy has plummeted, the purchasing power of the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, has dropped more than 50 percent and inflation is between 25 and 30 percent. “A year ago, the average pension of an elderly person we were assisting was equivalent to $150 US. Today, that same pension is only worth $50 US,” Novick said. “People have lost their jobs, their businesses, and Jews who could previously take care of their own families are now coming to the JDC’s Hesed welfare centres.”
The JDC has 32 Hesed welfare centres in Ukraine, and 160 of them across the former Soviet Union. Among those Jews requiring their services in Ukraine, Novick said they represent “the poorest Jews on earth, living in really dire conditions. For them, the lifeline provided by Hesed in terms of supplemental, basic humanitarian assistance, is vital.”
He added that the emergency funds being supplied by JDC are not part of its budget. “But the situation in Ukraine is so dire that we’re not waiting – we’re simply spending money and hoping that individuals, federations and foundations that meet Masha and hear about this story will come to our assistance.”
Shumatskaya’s 10-day visit to North America included stops in Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York. Last year, JFGV made a $25,000 grant to JDC for its various programs.
As she looked to the future, Shumatskaya was uncertain what it would hold for her. “I feel attached to Ukraine and I feel some responsibility to help with what’s going on there,” she said. “If I had to leave Kharkov I don’t know where I’d go. But I know that I don’t want to become a war refugee again. Once in my life was quite enough.”
Her message to Vancouver’s Jewish community is twofold: a reminder that Jews are responsible for each other, and one of gratitude for the support she and her fellow Ukrainian Jews have all ready received.
“Without that support we literally would not have survived,” she said. “I wish we could finish this need for assistance fast, but it’s out of our hands. We’re praying every day that we can live in a peaceful country without the assistance provided by the JDC.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
As the 2014 Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign draws closer to a record $8 million mark, preparations are well underway to build on that success in 2015.
Cindy Behrmann, campaign director since 2012 and one of the primary drivers behind this year’s campaign will be heading off to a well-deserved retirement. Over the past few months, Federation was hard at work reviewing the financial resource development (FRD) department in advance of Behrmann’s departure at the end of December and has announced the following changes.
Michelle Pullan, Federation’s women’s philanthropy director since 2011, will assume the role of campaign director. Pullan has considerable experience in philanthropy and fund development, having enjoyed success as a fundraising manager at Ballet BC and director of development at Vancouver Heritage Foundation before joining Federation’s FRD team. She has taken on leadership and volunteer roles on behalf of Jewish schools in the community and has served on the boards of Camp Solomon Schechter and Camp Hatikvah.
Campaign coordinators Eva Bach and Anna Vander Munnik have been promoted to the role of campaign managers. Vander Munnik, with Federation since 2011, will focus her effort on managing the men’s philanthropy division, while Bach, who joined Federation in 2013, will manage the women’s philanthropy portfolio. Also returning in January from maternity leave will be director, marketing and communications, Becky Saegert.
Led by associate executive director Marcie Flom, the FRD team is well positioned to capitalize on and sustain the success enjoyed in 2014.
Harvey Dales, 2014 Federation annual campaign general chair, speaks at a Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver donor event. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
As he tallied up the fundraising dollars earlier this month for this year’s Federation annual campaign, Harvey Dales noted with satisfaction that almost $7 million had been pledged in Vancouver since the campaign began in September. With a month to go until it wraps up in January, he’s aspiring to reach the $8 million mark.
“Our campaign had been relatively stagnant for the past few years, with only slight increases,” he reflected. “This year, which is my last year as campaign chair, I felt it was important to reach the $8 million mark because there are just so many needs.”
Dales and his team established a matching fund, where six donors promised a total of $125,000 in matching funds; that meant every unrestricted dollar of increase to the campaign made by any other donor would be matched. Another matching campaign was established with a focus on 20-to-35-year-olds, this one a two-for-one match.
The two matching funds have been so successful that Federation found itself on the verge of running out of matching funds a few weeks ago. “We went out and raised further funds, another $30,000, to top up the fund and ensure we could continue with the matching,” Dales said. “We’re still seeking additional funds for the match fund, and I’m very confident it will bring us to our $8 million goal.”
For the first time in many years, each one of Federation’s divisions has seen an increase in the dollars pledged compared with gifts from the same donors last year. That includes major donors, men’s philanthropy, women’s philanthropy, community and young adults. “The gifts that have come in have been incredible,” he told the Independent. “One individual who hadn’t made a gift before pledged $750. Another newly wedded couple explained they’d really stretched their budget by giving us $360 last year, but this year they were giving us $540 because of the matching funds.”
“I believe it’s so important for the community to know how vital Federation is,” he continued. “It’s our social needs network for the community, whether it’s funding for social services, education, youth, outreach or seniors. Both here, overseas and in Israel, there are so many recipient agencies that rely on Federation for the bulk of their funding to provide desperately needed services.”
Vancouver’s community is extraordinary for how many individuals commit to volunteering and canvassing for the annual campaign, he added. “In campaigns in other cities, the canvassing is done by professionals, but here in Vancouver our community is just so involved.”
Ezra S. Shanken has been busy since arriving in Vancouver. (photo from Ezra S. Shanken)
“I said at our AGM that I want a Federation today that is with you in your brightest and darkest times, not because of what you give but because of who you are, and I intend to spend my years here using that statement as a driver of my performance.”
A praiseworthy benchmark for Ezra S. Shanken, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s new chief executive officer. Since he began in June, he has been busy, attending the launch of JHub in Richmond, participating in Federation’s June 16 annual general meeting, attending several community events, appearing on the radio show JFSA Voice, helping organize the community response to the Israel-Hamas conflict, joining volunteers at the Surrey Fusion Festival’s first-ever Israel pavilion, visiting various local community institutions, traveling to Israel, the list goes on.
Born in New York City, Shanken grew up in Teaneck, N.J. He is the third generation of Shankens to be involved in Jewish communal service. “For me, this is a family business of sorts,” he told the Independent, adding, “… that is something I take great pride in.”
His father was cultural arts director at the Jewish community centre when Shanken was in nursery school, before becoming an inner city high school teacher. Shanken’s grandfather flew 55 missions over Europe in the Second World War as a bombardier and then became a rabbi; he also participated in the Freedom Rides, which successfully challenged segregation in interstate bus terminals in the American South. “He is a true inspiration and I keep a picture of him and his bomber crew on my wall in my office,” said Shanken.
While Shanken has become a community professional, he admitted in an interview with ejewishphilanthropy.com that his career in this field was unexpected. About his move to Colorado after college, he told the online publisher, “The idea was to go for a year to escape from NYC, but that one year turned into eight years and into the building block to who I’ve become as a Jewish communal professional.”
Needing a job, he applied to the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado. He credits Susan Kramer, now JEWISHcolorado chief development officer, with seeing something in him. “I went from somebody seeing something in me to me seeing something in myself to having an opportunity to see something in other people and help them along,” he told ejewishphilanthropy.com.
Shanken was at JEWISHcolorado for six years, working there in different capacities, ultimately becoming senior manager of the young adult department and major gifts. He also co-founded E-3 Event in Colorado, an organization focused on arts-based events for younger Jews (20s through early 40s). Shanken comes to Vancouver from New York, however, where he directed Emerging Leaders and Philanthropists at UJA-Federation of New York from mid-2011.
Growing up through the public school system – but attending Jewish summer camp (Ramah in the Berkshires) – Shanken did his undergraduate degree in political economics at the University of Hartford, where he was president of Hillel, and his graduate work in nonprofit management at Regis University.
“As a kid, I wanted to be a garbage man, fireman, fighter pilot but by high school I had the experience of going to Washington, D.C., and volunteering during the Clintons’ second inauguration, and that got me on to the idea of being involved in public service,” Shanken told the Independent.
Internships in his “junior and senior years of high school for a local Jewish congressman … connected to internships and experiences far out into the future,” he added.
Now, at 34, he is one of the youngest CEOs in the Federation system. And his approach has reflected that, with Shanken having been an avid user of social media throughout his career.
“I have been a big believer in social media as an outreach tool in Jewish communal work,” he said. “There is no question in my mind that if we want to engage the next generation of Jews, we are going to have to engage in the social media space. I am active on Twitter under the handle @eshanken, Facebook and Instagram. I love to share what I and we are doing every day with my followers and friends because what we do and where I get to be is truly special.”
While encouraging people to follow him on any of these media, he noted that the internet has limitations with respect to its ability to bring people and ideas together.
“To this date, I never turn down an offer to have coffee, and judge the success of my week by how many people I get together with.”
“It is my opinion that, to date, there is not a platform that replaces two chairs, a table and cups of whatever you choose,” he said. “My goal in using online platforms is to move the relationship offline. When I was developing the young leadership department at the Colorado Federation, I found the best thing we did was have hundreds of coffees where we asked young professionals, ‘Under what circumstances could you see yourself getting more involved in the organized Jewish community?’ To this date, I never turn down an offer to have coffee, and judge the success of my week by how many people I get together with.”
Informal and formal discussions will determine Federation’s – and the community’s – future trajectory.
Said Shanken, “We will be entering into a strategic visioning process with the goal of having these types of conversations. The ultimate goal is to move from strength to excellence in each of our fields of practice. For me, personally, I am more interested in the processes over the product. Creating long-lasting change in Jewish communal life is like speeding up the rotation of the earth a little at a time so people don’t fall down.”
About relocating to the other side of the continent? “Rachel and I feel truly blessed to be here in Vancouver,” said Shanken of his and his wife’s move here. “We have been blown away by the beauty of the scenery and the warmth of the community. The biggest challenge for us was figuring out how to sort our garbage at the house but once we figured that out we saw such value in it. Work-wise, my summer has been dominated, like many in our community, by the crisis [in Israel-Gaza]. However, through the crisis, I have seen the community come together in beautiful ways to show their support for Israel and each other during this difficult time.
“This community has one very special thing going for it because of the hard work of those who are around me and came before me,” he said. “We have rabbis who have built relationships across the streams of Judaism and agencies that, on the whole, get along with each other. I take it as a personal mission to keep those relationships strong because with relationships like we have, the sky is the limit to what we can accomplish.”