A few dozen cyclists participated in last year’s ORT Vancouver Ride for STEM. (photo from ORT Vancouver)
The third annual ORT Vancouver Ride for STEM takes place on Father’s Day, June 19. The cycling event, which begins and ends at Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS) grounds, raises funds for STEM programming – science, technology, engineering and math, said Mary Tobin, longtime executive director of ORT Vancouver.
Participants can choose from a five-kilometre, 36-kilometre or 72-kilometre ride, all of them within Richmond, which is a naturally flat environment.
Founded in Russia, in 1880, World ORT is one of the largest education and training organizations in the world. To date, more than two million students have been educated by ORT and 300,000 students benefit worldwide from World ORT projects in more than 100 countries every year. ORT schools and training centres operate in North and Latin America, Eastern and Western Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, as well as in Israel.
Katia Fermon, director of Jewish life and community engagement at RJDS, said half of the funds raised will go to ORT Vancouver and half will fund programs at her school.
During the pandemic, RJDS, like many schools, was forced to adapt to remote and virtual education. Now integrating a hybrid approach, the technology that was implemented by necessity is being leveraged to strengthen the delivery of educational programs.
“Starting this year, we are trying to push our STEM programming with graphic design, programming with robots and more online education,” said Fermon. The plan is to implement more technology, design skills, programming and coding skills into the curriculum.
“Now we need the hardware to do it,” she said.
Since the cycling event takes place outdoors, the partners were able to run the fundraiser right through the pandemic. Last year, she said, 35 or 40 riders participated, raising about $26,000. Because pandemic restrictions have been eased, the event is taking place during the school year this time and students and parents are encouraged to participate.
Because of the varying route length options, the return times of riders is staggered. As a result, the social component of the day takes place at the beginning.
“There’s a little reception at the start,” Fermon said. “We greet everyone, they get their water bottle, their snacks, we do a couple of pictures. We did it last year and it was very heartwarming. I don’t know of any other Jewish ride, so it becomes a very Jewish moment where we feed you, you say hi to old friends – ‘I haven’t seen you since the bat mitzvah!’ – it’s a very Jewish reception.”
Organizers are inviting everyone – not just riders – to get involved. With more cyclists than ever anticipated in this year’s event, more volunteers are still required. There is a silent auction that anyone is welcome to participate in by dropping by RJDS on the day. And, of course, donations of cash or auction items are welcome.
Beverley Kort is a registered psychologist by day and a cartoonist in her off hours. She recently took a course in comics journalism at the School for Visual Arts in New York and one of the assignments was to do a local story. Bigsby the Bakehouse is her local bakery in Vancouver and surviving the pandemic is a current topic. She decided to merge these two interests to create this article.
There’s been much discussion about mental health, physical health and well-being as it relates to the pandemic. This can only be a good thing. It shines a light on something we should all think more about. For example, asking: “How are you doing? How are your family members and friends doing? Do they need support? Are they sad, isolated, lonely or not feeling well?” and actually hearing the responses.
Yet, once we start raising these questions about well-being, we have to acknowledge that we just don’t have the bandwidth or the social and medical infrastructure to deal with the outcomes. Many times, no one has cared, asked or listened when someone has spoken up and said things weren’t OK. It might be new for some to acknowledge that we’re not always “fine” and that there’s often not much professional help available either. (Just look at wait times to get mental health or addictions support.)
Our household had a great weekend recently. The weather was outstanding, warm and sunny, with highs of 20 to 23°C. We had outdoor experiences, with low-risk social experiences. We participated in a friendly neighbourhood cleanup and a big picnic with soccer and badminton. My kids gave me handmade art for Mother’s Day, with notes they wrote themselves. There was time for lots of good food, walks, playing and even some household cleaning. All four of us commented on Sunday night that we’d done so much, eaten well, and had so much fun.
I had so many feelings about this. I, too, loved the sunshine and the weekend’s events. I also felt physically well and energetic, capable of celebrating it all. That said, being absolutely prepared ahead of time, with lists of what we needed for each outing, a schedule, and carefully pre-organized and prepared meals was a lot of emotional labour. Like moms everywhere through the pandemic, I’ve shouldered much of this. When I woke up Monday morning, I was really tired.
The kids went to school. My partner settled down to his online meeting. I threw together food in two slow cookers for dinner and went to my desk – to work and to process my intense feelings. I knew I’d been starved for company. Seeing people outdoors, even strangers, with smiles and an intention to socialize and get to know us, was gratifying. Also, breaking out of our normal cold weather weekend pandemic routine was both fabulous and more work. Choosing to go out and chat with strangers – it was all good but also alien. That strange mix of feelings led me to think harder.
Working, I opened a fascinating listserv email about an informal comparison between Modern Hebrew, Yemenite Hebrew and Samaritan Hebrew. A Canadian engineer named Bahador Alast hosts YouTube interviews for a wide variety of languages in which he explores language, linguistics and culture. In this video, an Israeli speaker of Modern Hebrew, a Samaritan Israeli and a Yemenite Israeli all take apart informal sentences, a sentence of poetry, a sentence from the Torah (and liturgy) and another from the Mishnah (part of the Talmud). They easily code switch between their dialects of origin (Samaritan/Yemenite), Modern Hebrew, English and Arabic. They discuss the origins of their community’s pronunciations and conversational styles, their relationship to other Semitic languages and Modern Hebrew. With focus, they do all this in less than 20 minutes. It’s also done in such a friendly, open way that the moderator, Alast, who does this with many different cultures and languages, mostly sits and listens to the magic unfold.
This content stretched me intellectually, especially my auditory capacity, since I hadn’t heard these differences explained and formalized before. I loved this rare learning moment and the very specific linguistic context and comparison.
My personal realization about the weekend’s events and warmth and my Monday morning exhaustion was that context matters. The reason why it was all so fun was that we came into the weekend prepared. Also, all felt well rested and ready for lots of activity. Since the pandemic started, there has been acknowledgement of women’s household burdens with the cancellation of “regular” activities, but context matters. I had mostly the same burdens pre-pandemic and the normal run of activities made life overwhelmingly busy. The break in obligations allowed me to see the emotional labour in getting everything ready. I now sometimes can get my spouse to take on some of the load. Sometimes, we restructure things or do less.
The pandemic forced us to hit pause in many ways. Hopefully, it’s also opened up moments to make positive changes. People have always asked each other how we were, but did everyone listen to the responses? No. Many of us didn’t even have the time to listen to ourselves. Our own health and well-being can sometimes be hard to figure out. We need that quiet space to contextualize our experience. “Does this hip hurt more than it used to?” a physio might ask. However, if we don’t stop to think about what hurts or to discuss our feelings, experiences and needs, we cannot possibly contextualize them, either.
Judaism teaches us that we’re obligated to one another, in families, communities and society. Yet, if we aren’t listening to one another, we can’t help one another. Whether it’s speaking a common language with dialects or providing one another with mental health and other supports, we cannot lift one another up if we’re not listening or trying. We need to be self-aware to listen to our own bodies, minds and feelings. Then we can listen to and help others, too.
We may have a lot of health issues ahead, from long-COVID, health concerns left undiagnosed and mental health struggles. We have an obligation to recognize that we don’t have the social and medical infrastructure we need to manage it all. It’s up to us to start bridging the gaps. Listening to one another, offering context and support, is a first step. It’s an important opportunity to make things better.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
Judith Anderson speaks at the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society’s Raoul Wallenberg Day event last month. (photo by Masumi Kikuchi)
This year’s commemoration of Raoul Wallenberg Day took place April 10 at Congregation Beth Israel because COVID-19 restrictions prevented the gathering in January. The event honoured the courage of B.C. frontline healthcare providers during the pandemic.
Hosted by the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society, Judith Anderson welcomed attendees. She asked them to take a moment of silence to think about Ukraine and “all the victims of this humanitarian crisis, and to thank the countries welcoming refugees, especially Ukraine’s closest neighbours – Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Moldova and Hungary. In addition, let’s remember the many organizations and volunteers who are stepping forward to help.”
Anderson spoke about gratitude. “We are blessed to live in a peaceful society, where threads of various cultures are woven together to make a fabric that is stronger and warmer than any of the threads would be alone. Let’s recognize two special qualities of that fortunate fabric that we are thankful for today.
“First, we appreciate our shared land. Here in Vancouver, we are meeting on the unceded territories of Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people. We thank them for sharing, and for having cared for these lands and waters for thousands of years.
“Second, we are thankful for our health care. Modern medicine has developed from diverse cultural threads, including science, people skills, systems management and the professional commitment of thousands of healthcare providers. Our routine expectations of health and longevity could scarcely have been imagined, just 100 years ago.
“And today,” she continued, “we are thankful, in particular, for the civil courage of those who have provided health care to British Columbians during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have faced a new, deadly, communicable disease with unknown risks to their own and their families’ health. They have worked to exhaustion under the most stressful conditions, saving lives and comforting families. Then, when vaccines became available, healthcare workers extended themselves yet more to immunize us all. Unfortunately, as some people have tired of public health restrictions, medical workers have been subjected to harassment and threats. And still they are there for us when we need health care, whatever the problem might be.”
Deputy Mayor Christine Boyle read the Raoul Wallenberg Day proclamation from the City of Vancouver, recognizing Jan. 17 as the day of its commemoration.
The Civil Courage Society’s Alan Le Fevre introduced the three speakers: Barb Nederpel, president of the Hospital Employees Union of British Columbia; Sherri Kensall, board chair of the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia; and Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, president of the Doctors of British Columbia. They described the challenges and courageous responses of hospital workers, nursing professionals and doctors during the COVID pandemic.
The one-hour documentary Zero to Zero was screened at the event. Filmed over 15 months, it offers an unfiltered look at what it’s like to be a healthcare worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. It follows the staff of a hospital from the moment they admit their first patient in June 2020, till after the third wave. Filmed by a healthcare worker with unprecedented access to the hospital frontline, it deals with patients during life-and-death situations, but the focus remains on the indomitable strength of the human spirit.
After the screening, the guest speakers fielded questions from the audience about what they thought of the documentary, about long-COVID in healthcare workers and about the harassment they faced and how they responded to it.
The annual commemoration is held in memory of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian, who became Sweden’s special envoy to Hungary in summer 1944 and, at great personal risk, saved tens of thousands of Jews from deportation and death. He disappeared into Soviet captivity on Jan. 17, 1945, and his fate remains unknown.
Wallenberg has been made an honorary citizen of Canada, the United States, Hungary, Australia and Israel. In 2000, the Canadian government proclaimed Jan. 17 as Raoul Wallenberg Day.
The event is also in memory of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who served as vice-consul in Lithuania during the Second World War. He chose to act, at clear professional and personal risk to himself and his family, issuing transit visas that allowed about 2,000 Jews, more than 90% from Poland, to escape almost certain death.
Both Wallenberg and Sugihara have been designated by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations.
The Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society, said Anderson, defines “civil courage as an act entailing personal risk or sacrifice, intended to improve or save the lives of others who endure misfortunes attributable to social context. In even the best-managed societies, some people may suffer from conflict, injustice or threats to health and well-being – such as the COVID pandemic – that are intimately tied to our social structures. And those who help despite personal risk, show the same inner strength as wartime role models like Wallenberg and Sugihara.
“In 2006,” she continued, “the former honorary Swedish consul to Vancouver, Anders Neumuller, began Vancouver’s annual commemoration of Wallenberg Day. He later envisaged a nonprofit society dedicated to honouring acts of civil courage. And so the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society was formed in 2013 by members of the Swedish and Jewish communities in Vancouver.”
The Civil Courage Society honours the legacy of Wallenberg and Sugihara by acknowledging British Columbians who have demonstrated civil courage and by promoting civil courage.
“To that end, each year, we formally recognize a person or group of people who have displayed civil courage in British Columbia,” said Anderson. “We also screen a film intended to get the audience thinking about the importance of civil courage and how to encourage it.”
For more information, including photos and video of the commemoration, visit wsccs.ca.
– Courtesy Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society
All over social media, we’re reminded to “Learn something new each day!” Even before the internet, I remember similar aphorisms – and then “Heck, if you’re lucky, learn two!” Attached to these reminders was the message that each experience and, yes, especially the awful ones, offered us learning opportunities.
While encountering this social media push for self-improvement, I happened to study, from the Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 3a&b. This page of Talmud points out something that never occurred to me before. This message about lifelong learning is both a Jewish and ancient one. In the second century CE, in Peki’in, Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka and Rabbi Elazar ben Hisma went to greet Rabbi Yohoshua. Rabbi Yehoshua asked them what new thing they’d learned that day in the study hall. They suggested they were his students and learned directly from him – how could they present him with something new?
Rabbi Yehoshua responded there couldn’t be a study hall without “novelty.” He went on to ask them who had lectured that week. Upon learning that Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya had taught them, he coaxed them for information. Then, he learned something new from the students.
This sounded just like when we greet our kids as they get off the school bus, or ask students (of any age) what they are learning from other teachers. Inevitably, there is something to learn. This bit of wisdom goes further. The Gemara (later commentators) add that the Torah is like a goad. It pushes us on to learn more. Like a sharp nail or cattle prod, it forces us to keep moving onward and learning from new and different circumstances. Torah, the rabbis conclude, doesn’t just have a single, immovable or simple answer for us.
OK then, I thought, what are some of the lessons we’re able to draw from the pandemic and the political upheaval around us? Many feel as though the pandemic is over, just because we’re tired of it but, practically, this virus will “be over” only when it’s ready to be. In an effort to get past this world-weary reaction, I thought about some of what we’ve learned so far.
1) Since Omicron’s arrival, we’ve realized, more than ever, that we must do our own cautious self-management of health. For awhile, in our North American culture, we expected a doctor to diagnose every illness; our workplaces required a doctor’s note. However, when the level of sickness around us is overwhelming, we’re required to examine and diagnose ourselves. This actually returns us to the world of the rabbis in some sense, where bloodletting, herbs and other cures were advised. Much like Ivermectin, some of these did more harm than good.
2) We should stay home when sick. We’ve all felt forced by the culture around us to work through illness even when it would be best to stay home. Yet, highly contagious illnesses mean we need to protect others to keep sickness from spreading. Again, we’ve lived in a “modern” bubble here for awhile. We’ve had fewer contagions and better vaccines and medical care that allowed us to circulate even when we were probably sick. For centuries, people have fought terrible illness by isolating. A quick example would be that of leprosy – we learn from the Torah and the Talmud that those afflicted must stay outside “the camp” and away from others. Self-isolating is the modern equivalent.
3) With the requirement to stay home came widespread acknowledgement of inequity. Many low-income people can’t afford to stay home. Their jobs don’t allow for it. Without paid sick leave, people can’t rest at home. Jewish tradition suggests we should visit or bring food for the sick. We should care for those less fortunate in our communities, such as widows and orphans. While our political advocacy may involve supporting food banks or homeless shelters, does our contemporary Jewish community focus on fixing inequity? We no longer have a Shmita year that forgives debt and evens the playing field. Is the Canadian answer something like universal basic income or the $10-a-day childcare plan?
4) Change isn’t always bad. Career changes, whether forced or chosen, can be positive. Our educational systems shifted enormously to deliver remote learning and accommodate COVID protocols. Our elder-care facilities are in dire need of improvement. Our hospitals need more capacity and redundancy, in both staff and space, so that even pandemics can be managed.
5) Scientists predicted that with climate change, pandemics may become more frequent. Planning to alleviate some of the effects of climate change has been a rocky path. So many governments get swept up in politics and make no policy adjustments. Our current COVID situation is a reminder that climate change, long predicted, is now here. Leaders must arm themselves with science rather than politics to save lives. Saving lives and caring for the earth are Jewish imperatives. This pandemic has been a frightening wake up call.
We can learn from every situation. The rabbis in the talmudic tractate of Chagigah at first assumed their mentors and leaders knew everything. This offered me a lesson too. Good leaders pursue lifelong learning because they are humble enough to know they will never know it all. Facing challenging experiences and learning from them can goad us so that we grow to be better people. The huge number of deaths, chronic illness and hospitalizations from COVID is devastating. If we try hard, we can find lessons here for a better future.
Joanne Seiffhas written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
The Committee on Teaching and Learning of the American Academy of Religion has honoured Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan Kaplan with the 2022 Katie Geneva Cannon Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes the importance of teaching and celebrates outstanding teaching in the field.
Duhan Kaplan currently serves as the director of inter-religious studies and is a professor of Jewish studies at Vancouver School of Theology. The award committee was deeply impressed by her commitment to critical and trauma-informed pedagogy, meaningful interreligious dialogue and community engagement. They also noted her innovative classroom practices, including an intensive course that culminates in a public-facing conference on contemporary interfaith issues.
The American Academy of Religion, in Atlanta, Ga., is dedicated to the academic study of religion, with more than 5,000 members around the world. Its mission is to foster excellence in the academic study of religion and enhance the public understanding of religion.
Late last fall, storms flooded the entire cities of Princeton, Merritt and Abbotsford, and many other areas across the Fraser Valley. In response to the damage and displacement caused, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver was among the organizations that set up mechanisms to aid those affected.
In November 2021, Federation opened the B.C. Flood Relief Fund with a $10,000 disbursement from its emergency relief fund. Since then, thanks to the support of hundreds of donors, including funds from Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island, more than $359,000 has been raised.
To date, $36,000 has been given to Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib (Surrey Sikh Temple) and the Guru Nanak Food Bank to offset the cost of shipping the goods to Merritt and renting a warehouse to establish a new food bank there, as well as to purchase blankets and air mattresses for people who were displaced by the flooding or lost their possessions or both.
Additionally, $50,000 has been used to purchase emergency kits for First Nations Emergency Services Society (FNESS) to distribute to 30 First Nations communities. As well, $25,000 has been directed to GiveClear to support ongoing efforts, which includes $12,000 to support displaced agricultural workers from Mexico whose belongings were lost in the floods.
On Feb. 14, Jewish Federation was one of the donors that participated in GiveClear Foundation Canada’s Celebration of Giving event at Arnold Community Church in Abbotsford. The online platform, a registered charity operated out of Abbotsford, created a quick and simple way for people and businesses to donate to local flood recovery and, so far, more than $600,000 has been raised through various campaigns facilitated by GiveClear.
Jewish Federation has formed key partnerships to maximize the impact of the B.C. Flood Relief Fund, and it takes networks both within Federation and beyond to nurture these relationships. Much of what has been accomplished in the last several months is the result of many years of ongoing efforts. Shelley Rivkin and Rabbi Philip Bregman from Federation’s office, and Nico Slobinsky and Etti Goldman at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, have done invaluable work in this area.
In July 2020, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver established the Community Recovery Task Force, chaired by Risa Levine. Combined with the emergency funds released at the start of the initial lockdown almost two years ago, Federation has distributed nearly $1,320,000 to aid community recovery from the impact of COVID.
Here is a summary of Community Recovery Fund distributions to date:
Initial grants ($593,100) addressed the immediate consequences of the pandemic on the day-to-day operations of local organizations in the areas of technology, mental health, operational losses, COVID-associated expenses, critical social services, and capacity building.
Camp grants ($111,000) helped offset the significant expenses summer camps incurred in order to meet new public health guidelines.
Capacity grants ($25,500) assisted organizations in hiring an outside facilitator to help them develop a recovery plan.
Transformation grants ($385,000) are for developing innovative and collaborative programs and services that will lead to long-term change in the community.
Transition grants ($200,000) enabled agencies to maintain stability and restore their revenue streams.
Additional funds have been distributed recently for continuing COVID needs, such as N95 masks for schools and community organizations, and small gifts to frontline community staff in special recognition of their outstanding commitment over the last year.
The task force’s final recommendation is that, when it is determined that the pandemic is truly over, if there are funds remaining, these should be used so that the community can continue to be prepared to help agencies in future crises.
A subcommittee of the task force, comprised of Levine, Candace Kwinter, Hodie Kahn, Shawn Lewis and David Porte, with additional assistance from Diane Switzer, has been formed to respond to anticipated needs as a result of the continuation of the pandemic. They will consult with Shelley Rivkin, Federation’s vice-president, global and local engagement, on the further expenditure of COVID recovery funds when new needs arise.
Federation thanks the task force – Levine, Porte, Kwinter, Kahn, Lewis, Andrew Altow, Jill Diamond, Michelle Gerber, Justin L. Segal and Isaac Thau – for their commitment, as well as Rivkin and Marcie Flom, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation, who provided professional support to the task force, and everyone who has contributed to the Community Recovery Fund or helped in others ways.
A screenshot of Morley’s Minyan playing poker. Top row, from left: Al Hornstein, Larry Moscovitz and Carolyn Aronson. Middle row, from left: Lyall Levy, Murray Atnikov (the night’s big winner) and Macey Morris. Bottom left is Tony Aronson. Missing are Steve Bernstein, Joel Finkelstein, Marshall Cramer and Irv Sirlin. (image from Carolyn Aronson)
In 1948 or 1949, a group of Jewish students at the University of British Columbia started a weekly poker game. While none of the original players remain, the regular game has continued, with a few interruptions, for more than 70 years. Now, children of some of the earliest members are joining – and the “young” card players are themselves middle aged.
Murray Atnikov, now 97, joined the poker game around 1960. He enjoys playing, but it’s the kibitzing that keeps him coming back.
“The company is very, very jovial, to say the least,” said Murray. “We have a good time.”
The march of time means the faces have changed, but the endurance of the game has been remarkable. It started out as a weekly event, though it went to biweekly when the Vancouver Canucks joined the National Hockey League in 1970. Since the pandemic began, they have played via an online poker platform.
“The continuity is something that amazes me,” said Murray.
Lyall Levy, a retired family doctor who is 85, joined the group in 1964. In those days, the games rotated among the players’ homes. The players were all men and the wives would outdo one another preparing refreshments.
“It would be like going to a high-end Jewish restaurant,” Lyall said. His daughter, Carolyn Aronson, recalls having extra-special lunches the day after poker nights.
Carolyn, now 60, broke the gender barrier when she became the first female to join the men’s game. She is one of four members who are a generation younger than the other players. Her husband, Tony Aronson, also plays. Joel Finkelstein joined the game when his father, Norty, passed away, and Larry Moscovitz took the place of his late father, Bill. The others range from 81 to Murray, at 97.
As the players (and their wives) got older, they moved the games to the Richmond Golf and Country Club, to which they hope to return as soon as the COVID situation makes it reasonable to do so. When some wives complained that the men were driving home on dark winter nights, they moved the games to the afternoon, followed by noshes in the restaurant.
The group never had a name or any formal structure, but after Morley Koffman, a Vancouver lawyer who was a founding player, passed away in 2015 at age 85, they dubbed themselves Morley’s Minyan in his honour.
The players and their families formed tight bonds. Morley, a meticulous record-keeper, would hold back some of the cash from the kitty each week to put toward an annual group golfing and eating excursion in Seattle with spouses.
“I think that appeased the wives because they got to go to Seattle and go shopping or whatever,” speculated Carolyn.
While her husband joined the game in person before the pandemic, she came in only after it went online.
“They’ve never said no girls but there’s never been a woman in the game before,” she laughed. She’s not sure she’ll be invited when they return to live games.
“When we go back to live, she will be there,” her husband insisted. “The other guys will want her there, trust me.”
Her father foresees some potential gender conflicts, though.
“The problem with adding women is, I can think of at least two others whose wives are better players than their husbands,” said Lyall. Another issue, he said, is that some wives may not know how much money their husbands have been losing all these years.
It’s a friendly game – for the most part. Lyall shared tales of sharp competitiveness, referring to some players as “archenemies.”
His daughter downplayed the sharp elbows, insisting it’s all fun and games.
“It’s all fun and games to watch them get at each other,” her father retorted. “There was a lot of hostility between one player and the next. I could tell you some stories.”
“They like ripping each other,” conceded Carolyn, “especially my dad and Murray, they’re old friends.”
When Murray makes a big raise, Lyall studies his opponent’s face.
“I can tell – when his lip starts to quiver, he’s bluffing,” Lyall said. This puts Lyall at a disadvantage in the online game, where faces are obscured and quivering lips are undetectable.
The Aronsons used to jet off regularly to Vegas to play the game. When Lyall invited his son-in-law to join about four years ago, he warned him that the group takes things seriously.
Tony acknowledged, “When Lyall first invited me to join, he said to me, ‘Tony, you gotta think about whether you want to play.’ I said, ‘I can handle it.’”
But joining a group already (long) in progress involves some adjustments.
“I said, ‘What games do you play?’” Tony recalled. “He said, ‘It’s dealer’s choice. You can play any game you want.’ I said, ‘Oh good, that’s nice.’ The first game I arrived at, it came around to me and I said, ‘OK, we’ll play Omaha.’ ‘No, no. We don’t play Omaha.’ So I said, ‘OK, how about Three-card Monte?’ ‘Nope, we don’t play that.’ I said, ‘I thought it was dealer’s choice.’ They said, ‘It is. Seven or five card stud, whichever one you want.’”
The games are not penny ante, but nor are the pots nothing. A hundred or a couple of hundred bucks may be at stake but the bragging rights are the real jackpot.
Recently, Murray had a big win.
Carolyn said, “I heard my dad talking to him two days later and he said, ‘I’m still walking four feet above the ground.’ He’s phoning everybody he knows to say that he won at poker.”
For the longer-term players, these connections constitute decades-long friendships.
“Some of these people he’s maintained the relationships with them for 50, 60 years,” said Carolyn.
Added Tony: “For the younger generation – Larry and Joel and Carolyn and myself – it’s just been an amazing way to connect with these people in a way that we probably couldn’t have before and it feels good that, during COVID, we have been able to put them together and give them the joy of something that they love that they couldn’t do.”
“It’s always an entertaining evening,” Lyall said, “no matter whether you’ve won or lost.”
Last summer, given COVID’s continued presence and restrictions, campers were especially happy to be at camp. (photo from Camp Hatikvah)
Prior to 2020, Camp Hatikvah was experiencing unparalleled success. With enrolment maximized, the organization was in the position to focus not only on capital and program development but also on long-term financial planning. According to Liza Rozen-Delman, the camp’s executive director, Hatikvah’s future had never looked brighter. “It was a period of great excitement for us,” she said. “We honestly thought that nothing could get in the way of our growth and success.”
The pandemic, however, changed everything. “The impact of COVID was immediate and devastating,” Rozen-Delman said. “We went from being on top of the world to worrying about our very survival.”
Luckily for Hatikvah, donors immediately stepped in to cover the camp’s mounting financial losses. “People knew we were in trouble and they rallied around us,” said Rozen-Delman, with great emotion and gratitude. “Not only did they cover our operational expenses entirely in 2020, they made it possible for us to open in 2021 by funding all of the camp’s COVID-related expenses, like testing, site upgrades and more.”
Rozen-Delman went on to share how incredible it was to welcome campers back to camp last summer. While capacity had to be dramatically reduced to adhere to government group-size limits, close to 400 children participated in Hatikvah’s program in 2021.
“We rearranged our session lengths to make sure that every single Jewish child wishing to attend our camp was able to do so,” explained Rozen-Delman. “While this meant that each camper was at camp for a little less time than is typical, everyone was just so grateful to be there.”
“Our campers are always happy to be at camp but last summer, they were elated,” added Eden Gutterman, the camp’s associate director. “They needed to socialize, to be outdoors and to be away from technology and it was just so beautiful to watch them revel in camp and each other.”
Gutterman shared her favourite memory from last summer. “One Shabbat, we asked all of the campers who had their bar and bat mitzvah’s over Zoom to stand in the middle of a circle made up of the rest of the campers and counselors. We then did the hora around them as a tribute to their milestone and accomplishment. None of these campers got to celebrate their simchah in person so it was incredibly touching to see them surrounded and celebrated by their friends. It is something we – and they – will never forget.”
Camp Hatikvah is now busy preparing for summer 2022.
“We recognize that COVID will likely not be over by summer,” acknowledged Rozen-Delman. “And, while we wish it wasn’t the case, we feel well-prepared to deal with anything.”
Rozen-Delman shared that the Gutman family and Rockdoc Consulting Inc. have provided the funding for the camp to build a new infirmary in time for this summer.
“Given the realities of the ongoing pandemic, this gift couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Rozen-Delman. “Our new infirmary has been designed with COVID and any future infectious disease in mind and will have recovery rooms that can be used as properly ventilated isolation space if necessary. Its functional space has also been thoughtfully designed to allow us to meet and exceed current best practices in camper care. It is a gift our camp so desperately needed and we couldn’t be more grateful to Sam and Belinda and Gloria and their families for their generosity.”
Joanna Wasel, Camp Hatikvah’s board president, commented that, while she wished the world hadn’t had to experience this pandemic at all, she believes that the camp will ultimately be stronger because of it.
“We are entering 2022 with a renewed sense of purpose,” said Wasel. “Our community supported us through this challenging time because they believe in our mandate to help raise the next generation of strong, confident and resilient Jewish leaders. Their faith means everything to us and we are determined to make them proud.”
In these uncertain times, JCC Camp Shalom set out to continue to be a constant source of fun and a safe environment for the whole community. For the second year, the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic demanded that the camp’s plans be reevaluated and adapted, as it partnered with King David High School to move the majority of its operations to the school’s building for last summer.
Camp Shalom is an inclusive Jewish day camp serving children, youth and teens from ages 3 to 18 years old, year-round, during school breaks and professional development days. Since the inception of the Inclusive Summer Camp Experience program in 2009, more and more children with diverse needs have attended Camp Shalom and participated in group activities, including overnight camping trips.
The number of children with diverse needs who attend Camp Shalom has grown from a handful to more than a dozen per summer – and the range of assistance provided for families has grown as well. Families are able to access more camp sessions and the camp can now support a wider range of ages and needs. Huge improvements have been made in accommodating campers in a true inclusion model and in providing opportunities for more Jewish programming beyond the summer, including Sunday Hebrew schools for those who did not have access to them prior to their experience with Camp Shalom.
Thanks to the contributions of the Diamond Foundation and the Snider Foundation, Camp Shalom is able to support more campers and staff with diverse needs by providing special training sessions, mentorship programs and one-on-one support for those campers who need it. Campers who were part of the first inclusive camp experiences are now teenagers and young adults who are still connected to Camp Shalom, and some are now camp staff. This past year’s biggest achievements included engaging about two dozen children, youth and teens with diverse needs and successfully integrating them into the general camp program alongside 120 to 150 other campers in the camp’s preschool, school-age and teen programs.
JCC Camp Shalom likes to think of all youth as being in transition. It pays special attention to campers transitioning from childhood into teenagehood and those teens who are about to become counselors. Work experience is a huge milestone as they enter high school. At camp, they go from being campers to participating in the teen programs, to joining the staff team.
Regardless of their developmental stage and/or maturity level, and taking into consideration their diverse needs, these teens need more support and adaptations than any other group with which the camp works. Careful planning and consideration of their needs has resulted in a successful program that provides them with social and organizational education that will benefit them in the future, as they look for employment, as well as in other areas of their lives.
JCC Camp Shalom is the largest summer Jewish day camp for youth in Vancouver, but its responsibility continues, as the engagement with youth extends beyond summer camp to throughout the year. As teens develop, Camp Shalom recognizes their need for adults with whom they can connect, that they can trust and who can be positive role models. Staff from the summer teen camp programs are educated and qualified to sustain positive and appropriate relationships with youth as they age. The inclusion model of camp programming allows campers with diverse needs to have an unforgettable Jewish experience at Camp Shalom.
For more information about the Inclusive Summer Camp Experience or Camp Shalom’s teen programs, contact Ben Horev, camp director, at 604-813-4236 or [email protected].
At summer camp, kids build community, take on challenges, become independent and develop leadership skills. (photo from Camp Solomon Schechter)
There’s a place where kids can simply be themselves. Where they build community, take on challenges, become independent and develop leadership skills. And, through it all, they think it’s just fun and friendships. That’s the magic of summer camp – a healthy dose of nature and nurture.
One year after sleepaway camps across the country were shuttered by the pandemic, many kids packed their shorts and hiking shoes once again, dug out their sleeping bags, and reunited with camp buddies to rekindle fond traditions.
We asked the directors of three Jewish summer camps in Washington state to share their perspective on the role camp plays in the social and emotional health of children, and how it was especially vital in the summer of 2021.
Welcome back to camp
“Welcoming the kids back this summer was extra special,” said Zach Duitch, director at Camp Solomon Schechter in Tumwater. “We could see it in their faces. After being online for a year-and-a-half, they were ready to be outside, with their friends, and having fun.”
Many parents were understandably concerned about sending their kids back to camp this past summer. Attendance numbers dipped somewhat, but families also recognized the value of getting their kids back to outdoor healthy summer fun, Duitch said. Away from everyday social pressures, camp staff works to create an environment that’s a safe place for kids to be their authentic selves.
“Parents trust us with their kids’ safety, security and health – and also with their spiritual and emotional needs. We take that trust incredibly seriously,” said Rabbi Ilana Mills, director at URJ Camp Kalsman in Arlington. “Camp is life-changing in so many ways. It’s an opportunity to grow as a whole person.”
Fun with lasting impact
When kids come home from one, two or three weeks at summer camp, the changes may not be immediately evident. In fact, many campers and counselors only realize as adults how much the experience has shaped them, instilling them early on with courage, compassion and independence. Kids can head off to camp as early as the summer after first grade. Many progress through the years to become counselors, taking on leadership roles as high school and college students, in what many describe as the “best job ever.”
Ask a kid and they’ll say camp is about boating, hiking, arts, sports, cookouts – and the thrill of a high-ropes course. Along with the fun, each camp has its own unique culture with familiar traditions passed down from summer to summer. Camp culture is what ties the community together with singing and celebrations, skits and games. Jewish summer camps also integrate religious observance and community into daily life.
“Camps are these bubbles – their own societies – where kids play a central role,” said Rabbi Kenny Pollack, camp director at Sephardic Adventure Camp in Cle Elum. “Our kids are immersed in the culture of camp, and it helps shape their identity.”
Healthy dose of silliness
When camp directors describe how their programs nurture kids, it can sound pretty serious. But one thing they take extremely seriously is fun.
“At Camp Solomon Schechter we do a lot of ‘shtick.’ Campers love seeing their counselors act silly,” said Duitch, as he explained a beloved trivia game that ends with participants messy and everybody laughing.
Mills described how “we really try to be as outside the box as possible. We push our counselors to teach their passion, be creative and try new things.”
She even got a chance to join the fun, playing a zombie during the culmination of their outdoor survival unit at URJ Camp Kalsman.
Leave real world behind
Kids leave their parents and their digital devices at home when they arrive at camp. There may be homesickness at first but soon their days are consumed by activities and friendships. And, since more and more camps are going device-free, campers get a break from their screens.
“Camp is a place where kids get to be their authentic selves,” said Pollack.
Each summer, as kids are reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, they’re also connecting across borders. Increasingly, camps are bringing counselors from international locations to supplement the programming with games and traditions from their home countries.
“As much as kids love their parents, camp is a great opportunity for them to learn from other role models,” said Duitch, explaining how the camp experience broadens kids’ viewpoints and connects them to lifelong friends.
Many parents, kids and camp staffers found it heartbreaking to cancel camp in 2020. That’s why camps throughout Washington banded together, lobbying the state government to make sure that camp happened in 2021 and that it would be a safe and extra-memorable summer. In the end, it may be difficult to measure the social and emotional impact of returning to camp after a trying year. But parents could no doubt see it in the hugs, the joy and the happy exhaustion as they picked their kids up at the end of camp this past year.
This article, courtesy Camp Solomon Schechter, comes from the Samis Foundation, which was established in 1994 by Samuel Israel, z”l, and is the largest Jewish philanthropy in Washington state. Grantmaking is focused on the foundation’s mission of supporting local Jewish education and initiatives in Israel. Samis is honoured to support the three Jewish overnight camps located in Washington state, working to keep Jewish children and teens engaged in their culture, religion and communities.