The Hon. Judith Guichon with Richmond Jewish Day School students. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
Students at Richmond Jewish Day School were thrilled to receive a visit from the Hon. Judith Guichon, lieutenant governor of British Columbia, on Feb. 22. Guichon addressed students on her role in Canada’s constitutional monarchy and shared her ideas about a healthy, sustainable future. To mark the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, the lieutenant governor is visiting 150 schools across the province.
Students Tomer Berko Gabay (student council president), Liam Greenberg (secretary) and Nathan Tourvieille (treasurer) with Heartly, aka Karen Pasqua, senior events coordinator, Howard Blank, Reesa Pawer and Julie Kendell. Student Tal Pretli (vice-president) was absent when the photo was taken. (photo from Richmond Jewish Day School)
Until last year, Richmond Jewish Day School did not have a student council. That was when Reesa Pawer, education assistant at the school, decided it was time to make some changes and do something “for school spirit.”
Not only were students given an opportunity to vote in their council, but they cast their votes at the same time as their parents were participating in the federal election. Said an enthusiastic Pawer, “There were lineups to the ballot boxes! The votes were counted and the student council was elected, as they would be in a real election.”
Class representatives were then chosen by teachers and students. Since then, the council has gone from handing out hot chocolate at recess to coordinating an impressive fundraising program.
The students have targeted three charities to support, said Pawer. “They wanted a global charity, so they picked Variety Club. They wanted a local charity, so they chose the Richmond Animal Shelter, who received a cheque last term. And they wanted to support a Jewish charity, so they’re raising funds for the Jewish Food Bank.”
The project involved students from grades 1 through 7 and, said Pawer, the student council “did the legwork.”
To raise funds, students sold flowers, including gerbera daisies and roses, for local families’ Shabbat tables. They also sold cakes and contributed $2 on non-uniform days, which take place monthly on Rosh Chodesh, to raise funds for Variety.
On April 11, RJDS welcomed Howard Blank, president of Variety in British Columbia, to the school. After a short video presentation about the work of Variety, the students presented Blank with a donation. School council president Tomer Berko Gabay spoke at the assembly, saying that the student group felt “honored to give this $1,000 cheque to Variety – The Children’s Charity.”
The students had a chance to meet Heartly, Variety’s mascot, and were shown a video by Richard O’Shaughnessy, Variety’s events coordinator, about a young man who has benefited greatly from the generosity of Variety supporters. Born with only one hand, Drew now has a robotic hand, which allows him to complete even the most intricate tasks. His passion is making jewelry and, thanks to the robotic hand, he is now able to operate the tools required to do so. The RJDS kids watched the video in rapt attention, exclaiming “Cool!” when they heard about the “bionic” hand from Blank.
Blank praised the students for their community spirit and hard work. He described the “wonderful mitzvah” they had performed. “You’ve given a young boy or girl a new wheelchair or a special bicycle,” he said. “You guys really helped make sure that every kid gets a fair chance, and we think that’s right.”
RJDS principal Abba Brodt also applauded the students. “I am really proud of you,” he said. “You did something special – and so did your families.”
Asked how this fundraising program contributes to the students’ academic programs, Brodt described the integration of the school’s Jewish studies with the government-mandated B.C. curriculum.
“It was the perfect way to teach tikkun olam, to bring beauty to Shabbat tables and bring beauty to the wider world. It’s the perfect way to tie what’s out there in the world with what’s in here,” he said, putting his hand on his heart.
He added, “Reesa went above and beyond. This is a remarkable achievement for the student council. She gave the kids her full support.”
Blank took the time to answer questions from the group assembled, bringing the kids’ attention back to familiar experiences. He also reminded them to help kids in wheelchairs feel included when they meet them at playgrounds. “They don’t just want help, they’re just like you, they want friends,” he said.
RJDS students will present a cheque to the food bank in June, said Pawer. “This is the first year we’ve done such a big project,” she said. “We’re hoping to keep it going.”
Shula Klingeris an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver.
As the Jewish community expands into Coquitlam and other cities in the Lower Mainland, there must be an adjustment in the allocation of community resources. (photo by Greg Salter via Wikimedia Commons)
The face of Vancouver’s Jewish community is changing, with 36% born outside of Canada – the largest percentage in any Jewish population in the country.
In the Grade 1 classroom at Richmond Jewish Day School, half of the class is learning English as a second language, its students hailing from Israel and Argentina and speaking a mixture of Hebrew, Russian and Spanish.
“There’s definitely a growing number of Israeli families in all our Jewish day schools,” said Abba Brodt, principal at RJDS. Among them is the second wave of Russian Jews, comprised of Russian emigrés who made aliyah as children and moved to Vancouver after doing army service in Israel and starting their families. “They maintain strong Russian ties but have an incredibly strong connection to Judaism and Israel,” he said.
The new arrivals place extra demands on Jewish day schools in terms of meeting their children’s language needs, and RJDS has had to shift resources internally so the children of new immigrants can learn successfully in class.
“When people come, what’s our obligation to them?” Brodt pondered. “They want their kids to get a Jewish education as they get established. Many of these parents come without jobs, are not established financially and are trying to adjust, but it takes many, many years. The only menschlik thing to do is to open our doors, figure it out and let them know they’re not a burden at all. I think that’s the right approach for any Jewish organization in town. The faster we help them get on their feet, the better for the community.”
Adjustment is easiest for the youngest children. Brodt recalled a Russian-Israeli family that arrived in June 2014 with a child who couldn’t speak a word of English. “He entered kindergarten and by December that year he was speaking to his parents outside of school hours in English!”
At Vancouver Talmud Torah, head of school Cathy Lowenstein has also witnessed an influx of new immigrants from Israel, as well as from Brazil, Estonia and Hungary. “For students in the younger grades, ESL support isn’t as much of an issue, as they can really immerse themselves in language much faster than students in intermediate grades. But, over the past few years, we’ve increasingly had to allocate budget to students who require ESL support,” she said.
That can be difficult because the ESL needs vary year by year. “Often, these students don’t present until late summer, so we’re left trying to reallocate dollars in August so that we can properly help them transition into the school,” she explained.
Tuition assistance is provided on a case-by-case basis, Lowenstein said. “Even though we may have allocated our cap, we do our very best not to turn away a family wanting a Jewish education,” she said.
The high cost of living in the Lower Mainland is having far-reaching effects on the 26,250 Jews who call this corner of the West Coast home. Approximately 14,000 of them live in Vancouver, close to 6,000 in Richmond and the remainder in outlying cities including Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Maple Ridge and Langley, where Jewish resources are few and far between. That’s because the high price of housing forces many new arrivals into these outlying areas, where accommodation is a little more affordable.
While RJDS has space available for more students, the challenge lies in reaching those Jewish families who live in the suburbs.
“We know there are 700 Jewish school-age kids in the Tri-Cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody and, as much as the schools may want them, how many families are going to have their kids get on a bus for an hour’s commute each way?” Brodt said. “You have to be super-committed to do that when there are good public schools around. If I could create a pipeline to Burnaby, I’d do it, but the possible customer base there is not ready to make that sort of commitment. They’re managing their Jewish lives out there, as is their right.”
At the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, vice-president of community affairs Shelley Rivkin noted that more than 850 children now live in underserved areas beyond the borders of Vancouver and few are receiving any Jewish education. “With community support, Jewish educators can develop innovative programs via which these kids can access that education, sharing fully the richness of our traditions and strengthening their Jewish identities,” she said.
In one such program, Federation collaborated with the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and funded a pilot project to enable Jewish children living in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody to attend Jewish summer day camp. The project made transportation and fee subsidies available to 22 kids.
Federation has established a regional communities task force that began work last month. In the meantime, the organization contributes to a shuttle bus in Richmond that helps seniors attend various community activities, and Burquest seniors can enjoy another day of programming thanks to additional funding provided to Jewish Family Service Agency. For young families, PJ Library is an important outreach program, Rivkin said. “For many young families who are raising children in interfaith households and/or who live in the suburbs, PJ Library is a primary Jewish connection. Recently, 100 people attended a PJ Library Chanukah event in Coquitlam.”
Federation is seriously focused on the future of the Lower Mainland’s Jewish community and anticipating programming to reach its needs over the next 15 years.
“Our population of seniors is expected to double by 2030 and an increased number of them will be 85 or older, so programs and services for this group will need to be expanded,” said Rivkin. “As issues of affordability persist, we expect there to be more Jews moving to more affordable suburbs that have little or no Jewish infrastructure. We expect these regional communities to play a larger role, and Jewish Federation will increase its focus on programs and services to reach them.”
The cost of living in Vancouver will likely continue to impact those who pay a premium to live near Jewish services and institutions, but find that the cost of Jewish life prevents them from participating. “We expect that increased subsidies for program participation will be needed,” she added.
According to the National Housing Survey in 2011, 16% of the Lower Mainland’s Jewish community lives below the living wage of $36,504. Among Jewish immigrants to the Lower Mainland who arrived between 2005 and 2011, that low-income rate is 25%. As one communal effort in dealing with this issue, Tikva Housing Society will expand the affordable housing stock for the Jewish community by 42 additional units in Vancouver and Richmond by 2017.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. A longer version of this article was published in the Canadian Jewish News.
Abba Brodt, Richmond Jewish Day School head of school, with Sheikh Murtaza Bachoo, religious consultant of Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre. (photo from Abba Brodt)
Grade 6 and 7 students at RJDS and Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy distributed meals to homeless members of the Downtown Eastside community last week. Joining them was Downtown Eastside resident Fred Miller, with whom the students have fostered an enduring relationship.
Israeli musician Micha Biton headlined the community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. (photo by Rhonda Dent)
It was just shy of a sellout crowd on April 22 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, as Israeli rock pioneer Micha Biton headlined the community’s main celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut.
As it does every year, the evening began with the conclusion of Yom Hazikaron, led by Geoffrey Druker. In the singing of the national anthems, Vancouver Talmud Torah Choir was joined by Partnership2gether twin school Alei Givah Choir in Kfar Giladi (by video) for O Canada, while Richmond Jewish Day School Choir and Partnership2gether twin school Hameginim Choir in Kiryat Shmona (by video) sang Hatikvah.
Diane Switzer, board chair, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, which led the celebration supported by some 50 community partner organizations and countless sponsors and volunteers, spoke briefly. She provided an overview of how the funds raised here for our partnership region in Israel – Eztabah Hagalil (the Galilee Panhandle) – are spent.
“Our Gesher Chai (Living Bridge) program aims to deepen connections with Israel on a person-to-person basis,” she said. “It builds lasting ties between our two communities, and is a cornerstone of Jewish Federation’s work.
“Through Gesher Chai, we help local day school students build enduring relationships with their peers at their sister schools in Israel. We fund exchanges between local educators and their Israeli counterparts so they can develop a shared curriculum. And we help connect the JCC Or Chadash dancers you’ll see tonight with the Hora Goel dancers from our partnership region. The impact of these programs, which promote Jewish identity and unity for elementary and high school students, can be felt around the world and here at home.
“Etzbah Hagalil is geographically, economically and politically removed from the centre of Israel,” she continued. “It is surrounded on three sides by Syria and Lebanon, and often bears the brunt of attacks when tensions flare. High unemployment and limited opportunities for education and advancement are ongoing concerns, and the area is home to many at-risk youth. Jewish Federation’s strategic investment in this region is aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty, improving living standards and developing the region’s long-term economic prospects.”
Warming up the crowd before Biton’s performance was the Or Chadash dancers. The evening also included greetings by video from Premier Christy Clark, as well as from mayors Benny Ben Muvchar (Mevo’ot Hermon), Giora Saltz (Galil Elyon), Rabbi Nisim Malka (Kiryat Shmona), Ilan Or (Yesod Hama’ala) and Herzel Boker (Metula).
Dr. Neil Pollock hands out some of the awards, as Larry Barzelai and student participants look on. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
Based on the numbers alone, the 27th Annual Public Speaking Contest on March 19 at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver was a success. Participants: 120. Prizes: 30. Volunteer judges and moderators: 30.
Founded by Larry Barzelai in memory of his father, the event was co-sponsored by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and State of Israel Bonds, with additional support from the J and the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library. As one of the volunteer judges, I witnessed a well-organized event that thrived on controlled chaos – almost all of those 120 student participants were accompanied by family and/or friends, and in the crowd were potential future speakers and their parents sussing out what participating next year might be like.
“My father, Morris Black, alav ha’shalom, would be very pleased to see the legacy he created,” Barzelai told the Independent.
Indeed, he would. Speakers were from grades 4 through 7, and they had their choice of topic from a list of 10, one of which was to choose their own. The most popular choices in the Grade 4 class I co-judged were to create a day to mark an event from Jewish history that is not currently being celebrated or commemorated; to describe an app that would enhance Jewish studies at your school; to explain why recycling is a Jewish concept; and to explain what you think is/are the best innovation(s) to have come out of Israel in recent years.
The enthusiasm of the competitions taking place in rooms around the J was corralled in the Wosk Auditorium afterward, and Alex Konvyes entertained the excited students and their guests while the results were being tallied. As each winner was announced, huge cheers went up. As some winners read their speeches, the auditorium came to a hush.
“Several parents in attendance this year had previously been public speaking contestants in their youth, so the legacy continues,” Barzelai noted.
While pleased that “the contest continues to be healthy” and that it is strongly supported by the principals and teachers of the three day schools – Vancouver Talmud Torah, Vancouver Hebrew Academy and Richmond Jewish Day School – Barzelai expressed concern about “the inability to attract students from Jewish supplementary schools and students that are not affiliated with Jewish schools. In former years, the contest had a wider cross section of students,” he said.
Barzelai credited Lissa Weinberger, JFGV manager of Jewish education and identity initiatives, for doing “all the work, with only occasional input from me. Her organizational skills are great. A few prospective judges dropped out close to the event, and she was able to recruit new ones at Shabbat services. Beware, synagogue attendees!”
In order of first, second and third, this year’s Public Speaking Contest winners in each contest were:
Hebrew: Omer Murad (Grade 4, VTT), Ofek Avitan (Grade 5, VHA), Yael David (Grade 4, VTT).
Purim Project co-chairs Rachael Lewinski and Rivka Moreno with premier sponsor, Remo Mastropieri of Real Canadian Superstore. (photo from Vancouver Hebrew Academy)
What do you get when you put 90 people in an auditorium filled with delicious snacks, drinks, piles of boxes and mounds of packing materials? The Greater Vancouver Jewish Day School Purim Project Packathon, of course! GVJDSPPP, for short. 😉
Each year, Vancouver Hebrew Academy, in partnership with King David High School, Pacific Torah Institute, Richmond Jewish Day School, Shalhevet Girls High School and Vancouver Talmud Torah, join together to promote community and raise funds for Jewish education.
Assembling the more than 1,300 mishloach manot packages is a huge undertaking, requiring planning, strategy and oversight. Not to mention an army of volunteers! As in past years, the packathon took place in the KDHS auditorium, and this year’s volunteers included VHA’s Grade 6 and 7 students, VTT’s Grade 6 students and more than 15 community volunteers. The pre-packing and labeling were done by students from VHA and PTI the day prior.
Purim is a time to promote unity and togetherness, and the packathon is an amazing opportunity to do just that. When students help and give back to a community that supports and gives to their school, the good will created goes full circle. “What a great way to start off Simchah Week at VHA!” said one of the VHA teachers.
Approximately 50 students from Richmond Jewish Day School and Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy distributed 1,000 brown bag lunches to the homeless and needy. (photo from Richmond Jewish Day School)
They huddled together to warm up on a frosty November morning, but the 50 Grade 6 and 7 students from Richmond Jewish Day School and Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy didn’t let the cold dampen their spirits. Their goal was to hand out warm clothing, blankets and 1,000 brown bag lunches to the homeless and destitute in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. With a long line of eager recipients, their effort was completed in less than an hour.
The food, sponsored by Save-On Foods Ironwood location in Richmond, included sandwiches made a day earlier by volunteers, juice boxes and yogurt. Store manager George Clarke said he was glad to supply the $4,000 worth of food. “This started last year when the schools approached us and wanted to bring random acts of kindness to the Downtown Eastside,” he said. “We’re happy to participate and I’m really pleased to see the project continue this year.”
“I learned there are a number of homeless people here,” said Askari Mehdi, a Grade 7 student at Az-Zahraa. “We’re just a small band of kids, but it’s nice to know we can make a difference.”
With the principals of both schools and members of the RCMP closely watching the interactions, the students actively interacted and distributed the food and clothing. “If our students were nervous, it melted away with the first kind word,” said Abba Brodt, principal at RJDS. “They were so excited to do a mitzvah…. We’re excited that they had the opportunity to work with their friends at Az-Zahraa again and bring more warmth and kindness into the world. You can’t teach this type of educational experience. You have to live it.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. This article was originally published by the Richmond Review.
World ORT’s Nechama Kenig, a Kadima Mada professional from Israel, was here in May with colleague Udi Gibory. (photo from ORT Vancouver)
On Wednesday, Oct. 22, ORT Vancouver hosts its Annual Card Party at Richmond Country Club. All funds are designated to the ORT Vancouver Smart Classroom Program.
Vancouver has been chosen by ORT Canada to introduce the ORT Israel-designed Smart Classrooms. This is a grassroots, first-of-its-kind joint venture in education between Israel and Vancouver, which is being locally implemented at King David High School and Richmond Jewish Day School.
This project provides significant educational enrichment to both primary and secondary students, preparing them for a future of technological advancements. The students have hands-on interaction with the Smart Classroom equipment and they work in collaboration with their teachers and their fellow classmates. An added benefit of the program is that students feel more positive about learning, and gain greater confidence and fulfillment from their educational experience.
The Oct. 22 ORT card party happens 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Admission is $50 (lunch included) and a partial tax receipt will be issued. Abba Brodt, principal at RJDS will offer a Smart Classroom update. For table reservations and information, contact Lois Gumprich, 604-731-0507, [email protected]; Beverly Pinsky, 604-538-9597 (until Oct. 20), [email protected]; or Mary Tobin, 604-276-9282, [email protected].
Left to right are Shoshana Burton, Fred Miller and Jessie Claudio. (photo by Shula Klinger)
School curriculum can seem abstract, separate from the “real” world for which it is intended to prepare our children. What can a teacher do to bring the world into her classroom? She can take the classroom into the world.
This is what teacher Shoshana Burton, now of Richmond Jewish Day School, has been doing for many years. Random Acts of Kindness, or RAC (Random Acts of Chesed), week began at King David High School after the sudden death in 2010 of alumna Gabrielle Isserow z’l. Known for her tremendous kindness, it was an apt way to ease the students’ grief. Explained Burton, “RAC week transformed the students’ overwhelming sense of loss into a creative expression of chesed. It revealed a yearning for a network of support and action.”
The project gained momentum and the weeklong celebration of kindness has become “a yearlong process that grows every year, involving students, families and the wider Jewish community.”
Working at RJDS for the 2013-14 academic year, Burton wanted to add a new dimension to the project. She approached Richmond’s nearby Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy. It was a perfect match, as their principal explains on the school’s website, “Education goes well beyond the classroom door.”
Az-Zahraa teacher Jessie Claudio came on board with no hesitation and, over the last few months, the students have formed some powerful new connections. According to Burton, “We had to pull RJDS and AZIA students away from each other when it was time to go back to school!”
The new program was named Abraham’s Tent because the prophet Abraham – revered in both Islam and Judaism – was known for his generous hospitality.
In February of this year, Burton and Claudio took their students on an unusual field trip: to the centre of the Downtown Eastside, to Main and Hastings. There, they spent five days delivering sandwiches they had made, with food donated by Save-On-Foods at Ironwood, Richmond. They also handed out warm clothes.
According to RJDS parent Kathy Rabinovitch-Marliss, this trip challenged the students to leave their comfort zone and set aside any apprehensions or thoughts of judgment. She counseled her daughter, Hannah, to remember that every homeless man is “someone’s father, or someone’s son.”
Among the recipients of the group’s kindness was Fred Miller, 58, caught by a CBC camera as he observed, “If Muslim and Jewish kids can live together, why can’t the rest of the world live together?”
These words inspired the RAC students to find out more. With the help of CBC, they managed to find Miller downtown. They invited him to speak at RJDS, which ended with a massive group hug. On the RJDS blog, principal Abba Brodt describes Miller’s “unflinching” honesty as he answered the students’ questions with stories from his life. Having struggled with addiction for many years, Miller’s experiences made a change from the usual Grade 7 fare, such as The Outsiders. Brodt said the discussion covered, “spiritual strength, faith, addiction, poverty, broken family bonds and deep loneliness.” The students were “spellbound,” he added.
Abraham’s Tent gained recognition with a $3,000 award in a worldwide competition hosted by Random Acts, a nonprofit whose goal is to inspire acts of kindness. But it’s not just about the prize, of course. Claudio and Burton agree that the learning outcomes here go far beyond the regular curriculum. Said Claudio, it has been an excellent opportunity to “bring the textbook to life.” The best way to learn something, she said, is through the emotions.
And, when the students start to form their own opinions about the Jewish-Muslim conflict, Burton hopes that these friendships will remind them to be “tolerant and open-minded.”
Rather than keeping the $3,000 award for their own schools, the RJDS and Az-Zahraa students chose to give the money to Covenant House in Vancouver, a shelter for at-risk youth.
Mohamed A. Dewji, vice-president of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre, challenged British Columbia’s Shia Muslim community to match the $3,000 award – and they came through. Dewji hopes to spur other communities into action. “We’re challenging every church, every mosque, every temple to join us,” he said.
On Friday, June 7, the student group delivered both $3,000 cheques to Covenant House. They also brought boxes of shoes for the residents. George Clarke, manager of Save-On-Foods at Ironwood, Richmond, brought a gift basket packed with necessities for Miller. The atmosphere was jubilant. Jessica Harman, development officer at Covenant House, described her contact with the RAC students as “marvelous.” She added that their donations “are providing love and support to one youth in the crisis shelter for the entire month of June.”
A soft-spoken and articulate man, Miller told the Independent, “It doesn’t end here. I want to work with youth now.” Having already published a set of his stories, he is honing his craft in a journalism class.
Ruby Ravvin, a Grade 7 RJDS student, described Miller as “awesome!” He then ruffled her hair.
The students have created a binder full of cards to help brighten Miller’s day when he feels lonely. In a letter, Breanne Miller (RJDS, Grade 7, no relation to Fred Miller) speaks of inspiration, wisdom and not taking the good things in life for granted. “You have opened my eyes,” she wrote. “You inspired all of us.”
Prior to her involvement in RAC, student Hannah Marliss had never had a conversation with a homeless person, nor did she have any close Muslim friends. Now, she said, “We’re hoping to invite the Az-Zahraa students to our grad. We’ve started something together!”
She described the change she has experienced in her own life. “Life’s not about technology, iPads and iPhones. They’re just things,” she said. “It’s about family, people you have connections with.”
On a scale of one to 10, the RAC experience was “definitely a 10,” said Hannah. Her mother agreed: “This was the highlight of Hannah’s elementary school life. It has changed all of our lives,” said Rabinovitch-Marliss.
Omid Gha, a counselor at Az-Zahraa, summed up the experience with a quote from Aristotle: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Shula Klinger is a freelance writer living in North Vancouver.