Attendees at UBC Hillel House’s Rosh Hashanah dinner to start the 2022/23 school year. (photo from Hillel BC)
Hillel BC celebrates its 75th year with a celebration March 30 at the University of British Columbia Hillel House.
Hillel BC was founded in 1947, under the name B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, in the same spot on UBC’s campus where it still operates from today. This came from an understanding that Jewish students were being excluded from the main student clubs on campus and they needed a place to socialize and be Jewish.
The original space was an old, wooden one-room house that was at the outskirts of campus. Little did they know then that this location would become the heart of the campus as the university expanded.
In 2002, B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation became Vancouver Hillel Foundation, the first Hillel International-affiliated program in Canada, which was followed by establishing space at both Simon Fraser University and University of Victoria. Eight years later, the current building was opened, solidifying Hillel’s space on the UBC campus and beyond. Today, Hillel BC continues to serve at UBC, UVic, SFU, Langara College, Emily Carr University of Art + Design and other post-secondary institutions as needed.
In addition to celebrating 75 years on campus, Hillel @ 75 on March 30, 7:30 p.m., will provide an opportunity to thank recent executive directors Rabbi Philip Bregman and Sam Heller. The Jewish Student Association, Israel on Campus Club and AEPi (Jewish fraternity) will offer the community an overview of their activities in dedicated tables, and a short presentation will be given by the board and current staff. Special guests include Deborah Buszard (UBC interim president), Joy Johnson (SFU president), Skip Vichness (Hillel International board chair) and Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim.
“We are very excited to have the community back in our building for this celebration of our 75th anniversary,” said Rob Philipp, executive director of Hillel BC. “Due to COVID, we missed a lot of important events worth noting, specifically the 10th anniversary of our UBC building, and the retirement of Rabbi Philip Bregman and Sam Heller. We want to take the opportunity to celebrate our successes and recognize some of the key people who helped lead us through some difficult times. The evening reception will be at our UBC building, attended by special guests, and it will host the first viewing of our promotional video.”
For more about Hillel BC and to purchase a ticket for the event ($75), visit hillelbc.com. A portion of the ticket price is tax-deductible.
A proposed fall semester course at the University of Victoria has raised concerns that it will become what B’nai Brith Canada described as “a forum for antisemitism.” The concerns were sparked by inflammatory comments the course’s instructor, Dr. Shamma Boyarin, wrote on social media earlier in the year.
In a May 26 Twitter post, for example, Boyarin used an obscene verb before labeling Abraham Foxman, former president of the Anti-Defamation League, a “Zionist pig.” On June 3, he ridiculed an individual who had been the recipient of a torrent of antisemitic abuse online. This was followed the next day by a post in which Boyarin remarked, “[It’s] hard for North American Jews to admit the truth: What is happening in Israel is ethnic cleansing and slow genocide.”
An online description of the UVic course, entitled Introduction to Antisemitism, has been modified since it was first posted. At an earlier stage, the description began, “What is antisemitism? As soon as one attempts definitions, it becomes clear that even the most fundamental aspects of antisemitism are controversial.” The course’s current title is also different from the original, which was Towards an Understanding of Antisemitism. Gone, too, is a study of present-day antisemitism.
The changes occurred in early August after B’nai Brith, among others, raised objections to UVic about Boyarin teaching a class on modern antisemitism. The course’s subtitle on the UVic website now reads, “A Historical Survey of Key Texts and Moments from Augustine to Luther.” Its description: “What is antisemitism? The term itself was coined in the late 19th century, but when does the phenomenon begin? Is it the same or different from ‘anti-Judaism’? Should we spell it ‘anti-Semitism’ or ‘antisemitism’? Beginning with these basic questions, we will focus on the particular role Christianity has played in developing and sustaining antisemitism in Europe.”
“Moving this course away from modern antisemitism is an important first step,” said Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “However, we are still concerned that, instead of educating students on the scourge of Jew-hatred, there is a risk, albeit a reduced one, that hostility toward Jews will instead be promoted.
“UVic must provide assurances to the Jewish community that academic freedom will not be used as cover to falsely accuse Jews, as a whole, of contributing to genocide, among other antisemitic canards,” he added.
When contacted by the Independent, UVic expressed the position that it “does not condone antisemitism” and “that it is highly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion and to social justice in its many forms.”
“We are aware that a faculty member has expressed personal views in public communications which are disturbing to people. Those views are personal. They have not been made on behalf of the university or in the context of their work,” said Karen Johnston, a spokesperson for the university.
“Canadians have a constitutional right to free speech, subject to limits under the law,” she said. “And so it cannot be the role of the university to judge or censor its employees’ exercise of free speech in their private lives. While all faculty enjoy the privilege of academic freedom, there are also limitations to this right. In this specific instance, there is no evidence at this time that the faculty member has or will exceed those limitations in teaching this course.”
The university also said it “will act on any allegation that there has been a violation of university policies against discrimination or harassment, which apply to all members of our community.”
Rob Philipp, executive director at Hillel BC, has been monitoring the situation and has spoken with Dr. Kevin Hall, the president of UVic. Philipp said, “If the course does run, we will check to see what the reading material is and what is being taught.” However, he added, while the organization is keeping on top of things, there is not much that can be done to stop the course from going ahead.
Jeff Kushner, president of the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island (JFVVI), said they, too, will be following the UVic course and will remain in contact with senior administration staff.
“The JFVVI does not have any serious concerns about the course material, such as we know it,” said Kushner. “Our concerns are more about the academic and emotional safety of the students enrolled in the course. In this particular case, a professor at UVic made some very objectionable comments on his private Twitter feed. We wish that he had not made such incorrect and inflammatory statements, both in his role as an academic and as a Jew.
“He has not made these comments in any official capacity, and the university has been very clear that these objectionable views are not the views of the university. Our concern is that an individual having these views, and expressing them as he has, may find it difficult to leave them at the classroom door and, through explicit statements or implicit actions, may create an unsafe learning environment for Jewish students holding views contrary to his own.”
In a letter to the university, B’nai Brith urged UVic to publish the syllabus of the revised course online, to cancel the course if it is used to attack the Jewish community in any way and to follow other universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism to “avoid future confusion.”
Boyarin has taught at the University of Victoria since 2008 in religious studies and medieval studies, and in the English department since 2009. According to his profile at UVic, his current research and teaching interests include medieval literature (particularly the literature of Spain and the Near East), comparative literature (particularly Hebrew and Arabic), literature and religion, Jewish studies, and the religious roots of antisemitism. He has additional expertise, his profile continues, in the connections between medieval and contemporary culture, especially as they manifest in heavy metal music and white supremacist ideologies.
The Independent tried to reach Boyarin for comment, but had not heard back from him at the time of publication.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Dr. Peter Suedfeld with Governor General Julie Payette at Rideau Hall. (photo by Sgt. Johanie Maheu)
On Nov. 21, 2019, Vancouver’s Dr. Peter Suedfeld was among those invested into the Order of Canada by Governor General Julie Payette during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
The Order of Canada is one of the country’s highest civilian honours. Its companions, officers and members take to heart the motto of the order: “Desiderantes meliorem patriam” (“They desire a better country”).
Suedfeld was invested as an officer of the order. The honour’s website notes that his “groundbreaking research expands our notions of resilience and transcends academic fields. Professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and a prolific writer, he is internationally acclaimed for documenting previously ignored positive psychological and physical effects of extreme and challenging environments. His work has taken a critical look at the impacts on humans experiencing polar isolation, space exploration, sensory deprivation, decision-making during international crises, and such traumatic experiences as genocide. He is highly regarded both as a mentor and active member of his community.”
Created in 1967, the Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Close to 7,500 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the order. Those who bear its iconic snowflake insignia have changed Canada’s measure of success and, through the sum of their accomplishments, have helped build a better country.
Appointments are made by the governor general on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada. For more information about the Order of Canada or to nominate someone, visit gg.ca/en/honours.
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JNF Canada is proud to have completed renovating the infrastructure of the Israeli Scout’s facilities in the city of Ra’anana, to be more accessible for children and youth with disabilities. This project was the focus of the JNF Vancouver 2017 Negev Dinner, honouring the Averbach family.
The Israeli Scouts, Tzofei Tzamid, run programming for more than 80,000 members aged 9-21 (including more than 2,500 with disabilities) throughout Israel. They bring together children and youth from across the spectrum of Israeli society to learn leadership skills and the value of inclusive community, and to enhance their self-image.
A special thank you to Gary Averbach, Michael Averbach and Shannon (Averbach) Gorski, and the entire Vancouver community for taking this vision forward and helping JNF improve the lives of the members of Tzofei Tzamid. To learn more about the project, visit jnf.ca/tzofei-tzamid.
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Rob Philipp has been appointed to the position of chief executive officer of Hillel BC, effective in June.
Philipp’s appointment follows a Canada-wide process engaged by the search committee of the Hillel board of directors, comprised of Gordon Brandt (chair), Eric Andrew, Rebecca Recant, Frank Cohn, Talia Magder, Alexis Pavlich, Rachael Segal and Isaac Thau (board president). Philipp was the unanimous recommendation of the search committee and unanimous choice of the board of directors.
Philipp has a long history with the Vancouver Jewish community, having served on several boards, including 20 years on the board of Temple Sholom and being president of that organization. He participated in the Vancouver Wexner Heritage Leadership Group, which was a selected group of local Jewish leaders that studied and learned together for two years.
Philipp brings a unique and impressive set of experience, credentials and passion to Hillel. After graduating from the University of British Columbia, where he was an active member of Hillel, he worked as a chartered professional accountant. He then developed his career in sales, marketing and management in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, most recently as the chief executive officer of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board and as interim executive director of Temple Sholom.
He is known for being a creative and innovative leader, with a warm and strong team approach and a people-first mentality. His experience in developing and executing strategy, program development and delivery, combined with his business, governance and financial acumen, will be tremendously valuable to the continued growth of Hillel based on the strong foundation built by Rabbi Philip Bregman and Sam Heller in recent years.
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The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver welcomes Jessica Mann Gutteridge as the new artistic managing director of the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre and Chutzpah! Festival. The position was previously held by Mary-Louise Albert, who is leaving after 15 successful years. The JCC thanks Albert for her excellence in service and dedication to the community and the arts.
Gutteridge joins the JCC from Boca del Lupo, where she managed Performance Works on Granville Island. She was also a founding board member of the Granville Island Theatre District. She held positions of managing director and education manager at Carousel Theatre for Young People. Her work as a dramaturg has included new plays for young audiences and playwrights from Shakespeare to Genet to Edwin Sánchez.
She received her master’s in fine arts from the Yale School of Drama’s department of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism, and studied directing at Wesleyan University. Born and raised in New York, she returned to the theatre after nearly two decades as a lawyer specializing in advertising and trademark law. At Columbia Law School, she was editor-in-chief of the Columbia-VLA Journal of Law and the Arts. Her nonprofit board work has included serving as co-president of Landmark on Main Street (a performing arts and community centre on Long Island, N.Y.), the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival, and the Bayview Treehouse Preschool. She was a member of the 2018-19 Cultural Leadership Program at the Banff Centre in Alberta.
“I look forward to continuing to bring diverse, world-quality artists to present their work to Chutzpah! Festival audiences and to reach a new generation with exciting performances. I am also delighted to steward the Rothstein Theatre as a gem appreciated by professional artists and community members throughout Metro Vancouver.”
The JCC is excited to see Gutteridge apply her industry experience and talents to the management of the centre’s fully equipped 318-seat performance venue, and the creative direction of the Chutzpah! Festival, one of the major art events in Vancouver’s cultural calendar.
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At Congregation Beth Israel’s annual general meeting Dec. 5, several volunteers were recognized. Mazal tov to Howard Mickelson and Keren Gertsman (President’s Award), Lloyd Baron (Board of Directors Special Service Award), Michael Harris (Board Recognition Award) and Lissa Weinberger (Special Service Volunteer Award).
The congregation also welcomed its incoming board for 2019-2020: Helen Pinsky (president), David Silver (vice-president), Heather Sirlin (secretary), Keren Gertsman (treasurer), Lisa Averbach, Anton Bloem, Alexis Doctor, Kevan Jacobson, Lisa Marcoe, Christie Menzo, Dale Porte, Jennifer Wolf and David Woogman.