Olga Campbell is raising money for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s anti-racism programming. (photo from Olga Campbell)
Half of all sales during March of Olga Campbell’s multiple-award-winning A Whisper Across Time: My Family’s Story of the Holocaust Told Through Art and Poetry will be donated to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s anti-racism programming, engaging youth and teachers in promoting human rights, social justice and genocide awareness. Campbell’s goal is to raise $5,000. Her objective is to raise “concerns about the fragility of democracy and the rise of white nationalism, racism and antisemitism in the world today.”
In A Whisper Across Time, Campbell – whose mother lost all of her family during the Second World War – writes, “This is the story of one family out of millions of families who went through the Holocaust.”
As quoted in the Jewish Independent when the book was published in 2019, “It is ‘the story of survival and death,’ ‘of how trauma of such magnitude is passed from one generation to another to another….’ It is also an ardent call for readers to remember Rwanda, Rohingya, Bosnia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Cambodia.” Campbell notes in the book that, “by the end of 2016, there were 65.6 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people in the world.” She pleads, “eighty years ago, the world looked away / we must not look away now.” (Read more at jewishindependent.ca/a-story-told-in-art-and-poetry and jewishindependent.ca/whisper-across-time.)
Campbell will be giving away five signed copies of her book. Everyone who wins or buys a book before the end of March will also receive a signed miniature print – images from the book.
Winners of the book giveaway will be announced on March 21, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Alex Cristall, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board chair, arrived early at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Jan. 26 to sign community recovery cheques for grant recipients. (photo by Rob Trendiak)
On Jan. 26, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver released the first round of community recovery funding to address the urgent needs arising from the pandemic’s impacts. A total of $416,000 in grants was distributed among 21 partner agencies and community organizations.
“When COVID first hit, we immediately developed a comprehensive strategic approach to address its impact,” Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of Jewish Federation, told the Independent. “We met with our partner agencies to learn firsthand about how they were coping, and we released $505,000 in emergency funding just days into the initial lockdown.
“We then worked closely with major donors to launch the Community Recovery Fund, which became a key focus of the annual campaign. We also established the Community Recovery Task Force, comprised of well-respected and experienced community leaders, to work with us to respond effectively to the immediate and long-term consequences of COVID that are affecting our community agencies. During the annual campaign, we asked donors to make an additional gift to support community recovery, if they could.
“We have always been fortunate to have an extremely generous community, and the depth of giving this year has been extraordinary,” he said. “Community members have responded to the call to help in unparalleled ways, however they can. They understand the breadth and scope of need, the immense challenges facing organizations, individuals and families, and that recovery will take some time. Most of all, they appreciate that we are all partners in recovery, and have really stepped up to play their part.”
The initial relief grants were distributed to 19 of Jewish Federation’s partner agencies, as well as to the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and the Hebrew Free Loan Association.
“For the first round of grants, all Jewish community organizations were invited to apply for up to $25,000, regardless of their size,” explained Risa Levine, chair of the Community Recovery Task Force. “Our priority was to meet organizations’ urgent needs resulting from the pandemic, and to ensure they could continue to deliver their programs and services. In the next few weeks, as part of this initial round of funding, we will be recommending grants for synagogues and other places of worship. These grants will be awarded in late February.
“The task force expects the two rounds of funding after that will focus on longer-term needs,” she said. “For example, are there organizational changes that would substantially increase an agency’s capacity to deliver their programs? We also recognize that the pandemic has gone on longer than anyone anticipated, and that the uncertainty of what lies ahead continues. New needs may emerge and COVID-related government subsidies, which have helped a lot of our agencies, may end. So, ensuring organizations’ ongoing sustainability in the face of pressures created by the pandemic will continue to be a priority.”
When the task force met with community organizations last summer and fall, the focus was on understanding how the pandemic had affected the programs and services they offer. While the details differed, said Levine, “they all had been impacted by COVID in similar ways.
“Based on this information, the task force identified six themes, which ultimately became funding categories for the recovery grant application: technology upgrades; critical social services; COVID-related expenses; revenue and rental losses; mental health support for staff and community members; and organizational capacity. Community organizations were invited to apply for a grant to meet urgent, COVID-related needs in two of these six categories.”
The recovery grants comprise but one of three funding streams being distributed in the next couple of months. Other financial assistance will come from the Jewish Community Foundation’s Unrestricted Grant Program, and allocations from the Federation’s annual campaign.
“The Jewish Community Foundation’s Unrestricted Grant Program is designed to complement Jewish Federation’s annual campaign allocations by providing charitable organizations with seed money to support new, innovative programs and services,” explained Shanken.
Grants awarded through the program “give charitable organizations the opportunity to pilot initiatives that address the community’s evolving needs, or to launch startup and capital projects,” he said. “Once the programs demonstrate success over several years, they may then qualify for ongoing funding through Jewish Federation’s allocations.
“This year,” he added, “the foundation adapted some conditions of the program to be as responsive as possible to organizations challenged to deliver their programs and services in new and innovative ways. In this way, the Unrestricted Grant Program is complementing the work of Jewish Federation’s Community Recovery Task Force, which has identified areas of critical need through its consultation process with community organizations.”
The Unrestricted Grant Program funds for 2021 will be awarded in mid-February.
“Jewish Federation has always been proactive and strategic about preparing for crises, so that we can lead a coordinated community response,” said Shanken. “And, while this is unlike anything the community has ever been through, we are in a strong position to respond. We have in place the infrastructure, the community planning expertise, and the staff and team of experienced leaders needed to respond swiftly and effectively to the enormity and ongoing uncertainty of COVID’s impact.
“We know how vital it is to get funds working in the community, and this involves so much more than fundraising,” he noted. “As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to adapt our strategic approach so that we are well-positioned for today and tomorrow, and to convene with all of our stakeholders so that we have our finger on the pulse of the community and can problem-solve together. We’re also collaborating with Jewish federations across North America to leverage their collective knowledge and capacity.”
Levine acknowledged the board and staff of our local Jewish Federation “for their vision and professionalism in organizing the task force and leading the recovery process, as well as the many generous donors who have supported this crucial work.”
She said, “I have been inspired and buoyed by the commitment and passion of everyone involved in the task force’s work to ensure that our community continues to function effectively: by the task force members for their dedication to the work, and by the community organizations for their candour and resilience in adapting their operations to meet the needs of community members.
“The biggest challenge,” she said, “has been to focus and refine our work to be able to respond effectively to the needs we learned about. Hearing firsthand about the challenges that organizations faced revealed the enormity of COVID’s impact through a sharper, more personal lens that added another layer of urgency to our work.”
Despite the challenges, Shanken said, “I remain positive because of the tremendous fortitude and the outpouring of compassion and generosity that I see every day. I am incredibly proud of how this community has pulled together to tackle the road to recovery, and am convinced that we will emerge stronger.”
At 109, Richmond resident Reuben (Rube) Sinclair might be Canada’s oldest Second World War veteran. (photo from Reuben Sinclair)
A Richmond resident is almost certainly Canada’s oldest Second World War veteran. Reuben (Rube) Sinclair received a special recognition on Remembrance Day, though, because of confidentiality issues, Veterans Affairs Canada can’t confirm he’s the oldest service member. But, at the age of 109, basic statistics suggests that, if Sinclair isn’t the oldest, he’s got to be close.
The centenarian spoke with the Independent virtually via Zoom about his life and what advice he might have for aspiring super-seniors like himself.
Sinclair was born in 1911 on the family farm near Lipton, Sask. Lipton was one of many “colonies” created by Baron Maurice de Hirsch in Canada, Argentina and Palestine to resettle oppressed Jews from Europe. Sinclair’s father, Yitzok Sinclair (born Sandler), traveled from Ukraine, via Liverpool and arrived at Ellis Island Jan. 4, 1905, on the SS Ivernia. He made his way to Saskatchewan, where he was given land by de Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association. However, the land was poor and so the newcomer worked for the Canadian National Railway long enough to save up and buy a better plot and build a house. When he was settled, he sent for his wife, Fraida (born Dubrovinsky), and their two young sons.
Reunited in Lipton, the family grew to include not only Samuel and Sol, who were born in the old country, but the only sister, Clara, then Rube and the youngest, Joe.
The last survivor of his birth family, Sinclair has fond memories of the farm life. He and the other two youngest did chores while the older two headed to university. Samuel became a medical doctor and Sol was a professor of agriculture at the University of Manitoba.
“There was a whole colony of Jewish families,” Sinclair said. “My parents had one of the largest farms – 16 quarter-sections [more than 2,500 acres]. I remember we had 42 horses. We had milk cows. I had my jobs. My job was to go collect the eggs from the chicken house and, when I was 12, I was already driving our car.… Always things to do on a farm.”
Yitzok donated a few acres to the community and helped construct a school, which doubled as a synagogue. On Shabbats and Jewish holidays in winter, the boys would sleep in the hayloft so the local men could stay in the house and not walk home in the freezing Saskatchewan weather.
“My father was a leader in the community,” he said.
Sinclair joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and was stationed in North Battleford, Sask. In the days before radar was commonplace, he taught Allied pilots how to take off and land in the dark using a “standard beam approach,” which involved a navigation receiver that allowed the pilot to line the aircraft up with the runway when preparing to land.
“In the air force barracks, I was on the top bunk,” he said. “I always got the top bunk because the younger generation would come home drunk and I wouldn’t sleep in the bottom bunk.”
One day, he encountered a barrack-mate in tears. Sinclair recalls the conversation: “They’re sending me to Vancouver, he said, and my family is all here around Brandon, Manitoba. So I said, that’s no problem. When they want a person to go to Vancouver, they don’t care who the person is. Vancouver wants one person. So, I said, don’t cry. We’ll go see the commanding officer. I told him that my wife has got family in Vancouver and I’d be glad to go instead. He said they don’t care, all they want is one person. So, I was the person who went to Vancouver at that time and I’m still here,” he recalled with a laugh.
Joe, the youngest of the five siblings, had served in the army and after the war joined Rube in British Columbia. They started Sinclair Bros. Garage and Auto Wrecking, in Richmond, just across the two old Fraser Street bridges from Vancouver.
“My job was to go out and find old cars and we had a tow truck,” Sinclair said. “I’d bring them in and my younger brother would wreck them. We opened a wrecking company.” They also bought surplus army vehicles to fix up and sell.
The business soon became a sort of family compound. A small house adjacent went up for sale and the Sinclairs bought it, bringing parents Yitzok and Fraida to the coast. Then sister Clara and her husband Morris Slobasky bought a general store that was next door.
Because of his wartime experience, Sinclair developed migraine headaches and was told to go to a drier climate. He thought Arizona sounded good, but his wife, Ida, had siblings in the Los Angeles area and a brother-in-law offered him a job in a furniture store in Anaheim.
In 1964, Rube and Ida packed up the three kids – Nadine (now Lipetz), Karen and Len – and moved to Southern California.
“He put me in charge of the furniture store,” Sinclair said of his brother-in-law. “I knew nothing about furniture, but I learned pretty quick.”
Soon he was in business for himself again.
“Then my boss that I worked for in Anaheim, his wife wasn’t very well and she spent a lot of time in Palm Springs,” Sinclair recalled. “So, he said, instead of me going back and forth, I’ll move to Palm Springs and you can have the store, just pay me for the inventory.”
In 1994, Ida had a stroke and the couple moved back to British Columbia. She passed in 1996. Rube still lives in their Richmond condo.
Rube and Ida were active in their communities. In Los Angeles, they raised more than a million dollars for City of Hope, a cancer hospital and research facility. Both were active members of Schara Tzedeck Synagogue here, he especially in the Men’s Club, and he is proud of his lifetime honorary membership in the shul. In addition to their three adult children – Nadine is in Vancouver; Karen and Len in California – he has six grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Asked if he has any advice for others, Sinclair didn’t hesitate.
“That’s easy. I always say, if you have a problem, don’t worry; you’ll lose your hair. Fix it. If you have a problem, fix it. Don’t sit back and worry. Worry is not going to help.”
Any bad habits?
“I don’t think so,” he said after a thought. “I spent most of my life working and, in my spare time, working for people less fortunate. That was my enjoyment in my spare time.”
Two years ago, the City of Richmond named Sinclair an “honoured veteran.”
Recalled daughter Nadine: “He was part of the Remembrance Day service in Richmond and they made a big deal about it. They sent a limo and he sat with the mayor and the Silver Cross Mother. They gave him a wreath and then they walked him around. He was up on the dais with the mayor and the head of the RCMP as the soldiers all walked by. It was a very big deal for him.” Last Remembrance Day, he received a certificate from Veterans Affairs.
If, by some chance, Sinclair is not
Canada’s oldest veteran of the Second World War, he seems determined to attain that title.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I still have some unfinished business.”
The Vancouver Jewish Food Bank is now distributing more than 10,000 kilograms of food every month. (photo from BI and JFS)
According to the Community Food Centres Canada report Beyond Hunger: The Hidden Impacts of Food Insecurity in Canada, “Even before COVID-19, nearly 4.5 million Canadians struggled to put good food on the table for themselves and their families. In the first two months of the pandemic, that number grew by 39%, affecting one in seven people.”
Demand on the Vancouver Jewish Food Bank has almost doubled since the start of COVID-19. The organization is now distributing more than 10,000 kilograms of food every month; supporting seniors, families and individuals. While some of us have been impacted by food scarcity during COVID-19, those most in need live in a state of constant worry about where their next meal will come from.
The 1996 World Food Summit defined food security as: “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” To this end, Jewish Family Services and Congregation Beth Israel are hosting More Than a Bag of Food on Jan. 28, bringing organizations and people together for a Tu b’Shevat program on food security in our community and beyond.
Vancouver Talmud Torah and Richmond Jewish Day School students are raising awareness about the food bank and reaching out to recipients. King David High School is hosting a cooking demonstration with Hilit Nurick and Rabbi Stephen Berger at 4 p.m. on Jan. 28, which will feature local ingredients and discuss the need for healthy food for everyone. Hillel BC is running an online quiz, with prizes, and a deep dive into information around food security.
At 7:30 p.m. on the 28th, there will be a Zoom panel including Dr. Tammara Soma, assistant professor, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University; Dr. Eleanor Boyle, educator and author; Krystine McInnes, director and chief executive officer of Grown Here Farms; Mara Shnay, chair of the JFS client advisory committee; and Cindy McMillan, director of programs and community partnerships at JFS. Lawyer Bernard Pinsky will moderate the discussion.
“This is an important conversation,” said McInnes. “The stakes are very high. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief just how vulnerable we are, given the way our society is organized. ”
Food systems produce and deliver based on historic demand. With the advent of COVID-19, the system has been stretched, leading to empty grocery shelves and desperate food banks. International supply chains are no longer reliable, with Russia and Vietnam limiting the sale of wheat and rice outside of their countries. Canadian food production plants have been hard hit by pandemic outbreaks and the lack of international workers. This is particularly problematic when food production is concentrated at large facilities; for example, two plants in Alberta provide 70% of Canadian beef.
“We are going to talk about initiatives from local to global,” said Boyle, “and panelists will let audience members know about some of the creative approaches to food security that are being taken at the Jewish Food Bank, as well as what’s going on around the world to try to shift agriculture and diets toward being better for climate and public health.”
I was crying in front of the computer screen during a funeral service livestream. Again. It wasn’t my first of this pandemic. Even if the person didn’t ostensibly die of COVID, he’d been ill alone, unable to see family for long stretches because of it. And, because of COVID, I couldn’t be at the funerals in person, which were all in the United States. In normal times, I’d be rushing across the continent to be at these services with my family.
The person being eulogized, Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits, was a family friend, and was close to my parents. I called him “uncle” as a kid. He and his family were always part of our family’s holiday celebrations and gatherings. I played with his kids at his house. Their phone number was my elementary school’s emergency contact for me.
Rabbi Berkowits (Uncle Larry) was my family’s rabbi. He was also a Holocaust survivor. For a person who spent his teenage years in concentration camps, including Auschwitz, my Uncle Larry’s positivity, joy and ability to find the good in others were amazing. He had an incredible, long career, supporting and inspiring others to make positive change.
At the funeral, his family and friends (including my pediatrician) talked about how my Uncle Larry felt so grateful for the kindness of others, including the kindness of strangers. Without that help, he wouldn’t have survived the Second World War. Without the assistance and loving kindness of strangers – in Sweden, the United States and beyond – he wouldn’t have regained his health, gone on to serve in the U.S. military or received a full scholarship to become a rabbi. He wouldn’t have had the opportunities that truly enabled him to make such a difference in so many others’ lives.
The article was about how I try to carry around snacks (granola bars) for my kids, just in case they need one, but that, sometimes, the best option for me is to offer that extra snack to someone else on the street, who is hungry, instead.
The thing is, since the pandemic started, like many Manitobans, we haven’t been out and about nearly as often. I don’t carry around snacks now because my kids are remote schooling. We’re working and learning at home, trying, like most of us, to reduce the number of people who might get sick or die from COVID. On a daily basis, I am not physically handing out those granola bars to anybody other than my kids.
A week ago, I got the most amazing email from a single mom friend who is a grocery store cashier in a city more than 200 kilometres away. She works very hard to keep her family afloat. She’d been waiting until her break to write me: “A man came through with 25 boxes of granola bars. No judgment – they were on sale! Then, he tells me he read an article about someone and their child or children who handed a person a granola bar and it stuck with him. So, now he has granola bars in his car and always hands them out to panhandlers and people who need them when he can.”
I could imagine her hearing this at the grocery store, her jaw dropping in surprise. She told the man that we were good friends and that she would tell me about this. The man said to pass along that, she wrote, “he has been doing this since the week he read your article and to thank you! Simple acts of kindness are what is keeping him going these days.”
When I read her email, I cried. It had been “one of those pandemic days” – where the news, the work and learning struggles at home, had all felt so hard. We’re all tired of worrying, so concerned about our loved ones. In fact, I’d been feeling badly that I couldn’t do more for others, write more, donate more, while juggling things on the stay-at-home front.
Another email from my friend arrived. She’d mentioned this man’s purchase to one of the grocery store owners. He’d said, if she sees this man again, the store would give him a discount on these purchases. Then he printed out the story to pass along, too.
I felt so grateful to this anonymous stranger who was carrying around all these granola bars to feed others, and continuing this kindness when I couldn’t. I wanted to thank him, but I also respect just how many anonymous givers might be out there. It takes all of us to beat this pandemic. Next year, I hope to host my amazing essential worker friend and her kids for a big celebratory Chanukah dinner again.
I’m so heartened to hear that the kindness my Uncle Larry encouraged in others is continuing to be passed along. I carry with me his constant reminders to be an upstanding person who does the right thing, who helps others, shines a light for others, even if he himself isn’t here anymore.
My Uncle Larry would say, “Be the best. Be a blessing.” He’d add something like, “We never know how long we’ll be here on earth. It’s our job to do good for others whenever we can – right now.”
At his funeral, another longtime family friend, Sam Simon, spoke, reminding us: “Be that stranger whose kindness is a blessing to someone so that they, too, can become a blessing to the world.” I am sure the biggest blessing of all would be if more people took that to heart.
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.
David Adams as Scrooge and Scotia Browner as Tiny Tim in Metro Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol – The Radio Play. (photo by Nicol Spinola)
Metro Theatre was all set to provide socially distanced, safety-first live performances of A Christmas Carol – The Radio Play this month. But then the provincial restrictions on gatherings came down, and the struggling theatre company had to cancel its in-theatre run. But the production team used what holiday spirit it had to film the show and an online version will be available for viewers to watch from Dec. 21 through Jan. 3.
“We are fortunate to have our talented friends Nico Dicecco and [playwright] Erik Gow film the show and put together a beautiful digital stream of it that is available by donation,” stage manager Kat Palmer told the Independent.
Palmer has had a few shows canceled since the pandemic hit. “Right at the beginning of COVID,” she said, “I was in rehearsals for a sweet little concert Wendy Bross Stuart put together called With a Song in My Heart. I was also looking forward to Hello Dolly! at Theatre Under the Stars. And, most importantly, my company, Raincity Theatre, was gearing up for our production of Cabaret. Obviously, intimate, site-specific theatre is not possible during COVID.”
But A Christmas Carol – The Radio Play was created with COVID-19 protocols in mind. The theatre is a large space, enough for patrons to be distanced from one another. “Even the set was designed to keep actors more than six feet apart at all times,” said Palmer. In rehearsals, every cast member arrived masked and wore their mask until they were in their show spacing, she said. For the stage show, they were ready with two understudies, prepared to go on, lest “any actor wake up with any sort of tickle in their throat.”
But those plans went for naught when, last month, large public gatherings were prohibited and the show, which was to open Dec. 3, was delayed to organize the online version.
“It is no surprise that COVID has deeply impacted our arts community,” said director Chris Adams. “The Metro Theatre is a not-for-profit theatre company that relies on ticket sales to get by. Once a thriving arts hub in a former movie-house, Metro has been hit hard by COVID restrictions that have seriously impacted their revenue. The Metro also rents out their space to schools and dance companies over the quieter spring/summer months but, due to our new reality, that was also impossible this year. The Metro Theatre is at risk of closing its doors.”
Nonetheless, the show is also raising money for the charity Backpack Buddies.
“When Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843, charitable giving soared overnight,” said Palmer. “The story has forever changed how we celebrate the holiday season and reminds us of the importance of generosity. It is in this spirit that the Metro always selects a charity to support each year at Christmas.
“Early in the show, we meet Abigail – an orphan who speaks of food insecurity. It is shocking to find parallels between children today and the Dickensian era. British Columbia has one of the highest child poverty rates in Canada, with 20% of children living below the poverty line. The Backpack Buddies program provides backpacks of food to children in need so that they do not go hungry over the weekend.”
A Christmas Carol – The Radio Play is an original work by writer Gow, based on the Charles Dickens novel, of course.
“With Christmas Carol, there is an expected order that ghosts appear. Erik has decided to shake it up,”
said Adams. “There are also some scenes that do not appear in the book that add an extra level of character development.”
The radio play stars David Adams as Ebeneezer Scrooge, who meets all the characters in A Christmas Carol, “from Bob Cratchit to Jacob Marley, but with only six actors creating and voicing over 40 of the beloved characters,” reads the play’s description. Joining David Adams “on stage” will be Roger Monk, Jill Raymond, Chris Ward, Emilia Michalowska and Scotia Browner. The COVID covers were Jim Stewart and Courtney Shields, who is also the assistant director of the production.
“All of our actors have created a character for their narrator in addition to playing every character in the piece,” said Palmer. “For the majority of our performers, they play four or five characters each. For the simplicity of the storytelling, David plays Scrooge but has also created a very unique and distinct character for his narrator. While David has played many Jewish characters, like the Merchant of Venice, Tevye and Fagin, he is not Jewish himself. Although, he has had to learn some Yiddish for roles from time to time.”
As for being a Jewish person working on a Christmas play, Palmer said, “At this time of year, I sometimes feel like Scrooge. I despise the commercialism of the holiday season, how it seems to consume the entire month of December and don’t get me started on cheesy Christmas movies. But, as a Jewish person working on this show, it is easy to see Jewish values on every page of the script. Yes, A Christmas Carol takes place at Christmas but, in many ways, A Christmas Carol is really a story of teshuvah, tzedakah and tikkun olam…. It’s a story that celebrates kindness, charity and human transformation – ideals that all parents hope to instil in their children – ideals that have deep roots in Jewish tradition. Don’t we all want to believe even the worst among us has a core of goodness?”
The filmed version of A Christmas Carol – The Radio Play is available by donation at metrotheatre.com.
Members of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, Paraguay, are among those helping provide relief services during COVID-19 and after a devastating fire. (photo from IBB)
Times are tough for everyone, but that hasn’t stopped one Vancouver group from organizing an urgent fundraising drive to support an orchestra that is a testament to the transformative power of music.
Instruments Beyond Borders (IBB) is a registered Vancouver-based charity that supports music education in disadvantaged communities. The group is raising funds to support the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, Paraguay (aka the Landfill Harmonic) as they are dealing with two major crises: not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but a devastating fire in the landfill, next to which they reside.
Since 2014, IBB has delivered donated instruments and funds to the Recycled Orchestra, which was borne out of a desire to teach music to eager children living in the marginalized landfill community of Cateura.
The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura is internationally renowned, performing all over the world with their instruments made out of recycled materials from the neighbouring landfill. They deliver a resounding message of environmental stewardship and hope and endurance in the face of poverty.
The pandemic has suspended the capacity of the orchestra to travel internationally – which was a major source of their revenue. Compounding the hardships wrought by the pandemic, the Cateura landfill recently suffered a major fire, resulting in the destruction of many of the orchestra families’ homes. Consequently, this has all but eliminated the opportunity of the parents to derive much-needed income from the gathering of saleable recyclables from the landfill.
In 2014, IBB donated $10,000 towards the building of a music school in Cateura. Fortunately, the school was not damaged by the fire, and today it is temporarily being used as a food relief centre – for the preparation and distribution of upwards of 5,000 meals daily to the devastated local community. Incredibly, the students of the Recycled Orchestra, along with the Orchestra’s Parents Association, have become the hub of relief services.
In the midst of these crises, Favio Chavez, the orchestra’s founder and director, is determined to keep both the orchestra and the hope of music alive, and to support the orchestra’s education program.
The IBB fundraising drive aims to assist the orchestra recover from these dire circumstances. To jumpstart this urgent appeal, the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation has pledged to match the first $5,000 donated.
Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk speaks at a Vancouver Public Library event in 2017. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
The Order of Canada is one of our 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”).
Created in 1967, the Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Appointments are made by the governor general on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada. This year, among the 114 new appointees, are Vancouver Jewish community members Dr. Carol Herbert and Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk. Each recipient will be invited to accept their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.
Herbert was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to the fields of clinical and academic medicine, as a family physician, medical educator, researcher and administrator. She and three colleagues were appointed.
“The appointment of Drs. B. Lynn Beattie, Joseph Connors, Carol Herbert and Roger Wong to the Order of Canada is a demonstration of their incredible commitment to the health and well-being of all Canadians,” said Dr. Dermot Kelleher, dean of the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine and vice-president, health, at UBC, said in a press release. “We are very proud of each of their contributions, and deeply moved by their passion for improving the lives of patients and families here in B.C., and across the nation.”
Herbert, an adjunct professor in the School of Population and Public Health, “is internationally known for her leadership in primary care research, and for her work in clinical health promotion, patient-physician decision-making, and participatory action research with Indigenous communities, focused on diabetes and on environmental effects on human health,” notes the UBC release. “She was formerly head of the department of family practice, founding head of the division of behavioural medicine and a founder of the UBC Institute of Health Promotion Research.”
This only touches on Herbert’s extensive experience. She also was dean of medicine and dentistry at Western University in London, Ont., from 1999 to 2010, was a practising family physician from 1970 to 2013, and has been involved in medical education since 1971.
Yosef Wosk, PhD, was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for his far-reaching contributions to his community as a scholar, educator and writer, and for his generous philanthropy. BC Booklook (bcbooklook.com/2020/11/27/41941) cites the governor general: “Yosef Wosk is a Renaissance man of the 21st century. A rabbi, scholar, businessman and art collector, he is a revered educator and community activist who inspired many to become engaged in global issues and local challenges. Former director of interdisciplinary programs in continuing studies at Simon Fraser University, he founded the Philosophers’ Café and the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars. A poet, explorer and dedicated philanthropist involved with museums, the arts, social services, publishing, nature and heritage conservation, he has endowed hundreds of libraries worldwide.”
Wosk has established more than 400 libraries, including 20 libraries in remote Himalayan villages and 37 in Jewish communities throughout the world. (See jewishindependent.ca/many-milestones-for-wosk-in-2019.) He has supported a range of local building preservation, public garden and other civic enhancement projects. He has helped fund the production of more than 250 books and videos, and has written numerous works, most recently Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal and the forthcoming GIDAL: The Letters of Tim Gidal and Yosef Wosk (Douglas & McIntyre, 2021). He supports several literature, writing, poetry, art and design initiatives, and is founding benefactor of the Dance Centre.
In addition to other honours, Wosk has received the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals and a Mayor’s Arts Award, as well as the Order of British Columbia.
As part of its belief in and commitment to supporting emerging architecture practitioners, the Arthur Erickson Foundation and the Yosef Wosk Family Foundation recently announced a $110,000 donation to Indspire – Canada’s national, award-winning Indigenous registered charity – in support of Indigenous youth in Canada. The donation will fund an awards program focused on increasing Indigenous student success by growing the number of Indigenous architects and landscape architects in Canada.
Central to Arthur Erickson’s work as an architect and theorist was his belief in and commitment to education and research. Having served on the faculties of architecture at the University of Oregon and the University of British Columbia, Erickson understood the need of each generation to contribute to the training of the next. One of the ways the foundation honours Erickson’s belief is by working with donors to develop prizes and scholarships intended to reward and assist students studying architecture and landscape architecture.
“The Arthur Erickson Foundation and Yosef Wosk Family Foundation, along with Indspire, are pleased to announce the establishment of an awards program supporting Indigenous education in architecture and landscape architecture,” said Michael Prokopow, vice-president (East) Arthur Erickson Foundation. “The organizations recognize the profound importance of the shared work of decolonization and reconciliation in Canada for the transformation of society. These awards recognize the deep power of Indigenous thinking and wisdom around the making of habitation and space for well-being across generations and the vitally important stewardship of the natural world.”
Mike DeGagné, president and chief executive officer of Indspire, stated, “This new investment is a significant step in supporting First Nations, Inuit and Métis architecture and landscape architecture students to achieve their potential through education and training. They can in turn enrich their communities and create positive change in Canada. We are grateful for the support of the Arthur Erickson Foundation and the Yosef Wosk Family Foundation for investing in Indigenous achievement and education.”
Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre (GRC) founder Dr. Gloria Gutman and her team – Avantika Vashisht, Taranjot Kaur, Mojgan Karbakhsh, Ryan Churchill and Amir Moztarzadeh – received the Best Paper Award at the International Conference on Gerontechnology, held Nov. 25-27. SFUGero tweeted the news Dec. 1, noting that the paper was a “[f]easibility study of a digital screen-based calming device for managing BPSD [behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia] during bathing in a long-term care setting.”
A brief biography for Gutman, PhD, appears on the conference website. She is president of the North American chapter of the International Society for Gerontechnology, vice-president of the International Longevity Centre-Canada, past-president of the Canadian Association on Gerontology and the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics. She is co-editor (with Andrew Sixsmith) of Technologies for Active Aging (Springer, 2013) and has published widely on seniors housing, long-term care, health promotion, prevention of elder abuse, and seniors and disasters. She is on the advisory of MindfulGarden Digital Health and is the principal investigator on the first feasibility clinical studies for MindfulGarden, which is a digital treatment of hyperactive dementia in long-term care setting. She established the GRC and department of gerontology at SFU and is recipient of many awards and honours, including the Order of Canada.
The third edition of the Western Canada Jewish Book Awards, presented by the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival in Vancouver, took place Dec. 6. Daniella Givon, chair of the awards committee, opened the evening on Zoom and the five honours were awarded by five different presenters.
Winning the Nancy Richler Memorial Prize for Fiction was Rhea Tregebov for Rue des Rosiers, in which a young Canadian woman’s search for her own identity brings her to Paris in 1982, and face-to-face with the terror of an age-old enemy. Tregebov (Vancouver) is the author of fiction, poetry and children’s picture books. She is associate professor emerita in the University of British Columbia creative writing program.
The Pinsky Givon Family Prize for nonfiction went to Naomi K. Lewis for Tiny Lights for Travellers. When her marriage suddenly ends, and a diary documenting her beloved Opa’s escape from Nazi-occupied Netherlands in the summer of 1942 is discovered, Lewis decides to retrace his journey to freedom. Lewis (Calgary) is the author of the novel Cricket in a Fist and the short story collection I Know Who You Remind Me Of.
Ellen Schwartz was awarded the Diamond Foundation Prize for children’s and youth literature for The Princess Dolls, a story about friendship between a Jewish girl and a Japanese girl, set against the backdrop of 1942 Vancouver. Schwartz (Burnaby) is the author of 17 children’s books, including Abby’s Birds and Mr. Belinsky’s Bagels.
The Lohn Foundation Prize for poetry was given to Alex Leslie for Vancouver for Beginners. In this collection, the nostalgia of place is dissected through the mapping of a city, where readers are led past surrealist development proposals, post-apocalyptic postcards and childhood landmarks long gone. Leslie (Vancouver) is the author of two short story collections and the winner of the 2015 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers.
The Kahn Family Foundation Prize for writing about the Holocaust was given to Olga Campbell for A Whisper Across Time, a personal and moving story of her family’s experience of the Holocaust through prose, art and poetry, creating a multi-dimensional snapshot of losses and intergenerational trauma. Campbell is a visual artist whose media include photography, sculpture, mixed media painting and digital photo collage.
The jury for the 2020 Western Canada Jewish Book Awards comprised Shula Banchik, arts and culture manager of the Calgary JCC; Judy Kornfeld, former librarian at Langara College; Els Kushner, author and librarian; Norman Ravvin, writer, critic and Concordia University professor; and Laurie Ricou, professor emeritus of English at UBC.
After short acceptance speeches and readings from the authors, Dana Camil Hewitt, director of the JCC Jewish Book Festival, concluded the evening thanking the sponsors, the judges, the awards committee and the extended virtual audience, and inviting everyone to purchase and enjoy the books.
Aaron Friedland, creator and host of the podcast Impact in the 21st Century. (photo from Aaron Friedland)
If you’re looking for a new, uplifting podcast to cast away the oppressive weight of pandemic blues, consider Impact in the 21st Century, recently launched by Vancouverite Aaron Friedland. The Vancouver-based founder of the Simbi Foundation, which promotes literacy and education worldwide, felt it was time to give voice to the inspiring things that people are doing.
“There’s a lot of really bad news and horrible things going on and, as a species, we seem to be more interested in those stories,” Friedland told the Independent in a recent interview. “There are lots of podcasts available that celebrate big businesses and a very capitalist ideology. Our goal is to help showcase the amazing, impactful things that many brilliant people are doing and that often go unnoticed, and to mainstream what positive impact really means.”
To date, Friedland has interviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and scientific educator; David Suzuki, an academic, broadcaster and environmentalist; Maryanne Wolf, a Jewish author and Harvard academic researching the brain; Ndileka Mandela, the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela; and Alex Honnold, a rock climber and subject of the movie Free Solo. “It’s so nice to be the one doing the interviewing, and the people I’m speaking with are such brilliant minds with brilliant insights to share,” Friedland said. “I feel deeply privileged to be getting that information firsthand.” The plan is to release a new podcast every two to three weeks.
The Royal Bank of Canada has sponsored Impact in the 21st Century, but Friedland said he’s always looking for more sponsors. “Our goal is to reach a point where we have enough podcast sponsors that, with each episode we release, we can build another Bright Box,” he said. The Bright Boxes, which cost $55,000 per box, are classrooms comprised of shipping containers, refurbished with solar technology and aimed at enhancing learning in overcrowded classrooms in places that have little or no access to electricity.
Friedland’s next podcast will be an interview with Canadian cultural anthropologist Wade Davis. His dream interviewees are Elon Musk and David Attenborough, but he’s biding his time until those happen. “It could be they’re not ready yet,” Friedland quipped. “We look for subjects who have a track record of creating longstanding positive impact, and whose vision and values really align with ours.”
Listeners can stream Impact in the 21st Century anywhere they access their podcasts, or online at simbifoundation.org.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
The finished scarves, each individually packaged, and including a warm message. (photo from Legacy Senior Living)
Last month, residents of Legacy Senior Living (the Leo Wertman Residence) gave a gift of warmth to residents of New Beginnings, a temporary housing complex for Indigenous individuals. On Oct. 7, nearly 100 hand-knitted scarves, each with an uplifting message – such as “Warm Wishes,” “Smile” and “Enjoy!” – were delivered from the independent living retirement home in Vancouver’s Oakridge area to the housing complex, which is located at Heather and 33rd.
The idea for the project came almost a year ago. It was organized in January, and jumpstarted by a $200 grant from the Vancouver Foundation to fund the purchase of wool. Between 10 and 20 residents regularly participated; some teaching others how to knit, others brushing up on their knitting skills. They worked together while socializing, coming together weekly for a knit-and-chat session.
“When my mother lived at Legacy, I used to knit with her for therapeutic purposes,” said Annette Wertman, who organized the effort. “Then, I thought, maybe knitting would be a good activity for the residents of Legacy Senior Living. We had a meeting of those interested – and the idea took off! We applied for a grant and were so pleased to receive one from the Vancouver Foundation. While the COVID lockdown altered the way we gathered to knit together, we followed the health protocols and still managed to knit 98 scarves! And it’s perfect that we finished this in October, a more appropriate time to donate these scarves.”
Not only was it a more appropriate time weather-wise, but the donation took place around Thanksgiving. The Legacy knitters were grateful to be able to make “a small but warm contribution to the community.”
“Our residence, built in memory of Leo Wertman, is a vision of inclusion, diversity and philanthropy within the Jewish community, and of our broader local community,” said Wertman, a cousin of the residence’s namesake. “We all felt very good about our project and have already begun the next project – toques and blankets!”