Individuals and families with low to moderate income are moving into 20 new homes in Burnaby. Susana Cogan Place is Tikva Housing Society’s most recent affordable housing project, developed in partnership with Polygon Homes and made possible with financial support from BC Housing.
“Susana Cogan Place provides stability and security through affordable housing for people to live, work and retire in the community they know, here in Burnaby,” said Ravi Kahlon, BC minister of housing. “Our government is building housing at a historic rate and these 20 new homes are another example of how we can work together to build a province where everyone has a good place to call home and no one gets left behind.”
Located at 6438 Byrnepark Dr., Susana Cogan Place is a 20-unit development comprising studio, one- and two-bedroom homes. It is part of a larger five-storey, 122-unit condominium known as Byrnepark by Polygon.
“I am delighted to see Susana Cogan Place and its new affordable rental homes open in our community,” said Raj Chouhan, MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds. “These new cost-effective homes will provide a sense of well-being and a place for many families and seniors to call their own.”
Tikva’s units on the third floor are named in memory of Susana Cogan z”l, whose leadership was the driving force of Tikva from 2006 to 2017.
“These homes are a welcome addition to the Burnaby community,” said Anne Kang, MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake. “We know more housing like this is needed to help people live affordably, which is why our government will continue to work with all partners to boost the supply of affordable housing in Burnaby … and throughout the province.”
Tikva Housing, an experienced nonprofit housing provider, owns and operates the homes. With this opening, Tikva’s portfolio has increased to 168 units in seven housing developments and expanded into Burnaby.
“In these times of high real estate values and high interest rates, Tikva is grateful to be able to partner with Polygon Homes and BC Housing to produce affordable housing for families with low and moderate incomes. We need many more partnerships like this,” said Alice Sundberg, director of housing development at Tikva Housing.
Monthly rents for the 20 homes range between $375 for a studio unit to $1,700 for a two-bedroom unit.
“This new development marks the first housing collaboration between our organization and BC Housing,” said Anat Gogo, executive director Tikva Housing. “The support of the Province and the financial assistance from BC Housing, along with our partnership with Polygon, allowed Tikva Housing to acquire 20 new affordable homes in south Burnaby. We are pleased to be able to ease the burden on individuals and families struggling with housing insecurity.”
Each home at Susana Cogan Place is equipped with a range, fridge, dishwasher, washer and dryer. Residents also have access to amenities, including a playground, lobby, lounge and a fitness studio.
“The investments we’ve made as a city into affordable housing are beginning to pay off in Burnaby and it’s encouraging to see tenants moving into their affordable units at Susana Cogan Place,” said Mike Hurley, mayor of Burnaby. “These units are priced well below the market rate, something that is only possible thanks to the close collaboration between BC Housing, the Province and the City of Burnaby.”
The Province, through BC Housing, provided approximately $3 million to the project via the Building BC: Community Housing Fund and will provide an annual operating subsidy of approximately $74,000.
With the help of a $10 million donation from the Al Roadburg Foundation, a four-storey apartment building has been purchased that will allow Tikva Housing Society to offer more affordable housing in Vancouver’s Jewish community.
Situated on West 41st Avenue in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood, the 20-unit building will be home to nearly 30 individuals. Tikva currently provides housing solutions to more than 300 people, in 128 rental units in Vancouver and Richmond. With this recent addition and 20 new units in Burnaby to be completed by summer 2023, Tikva will expand its portfolio to 168 units in seven housing developments. However, the need for affordable housing is enormous – there are 302 applicants on the Jewish Housing Registry waiting for affordable homes, including 65 people with disabilities.
“This addition will be a huge step forward to providing more people with safe, secure and affordable homes,” said Anat Gogo, executive director at Tikva Housing Society. “The building was acquired through an extraordinary and unparalleled donation of $10 million by the Al Roadburg Foundation. It is the single largest donation received by Tikva and is critical to address housing insecurity.”
In gratitude for the donation, Tikva has named the building the Al and Lola Roadburg Residences.
“Secure housing is essential for individuals and families to thrive,” said Robert Matas, chair of the Al Roadburg Foundation. “We’re deeply honoured to be part of a broad network of Tikva Housing Society supporters who contribute to making housing within the Jewish community more accessible for individuals and families throughout Greater Vancouver.”
“By acquiring an existing apartment building, we are preserving a property that still has many years of life, rather than demolishing and building new,” added Alice Sundberg, director of housing development at Tikva. “Also, we are protecting rental affordability for the future. Al and Lola Roadburg Residences will be a long-term community asset protected from the pressures of our escalating real estate market.”
Al Roadburg (1913-2002) and Lola Roadburg (1922-2011) had a lifelong commitment to Israel and to Jewish organizations in Vancouver. The Al Roadburg Foundation aims to ensure their estates are used to create a legacy that benefits the community where they lived and raised their family.
The Metro Vancouver Jewish community continues to struggle with housing insecurity. There is an urgent need for affordable, safe and stable homes, with more than 300 applicants on the Jewish Housing Registry’s growing waitlist. Of those, 71 are families with children and 65 are persons with disabilities.
Tikva Housing Society currently serves more than 300 people, with 100% occupancy in its 128 subsidized rental units, and by providing rent subsidies for those living in market rentals facing a temporary crisis.
“The only way that Tikva can address our community’s housing needs is through your generosity. Donations are crucial to help in achieving our mission to provide innovative and affordable housing solutions,” said Anat Gogo, executive director of Tikva Housing Society.
That is why, this month, the society is calling upon the collective power of the community’s compassion and generosity, as it launches Tikva’s annual fundraising campaign. Here is how you can help:
1) Plan. Mark your calendars for March 17 to March 27.
3) Inspire. Encourage your family and friends to join you in making a difference.
4) Share. Spread the word by sharing Tikva’s campaign posts on your social media and tag @TikvaHousing to expand its reach on Twitter and Facebook.
When you donate, you help provide a safe and secure home for Jewish community members, enabling them to put food on their table, buy medication and send their kids to camps. Dignity comes with the stability of shelter, as does the strength to fight for a better future.
Yaron Komari, a resident at Dogwood Gardens, speaks at the development’s opening ceremony Jan. 10, as Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim looks on. (photo by Al Lau)
Yaron Komari grew up in Israel, served in the Israel Defence Forces and moved to Canada in 2009. He was pursuing a career as an apprentice electrician and was hopeful for the future when he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2018. A year later, the diabetes progressed into serious neuropathy and his career was effectively halted.
“I had no financial safety net and soon found myself in tough times,” he said. “I quickly found myself living in a rooming house with drug addicts and prostitutes as my neighbours. I felt very unsafe. Just walking up the 12 stairs to my room became a daily challenge, never mind the chronic insomnia.”
Komari shared his story at the official opening Jan. 10 of Dogwood Gardens, an affordable housing development on West 59th Avenue near Cambie. The 138-unit building, part of the larger Cambie Gardens development, is a partnership between Tikva Housing Society, SUCCESS and the City of Vancouver.
“Even my doctor became concerned,” Komari recounted at the ceremony. “Without access to a kosher kitchen, my diabetes became unmanageable and further affected my overall health. I’m an observant, kosher Jew and my living situation simply added more stress to my everyday life.
“I never in my worst nightmares thought that I would live in an unbearable and unhealthy environment and rely on community generosity to help source kosher food and meals,” he said.
Komari knew of Tikva Housing, which has the mission of providing “access to innovative and affordable housing solutions for all those in the Jewish community who need it.” However, he thought that there were people in greater need.
“With the persuasion and the help of Tikva Housing and Jewish Family Services, I applied for housing,” he said. “You cannot even begin to imagine what I felt when I got the call from Tikva Housing that my application had been approved. There was no hope for me.… [But] the keys are now in my hand. I walked into my new home. I couldn’t even believe that was happening to me. It was emotionally overwhelming…. I have a fridge that I can store my food in. I have a kosher kitchen where I can prepare my own meals and I have the peace of mind that I am safe and secure. For the first time in years, I have slept through the night. Tikva Housing has changed my life. I’m proud of where I live…. My world feels more open and I no longer feel shame or embarrassed of where and how I live.”
Komari’s is just one of the lives positively affected by the opening of the new facility, which was made possible under the city’s inclusionary housing policy, which requires developers to provide social housing as part of large redevelopment projects. SUCCESS and Tikva will co-manage the facility, which also includes an amenity space, children’s play area, parking and storage. Of the 138 units, 30 are designated for Tikva and 108 for SUCCESS. There are studio apartments and one-, two- and three-bedroom units. About half the units are offered to tenants at 10% below market rents, while the rest are adjusted to income, based on provincial guidelines. The larger Cambie Gardens development, of which Dogwood Gardens is a part, will see a total of 540 affordable units when the project of more than 3,000 total apartments is completed on the 10-hectare (25-acre) site. The redevelopment is on the location of Vancouver Coastal Health’s former Pearson Dogwood complex, which housed adults with physical disabilities and seniors with complex needs.
Anat Gogo, Tikva’s executive director, told the Independent that about 90% of the homes designated for members of the Jewish community are now occupied, with the rest of the residents expected to move in within days. Earlier, she told the audience, which included elected officials and community leaders, that stable, affordable housing is a basic need that allows people to move from merely surviving to thriving.
“This project makes me feel like we can have a meaningful and long-lasting impact and actually make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “At Tikva, we are committed to tikkun olam, repairing the world, and we do this one home at a time. We are committed to building community.”
Rhonda Sacks, chair of the board of directors of Tikva, also spoke, highlighting the power of partnerships.
“While Tikva and SUCCESS serve diverse populations, we share a common passion for supporting our communities and making a genuine difference in their lives,” she said. Sacks also offered special thanks to lead supporters, including the Diamond Foundation, the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation, the Al Roadburg Foundation and the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation.
“Dogwood Gardens is perfectly positioned to inspire meaningful connections and provide a strong sense of belonging,” said Sacks.
Dogwood Gardens is not the first partnership between Tikva and SUCCESS. With other partners, the two agencies opened the 129-unit Diamond Residences (Storeys), in Richmond, six years ago. Last year, YWCA Metro Vancouver, the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of B.C. and Tikva opened xʷƛ̓əpicən, a 125-unit complex at Arbutus Centre. Tikva’s portfolio also includes the 32-unit Ben and Esther Dayson Residences, in south Vancouver’s River District, and Dany Guincher House, an 11-unit building for people at risk of homelessness and persons with disabilities who can live independently, which was Tikva’s first building. The house was built in 1970, purchased by Tikva in 2007 and began operations in 2008. With Dogwood Gardens now open, Tikva’s portfolio includes 128 units.
Currently under construction in Burnaby is the next Tikva initiative, Susana Cogan Place, which is named after the woman who led Tikva until her passing in 2017. This project will add another 20 units of affordable homes.
In addition, Tikva Housing has a rent subsidy program that provides eligible low-income singles and families with cash assistance towards their monthly rent, within available funding.
At the Dogwood Gardens opening, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim was joined by city councilors Sarah Kirby-Yung, Rebecca Bligh and Christine Boyle.
Sim noted that he grew up about a half-kilometre away in what was “effectively affordable housing” and said this new housing complex means that “the next generation of Vancouverites who may not have a lot … can still live in an amazing area like this one.”
The project is part of sprawling changes along the Cambie corridor, including the Oakridge redevelopment and smaller projects that increase density along the thoroughfare. JWest, the redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver campus a few blocks to the northwest, is a major component of the changing face of the broader area, which has traditionally been home to many of Vancouver’s Jewish residents and community institutions.
“The City of Vancouver is committed to delivering much-needed quality housing while developing collaborative relationships with community partners,” said Sim. “We applaud the work of SUCCESS and Tikva, who have helped expand options for culturally appropriate housing across our city.”
Queenie Choo, chief executive officer of SUCCESS, chaired the opening ceremony and acknowledged other representatives of her organization, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and has grown from a small charity in Chinatown to one of Canada’s largest social service agencies.
Anat Gogo, new executive director of Tikva Housing Society. (photo from Tikva Housing)
Anat Gogo is the new executive director of Tikva Housing Society. Gogo took over leadership of the affordable housing society on Sept. 1, after several years in other senior roles with the organization.
In making the announcement, Rhonda Sacks, board chair of the society, praised Gogo.
“As we welcome Rosh Hashanah and this exciting next chapter on an unprecedented growth trajectory, we are very pleased to welcome Anat as our new executive director and have full confidence in her ability to lead Tikva Housing,” said Sacks.
“The affordable housing issues in our communities across British Columbia continue to grow,” said Gogo. “I am honoured to take on the role of executive director and to continue the mission and vision of Tikva Housing.”
Originally from Israel, Gogo moved to Canada in 1991. She has worked with Tikva since 2016, initially as a housing administrator. In April 2020, she became manager of programs and donor relations.
“I feel very excited and very blessed to take over the management of the organization,” Gogo told the Independent. “I feel like I will be able to act on the mission and vision of Tikva and the values that it was formed on, which are dignity, community, innovation and tikkun olam [repair of the world].”
Tikva originated in 1994 as the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver Non-Profit Housing Society, a response to the housing needs identified in the Jewish community. The name was changed to Tikva Housing Society in 2007.
Tikva’s mission is to provide access to innovative and affordable housing solutions, primarily for Jewish individuals and families. The agency addresses housing issues through a range of initiatives, including short-term rent subsidies to households living in market housing who are unable to afford their rent due to a temporary crisis.
More visibly, the society acquires and operates affordable rental housing developments, which are home to individuals and families with low incomes. Tenants pay about 30% of their income in rent.
To realize their mission Tikva focuses on partnerships. Tikva currently operates a constellation of housing facilities that have been created through alliances with other government, community and private groups.
Dany Guincher House, in South Vancouver, has 11 units and is funded through capital donations from the Guincher family and a B.C. Housing grant.
Diamond Residences, also known as Storeys, in Richmond, is a 129-unit joint venture with four other housing societies and with capital funding from the Diamond Foundation, the City of Richmond and the federal and provincial governments, as well as other private funders. In it, Tikva owns and operates 18 units.
The 32-unit Ben and Esther Dayson Residences, in Vancouver’s River District, was completed in August 2020 in partnership with the Community Land Trust Foundation and the City of Vancouver. It was made possible with a major capital donation from the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation. Sixty-seven children currently live in this development, a specific need Tikva identified.
“We are living in one of the most unaffordable places in the world,” said Gogo. “While all levels of government are focusing on increasing the inventory of affordable homes, the majority of this new inventory are studio, one- and two-bedroom units. This leaves a real void for families in need.”
Tikva operates 37 units in the 125-unit xwƛ̓əpicən / Arbutus Centre. The centre is a partnership led by the YWCA, which leased the air space from the City of Vancouver and subleased it to Tikva and the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia. Rents are subsidized through private donations, including a substantial initial donation from the Diamond Foundation.
In total, Tikva operates 98 housing units, all of which are always occupied, said Gogo, and there is a long and growing waitlist.
Currently under development is Dogwood Gardens, which is being created in partnership with SUCCESS Affordable Housing Society and a leased air space parcel from the City of Vancouver, as well as Susana Cogan Place, in Burnaby, which is in partnership with Polygon Homes and with the financial support of B.C. Housing. The completion of these two projects will bring Tikva’s total number of units to 148.
Tikva was led by Susana Cogan until she passed away in 2017. Since 2018, Tikva has been led by Alice Sundberg, director of operations and housing development.
Tikva Housing Society is thrilled to share that the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation has provided a grant of $255,000 to support Tikva’s mission to offer affordable housing solutions to the Jewish community.
“A gift of this magnitude provides help and hope at a time when economic uncertainty is definitely impacting housing insecurity,” said Anat Gogo, executive director of Tikva Housing Society. “The Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation’s tremendous generosity means that we will have the financial resources to build capacity on an operational level. Tikva is on an unprecedented growth trajectory and this gift is critical to support our growing housing portfolio, allowing us to say ‘yes’ to a number of new opportunities on the horizon.”
The need for affordable housing continues to be first and foremost on the minds of many in the Jewish community. This gift will be put to work, empowering individuals and families by providing affordable housing – allowing them to build long-term change in their lives and beyond.
Tikva Housing Society is grateful to the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation for its partnership in addressing the issue of housing insecurity. Tikva appreciates the foundation’s focus on strengthening the capacity of the community’s organizations and its commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world.
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Vancouver Talmud Torah, Congregation Beth Israel and Jewish Family Services are elated to share with the community that a gift of $100,000 has been received from the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation to support the Vancouver Jewish Community Garden. This gift enables the building of the garden to begin in earnest and it is anticipated that construction will begin this fall. Thanks to the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Transformation Grant and the Diamond Foundation, the garden will be located and built above the shared BI and VTT parkade.
The garden aspires to positively impact many members of the local Jewish community and to be a hub for celebrating and honouring nature, imparting Jewish teachings and values, promoting collaboration, and enhancing the community’s well-being. Studies show that spending time outdoors in nature has been directly linked with lessened anxiety and depression for adults and children alike and helps people better manage stress.
“It is exciting and encouraging to see several important communal institutions come together collaboratively to advance such a positive new opportunity. The Vancouver Jewish Community Garden will be an opportunity to teach community members of all ages about agriculture and the importance of a healthy earth, to enable volunteers to contribute to our community and to help feed those in need. The Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation is pleased to help advance the project towards completion,” noted Bernard Pinsky, Roadburg board chair.
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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver is delighted to welcome two new members of its team: Gayle Morris and Alisa Farina.
Morris is the new director of the Federation annual campaign, the community’s central fundraising initiative. Building relationships is central to this role, and Morris brings an incredible depth of experience in that area, and so much more. She is an accomplished and multifaceted sales, marketing and business development leader who has extensive experience in both innovative startups and not-for-profit organizations. She is also an active member of the community with extensive volunteer involvement.
Farina has been hired as the child, youth and young adult mental health worker, and Federation is grateful to the Mel and Gerri Davis Charitable Trust for the support to enable the creation of the new position.
Farina holds a bachelor’s in child and youth care and comes to the job from a 25-year career with the Burnaby School District, the last 10 of which she focused on working with high-risk, vulnerable youth and their families. Farina is currently completing her master’s degree in clinical counseling. She grew up in the Lower Mainland and was involved with BBYO and Camp Miriam.
Dogwood Gardens, which is due to open later this year, features an open garden space with shading that is set off from the street. (photo by Lior Noyman Productions)
In October last year, Tikva Housing Society, in conjunction with YMCA Metro Vancouver and the Association of Neighbourhood Houses, opened Kerrisdale’s newest affordable housing project at Arbutus Centre. Named xwƛ̓əpicən (pronounced “hook la’pitzen,” Musqueam for “the Hollow”), the 125-unit project is designed to meet a vital need in one of Vancouver’s most exclusive and high-priced residential areas: affordable housing that is also universally accessible to anyone with a disability.
“[The new project] includes nine adaptable units that are designed for people with mobility challenges who do not need a wheelchair or walker,” explained Anat Gogo, who serves as Tikva’s manager of programs and donor relations. The nonprofit finds creative ways to increase affordable housing, primarily for Jewish low- to moderate-income families and individuals.
Adaptable units mean that individuals who have accessibility needs are able to have the unit modified to meet their individual requirements, whether it’s grab bars in the hallway, structural adaptations that make it easier to cook or special lighting for low-vision needs. Many apartment buildings don’t allow tenants to make structural modifications, even to accommodate disabilities. By offering a limited number of adaptable units, fully accessible apartments can be reserved for individuals who require a wheelchair-adapted unit. Tikva manages five such rentals at the Arbutus property.
Projects like the one at Arbutus Centre are reflective of Tikva’s vision of affordable housing. “We are committed to fostering inclusive housing that serves all populations within the community,” said Gogo. It’s a mission that continues to adapt to the increasing demand for affordable housing in Greater Vancouver’s Jewish communities.
One of the drivers for finding new ways to increase accessible housing is Vancouver’s aging population, noted Gogo. “It’s important to recognize that our aging baby boomers will benefit from enhanced accessibility for those with mobility challenges.”
But it also benefits families and individuals of all ages who face barriers in their day-to-day living, she added. According to Statistics Canada (2017), more than six million Canadians live with one or more types of disability. Invisible disabilities are among the most frequent conditions noted, with housing options constricted by accessibility barriers, discrimination and employment limitations.
As a result, the B.C. Building Code now requires new and renovated buildings to be accessible to anyone with a disability, which includes “a person who has a loss, or a reduction, of functional ability and activity and includes a person in a wheelchair [or] a person with a sensory disability.” Adaptable housing that can be modified economically and at a later date is British Columbia’s newest technology to meeting that growing and variable demand.
According to Gogo, Tikva is exploring ways to ensure that accessible housing addresses all needs, including those associated with invisible disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, vision disorders, and autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. She said Tikva actively seeks partnerships with other organizations that can support that expanding effort. “We have a great partner in the Jewish Family Services that is open to this initiative,” she noted.
The society also regularly networks with builders to explore new ways of meeting that goal. She said improved designs include features like “well-ventilated spaces, soundproof walls, signage that makes all tenants and visitors to the building know that this is an inclusive building.” Tikva also holds workshops and training for staff to help them engage with residents and stakeholders in the community.
The demand for accessible housing has also created new funding incentives that in turn will increase the amount of inclusive housing on the market. “Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is responsible for delivering [Canada’s] National Housing Strategy,” Gogo explained. The program offers reduced financing rates for nonprofits and developers whose housing developments comprise at least 20% of fully accessible units or universal design throughout the project.
“We take advantage of opportunities to advocate to all levels of government for special features to be included in design requirements that would improve quality of life for residents, including push-button door openers for accessible suites and amenity rooms, grab bars in all bathrooms, and wheelchair access to all outdoor amenity spaces,” said Gogo.
And Tikva is exploring ways to address other types of invisible disabilities, such as those triggered by environmental conditions. Gogo said the housing society is in the process of retrofitting one of its older buildings and is actively participating in the design stages. “We’re still in the very early stages of this planning,” she said, “but all considerations are on the table to create a living environment that would benefit our tenants no matter what their medical condition may be.… More research and public education would help build the case for those with invisible disabilities. Inclusive communities are those that recognize the diversity of our population, and that everyone deserves to have access to services, recreation and civic engagement.”
At the present time, three of the six properties Tikva operates have accessible housing. Dogwood Gardens, on 59th Avenue in the Marpole community, is due to open later this year, managed in joint cooperation with SUCCESS. For more information about available rentals, go to tikvahousing.org.
Jan Lee is an award-winning editorial writer whose articles and op-eds have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism and Baltimore Jewish Times, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.
(image from flickr / Province of British Columbia)
Last November, the American advocacy organization Respect Ability announced some good news. New research it had conducted in 2021 suggested that disability awareness and inclusion was improving in Jewish communities across North America and Israel. According to its most recent survey, more synagogues, Jewish community centres, schools and private institutions are designing programs that consider the needs of people with disabilities. And more individuals are able to find Jewish organizations that support individuals with invisible disabilities like autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders.
Respect Ability’s goal for the survey was to determine the health of disability rights in diverse Jewish communities, particularly in countries where there were laws against employment and housing discrimination. Its last survey had been in 2018, and researchers wanted to know whether accessibility and acceptance had improved in the past three years.
There were just over 2,000 respondents in total, primarily from Canada, the United States and Israel. The overall message was that inclusion and accommodation was expanding. Accessibility for wheelchairs and improved opportunities for individuals with sight or hearing challenges were on the rise, as were outreach efforts for individuals with disabilities in general.
What is more, the number of faith organizations hiring rabbis and staff who had disabilities and, therefore, understood firsthand the challenges of a physical or cognitive disability, had increased by more than 73%. More than half (57%) of the survey-takers also said that the organizations had made public commitments to support diversity.
But the survey also identified a key obstacle: many community leaders wanted to help expand opportunities for inclusion, but “didn’t know how.” Roughly one-fifth of all respondents said that expanding opportunities in their faith communities was limited by leaders’ lack of knowledge or experience in making settings more accessible. This meant, in some cases, that members with invisible disabilities like autism or ADHD didn’t have access to resources or were turned away from programs and activities.
Most of the responses to the survey came from Respect Ability’s home base: U.S. states like California and New York, where laws and advocacy initiatives are different from those in Canada. Only about 7% of the responses came from Canada, where disability rights are protected by the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The survey also did not reveal how much, or if any, of the Canadian data came from the Vancouver area. So, are the survey’s findings reflective of diversity inclusion here?
The last three years have been challenging for many, but particularly for organizations that rely on in-person community participation. The 2020 shutdown of schools, synagogues and community centres due to COVID forced many organizations in the Vancouver area to suspend programs that offered disability-inclusive services. Still, the Jewish Independent found that a number of organizations were able to develop creative ways to maintain their inclusive classes and programs.
Trying to inspire inclusion
In 2018, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver launched its Inspiring Inclusion grant program to assist community organizations in designing or improving inclusive programs. The grant competition was created as part of its 2020 Strategic Priorities, and it offered up to $2,500 to organizations that developed a new program or idea that would expand disability inclusion.
Four one-year grants, which were awarded in 2020, went to Vancouver and Richmond applicants. Each offered a unique way for engagement, ranging from new educational strategies that catered to individual learning approaches to special equipment that helped expand creative participation in the classroom.
The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Family Yoga Fundamentals program was designed to appeal to a variety of abilities and offered options for in-person family participation. It later gave rise to a virtual format that attendees could link up with from home. According to the JCC’s adult programs coordinator, Lisa Cohen Quay, Family Yoga Fundamentals integrates adaptable exercises that are non-stigmatizing and fit a variety of abilities. Quay said the program has also been shown to help with pandemic stress and loneliness.
Richmond Jewish Day School turned to music as a way to inspire inclusion. According to principal Sabrina Bhojani, the grant provided funding for specially adapted Orff percussion instruments, or xylophones that could be used by students with special needs. “Music education is an integral component of both our B.C. and Hebrew curriculum at RJDS,” Bhojani said. “Weaving music into [the] curriculum is a meaningful way to help our students develop their Jewish identity and better understand their culture.”
Congregation Beth Tikvah used the funding to help develop Kavod. According to Rabbi Susan Tendler, the program aims to ensure that the synagogue’s services and activities are open to everyone, “regardless of personal physical, financial, or accessibility limitations.” Kavod’s development is ongoing.
Congregation Beth Israel received a grant to create new Hebrew school programming. Beth Israel’s director of youth engagement, Rabbi David Bluman, said the funding helped make the Hebrew reading program more inclusive to children with learning challenges. “We always strive to be [as inclusive] as we can,” he said, adding that many of Beth Israel’s youth programs are adaptable to students’ abilities, such as the use of “shadow” companions who function as a “big brother or big sister” for a child during activities and lessons. The shadow program can be used for age levels. “We want our teens to be as independent as possible,” Bluman said.
B’nai mitzvah programs
Both Beth Israel and Temple Sholom tailor their b’nai mitzvah programs to meet the specific abilities of the child. Temple Sholom School’s principal, Jen Jaffe, said about 10% of the student body have varying needs.
“All b’nai mitzvah-aged children are given the opportunity to have a b’nai mitzvah, and the clergy works with each family to make sure expectations and goals are feasible and met. Each child is given the chance to shine regardless of any disabilities,” Jaffe said. The school also trains madrachim, or helper students, to support students with invisible disabilities.
Beth Israel is also known for its inclusive b’nai mitzvah program, which is led by ba’allat tefilla Debby Fenson. She said the program is designed to ensure that a child, irrespective of ability, can participate in the service: “I think that the expectation is that every child should be called up to [the bimah]. It’s not about how well they read the Torah, it’s about welcoming them into the community.”
Fenson said the community has celebrated more than one b’nai mitzvah in which a child’s medical challenges needed to be considered. In one case, the child, who was nonverbal, was aided by his mother in saying the Shema. “There was clear understanding on his part,” Fenson said. “His mother helped him in forming the words and saying along with him. He was welcomed into the community.”
Leadership by inclusion
Respect Ability’s survey of North American and Israeli Jewish communities highlighted two factors that are often important to creating inclusiveness: the top-down commitment to diversity and a leader’s personal experience. All of the above synagogues, schools and community services – as well as others – benefit from clear initiatives that attract families with accessibility needs and see inclusion as an expanding mission. In some cases, they also benefit from leadership that is open about their own health challenges as well.
Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld said he is aware that his willingness to talk openly about his own challenges can help create a supportive environment for others. Infeld was born with a congenital heart defect.
“Unfortunately, I have firsthand experience with health issues that I am happy to share with people about, certainly because I want to be transparent about who I am as a human being…. I would hope, had I been born with a whole heart and not a hole in it, that I would still have a whole heart,” he said, noting that when we’re forced to reflect on our own abilities and limitations, it can inspire empathy for others faced with similar challenges.
One area that was not addressed in the survey was accessible housing, which helps expand disability inclusion. Tikva Housing Society’s very first housing project in 2008 contained accessible units. The organization’s third inclusive property, Dogwood Gardens, opens this year in the West End. This will be the subject of a future story in the Jewish Independent.
Jan Leeis an award-winning editorial writer whose articles and op-eds have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism and Baltimore Jewish Times, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.
Anat Gogo, manager of programs and donor relations, Tikva Housing Society, leads a tour at the xwƛ̓əpicən (Arbutus Centre) open house Nov. 21. (photo from Tikva Housing)
Tikva Housing Society held an open house at the Arbutus Centre – xwƛ̓əpicən, pronounced “hook la’pitzen”) – on Nov. 21. The name in the Musqueam language means “Hollow,” which represents safety and warmth. Showcased last month were some of the 37 new one-bedroom and studio suites that Tikva Housing operates, providing homes to people in the Jewish community who need affordable, safe and stable housing.
The project is the result of a collaboration between the City of Vancouver, the YWCA, Association of Neighbourhood Houses and Tikva Housing. The building as a whole has 125 new units of affordable homes.
The open house, hosted by Tikva board members and staff, greeted more than 40 people, at various times, to accommodate the COVID-19 protocols. By all accounts, those who participated in the day-long event were “blown away” by the quality and attention to detail of the units, which all include washer and dryers; some are totally accessible for mobility devices such as wheelchairs. There is an amenities room for community gatherings, a central courtyard shared by all tenants and a rooftop patio.
After a process of identifying people who qualified, and then help with “move-ins” over the past two months, all the Tikva units are filled. The society is grateful to the many donors who make its work possible and especially to the Diamond Foundation, who gave Tikva the initial donation to assist with rent subsidies for new tenants, for the first five years.
For more information about Tikva Housing Society, visit tikvahousing.org.
I recently was appointed board chair for Tikva Housing Society. When I was asked to join the board three years ago, I knew nothing about Tikva or their invaluable work. However, as a real estate professional, I did have a keen understanding of the housing affordability crisis in the Lower Mainland, and knew that our Jewish community was not immune to the crisis. Hence, I understood the importance of Tikva Housing, which is why I joined the board.
Tikva is a charitable, nonprofit society providing access to affordable housing for low- to moderate-income Jewish individuals and families. Every year, in March, the society turns to the generosity of the community to support its mission and now, more than ever, Tikva needs that help.
The widespread effects of COVID-related job loss have placed many members of our Jewish community at risk of homelessness. Tikva offers short-term rent subsidies for those living in market rental housing who are facing a temporary crunch and are unable to afford their rent. The demand for this kind of assistance has increased greatly in the last 12 months. The amount of subsidies that we can provide is directly in correlation to the amount that we can raise from private donations and foundations, and donations are urgently needed to help people stay in their homes. There are already more than 200 Jewish people on a waitlist for affordable housing, and the demand is only growing.
With all levels of government focused on affordable housing in general, we are seeing numerous initiatives being considered and Tikva is in conversation with government agencies and housing developers to explore new partnerships. Currently, Tikva owns and/or operates 61 affordable housing units in the Lower Mainland: 11 units at Dany Guincher House in Marpole; 18 units at the Diamond Residences (Storeys) in Richmond; and, thanks to the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation, 32 townhomes were added last summer. The Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in Vancouver’s River District form a family-oriented community with more than 60 children.
This coming summer will see Tikva tenants occupying 37 units at the Arbutus Centre on Yew Street. The cost to Tikva will be a nominal $1,500 per unit annually, and the Diamond Foundation has pledged to cover this expense for all 37 units for the first five years.
In 2022, 20 units on the third floor of a five-storey building will be home to Susana Cogan Place. In partnership with Polygon, BC Housing will provide full financial support for this project, which is named in memory of Tikva’s founder and affordable-housing trailblazer, Susana Cogan, z’l.
Expanding Tikva’s affordable housing portfolio means that more low- to moderate-income Jews can stay close to their synagogues, schools and the multitude of Jewish community amenities. While Tikva Housing will operate a total of 98 units by the end of summer 2021 and 148 by the end of 2022, it’s still not enough to meet the needs.
Housing is the cornerstone and foundation of a dignified life. The Hebrew word tikva means hope. Please support Tikva Housing Society’s current campaign, which runs to March 22, and help us bring hope – and housing – to those most in need in our Jewish community.