Brad Chenkis shows off a couple Sonovia masks. (photo from Tikva Housing)
It all began when Boris Chenkis, owner of After Five Fashions, was watching Israel Daily TV (ILTV) and saw an interview with Liat Goldhammer, the chief technology officer of an Israeli startup called Sonovia. She was talking about a new fabric-finishing technology for textile manufacturing developed at Bar-Ilan University, explaining that the technology could repel and kill bacteria located on clothing. Because it was in early January, a few weeks before COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, Chenkis just listened with interest.
On ILTV March 18, Dr. Jason Migdal, a microbiology researcher in Israel, discussed how the Sonovia technology mechanically impregnates metal nanoparticles into masks that destroy microorganisms in fabric. This was verified by two independent labs. It was also durable and washable. Now Chenkis was very interested.
With COVID becoming widespread, Sonovia had positively impacted Israeli doctors and health professionals by providing them with the technologically advanced masks. On May 12, Chenkis saw another interview about the Sonovia mask technology on ILTV – and an opportunity to get involved.
During his teenage years, Chenkis lived in Israel, studying and working at Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra. With this connection to Israel that never left his heart, he wanted to support an Israeli startup and so he purchased some masks to keep his family, friends and community safe. Soon after, he received an email from Sonovia, offering him an opportunity to help distribute the masks in Canada. Chenkis said yes. The masks were shipped from Ramat Gan to Vancouver and, within days, he was delivering hundreds to friends and family.
One of those who received the Sonovia mask was Yosef Wosk. Being both pleased and impressed with the technology, Wosk, like Chenkis, saw an opportunity to help not only the community here but also Israel. Wosk wondered how the masks could be made available locally to community members who might not be able to afford them, as they cost $65 each.
Wosk spoke with Shelley Karrel, chair of Tikva Housing, who contacted Tanja Demajo, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services Vancouver. The need for the masks was confirmed and the shidduch almost complete.
Working with Chenkis’s son, Brad Chenkis, and with Wosk’s help, Tikva has acquired and will distribute 500 masks to residents of Tikva Housing, as well as clients of Jewish Family Services. It’s a win, win and win – tikkun olam, tzedakah and chesed.
For more information about the Sonovia masks, contact Brad Chenkis directly at [email protected].
My family helped pick a neighbour’s apple tree on Labour Day weekend. It was heavy with fruit. I love this activity, as it connects us viscerally with the changing season. It also connects with the beginning of the Torah portion Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8). This portion instructs the Israelites to give some of their first fruits to the priests for the divine altar and, also, to give 10% of their harvest as a tithe, for those who are less fortunate.
Even though we make applesauce, apple chips, apple crisp and eat lots of fresh apples, we always pick more than we can use. It gives us a chance to interact with our neighbours and to help elders who need help cleaning up their yards. It also gives us a way to make a physical donation to those who might need it more than we do.
Each year, we choose places to donate the apples. This year, we made a visit to Chabad and dropped off apples. We know the Torah Tots preschoolers might like apple slices or applesauce. (My kids were once those preschoolers and remember snack very well!)
We also dropped off apples and visited a friend of ours. He works at the Welcome Home, a Ukrainian Catholic mission house in the North End of Winnipeg. Welcome Home works in part as a food pantry, offering weekly hampers and meals to the hungry. It also provides places for kids to play, people to gather and worship, and access other supports. It’s housed in a big old building that used to be a duplex. It was originally built as a rooming house for the new immigrants. The house was quiet on a weekday, only receiving occasional donations when we visited. However, you could almost hear the bustle of a weeknight dinner for the community, or the single immigrants or whole families who lived in these small rooms long ago when they first arrived in Canada.
I’m not mentioning this to boast of our tzedakah (charity) activities. I’m suggesting that, for many working families, donating 10% of their salaries doesn’t seem like a financially realistic goal. What about donating actual produce? That was something we could do. A few hours of apple picking and sorting seems like fun for my household, but the food is also meaningful. If we don’t pick it, in many yards, it’s left to fall and rot on the ground.
Community involvement is a way for us to show our gratitude when we feel blessed and lucky to be alive, but the involvement doesn’t have to be formal. We don’t all have to serve on a committee or make large, tax-deductible donations. It can be simpler than that. This past summer, my kids took swimming lessons at a lake and we often stopped for ice cream on the way home. The place where we bought ice cream had a tin on the counter. They collected change to support the food bank. So, each kid was handed change to donate. You get ice cream after a swimming class and you’re grateful. Give back.
This lesson can be extended further though. Part of the apple-picking exercise, the awkward part, might be knocking on your neighbour’s door. Yet, this is when you might learn your neighbour just had hand surgery, or was now too physically fragile to be able to pick up the fallen apples. It’s a chance to make informal and meaningful connections with others.
No matter how functional (or dysfunctional) our infrastructure is, government financial supports or provincial services don’t always manage to meet essential needs. This is when we can do more by reaching out to others who live nearby.
Rosh Hashanah, our new year, is an opportunity. We think about how we can do better and start anew. In many ways, this yearly “check-in” is our chance to reflect on how we can make more of a difference. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to have more than you need, it’s easy and very important to donate money. Perhaps you can sponsor a Jewish activity, a needed renovation in the Jewish community or support a project to increase the capacity of organizations that offer services to those in need.
For many of us, though, our commitment to helping others happens in a more modest way. It might be a dime dropped into the pushke (collection tin) or finding a way to feed others. It might be picking apples or donating an extra can of tuna to the food bank. It could be volunteering to help a new mom so she can take a shower while you watch the baby. It’s offering another working parent a play date so that he or she doesn’t have to pay for child care.
We can all invest more in helping others. Let’s be grateful for what we have by trying to give a bit more of ourselves and our labours to others who might need it this year. It’s the right thing to do.
My family and I wish you a very sweet new year, full of good health and lots of apples and honey.
Joanne Seiffhas written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. See more about her at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
Members of Vancouver Talmud Torah’s Grade 7 chesed club with Gia Tran, a local woman who raises money for cancer research by taking refundable containers to a bottle depot. (photo from VTT)
Since 2014, Vancouver Talmud Torah has offered a chesed (kindness) program to students in grades 3 and 6. Following requests from parents, the school introduced a mandatory chesed program for Grade 7s this year, which nurtures a commitment to volunteering and social justice.
And, this year, the initiative was pursued with a particular dedication, as students mourned the recent passing of Rose Dupaya, who worked as a custodian at VTT. She took ill last fall with cancer and died suddenly, which was a tremendous shock to the school community. In response, the students – who would often greet Rose with hugs – turned their grief into action.
When the Chesed Leadership Club heard about local woman Gia Tran, who takes refundable containers to a bottle depot every day to raise money for cancer research – more than $15,000 in 22 years – they were inspired. Following in Tran’s footsteps, the kids raised $2,000 from a bottle drive for cancer research.
VTT student Julia Andison expressed her gratitude to Tran for teaching her about personal agency. “Gia taught me that even a small act like collecting cans can make a big impact on others. And, as a chesed leader, I was able to communicate this to the younger students in our school, that every little bit counts.”
Students in the chesed club do not follow a curriculum. Unlike with subjects like math or language arts, the club was founded for students to explore their values and lead a program on their own initiative. As a consequence, the program’s success lies in the development of student ideas, teamwork and leadership.
“The minute you offer something optional and student-driven, it takes on a life of its own,” said Shoshana Burton, director of Hebrew (grades 5-7) and chesed programming at VTT.
Students are not admitted automatically to the chesed club. Instead, they submit applications and sign contracts. If they do not follow up on their commitment to leadership, they can be dropped from the program, which is both an opportunity and a challenge to the students’ organizational skills and a way to exercise their moral and management muscles.
All of the students volunteer as part of the program. Some do so once a week while others volunteer their help every day. Many organizations and communities have benefitted from the support of VTT students, including the Muslim Food Bank and residents of the Downtown Eastside.
According to their teacher, the success of the club is in its spontaneous, natural development. “You can’t know the end result when you start. You can’t plan in advance,” said Burton. “The students learn how to work as part of a team, learning to commit to a project.”
Student Celia Joffe spoke of the club’s impact on her. “Helping others gives us a sense of pride and responsibility,” she said. “The project with Gia was amazing because we ended up not only helping the cancer foundation and the environment, but we also made Gia feel special and acknowledged.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
Global TV was at Richmond Jewish Day School last week to recognize the efforts of Grade 6 and 7 students who are selling flowers to fundraise for the Variety Club, Richmond Animal Protection Society and the Jewish Food Bank. To date, the students have raised $2,000 for these charities. Pictured, left to right, are Rachel Marliss, Shai Rubin and Nathan Brown. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
Vancouver-born writer and comedian Nathan Fielder has donated more than $150,000 US to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC). The funds represent the profits of the Summit Ice outdoor apparel line, founded by Fielder to raise awareness of the Holocaust and to support the education and remembrance mandate of the VHEC.
“We are honoured to be the recipient agency for Nathan Fielder’s Summit Ice initiative,” said Nina Krieger, executive director of the VHEC. “It is especially meaningful that Nathan appreciates the work our centre does to advance anti-racism education in his hometown.”
This significant contribution will help the VHEC deliver more programs to more people at a time when the centre’s work is as relevant as ever. This gift will strengthen the VHEC’s outreach programs, educational resources and exhibitions that engage students, teachers and the general public in British Columbia and beyond.
“We receive countless letters from students affirming that participating in a VHEC program, particularly when this features a Holocaust survivor speaker, is among the most meaningful and memorable experience of their school years,” said Phil Levinson, president of the VHEC board. “Nathan Fielder’s generosity will help advance the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s vision of a world free of antisemitism, discrimination and genocide, with social justice and human rights for all.”
The VHEC relies on the support of members of the community to fund education and remembrance programs.
Little Free Libraries are open 24/7 in cities across Canada. (photo by Josie Tonio McCarthy)
Have you heard of the Little Free Library movement? It’s a way for neighbours to exchange books. Throughout Winnipeg, Vancouver and other cities, there are little freestanding houses, a little bigger than a birdhouse. If you have a book you no longer want, you can leave it. If you’re looking for a book to read? You can take a book whenever you want. These Little Free Libraries are open 24/7.
Walking to our closest Little Free Library has become an important destination for me and my twins. It’s free, good exercise, and encourages our love of reading and learning. My twins often argue over which book to donate. Our house is overflowing with books. In order to take home a new storybook, we have an “even-exchange” policy.
Recently, I read on the National Public Radio (NPR) website about a similar U.S. movement, but, instead of books, the little house is a food pantry for the hungry. One family calls theirs a “blessing box.” Others call it a “little free pantry.” Sometimes, only one family stocks it with food, diapers or toothpaste. Sometimes, a whole neighbourhood takes part. The article mentioned that, in one neighbourhood, most of the food is taken between midnight and 7 a.m.; in another, the food comes and goes continuously. It’s a way of helping others anonymously. You don’t have to face someone at a food bank to admit your family is hungry and cannot afford food.
When I read this, I wanted to build one of these little food pantries right away, but then realized that, in a cold Canadian climate at this time of year, canned food or other stuff won’t do well outdoors. Even if that freestanding unheated food pantry doesn’t work out right away, the concept still made me want to do better than I’d been doing.
I thought about a worksheet I’d used to teach religious school, maybe 20 years ago. I can’t find that piece of paper anymore but I remembered the point. It was about Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah (justice, or charity). Maimonides (Rambam), a great Jewish scholar and teacher in the 12th century, lived in Spain and Egypt. I borrowed the following summary from the Jewish Teen Funders Network website, to remember the details.
Maimonides believed that tzedakah is like a ladder. It has eight rungs, from bottom to top. Each step you climb brings you closer to heaven.
1. The person who gives reluctantly and with regret.
2. The person who gives graciously, but less than one should.
3. The person who gives what one should, but only after being asked.
4. The person who gives before being asked.
5. The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives, although the recipient knows the identity of the donor.
6. The person who gives without making his or her identity known.
7. The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives. The recipient does not know from whom he or she receives.
8. The person who helps another to become self-supporting by a gift or a loan or by finding employment for the recipient.
To put this tzedakah approach into practice requires work. Many of us are stuck on the first five rungs of the ladder. I’m going to skip the first two rungs, because, while many of us may have only achieved this level, I’m going to act like we’re better than that. Right?
For instance, our membership dues to a synagogue or other Jewish organizations are acts of tzedakah, but usually of the third-rung kind. (If we could afford to donate more, we sink below No. 3.) We occasionally may get up to No. 7, when donating to a food bank. If you decide to “sponsor” something in the community and your name is pasted all over the event, that’s No. 5. It means, for instance, that while you do not know who ate the kiddush lunch you sponsored, everyone who is there knows your name. So, while some do this to celebrate a special event with their community, others do this named sponsorship because they like the attention. It’s tzedakah, sure, but it’s also about ego.
We could change the way we do our “tzedakah” business. We could push our Jewish community higher up Maimonides’ ladder. Here are some ideas.
Instead of “name in lights” sponsorship, we could donate anonymously to support a community meal, event or service. This could perhaps allow an organization to sponsor a free event. Maybe a congregation could have a nicer kiddush lunch on a Saturday or have an oneg on a more regular basis. It could boost the financial situation of an essential community function, like operational costs (heat, lights, water?), educational events, building renovation or maintenance. It could raise the salary of someone who works for the Jewish community. It could create new employment for someone in our community. It could offer a loan or gift to someone who needs a step-up to begin supporting himself or herself.
Ach! I hear you saying. I’m no moneybags. I can’t pay for someone’s salary. Fine.
If these sound too hard, lower your goals. Could you consistently offer a small amount of money or time when asked to help? Could you pay membership dues early? Could you donate food to the food bank every time you grocery shop? Maybe empty the change from your pockets every Friday afternoon to put in a pushke (collection box)?
Making a difference and working your way up that ladder can start small. It can be as simple as being gracious about donating. What about volunteering time or thanking others who donate? Many of us have the capacity to climb this metaphorical ladder. Shall we ascend those rungs together?
Joanne Seiff, a regular columnist for Winnipeg’s Jewish Post and News, is the author of a new book, From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016. This collection of essays is now available for digital download, or as a paperback from Amazon. See more about her on joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
At FEDtalks, the campaign opening event, left to right: Ezra Shanken, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer; Neil Pollock, general chair, 2015 Federation annual campaign; Lisa Pullan, chair, women’s philanthropy, 2015 campaign; Stephen Gaerber, Federation board chair; Alex Cristall, co-chair, major gifts, 2015 campaign; and Andrew Merkur, co-chair, major gifts, 2015 campaign. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
For the second year in a row, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign has closed with a record achievement, this time totaling $8.3 million. This represents an increase of approximately $300,000 from the previous year. Funds will support programs and services on which thousands of community members rely.
“The true power of this record result goes well beyond the impressive numbers. We can make incredible changes in this world when we give from our hearts, and that’s just what our thousands of donors and hundreds of volunteer canvassers have done. I am truly moved by their incredible acts of chesed (kindness) and tzedakah (justice, charity),” said general chair of the campaign Neil Pollock.
“I have witnessed firsthand the challenges in our community and the profound reach of the Federation annual campaign,” said Stephen Gaerber, Federation’s board chair. “The high cost of living in Vancouver has made it difficult for many community members to connect with Jewish life, either because they cannot afford to live centrally or because they cannot afford to participate. The Federation annual campaign addresses issues like these, builds connections between our community and our partnership region in Israel, and helps Jews in need around the world. This record campaign result will provide the support we and our partners need to touch more lives than ever before.”
The face-to-face incentive was one of the keys to this year’s success. It encouraged donors to meet in person with their volunteer canvassers. The 608 face-to-face meetings that took place were an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about shared values and commitment to community.
Federation welcomed 75 new volunteer canvassers as well as 225 new donors to the campaign this year. And Federation chief executive officer Ezra Shanken listed several other statistics in his weekly email message Feb. 19:
1,007 donors increased their gifts
292 volunteer canvassers
1,459 community members attended campaign events
409 campaign volunteers
64 local programs and services supported
17 Israel and overseas programs and services supported
Rose’s Angels: Courtney Cohen, centre, is holding two bags, and Lynne Fader is to Cohen’s left. The two women created the group in honor of Rose Lewin, Cohen’s grandmother. (photo by Lianne Cohen)
Each Rose’s Angels contributor, supporter and volunteer has a story about why they give back to the community. With Rose’s Angels, it is not only to ensure that Rose Lewin’s legacy of love and generosity lives on, but also to support the many not-for-profit organizations in Richmond that desperately are in need of assistance.
Rose’s Angels was created by Richmond residents Lynne Fader and Courtney Cohen. Lewin, Cohen’s grandmother, was a well-respected and much-loved Holocaust survivor who believed in doing good for everyone she could.
Now in its third year, Rose’s Angels, which is supported and endorsed by the Richmond Kehila Society, just wrapped up its Feb. 14 Care Package Campaign. With the help of 40-plus volunteers, more than 400 toiletry and non-perishable-food care packages, along with 750 warmth bundles (toques, scarves, gloves and socks), were packaged and distributed to a variety of nonprofit organizations in Richmond servicing individuals living in poverty or well below low-income standards. Recipients included the St. Alban Drop-In Centre, Touchstone Family Services, Chimo Outreach, Richmond Multicultural Community Services, Richmond Food Bank, Jewish Food Bank, Turning Point Recovery, Richmond Family Place, Pathways Clubhouse and Light of Shabbat Program.
“It was very fitting to coordinate this event on Valentine’s Day,” said Cohen, “as this is a day when people go on dates and it’s supposed to be ‘extra-special,’ where people buy each other cards, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, roses, teddy bears and other stuff that basically tells them they love them…. We wanted to share our love within the Richmond community.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to Rose’s Angels should contact the Richmond Kehila Society at 604-241-9270.
Areyvut, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to infuse the lives of Jewish youth and teens with the values of chesed (kindness), tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), has released its 2016 A Kindness a Day Calendar.
This flip calendar offers 366 suggestions (it’s a leap year!) for people of all ages to better themselves, their communities and the world at large. For example, Jan. 1’s entry suggests, “make a New Year’s resolution that will positively impact someone else’s life.” Other entries remind readers to “call and wish Shabbat Shalom to an out-of-town relative” or to “assist someone who is unemployed with writing a resumé and finding a job.” Beneath each act of kindness is a traditional Jewish text that explains from where the act of kindness is inspired.
Areyvut debuted A Kindness a Day in 2005 and continued to create calendars through 2009, the last year that the flip-book was published. Despite a six-year hiatus, the A Kindness a Day calendar is back with suggestions, sources and inspiration that will hopefully help readers to play a more active role in their families and communities.
“Charity, kindness and social justice must be an integral part of everyone’s day,” said Daniel Rothner, Areyvut’s founder and director. “The 2016 calendar allows for these core Jewish values to become more aligned to the context of people’s daily lives. A Kindness a Day is a great educational tool for children and adults alike; as well as homes, schools and other organizations, both as a guide to help instil Jewish values into one’s life and as a springboard for discussion and study.”
The 2016 calendar also includes a thematic index that categorizes the acts of kindness by theme (for example, loving your neighbor, tzedakah, tending to the sick, volunteering, prayer, etc.) and a glossary of terms. Calendars can be purchased on Areyvut’s website areyvut.org/shop. For sample pages, and additional information, email [email protected].
When Vancouver-based philanthropists Rosalie and Joe Segal announced a lead gift of $12 million towards a new centre for mental health, I felt deeply moved. I had had occasion to visit a loved one at the old facility a few years ago. By any measure, it was a depressing, dilapidated and lifeless space. The new facility promises the kind of physical atmosphere of compassion and dignity so necessary to recovery.
The planned $82 million centre is slated to open in 2017. In recent Globe and Mail coverage, a reporter asked Joe Segal what brought them to this latest philanthropic decision.
I’ll depart here for a moment to mention that there is a common journalistic convention whereby the writer introduces a quote by paraphrasing. In this case, the reporter said that the Segals’ decision “came from a place of empathy.” Then came the actual quote from Joe Segal: “You have an obligation, if you live in the community, to be sure that you do your duty.”
Are empathy and duty the same thing?
The two vantage points at first seem quite different. Empathy is about actually experiencing the plight of another. There is clearly an affective component. Duty somehow feels more legalistic, perhaps even at odds with emotion. As philosopher Immanuel Kant famously said, “Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law.”
If empathy is more about feeling, experience and emotion, and if duty is more cognitive and legal, it seems we need to be concerned with how to summon both values across society. I turned to colleagues to help me better understand the relationship between the two concepts. For some, a viscerally emotional connection between the two is indeed present.
International theory scholar Daniel Levine points out that, for a sense of duty to function, citizens need to feel reverence for institutions, even those that we ourselves have created. Or, perhaps having created laws and ways of living for ourselves is precisely what motivates a sense of duty, “we revere it precisely because it’s ours; we are the sovereign,” Levine suggests. “We are free because we legislate and judge for ourselves.”
For professor of Jewish philosophy Zachary Braiterman, the cognitive and emotional elements are intertwined, “duty has an affective element, an excitement of the senses around a task at hand.”
And, for Jewish filmmaker Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, “duty flows from empathy, in that moment when I connect the suffering of another to my own experience and that touches a kind of primal anger which motivates action.”
In Jewish tradition, philanthropy – or tzedakah – is considered a legal imperative. The Hebrew word itself shares a root with righteousness and justice, and it does not contain the affective aspects that the Greek-based word philanthropy does, meaning love of humankind.
Empathy in general seems to be less obviously discussed in Judaism, until one realizes that the Torah’s golden rule – “Love your neighbor as yourself” – is ultimately an empathy imperative.
When it comes to mental illness, it’s especially important to keep both duty and empathy in mind. Empathy can be extra hard to summon towards those who are in the throes of the disease. Some forms of mental illness cause sufferers to refuse treatment. Some victims act socially or otherwise inappropriately. Sometimes the sufferer no longer even seems like the actual person.
The Segals are clearly aware of how insidious and invisible mental illness can be, and the challenges around recognizing it and treating it. As Joe Segal told the Globe and Mail, “Mental health was under the rug, and we tried to lift the rug so it can become visible.”
It’s a powerful reminder of how empathy and duty are important elements in building a better society – both for helping those in personal crisis and for enabling us all to live the values of kindness, generosity and compassion.
Mira Sucharov is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University. She blogs at Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. This article was originally published in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.