Reuben (Rube) Sinclair, centre, with Rabbi Levi Varnai and head of school Emily Greenberg. (photo by Tybie Lipetz)
In front of hundreds of students, staff and guests at Vancouver Talmud Torah elementary Nov. 11, Canada’s oldest veteran of the Second World took an honoured place and laid a wreath at the school’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony Nov. 10.
At the age of 111, Reuben (Rube) Sinclair is not only the oldest war veteran but certainly one of the oldest people in Canada. Soft-spoken and hard of hearing, Sinclair nevertheless quipped with family and reporters before the ceremony and beamed with pride at times throughout the midday event.
Sinclair was born in 1911, on the family farm near Lipton, Sask., a Jewish farm colony underwritten by Baron Maurice de Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association. Sinclair’s parents, Yitzok and Fraida, received property from the association but the farmland was poor so they saved up money Yitzok earned working for the Canadian National Railway to purchase better land nearby.
It was a vast undertaking – more than 2,500 acres, with milking cows and 42 horses. Among young Rube’s tasks was collecting the eggs from the chickens. He was driving vehicles at the age of 12.
Yitzok Sinclair (né Sandler) had migrated from Ukraine and was a leader in the small Saskatchewan Jewish community. He donated land and helped construct a school, which doubled as a synagogue.
Rube Sinclair was no longer a kid when he signed up for the war effort. At the age of 31, in 1941, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he became a corporal pilot and taught other pilots to take off and land in the dark using a “standard beam approach” that, in the days when radar was rare, involved a navigation receiver that lined the aircraft up with the runway.
The forces redeployed him to the West Coast and, after the war, with his youngest brother Joe, the siblings opened Sinclair Bros. Garage and Auto Wrecking in Richmond, just across the two long-disappeared Fraser Street bridges from Vancouver. Rube trolled in a tow truck, collecting old cars to salvage and the brothers refurbished and sold surplus military vehicles.
For three decades, from 1964, Sinclair and his wife, Ida, lived in southern California, where Rube worked in a family furniture business. Their philanthropy included raising more than a million dollars for a cancer hospital and research facility.
They returned to Vancouver, and Ida passed away in 1996. Rube is a great-great-grandfather and, among other recognitions, is a lifetime member of Congregation Schara Tzedeck.
At the VTT commemoration, Sinclair waved and grinned at students as his daughter, Nadine Lipetz, pushed him in a wheelchair, escorted by a bagpiper, to the place of honour at the ceremony in the school gymnasium.
Also present were representatives of the lieutenant governor of British Columbia, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Vancouver Police, the United States Secret Service and the Royal Canadian Legion Shalom Branch #178. All these guests laid wreaths, as did representatives of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the VTT board of directors and VTT staff.
“Today, our community gathers to remember, pay our respects and appreciate the freedoms we have been granted by the sacrifices of others,” said Emily Greenberg, VTT head of school. She urged students to recommit themselves to being students of history and humanity “so that you can steward and inspire peace and compassion.”
In a d’var Torah, Rabbi Levi Varnai, the VTT school rabbi, held up the veterans as a model.
“What we can learn from their courage and their bravery is that we too should and could be brave and courageous, to always stand up for what’s right,” said Varnai. “Whenever we see something happening in the world, remember you have a voice and you can stand up and you can say always what’s right. That would be a legacy to their memories.”
Students sang and a video was screened of VTT students holding photographs of ancestors who had served in the military.
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.
Gerry Sheena shows students his method of carving. (photo from Vancouver Talmud Torah)
Vancouver Talmud Torah invited Interior Salish Nation carver Gerry Sheena and his son Matthew Sheena for a week-long program where each grade participated in a session to learn about the history of Indigenous carving, the tools used and the process of carving and design.
Gerry Sheena has been carving for more than 17 years and his work is shown in galleries throughout British Columbia. He describes his carving style as “traditionally Salish, informed by modern painting techniques and innovative use of colour and design.”
The Sheenas’ visit related to the applied design, science and technology curriculum, notably the woodworking aspect. However, VTT has been working on creating a more meaningful implementation of First Peoples’ education, which sparked the idea of integrating the two areas and having presenters from the First Nations community educate students on carving, drumming and storytelling. The timing for the presentation was matched with the month of June, which is National Indigenous History Month. Teacher-librarian Nicolle Wade created a display of Indigenous books and shared Learning to Carve Argillite by Sarah Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, to give students an idea of what they would be seeing. She also installed a welcome display shining the light on Gerry Sheena’s art.
The program was unique in that the Sheenas were at the school for an entire week, not only presenting but also working in the playground, carving a welcome sign for the soon-to-come community garden. Students were able to come out every recess and lunchtime to watch Gerry Sheena carve and listen to Matthew Sheena drum, and additional Q&As took place organically. Teachers had the opportunity to bring their classes out to watch the carving take place firsthand.
“Having an Indigenous carver join our VTT community for one whole week has helped us to organically elevate Indigenous education and ensure that our students are engaging in meaningful learning about the Indigenous peoples and their traditions. We are honoured to have Gerry and Matthew Sheena join us from the Interior Salish Nation as we find ways to recognize National Indigenous History Month now and moving into the future,” said Emily Greenberg, VTT head of school.
Gerry Sheena shared how he got started in carving, his love for art and his happiness when creating totem poles, masks, paddles and many other ceremonial carvings. Matthew Sheena is a passionate drummer and graced the school with his drumming and singing of a Squamish Nation song, “Snowbird,” acknowledging the land and sending a powerful message to love and to lead “through your heart, spread love to others around you and to be kind.”
Among the many lessons learned from the week were:
• The power of passing on knowledge through storytelling.
• The connection to the land being the foundation of Indigenous ways of knowing and practices. The land, plants, animals and sky are all teachers, and taking care of the land and everything living is of utmost importance.
• Honouring language. The Sheenas taught students how to say thank you, and the importance of respecting elders and cherishing their roots.
• Older students had questions about residential schools that the Sheenas approached in a gentle and meaningful way.
• Matthew Sheena spoke to the students about always reaching for the stars, never giving up no matter what life throws at you, and being the best you can be every single day. Also, he encouraged them never to give up on art, drawing, singing and dancing – and to do things that bring them joy and will help them tell a story. He said his favourite tool when carving is a pencil and spoke about the power of the pencil to create.
VTT was so grateful to spend time with Gerry and Matthew Sheena, both of whom inspired students and faculty through their presentations. The themes of building community, recognizing that everyone can be a potential source of inspiration and knowledge, and fostering respect by encouraging students to speak honestly, listen to one another, be active in problem-solving, take care of the land and value their surroundings were a few of the key takeaways from the week.
VTT aims to grow in the area of Indigenous education and make links to Jewish history, cultures and traditions, as the Sheenas’ presentations revealed that there are many similarities. The week’s activites and interactions left students with more knowledge and understanding of First Nations peoples, and it is hoped that students will continue to reflect upon questions like, What do I know about Indigenous education and First Nations communities? How can I contribute to changing the world we live in by storytelling and passing on knowledge? How can I learn more about Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people? How can I build meaningful relationships? How can I protect the world we live in; the land, animals and people? and What connections does First Nations education have to Jewish education?
Jessie Claudiois director of learning and innovation at Vancouver Talmud Torah.
Ricci Segal, owner of Perfect Bite Catering Co. (photo from Perfect Bite)
The Perfect Bite Catering Co. works out of Vancouver Talmud Torah’s kosher kitchen. In addition to providing hearty lunches for VTT students, staff and parents of children who attend the school, the company caters events in the Jewish community. As well, since 2019, the Perfect Bite has been catering to many in the larger Metro Vancouver community, through its online store.
Perfect Bite owner Ricci Segal has always known that she wanted to be a chef. Born in South Africa, her family moved to Canada when she was 6 years old. Segal remembers, as a kid in South Africa, cooking with her mom, who was “a fantastic cook.”
In high school, Segal’s first restaurant job was at Coco Pazzo, where she assisted the chefs and ran the dishwashing room. She got her first experience in the catering industry when she worked for two years in Arizona for her aunt’s kosher catering company. It is there that she got her first taste of the business.
“I learned so much from working with my aunt,” said Segal. “She has a staff of 30 and she threw me right into the mix.”
She added, noting her gratitude, “By working there, I picked up all I know of catering and it helped me create my business.”
Before starting her own company, Segal attended culinary school at Vancouver Community College. While a student at VCC, she was asked to be a support member of Culinary Team Canada. The team competes on behalf of Canada for all culinary competitions, including the IKA Culinary Olympics, which takes place every four years. According to Segal, “it was an amazing experience.” The team traveled to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and Chicago to compete and they won several gold medals. Being on Culinary Team Canada allowed Segal “to learn from the best chefs in Canada.”
“It definitely molded me into the chef I am today,” she said.
Segal did her apprenticeship at three top restaurants in Vancouver: the Pear Tree, the Four Seasons Hotel and Le Crocodile. It was in this period that she really honed her skills. The Four Seasons at that time was the top kosher hotel in Vancouver and Segal was able to be a part of some of the most luxurious kosher events.
In 2010, she parlayed her extensive experience into her own business and established the Perfect Bite Catering Co., while also moonlighting as a chef instructor at VCC.
About her decision to open a kosher catering company, she said, “There was a need for a different style of kosher catering food in Vancouver and it happened naturally from there.”
What makes the Perfect Bite unique, Segal said, is that its staff – who were recruited from her stints teaching at VCC or from working with them at various establishments – “are all French-trained chefs who have worked in the best restaurants.
“That is what we bring to the kosher world in Vancouver,” she said.
She noted that her company specializes in gourmet food, “so most of our clients are foodies.”
Segal officially moved into Talmud Torah’s kitchen in September 2019. Prior to that, she had a retail location on Fraser Street and 28th Avenue, which was not kosher, but she would do her kosher catering for Jewish functions out of Congregation Schara Tzedeck’s facilities. When she moved her business to VTT, she made it into a full-service kosher catering company that is supervised under B.C. Kosher.
Like many businesses affected by the pandemic, the Perfect Bite has been forced to adapt to survive. According to Segal, the biggest challenge was the loss of all the events, which made up the majority of the company’s business.
“The silver lining is that it has given us time to create an online store, where we sell fresh and frozen foods to help with everybody’s busy lives,” said Segal. “We have great oven-ready meals and are expanding into some weekly fresh options.”
Some of the items available include power bowl salads, sandwiches, lasagna, butter chicken, sweet-and-sour chicken, caramelized onion brisket and Moroccan chickpea stew, to name a handful. A three-course weekend dinner is also available every other week for pick up on Friday at VTT.
“My long-term goals are to continue servicing the Vancouver kosher market with great healthy ready-to-eat meals, as well as doing full-service catering events like bar and bar mitzvahs and weddings once we are able to do so safely,” said Segal.
David J. Litvakis a prairie refugee from the North End of Winnipeg who is a freelance writer, former Voice of Peace and Co-op Radio broadcaster and an “accidental publicist.” His articles have been published in the Forward, Globe and Mail and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His website is cascadiapublicity.com.
Cautious optimism. That seems to be the consensus among Jewish school administrators as students and teachers prepare to return to classes in September.
One of the key lessons of the past year-and-a-half has been that things can change swiftly and the pandemic response requires resilience and adaptiveness.
“We’ve all learned that whatever is final is only final until it changes,” joked Russ Klein, King David High School’s head of school. Despite the circumstances, he said, the last academic year was a good one. He credits students, parents and teachers for working together, being flexible and making the best of the situation.
“It sounds strange to say, but, in terms of the context, we had a really good year,” he said. “People were incredibly positive, even with a few COVID cases here and there.”
The biggest challenges were wearing masks, cancelling extracurricular activities, including inter-school sports, and the cancellation of all school trips. Grade-specific cohorts were instituted, with staggered schedules to avoid interactions between groups.
As it stands now – unless changes are announced before classes starts Sept. 13 – cohorts will no longer be required. Klein hopes that some competitive sports will also be possible.
While hoping for a school year that is as normal as can be, Klein is also confident that the experience of last year has made the entire school community more sanguine about changes to routines.
Like Klein, Emily Greenberg, head of school at Vancouver Talmud Torah, gives kudos to students, parents and teachers.
“I would say the last year was all about being flexible and understanding that we couldn’t anticipate for sure how things were going to go,” she said. “It was really a team effort. We were really appreciative of our parents and staff and everybody as regulations shifted…. This was the ultimate team effort because it would not have gone as well as it had had we not all rolled up our sleeves and done the work we had to do to get through to where we are today.”
A big remaining question is how kids under 12, who have not yet been cleared for vaccinations, will be required to behave at school.
Some people use the term “new normal,” but Greenberg prefers “near-normal.”
“I am hopeful that our near-normal will be one that we can all live with and still appreciate the liberties that we are starting to gain back,” she said.
With about 500 students set to converge on the school this year, Greenberg is confident that students, parents and staff will step up again to do whatever it takes to learn safely.
“I think the most important piece is just understanding the team mentality,” she said. “The school can’t do it alone. No business can do it alone. Everybody has to play their role.”
Shalhevet Girls High School had a different experience than most. Because of its small student body – this year 11 students will be starting classes – there was no need to form cohorts. However, Ian Mills, incoming principal at Shalhevet, noted that the confluence of Jewish holidays coinciding with the start of the school year raises concerns about kids spreading the virus to siblings, parents and grandparents.
“We are going to encourage mask use, I think, no matter what happens,” said Mills. They will also continue to have the sanitization stations to which everyone has become accustomed and disinfecting protocols will also proceed.
“We’re just really excited,” he said of the new school year. “But, also, things can change. I’m not letting my guard off.”
Vancouver Hebrew Academy also benefited last year from its relatively smaller size, being able to accommodate more of its student body within the capacity limits that were set by the government. Outgoing head of school Rabbi Don Pacht told the Independent in a June interview, “I think schools have been doing a phenomenal job overall, but it’s easier when you only have two cohorts instead of eight cohorts.”
By the time of that interview, basically all of the VHA students had returned to the classroom. Unfortunately, the JI was unable to reach VHA’s new head of school, Rabbi Barak Cohen, for an update before we went to press.
Like all administrators, Sabrina Bhojani, the new principal at Richmond Jewish Day School, will be closely watching the edicts coming from the province’s ministry of education and public health officials.
“Until we have that information, we are hoping things are going to be normal,” she said. “Right now, it’s a waiting game and things are changing minute by minute.”
“I think people are hopeful,” she said. “There is always a little bit of anxiety as well. I think it’s mixed emotions [but] I think people are optimistic for a back-to-normal start.”
Students in Uganda at work in a BrightBox, a solar-powered classroom. (photo from Simbi Foundation)
This year’s graduating class at Vancouver Talmud Torah made a significant impact to the lives of thousands of refugees in the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda. Their connection to the refugees on the African continent is a story that goes back to two young Jewish men who grew up in Vancouver and are determined to enhance education and create lifelong change in the lives of displaced people.
As co-founders of the Simbi Foundation, Ran Sommer and Aaron Friedland have established a template for BrightBoxes, which are sustainable solar-powered classrooms that are shipped to refugee settlements in Uganda and other countries. Each box costs $55,000 Cdn and includes a shipping container with solar panels, laptops, projectors and digital aids, as well as all the installation costs at its destination.
The foundation has installed five BrightBoxes in the Bidibidi settlement, where 240,000 refugees reside, and one in the Palorinya settlement, where there are 170,000 refugees. Each week, a BrightBox serves 6,000 learners.
“We’re able to reach that many learners because we connect the solar energy from the BrightBox to other classrooms in the area. They all become connected by the electricity and wi-fi generated by the BrightBox, which means the entire school population is connected simultaneously. The power of this 40-foot shipping container is its ability to connect the surrounding school blocks,” Sommer explained.
Back at VTT, the school established the Grade 7 Mitzvah of Valuing Philanthropy program in 2008. Each year, the graduating class chooses charities or causes that are meaningful to the group and fundraises to support those causes. This year, the school decided to fundraise exclusively for the Simbi Foundation.
“After learning about the power of a BrightBox to dramatically transform lives in the Bidibidi refugee camp in Uganda, we decided to go bold and big by dedicating all money raised to this one cause only,” said Jennifer Shecter, director of communications and admissions at VTT. “We wanted to make a giant impact this one time.”
The Grade 7 class dedicates several months of study and exploration to the MVP program and Shecter said the students become emotionally invested and feel genuine pride in their fundraising efforts. “In years past, students ran bake sales, garage sales, babysitting services, movie screenings at VTT and other initiatives to boost their MVP contributions,” she said. “This year, all those options were not available due to COVID so several of our students passionately worked the phones (or texted) family members and friends to donate.”
Several students contributed in excess of $1,000 each to the program, with the average donation ranging between $180 and $250 per student. A total of $38,000 was raised.
Shecter said the students’ connection to Friedland and Sommer, and their understanding of the scope of this project, enabled them to convince others to jump on board and donate to the cause.
The two co-founders spent time in the classroom with the Grade 7 students, explaining the purpose of the BrightBoxes and the extent of the research that motivates the Simbi Foundation’s decisions. The students were assigned to groups to study solar energy, the BrightBox curriculum and other topics relevant to education in the refugee settlements.
“We had two elements happening in parallel: the students were learning about our program and fundraising for it,” said Sommer. “So, they knew exactly what their fundraising efforts were contributing to. Because of that, they were able to surpass their fundraising goal. We were extremely impressed and honoured with VTT and the students’ efforts.”
Shecter added that VTT has had a relationship with Friedland for the past five years.
“VTT students meet with Aaron every year to learn about new initiatives and participate in his programs, like the Simbi reading and literacy program, and they find Aaron and Ran to be enthusiastic, approachable and relatable,” she said. “Our students thoroughly enjoyed each interaction with them and felt a sense of pride knowing members of their community are creating avenues for real change for individuals with many barriers to education and prosperity.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Congregation Beth Israel, children in costume, 1965. (photo from JMABC L.09778)
The launch of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia’s latest edition of The Scribe will be held virtually on Aug. 26, at 7 p.m. This year’s book features stories, photos and some almost-forgotten details about Jewish education in British Columbia. Join the Zoom to hear from local leaders in Jewish education both past and present who will give context to this significant subject.
Anne Andrew, past principal of Temple Sholom Hebrew School, and Emily Greenberg, current head of school at Vancouver Talmud Torah, will lead the discussion. Andrew will focus on her long involvement with the Jewish education scene in Vancouver and Greenberg will share her perspectives on where Jewish education is headed. Considering the impact teachers, educational institutions and curricula have on the continuity and cohesion of a community, both this panel discussion and this issue of The Scribe speak to important issues.
The 2020/21 Scribe features information from the community archives about Jewish education around the province, spanning some 100 years. In addition, there are oral history excerpts from dozens of community members about various programs that have been offered over those years. Even in the very early days of the Jewish community in British Columbia, no matter where Jews settled in the province, there were all kinds of arrangements for the transmission of Jewish knowledge, culture and identity.
Zoom attendees will hear about iconic educators who instilled a love of Judaism and community spirit. Those who attended Jewish school here will take a trip down memory lane, being reintroduced to teachers from their past.
For more information or to register for the free online book launch event or to get your own copy of The Scribe, visit jewishmuseum.ca/publications/the-scribe or call the museum office at 604-257-5199.
– Courtesy Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia
Syd Belzberg talks with Vancouver Talmud Torah kids at Stable Harvest Farm. (photo by Shira Sachs)
“The children loved to take their harvest home to share with their families. Many children helped to prepare the family meals, including washing, chopping and plating their meals. There was so much to learn – how healthy food can taste so yummy, how I can help my family make dinner, how the food can make my body feel good.”
“This is from some cute kid, and I see his picture in front of me,” Syd Belzberg told the Jewish Independent in a recent phone interview. “That’s heart-warming. That’s where it’s all at. That’s beautiful.”
The note came after Vancouver Talmud Torah Grade 1 students visited Belzberg’s Stable Harvest Farm in Langley last month.
Belzberg got the idea for the farm about a half dozen years ago. He read a newspaper article about Vancouver Sun reporters who had started a breakfast program for schoolchildren in the 1980s. “I got in touch with them and got involved a bit, supporting some of the schools with money,” said Belzberg.
But he wanted to have more of an impact and, after he retired a couple of years ago, he decided to reinvent his Langley acreage, which had been home to his many horses several decades ago, but had laid empty for some 17 years. He based his concept on that of Coastal Roots Farm, “a nonprofit Jewish community farm and education centre” located near the home he has in California. “They do a lot of wonderful things,” said Belzberg, “and I thought this would be a heck of a thing to try and copy in a way.”
He hired Kristjan Johannson to manage the farm and the first crop was planted in January 2020. Despite flooding on the property, they gave away about 90,000 pounds of organic vegetables to a half-dozen food banks, as well as to community meals programs.
“This year, we decided to try and double it,” said Belzberg. And they more than doubled it, giving away an estimated 250,000 pounds of food, while continuing to work on the property.
Belzberg established the Stable Harvest Farm Society, he said, “to make this a legacy for my family.” Of his five kids, only one lives in Vancouver, and that daughter, Tammi Kerzner, “has been a massive help to me to build this,” he said.
“There are many facets to what I want to do,” said Belzberg, “but I wanted to get the food thing right because I didn’t know what we’d have to go through to be successful.”
Belzberg’s approach with this project has been similar to that which he has taken with his other endeavours.
“When I started in the car business [Budget Rent a Car] in ’62, I had trucks and other things in mind, but I wanted to rent cars and learn about that first,” he said. “It’s the same thing here. I wanted to prove we can get the vegetables right before I started to do anything else.”
Educational programming is a main component of the farm. “David Bogoch had a lot to do with teaming up with TT. He is such a supporter of it,” said Belzberg about collaborating with the school. “And my children went there. I have a great-granddaughter now who goes there. So it was a natural [fit]. The part that really put us over the top was Emily [Greenberg], because she’s fantastic. She’s so on top of it, and she’s got Jessica [Claudio] there, who goes to another level.”
“Mr. Belzberg has been a very generous supporter of VTT,” said Greenberg, who met Belzberg for the first time when he first saw the school’s rooftop soccer pitch that he funded. That was in her second week as head of school, she said.
“And we’ve had close relationships with David Bogoch, who is quite close to Mr. Belzberg, and he kept talking to me about this farm that Mr. Belzberg was creating … that Mr. Belzberg had a dream to make this farm a centre for Jewish education and Jewish values and the Jewish community and that he would love to see children using this farm, in addition to how it supports the needy in Vancouver.”
Belzberg eventually invited Greenberg for a visit and they spoke about his vision and she “went away and thought about how we could make that happen from our end and, ultimately, bring kids out there.”
The first thing that happened, said Greenberg, was that Johannson came to the school and helped the kids plant seedlings. “Then we had, basically, a little nursery there at the school and watched them grow and supported them.” The plan was for the kids to plant the adolescent seedlings in April at the farm but COVID restrictions had increased, “so we weren’t able to bring the kids to Langley because it was cross-boundary.” But the planting was filmed and a multi-series educational video was made.
“Thankfully, the regulations changed again and we were able to go in the third week of June and send all of our Grade 1 kids out there,” said Greenberg. “They were able to help reap the harvest and they each brought home a bag of veggies from Mr. Belzberg’s farm and made the most amazing salads and soups and all sorts of things and we’ve got some great pictures of what they made that night. We had parents who were ecstatic, watching their kids eat raw vegetables – including scallions.”
The kids had grown the scallions, as well as lettuce and radishes, and their bags were supplemented with some other vegetables from the farm, such as tomatoes and carrots.
On their visit, the kids also got to see the part of the property that will become a bird sanctuary – “there’s a hundred and some odd different types of birds and owls that feed there and it became a natural habitat,” said Belzberg.
Another aspect of Stable Harvest is bees. Belzberg works with beekeeper Carolyn Essaunce, who owns the Honest to Goodness Farm Co. Essaunce also made a trip to VTT and spoke to each senior kindergarten class.
“She brought a whole honeycomb with live bees,” said Greenberg. “She helped them understand how, when you take a honeycomb and you put it in a machine and spin it, how you get the honey out…. They understood what it was to produce honey and then they all went home with some of Mr. Belzberg’s honey…. That is definitely something we hope to repeat yearly.”
Experiential learning is the future of education, said Greenberg. “For us, we want to prioritize learning through nature and to exposure to nature, but also, of course, finding ways to make sure that Jewish values are part of that…. So this has been a tremendous opportunity for us. It’s only the beginning – we look forward to bringing many more of our grades out to Stable Harvest Farm next year. There’s obviously a science aspect but we also want our kids to be shomrei adamai, guardians of the earth, and understand the power of nature. There’s an empowerment that happens when they’re part of growing a plant and the excitement that happens. And the understanding of the life cycle and how that eventually nourishes us and nourishes those in need – it’s a tremendous marriage of all of the values we have as educators, but also as a Jewish day school.”
VTT has invested a lot of time in iSTEAM over the last two years, she said, “integrating the innovations that have been coming out of Israel and using that as the platform from which to explore science, technology, engineering, art and math. A great example that you have at Mr. Belzberg’s farm is drip irrigation, which is an Israeli innovation…. We love the fact that our kids can be proud of a technology that’s come out of Israel and understand how innovation can revolutionize an entire industry and, ultimately, help people live a better, healthier life.”
Greenberg’s goal is to get all of the VTT students out to the farm at least once over a two-year span. “We have a lot of ideas,” she said, “and Mr. Belzberg, thankfully, is very flexible. He just says, ‘Tell me what works for you and we’ll make it happen.’ He always says that: ‘We’ll make it happen.’”
And there is lots that Belzberg plans to make happen. Next year, for example, he hopes to build a large kitchen on the farm for cooking classes, education and other activities. Already, the farm has had its first stand, on June 19, and joined its first farmer’s market, in White Rock, on June 20.
“It’s a helluva way to give back and it fills a vast need and I can afford to do it,” said Belzberg when asked why the farm is important to him. “It’ll hopefully continue forever,” he said.
“When I sat there with the TT kids, and they’re coming up to me and shaking my hand, and when I see the letters that are coming back, the salads, the fact that these kids are into food, I give TT all the credit in the world,” said Belzberg. “It was one of the 10 happiest moments of my life when I sat there a week or so back and watched the kids being in the ground, getting their hands dirty. What could be better than that? And the smiles on their faces.”
The bodies of 215 children were recently discovered buried adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (photo from flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos)
Jody Wilson-Raybould, member of Parliament for Vancouver-Granville and a member of the We Wai Kai Nation, told students at Vancouver Talmud Torah Elementary School last week that most of her family members attended residential schools and she spoke of the tragic legacy of that project, which devastated Indigenous communities for generations.
“Residential schools, these institutions, are a very dark part of our history,” she said, speaking directly to students at a ceremony organized to mourn the 215 children whose bodies were recently discovered buried adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Most of the city’s rabbis were also in attendance.
“They were in existence for over 100 years in Canada, from the 1870s to 1996, when the last one closed in Saskatchewan. The last one closed in British Columbia in 1984,” said Wilson-Raybould of the residential schools. “These institutions were created by the law of Canada and run by churches. There were 139 residential schools across the country and it’s estimated that 150,00 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children attended the schools, forcibly removed from their homes, compelled to attend, and the purpose of residential schools, as stated by the first prime minister of this country, was to remove the Indian from the child, to get rid of the ‘Indian problem’ in this country.”
She added: “People have asked me, as I know they’ve asked many Indigenous peoples, how do you feel? I feel angry. I feel frustrated. And I feel a deep sense of sadness, because this is not an isolated incident. There will be more that will be revealed and we have to recognize that every Indigenous person in this country has a connection to residential schools and the harmful legacies that still exist. But I am still optimistic. Optimistic that, through young people like you … that we can make a change in this country.”
Speaking of her family’s experiences, Wilson-Raybould singled out her grandmother, who she has frequently cited as her hero, and talked of the courage and resilience her grandmother exhibited.
“Most of my relatives went to residential schools,” she said. “My grandmother, Pugladee, was taken away from her home when she was a very young girl and forced to go to the Indian residential school St. Michael’s, in Alert Bay. She faced terrible violence at that school, but she escaped from that school and she made it home and she is the knowledge keeper in my nation.”
Emily Greenberg, Vancouver Talmud Torah head of school, welcomed guests in person and online, expressing empathy for Indigenous Canadians, faced again with the reminder of this country’s past.
“Their wounds have been reopened once again and their suffering renewed,” she said. “Today, our community gathers to grieve with them and open our hearts to their struggles.”
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom contrasted the lives of the children buried in Kamloops with the lives and educational experiences of the Talmud Torah students attending the ceremony, who, he said, “are immersed in their own language and culture and traditions” – the very things Canada’s residential schools system was designed to extinguish in Indigenous young people.
“Our hearts break today not only for the loss of life,” said Moskovitz. “They break for the loss of childhood, the loss of innocence, the loss of joy, of play, of family, of heritage that was stolen from those children by the misguided aims of our nation. It was a different era. It was a different time, but if our people, the Jewish people, have learned anything from our history of trauma and persecution, it is these words: that those who do not study history are bound to repeat it. Echoed by the warning of the Jewish people from the Holocaust, from the Shoah – never again – we have learned, and we know in our souls, that the greatest tribute we can offer these children and their families is not words of condolence, but acts of conscience. The purpose of prayer is to lead us to action, to make our prayer real, not in heaven but here on earth.”
Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel said that “the children who we are remembering today were forced to go to schools and to a specific school that ripped away their culture, attempted to take away from them their language, attempted to take them literally away from their families.” Addressing the students, he emphasized the message Moskovitz shared: “Today, we are remembering children who had the exact opposite of the opportunities that you have.”
Or Shalom’s Rabbi Hannah Dresner expressed the unity of Jewish, Indigenous and all peoples. “We share a destiny as co-inhabitants of this land and because we are of the same holy stuff, the same flesh and blood and the same God-breath,” she said, encouraging members of the Jewish community to “respond not just in our sentiments but through ongoing engagement service and grace.”
Dresner said: “Justice is what love looks like in the public sphere. Loving our neighbours, our fellows, as ourselves. And so, we stand with Indigenous fellows in love, for justice, for the actualization of recovered records and supportive measures for holistic, multifaceted healing and reparation.”
Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt of Congregation Schara Tzedeck spoke of the Jewish concept that one who extinguishes even a single life is considered to have destroyed an entire world. “Today, we remember, at a minimum, the destruction of 215 worlds,” he said. “A significant portion of these children died while trying to escape to reunite with their families. They died of exposure in the cold, the frost, simply trying to do one thing that every human being would … simply trying to return to their own families.”
Carrie Plotkin, a Grade 5 student, read the poem “You hold me up,” by Monique Gray Smith. “It was written to encourage us young people, our care providers and our educators to talk about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with our friends, classmates and families,” she said.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay of Beth Hamidrash read a 1936 poem from Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Carlebach of Hamburg, Germany. Cantor Yaacov Orzech sang Psalm 23.
The 215 bodies were discovered using ground-penetrating radar. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that 4,100 children died at residential schools from abuse, neglect, diseases and accidents. Many were never repatriated to their families and communities and, in many cases, deaths were sloppily recorded using just a given name or a surname and sometimes even completely anonymously. Advocates are calling on the government to commit to identifying more remains and to releasing archival documentation on the schools that has remained sealed.
David Bogoch is on the board of the Vancouver Talmud Torah Foundation. He is also the collector and keeper of the school’s archives. Previously, he was on the school’s board of directors for eight years – a position he took for a unique reason.
“At my dad’s shiva, the president of the board at that time, David Kauffman, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would be on the board at the school,” explained Bogoch about how he became involved. “At that time, with my father’s spirit in the room, I felt I had no choice but to say yes. Talk about timing.”
Dr. Al Bogoch was the guest of honour at Vancouver Talmud Torah’s 50th anniversary at its current location, in 1998. He was recognized for his more than 40 years of dedication to the school. He acted in many capacities over those years, including as president of the board of directors, as one of the founders of the VTT Foundation, which was established in 1974, and as a main driving force of four of the school’s expansions. On the occasion of the golden anniversary, the Alumni Endowment Foundation was launched.
In addition to his duties as archivist, David Bogoch is also chair of the school’s alumni fund.
“The board was portfolio driven, so I chose alumni,” he told the Independent. “I inherited the job from Carla van Messel. I figured it would be the least political and most fun. I knew at least 100 alum I could call and it all started from there.”
In going through the boxes in his father’s basement, Bogoch found tons of old Talmud Torah paperwork. “He had kept everything to do with his time on the board in the 1960s,” said Bogoch. “Other past presidents had given him their collections and, together, amassed a lot of what is in the archives today.
“Today, the archive has thousands of photos and documents, from 1918 to the present,” he continued. “There are so many interesting stories which make up the 100-plus years of the school history. I looked up every issue in the library of the old Jewish Western Bulletin and the Jewish Independent to help tell the history of the school and the community of the times. Where would we be without the ability to search through the newspaper of old?”
While many stories have captured his interest, Bogoch said, “One story which caught my attention was in the board meeting minutes from 1944. The community wanted to build its own new Talmud Torah day school but were unable to because of lack of building supplies because of the world war. They also wanted to buy a school bus but couldn’t because of gas rations due to the war.
“Some people like jigsaw puzzles, others like bridge or golf,” he said. “My game of choice is the history of the school and all the people who either attended or were involved with the school. I love the good stories of friendship; I suffer when I hear the bad stories of tough times for students or parents or teachers. By knowing what has gone on in the past, I hope to impart those stories to the people of the present and the future, so we can try to avoid mistakes made before.”
Some of those stories are included in the one-hour documentary Vancouver Talmud Torah Onward: The 100-Year History. Written and directed by Bogoch’s son, filmmaker Adam Bogoch, the documentary was released in September 2017, as part of the school’s centenary celebrations. It can be viewed at youtube.com/ watch?v=ifoAqk3EKb0.
VTT obviously means a lot to David Bogoch, who also attended the school. “All of my lifelong friends came from Talmud Torah,” he said. “Most alum I come in contact with also share the same experience – our ties to the Jewish community stem from our shared experiences of school years. Between school, shul or camp, that is where we forge our community ties that bind.”
Bogoch is working toward making the VTT archives more widely accessible.
“The school,” he said, “is currently trying to put the photos and archival material on the school website so that everyone can search through and find the memories of their time, or of their family’s era.