Teenagers are filling in for drafted reservists at Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market. (photo by Gil Zohar)
With the horrors of Oct. 7 embedded in our minds, in our hearts and in our souls, Israel has come together in so many ways, including for war. The effects are so broad and deep. Here is a bird’s-eye view from my narrow perch.
All the booms in the air, coming from far-off (and not-so-far-off) mid-air missile collisions – bravo Iron Dome! The swoosh of our fighter jets overhead – bravo Israeli Air Force! And all those customized Red Alert apps buzzing away on everyone’s cellphones – bravo Elad Nava, tech entrepreneur extraordinaire! It’s starting to sound like an orchestra out there.
Social media was calling for Israelis to sing, to go out on our patios at 9 p.m. and belt out Hatikvah. We did. And it felt great! So darn cathartic. What a sense of solidarity. As it turns out, on this particular evening, Hamas warned Tel Aviv of a missile barrage at 9 p.m. Guess our singing acted as type of musical Iron Dome, as no barrage arrived. Which is not to say Tel Aviv hasn’t had its share of missiles, just not at this particular time.
Driving to work, traffic slowed down considerably due to some “jackass” up ahead. Turned out to be a convoy of military jeeps carrying weapons and personnel to our north. As I passed them – 12 vehicles – I slowed down (in the left lane), gave a friendly honk and a thumbs up to each. Twelve times. Cars behind me did the same.
With 75 seconds to reach our safe room and with missile attacks being random with no real pattern, the stress and uncertainty prevents me from enjoying my private bathroom time, sitting down with a newspaper or book or my smartphone. But not under current circumstances. Just want to get in and out of there as quickly as I can..
Same for showering. No more basking under a warm spray of fresh water. No more humming a few showtunes while lathering up. Nope. Just a quick soaping and get out of there. For shaving, I’m getting use to a three-day growth cycle.
And, getting really personal … in the bedroom with the wife, I am now suffering reverse performance anxiety. I just get it done and move on. Don’t want to get caught with my pants down when the sirens sound.
Bravo to McDonald’s – giving McHappy meals free of charge to our soldiers. The restaurant stepped up, and many businesses are doing the same. From banks, to other restaurants, to retailers, providing goods or services at discounted prices to relieve some of the burden weighing on the country. Wonderful to see this coming together.
I miss my exercise routine. Was swimming a couple time a week. Now, not. The pool closed due to homeland security restrictions limiting gatherings at places of leisure. Who would categorize exercise as leisure? Anyway, I don’t think I’d hear the missile alert with my head bobbing in and out of the water while doing the breaststroke or front crawl. More so, there’s no running along the poolside, so would not make the saferoom in time.
We are not immune to panic buying. A few nights into the war, based on some rumour or other, I went grocery shopping to stock up on water, canned goods, candles, matches, toilet paper…. Didn’t get out of there until almost 11 p.m. The checkout line snaked all the way to the meat section. It was long, the joke being that, by the time we reach the checkout counter, Netanyahu will have negotiated a hudna (truce in Arabic). Ha.
I keep saying I’ll do it. Need to put more than just a half dozen bottled waters and a few inhalers in our safe room. Should stock it with canned goods, more medicine, flashlight, battery-powered radio and other survival aids. Maybe tomorrow.
If someone forgets their house key and knocks at our now always-locked door, they need to say a password before we’ll open the door. The theory being, if a Hamas terrorist is holding a gun to their head, they won’t say the password. Talk about paranoid. Probably run-of-the-mill war-related stress.
Joe Biden. His Oct. 11 “Don’t” speech was amazing! Talk about geopolitical alliances, commitments, pacts, and the such – I won’t. I’ll simply say I fell in love that evening.
Joe Biden. His Oct. 18 “We’ve got your back” speech was TREMENDOUS! I fell in love with him. Again. With a lightning visit to Israel, he kind of reminded me of Clint Eastwood in his glory days. He had that “make my day” squint in his eyes. Might have been him struggling to read the monitor, but he came across as a Dirty Harry kind of guy.
There are still a handful of Israelis – OK, maybe more than a handful – who just don’t get it. Now is not the time for divisiveness and finger pointing. There was utter failure. But the hard questions and difficult answers will come later. Now is the time for unity!
My wife and daughter volunteered at a high-end event (my wife works in the industry) to help arrange 1,000+ meals for our soldiers. There will be some very satiated soldiers enjoying gourmet meals in cardboard boxes and with disposable utensils.
And the sweet smell of my wife’s chocolate chip cookies and brownies baking in the kitchen. She slaps my hand as I go for a cookie: “Not for you! For our soldiers.” It’s that spirit of coming together.
My daughter left the house early the other morning and returned about an hour later with a huge orange garbage bag full of…. “What’s that?” I inquired. “Laundry. From a family in the south who was evacuated to some hotel. Mom volunteered.” As much as we get preoccupied with the war, with survival, sometimes it’s the mundane that really makes a difference.
Ouch. Our currency at its weakest since 2015. Pretty painful when you are sending US dollar instalments to your son studying in the States.
I know the diaspora is busy raising money for Israel at speeds and amounts like never before. But don’t stop once you give. Give more. This war will cost Israel billions. If you have given, please give again. Sderot is Israel’s front line. Israel is the diaspora’s front line.
Bruce Brown is a Canadian and an Israeli. He made aliyah … a long time ago. He works in Israel’s high-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Brown is the winner of the 2019 AJPA Rockower Award for excellence in writing, and wrote the 1998 satire An Israeli is…. Brown reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal.
The Institute for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel at Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently released a report called Civil Society Engagement in Israel During the Iron Swords War: Emerging Trends and Preliminary Insights. Written by Prof. Michal Almog-Bar, Ronit Bar, Ron Barkai and Hila Marmus, it offers an analysis of the exceptional civil engagement and volunteerism witnessed in Israel during the first two weeks of the Israel-Hamas war.
Operation Iron Swords was triggered by a heinous terrorist attack on Israeli civilians, launching a massive mobilization effort aimed at bolstering the nation. In response, civil society rallied under the banner of “Defending Our Home,” setting aside preexisting social divisions. The collaborative report, authored by experts at Hebrew University, examines the remarkable civil initiatives, volunteerism and philanthropic contributions that played a pivotal role in addressing urgent needs and challenges during this critical period.
During the first two weeks of the war, civil initiatives demonstrated their ability to address the urgent needs and pressing challenges that arose within Israeli society. These initiatives played a pivotal role in executing crucial tasks such as rescue operations, evacuations, temporary shelter provision, and the distribution of vital food and medical supplies. Additionally, they provided invaluable psychological support to those affected, emphasizing the power of grassroots efforts in times of crisis.
Here are the key highlights of the institute’s report.
Diverse Civil Initiatives: the report highlights over 1,000 civil initiatives that emerged across Israel, encompassing a wide range of activities. These initiatives included the rescue and evacuation of civilians and animals, and provision of essential supplies, as well as support for bereaved families and those who went missing during the conflict.
Local and Affiliated Groups: local and affiliated groups played a significant role in addressing the specific needs of their communities, providing temporary accommodation to evacuees and extending their support beyond their local borders.
Volunteerism: 48.6% of the Israeli population engaged in volunteering during the war, a notable increase from the rate observed during the COVID-19 crisis (33%). Notably, volunteerism cut across all age groups, genders and religious affiliations. In particular, the rate of volunteerism among the Arab-Israeli population during the war reached 29%, a rise from the 19% recorded during COVID.
Spontaneous Volunteers: a substantial majority of volunteers (28%) during the war were newcomers to volunteering, underscoring the widespread participation of citizens who had not volunteered before the conflict. These newcomers were predominantly secular and had above-average incomes.
Primary Volunteer Activities: the most prominent volunteer activities included collecting, packing and distributing food and equipment, transportation of people, food and equipment, assisting security forces, participating in outreach activities through social networks, and offering essential aid to evacuees.
Volunteers and Donations: many volunteers integrated their efforts with financial contributions, participating in voluntary initiatives and crowdfunding campaigns, highlighting the synergy between volunteerism and philanthropy.
Inclusivity: unlike the predominantly youth-driven volunteering seen during the COVID crisis, individuals of all age groups participated actively. Notably, 46% of those aged 18-35, 52% of those aged 35-55 and 52% of those 55+ engaged in volunteering. Volunteerism transcended gender and religious boundaries. The use of technology for digital volunteering extended the reach to remote and mobility-limited populations, underscoring the adaptability and inclusivity of these volunteer efforts.
Financial Mobilization: Israel witnessed a swift and substantial mobilization of financial resources, surpassing levels observed during prior military operations. Support poured in from North American Jewry and Jewish federations, with donations estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The report underscores the importance of effective coordination between civil organizations and government bodies to ensure a unified response to pressing needs. It also suggests that civil organizations can evolve into a valuable support force for government activities during ongoing combat operations.
The study was a collaborative effort between the Institute for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel at Hebrew University, the Israeli Council for Volunteering, Civic Leadership (the umbrella organization of Israeli nonprofit organizations) and the Forum of Foundations in Israel. It included several surveys. The survey of volunteering during the first two weeks of the war was administered by the company Geocartographia and included 1,000 participants, constituting a representative sample of the adult population of Israel aged 18 and over.
Jewish Seniors Alliance honoured volunteers Merle Linde, left, and Gyda Chud for their many years of service. (photo by Rita Propp)
Jewish Seniors Alliance celebrated its 20th anniversary at its Oct. 26 annual general meeting, which took place at Congregation Beth Israel. The meeting was followed by a reception honouring two volunteers, Merle Linde and Gyda Chud, and entertainment was provided by Brock House Big Band, with party sandwiches and dessert by Nava Creative Kosher Cuisine.
The AGM was called to order by JSA president Tammi Belfer, who paid tribute to Serge Haber, who had passed away the previous week. Haber’s family urged JSA to carry on with the proceedings, which included paying respect to all the JSA members who had died in the last year.
The 2022 minutes and the agenda for this year were approved. The president’s report followed and Chud presented a summary of committee reports. Larry Shapiro spoke about the financial position of JSA as of May 31 on behalf of treasurer Alan Marchant, who was unable to attend the meeting. Jerry Bleet gave an update on fundraising plans and the election of directors was presented for the nominating committee by Ken Levitt.
Once the formal part of the afternoon was completed, the 62 members of JSA assembled in the reception area, where tables had been set up and the band was already playing. Brock House Big Band is an 18-piece ensemble whose repertoire comprises a variety of jazz and popular music. Rabbi Adam Stein, a JSA board member, said Hamotzi, so lunch could begin.
Levitt gave another tribute to Haber, emphasizing Haber’s work in creating JSA from scratch, his care and compassion for seniors, and his work with them. Levitt said Haber thrived on challenges. “How many people can say that they created an organization?” asked Levitt.
A video was shared in which Haber talked about the needs of seniors, the importance of dealing with loneliness and isolation, and the need for emotional support.
Michael Lee, MLA for Vancouver-Langara, said a few words. He had met Haber seven years ago at a seniors’ event and Lee praised the work Haber had done in Holocaust education and his efforts in building JSA to serve seniors in British Columbia. Lee thanked the board and staff for the work JSA has done.
Maurice Moses, a longtime personal friend of Haber’s, spoke about singing with Haber and with Saul “Pucky” Pellman and Arnold Selwyn at the Louis Brier Home and at Congregation Beth Israel for many years. He said Haber called him every Friday to say Shabbat Shalom. Moses made reference to “lech l’chah” – literally meaning “Go to yourself,” “go forth,” the essence of our lives and spiritually being within ourselves – and sang a song about it honouring Haber.
Then it was the time to honour the two volunteers.
Linde has been a peer support volunteer since 2005. She is inspired by the humanitarian ideals of tikkun olam(repairing the world) and chesed (acts of kindness) to ensure a safeguard for those who are at a disadvantage. This work is a natural progression for Linde, from her participation for many years in community organizations in both South Africa and Canada.
Charles Leibovitch, coordinator of peer support services, made the presentation to Linde, as Grace Hann, trainer and supervisor of peer support services, was away due to a death in her family. He presented Linde with a bouquet of flowers and a certificate, praising her for the many years of service to the seniors she has supported. Hann sent a note saying that Linde has been a role model for her.
Linde thanked Leibovitch and Hann. Apparently, all four of her clients had been artists and Linde used with them her own artistic skills and artwork. She said people eventually tell you their stories in such an environment and this enables her to offer emotional support.
Marilyn Berger made the presentation to Chud, calling Chud “our star.” She said Chud seems unable to say no and takes a lot on herself. Chud is a past co-president of JSA and presently chairs two committees – peer support, and programs. In her thanks to Berger and the committee, Chud spoke about the three Rs that are important in education and life: relationship, reflection, restorative practice. She ended with JSA’s motto: “Seniors Stronger Together.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, addressed the group briefly. He said the JSA is important to the community and thanked the organization for their crucial work with seniors.
Entertained by the band, a few people danced. Dessert was served and people chatted with one another and listened to the music. This was the first of several upcoming events that will celebrate JSA’s 20th anniversary.
On Nov. 19, JSA’s fall symposium will present “Serge Haber, A Visionary.” Everyone is welcome to join in a tribute to Haber, whose vision of a kinder future helped shape the Jewish community. For more information, visit jsalliance.org.
Shanie Levinis a life governor of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
Grace Hann, Jewish Seniors Alliance senior peer support services trainer and supervisor, and co-trainer Miguel Méndez. (photos from JSA)
For a senior experiencing loss, isolation, health challenges, a change in housing or other stressors, knowing that someone cares can make a world of difference. Jewish Seniors Alliance’s Peer Support Services trains people aged 55+ to be that someone – seniors helping seniors.
JSA offers at least two peer support training sessions a year, and the next one begins Sept. 20. The training, conducted over Zoom, is free. It comprises 11 sessions, or 44 hours. Participants will learn active listening and other communication skills, how to set boundaries, about aging and the health issues that can accompany it, about available community resources, and more. Upon successfully completing the course, volunteers (who are required to pass a criminal records check) will receive a certificate from Senior Peer Counseling of B.C. and be matched with a senior in the community.
The Jewish Independent spoke with Grace Hann, JSA senior peer support services trainer and supervisor, and co-trainer Miguel Méndez about the program.
JI: When did the peer support program start, and how has its effectiveness been measured?
JSA: The peer support program started in 2011, inspired by [JSA president emeritus] Serge Haber’s vision to support vulnerable seniors in the community. We gauge the program’s effectiveness through detailed statistical analysis. This includes client satisfaction surveys administered after six months, then again after one year, and annually thereafter.
JI: What qualities do your most successful volunteers possess?
JSA: Key qualities for a thriving volunteer-client relationship are empathy, patience and compassion. It’s also crucial for volunteers to be receptive to new ideas during training, which enhances their understanding of the challenges many seniors face.
JI: What is the biggest challenge you face while training volunteers?
JSA: Most volunteers join our training eager to learn and contribute. The training refines their listening skills, helps them establish healthy boundaries, and fosters an understanding of underlying issues many seniors confront, such as grief, loss, and the challenges of connecting with new communities.
JI: What surprises you most about your day-to-day work?
JSA: We’re continually surprised by the deficiencies in our medical and social support system. Many case managers from various health units emphasize their shortage of time and personnel to provide adequate emotional support for seniors. Heart-wrenching sentiments from vulnerable seniors, like “I no longer matter in society” or “My friends have all died,” often resonate with us.
JI: What are the most significant changes you have noticed in the needs of seniors over the last five years?
JSA: There’s a growing mental health support gap for seniors. Many are grappling with conditions like anxiety and depression. At JSA, we receive increased requests from professionals seeking support for such individuals.
However, our volunteers are not mental health experts. While we acknowledge the need, we must be cognizant of our role and limits as volunteers. Additionally, many seniors are anxious due to rising housing and grocery costs, severely affecting those with limited incomes.
JI: How has your training program adapted post-COVID?
JSA: During the pandemic, we transitioned our training to a digital platform, Zoom, allowing many seniors to engage without leaving their homes. We’ve maintained this digital approach, which now attracts participants from a broader geographical range.
JI: Is there a piece of advice or aspect of training that you consider most impactful to your volunteers?
JSA: Role-playing is an exceptionally effective tool. It elicits profound feelings and introspection, heightening volunteers’ empathy and allowing them to better understand others’ experiences. Since our training is experiential, volunteers gain by sharing their own wisdom and experiences.
JI: Anything else you’d like to add?
JSA: Conducting initial client intakes can be deeply emotional. For instance, a recent case involved a 91-year-old woman, previously independent, whose life altered drastically after a spine fracture from a fall. With no family and deceased friends, she faced a significant emotional void. While we can’t mend her physical injuries, we can offer invaluable emotional support, offering hope and the comfort of knowing someone cares. This not only benefits her but also gives our volunteers a sense of purpose and the gratifying feeling that comes from assisting others.
Alisa Dressleris a fourth-year student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. She is an avid reader and writer, and the online director of the arts and culture publication MUSE Magazine. Bressler is a member of the Vancouver Jewish community, and the inaugural Baila Lazarus Jewish Journalism Intern.
Looking for a new mitzvah to take on, while making a difference in the lives of Israeli teens? Consider joining Israel Connect, a program where local adult volunteers connect, one-on-one via Zoom, with Israeli high school students who want to improve their English conversation and reading skills. The program starts on Oct. 15 and is organized by Chabad Richmond, in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Education. It entails a commitment of 60 minutes once a week.
There are currently 24 local volunteers participating in Israel Connect as tutors/mentors, and Chabad Richmond is looking to increase that number, since the need in Israel continues to grow.
“We’re looking for volunteer retirees, seniors or any adults who have some free time to join the Israel Connect program. No previous tutoring or teaching experience is necessary and the curriculum is provided,” said Shelley Civkin, local program coordinator. “If you’re an adult fluent English speaker, you have basic computer skills, and you own a computer with a camera, that’s all you need.”
Volunteers do not need to speak Hebrew and can tutor from home. Basic training and technical support are available. Time preferences of volunteer tutors/mentors will be coordinated beforehand and sessions take place in the morning between 7 and 11 a.m. Vancouver time, any day between Sunday to Thursday.
“Israel Connect asks for a minimum commitment of one school year, in order to ensure consistency for the students,” said Civkin.
“It’s a very practical way for community members to support Israel and build bridges between diaspora Jews and Israelis,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad Richmond. “You’ll be doing a mitzvah, while investing in Israel and its young people. Plus, proficiency in English will give them an advantage in accessing post-secondary education and getting better jobs.”
Israel Connect is one of the largest external providers of services to Israel’s Ministry of Education, slowly removing the most significant barrier to social and economic mobility. Partnering with the Israeli Ministry of Education, the program targets teens from less advantaged neighbourhoods in Israel.
“Most volunteers really enjoy helping their Israeli students and develop a lasting bond with them. It often goes beyond simply tutoring the curriculum, and turns into friendship and mentorship,” said Civkin. “This kind of one-on-one tutoring makes a huge difference in their lives, both educationally and personally. It gives them a feeling of confidence that they can converse in English without being judged or marked. It’s incredibly satisfying to know that you’re doing something concrete to help Israeli students better their lives.”
The curriculum consists mainly of a tour of Israel, focusing on the wealth of historical, cultural and biblically significant cities and sites. It’s not uncommon for both the students and the tutors to learn something new about Israel at each lesson.
Civkin said several tutors have visited their students on trips to Israel and keep in touch beyond the school year. “Life is all about building relationships and Israel Connect is the perfect way to do that,” she said.
To volunteer, or for more information, contact Civkin at 604-789-5806 or [email protected]. For anyone who can’t participate as a tutor, Chabad Richmond welcomes financial support for Israel Connect, which covers overhead costs like technical support, staffing and other administrative costs. To support the program, call Chabad Richmond at 604-277-6427 or email [email protected].
Every election gives us the power to make a difference. Every election is an opportunity to make an impact. This municipal election, you can make both happen.
The past two years have seen British Columbians head to the ballot boxes more than once. A provincial government was elected in 2020, a federal one in 2021 and, now, we’ll be completing the trifecta on Oct. 15, with municipal elections. This makes it the perfect time to sign up to volunteer on the campaign of your choice.
Municipal elections are unique because voters are electing multiple officials, including a mayor, city councilors, school board trustees and, depending on the municipalities or regional districts, a slew of other positions, such as park board commissioners, rural directors and more. These are all opportunities for the Jewish community to build relationships with candidates and incoming elected representatives.
The job of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) is to encourage the Jewish and pro-Israel community to get engaged in politics and to facilitate that involvement.
CJPAC does this not by lobbying or advocating but by providing community members with the tools and confidence to build relationships with politicians. Your involvement in politics helps politicians become more familiar with the community’s needs, concerns and goals.
The Jewish community makes up less than one percent of the population in British Columbia. Because it’s so small – demographically speaking – community members need to step up in a big way. Volunteering across campaigns and parties strengthens our community, especially because of how spread out the Jewish population is around the province.
Volunteering gives community members firsthand experience to see what it takes to elect a candidate and, most importantly, plays a valuable role in building lasting relationships with politicians. When you volunteer, you become a key driver of the number one goal of a campaign: “getting out the vote.”
If you want an idea of just how much every vote can matter, look no further than 2018 when the Vancouver mayoral election was decided by only 984 votes – that’s a difference in total votes of less than one percent.
Volunteering is easy and flexible. It can include both in-person and remote tasks, such as making phone calls, door-knocking, delivering and/or putting up signs and so much more. Another crucial volunteering activity is scrutineering, where candidate representatives are trained by the campaign to scrutinize the ballot-counting process.
Political volunteering is geared for all ages. It’s especially great for adults and seniors who have a few hours to spare to enhance the Jewish community, and high school students eager to get their volunteer credits. (By the way, applications for this year’s Generation program for Jewish politically savvy high school students are now being accepted. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 14, at cjpac.ca/generation.)
Learn more by using CJPAC as your political concierge to connect you to the campaign/candidate of your choice and train you to be an election volunteer. Sign up at cjpac.nationbuilder.com/bcmelxn22.
Still need more information? RSVP at cjpac.ca/event/meetmayor to attend the Sept. 29, 6 p.m., Meet Your Next Mayor event at Vancouver Talmud Torah, which CJPAC is co-hosting with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Community members who attend will get to interact with Vancouver’s mayoral candidates and ask their questions.
As Jews, we are committed to contributing to the greater society. With Rosh Hashanah on the way, CJPAC encourages you to renew your commitment to the community by making an impact on the political world and making cities across the province more welcoming and safer places for all British Columbians.
Contact CJPAC’s B.C. regional director, Kara Mintzberg, at [email protected] or 778-903-1854, to get your volunteering journey started, or for any other inquiries.
Vivian Claman was one of the founders of Shalhevet Girls High School and served on the school’s board for 14 years. (photo from Vivian Claman)
Vivian Claman was one of the founders of Shalhevet Girls High School. More than 14 years later – during which time she has served on the board of the school, including until recently as president – she is being celebrated at the school’s 2022 gala celebration May 22.
Leslie Kowarsky, president of the Shalhevet board, credits Claman with the school’s very existence.
“There is no one in our community who has not benefited from Vivian’s efforts, whether for Schara Tzedeck, for the Jewish Federation, or for many other worthy causes,” said Kowarsky. “I can say with confidence that Shalhevet would not exist without her tireless commitment.”
Shelley Rivkin, vice-president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the honoree at last year’s gala, echoed those words.
“Vivian has shown unswerving dedication and passion to maintaining and strengthening Orthodox education for girls in Vancouver,” Rivkin said. “She is a dynamic and energetic volunteer and she brought this commitment to her work on Federation’s allocation committee and other community organizations.”
Claman reflected back on the school’s creation. Ten parents, including Terrance Bloom, who would serve as the first board president, came together to address where their daughters would continue their education after they completed Grade 7 at Vancouver Hebrew Academy (VHA).
“My daughter was one of six girls in the Grade 7 class,” Claman said. “We had a little evening meeting to discuss the idea of doing a high school for the girls. My daughter said, I’m willing to try and convince the other girls to try, so we started the school.”
The availability of Orthodox Jewish education in Vancouver has been a recurring challenge and is among the range of issues being address by a new initiative called Torah West, which seeks to retain and attract more Orthodox Jews to live in Vancouver.
VHA now offers Orthodox education for boys up to Grade 10 and Claman said talks are underway to move the boys school and Shalhevet under a shared administrative umbrella.
“It makes the most sense, certainly for the donors,” she said. “They would prefer to have one institution so that we are not separate institutions going to the donors and asking for money.”
Whatever administrative structure is adopted, there will always be a separate boys school and girls school, adhering to Orthodox standards, she said.
Shalhevet is experiencing challenges that reflect larger trends in the community. With the departure of the Pacific Torah Institute yeshivah, some Orthodox families have left Vancouver.
“We absolutely need to have a strong Orthodox community and the only way we’ll do that is if Vancouver Hebrew Academy thrives and Shalhevet thrives,” said Claman. “Right now, though, to be honest, we’ve had a lot of attrition in the last couple of years. We are down numbers in our school. It is very upsetting, but that’s the reality of Vancouver. We kind of have waves. We have ups and we have downs. Right now, we are in that slump. That’s one of the reasons why Torah West is being created.”
In the school year now winding down, there are 10 students across five grades at Shalhevet, down from a peak of 25 or 27, she said.
While those numbers are disappointing, she said, there is a silver lining.
“Because of small numbers, we really can cater to the individual needs of each girl,” she said. “That’s really important. There are a lot of girls who have different issues and it’s really wonderful that they get that kind of attention. At a normal high school, there could be 30 kids in the classroom. The competition is pretty fierce.”
She added that single-gender education has been demonstrated to be advantageous, especially to girls.
“Studies have shown that girls do extremely well when they are on their own without feeling the competition or the pressure of being around boys,” said Claman. “It really does make a difference.”
On being recognized at this year’s gala – the first in-person gala in three years – Claman said she is “overwhelmed, to be honest.”
“I just announced my retirement plan – I had warned them I was going to be leaving the board after 14 years. I thought it was enough – so they decided to honour me. I’d really prefer not to be, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter,” she said, laughing.
However, she acknowledged: “It’s a really nice way of the school showing appreciation for the many years of really hard work I put into the school.”
As past president, Claman still attends every board meeting and remains very active in school affairs. Nevertheless, as time permits, she plans to devote more hours to her emerging role as a painter.
“I was a fashion designer by profession for many years,” she said. “I retired because it was just too much time away from being a mother of three kids.”
Because she likes being busy and creative, Claman took up painting about seven years ago.
“I had taken a class many years ago in acrylic with a teacher here for one year but this time I decided to take it seriously and I’ve been painting ever since,” she said.
After a friend’s dog died, Claman painted a portrait of the pet and gave it to the grieving friend. That has led to a raft of pet portraits, but she is also receiving commissions for other works as well. (Her portfolio is at vivianclaman.com, though she acknowledges she has not had time to keep it up-to-date.)
Although she is concluding her time as a board member, Claman’s commitment to the school remains steadfast.
“To me, the most important thing about Shalhevet is we provide an Orthodox education for the Orthodox families here,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have a pluralistic community, but we absolutely must have the common denominator of the Orthodox community here. Orthodox families will not live here unless they know that they can send their kids, their girls and boys, to a high school that caters to their guidelines as to what an Orthodox Jewish education should be.”
For tickets to the May 22, 6:30 p.m., gala, which takes place at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, visit shalhevet.ca.
A friend described to me once what Warsaw looked like in the aftermath of the Second World War. A small boy then, he remembered vividly the ripped apartment buildings, whole sides of buildings missing. When you raised your head, he said, you could see a bed up there, one leg hanging over the precipice, the chimney, a chair stuck in half fall. The lives turned into ruins and exposed.
The “noble” war, as Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it, has killed thousands. Other thousands have been taken into filtration camps by Russians. The war has uprooted the lives of millions. It has separated wives from husbands, children from fathers. It has laid bare what is usually concealed from the eyes of a stranger: human attachments and loves, support for one another and acts of kindness. But also, the seismic faults running through so many families; their discontents, their arguments, and the way they cope with them in the time of crises.
Inadvertently, I became privy to the lives of many simply because I happened to be there at the time of their great vulnerability and need. Those I met (and, with rare exceptions, these were women with children) were going through the horrors and desolation of war. All, without exception, were traumatized. All needed practical help, advice, information and, above all, empathy.
But what they also needed, I discovered, was to talk about what they had gone through. That need was spontaneous and raw. They broke into stories easily and without invitation on my part. Each story was different, yet many followed the similar pattern: destruction and loss of property or homes; weeks in basements with scarce water, food supplies and electricity; the howl of air raid sirens; separation from loved ones and concern about their well-being; screams of traumatized children; and, then, finally evacuation, finally escape, over many days. Escape on foot, by trains, buses or sometimes cars, with detours necessitated by rockets and missiles; crossing rivers on boats where bridges were blown up.
I heard repeated gratitude to Ukrainian volunteers who facilitated the escapes, relaying families from one safe place to another; informing about the dangers on the way and how to bypass them. I heard stories of churches that sheltered families overnight; of people harbouring strangers in their homes; of volunteers who organized food that awaited fleeing families at different points of their long and hazardous journey to safety. I learned a new word – humanitarka, meaning clothing (and perhaps food) that poured into Ukraine from the West as humanitarian aid.
And I heard stories of the brutality of Russian soldiers towards civilians. I heard stories of looting, torture and rape. I heard stories of Russian soldiers leaving villages and shooting in their wake every cow, every chicken, so that the owners would be left with nothing; gratuitously smashing all the preservatives Ukrainians traditionally prepare for winter. I heard how Russian soldiers pretended they would allow villagers to run to safety, only to shoot them in their legs, and finish them off later like hunted animals. I heard stories of booby-trapped corpses, of Russians abandoning their dead.
In the two-and-a-half weeks I volunteered with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) at a border crossing and in a refugee shelter several kilometres away from the Polish border with Ukraine, I met people of all walks of life – I met the Ukrainian Nation.
I met a grandmother who escaped missiles with her six grandchildren and made it to Poland while the parents of the children had perished.
I met a man, a welder, looking after his old and infirm mother. They couldn’t possibly live with any family, the man explained, because his mother became psychotic and incontinent, and he regularly had to clean up after her. The welder was now trying to bring to Poland his former wife with her new husband and their three children, one of whom was his.
I met 60 elderly Baptists from Zaporizhzhia who were on the way to Amsterdam, where a sister Baptist church was going to shelter them. Zaporizhshia is the site of the largest atomic plant in Europe and it had been overtaken by Russian soldiers. It’s the city where my relatives live. Talking to these refugees, I realized that my aunt had been concealing the truth from me all along: the rockets are falling 10 kilometres away from the city.
I discovered that the most painful subject and the last thing that came up in conversations was the fact that women had had to leave their loved ones behind. The worry for their soldier sons and husbands, their parents, grandparents and siblings, was a deeply hidden, yet constant, heartbreak. It was a breaking point for many. I will not forget those eyes, dozens and dozens of women’s eyes: blue, grey, greenish; eyes magnified by tears at the thought of the separation from loved ones. When a collective image of Ukraine comes to my mind, it’s women’s eyes. Embarrassed to cry in front of me, a stranger, they tried to look away. The older sister would often say to the younger, “Enough already, just stop it!” while breaking into tears herself.
Another move that caused tears was my offering of money to refugees, the generous donations that I had received while I was still in Vancouver. In Canada, I had packed lots of envelopes to put the money into, for a civilized handout. How naïve I was! In the chaos of a refugee centre, it was quickly handing over money from hands to hands. A scared look and the initial refusal to accept was universal. I had to come up with some strategy to overcome the mutual embarrassment. “This is not my money,” I would say. “This is from Canadian friends, people like you. Canadians care about you. They want to help you. But they can’t be here. They asked me to do it for them. Please take it.” A grateful look. Tears. A hug.
The refugee centre was a temporary shelter. Refugees could spend several nights there and then move on: to some city, some country.
The vast majority of the refugees I met were determined to return home once the war was over. But they had made it to Poland and many would have liked to stay there while the war was raging. Poland was familiar; it has cultural and historical ties with Ukraine, especially with the western part of Ukraine.
In the post-Soviet times, before this war, thousands of Ukrainians had gone to Poland for work: a member of the European Union, Polish standards of living and salaries were higher than Ukrainian. Besides, the Polish language was closer to Ukrainian than any others of the countries that came forward to help. It would be manageable somehow; it could be learned, if not by everybody, at least by the younger people. But Poland couldn’t take in any more refugees. Posters in the refugee centre read in Ukrainian: “We are happy to welcome you, but our cities are full. Our small rural communities are cozy and peaceful. Consider moving there.” But even small villages were full and couldn’t afford to welcome any more people.
The women who arrived at the refugee centre accepted with resignation the fact that they would have to be on the move again. The way they decided where to go next somewhat surprised me: it wasn’t on the basis of a better financial package or living conditions. Rather, the criteria was proximity to Ukraine. The first question that women asked me about various countries also seemed unusual: they wanted to know if they would be able to find work quickly. I would talk about the hardships they had just endured; the necessity to rest, to take a break, to look around first. But that didn’t register. They have worked all their lives, they said. They are used to work. Living for free at somebody’s expenses was a no-no.
Most of the Ukrainian women I met were mild-mannered and perhaps less assertive, less forceful, compared to North American ones. All were both surprised and grateful for the help and goodwill they’d seen from so many. They couldn’t praise enough what the Poles did for them. They were deeply touched by the smallest acts of kindness. And none took the help for granted. “If this happened to other nations and we, Ukrainians, would have to do this for somebody else, would we have done the same? I am not sure,” said one woman.
Few discussed the wider political implications of the war. They didn’t talk about Putin or his goals, or the future of their country. Their concerns were more practical and immediate: food, clothing and the well-being of their children, their elderly mothers.
But I remember one woman, Nina, and her fiery indignation: “What have we done to Russians? What do they want from us? We didn’t bother anybody. Nazi? What Nazi? We live peacefully with our neighbours: gypsies, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians. We all speak Ukrainian and Russian!”
Another, older, woman, while waiting for the bus to Germany, was even more emphatic: “You tell me why Russians believe Putin’s propaganda? Why do they have the mentality of slaves? We Ukrainians may have our problems. But we’re free people. Russians are slaves! Slaves.” (The word “slave” in Russian usage has strongly negative connotations, implying the qualities of subservience, fear, and the desire to please the master.)
I thought about these words. I don’t have an answer to her question. Nor do I have any convincing arguments against her harsh indictment.
* * *
I’m still trying to comprehend and, in some way, come to terms with what I experienced over 16 days. It began when I flew into Warsaw from Vancouver and was picked up at the airport by a JDC representative. Together with two volunteers from the United States, we were driven to the Polish-Ukrainian border, where a small group of Holocaust survivors was to arrive. The drive took four to five hours and, by the time we got to the border, it was totally dark and bitterly cold.
Arrangements had been made with Germany that it would take in the Holocaust survivors. The German Red Cross ambulance bus had traveled 13 hours. I learned later that everybody in the ambulance was a volunteer – the driver was a history teacher, the three women were professional nurses donating hours and hours of service.
I wondered how it was possible to find a few Holocaust survivors in a warring country and bring them to safety. It turned out that the Jewish Agency had used the lists of survivors receiving financial assistance before the war to contact and evacuate them.
What struck me most at the time was the sight of several empty white canvass stretchers on the dirt next to the bus. It started to drizzle; the Germans stacked the stretchers and covered them with a tarp. The stretchers, soon to be filled with people, were a menacing sign of the proximity of war, invisible yet close. When the bus from Ukraine finally arrived, one body was carried out on a stretcher. So emaciated and skeletal was this body that, for a moment, I wondered why they were transporting a corpse with the living. When I looked closer, I saw that it was a woman, wounded and emaciated to an extreme degree but alive. For the next while, the Germans administered an IV to the seemingly unresponsive body. I overheard a conversation between two nurses: one wondering if the woman would be able to make it to Germany. They asked her a question – I translated – was she in pain? The woman shook her head. The Germans proceeded to take care of others.
Six other women got off the bus with some help from the Red Cross people and us.
One lady clutched her battered black purse that was overflowing with some papers. She refused to board the ambulance bus. A nurse and I held her up against the bitter wind, while she told us that her son was waiting for her here, around the corner, that he was going to pick her up. We finally figured out what she meant: her son was in Germany and she believed that she had arrived to Germany, not Poland. Efforts were made to contact her son right there, and somebody got him on the phone or they said they did, I’m not sure. But somehow the matter was settled: the woman agreed to board the ambulance.
None of these old and frail women escaped with any possessions to speak of: a handbag, a sack, was all they managed to take. But that little something was now the focus of their attention; a symbol of their lost nests, and they feverishly clung to it.
One woman finally settled on a stretcher inside the ambulance, her purse sitting on top of her chest. Another plowed through her handbag in search of a watch, the only item left from her late husband, she said; she couldn’t find it, believed it was stolen and was distraught.
Yet another was worried about her frequent need to urinate. A nurse and I led her to the blue booths on the side of the road. She whispered in my ear, asking if I could take her alone: the nurse had accompanied her to the booth before; it was too embarrassing to need to go again.
None of the Holocaust survivors seemed to be clear about what was going on and where they were going next. Finding out that there would be another 13 hours of travel to Frankfurt on top of the hours of travel behind her, one of the passengers refused to go. “I won’t be able to take it,” she said. “I lived through German occupation once and now it’s the Russians. I’ve had enough.”
The last to arrive (I think in a separate bus) was a man. With nothing in his hands, he seemed to be unperturbed by the lack of any worldly possessions. He came from Kyiv. “I didn’t want to leave. But I’m an invalid. I live on the third floor and can’t go downstairs into the basement during the air raids,” he explained. “My son was worried and decided to pack me off to Germany. One way or the other, what difference does it make for me after all I’ve lived through? I remember the Germans. They didn’t do to us what the Russians are doing.”
For almost anyone, this would be the most stunning statement. The Nazis, the Germans, and their allies, committed terrible atrocities during the Second World War (“the Great Patriotic War,” as it was officially called in the Soviet Union, where I grew up). They were inhuman in their cruelty; they were beasts. I still remember the games of my childhood that we played in our yards: the good guys were Russians, the bad ones were Nazis, the Fritzes, as we called them.
I thought about it as I was watched the German nurses taking care, with utmost attention and patience, of the elderly Ukrainian Jews, the Holocaust survivors, escaping Russian atrocities in the 21st century.
Marina Sonkina is a fiction writer, and teaches in the Liberal Arts Program 55+ at Simon Fraser University. She immigrated to Canada with her two then-young sons, as the Soviet Union was breaking up. When Russia attacked Ukraine, she applied as a volunteer with the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. She arrived in Poland early this month and was a frontline responder for 16 days, offering refugees medical and psychological support.
Michelle Pollock, chair of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Israel and global engagement committee. (photo from JFGV)
For Montreal native Michelle Pollock, chair of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Israel and global engagement committee (IGEC), love and loyalty to world Jewry were firmly established early in life – at home, school and in the community at large.
That deep affinity was further solidified after a two-month trip to Israel with her ninth-grade class. More recently, while serving as president of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver in 2016, Pollock took a trip with her husband Neil to visit the Krakow and Moscow JCCs.
“These visits were incredibly powerful,” Pollock told the Independent. “Witnessing the young adults of these communities, discovering and exploring their Jewish heritage was beautiful. Even more inspiring was the hard work and dedication of the Polish and Russian volunteers and staff in creating welcoming spaces to facilitate this Jewish self-discovery.”
In November 2017, Pollock traveled to northern Israel as a participant on a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs mission. “Many of the participants on the trip were IGEC members or staff and their passion for our partnership region was infectious. I joined the IGEC soon thereafter,” she said.
A visit to Federation’s partnership region, Etzba HaGalil (the Galilee Panhandle), followed, in November 2019. That experience was multifaceted. The area is known for its physical beauty and the warmth of its residents, said Pollock, but the harsh reality of security issues and the regional challenges of jobs, infrastructure and opportunity also prevail, she noted.
“Seeing this firsthand infused me with gratitude to our Federation, which has worked so closely with the region since the mid-1990s to bring desperately needed aid and programming in a continuing effort to address the challenges faced by its residents,” Pollock said. “Jewish Federation has strategically invested funds to strengthen this region through education and social welfare programs, capital projects and regional development, and building enduring relationships between members of our community and residents of Etzba HaGalil.”
Similar to efforts locally, some of the funds to Israel have been allocated to new programs addressing youth mental health issues, violence and abuse at home, educational gaps and food security – all problems that have been compounded by the pandemic.
As for the challenges in another region in need, Far East Russia, where many Jews live in remote locations, Federation partners with the Joint Distribution Committee. The JDC is a global organization that addresses critical rescue and relief needs in more than 60 countries, including in the former Soviet Union (FSU).
“Working together with the JDC, life-saving aid is provided to over 80,000 elderly Jewish people in the former Soviet Union who struggle to survive on meagre pensions of $2 per day. They are the poorest Jews in the world, most without family or government support. Their distress and vulnerability are exacerbated by the region’s remoteness and freezing winters,” Pollock explained.
Many of these elderly Jews are well-educated and trained as doctors, lawyers, scientists and educators, she said. Having spent most of their working lives under communism, however, they were unable to accumulate savings. When the Soviet Union collapsed, along with the region’s pension and social assistance infrastructure, they were left poverty-stricken.
“Vancouver is geographically the nearest Jewish community to the Jewish communities in the easternmost part of Russia, adjacent to Siberia. As a strategic priority to strengthen Jewish life around the world, Jewish Federation (as the closest Federation) plays a very active role in supporting this region,” Pollock said. “We ensure long-term economic and social stability for Jews living overseas and in Israel by funding much-needed programs that provide a safety net for our most vulnerable people.”
These specialized programs, funded in part by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver through the annual campaign, impact the lives of at-risk youth, low-income seniors and those living in economically fragile areas.
This year, Federation is funding a program directed at youth in the FSU called Active Jewish Teen (AJT). Engagement in the Jewish community, it believes, is an essential first step in making communal responsibility an inseparable part of one’s Jewish identity. Though still building momentum, AJT already has more than 3,200 members in 63 locations across seven countries.
Besides investing strategically, Federation’s IGEC has made solid connections with the groups it is serving in the FSU, said Pollock. It is also attentive to urgent needs arising in other Jewish communities around the world, helping fund operations and campaigns in South America, Ethiopia, the United States and elsewhere, she said.
Closer to home, throughout the year, Jewish Federation’s Israel and global engagement department brings opportunities for the Vancouver community to experience Israeli culture. Next year’s Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut will present opportunities for the community to come together in person.
“Building off the success of last year’s virtual Israeli Independence Day celebration, we will include more local talents and have community fun projects such as the community song and more surprises,” said Pollock, adding that there is a contingency plan in place should the COVID situation change.
Further, shinshinim, teenage emissaries from Israel, will be in town in the coming year. The shinshinim engage local young people in various activities and help foster meaningful ties between Disapora Jews and Israel.
Members of the Vancouver community have a chance to travel to Israel next summer, as well. Federation is facilitating a community mission from July 24 to Aug. 5, 2022.
“I know many of us are keen to travel and get back to Israel and this is going to be an amazing experience,” said Pollock. “At this point, we are looking for people to register their interest and there are a number of information sessions coming up.”
To learn more about the trip to Israel and to donate to the annual campaign, visit jewishvancouver.com.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Shay Keil with daughter Tali, a student at King David High School. (photo from Shay Keil)
A Vancouver-area wealth manager and philanthropist is celebrating a trifecta of milestones.
Shay Keil (pronounced “Shy Kyle”) has just been named one of Canada’s 150 top wealth advisors by the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine. The accolade comes just as Keil marks 30 years in the finance industry. To top it off, he set out to mark the 30-year milestone by raising and donating $30,000 to B.C. Children’s Hospital – instead, he recently handed over a cheque for $51,000.
In addition to his work anniversary, the fundraiser was inspired by the son of Keil’s former assistant, who was in Children’s Hospital for an extended period last summer.
“He was diagnosed with a very severe form of epilepsy and he suffered from dozens of seizures in the month of July,” Keil said. “He is recovering well and the treatment program at Children’s Hospital seems to have resolved all of his seizure problems and he’s been seizure-free August, September, October. It’s quite a testament to the amazing work they did.”
Keil initially wasn’t certain his $30,000 goal was realistic.
“I was worried I wouldn’t even raise $30,000 but lots of people have rallied,” he said. “It was really amazing, so I was very proud.”
That achievement was still fresh when Report on Business rolled off the presses, placing Keil among the foremost Canadians in his field.
“I don’t often toot my own horn,” he said, “but, frankly, having 30 years, raising $51,000 and then being voted in by the Globe and Mail to be in the top list of wealth advisors is an enormously proud moment in my career. It’s validating all the hard work I’ve done all these years at delivering top-quality financial guidance to my clients and building a large client base of people who trust me.”
Keil’s work focuses on tax, income and charitable strategies. A confirmed “numbers guy,” he thrives on helping clients realize their goals, he said.
“I’m giving people comfort and peace of mind in dealing with their financial future,” he said.
Keil was born in Tel Aviv and moved to Vancouver as a child. He attended Vancouver Talmud Torah and graduated from Eric Hamber Secondary School. His entire three-decade career has been with Scotiabank, where he started as a bank teller and moved up through the ranks to become a wealth advisor with ScotiaMcLeod.
“Honoured, overwhelmed, proud,” are the words he uses to describe his feelings at the confluence of accolades.
“I’m very committed to giving back to my community and to educating young people on how to understand their financial pictures and objectives,” he said.
Keil has been involved in a panoply of Jewish community institutions as a volunteer and financial supporter. He is a past president of Richmond Jewish Day School and is currently on the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, as well as co-chair of major donor gifts for Federation’s annual campaign. His other significant commitments include Jewish Family Services, Chabad of Richmond, Beth Tikvah and Beth Israel synagogues, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, King David High School and the Louis Brier Home and Hospital.
When not working or volunteering, Keil spends time with his family – wife Mickey, son Trevin (a third-year university student) and daughter Tali (Grade 11 at King David). He also loves camping and golf and has a thrill-seeking side, which he feeds driving racecars.
“I’m having so much fun I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life.”