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.”
Rome Fox has been associated with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for 25 years. (photo from vhec.org)
Rome Fox has retired as assistant director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. She was recognized at the VHEC annual general meeting Oct. 20 by being named a Life Fellow of the organization.
Fox has been associated with the VHEC for a quarter-century, first as a volunteer, as a member of the board of directors and the executive committee and as co-chair of the annual Yom Hashoah commemorative event. Joining the centre’s staff as a part-time volunteer coordinator, Fox went on to serve as program coordinator, interim education coordinator and acting executive director, while also taking the lead on annual commemorative events.
In her remarks at the AGM, Fox reflected on the people she has met and worked with, emphasizing the Holocaust survivors.
“It has been life-changing and very fulfilling to participate in the growth of such an important and dynamic museum dedicated to Holocaust education and remembrance,” she said. “I’m truly honoured, fortunate and privileged to work with you, our remarkable and resilient Holocaust survivor community, and I cherish the lessons I’ve learned from you. You made a difference not only in my life but in the lives of thousands and thousands of B.C. students, teachers, citizens and government officials.”
Fox also expressed pride at the changes in the organization and the innovative projects, campaigns and commemorative events with which she has been involved.
She said she treasures her relationships with the three executive directors with whom she has served – Nina Krieger, Frieda Miller and Roberta Kremer – and the meaningful work they have done.
“Every day, when you’re working there, you know you’re making a difference somehow, someway,” she told the Independent. “Somebody’s life is being touched. When you hear the remarks of students of the impact of survivors or when they take a workshop, the questions that they ask, you know that kids are starting to get this stuff.”
Both of Fox’s late parents, Sarah and Al Rozenberg, were Holocaust survivors from Poland. Her mother was in the Warsaw Ghetto and worked in a munitions factory. Ultimately, Sarah was sent to Majdanek, while her entire family was sent to Treblinka and murdered. Many of Sarah Rozenberg’s artifacts are in the VHEC’s permanent collections.
Fox knows less about her father’s story, but he was mostly on the run and helping people as they tried to escape Nazi-occupied Poland.
The couple met in a displaced persons camp and moved to Edmonton, where Rome was born.
In a moving testimonial video shared at the annual general meeting, staff, volunteers and survivors paid tribute to Fox.
Robert Krell, founding president of the VHEC, spoke of “the strength you bring to the centre and the comfort and compassion to our survivors through your own personal understanding of our nature and our struggles.”
Frieda Miller, past executive director, said: “If an organization can be said to have a heart, you were that heart. As daughters of survivor parents, we shared that unique bond, one that I think also uniquely equipped us for our work at the centre. But, Rome, what I want you to know is that your contributions were not just valuable but truly fundamental to the VHEC’s remarkable achievements of over a quarter of a century.”
Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, a Holocaust survivor, said: “I read somewhere that the sturdiest pillars of human morality are compassion and a sense of justice. In all my interactions with you, I have experienced both. In your work at VHEC, you have been supportive and encouraging, you understood what it means to be a survivor of the Holocaust and have helped to guide us in many ways.”
Wendy Bross Stuart and Ron Stuart, who worked with Fox on the musical components of countless commemorative events, thanked her for years of achievements.
“She’s approachable, kind, competent, committed – she’s got the whole package,” Ron Stuart said. “I think you can get some of those qualities in other individuals but to get the whole package is quite unique.”
Krieger, the current executive director of the VHEC, spoke of the absence Fox’s retirement will leave.
“Although it is nearly impossible for us to imagine the centre without Rome as an integral part of our team, I know that we will continue to ask ourselves: What would Rome do?”
Oct. 21, 2019, seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? That was the date of the last Canadian federal election. Since then, it’s been a world of endless uncertainties and instability.
The Jewish community has witnessed levels of antisemitism that haven’t been seen for decades. Hate crime numbers are way up. The aura of anti-Israel sentiment, especially following the conflict earlier this year in Gaza, has created an environment that has many feeling unsafe and anxious. The silence of many within the political sector has been cause for concern. On top of all of this, the havoc of the COVID pandemic is still felt daily.
Let’s be real: people are upset and worried. The past 22 months since the last election have presented incredible challenges to our well-being and shown that nothing is guaranteed. The Canadian Jewish community has demonstrated its resilience and fortitude but there is a lot more to do, especially when it comes to elections. We’ve seen firsthand what an important role the government plays in our lives, especially regarding the pandemic, so it’s vital that we extend our efforts more effectively in the political realm.
The Jewish community makes up less than 1.1% of the population and is concentrated in just a handful of ridings – 10 out of 338. That’s only three percent. Our numbers are continuing to decline. In politics, relationships matter. If we limit ourselves to involvement in only three percent of ridings and three percent of candidates, we are at a major disadvantage when it comes to our community and the things we care about.
To ensure our voices are heard, members of the Jewish community must continue to build relationships and educate MPs in ridings from coast to coast. This starts with political engagement, and it starts with each of us. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
The good news is that we have the tools to get engaged so we can work beyond the local ridings where we vote. While the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) does not engage in or facilitate lobbying and advocacy, we do act as a concierge, helping members of our community to get engaged politically.
Another important factor is that change is inevitable with elections. In 2019, 98 first-time MPs (27%) were elected, 60 of whom were in ridings that flipped seats. A third of those 60 MPs defeated the second-place finisher by less than five percent of the vote. As for this election, at the time we wrote this, 26 incumbents had decided not to run for reelection. Many more ridings will change hands. This means that, no matter which way the election goes, our community will need to build new relationships with new parliamentarians.
We can jumpstart that process. Community members like you can volunteer and acquaint yourselves with candidates from beyond your own riding and across the country. Every campaign is in dire need of volunteers, and even just a few hours can be a huge help. Often just a few more volunteers can make the difference between winning and losing a race. Plus, the appreciation for a volunteer’s work – no matter how big or small – is something that’s not easily forgotten.
There is, of course, one element that’s changed the game with this election: COVID. While it’s still possible to engage in traditional methods of volunteering – door-knocking, handing out literature in the community, putting up lawn signs or working in a polling station – understandably, some are hesitant to participate under pandemic circumstances.
But fear not: there are many physically distanced ways to volunteer, including from your own home. And you don’t have to be politically experienced to do it. All you have to do is raise your hand and show up. CJPAC will connect you to the campaign of your choice.
For those who feel more comfortable with a bit of instruction, CJPAC’s team makes it simple by training you on the basics of campaign volunteering. You can volunteer in your local riding or in one of the other many ridings where a strong Jewish presence is absent. Perhaps that means traveling 20 to 30 minutes away from your home or simply making phone calls from your couch for a candidate in a more remote part of the country.
The first step is to sign up at cjpac.ca/volunteer, and CJPAC will connect you with the campaign or candidate of your choice.
As Jews, we are committed to community service and contributing to the greater society. While it’s been a rough several months, we don’t have to stand alone. It doesn’t matter what party you align with: it’s vital to the health and safety of the Canadian Jewish community to build relationships with all parties. We can accomplish that together by getting engaged.
Jeffrey Feldmanis chair of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee and Mark Waldman is the executive director of CJPAC. This op-ed was first published on thecjn.ca.
Light of Shabbat Volunteers packaging kosher meals for the High Holidays. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
On Aug. 29, a contingent of 12 Chabad Richmond volunteers worked to ensure that recipients of the Richmond community Light of Shabbat (LOS) meal program would be well fed throughout Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
The volunteers cooked more than 800 LOS meals in a local kosher commissary. “This is truly a labour of love,” said organizer Chanie Baitelman, co-director of Chabad Richmond. “Our Light of Shabbat participants rely on these meals. It’s not just about feeding individuals and families, it’s about nourishing their souls as well.”
Since 2011, Chabad Richmond has run a community-building program called Light of Shabbat, where volunteers cook and deliver kosher Shabbat meals to old and young, singles and families, the unemployed and working poor, immigrants and born-and-raised community members. The program is run entirely by volunteers, who coordinate, plan, shop, cook, bake, package and deliver full, healthy, kosher meals.
Since the pandemic began, more than 12,000 such meals have been prepared and delivered to people in the Richmond community. All of this is made possible through the generosity of donors, many of whom are LOS volunteers themselves. They know that everyone needs a helping hand at some time in their life.
Sara Barahan, a former Israel Connect student, continues to meet with her mentor from the program, and has started helping others improve their English, too. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
Israel Connect pairs a mentor with an Israeli teen student who is wanting to improve their English reading, vocabulary and language skills. Mentors dedicate time every week to a video meeting with their student, using Israel Connect’s “Tour of Israel” curriculum. The goal is that, by the end of the school year, students have the skills and confidence they need to succeed in Israel’s national university entrance exam.
I have been blessed with the opportunity of being part of the Israel Connect program as a volunteer tutor/mentor. Having done this for a few years, I’m keenly aware of the benefits for both students and tutors.
A year-and-a-half ago, I was matched up with Sara Barahan, 23, who is older than the average student we work with and is in college. When we were first matched up, she was in her first year, studying to be an English and special needs teacher. It was pure joy from the moment we met. Her enthusiasm, motivation and single-minded pursuit for learning English was palpable, and her commitment and memory extraordinary.
We were tutor and student for a full school year and, once it finished, Sara asked if we could continue to meet via WhatsApp video, independently, and, of course, I agreed. I think I enjoy our meetings even more than Sara does! Even though I have a new Israel Connect student I tutor once a week, Sara and I continue to talk weekly, often for an hour or more. I’ve met many of her family members, virtually, and we’ve shared a lot about our lives in our many conversations.
For one of her college assignments, Sara was asked to write about the people and things that have influenced her on her journey to learn English. This is what she wrote:
“The Israel Connect Program was sponsored by Chabad. This program involves senior volunteer tutors from all over North America, who are fluent English-speakers, connect online, one-on-one via Zoom, for 30 minutes once a week with Israeli high school students who want to improve their English conversation and reading skills. The organizers know that good English skills will give Israeli students an advantage in accessing post-secondary education, and getting better jobs.
“English proficiency is crucial to Israeli students, since it makes up a third of their entrance exam marks for university. Students and tutors make great connections and it often goes beyond simply tutoring the curriculum, and turns into friendship. The program is something concrete and meaningful that helps Israeli students improve their lives. Building relationships is a highly satisfying and core part of this program, for both the students and the tutors.
“I joined the Israel Connect Program when I was in my first year in college,” said Barahan. “The lecturer offered this program (although it was meant to be for teenagers) and I saw it as an opportunity to improve my English, so I decided to participate in it. And this is how I got to know my tutor, Shelley from Vancouver, Canada, who until today is still in touch with me.
“This program is very important and meaningful to me because it is through this program that I got to meet the person who has influenced me, and a person that I enjoy talking to about different topics. This relationship has become very close and it’s not just a virtual meeting about a set curriculum; our conversations are about topics far beyond the studies. Thanks to the Israel Connect program I have gotten the chance to practise my English speaking, reading, writing and listening skills and expand my vocabulary.”
What greater accolade could Israel Connect get than this firsthand testimonial from a graduate of the program? I use the word graduate because Sara participated as an older student and has continued with her English studies.
Sara and I are fast friends, despite our 41-year age difference. We talk about school, her social life, our families, her aspirations, her frustrations, and everything in between. She confides in me and we have become very close. I would say that Sara seems like a daughter to me, except for the fact that I’m old enough to be her safta (grandmother). The age disparity isn’t an issue though; in fact, I like to think that she sees me as a kind of hip grandmother.
Sara often asks for my help proofreading her essays for school, and I love helping her learn. I see remarkable progress in her English language fluency and conversation skills. She says that I’m the only person she can speak English with, and really appreciates practising with me. What better way to learn a language than to converse at length about all sorts of topics? And Sara has gone on to tutor English to her neighbour’s 9-year-old daughter. Now, if that’s not a success story, I don’t know what is!
Other Israel Connect mentors have also expressed how gratifying it is to help these young Israeli students, and most mentors say that they’re certain they enjoy the experience at least as much as their students. They’ve described the mentoring experience as refreshing, fun, fulfilling and, at times, challenging – but always rewarding. Their students all sincerely appreciate the chance to practise their English conversation, vocabulary and reading skills with someone who is friendly and nonjudgmental. Some kids said they are embarrassed to try speaking English in class, or in front of their family, so the Israel Connect program gives them the confidence to speak. More importantly, it gives them the incentive to continue learning English, which they know will help them as they enter university and seek out good jobs.
Israel Connect always welcomes new volunteer mentors. For more information about the program and how to volunteer, go to tinyurl.com/yd6y4jrq.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer. She wrote this article for Chabad Richmond.
Several years ago, Chabad Richmond launched the Light of Shabbat program with the purpose of helping Richmond Jewish seniors celebrate Shabbat and feel connected. At first, the program involved making and delivering a free, homemade, kosher kugel and challah to six or seven Jewish seniors in the community every other week. As the program has grown, more people are receiving Shabbat meals, which now include soup, salad, a main dish, vegetables, dessert, Shabbat candles and grape juice.
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Light of Shabbat has expanded, and now approximately 140 meals are delivered every week to people in Richmond and beyond – an increase of more than 80%. And that number continues to grow. Now, not only seniors, but younger individuals, families and those in need can receive a Light of Shabbat meal weekly. Chabad Richmond hopes to expand the program even more.
A program like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. More than 44 Light of Shabbat volunteers do everything from shopping, to food preparation, cooking, baking, packing and delivering the meals. Every volunteer plays an integral role.
Reaching out to help those in need is a core Jewish value. As we all know, the pandemic has resulted in people self-isolating, and many have little or no access to stores. Some have difficulty cooking, and others are simply feeling the desperation of social disconnection.
Supported through individual donations and foundation funding, Chabad Richmond’s year-round partner for the Light of Shabbat program is the Kehila Society. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver has stepped forward and been supportive. In addition, Chabad Richmond has received donations of goods from Urist Cosmetics (hand sanitizer) and Real Canadian Superstore, Dan-D-Pak (food items), and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous provided facemasks.
Several of the Light of Shabbat volunteers were recently interviewed. When asked about their personal experiences volunteering, many said they deliver the Shabbat meals. The volunteers deliver not only to seniors (some of whom have mobility issues), but also to people who have lost their jobs, people struggling with physical and mental health issues, and those who are grieving alone. As one volunteer said: “You just don’t know what people are going through right now.”
Several volunteers have gotten to know Light of Shabbat recipients quite well, have become part of their lives and have forged strong connections with them. A number of volunteers say they feel like a lifeline for the people they deliver to.
One volunteer started doing deliveries with his son before his son’s bar mitzvah a few years ago. Acknowledging that his own family is fortunate, he said: “It’s a way to show my son the importance of helping others, and expose him to a wide range of experiences.”
Every volunteer’s experience is different, but they all have one thing in common: they all enjoy volunteering and feel that they benefit as much if not more than those receiving the meals. “The socially distanced shmoozing and forming of new friendships is important to the people we deliver to,” said volunteer Jill Topp. “And to me, too.”
While the Light of Shabbat program is primarily for the Jewish community, volunteer Topp said that she delivers a weekly meal to a local Muslim family. The head of the family told her: “I don’t know what we would do without you.”
As for what motivates the volunteers, giving back to the community is key. One volunteer, who chose to remain anonymous, said she treasures celebrating Shabbat with her own family, and wants others to have that experience too, even if it’s only to eat a Shabbat meal.
Volunteer Michelle Zychlinski said, “Not only do the recipients appreciate the meal, but they really appreciate the social interaction,” even if it’s from a safe distance of two metres. “So, if I can help in some way, I’m happy to.”
Volunteer Yael Segal said, “I feel it’s my responsibility, as a part of this Jewish community, to help others. It’s my honour and privilege to do it.”
Yet another volunteer, Shannon Gorski, said she gets back tenfold what she puts into it and volunteer John Samuel said, “It’s so important that people have community support. They deserve to have a kosher meal on Shabbat and to feel connected.” Another volunteer said that this opportunity has “enlarged my life,” and she wants to do more.
The connections made between volunteers and recipients will likely last beyond the COVID-19 crisis, with quite a few volunteers saying that they definitely plan to visit with their newfound friends after it’s all over.
Segal said she rekindled an old friendship when she delivered the Shabbat meal to someone she hadn’t seen in years. “One of the Russian families I deliver to recognized me from when I first immigrated to Canada as a small child. I built a rapport with them and have a little visit each week. They really look forward to the visit and the Shabbat meal. Some of the people feel very isolated.”
In the end, it’s all about building relationships with members of the community. As one interviewee put it, “It’s so important for people in the community to know that they are not forgotten about. And it’s good to know that I’m making a difference. The Light of Shabbat program is a great means to connect with secular members of the community, too, and demonstrate that Chabad cares about them.”
Topp added, “I encourage anybody to volunteer – it’s a great thing for everyone involved.”
If you know someone who could benefit from the Light of Shabbat program, contact Chabad Richmond at 604-277-6427. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer with the program, go to chabadrichmond.com/lightofshabbat.