Vancouver Hebrew Academy head of school Rabbi Don Pacht, right, presents Joseph and Rosalie Segal with a Stanley Cup-inspired Kiddush cup. (photo by Jocelyne Hallé)
Vancouver Hebrew Academy has outgrown its current facility and is looking to build a new school. It’s in the early stages of a capital campaign to raise $18 million, of which almost 15% has been pledged to date. Its annual Summer Garden Party added to those funds – and it also celebrated the school’s impact, the broader community, and Joseph and Rosalie Segal for their “lifetime of commitment to our Jewish future.”
The party was held on July 21 at the home of Lorne and Mélita Segal. The other event ambassadors were their siblings: Norman and Sandra Miller, Dr. Mark and Tracey Schonfeld, and Gary and Nanci Segal. The night was emceed by Howard Blank and catered by Chef Menachem.
The evening’s program noted that VHA’s facility, which it rents from the Vancouver School Board, “doesn’t provide the space and the tools for modern education,” and doesn’t allow for growth. “The main building was built in the 1940s. Three portables have been added. The current 12,000-square-foot space is insufficient and well below the area standards recommended by the Ministry of Education for elementary schools.” VHA’s vision? “A new home for Torah education.”
Starting off the formal portion of the evening, Elizabeth Nider, co-chair of the VHA board of directors, thanked Joe and Rosalie Segal, “not just for being our honorees, but for providing an inspiration and example to our community of what it means to give.” She said this is a value that the teachers and staff of VHA are effectively imparting to students.
By way of example, Nider related the story of what happened three years ago, when her father-in-law, Marvin Nider, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her son, Yosef, who was 6 at the time, asked her and her husband what he could do to help. Over the course of a few weeks, Yosef planned and held a violin concert, raising more than $10,000 for the B.C. Cancer Foundation, “knowing that this money might not help his grandfather, but would maybe help others with cancer in the future.”
The most meaningful part for the family, she said, was that her father-in-law could watch the concert on Facetime from his hospital bed. “To us, giving back means giving and not expecting anything back. It means giving because you know it’s the right thing to do. And I thank Vancouver Hebrew Academy for teaching our children the importance of giving, and I also thank Joe and Rosalie for leading by example.”
In his dvar Torah, Rabbi Don Pacht, VHA head of school, gave a brief lesson on the mitzvah of charity, “the commandment to give and to offer assistance.” One of the most known lessons is that of the half-shekel, he said. “Everyone in the community was invited to participate and the funds raised would be incorporated into the treasury of the Temple and would benefit the entire community equally.”
“Charity is a two-way street,” he added, talking not only about those who give – making special mention of the evening’s honorees – but the receivers. “For those of us who do receive, it creates an obligation, wherever possible, for us to give back. And that is the value we try to impart at the Hebrew Academy for our families, for our students.”
VHA class of 2008 alumna Kira Smordin said, “VHA gave me the values and the skills of a Torah education, a love for my Jewish heritage, the ability to navigate across the broad spectrum of the Jewish world and the tools to engage and thrive in the secular one.”
Smordin spoke of a couple of teachers in particular who inspired and encouraged her to become a teacher herself.
“This past April,” she said, “I finished my second year of a five-year dual degree arts and education program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.”
As part of the curriculum, she has to do an annual teaching practicum and, this year, she chose VHA. “My teaching practicum was the perfect opportunity for me to give back to a school and a community that has given so much to me,” she said, adding that the most important lessons she learned at VHA were about chesed (compassion) and tzedakah (charity), and that the Segals “are those lessons come to life for me…. You demonstrate by example what it means to give back. You set the bar high and challenge all of us to reach for it.”
Judy Boxer-Zack, VHA class of 1996, added her reflections.
She compared a community to an orchestra, in which everyone has a part to play. She then shared why VHA is close to her heart, and a bit about Chimp (Charitable Impact), the organization for which she works.
At VHA, she said, students were taught to treat everyone with respect, dignity and a sense of inclusiveness. “What naturally flowed from this for us was a distinctive sense that we had a responsibility for our local and broader communities. This was one of the many ways that VHA was setting the stage to inspire the next generation of Jewish leaders.”
And it specifically inspired Boxer-Zack in her career path. She has worked for a variety of nonprofits, leading up to her job at Chimp, and she was visibly proud to introduce Ariel Lewinski, vice-president of Chimp, who was the next speaker.
Recently, Lewinski and his wife, Rachael, had met with Joe Segal, learning a bit about Segal’s life and business endeavors. “What struck me,” said Lewinski, “is how Mr. Segal was so proud to mention that his children and grandchildren have carried on in this tradition of giving back, and thus creating a family legacy of giving.”
Lewinski noted, “We are all here tonight, in some capacity, because we value the importance of Torah education and recognize that, regardless of how each of us chooses to raise our children, a Torah education and an institution that serves that purpose is at the foundation of any vibrant and diverse Jewish community.”
Lewinski’s wife is a VHA alumna and currently sits on the executive board; his mother-in-law, Ruth Erlichman, was the board’s first president and currently sits on the board of governors; and his son, Yaakov, will be starting school at VHA in September. He said that he and his family are such strong supporters of VHA because not only does it provide a strong Torah education but also an excellent secular education.
Lewinski spoke about Chimp, and its objective of reversing the trend of declining charitable giving in Canada by creating and nurturing “a culture of giving by making charity accessible and an everyday part of life.” Everyone at the garden party was given a $100 gift from Chimp to give to any charity, or charities. During the proceedings that followed, Hodi Kahn challenged attendees to give to VHA, saying that the Kahn Family Foundation would match all donations, up to $10,000. As of Tuesday, with 15 days left in the fundraiser, more than $17,000 of the $20,000 goal had been donated.
Another type of donation was also presented during the evening, with Dr. Peter Legge and his wife, Kay, providing a copy to every family in attendance of his book Lunch with Joe, which features a biography of Joe Segal, shares some of Segal’s philosophies on business and life, and includes the stories of more than 90 people who have had the chance to lunch with Segal at the Four Seasons Vancouver.
Addressing the honorees, Erlichman said she has had many meetings with Joe Segal over the last 18 or so years. “I always came away not only with material support, but practical suggestions to move the needs of our school forward,” she said. “You and Rosalie have been and continue to be incredible mentors – so many of us have benefited from your leadership and generosity of spirit.”
Pacht then presented the Segals with a Stanley Cup-shaped Kiddush cup. Just as the blessing over the wine helps us transition into Shabbat, said the rabbi, “you have also taught us how to take the mundane and to elevate it to the spiritual. The way that your family supports the community is exceptional in every way. It’s inspiring for every one of us here, and countless generations of children and families at the Vancouver Hebrew Academy have felt and will always feel the impact of your family.”
The inscription on the cup recognizes the Segals’ “lifetime of commitment to our Jewish future.”
When Joe Segal spoke, he acknowledged that, while he and his wife had received many accolades during the night, they were not the only ones deserving. “Everybody in this room, I’m sure, has had a special affinity,” he said, “something that was important to them [to support]…. The important thing in life is to do what you can. And the measurement is not how you do it or how big you do it, but doing it the right way.”
Segal described VHA as a “very worthy institution” because it is a “nurturing breeding ground of understanding and of belonging and of responsibility.”
He added – sharing part of a conversation from earlier that day – that Jews comprise such a small percentage of the world’s population. And so, he said, holding back emotion, “This is directed to you, Rabbi Pacht, because what you’re doing is so important – you’re planting the seeds for the evolution and the continuation of the race. Thank you.”