Shabbat Candlelighting 7:17p.m.                                                Friday, March 26, 2010/11 Nisan 5770

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Home Away From Home
Many of us have wonderful memories of our summer camp days, when we formed powerful attachments to friends, had amazing and often limit-stretching personal experiences (often unintended by parents or camp administrators). If you want a chance to relive those memories, stop by the Jewish Museum’s new exhibit on Jewish summer camps, titled Home Away From Home, which opened last week. Focusing on the history of the local Jewish camps that serve our community – Camp Hatikvah, Camp Miriam and Camp Solomon Schechter - the exhibit is chock full of great pictures and memorabilia.

Last night the museum hosted a wine and cheese party for young adults in our community who attended these camps, co-sponsored by Federation and the BC Birthright Alumni Committee (BCBAC). The exhibit is open until October 7th with many special events between now and then.

Mountain Equipment Co-op Vote Closes Soon - Vote Yes
If you are a member of Mountain Equipment Co-op, your opportunity to vote in advance of this year’s AGM is closing soon. Visit the MEC website to vote for directors who support MEC’s ethical sourcing policy and vote yes on the special resolutions that will make it more difficult for political groups to use the AGM to promote an anti-Israel agenda. For information on the special resolutions click here. To get a better understanding of what the anti-Israel side is doing, including the candidates they are trying to defeat, click here.

Getting to the “Starting Line”
Federation hosted a visit this week by Dari Shalon, an accomplished Israeli biotechnology entrepreneur and philanthropist who has started one of Israel’s outstanding youth leadership programs. Kav HaZinuk (Starting Line) invites 15 year-old students into a unique 10-year leadership development experience that follows them through their high school, army/volunteer service and first academic degree. The program carefully selects promising youth leaders with a “fire in their belly” to change the world, particularly those from non-elite schools and areas of Israel. Focusing on providing both leadership skills and experiential learning, the program hopes to shape the next generation of leaders for Israeli society.

Together with the other “Coast-to-Coast” Federations with which we work in the Upper Galilee, our Federation has partnered with Shalon and his organization to bring the program to our partnership region. Over the next 10 years, 250 youth from the region will have the opportunity to begin this incredible program, and become part of a powerful national cadre of change agents within Israel.

This week’s meeting with Shalon provided a group of our major donors an exciting opportunity to see one of Israel’s best and brightest in action. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with him on such an extraordinary project, and look forward to introducing some of the extraordinary youth from the program to our community in the future.

Celebrating our Festival of Freedom
This Monday evening we will begin our celebration of the festival of Passover, our annual commemoration of our miraculous liberation from slavery in Egypt, leading to the revelation at Mt. Sinai of a code of laws that continue to guide us as a people to this day. Our Passover seder is a structured evening replete with rituals that symbolically bring the lessons from our past to life through discussion and debate.

If I have to think about one person who, in my lifetime, personifies the struggle for freedom leading to redemption, it would have to be Natan Sharansky. When I started my career 26 years ago, he was imprisoned in the Soviet Union for having fought to express himself as a Jew and for seeking the right to emigrate to the Jewish homeland. Sharansky was a fearless advocate for human rights in the face of a brutal and repressive regime, fighting for freedom for both Jews and non-Jews.

Upon his release, he made aliyah to Israel where he quickly emerged as a political voice for the Soviet émigrés who were struggling to integrate themselves into Israeli society. Although his political power base was the immigrant community, he transcended that particularistic base to play roles in government that extended far beyond the parochial interests of new immigrants.

Today, Natan Sharansky holds the position of chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency (JAFI). JAFI is our primary agent for delivering services in Israel with the funds allocated overseas from our Annual Campaign. But, it is important to remember that before there was a Jewish state, JAFI was the provisional government of the Jews living in Palestine. In that sense, JAFI was and still is the major collective embodiment of World Jewry to build and contribute to the State of Israel.

Sharansky brings to that role the extraordinary intellect and powerful force of personality that sustained him in prison in Siberia, and that enabled him to weather the rough and tumble arena of Israeli political life. In his role he is now the most significant bridge between the organized Jewish communities of the Diaspora and the government and people of Israel.

Passover is about a transcendent moment in history when against all odds we were delivered by God from slavery to freedom. As we approach the seder this year, we can think about the personal story of one man, Natan Sharansky, and realize that we are still witness to transcendent events in our own time. When someone with that history stands at the head of the Jewish Agency, the single largest collective agent of World Jewry, with which we are all connected through our Federation Annual Campaign, we are powerfully connected with that narrative.

May you and your family have a joyous Passover holiday!

Shabbat Shalom!

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