Shabbat Candlelighting 8:20 p.m.                                                Friday, May 7, 2010/16 Iyar 5770

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Federation Expanding Investments in Birthright Israel and Joint Distribution Committee
While our Allocations Planning Committee continues work preparing its recommendations for local agencies for the upcoming year, our Israel and Overseas Affairs Committee brought forward its recommendations for overseas allocations at our board meeting earlier this week. In addition to ensuring that we continue to meet our fair share of funding for the Jewish Agency for Israel, we will be increasing our funding to two important overseas-related projects.

First, Taglit-Birthright Israel, the “free trip to Israel” for young adults, has become one of the most well-known brand names in contemporary Jewish life. A momentous spurt in participation occurred a few years ago to 50,000 per year, spurred by massive funding provided by Sheldon Adelson and other private philanthropists. In the past two years, however, Birthright’s capacity has shrunk back to about 23,000 participants per year as some of those funding sources have scaled back. However, applications from potential participants continue to come in at 57,000 per year, which means only 40% would get to participate.

Birthright Israel has received an annual allocation from our Federation since the program’s inception. During the years in which travel to Israel was down, we benefited by being able to absorb spaces unused by other communities, primarily from the US. Now, however, we face having most of our applicants wait-listed, and we know from experience that many who don’t get accepted don’t end up re-applying.

Birthright has opened up a new funding partnership with local communities to address the waiting list problem, and our community will be participating by allocating additional funds in order to secure more spaces on trips for our young adults. Fortunately, with additional matching funds available from a national Canadian donor, we are able to secure 60 additional spaces for this year.

Second, our Federation started making a direct supplemental allocation to the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) about five years ago to assist the JDC in meeting urgent needs in Jewish communities outside of Israel. We started with Argentina, at a time when that Jewish community was in turmoil from currency and political crises. Two years ago, as the crisis in Argentina eased, we shifted our funding to the former Soviet Union to help address the severe poverty issues that I wrote about last week. This year, we will be doubling our supplemental allocation to $100,000 to assist those who are among the poorest Jews in the world.

Vancouver Hebrew Academy Makes Running History
Vancouver Hebrew Academy (VHA) achieved a number of “running” firsts for Vancouver’s Jewish community this past Sunday. As part of the BMO Vancouver Marathon, VHA entered a team of forty junior marathoners in the BMO Children’s MaraFun, in which the student athletes ran the full 42.2 km (26.2 miles) marathon distance over six weeks, completing the final stretch circling BC Place stadium this past Sunday. VHA’s marathoners also gathered pledges to raise money for VHA and Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, which is one of the official charities of the BMO Vancouver Marathon. In support of the kids, many VHA parents also completed in the adult running events, fielding runners in the 8 km run, the half marathon and full marathon.

VHA also hosted the first Vancouver Marathoners’ Minyan before the races, a few short steps away from the starting line, and organized Vancouver’s first team of “Running Rabbis”. The minyan included participants from Schara Tzedeck, Beth Hamidrash, Beth Israel, Or Shalom, Young Israel of Richmond and the Kollel. Five “Running Rabbis” competed in the 8 km race: Rabbis Berger and Tal of Schara Tzedeck, Rabbi Acoca of Beth Hamidrash, and Kollel Rabbis Yeshayahu and Goldberg.

Also of note, Jacob Haas, a youth advisor at Congregation Har El and formerly of Congregation Beth Israel, finished 9th overall in the full marathon. Congratulations to all our community members who participated in last week’s marathon, and to those who are running in this weekend’s Sun Run.

Parashat Behar – Behukkotai
This is another week of double portions, and in the first of the portions, Behar, we read about the concept of the jubilee year. The jubilee was the capstone of a cycle of sabbatical years. In every seven-year cycle the land would be worked for six years, but lie fallow in the seventh. God’s promise was that the harvest in the sixth year would be sufficient to carry the people through the sabbatical year and into the next. After every seven cycles, or 49 years, there would be a jubilee, which marked the time at which land ownership would revert back the families that had original “title”. The root concept is that our ownership of land is at best temporary – in the end it belongs to God.

The jubilee also marked a release for those whose circumstances might have brought them or their children into servitude. They would be released of such bonds, and freed to return to the land of their family’s ancestral holdings. They could not be bound indefinitely, because they too are God’s creation.

A quote from this reading, “proclaim liberty throughout the land and for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10) is inscribed on the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, one of the most famous symbols of the American Revolution. The concepts of liberty and emancipation enshrined in the jubilee concept have been embraced by people engaged in the struggle for freedom in many different lands and cultures throughout the ages.

Shabbat Shalom!

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