Shabbat Candlelighting 3:59 p.m.                                             Friday, December 2, 2011/6 Kislev 5772

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The PJ Library Partners with JCCGV Jewish Book Festival
Last Sunday, The PJ Library, together with the Jewish Book Festival, hosted a free PJ Library Story Time event, featuring author Aubrey Davis. Aubrey’s books, featured as part of The PJ Library collection, include Bagels from Benny, Bone Button Borscht, and his latest book, Kishka for Koppel. Geared for ages 2-5, the program welcomed over 30 children plus parents and grandparents. After creating a large group poster of a pot of colourful vegetable borscht, the children and their families were treated to a lively and entertaining presentation from Aubrey. With rhymes, stories and actions, everyone listened, participated, laughed and jumped around. This was a year of partnership for The PJ Library and the Jewish Book Festival, and attendees included current PJ Library subscribers, as well as new families that will now become part of The PJ Library family. For more information about The PJ Library, including how to sign up your children or grandchildren to join the more than 445 Lower Mainland children already receiving free Jewish books sent to their homes each month, please visit

Children’s Writing Workshops
Jewish Federation and the Jewish Book Festival also partnered for the second annual Children’s Writing Workshops. Geared to students in grades 4-7, these workshops allow students to work directly with an author and receive feedback and guidance on their own creative writing projects. More than 130 students from Richmond Jewish Day School, Vancouver Hebrew Academy and Vancouver Talmud Torah visited the JCCGV and listened to authors Anne-Marie Asner (Klutzy Boy and Shluffy Girl) and Ellen Schwartz (Jesse’s Star and Avalanche Dance) talk about their own writing background and how they became writers. Following the sessions with these wonderful authors, students attended small group workshops to further develop their own writing skills. This program has helped encourage these young writers develop their skills, and enabled them to meet accomplished authors. Each student who participated was given a book by the author in their workshop.

Birthright Participants Get Ready for Winter Trips
Earlier this week, 17 young adults met with local community professionals for an orientation for their approaching winter Birthright Israel trips. These 17 participants are among the approximately 114 young adults from the Lower Mainland who have experienced Birthright over the last year with the support of the Jewish Federation. In the past few years, as the cost sharing among partners has shifted for Birthright, Federation has increased its funding to the program to try to eliminate the waiting list among Lower Mainland participants. Birthright Israel has brought more than 200,000 young adults to Israel over the past 10 years, making it one of the most significant game changers in Jewish identity building efforts in the Jewish world.

A Different View of Housing for Those with Special Needs
Last week’s issue of the Jewish Independent featured a cover story on Yaffa Housing Society that painted a negative portrait of the quality of life for residents in their two group homes. As I shared in a letter to the leadership of Yaffa Housing Society and Coast Mental Health, I felt the article was unfortunate in that it presented an unfair and incomplete picture, especially given the context of what it means to operate or to live in an unlicensed group home. As Gary Averbach eloquently shares in a letter printed in today’s Jewish Independent, you simply can’t apply the standards of a care facility with 24/7 supervision to the kind of group home facility that Yaffa is operating.

What was particularly unfortunate was the timing of the article, as it coincides with the opening of a new facility on Dunbar Street on Vancouver’s west-side, where five Jewish adults are moving into self contained apartments with appropriate supports. This expansion of capacity is the result of years of collaborative effort between Yaffa and Coast Mental Health, and is a real benefit to our community, as it widens the range of housing options for community members with a variety of special needs.

Following the opening of Yaffa’s second group home and in preparation for the opening of the Dunbar facility, Jewish Federation has worked with Yaffa, Coast, Jewish Family Service Agency and Tikvah Housing Society to initiate a collaborative joint referral and admissions process in order to improve our community’s ability to match individuals with special housing needs with the right option for them. As members of our community move into the Dunbar facility this week, we are seeing the first fruits of that collaborative effort.

Parashat Vayetze
This week’s parasha contains the story of Jacob’s ladder, in which he dreams of angels ascending and descending to heaven. But the beginning of the parasha literally means “and he went out”. Rabbi Steve Lindemann of Temple Beth Shalom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey talked about his own Jewish journey through the lens of those words, noting that after his bar mitzvah, he went out and stayed out of organized Jewish activity for many years. Many rabbis and Jewish educators, and even many Jewish parents, bemoan the fact that too many Jewish children complete their bar mitzvah, or a few years in a Jewish school, and then go out - not too be seen again for many years, if ever.

The sad fact is that many of our children opt out just at the time when, developmentally, they are beginning to establish who they are in the world. They struggle with formative issues as they choose friends, explore their sexuality, challenge their parents, and experiment with different lifestyles and identities. Too often, their Jewish identity is left off to the side while all this is happening.

Through experiences like The PJ Library and the Children’s Writing Workshops, we are working with our partner agencies to enliven children’s Jewish experiences so that fewer will opt out. And through our community youth groups, Hillel, Moishe House, Birthright and more, we are offering different gateways through which our young people can stay engaged, or come back in during these critically formative years.

Jewish journeys are rarely linear. Our job, as a community, is to ensure that we have many attractive options along the way to keep people on the journey, and to enable them to jump back on a Jewish path when they are ready. And when they do, we have to greet them with open arms.

Shabbat Shalom!

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