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When we talk about tikkun olam and our obligation to heal the world, we’re not just talking about the Jewish world; we’re talking about healing the whole world. Our involvement in the greater community, whether it is as individuals, as families or as an organization, has a ripple effect on our success as a Jewish community.
First, I must start with a matter of urgency: We have joined with Jewish Federations across Canada and Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA to raise funds to assist people affected by the devastating wildfires in Alberta. 100% of funds donated will be directed to those in need through our partners at the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. As you know, Fort McMurray and its surrounding communities continue to be ravaged by raging wildfires which have damaged and destroyed thousands of homes and properties. Over 88,000 people have been displaced. Officials are reporting that Fort McMurray is currently uninhabitable and it will be weeks before residents are able to return. Edmonton, 500 kilometers south of Fort McMurray, has received the majority of the evacuees. This is placing a heavy toll on local agencies, food banks and shelters. Monies raised through the Alberta Fire Relief Fund will be distributed to local organizations and services that are providing direct aid to those in need, like the Edmonton Food Bank and Edmonton Emergency Relief services. To make a donation to the Alberta Fire Relief Fund, click here.
I am reminded of something Rabbi Baitelman says at the seders he leads: There is no word for history in Hebrew, because is history constantly moving, we are constantly creating it. No one knows that better than the people of Fort McMurray, for whom a new chapter of their history is being created as they simultaneously figure out how to chart a new path forward.
Another way to think of this is that we are judged on what we do here and now, how we create tomorrow’s history today. This week, as we consider the ways in which we help our neighbours beyond our own Jewish community, there were some truly beautiful examples of that among our own community members.
On Tuesday evening Simon Fraser University honoured Samuel and Frances Belzberg with a 2016 President’s Community Leadership Award for their outstanding commitment to health, education, leadership, arts and equality. Sam spoke about how he first got involved with SFU. Jack Diamond z”l reached out to Sam for what he thought was just going to be a gift, but instead he was invited to lead the whole campaign. Sam asked to think about it, and by the time he got back to his office there’s Jack z”l on the phone asking if he’s made up his mind. What a wonderful account of Jews asking Jews to come to the aid of the greater community, and doing so with the same intensity that they show in building the Jewish community.
Another such example took place at another event this week that was attended by many members of our Jewish community: The Courage to Come Back Awards. This incredibly inspiring event is presented by Coast Mental Health, with whom we work to provide support to Jewish residents living in the Dunbar location of Yaffa House. The Courage to Come Back Awards recognize the “heroes among us,” as event chair, Lorne Segal, describes them. Lorne and Melita have done an extraordinary job of impacting and inspiring the broader community with these awards and this event. Shirley Barnett, who helped vet nominees and select the winners, remarked how moved she was with the hands-on leadership Lorne and Melita showed throughout the process. The energy and very personal attention they have devoted to this cause is indicative of their approach to the myriad causes and organizations they support.
It’s part of our DNA as Jews not to sit back and stay silent when the alternative is to stand up and make a difference in the world. That’s exactly what our youth and young adults are doing this week, too. Right now Hillel has a group in Rwanda on a service learning trip and group of teens accompanied by a chaperone and a Survivor are in Poland on March of the Living. Both groups will be in Israel soon, along with community members Jonathan and Heather Berkowitz who are particiipating on a separate March of the Living trip for adults.
While the March of the Living participants were commemorating Yom Ha’Shoah at Auschwitz-Birkenau, our partner, The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), organized our community’s very moving commemorative event at which Survivor Dr. Peter Suedfeld spoke. The next day, I was honoured to join Survivors, along with Rabbi Rosenblatt of Schara Tzedeck, Rabbi Moch of Kolot Mayim in Victoria, The Honourable Teresa Wat the Minister responsible for Multiculturalism, MLAs Moira Stilwell and George Heyman, and community leaders including our board chair, Stephen Gaerber, in Victoria for the provincial Yom HaShoah Memorial Ceremony where Survivor Dr. Martha Salcudean shared her story and Survivor George Pal accepted the proclamation from the Province. I was deeply moved by Rabbi Rosenblatt’s poignant remarks, and I hope you will take a moment to read them. Kol Hakavod to VHEC and The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs for organizing this event in coordination with Jewish Federation of Victoria.
When Rabbi Baitelman talks about creating history in the present, I don’t think he means only the kind of history that encompasses major world events. We each have our own personal and family histories, which together create a communal history. Whether our steps are big or small, public or private, each of us in our own way is writing tomorrow’s history by the actions we take today.
Shabbat shalom, and I invite you to join us next week as we remember the victims of Israel’s wars and terror attacks on Yom HaZikaron, and then celebrate our homeland on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Ezra S. Shanken
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver