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Ask just about anyone other than me what their favourite holiday is and odds are they will pick one rooted not just in our laws and traditions, but one steeped in our rich culinary history. After all, we’ve all heard the adage about many of our holidays: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!” But, as I’ve written about here before, my favourite holiday is Yom Kippur, where we find ourselves at the intersection of the physical and the spiritual.
A big part of feeling this connection has to do with being together. You know, actually being together the old fashioned way: fact to face, shoulder to shoulder, in the same room. Why? Because it is hard to feel a responsibility for one another when we’re not around one another.
On Yom Kippur we are in rooms packed with our fellow Jews, praying together, fasting together, growing together, repenting together. At this time in our year it is much easier to understand the importance of community. Community is made up of individual people, but you have to get to know and engage with those people to understand the importance of community, because it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. I love looking around synagogue and seeing faces of people there for common purpose.
I spoke at Temple Sholom on Rosh Hashanah about a book I’ve been reading, How Not to be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg. There’s a story in the book that reflects why we have a Federation and a collective community.
During WWII a group of mathematicians worked on problems related to things like logistics and understanding how much fuel and rations an army needs in wartime. They were crunching numbers all the time, and also looking at innovative ways of interpreting the reams and reams of data. One area they looked at was how to make fighter planes more survivable. They knew they could add armor, but armor is heavy and slows a plane down, so they wanted to be judicious about where they placed it. They looked at planes as they came back from bombing runs, and they counted holes and noted where they were. The engines area always seemed fine. Most of the holes tended to be on the fuselage, the wings and the tail. You’d think they would place the armor there, right? Nope. They armored the engines, because those planes didn’t come back.
It’s the job of Jewish Federation, hand in hand with our partner agencies, to figure out where to armor the plane for the greatest effect.
Just last week we saw a perfect example of this: our Jewish Education Committee reviewed and approved funding proposals for 10 different supplementary school and teen engagement programs. It was inspiring to see the innovative ideas and creative approaches that many of the program have introduced, including a monthly music program highlighting contemporary Jewish melodies; a combined face to face and online learning platform; a choice of electives including art, cooking and mitzvah projects, one-on-one learning with high school classroom assistants; monthly family based education programs and multi-sensory teaching styles to engage students with different learning styles. Families in our community are fortunate to have access to programs for their children in Vancouver, Richmond, North Shore and the Tri-Cities, which is crucial as our community continues to spread out geographically and we try to connect the more than 2,200 children who are not engaged in Jewish educational programs.
These programs are a perfect example of how an incredibly broad cross-section of community members benefit from the Federation Annual Campaign. When we provide innovative Jewish learning opportunities and reach more families, it has a far reaching impact on our community for years to come.
As you look at the faces around you in synagogue this week, there are people in our community that you may think your gift is helping, and people you would never know are being helped. There are also many individuals and families who are doing far more than they ever thought they could. I love Yom Kippur, because for one day I feel that we’re all in this together. It is on this day, that we pray together in such great numbers and we say hineini, here we are. But it’s not enough simply to be here, we have to do something. What will you do in the year to come?
Shabbat shalom and g’mar chatimah tova.
Ezra S. Shanken
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver