February 5, 2016 | 26 Shevat 5776 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 4:57 p.m.

This message has 777 words and will take about 3 minutes to read.

Our work this week, and that of our leadership and partners, is a testament to the continued growth of our influence and involvement in the important conversations taking place not only locally, but nationally, continentally, and in Israel.

If you follow us on Twitter and Facebook, you already know that Stephen Gaerber, our board chair, was in Ottawa to discuss issues that matter to our Jewish community. “We were able to convey to MPs from the major parties - particularly those from BC – the issues we care about and the challenges we face,” says Stephen. “They were very engaged in the conversation, and I found them to be remarkably interested in our community.”

Stephen was there with the leadership of our advocacy partner, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), to attend their annual networking event on Parliament Hill. He says, “It gave me an opportunity to participate in the work CIJA does advocating on behalf of the Jewish community. We discussed issues such as poverty, housing affordability and social housing, genetic discrimination, the Canada-Israel friendship, and Iran. When we met the Prime Minister, it was clear that he knew the CIJA representatives well and that there was a good relationship there. We had a private meeting with Rona Ambrose, and it was heartening to see that both parties are committed to the Canada-Israel friendship and to issues that matter to our Jewish community.”

At the same time, I was in Los Angeles attending the meeting of Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Board of Trustees, and meeting with my fellow Jewish Federation CEOs to tackle major issues within our organizations and communities. We were joined by Natan Sharansky, chairman of our partner, The Jewish Agency For Israel, who announced the Israeli government’s historic decision to create a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel. This has been many years in the making, and JFNA, along with JAFI, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Rabbinical Assembly, were instrumental in making this a reality.

As a Jewish Federation and as a community, we create spaces of inclusion to bring our community together, because despite our great diversity – or perhaps because of it – we hold the principle of am echad (one People) in our hearts. The expansion of the Kotel prayer space is another example of how we believe in the values that make our community so vibrant. We have great commonality and deserve to have great conversation about how to grow Jews. In achieving this compromise, no one ever asked to take space away from those who want to pray separately at the Kotel. In this sense it very much reflects the feeling we have about our community: there’s enough community for everyone. But, sometimes we have to create new spaces for people to find meaning and purpose, so they can maintain and grow their Jewish connections. Kol hakavod to everyone involved in getting to yes on this issue. It is great example of the ever-evolving relationship between Israel and the diaspora. Click here to read the joint statement issued by key parties.

On a final note, let’s talk about engagement. Whether we’re reaching out to young adults or young families in underserved communities, our work in this area is a strategic investment in community continuity. Eric Bulmash, chair of our Axis Committee, presented at the Kadima! conference on innovation in Jewish education and engagement in LA, and we couldn’t be prouder of the response he received. Eric tells me that “our Axis young adult network was a great hit when talking about innovation in the young adults Jewish space.” One question that stayed with him from the conference was “Do we consider Jewish Federation to be a bridge or a parking lot?” Eric is definite about what it takes to be a bridge: “…We have to make strong efforts to reach out to people, innovate and change with our changing times.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, these kinds of engagement efforts are exactly what I spoke about at Limmud last Sunday. Our Jewish Federation is proud to have supported Limmud with a community engagement grant, and they deserve big kavod for their tremendously successful event. The major message I left them with is that engagement happens one person at a time. We all look for the magic bullet that will move thousands, but the reality is our future destiny as a People is measured one person at a time.

Shabbat shalom,

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

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