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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

March 10, 2017 | 12 Adar 5777 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 5:52 p.m.

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Here we are on the cusp of Purim, a time when we celebrate both the strength of our community to thrive in the face of existential threats and the important leadership roles women in our community have played. It really hit home this week that these themes are still so relevant to us as Jews today. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Rabbi Infeld’s powerful Five Minutes of Torah video, I encourage you to do so. We also celebrated International Women’s Day on Wednesday, and we’ll get to that, too.

The first thing I want to talk about is community security, because it has been on everyone’s minds since our JCC received a bomb threat on Tuesday night. It appears to be one of a string of more than 135 such threats received by JCCs and other Jewish institutions across North America over the past couple of months. Together with the JCC we had already taken extra precautions just in case our community was targeted, including working with them to conduct an evacuation drill with the VPD last Friday.

Our Federation has taken a proactive, preventative approach to security for many years, allocating more than $400,000 to pay for security audits and equipment at 29 community institutions, and to help them qualify for matching funds from the federal government. Recognizing that times were changing, in 2015 we formed our Security Advisory Committee, chaired by Bernard Pinksy, to take a broader look at long term security initiatives for the entire community rather than just on an institution by institution basis. Part of our role is raising the funds to pay for security related equipment, programs and services, and so last year we made community security the focus of our Annual Campaign. Thanks to a group of generous donors, a matching gift program was set up, and everyone who increased their gift or made a new gift had it matched to support community security initiatives. While some of our security work must remain behind the scenes, there is much we can share with you. Click here to learn more.

Seeing the despicable targeting of our community has brought out strong statements of support and solidarity. From the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Premier, the Mayor and political parties across the spectrum to individuals who have said the incident prompted them to purchase a JCC membership. We have many, many friends, not the least of whom is Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, who assured me the VPD is here for our community.

Organizations in our community work hard all year round to build relationships with elected officials and with other ethno-cultural and faith communities. It is an ongoing focus of CIJA’s work, and you can read a list of the messages of support we have received to date here. It is always heartening to see connections being built across communities, such as the United in Compassion event co-sponsored by Or Shalom and the Anglican Archdiocese of New Westminster. The event included representatives of the Jewish, Anglican, Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim, Hindu, Baha'i, Evangelical Lutheran, Buddhist, Zen Buddhist and Sufi communities, and the timing – the same night as the bomb threat - couldn’t have been more poignant.

This weekend, when we read the Book of Esther, we hear not only a story of our community’s resilience, but of the power of women to show courage and affect enormous change and even save our People. How apropos that International Women’s Day practically coincided with Purim this year.

It was inspiring to see Temple Sholom honour landscape architect, Cornelia Oberlander, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) student, Rebecca Baron at their gala on Sunday. A shared appreciation for the power of nature connects their work, with Cornelia having created iconic outdoor spaces for decades, and Rebecca with what started as her national science fair project to reduce airborne pollutants using household plants and which has now taken on a life of its own. (Watch her wonderful TEDx Talk here.)

Our community, and in particular the women in our community, scored a huge win when Parliament voted to pass Bill S-201: An Act to Prohibit and Prevent Genetic Discrimination. Canada was the last G7 nation without a genetic anti-discrimination law on the books – something that has caused great concern for many women in our community who have been forced to make difficult choices about whether or not to be screened for the BRCA gene that shows a predisposition to breast cancer. If positive, the test results often meant that while early treatment would be possible, they could lose their extended medical coverage. This was wholly unacceptable, and we are so proud that CIJA played a leading role in changing this.

It’s a topic that our Lions of Judah helped bring attention to when they focused one of their Spark a Mitzvah events on this topic last year. They are gearing up for another Spark event on March 21st, this time featuring the personal story of Olympian Karen James and how witnessing the tragic events at the 1972 Munich Olympics changed her life. Spark a Mitzvah events are open to all women in our community, but space is very limited. Come join us and spark a real mitzvah, because every Spark event funds Shabbat dinners for residents of Yaffa Dunbar and other Jewish adults with mental health issues and other challenges. Dinners will be catered by BC Catering, a social enterprise that provides training and self-employment for Jewish adults facing barriers to traditional employment, such as disabilities. RSVP today to Dana at

As we head into Shabbat and Purim, we have all had a couple of days to reflect and many of us are looking for ways to show our resilience as individuals and as a People. Talking to Rabbi Rosenblatt, he made the point that there is no better time to attend one of the many Purim events taking place throughout our community. Pick one, any one, and go to it. Bring your family, stand tall, and boo Haman as loudly as you can. Show that we are proud, we are strong, and we will not be intimidated or silenced. I would take it a step further and say use that Purim event as a jumping off point to deepen your Jewish community involvement over the coming weeks and months. For a list of community events this Purim, check the community calendar, the Connect Me In Facebook page, or any of the local synagogues’ websites.   

Shabbat shalom and chag Purim sameach.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver