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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

May 19, 2017 | 23 Iyar 5777 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 8:36 p.m.

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From White Rock to Vancouver to Calgary to Kiryat Shmona, we saw some beautiful examples of our extended Jewish community family making a difference this week.

Our Connect Me In program hosted 20 people for a Challah Bake at the White Rock South Surrey JCC, with participants ranging in age from five years old to 86. Our Shinshiniot (teen emissaries from Israel) Shahaf and Dani engaged with the teens and young adults, sharing their Israeli culture. We also invited Simie Schtroks from the Centre for Judaism in Surrey to share her inspirational insights and tips about challah baking. Everyone went home with beautiful challot with which to celebrate Shabbat. I know how special that is, because my wife, Rachel, fills our home with the aroma of fresh challah every Friday. White Rock/South Surrey has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations on the Lower Mainland, and we are committed to supporting Jewish programs and services there and in all the regional communities. Find out more about Connect Me In events on their Facebook page or see our 2020 Strategic Priorities for high level information about this area of our work.

Closer to home (well, closer to the office) King David High School hosted Teaching For Tomorrow to celebrate the school’s growth and accomplishments and to hear Julie Lythcott-Haim’s presentation, How to Raise an Adult. Her message was filled with humour about the helicopter and over-protective parents she encountered as dean of freshman at Stanford. She offered practical alternative strategies that underline the importance of allowing children to make mistakes and develop resilience, resourcefulness and inner determination. If you couldn’t be there in person, take a moment to watch their video.  

We started the week in Calgary for our bi-annual Coast to Coast Partnership2Gether meetings. It’s quite a commitment to be involved in our Israel work as a volunteer leader and our delegation included
our Board chair, Stephen Gaerber; our Israel and Overseas chair, Karen James; and committee members Candace Kwinter, Michael Moscovich, Phyllis Moscovich, Dorin Eilon-Heiber and Dror Rosen; our Israel and Overseas director, If’at Eilon-Heiber and me. Here are two of the many programs we’re funding that we received updates on this week:

The first is the Upper Galilee Rape Crisis Centre is doing incredible work and has conducted 442 workshops for 3,000 young people over a six month period, and trained new facilitators (both men and women) using a train-the-trainer model. They have also started six groups of youth ambassadors who are working on a project related to explaining and raising awareness about sexual violence, which has become one of their most successful projects. They are breaking down communications barriers around taboo subjects and giving children and youth the space to talk about difficult topics. One facilitator said, “…I see that the girls are really grateful that we are talking about what is not allowed to be said by them.”

It’s hard to choose just one other program to include here, but the Maarag initiative is a good example of the area of our work that is focused on supporting people with special needs. Maarag is a unique integrative model for adults with special needs, the objective of which is to draw them into mainstream society and combat the loneliness and rejection many of them experience. Maarag supplies a range of services to residents with special needs throughout the Galilee Panhandle, including career development that helps them prepare for the job market.

Before I sign off, I want to share one last reflection from the week, because it really touched my heart. I attended the community vigil for those affected by the overdose crisis – effectively a memorial to the more than 1,000 people who have lost their lives recently. Rabbi Stein represented our community and read Psalm 23 at the moving memorial service.

Howard Harowitz, chair of the Jewish Addiction Community Services of Vancouver (JACS-Vancouver), noted that this number includes many people from the Jewish community. It may even be that our community is over represented, given what a small percentage of the general population we represent. It is easy to think that this is the kind of thing that happens to someone else, somewhere else, maybe in another part of town or in an alley somewhere. But that’s just not always the case. In fact, 89% of overdoses happen in people’s own homes. Now there’s a statistic that hits home.

JACS-Vancouver plays an important role in helping those who are struggling and the people who love them address addiction in a Jewish context. I’ve written before about the significance of this and how something as simple as having to attend meetings in a church basement stops some people from seeking support and treatment. Shabbat is a time we strive to improve ourselves and the world around us. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or is affected by it, please reach out to JACS-Vancouver today.

Shabbat shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver