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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

May 5, 2017 | 9 Iyar 5777 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 8:17 p.m.

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At the TED2017 event that took place last week, psychologist Susan Pinker perfectly summed up the importance of being part of a community: people who have regular in-person social connections with others live longer. “Face-to-face contact,” she said, “releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future.” That’s good news for the more than 1,100 people who attended our annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on Monday evening.

There was a huge sense of community in the Chan Centre that night, and that wasn’t lost on the members of Jane Bordeaux. They sent this charming note telling us that they “felt the true meaning of community and loved feeling a part of it. Living in Israel we sometimes take for granted the Jewish togetherness, but you guys taught us an important lesson about the power of a strong and supportive community.” I’ll be this very sweet video of them rehearsing with the students had something to do with it. We are fortunate to live in a time when there’s a sovereign State of Israel and a thriving diaspora, so we can learn from each other. In case you missed it on our Facebook page, here are the photos from the event.

Through our Gesher Chai (Living Bridge) committee, we also welcomed Ariel Steiner and Yishai Edelman from the Kiryat Shemona Hesder yeshiva this week. These two young men are being hosted by the Schara Tzedeck community and have been connecting with King David High School, Vancouver Hebrew Academy and Vancouver Talmud Torah students, as well as students that are involved with Schara Tzedeck’s Tjex after school program and Torah High. They have been sharing their own experiences as Israeli soldiers and conducting meaningful religious services over the Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom HaZikaron period.

Our community’s Yom HaZikaron memorial service took place Sunday night and honoured those who lost their lives in Israel’s wars and terror attacks. A visitor to our community commented to me about how personal the service was. Individuals and families lit candles and told their stories in front of hundreds of community members who mourned with them, and it was impossible not to feel their loss as your own.

There was also a chance to look back and learn about the losses suffered by our People at the 42nd annual Holocaust symposium at UBC, hosted by our partner, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC). We are proud to support this program, which brings more than a thousand senior high school students from throughout Metro Vancouver together to meet survivors and hear their experiences, gain context through historical documentary film footage and the words of historians, educators and anti-racism speakers.

No one knows better than our community how important it is to learn from the past and to keep our history alive, and there are myriad ways to accomplish that. Kol hakavod to Shirley Barnett and the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board on having their efforts to restore the Jewish Cemetery at Mountain View recognized with a Vancouver Heritage Award. We’re proud that our Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation helped support this important project. Our partner, the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC offers guided historic walking tours of the cemetery, including one coming up this Sunday. Click here for a list of tour dates.

There is another series of events that I would encourage you to take part in starting this Sunday and running through May 13th, and that’s Emergency Preparedness Week. Check with your local elected representatives to find out what’s offered in your neighbourhood. The timing is poignant considering that one year ago residents of Fort McMurray were fleeing their homes. If you don’t have an emergency kit or a plan for your family, click the link above to get started.

As part of our overall commitment to community safety and security, we hosted a workshop last week presented by Kyle Klein, a former member of our Community Security Advisory Committee and a specialist in emergency management. Kyle created an emergency preparedness handbook to help our communal agencies develop the appropriate protocols and practices to mitigate the risk in the event of an emergency. Agencies will be able to customize the handbook to meet their own needs. Copies of the handbook can be downloaded from our website.

Last Friday night I had the honour of speaking with Rabbi Sacks as Schara Tzedeck filled up with people eager to hear his impassioned case for why Jewish community is so important. He asked me what was special about our community, and in response I gestured to the diverse group gathering for Shabbat. In a week where we mourned together, celebrated together, and learned together all we have to do is look around us to appreciate what is so special about our community.

Shabbat shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver