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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

December 8, 2017 | 20 Kislev 5778 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 3:56 p.m.

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Tonight is the last Shabbat before Hanukkah, and children across our community are counting down the number of sleeps left before we begin lighting the Hanukkah candles. But for Jewish students at General Gordon Elementary School, who asked to see Hanukkah included in their school’s celebrations, the lead-up to the holiday has included a lesson in advocacy. I want to assure you that Federation, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, and other organizations and individuals are right there beside them, supporting these students and their parents in their request to have Hanukkah included.

The Vancouver School Board issued a statement this afternoon addressing the “unfortunate misunderstanding” at Gordon Elementary and reaffirming their commitment to cultural diversity and inclusivity. We are hopeful that this is a step in the right direction, and we will keep you posted. 

I want to say a special kol hakavod to the students themselves, who presented themselves with maturity and expressed themselves eloquently. At Hanukkah we are reminded of the importance of taking pride in who we are and standing up for what we believe in, and they can be very proud of how they conducted themselves.

If there is a common thread in this week’s Shabbat Message, it is the connection between our history and the various events of the day. So, I want to acknowledge someone who ensures today’s events ultimately become our recorded history tomorrow and decades from now. It was a pleasure to celebrate Cynthia Ramsay’s 18 years as publisher of the Jewish Independent at their Chai Celebration on Wednesday evening. Gary Segal spoke beautifully on behalf of his family, who sponsored the event, about the importance of the Jewish Independent as a community asset and of Cynthia’s longstanding commitment to maintaining it as such.  

As part of the celebration, the Jewish Independent honoured 18 incredible young people whose accomplishments are truly inspiring. In our 2020 Strategic Priorities we made a commitment to increasing young adult engagement and to helping develop the next generation of community leaders. Our Board Chair, Karen James, spoke to that in her introduction of the honourees.

Karen was an honouree herself on November 29th when she was presented with the Naomi Gropper Steiner z'l Visionary Award, for having gone over and above in the leadership she has provided to our partner, Jewish Family Services (JFS). Before taking the helm of our Board, Karen stepped into the top volunteer job at JFS at a critical time and guided the organization to provide significantly more services to the community. Also honoured that evening was Shelley Ail, who co-chaired our Regional Communities Task Force. Shelley received the Paula Lenga award for her major volunteer contribution over a decade to the Jewish Food Bank and for her commitment to coordinating volunteers and organizing JFS's annual Friends Campaign phone-a-thons. It was great to see Congregation Schara Tzedeck honoured for their work, too.

Speaking of the Regional Communities, our work and that of our partners bringing programs and services to the half of the local Jewish population that lives outside of Vancouver is another focus of our 2020 Strategic Priorities. So, I am thrilled to tell you that our Connect Me In initiative is once again bringing a family Hanukkah celebration to Squamish. If you have Jewish friends and family in the Sea to Sky corridor, please let them know we are headed their way this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at the Brennan Park Recreation Centre.

We saw the connection between our history and current events in sharp review this week when President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It’s easy to get caught up in the headlines and sound bites, so what I’d like to do here is give you easy access to the full statement (which I really encourage you to watch) and the reactions from our partners:

Watch President Trump’s full statement here.
Read the response from Jewish Federations of North America here.
Read the response from our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, here.

In some ways, this seems like such a simple issue. Jerusalem is and will always be the heart of the Jewish world. It is where the Knesset, the Supreme Court and many government ministries are located, and was already the capital of Israel. But while there is cause for celebration, there is much that remains to be seen in terms of how this plays out.

In the meantime, look back at our recent history and remember events like the UNESCO vote back in May that disavowed Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem for a stark contrast. Then look back even further at the central role Jerusalem played in the events we recall at Hanukkah – events that took place not at a time when we were in exile, but when we lived in Eretz Israel, and that ushered in 200 years of uninterrupted Maccabean rule. During this time in which we celebrate miracles, let's celebrate the little miracles of seeing the next generation standing up for what they believe.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver