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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

February 10, 2017 | 14 Shevat 5777 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 5:06 p.m.

This message has 724 words and will take about 4 minutes to read.

For many years our Federation was fortunate to go from strength to strength. For some people this would be good enough, but not for us. Our leadership, our donors, our partner agencies and our staff have all played a role in ensuring thatthousands of Jews receive the help they need. But, times change, needs grow, communities evolve, and so do the issues we plan for and respond to. When wefirst reported on the development of our 2020 Strategic Priorities, one of thethings we noted was our commitment to rising to the next level and going fromstrength to excellence.

While our work is grounded in the shifting realities of our community’s needs, part of a Federation’s work is talking about the world as it could be andshouldbe. There’s a forward looking, positivefocus that drives much of how andwhat we do. Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of that journey, it can be a challenge to see the forest for the trees. “We were built to overlearn fromnegative experiences, but under learn from positive ones,” said Rick Hanson, a psychologist quoted in this New York Times article about conquering negative thinking that caught my eye earlier this week.

The flip side of any challenge is opportunity. We believe there are solutions and that focusing on this is the key to making positive change. So, when our community faces big challenges, we workcollaboratively to identify the big opportunities they bring and to find equally big solutions. As we’ve written about here before, and as we’ve outlined in our 2020 Strategic Priorities, we are on the cusp of some exciting things.

One area where we are beginning to see real results is in regional communities across the Lower Mainland where there is limited or no existing Jewish infrastructure. If you’re a regular reader of this message, you know that about half of our community lives outside of Vancouver, many of whom live a great distance from any community programs. There’s no doubt this geographic spread is a very real challenge for those who live in communities such as Langley, Maple Ridge and Squamish. They have to find different ways to create Jewish community than those of us who live more centrally. The programs, services and delivery methods that have been established in Vancouver don’t necessarily work in these areas. We need to work directly with the folks in these communities to plan events that are meaningful for them.

Job one in addressing needs in areas where we don’t have an enormous footprint is making contact. Our manager of community development, Orly Naim, has been doing a tremendous job connecting individuals, working with them to plan the kinds of programs they want see, and collaborating with partners to best serve their needs. A number of different activities have been planned from Shabbat dinners to holiday programming to Israel engagement activities. One really exciting development has been the involvement of the Shinshiniot, emissaries we have brought here from Israel to volunteer in our community before their compulsory army service (read more here). They are really connecting with the children and youth and providing unique programming that not only builds a Jewish connection but also fosters Israel engagement.

I had an aha moment earlier this week when I talked to someone from the board of Metro Vancouver Alliance and he asked me what I thought the biggest challenge was facing Vancouver, and I said affordability, because we see it so starkly in our work. He countered with social isolation which all too often stems from affordability issues. When we talk to people in the regional communities, it is social isolation in a Jewish context that comes to the top of the list of what they want our help to combat. They want Shabbat dinners, seniors programs, holiday programs, family programs, and so on.

Between the Connect Me In initiative and the great ongoing work of our partner agencies in Richmond, the Tri-cities, Surrey White Rock and the North Shore, new initiatives are being planned and connections are being built. Everyone involved is starting to reap benefits faster than we ever expected. If you live on the Lower Mainland but not in Vancouver, email Orly to find out how you can connect Jewishly, or check out our Connect Me In Facebook page.

Shabbat shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver