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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

February 3, 2017 | 7 Shevat 5777 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 4:55 p.m.

This message has 836 words and will take about 4 minutes to read.

Sometimes making your voice heard is so easy we can barely help ourselves. Other times, it’s a real challenge to raise your voice when all eyes are on you. Whether it comes naturally or not, having the courage to stand up is an essential part of engaging with the world around us.

Wednesday night’s Public Speaking Contest was the perfect opportunity for students in grades four through seven to get their first taste of what it’s like to organize their thoughts and present them in front of a crowd. More than 75 youngsters delivered three minute speeches on Jewish topics like A Jewish Value or Mitzvah that is Important to Me and What is Mensch? Students represented the Jewish day schools, the supplementary schools and five secular private and public schools, and at least one participant is home schooled. How wonderful to see such a diverse group of young people.

The Public Speaking Contest, now in its 29th year, was started by Larry Barzelai and Rhona Gordon in honour of their late fathers. We were proud to present the event with support from the Jewish Community Centre, State of Israel Bonds and the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library. What the Public Speaking Contest really teaches kids is that they have the ability to do great things when they stand up and deliver a powerful message.

You can do that, too. Click here and call for tougher hate crimes legislation today, so that vandalism and other acts of hate against schools or community centres associated with an identifiable group will carry the same penalties as when a religious site, such as synagogue, is targeted. This initiative is organized by our advocacy partner, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and boy have they had a busy week.

If you haven’t already heard, CIJA was instrumental in turning around a situation with a school on Gabriola Island that had barred a student’s application simply because he is Israeli. Their excellent work combined with the efforts of others resulted in the school reversing its ban on Israeli students. Kol hakavod to them for standing up so well and so quickly. You can read more here.

And that’s not all. We and CIJA have learned that a magazine containing classic antisemitic tropes is being distributed by Coast Hotels right here in Vancouver. The CEO of the group that owns Coast Hotels is quoted as saying: "Jewish people control American information, finance and law… and they benefit greatly from globalization because they move their massive profits to tax havens so they don’t have to pay taxes.” CIJA has raised their concerns directly with Coast Hotels and expects them to take swift action. We will keep you posted on how this develops.

If we are going to be the first to stand up for ourselves, and if we want others to stand beside us in challenging times, then we must also be the first to stand up for those who are vulnerable. It wasn’t that long ago that many of our families fled imminent danger and sought a safe haven. The recent executive order in the US has made the situations of vulnerable refugees even more precarious. Our Prime Minister stood up and welcomed those with legitimate refugee claims, stating “Diversity is our strength.” The Prime Minister’s sentiments were reinforced by both opposition parties. Earlier today, the Jerusalem Post published a powerful opinion piece by Irwin Cotler in which he talks about both International Holocaust Remembrance Day – and the omission of Jews from the White House statement about it - and the executive order on immigration that was issued that same day. As Jews, we are well aware of what it is to be the stranger.

We also know what it is to be targeted for who we are and what we believe, so when six Muslim men were killed while praying at the Centre Culturel Islamique in Ste-Foy on Sunday, we felt it deeply. After all, there have been many times when we have seen our fellow Jews killed while standing in prayer before G-d. At services the next evening at Schara Tzedeck, Rabbi Rosenblatt remarked that we mourn in a deeper state when someone is killed while praying, while trying to connect to the divine. The Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA and CIJA all issued statements about this tragedy, which you can read here.

After Mincha I went straight to the public vigil and stood shoulder to shoulder with members of our community, the Mayor and the Police Chief outside a local mosque. I was struck by how people from so many backgrounds were finding a common voice in a time of great difficulty.

Like Justin Trudeau remarked at one of the funerals for the men who were killed, we are all in this together. But, for us all to be in it together it takes the confidence for each of us to stand up and turn this dark and difficult moment into one of hope.

Shabbat shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver