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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

June 30, 2017 | 6 Tammuz 5777 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 9:03 p.m.

This message has 875 words and will take about 4 minutes to read.

Well, what a week it was. Let me start with the serious news, and then I promise to end on a lighter note. 

Karen James and I were in Israel this week for the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of our partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and to visit the many important programs we support in our partnership region with Arnold and Anita Silber, who have been instrumental in supporting our work there, especially Beit Vancouver. In addition to her position as our Board chair, Karen also sits on JAFI’s Board of Governors. We were there when the Government of Israel made two deeply concerning decisions of particular consequence to Diaspora Jewry:

  • The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill that threatens the status quo around conversions and would withdraw official recognition from conversions not conducted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate; and
  • The Government rescinded its historic decision to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel (Western Wall).

It is unacceptable that the Government of Israel would play politics in this way with the issue of who is considered a Jew (with the potential for thousands of Jews and their descendants to have their status thrown into question), and for them to back away from the “One Wall for One People” agreement that was a triumph of thoughtful compromise by many groups.

The response has been incredible, with individuals, community leaders, and the Jewish world’s biggest organizations standing together in opposition to these decisions. We joined JAFI at the Knesset to lobby against these decisions, shared with our community the statement released by Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA (If you didn’t receive it, sign up here.) and sent letters to the Israeli Ambassador and the Consul General of Israel in Toronto expressing our concern. Their responses were thoughtful and understanding, and they remain valued partners of ours. Here is a link to the statement from Partnerhsip2Gether. If you would like to voice your concern, you can contact the Israeli Embassy.

We will continue to provide updates as these issues evolve, which they certainly will.

On a happier note, our young adult group, Axis, hosted the Community Hackathon on Sunday and despite the heat wave saw a solid turnout of Jews in their 20s and 30s eager to develop ways to improve community engagement. The Hackathon was led by Emily Winograd from Upstart, who used design thinking to get the group to generate ideas and work them up into testable states. Each of the top three ideas will receive grants of $2,500 USD to bring them to life, and I look forward to providing you with updates once they have progressed to the pilot stage. Many thanks to all the Hackathon participants for giving up a beautiful Sunday at the beach to take on the important work of building community.

One of the very successful community building programs we have is PJ Library, which sends free Jewish children’s books to families every month. The results of their 2016 Family Survey are out and they’re fantastic. Here’s a glimpse of a few of the local highlights:

  • 95% are satisfied with their PJ Library books and resources;
  • 97% said PJ Library has supported them in building upon or adding a Jewish tradition to their home life; and
  • 91% said PJ Library has been a valuable parenting tool.

PJ Library is also helping families find inroads into other Jewish programs and organizations, with 25-29% saying that PJ Library influenced their decision to enroll their children in a Jewish day school, Jewish summer camp, or Jewish after school or weekend program. For many families PJ Library may be the only Jewish community touch point in their lives, so it is great to see it opening up so many Jewish options for moms, dads and kids. Check out their video to see more of PJ’s great work and click here to enroll.

Speaking of kids and Jewish day school, over the past 10 days, there have been grade seven graduations at the three elementary schools and 58 students are moving on to grade eight. Mazel tov to all of the graduates! They and their families celebrated the special combination of academic and spiritual growth that comes from Jewish educational programs. These kids are also taught about community, not just in the classroom but by seeing their parents volunteer countless hours over the years in support of their school and their education.

We always say that volunteers are the backbone of our community, and our partner, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), recently honoured volunteers at their AGM. Anna-Mae Wiesenthal received the Meyer and Gita Kron and Ruth Kron Sigal Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education; and Gisi Levitt was welcomed to the esteemed company of the VHEC’s Life Fellows. Kol hakavod to them and to everyone who volunteers to make our community a better place.

Shabbat shalom and happy Canada 150!

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver