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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

November 10, 2017 | 21 Cheshvan 5778 | Holiday Candlelighting at 4:18 p.m.

This message has 819 words and will take about 4 minutes to read.

They say there’s no place like home, and I am certainly happy to be back in Vancouver for Shabbat before heading to Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (GA) with our leadership. The GA, which starts on Sunday, brings together Federation volunteer leaders and professionals from across the continent to delve into important issues such as the future of Jewish education, philanthropy, and our community.

Next week’s message will include an update from a continental perspective, but this week’s is focused on our partnership region in Israel, where we have just concluded our bi-annual Partnership2Gether meetings.

Through Partnership2Gether, Diaspora communities are paired with regions in Israel to strengthen ties between local community members and Israelis. Over the years, our partnership region of the Galilee Panhandle, or Etzbah Hagalil, has become an extension of our community and its residents have become our extended family. Five other Canadian Jewish communities are also paired with this region: Atlantic Canada, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Winnipeg.

In order to understand our impact there (which is really your impact) it helps to have a lay of the land – literally. Eztabah Hagalil is located in Northern Israel and is surrounded on three sides by Lebanon and Syria. Being far from the economic and political centres of the country brings difficult challenges. Security remains a very real issue, but lack of jobs, infrastructure and opportunity are the region’s most pressing day to day threats. The 50,000 residents simply do not have the same social, educational and employment opportunities available to citizens who live more centrally. This is reflected in their life expectancy, which is approximately two years less than those who live in the centre of the country.

Much of our work through Partnership2Gether involves strategically investing funds to strengthen the region through education and social welfare programs, capital projects and regional development.

One of the programs we support – and that you support with your campaign gift – is Krembo Wings, which features in this year’s campaign. Krembo Wings is the only inclusive Israeli youth movement for children and youth with disabilities. It provides weekly social activities for young people living with any type of disability, and helps them become part of community life. The program also develops the leadership skills of their able-bodied peers who volunteer as youth counsellors. Watch this short video and see for yourself the incredible impact you are having on these kids.

Another, is the funding we are providing for a much needed computer lab upgrade at Har Vagai, the sister school to King David High School. It is widely acknowledged that digital literacy is a skill all children need. What’s been preventing that in Etzbah Hagalil is that their equipment is too old for them to teach students relevant computer skills. This is exactly the kind of disadvantage that students in Israel’s periphery face, and lack of access to digital technology is a factor in why they are falling behind their peers in the centre of the country.

Once completed, the upgraded computer lab will open up a whole new world of opportunities in the areas of graphics, e-learning and more for dozens upon dozens of students. Our partnership is already investing in curricula that will be supported by this new computer lab and others, and the students are excited and engaged.

But really, this is about so much more than computer labs. When students in the periphery expand their skills through access to technology, whether through upgraded equipment or programs like Net@ or the Sidney Warren Science Education Centre, what we’re really doing is leveling the playing field so these kids have the same opportunities as anyone else to positively influence their lives and their communities.

Speaking of positively influencing one’s community, the Jewish Independent announced the honourees of their 18 under 36 awards. I am very proud to see that among those recognized are Ayelet Cohen Weil, our campaign manager of major gifts, and Carmel Tanaka, the new manager of community relations at our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. You can find the full list here. Kol hakavod to each and every one of them.

While these young people are cause for celebration, this is also a week in which we take time to reflect. We marked Kristallnacht yesterday and today, and at the commemorative event organized by our partner, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre that featured a keynote address delivered by Rene Goldman, a child survivor of the Holocaust. Tomorrow, of course, is Remembrance Day, and you can find a list of local ceremonies at the link.

In my short time here before heading to the GA, I had the privilege of meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Poland who is helping rejuvenate Jewish life there along with our trusted overseas partner the Joint Distribution Committee. Tonight, more than 200 community members and I will be joining him for a very special Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat shalom,

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver