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Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

November 3, 2017 | 14 Cheshvan 5778 | Holiday Candlelighting at 5:29 p.m.

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One of the downsides of traveling this week and next is that I am missing The Vancouver Jewish Film Festival. We are proud to support the festival through our Annual Campaign, and they have a fantastic lineup this year. Supporting Jewish arts and culture not only contributes to making our community richer and more diverse, festivals like this are important entry points to community for many Jews. They help engage members of the general population in Jewish cultural experiences, too.

Last week I promised to focus on our work nationally, continentally, and in Israel over the coming weeks, so let’s dive into some of the important work we are supporting through our partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and then close on Vancouver’s role on the national stage.

Our Board chair, Karen James, was in Israel this past week representing our community at the JAFI Board of Governors’ meetings, where they continued to discuss the Israeli government’s decisions earlier this year around conversion and the One Wall For One People prayer space at the Kotel. They met on Tuesday with Members of the Knesset (MK) to “discuss the ramifications of the government’s suspension of the Western Wall agreement and its advancement of a bill to establish the Chief Rabbinate’s exclusive authority over conversions conducted in Israel.” You can read more in this New York Times article. Karen is passionate about these issues and wrote an OpEd that was published in our partnership region last July. 

Karen, along with a number of community members and me, also took part this week in a mission to Europe and the Middle East that was spearheaded by our immediate past chair, Stephen Gaerber. The mission was organized by our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and included David Cape, CIJA’s national chair. The mission was a chance to see firsthand the strategy that informs the core of CIJA’s work, and to see our inspiring lay leaders in action.

The mission began in the UK, where we built closer ties with key figures in the Jewish community and discussed issues including security and increased anti-Semitism, which will surely inform CIJA’s strategies back home. We celebrated the 100th anniversary of The Balfour Declaration with Foreign Minister (and former kibbutznik!) Boris Johnson at a reception in the Speaker’s Chamber at the Houses of Parliament, and met with the Deputy High Commissioner at Canada House.

Then it was off to Israel, where we participated in the Knesset’s official Annual Memorial Session for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin z”l, and held a series of productive meetings on a variety of issues with MKs and senior officials, including Yuval Steinitz, Israel's Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources; Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked; Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely; Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren; and Yair Lapid, chairman of Yesh Atid. We also met with Canada’s Ambassador to Israel Deborah Lyons, and separately with Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, which was a first for our community.

We also had two unique opportunities to share important messages about our support for Israel and our desire for peace.

The first was a meeting with Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), where we presented a message of our steadfast support for Israel, our desire for peace, our view that the PA must do more to combat incitement and terrorism, and our belief that the PA must accept Israel’s offer to resume peace negotiations. It was an incredible opportunity for our leadership to ask strong, pointed questions about issues like stopping incitement, that convey values that are important to our community. It is significant that the PA hears directly from us about what Canadian members of the Diaspora care about and where we stand.

The second was a meeting with Fayez Tarawneh, Chief of the Jordanian Royal Court and former Prime Minister of Jordan, where we presented similar messages, including our desire for the stability of the entire region, and our view that neighbouring Arab leaders must urge the PA to do more to combat incitement and terrorism, and impel the PA to accept Israel’s offer to resume peace negotiations. We were honoured to invite Peter MacDougall, Canada’s Ambassador to Jordan, to join us for this meeting.  While there was a significant level of formality involved, there was clearly mutual interest in better understanding each other.

Both meetings were conducted with the full knowledge and support of the Canadian and Israeli governments.

By now, many of you will already have read the response written by Shimon Fogel, CEO of CIJA, that addresses the deeply troubling piece written by Neil Macdonald last week. Never has CIJA’s work been more relevant. As Shimon told us, “leaders in Israel, the PA and even foreign leaders have long recognized and appreciated the level of sophistication the Canadian Jewish community brings to the table.”

Seeing our local volunteer leadership represent the Canadian Jewish community in such a sophisticated and nuanced manner is a testament to the increasingly important role the Vancouver Jewish community is playing on the national stage. Next week I will be reporting back from our partnership meetings in the Upper Galilee and on the impact of the educational and social services projects we support there.

Shabbat shalom,

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver