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“The proper response, as Hanukkah teaches, is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle.” – Rabbi Irving Greenberg
I can’t think of a better connection between the work we do with our partners and the upcoming holiday. It’s your work, too, because you make it all possible. From our organization to our partners to you as an individual or a family, we do not shy away from or get overwhelmed by the work that is required of us. Instead, we take action. We develop solutions. We bring hope.
The story of Hanukkah is not only a story of the value of religious freedom, but one of being able to live in dignity and determine our own future. That’s as relevant today as it was more than 2,000 years ago.
When we held our staff Hanukkah celebration yesterday, I remarked that in many ways Hanukkah is a very Canadian holiday. Here, each one of us, no matter our religion, our ethnicity, or how we identify is an individual tile in a cultural mosaic. Hanukkah is about how each of us, and how each community, can be valued for what we are, rather than having to blend completely into the dominant culture of the day.
We are who we are, and we have every reason not just to be proud of that but to feel safe wherever we are. That’s a big part of why over 1,000 Vancouverites joined us in asking the Vancouver City Council to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism this past summer. Council referred the motion to the Racial and Ethno-Cultural Equity Advisory Committee for input, and we hope they understand how important an issue this is. We are all too aware of the recent statistics that indicate a rise in hate crimes and hate-related incidents.
Just last night we became aware of swastikas and other hateful graffiti that was painted on buildings at Camp Miriam.
The camp followed their established protocols and notified the RCMP right away. They were also in touch with us and with our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
Daniel Heydenrych, our director of security, contacted the camp immediately to offer support, and he alerted the VPD hate crimes unit. Daniel is already planning a visit to the camp to discuss security upgrades and determine how we can best support them.
We are shocked and disgusted that a summer camp for children was defaced with these symbols of hatred. There is absolutely no place for this in our society today.
Symbols matter – especially when they represent the hatred that fueled the loss of the lives of millions of innocent men, women and children.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with Camp Miriam at this difficult and upsetting time. We have been in close contact with James Dayson, chair of the trustees, and he told us how, over the last few years in particular, they have strengthened relationships not only with their neighbours but with all islanders. “We know they don’t want this in their community. We want to take this incident and make it into an opportunity for education to help promote acceptance and combat racism of all forms.”
Camp Miriam has been an institution on Gabriola Island, intertwined with the community there, for decades. Many camp alumni have even purchased homes on the island because they loved their camp experiences so much that they never want it to end.
We know that many of you send your children to Jewish summer camp. When the Shanken boys are old enough, they will attend, too. Feeling safe at camp is a minimum expectation families have, and rightly so.
Jewish Federation has taken a proactive approach to security for many years, and it was the focus of the Annual Campaign in 2016. It was not an easy decision at the time and we were, to my knowledge, the first Federation to do so. Since then, several Federations across Canada and the US have looked to us and our experience as a model for their own efforts. Since then, we have made great strides, and you can read the most recent update from our Community Security Advisory Committee here.
Security wasn’t what we expected to write about this week, and we don’t want to let the dark overtake the light. So, let’s look at two of the great ways we and our partners are spreading the light:
First, we want to give some well-deserved kavod to our partner, Jewish Family Services (JFS), which has launched FoodLink on the North Shore. Building on their success in other cities, JFS has expanded this program through which they provide healthy, nutritious food to low-income families at no cost. To qualify, households must have less than $40,000/year in income.
We were very proud to partner with JFS on the Food Security Task Force to look at innovative new solutions for our community, and we’re supporting this program by helping connect the people we meet through Connect Me In with FoodLink. The program, which is also supported in part by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, is a terrific example of creative approaches to food security that do not rely on bricks and mortar food banks, which people in the regional communities cannot access easily.
Next, we are very excited that our JSprouts program has found a home. We are delighted that JSprouts will be offered at L'école Laura Secord Elementary from April through June. JSprouts is the Jewish after-school program we have designed for Jewish children who attend public schools.
In two more nights we light the Hanukkah candles and we share that light. Your tzedakah shines throughout our community and the Jewish world. With it, you bring hope and dignity to Jews who are experiencing darkness in their lives. Today, determining our own future comes down to being able to plan strategically to meet community needs now and for years to come. That’s one of our unique roles in the community.
If you’ve not yet had a chance to make your Annual Campaign gift, please click here, call us at 604.257.5100, or stop by our office on the second floor of the JCC. We want to make sure you have the chance to give before the end of the year, so we can send you a 2019 tax receipt.
Shabbat shalom and chag Hanukkah sameach.
Ezra S. Shanken
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver