Shabbat Message from Ezra S. Shanken

Celebrating 75 years of Israel

Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken


April 28, 2023 | 7 Iyar 5783



This message has about 866 words and will take about 4 minute to read.

I am just home from Israel, and what an experience it has been! To be there for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut is always special, but to be there for the 75th anniversary was monumental.

One of the highlights of celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel was traveling with Leslie and Gordon Diamond and their family so that Gordon and Leslie could receive the Yakir Award from Keren Hayesod in recognition of their committed leadership and unwavering devotion to Israel and their generosity and leadership with our Federation.  

The Diamond family are major supporters of Jerusalem’s Shalva National Centre for disabled persons, enabling the delivery of transformative care for individuals with disabilities, empowering their families and promoting social inclusion. They are also long-time supporters and leaders with the Simon Wiesenthal Museums of Tolerance in both Israel and Los Angeles. Since its inception, the Diamond Foundation has made numerous significant contributions to the quality of life of all Canadians through their commitments to healthcare, education, arts and culture, and other public and charitable causes, including an incredible $25 million matching gift to JWest.  

Please join us in saying a hearty mazel tov to Gordon and Leslie on this very well-deserved honour! 

Thousands of people from around the world were in Israel not just to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, but for the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (a.k.a. the GA), the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meetings, and the Keren Hayesod World Conference. Thousands more were there as part of March of the Living. 

At the GA, President Isaac Herzog introduced a new initiative called Kol Ha’am or Voice of the People: The President’s Initiative for Worldwide Jewish Dialogue, which will act as a global council to bring diverse Jewish voices together and to foster the next generation of Jewish leaders.  

eJewish Philanthropy reported that “President Herzog said the initiative is meant to serve as a “Jewish Davos” and a 'global Jewish beit midrash,' a house of study, where Jews from around the world can gather and debate – not necessarily reach consensus.” He said, “I am convinced that there is no greater existential threat to our people than the one that comes from within: Our own polarization and alienation from one another.” 

We have all seen and felt that polarization, especially recently and especially in relation to Israeli politics.  

Eric Fingerhut, president & CEO of Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) told those gathered, "We have made clear our love and unconditional support for the State of Israel, but we have also expressed our real concerns about the specific legislation. We have spoken to all parties and all sides of the debate about the issues that directly impact the Jewish communities that we represent. We have consistently encouraged negotiations and compromise for the sake of the Jewish people. And we have supported the courageous leadership of President Herzog....”  

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel are a combined experience like no other I can think of.  

The country came to a complete halt on Yom Hazikaron, as we remembered those who lost their lives in Israel’s wars and terror attacks. We marked the day by joining our board chair, Candace Kwinter in visiting her cousin's grave before joining Keren Hayesod leadership for an official commemoration attended by thousands of mourners. Then, as night fell, the mood changed dramatically as streets filled with revelers celebrating Israel’s independence. You simply cannot have one Yom without the other. They are two halves of a whole. 

As part of local Yom Hazikaron commemorations, Yom Kippur war veteran, Anat Yahalom, spent the past week in Vancouver meeting with King David High School students, members of the Ben Gurion Society, and Hebrew speaking community members. Throughout the week, she mesmerized teens and adults alike, sharing personal stories of battle and injury in one of Israel’s most brutal wars, as well as her work at Beit HaLochem – Israel’s world-renowned veteran services centers. 

If’at Eilon-Heiber, director of our Israel and Global Engagement department, let me know that the Yom Hazikaron commemoration is a “a deeply personal experience. Each person brought their own memories and reflections on the fallen.” On her behalf I want to thank Geoffrey Druker (chair) and the Yom Hazikaron Committee, and Dafna Silberstein and Nicole Nozick on our staff team for organizing such a thoughtful and respectful ceremony that was very meaningful for the bereaved families.  

Yom Ha’atzmaut kicked off three weeks of local celebrations, and Anat Yahalom will be on hand to jumpstart Israel@75 festivities with Richmond’s Beth Tikvah Congregation who, with partners the Jewish National Fund, Israel Bonds and the JCC Jewish Book Festival, are hosting a community Shabbat dinner in her honour. This year, we are engaging more people than ever before in celebrating Israel and you can find all the Israel@75 events across the region here. It all leads up to our annual community concert celebration featuring Teapacks on Sundays, May 14. You can buy tickets here.  

On a last note, I want to thank Sarah Mali, director general of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA in Israel for working with us to guest write a future Shabbat Message. In the meantime, I want to direct you to the excellent opinion piece she wrote that was published in eJewish Philanthropy this week. It was originally written for our community and we look forward to you hearing directly from Sarah in this message in the coming weeks. 

Shabbat shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

Leslie and Gordon Diamond at the Keren Hayesod Yakir Awards

President Isaac Herzog speaking at the General Assembly

Ezra S. Shanken, Gordon Diamond, Andrew Abramowich, Karen James and Candace Kwinter

Anat Yahalom speaking at King David High School

Sarah Mali, director general of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA in Israel