Shabbat Message from Ezra S. Shanken

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Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken


February 10, 2023 | 19 Shevat 5783



This message has about 911 words and will take less than 4 minute to read.

It’s heartbreaking to start off Shabbat with the news of yet another senseless act of terror that claimed the lives of two Israelis, including a child, in Jerusalem today. Our hearts are with the families of the victims and we wish a speedy recovery to those injured.

This week we have seen several of our key functions come together at once.

We responded to the unfolding tragedy in Turkey and Syria by launching a relief fund to support non-sectarian humanitarian aid to civilians through our trusted international partner, the Joint Distribution Committee. Our board quickly approved a $5,000 distribution from our overseas emergency fund, and gifts came pouring in from community members. Today, the fund stands at just over $23,000.

Separately from what we fund, Israel is providing assistance in both countries, too, even though Israel and Syria do not have diplomatic ties. Our Jewish values guide us to help people whose lives have been devastated, regardless of their government's positions, and we are proud that both the government of Israel and Jewish Federations are adhering to those values.

This began unfolding as I was in New York for the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) board meetings.

Emergency relief was just one of the topics we covered, and I spoke to the group about the continuing need to support people affected by the war in Ukraine. We also discussed recruiting and retaining top talent in the challenging labour market, volunteer leadership development, and national young leadership. I want to thank Julie Platt, chair, Board of Trustees and Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of JFNA for bringing us together to share and learn from each other.

There was also a special meeting regarding issues raised by the new government of Israel and their impact on the North American Jewish community.

Those issues were also the focus of a town hall yesterday that was organized by CIJA which brought together Mark Regev, chair of the Abba Eban Institute at Reichman University, Dr. Einat Wilf, author and former Israel politician and Yaron Deckel, Senior Emissary of the Jewish Agency for Israel to answer questions and share their insights into the new government's priorities and what they mean for the Jewish community in Canada. You can watch it here.

CIJA was also instrumental in setting up a community meeting with the BCGEU.

Together with CIJA, Tikva Housing, Jewish Family Services, and Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT), we discussed areas of common interest with BCGEU president, Stephanie Smith. These included affordability, food dignity, education, housing, poverty reduction, and fighting. Shelley Rivkin, our VP local and global engagement, gave a presentation about our 30,000 strong Jewish community. It was great to get together and talk through these areas that affect us all.

It's important for us to interface with many organizations in the community regarding issues of common interest. As one of the largest and most diverse unions in British Columbia, the BC General Employees’ Union represents over 85,000 members – including teachers at VTT. Many of their members are Jewish and this meeting better enabled the BCGEU to serve them. Thank you to Stephanie Smith and Nico Slobinsky at CIJA for bringing us together.

Circling back to Shelley Rivkin, we have some big news to share.

Shelley has been with our Federation for 16 years, and she recently made the decision to take a step back from her leadership role with us. Instead, she will continue to oversee four key areas on contract. These areas are: the day schools strategy, the mental health strategy, Torah West, and the census project. She will also continue to mentor members of the community engagement team.

Shelley is an invaluable member of our team. She has accomplished a tremendous amount for our community and has mentored every one of us at some point. But she is much more than a colleague. She is our friend. It is hard to see her step back from her leadership role, but we are happy for her, too. It is a natural step at this stage in her career. We are so glad that she will continue with us on contract, which speaks volumes about her commitment to our community and our Federation.

Ensuring a smooth transition is important to all of us and no changes will take place before June.

It is also important that we have a chance to celebrate Shelley and all of her achievements. Plans are in progress to make sure that we can give Shelley the kavod she truly deserves, and we will keep you posted.

After all, Shelley has made an indelible impact on our community. She has helped us build our strengths in areas such as community planning and collaboration, and she was the professional lead on the COVID recovery planning, seniors planning, and food security – to name just a few of her many accomplishments. Organizations across our community and the people they serve have benefitted from the professional relationships that she has nurtured both within and beyond our Jewish community. Shelley would be the first to tell you that everything she has accomplished has been done in partnership with others.

In the spirit of Tu B’Shvat I wanted to share an article that mentions one of the partnerships that Shelley spearheaded, which has seen 13 local organizations come together to work with Hazon on sustainability initiatives. It's also nice to read about what other communities are doing across the country including their own Hazon partnerships. Enjoy!

Shabbat Shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

Leader of Turkey’s Jewish community & his wife, Saul & Fortuna Cenudioglu, died in the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey & Syria this week.

Ezra speaking to the JFNA Board of Trustees

Community meeting with the BCEGU

Shelley Rivkin