Shabbat Message from Ezra S. Shanken

Reflecting on the week & preparing for the future


Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken

July 28, 2023 | 11 Av 5783



This message has about 747 words and will take about 3 minute to read.

As part of commemorating Tisha B’Av, I was honoured to be part of a panel with Mark Gurvis and Lisa Richlen, titled Building Bridges When Jews Disagree, which was organized by Beth Tikvah, Beth Israel, and Har-El.

Mark encouraged attendees to see those we disagree with as made as much in the image of G-d as we ourselves are. It’s one way we can hold opposing positions, wrestle with tough issues, and maintain a level of respect that enables us to build bridges when we disagree.

The panel topic was especially timely considering how the Knesset vote earlier this week has deepened divisions among Jews in Israel and among diaspora communities, including ours.

In response to the vote, Jewish Federations of North America issued a statement on behalf of all Federations in the system, including ours.

In part, it read "that we are extremely disappointed that the leaders of the coalition moved ahead with a major element of the reforms without a process of consensus." It also urged "coalition leaders to suspend any further unilateral changes to the judicial reforms, and (urged) all parties to return to negotiations under the auspices of President Herzog.”

For a full summary of our actions, click here to read the email we sent to community earlier this week.

Now, as we look to the future and the community we want to build, volunteer leaders are at its heart.

Several years ago, a cohort of young leaders from across our community participated in The Wexner Heritage Program, a two-year educational experience that focuses on Jewish learning and leadership training. Its mission is “to expand the vision of Jewish volunteer leaders, deepen their Jewish knowledge and confidence and inspire them to exercise transformative leadership in the Jewish community.”

We are ready to bring this opportunity back and give 20 young leaders from across our community the chance to grow through this highly coveted program. 

It is open to all young Jewish community volunteer leaders, not just those currently active with our Federation. Candidates must first be nominated by Wexner alumni and top professional and volunteer leaders representing the broadest cross-section of the Jewish community, and then are invited to apply.

We invited two graduates of our last cohort to write the remainder of this week’s message. They have gone on to hold volunteer leadership positions throughout our community and are universally respected for their immense and ongoing volunteer contributions to numerous organizations.

Here are Wexner Heritage Program alumni, Stephen Gaerber, our past board chair, and Jonathan Berkowitz, our past president: 

Nearly 25 years ago, we were given one of the greatest gifts of our lives: participation in the Wexner Heritage Program. Together with 21 others from diverse backgrounds in the Greater Vancouver Jewish community, we began a two-year journey of learning, developing, and deepening our Jewish knowledge, souls, and leadership skills. We travelled to two week-long summer institutes in the United States and one in Israel. In-between, we had 36 intense four-hour classes led by Wexner faculty flown into Vancouver to teach us. Our teachers were among the most brilliant, innovative, and inspiring thought leaders from around North America and Israel. There was no personal financial cost to us except our time and commitment.

That’s the Wexner model. Go into a community, identify its potential future leaders, create a cohort of diverse individuals who can rely on each other, inspire them to exercise transformative leadership and then let them go at it. What did our cohort do? Over the past 25 years, we served as board chairs and senior lay leadership of virtually every Jewish organization in the city. Many of us still collaborate on issues of importance to the community and share a special bond formed so many years ago.


That’s why we’re so excited to announce that, for the first time since 1998, supported by the Diamond Foundation, the Jewish Federation, and alumni of the first cohort, the Wexner Heritage Program is coming back to Vancouver, to start the summer of 2024! A new cohort of established and potential leaders from across our wonderfully diverse community, approximately 30-45 years old, will have the same opportunity we had. If you are interested in participating or nominating someone for the program, please hold the date of September 6, 2023, when we will welcome Wexner Foundation VP, Rabbi Jay Moses, to community meetings for potential nominators and participants. To learn more, please click here.

Shabbat Shalom,


Ezra S. Shanken

CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

Stephen Gaerber

Jonathan Berkowitz

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