"Bringing you voices of community members"

Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken


November 17, 2023 | 4 Kislev 5783



This message has 1,614 words and will take about 6 minutes to read.


Antisemitism is all around us, but so are our supporters. From Washington DC to Israel, we are bringing you local community members who were in all the places we couldn’t be this week.

Nearly 300,000 people marched on the National Mall on Tuesday. Rabbi Infeld recalled longing to go to the march to free Soviet Jewry in 1987 and was determined not to miss this one. Here’s a summary of our conversation about it: 

There is a Jewish concept of holiness increasing when we come together, such as in a minyan. At the march, you could sense the holiness in the crowd bouncing off of people and creating something bigger. It was a moving spiritual experience, not just a communal experience. 

At first, I was up front with a few thousand people. I saw people streaming in, but I couldn’t really tell how many there were. Then it became obvious when the camera panned over the crowd that the gathering was a kilometer deep. It was very energizing, very supportive, and very beautiful. 

It was really important that we were able to say thank you to those who have supported us and stood by our side (and continue to do so). Politicians and other supporters needed to see 300,000 people say thank you because they are hearing from people with opposing viewpoints

In addition to the three key messages that we were there to present—solidarity with Israel, bring the hostages home, and we stand against antisemitism—there were two important subtexts that I want to point out.  

The first was the massive display of Jewish pride and the sense that we are not alone, that we are here for each other, and that we cannot run from the challenges we are facing. 

Even with the strength of our unity, there were hundreds of community members from Detroit who were scheduled to be bussed from the airport to the march. When the bus drivers discovered that they were booked to pick up Jews, they refused and left the group stranded. Absolutely despicable.   

At the same time, I believe that we have more friends now than we ever had before. Case in point: The Catholic archdiocese has sponsored a kiddish at Beth Israel on November 25th and Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Rev. Msgr. Gregory Smith JCD will speak at services that morning.   

The second was the general sense of not seeking a ceasefire at this time. Someone put it this way: “Not everyone who is calling for a ceasefire wants to destroy Israel, but everyone who wants to destroy Israel is calling for a ceasefire.”    

These days we look more and more to the future, and I was really taken by the participation of the youth. It speaks volumes about the future that we have, and in particular of the future of Jewish life in North America. 


Tracy and Les Ames from our community are in Israel visiting family. 

They visited evacuees with Hodie Kahn, who serves on our board and is chair of the Jewish Education Council, Rachel Sachs, director of our Israel Office, and Meytal Novidomsky, director of the JFC-UIA Coast to Coast Partnership.

Tracy and Hodie shared their experience with us: 

“How do I go back. How do I not go back?” 

“How and when will we know that the war in the north, which hasn’t officially started, will be over?”  

“We’re already out of our houses, we should just finish [the north].  

“It could have been us, too.” 

These are a sampling of sentiments shared with us by professionals from our partnership region last Monday, all but one of whom has been evacuated from their homes in northern Israel. They are: Yael Eilat Dan, a social worker and therapist, and director of The Studio at Beit Vancouver; Omri Hajaj, head of the Communities Division at Galil Elion Regional Council, Meytal Novidomsky, Director, JFC-UIA Coast to Coast Partnership and Natalie Edelman Porat, Director, International Academic Affairs Unit at Tel Hai College. The non-evacuee professional is Telem Chorin, Director of The Clore Music and Dance Centre in Kfar Blum. He lives in the Upper Galilee, farther from the border. 

We are sitting together in the lounge of the beautiful Dan Carmel Hotel in Haifa, far from the escalation of hostilities in the north, and the threat of Hezbollah drones and rocket fire. Metyal is from Metula, right on the Lebanese border with Israel. Omri, Natalie and Yael are from Kibbutz Dan, two and a half kilometres away. The Kibbutz is a beautiful place, where avocados flourish and a thriving fishing enterprise produces sought after caviar. It is also known for the honey it produces. Telem is from the Upper Galilee, farther from the border.  

One month into their evacuation, our group, like other evacuees in Israel, is settling into an uneasy, anxiety filled new normal. Within that, they are the first to admit they are the lucky evacuees. The Dan Panorama is a luxury hotel. The staff have been incredible. The food is excellent. The facilities are lovely. There is a pre-school and daycare for their youngest children at the hotel, and they are fortunate that their children’s teacher evacuated with them bringing stability for their little ones. The 80 elementary school students have been absorbed into local schools and go there on a bus, as do another 50 high schoolers. Kibbutz members have also established daily social and cultural events, and music presentations at the hotel. 

Another blessing from Kibbutz Dan is that so many other members were relocated with them. Five hundred of the kibbutz’s 650 members are together at the hotel. Their cohesiveness and familiarity allow them to take a great deal of comfort from one another. It is not the same for other evacuees from the partnership region, including 21,000 from Kiryat Shmona alone, all of whom are spread among 180 hotels across the Upper Galilee. The cultural and temperamental differences between many groups who are now accommodated together in stressful circumstances have created challenges in several instances. 

Our group is quick to acknowledge how appreciative they are of their good fortune, of the hotel and all the Haifa schools that have opened their doors for their kids. But the grief, uncertainty and stress over not knowing when this nightmare will be over is palpable. Parents worry about what to tell their children when they see photos of the hostages. Natalie worries about the recovery of the international program at Tel Hai. The school had made such huge strides in attracting foreign students, including their first post-doc from India. When the war broke out, she helped all 12 students return home within 24 hours.   

Our professionals told us that they do not want to return to the north until the situation changes greatly. Living on the border with Lebanon exposes them to the same attacks conducted against kibbutzim, moshavim and towns in the Gaza envelope. Telem admits the future is concerning. He wonders, will people go back? Omri, who is also the business manager of Kibbutz Dan, is more optimistic. He tells us he is busy working on their budget for 2024. We meet the elder members of the kibbutz in the hotel lobby, where they are sitting and knitting toques for soldiers. They tell us they have survived several evacuations during their lives. But everyone agrees, this time it feels different. The burning question for all is how long will it be before they can go home?  

Natalie tells us, “We will feel that it will be safe to return when someone we trust tells us it is safe to return. But there is no one we can trust now.” The sense of broken trust is shared by all. Meytal says she endured and always had faith through different military actions by Israel over the years. Even when a terrorist from Lebanon infiltrated Metula last year and was found in her backyard, she did not waver. Now, she is not sure if she will be able to return. 

Yael offers a final thought before we leave. “I feel like my life was frozen on October 8th.” She just wants it to start up again, and for everyone to be able to go home. We hope so, too.

And so do we all.  


In news closer to home, community security remains our top priority.

In case you have not already heard, we wanted to let you know that TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto was evacuated today due to a bomb threat. It is upsetting and frightening to hear about this and of course our thoughts turn to our own security. As always, our community’s safety is a top priority. Our director of security, Daniel Heydenrych-Davis, has been in touch with local law enforcement and they confirmed there is no known increased threat to our community. 


On a lighter note, we hosted Deborah Lyons, Canada’s Special Envoy on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. 

Deborah is a former Canadian ambassador to Israel and she takes over the role from The Hon. Irwin Cotler. We were delighted to be one of her first stops, and her schedule was packed with important meetings, such as with Jewish teachers in the public school system.

As we close, we want to give a special thank you to Rabbi Infeld, Tracy and Hodie for their insights, and Deborah for her visit with us. I will be heading to Israel this weekend on a mission with community leaders from across the country, and am eager to connect with our partners up North. I look forward to updating you on that next week. 

Shabbat shalom.


Ezra S. Shanken

CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

Rabbi Jonathan Infeld with his sisters and his son, Avishai, at the March for Israel in Washington D.C.

300,000 gathered at Washington D.C. to march and rally for Israel

Deborah Lyons, Canadian Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism

The Fed Four

The Delta Jewish Community gathered for a healing circle and heard from Psychoanalyst Flavia Markman.

Join us for a 'Night of Hope" in response to the conflict in Israel. Learn more and Register here.

Join the community for a rally and march for Israel every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

CommUNITY Havdalah Saturday, November 18, 6:30 p.m at Beth Tikvah. Register here.