"We are commanded to hope"

Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken


November 3, 2023 | 19 Cheshvan 5783



This message is longer than usual, but worth well reading to the end.

In a month when we have seen the worst imaginable, this week we saw some hope: the province’s announcement of mandatory Holocaust education in BC high schools. 


The timing of the announcement could not have been more poignant, but it is important to note that this has been an advocacy priority for a number of years and is not simply reactionary. We want to applaud Premier Eby, Minister Singh, Minister Robinson, Minister Heyman, and the provincial government


We also want to thank our partner, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs for their incredible work to make this happen. We are very proud to support their work through the Annual Campaign.

Please take a moment to thank the B.C. Government for making Holocaust education mandatory.

We are going to share with you the voices of a survivor and an educator to illuminate the importance of Holocaust education. But first, we have a few quick updates and thank-yous.


Campus update:

We are continuing to work very closely with Hillel BC and CIJA to address the poisonous environment that Jewish students and faculty are facing at UBC and SFU, as well as on other campuses.

I've been on the UBC campus throughout the week. We met with Hillel, CIJA, the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, and volunteer leadership to discuss HIllel's increased needs. I was there when Hillel students attempted to present the Alma Mater Society a letter requesting that the AMS make a statement on the hostages. The president of the AMS —UBC's student union —didn't even show up. 

UBC’s new president, Dr. Benoit-Antoine Bacon, started on Wednesday and he met with CIJA and Hillel that morning. Also on that morning, we delivered to him a letter signed by over 2,100 UBC donors, supporters, faculty, alumni, and concerned community members, calling on him to take the following steps immediately:

  • Denounce acts of antisemitic intimidation and the glorification of terrorism.
  • Develop a clear safety plan for all students, staff, and faculty.
  • Connect with campus Jewish organizations to assess and meet their needs on the ground.
  • Ensure that students, staff, and faculty have easy access to campus wellness resources.

In addition, a group of senior faculty, led by Gregg Gardner and Jonathon Leipsic, have sent a similar letter of their own. We will keep you posted when we have President Bacon’s response.


We have also been active with Langara College and SFU.

You may have heard about Natalie Knight, an instructor at Langara College who publicly praised the Hamas attack. Together with CIJA, we have been working this. Langara has placed her on leave as they work through their own process to address this. We are also in contact with SFU, which also has an association with her— and that is just the tip of the iceberg of what is happening on that campus.

The situation on campus is serious, and student safety is the top priority for Hillel, CIJA and Federation. Here are Hillel resources for anyone who may need them:


Meanwhile, in our partnership region...

“Kiryat Shmona is a ghost town. Is this [the calm] before the storm? Even if it doesn't break loose in full force against Hezbollah, just over the ridge, it is clear that something major needs to happen here for life here to get back on track. This time the silence is familiar. It is not clear how the storm will break out and where it will come from; but we know that it will come.” Read more here.


While October 7th changed everything for all of us, life must go on, including community and Annual Campaign events. 

Thank you to our Men's Poker Night presenting sponsor Pollock Clinics, as well as, ZLC, InstaFund, Glotman Simpson and Red Truck Brewery. And thank you to our Choices diamond partner, RBC, and event sponsors: Marni & Shannon Real Estate Advisors, Flower Factory, Nogori, Social Ingredients, Pedersen’s Event Rentals, Koncept Events, Minuteman Press Kitsilano, Boditree Pilates & Healing, Herbal Glo, and The Juice Truck.

Now, here are Dr. Robert Krell and Lindsay Hutchison to share their thoughts on mandatory Holocaust education for grade 10 students, with a curriculum to be developed by Jewish Holocaust education organizations.


Dr. Robert Krell

During my time in hiding 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered, representing over 90% living under Nazi domination. The killers had neither boundaries nor mercy. Nor did the killing stop with Jews. It never does.

How shall we prevent Auschwitz from infiltrating our homeland? Some fragments trickled into Canada many years ago when Nazis immigrated here and lied about their origins and evaded justice. There was no political will to pursue them. Strange, given the tragic losses of Canadian soldiers in service of liberating Europe. And reminders of Auschwitz emerged with the appearance of James Keegstra in Alberta who taught his classes for decades that the Holocaust was a creation of the Jews. Or it did not happen at all. And Ernst Zundel, a Nazi propagandist who was a German non-citizen from Toronto, denied that it happened and was defended by lawyer Doug Christie, a fellow traveller in Holocaust denial.

On October 7, Hamas brought Auschwitz to Israel. They slaughtered babies in front of their parents and vice versa, tortured and raped, and burnt alive entire families. They gunned down 250 young people singing and dancing at a Peace Festival, including at least forty Arab citizens of Israel. I had heard such things before, as a six-year-old. The burning pits of Auschwitz into which the Nazis hurled little children.

And almost immediately, Auschwitz entered Canada in the form of rallies by thousands of people, not to denounce these monstrous acts by Hamas but to vilify Israel for defending itself and taking the war to the enemy. 

This is a bad moment in history, a moment in which I experience deep despair. But Elie Wiesel z'l, survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize said, “We Jews have every right to despair but we cannot. We are commanded to hope.”

 And that we will do. 

We will overcome even this. 

And we will continue to hope.

[The] commitment...of the government of BC is a message of hope. Ultimately, securing the future of Holocaust education will help us counter prejudice and racism, promote tolerance and equality, and defeat antisemitism. All this must be done. We must prevent Auschwitz from entering our lives. That requires well-educated people who can recognize truth from fiction and learn from the past.


Lindsay Hutchison

As a high school student in the 1990s, I had the opportunity to attend the Vancouver Holocaust Symposium. In retrospect, it was a turning point in my life.

What I heard that day from survivors and academics prompted me to pursue a history degree and eventually become a social studies and history teacher. I currently teach Social Studies 10, Genocide Studies 12, and 20th Century World History. Holocaust education has a place in each.   

My students of today are vastly different from my students at the beginning of my career almost two decades ago. In the early 2000s, most students had heard of the Holocaust, and many knew some details. But over the years, that number has dramatically decreased. As we learn about the Holocaust, students learn about the incremental way hate begins and grows. We examine choices and consequences.  By the end of their learning, my students have come to recognize the power of choices – personal choices, group choices, and governmental choices. Each plays an important role in addressing the roots of hate and what it can grow into. This education has consequences far and wide. It’s not just about antisemitism but about combatting all forms of hate regardless of community.   

With the rising tide of hatred and polarization this work grows more and more important for all students regardless of their background, experiences, and identity. As educators, we have a responsibility to educate and to push back against hatred and oppression, and we must equip our students with the tools to do so. Holocaust education isn’t just about educating about antisemitism and the horrors it created.  It’s about providing a blueprint for students to understand the roots of hate in general – regardless of community – and how it can spread. If we want our students to learn how to be informed and active citizens, they must learn from the past to identify warning signs in the present. When I talk to former students it’s clear that many have internalized these lessons. They can identify signs of discrimination, prejudice, and hate more readily take a stand against it.    


We are deeply grateful to Rob and Lindsay for sharing their perspectives with us and with you.

Shabbat shalom.


Ezra S. Shanken

CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

BC Government announcement of mandatory Holocaust education in provincial curriculum.

Dr. Robert Krell Child survivor, psychiatrist, community leader and founding president of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre | photo by Tybie Lipetz

Lindsay Hutchison, Social Studies Department Head, Tamanawis Secondary School, Surrey

The Fed Four

Join community on Tuesday, November 7th at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 6:30 p.m. to mark 30 days since the Hamas attack.

Kristallnacht commemoration on Thursday, November 9 at 9:00 p.m. Learn more here.

CIJA and Hillel BC met with UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Benoit-Antoine Bacon to create a safer campus community.

HRA Secretary General Statement on the unprecedented rise in antisemitism. Read the statement here.