Shabbat Message - July 17, 2020


This message has 1,314 words and will take about 6 minutes to read.


If you are a regular reader of this message, you will know all too well the impact that COVID-19 is having on our community. From increased demand for services at frontline agencies, to more community members needing subsidies in order to participate in Jewish community life, to longstanding organizations that contribute to the vibrancy of our community having challenges maintaining their core programs and services, COVID-19 has the potential to reshape our community.
Through our consultations with community organizations, we estimate that local needs may increase by 50% over the next year. It’s an absolutely unprecedented situation—and it calls for an unprecedented strategic response. Hence, today’s important message.
We are very pleased to announce the establishment of the Community Recovery Task Force, chaired by Risa Levine.
The purpose of the task force is to examine the myriad operational and financial issues facing our community as a result of COVID-19, and to assist Jewish Federation in effectively responding to these challenges and changes, both presently and in the long-term. Through consultation with our partner agencies, they will be assessing the consequences of the pandemic on vulnerable community members as well as on the ability of community organizations to deliver their core programs and services. Task force members will be looking to new, innovative approaches to enhance community organizations’ capacity, and recommending solutions that will support a strong, resilient and financially stable recovery as well as future sustainability.
The task force members have all held leadership roles with a variety of community organizations, and collectively represent the diversity of our community in terms of geography and life stage. Importantly, these well-respected leaders all have previous experience balancing different community needs and making thoughtful, and at times difficult, decisions.

Risa Levine, chair of the task force, has been an active community leader for decades. Among other positions with Jewish Federation, she was a member of the Allocations Committee for 10 years, chaired the Jewish Education Task Force, and currently is a governor of the Jewish Community Foundation. She just completed two terms on the Board and Executive of Temple Sholom, where she chaired the Task Force on the Culture of Philanthropy. She also sits on the Board of the Rise Women’s Legal Centre. Professionally, Risa practiced law for 17 years, and was a justice of the Supreme Court of BC and the Court of Appeal for BC for 20 years, retiring in 2014.

Andrew Altow was a longtime board member and co-president of the Richmond Jewish Day School, and chaired its annual fundraising golf tournament for 15 years. He has served both as a canvasser and a team captain for the Federation Annual Campaign and currently serves on Jewish Federation's Local Allocations Committee. He also has been a member of the Beth Tikvah Congregation Board of Directors in Richmond.
Jill Diamond is the executive director of the Diamond Foundation, a private family foundation established to improve the quality of people’s lives in Greater Vancouver. Jill is committed to giving back to her community and supporting those in need. She has served on many boards, including Jewish Federation’s Board of Directors, where she also served as chair of the Planning Council and chair of Lion of Judah; the Jewish Community Centre’s Board of Governors; Big Sisters of BC's Lower Mainland’s Honourary Board; Jewish Family Services’ Board; and BC Women’s Health Foundation’s Board.
Michelle Gerber has been a member of the Board of Directors of Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT) for 10 years. During that time, she was involved with strategic planning, marketing, HR, governance, development, campaign and other committees, and served as VTT’s president when the school undertook its major expansion. Michelle also has volunteered for a variety of non-profit organizations in the Jewish community and on the North Shore.  
Hodie Kahn is currently chair of Jewish Federation’s Jewish Day School Council and feels privileged to be able to contribute her time and energy to the betterment of the Greater Vancouver Jewish community. She has served in various leadership roles, including as a member of the Boards of King David High School, Vancouver Hebrew Academy, Congregation Schara Tzedeck, and Schara Tzedeck Cemetery.
Candace Kwinter has held many leadership positions in the Jewish community, including as a member of Jewish Federation’s Board of Directors and chair of its Israel and Overseas Affairs Committee. She is also a member of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs–Pacific Region’s Local Partnership Council. In addition, she is a charuvah member of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, and past-president of Congregation Har El in West Vancouver.
Shawn Lewis was a board member of Vancouver Talmud Torah for 10 years, during which time he served as president as well as chair of the Governance and Nominations Committees. He served on Jewish Federation’s Jewish Education Task Force as well as on a task force that established the exchange program between Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s and UBC’s law schools.
David Porte has held a number of community leadership positions, including co-chair of Beth Israel’s Youth Commission and member of its Building Committee; president of Camp Hatikvah; and president of the Urban Development Institute. He currently serves on the Jewish Community Centre’s Building Committee and is co-founder and board chair of Cassie + Friends Society for Children with Juvenile Arthritis.
Justin L. Segal has been involved in multiple worthy causes, both Jewish and non-sectarian alike. Among his roles, he has served on the Board of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Vancouver Granville Conservative Association. Currently, he is the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business alumni representative for Vancouver and Montreal.
Isaac Thau is a committed and engaged community member who has served on the Jewish Community Foundation’s Investment Committee for 20 years, during which time he chaired the Foundation’s Board for six years. In addition, he is a former member of the Executive Committee of Jewish Federation’s Board of Directors and Jewish Family Services’ Board of Directors. He currently serves as past-president of Hillel BC’s Board. 
The importance of this task force to our community’s wellbeing cannot be understated. I truly believe that the role they will play in our community will be one of the most significant of any group we have ever brought together. Such is the enormity of the pandemic’s impact on our community. I thank them for their commitment to this vital work.

As we have said many times, there will be a part for each of us to play, and the Annual Campaign will be a big part of that. The task force is an integral part of Jewish Federation’s response to COVID-19, as is our three-phase approach to recovery:

  • In phase one, we released targeted emergency funds in the first few weeks of the pandemic to address immediate and urgent community needs, which enabled our partners to pivot successfully to online programs and help the increasing number of people in need.
  • As a second phase, we are currently working closely with our major donors to maintain their support through the next two Annual Campaigns and to consider making contributions above and beyond their campaign gifts to support community recovery.
  • In our third phase, every community member will have an opportunity to make a difference in our community’s recovery through participating in the Annual Campaign, which officially launches in September (although you can always make a gift online or call or email us). Every gift will support our ability to help our community partners and organizations deliver the programs and services that so many rely on.


As we noted in our 2019-20 Annual Report, our community may be facing challenges ahead, and Jewish Federation’s work with community partners and leaders has never been more important. Since the onset of COVID-19, Jewish Federation made a commitment to be here for our community, and we’ll continue to be here to lead the way.

Shabbat shalom.


Ezra S. Shanken
Chief Executive Officer