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Israel is at the core of our work and we had some great opportunities this week to focus on our connections there. And it wasn’t all about being up to our knees planning for our community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, although we are gearing up and getting excited for that. We’re 80% sold, so now’s the time to get your tickets before the event sells out (as it did last year).
We were privileged to receive a visit from Deborah Lyons, Canada’s ambassador to Israel, who was in town to meet with community members and local business leaders. Click here to read the latest in her series of Ambassador Letters to see how she and her team are building closer ties between our two countries.
Building closer ties between our local community and Israel is a big part of our work and the work of our partners, though we may approach it differently than the ambassador does. One way we do so is by fostering relationships between community members, often between students and teachers. There are two groups of students who either just came home from Israel or are getting ready to travel there on trips that we support.
The first is the King David High School (KDHS) grade eight trip, which took 32 students to Israel. Interestingly, only 20 of them returned last night – but don’t worry, there’s a good reason. In years when the trip aligns with Passover break, the school coordinates with families who want to travel to Israel to spend the holiday there with their children, and arranges for some of the teacher chaperones to stay in Israel with those students until the families arrive. This year the school was able to facilitate this for 12 families, and they love being able to make this happen.
Head of school, Russ Klein, says that the students on the trip build very strong relationships with their peers at their sister school, Har Vagai, in our partnership region of the Northern Galilee. They spend five days together, and these homestays are a highlight of the students' experience. This year they had the added bonus of meeting with our shinshiniot, teen emissaries from Israel who spend a year volunteering with Jewish organizations in and around Vancouver, including at KDHS, who were in Israel visiting their families.
Russ says that part of the reason KDHS offers this trip is that they think it is important that their grade eight students understand why they attend a Jewish school, and Israel is a huge part of that. “When you fall in love as a teenager, you fall in love forever,” he says. “When you take these teenagers to Israel they fall in love forever. That’s what teenagers do.”
A different group of Jewish teens will be travelling to Israel as our largest-ever delegation on March of the Living, which I wrote about last month. This is the 30th anniversary of the program, and we are thrilled to see so many students signing up for this experience. We are also very proud that our Board chair, Karen James, will be joining them. Their two-week trip to Poland and Israel is coming up soon, and we are working with some of the students on ways that they can share their experience with you when they get back. Stay tuned for that later this spring.
We support these programs by offsetting the overall cost of the trip, by providing additional financial assistance for students whose families need it, and in the case of March of the Living by dedicating staff resources to organize the trip and help participants to prepare for it.
The ties that Jewish organizations are building with and across other communities were showcased this week at The Shared Challenges, Shared Opportunities Forum organized by Richmond RCMP and Kwantlen Polytechnic University to mark the UN Day for the Elimination of Racism. Lisa Romalis, vice principal of Richmond Jewish Day School, and Sukaina Jaffer, vice principal of Az Zahraa Islamic Academy, presented about the schools’ joint project on the Downtown Eastside; and Miranda Burgess and Rosalind Karby spoke about Beth Israel’s sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family. Shelley Rivkin, our vice president, planning, allocations, and community affairs, attended and said it was inspiring to hear our community members speak about their work. Many thanks to Constable Kevin Krygier for making this event happen and ensuring the Jewish community was profiled.
The final note I’d like to leave you with today is an action we and our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, invite you to take in an effort to shut down Hamas's ability to communicate to nearly half a million online followers. #GetHamasOffTwitter has been gaining traction following the tragic terrorist attacks targeting Israelis this past week, and CIJA has written a letter to Twitter asking them to shut down Hamas's accounts. You can add your name to the letter here: www.cija.ca/hamastwitter, and I encourage you to do so.