Shabbat Message - March 27, 2020


This message has 920 words and will take about 4 minutes to read.


Well, we have made it through another week of the new normal. As various government agencies introduce critical new measures to mitigate the effect of the pandemic, we continue to work closely with our stakeholders to determine the impact on our community, and to provide much-needed financial, operational, and emotional support. 


In case you missed it, we are responding to urgent, increased needs at our partner agencies by releasing $400,000 to see them through the next 30 days. The challenges they are experiencing are unprecedented, and this will not be the only support they need. The first round of funds will be distributed to Jewish Family Services  and the JCC, followed by support to the five day schools.  Next week we will be confirming our support to other organizations on the front line.


In the meantime, this funding and the next steps that are in the works are not close to the full extent of our response. For example, we have seconded two of our staff members to assist Jewish Family Services to coordinate volunteers and organize food deliveries.


Yesterday, I was pleased to participate in a call organized by our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which hosted a teleconference with The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to discuss how the federal government can help charities and non-profits, so they can continue to serve vulnerable populations during this crisis.


CIJA issued an action alert on this, because we need everyone to raise their voices about this in order to get traction. Make sure the government hears from you, so the not-for-profit sector receives the support it needs. Click here to take action. Find out more in this OpEd published in The Globe and Mail, to which I am proud to have signed my name.


We are making an impact continentally and internationally, too. Jewish Federations of North America has formed a coalition with eight other major Jewish organizations to provide a coordinated response to ensure critical services are not interrupted. More here. Our international partners, The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee have hit the ground running, too.


Our Community Affairs team continues to be in touch with partners regularly to assess their needs, keep their finger on the pulse of our community, and bring a measure of stability and support at this uncertain and stressful time. Just as the COVID-19 situation changes daily, so do community needs.

Our partners and other community organizations have been incredibly nimble in their responses, and we want to highlight some of them. Many of them were stretched to begin with – that’s just the nature of working in the not-for-profit sector – but that hasn’t stopped them for going above and beyond to make sure everyone is healthy and has what they need.


Here are some highlights:

  • Jewish Family Services is doing outstanding work around the clock to serve our most vulnerable populations.
  • The JCC is offering an impressive variety of online programs, and is staying in touch with their seniors and members.
  • Rabbis and synagogues are reaching out to their congregants to ensure they have everything they need, and are offering an incredible array of online courses and services.
  • The Jewish day schools have rapidly turned to online platforms to ensure continuity in the education that students require and parents rely on.
  • The six organizations that serve seniors have been providing both practical and emotional support through telephone calls and food deliveries.
  • Louis Brier Home and Hospital staff have been working tirelessly under extremely difficult circumstances to keep residents and staff safe.
  • Our Richmond partners have been ensuring that vulnerable community members have meals and “social” contact.


They aren’t the only ones deserving of kavod this week. Like many of you, we were looking forward to the Shalhevet High School gala this Sunday, but it is the first event of many in our community that has been canceled or postponed. We have been working with all of the affected organizations to provide coordination around their plans. Shelley Rivkin has been instrumental not just in this area, but also in assessing the needs of all the community organizations that have been impacted. Ironically, it is she who was to be honoured on Sunday by Shalhevet. Please continue to support the organizations that have had to change their plans as you would if you were attending their events. Jewish Family Services will be launching their emergency care campaign this week.


With Passover just a week and a half away, we have added a list of kosher for Passover caterers and stores to our COVID-19 Resources page. We’ve also added other helpful information there throughout the week.


At a time when we are restricted in our movements and in our contact with others, many of us have come to realize how much of our freedom we have perhaps taken for granted. And it has come at a time when we rely on one another more heavily than ever to safeguard that which is most precious to us: our health and the health of our loved ones. The actions of each of us impact our community, our country and indeed the world, in ways that have rarely been so starkly articulated. As we prepare for Passover, we find ourselves invited to think about what freedom means to us in new ways, and we have an opportunity to redefine how we create and enjoy our sense of community and Peoplehood.


Shabbat Shalom,


Ezra S. Shanken
Chief Executive Officer

30 RJDS families participated in a Mega Challah Bake.