Desk of Ezra S. Shanken - October 23, 2015

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October 23, 2015 | 10 Cheshvan 5776 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 5:49 p.m.

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I’m writing to you from Israel this Shabbat, where I met up with the mission from our community that is being led by Arnold and Anita Silber. The Silbers have long been supporters and ambassadors of our work both here in Israel and at home, and they have done a tremendous job of leading this mission. It is one of 21 Jewish Federation missions currently in the country, and what a week it has been to visit Israel. Marcie Flom, our vice-president of financial resource development, has worked closely with the Silbers on this mission for many months and is traveling with the group. These are her reflections:

“What started out as a mission to rediscover Israel changed within days to a solidarity mission. As the tragic and terrifying events unfolded, we landed in Israel and went straight to Jerusalem to welcome Shabbat. We were welcomed with open arms and gratitude that we had come in spite of the violence. Our walk through the Old City was surreal - never had any of us seen the city so deserted, and there were no more than 20 people in total at the Kotel. We all monitored the news throughout the days and journeyed south, away from the violence, to Beer Sheva to tour Soroka Hospital, the main trauma treatment centre during the conflict of summer 2014. The hospital's emergency and trauma rooms now empty, were overflowing that summer, and we left impressed by the facility, the staff and its capacity. Little did we know then that just three short hours later a violent attack would occur at the central bus station, filling the trauma rooms that we had just seen with numerous casualties.

This is life in Israel as our Israeli brothers and sisters know it, and we took pride in their resilience and courage as we shared our mission experiences together last night. The common thread among the group being our love and commitment to Eretz Yisrael - the land and its people.”

That love and commitment was clear throughout the mission. One of the jewels of our partnership region is the recently renewed Beit Vancouver. The mission traveled there to unveil a recognition wall called “Friends of Beit Vancouver” that honours those who’ve given so much to the building and maintaining of this important community asset. It was a privilege to celebrate those who’ve been so generous and who have helped this space become so impactful to the Kiryat Shmona community – particularly the youth. Just a few years ago, the building was in dire need of repair, and now it is the centre of young life in Kiryat Shmona, thanks in very large part to the donors who helped build and continue to support it.

When I met up with the mission on Thursday, conversation turned to a cutting edge area of medical care termed “medical food”. MK Erel Margalit spoke to the group about changing the entire economic environment in our partnership region through the cultivation, harvesting and processing of food products like vegetables, herbs, fruit, and honey with medicinal qualities for use in homeopathic and natural treatment regimes. Rutgers University, Tel-Hai University, and Israel's Economic Taskforce recently launched a new partnership to establish a National Food Innovation Institute in the Upper Galilee. This is expected to be a basis for future academic and research-based collaborations between the two universities. Projects like this contribute to the economic stability of the entire region, one of the key goals of our strategic investments in the North.

Another of our strategic projects with wide-ranging impact is, of course, the Bar-Ilan University – Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee. One of my first stops this trip was to visit MSR, the Israel Center for Medical Simulation, a training program we’re considering for expansion to the medical school. I met with MSR founder and director, Dr. Amitai Ziv and deputy director Kim MacMillan, and observed some of Israel’s top doctors using high-tech simulators to train other doctors to handle particularly high stress emergency medical situations, like mass casualties.

Who were these other doctors? They were 15 doctors from Gaza. In the midst of terror attacks, here is MSR quietly finding ways to bring these doctors into Israel so Gazans can have better medical care. Some would see this as a contradiction – full stop. But in Israel what appear to be contradictions are often was inspire us the most. It’s hard to truly appreciate that until you’re here, for only when you’re in Israel do you really see the complexities of life here.

Shabbat shalom,

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver


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