Children, youth and young families represent almost half of our community. The community is also spreading out, with nearly half of the local Jewish population living outside of Vancouver, often in areas beyond the reach of most Jewish community institutions. Jewish Federation is planning strategically, setting priorities, and collaborating with our partners to address the evolving needs of our community.
This initiative to engage Jews living in the regional communities continues to grow and change. This past year, we saw the expansion of the Langley Hebrew School and the New Westminster Adult Education series. In addition to their regular bi-weekly classes, the Langley Hebrew School also hosted successful Hanukkah and Purim events, as well as a Tu b’Shvat event with PJ Library. Tweens programming in the Tri-Cities continues to grow, with monthly activities coordinated by Habonim Dror and held at Burquest. We were delighted to welcome and help the Gibsons community to provide Jewish programming for their children and families this year. New initiatives that are currently underway include a Hebrew school in the Tri-Cities, women’s programming in Burnaby-New Westminster, and Judaism Through the Arts in Squamish. One of the positive outcomes of this initiative is that we are able to connect other Vancouver based Jewish organizations that are interested in offering programs and services to these emerging Jewish communities. This past year, both the Jewish Film Centre and Jewish Family Services began offering programs in Port Moody, Maple Ridge, and Langley.
The Jewish Food Security Task Force completed its work in late 2018. The task force was a joint initiative of Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services. Co-chaired by Renée Katz and Stan Shaw, the task force’s mandate was to think beyond existing programs and services to come up with a comprehensive food security strategy. The task force examined best practices in other jurisdictions, heard from a variety of community stakeholders, met with food security experts, and considered a range of potential strategies to increase the number of community members who have access to nutritious and affordable food and to diversify the options available to achieve this goal. A key theme arising out of the task force report is the need to address food security in a comprehensive, non-stigmatizing manner that engages a wide variety of community members from youth to seniors. An important outcome of this work was the added value of bringing two community organizations together to undertake this work.
As our community becomes increasingly diverse, off-the-shelf programming is no longer effective. Each community has its own interests and needs and seeks out Jewish community connections in different ways. Recognizing and respecting each community’s uniqueness has defined our approach to our work with new and emerging communities. This past year, we also starting working with another community, Russian speaking community members who settled here some years ago but have not always found a comfortable place among existing programs. Jewish and Modern (JAM) is a grassroots initiative focused on Jewish programming with a Russian twist. In its first six months, the group organized two movie nights, an adult education series, and a genealogy seminar on finding your Russian-Jewish roots.
This year saw growth in both PJ Library’s numbers and programs. More than 1,000 local children ages six months to eight years old now receive high-quality, age-appropriate Jewish children’s books and music on a monthly basis — for free. Older siblings can now receive books through PJ Our Way, a program new to Canada and fuelled by PJ Library, where children ages nine to 11 years old can choose their own Jewish-themed chapter book every month. Children can log in to the PJ Our Way website, which provides them a safe and engaging online community where they can write reviews, take polls, and watch videos made by other kids.
We continued to offer high-quality and engaging programming, including Ride the Rosh Hashanah Train, which brought together over 400 people to join PJ Library and seven other local organizations at Stanley Park for a pre-Rosh Hashanah celebration. For many families PJ Library is their first point of Jewish contact, and this event helped families discover and connect with myriad other community resources and organizations available