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“I’m a person who uses drugs”

By Joe Fiorito

Read the article on the Toronto Star’s website here.

 

Before we caught up, or perhaps instead of catching up, Frank — I had not seen him in a while — invited me to come and hear him speak at a workshop for people who work with drug users.

Frank uses crack.

He has been using crack for a long time and he confounds the stereotype. He is hip, articulate, self-aware; next to him, any other Frank is a guy in white shoes wearing a white belt, watering a lawn.

He began his part of the workshop by saying that he is neither ashamed nor guilty about his drug use, but that he has regrets, and he laid out the dominoes of his life in order to show how they toppled:

He had a job. He had a family. He had a life. He got laid off. His brother died of an AIDS-related illness. And then his wife left him and took his daughter.

He was depressed. You’d be, too. He was alone and he was living in Regent Park and he began to do what some men do. “I spent a lot of money on sex workers. They used drugs. I gravitated toward that and spiralled down.” He spent time in jail. He bounced around.

No soft landings.

These days he works in harm reduction whenever he can. He is an engaging speaker; if you know jazz, bop and rebop is his sound; in the palm of his hand was his audience.

Then he shifted gears.

“The basis of harm reduction is respect for the other as a human being; respect and dignity. People who use drugs are not bad, nor do they have an inherently low sense of morality.”

People wrote that down.

He spoke of the need to build trust. “If there’s no trust, I won’t tell you what I feel or what I want. Working with drug users is not selling shoes or pumping gas; it’s working with human beings in crisis.”

He said he figures half the people living in shelters use drugs. I have no reason to think differently.

He said, “You have to deal with things as they are. You have to be non-judgmental. You have to be patient, more than in any other job.” And what he said next was the Zen of connection: “Listening is not the same as waiting to speak.”

People wrote that down.

He said that people who use drugs may be less interested in help because they are preoccupied with more pressing matters: “Where can I score, where can I use, where are the police, where can I stay?” He paused and said, “You aren’t trying to get people to stop. You’re trying to diminish the chaos.”

I wrote that down.

He said some people are corks bobbing in an ocean, drifting with the tide. “The cork has no choice. You want to help people make choices. It can be hard for people who have been beaten down.”

Amen.

He also talked of practical matters. “People who use drugs need bank accounts. Why? It beats going to the Money Mart.” It isn’t just because of the fee the cheque-cashers extract: “You walk out, you feel like s—, you lose a percentage of your money.”

And what happens to a drug user who has a pocketful of cash? “You’re a mark; and soon every penny’s gone because you can’t say no.” He said that, when he was living at Seaton House, he deposited his money in their bank, and they put him on an allowance.

That’s not just practical.

That’s genius. It helped to make his money last. Because when people with no money get their drugs on credit, as sometimes happens, they are prone to violence, including sexual violence.

And then he offered this thought about the nature of the conversation: “They say I’m a crackhead. No. I am a person who uses drugs. It’s part of who I am. It’s not everything I am.”

Posted by Robyn |

CBC – The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright

For many of us, panhandlers provide a daily prick to the conscience. Can you spare some change? I’m hungry. Money for food please? What to do?
There are so many options. Feel guilty. Resentful. Or both. Say you’re sorry and rush on. Flash a smile. Duck your head. Think, “There but for the grace of God,” and dig some money out of your pocket, only to find your compassion evaporating a few blocks later, when you come across another hard-luck, cap-in-hand case.
It can be a complex and complicated transaction–on both ends.
So much so, that Ve’ahavta, a Jewish relief organization in Toronto, convened a discussion about it. The moderator was the organization’s founder, Avrum Rosenzweig.
The first voice you’ll hear, though, belongs to Joe Roberts. In 1989, he was a drug addict living on the streets of Vancouver. Ten years later, he was the CEO of a hugely successful multi-media company. Now he heads “Push for Change”, an advocacy group for homeless youth.
Our documentary, “Spare Change” was produced by Frank Faulk, who interviewed people on the streets of Toronto and the Evangel Hall Mission.
Posted by Robyn |
March
26
POSITION: Director of Local Programs
TYPE: Permanent, full-time (option to begin as part-time for first 6 months)
REPORTS TO: President & CEO

PURPOSE OF THE POSITION

The Director of Local Programs is responsible for the strategy, management, implementation, and evaluation of all local poverty alleviation programs in accordance with the standards set out by Ve’ahavta. As a member of the senior management team, within a dynamic and innovative environment, the director of local programs participates in driving the organization’s growth and strategic planning, including budgeting initiatives and problem solving.

KEY ACCOUNTABILITIES

Program Directorship, Development, & Reporting

  • Manage, supervise and evaluate all activities relating to local programs including, but not limited to, van outreach program, educational program for marginalized populations, harm reduction, case management, urban creative writing program, shelter/drop-in centre community meals (monthly), school supply distribution program
  • Develop the strategic vision, partnerships and implementation of expansion plans for select assigned programs
  • Ensure appropriate safety, security, and professional standard policies and procedures are in place and obeyed
  • Identify, supervise and manage relevant and timely data collection, statistics, and key performance indicators
  • Compile, analyze and reports trends in the program, identifying issues and developing and recommending solutions
  • Manage and track departmental budget

Human Resource Management

  • Direct, plan and coordinate the work of the program staff including supervision and evaluation, training and team building
  • Provide guidance and review of quarterly goals for all departmental staff
  • Organize and attend bi-weekly departmental meetings to maintain effective communication
  • Provide de-briefs as needed for frontline workers
  • In consultation with the President, responsible for the selection, hiring, coaching, and discipline of the program employees

Committee Work

  • Support the Ve’ahavta Program Committee, Ve’ahavta Street Academy Advisory Committee, and other committees as assigned, in collaboration with a lay committee chairperson.
  • Attend regional meetings, conferences and workshops when budget allows

Other

  • Represent Ve’ahavta at various community events, conferences, municipal forums
  • Create and update program proposals for each program which requires funding
  • Provide occasional fundraising support, within reason, and as required by all staff
  • Reports and de-briefs with supervisor regularly
  • Other duties as reasonably requested

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Masters of Social Work (MSW) or equivalent related credentials in social service sector
  • Minimum 6 years work experience in social service & program management
  • Strong understanding of social service sector in large urban settings
  • Ideal candidate has experience working with populations with mental illness, addictions, urban poverty at a senior level
  • Advanced ability to research, strategize and develop effective social programming
  • Able to establish a clear vision, and plan for progressive and innovative solutions to poverty
  • Experience working at a policy level and driving advocacy initiatives within an established network on behalf of marginalized populations
  • Proven ability to increase program capacity
  • Knowledge of grant sources and experience with proposal writing
  • Strong problem solving and group leadership skills
  • Highly organized, motivated, and system-oriented
  • Exhibits strong team values as well as an ability to work independently
  • Effective oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to work flexible hours and in a fast-paced environment
  • Sound computer skills

Deadline is Friday, April 18th  at 12 noon.

Applications should be sent to carol.berns@veahavta.org

Posted by Robyn |

Initiative Brings Jews, First Nations Closer Together

By: Paul Lungen

Click to read article on Canadian Jewish News website

More than 100 years ago, Winnipeg businessman Harry Henteleff used to make it a practice to get out of town and do some hunting and fishing in the dense forests and pristine lakes that were plentiful on the Manitoba-Ontario border.

Henteleff was usually accompanied by guides from local First Nations communities, and the friendships he struck up stayed with him for life.

More recently, Henteleff’s grandson, Michael Dan, has been making his way into a nearby area in Northwestern Ontario, not far from the Manitoba border, which was ceded by Anishinabe-speaking peoples to the Crown in what is known as Treaty 3.

Like his grandfather, Dan respects Aboriginal culture, but it’s not hunting and fishing that brings him there.

Dan, president and CEO of Gemini Power Corporation, is promoting a hydro-electric project that he believes will benefit his company, as well as pay handsome dividends for local First Nations bands for generations to come.

“My family has a connection to Treaty 3 [lands] that goes back 100 years,” said Dan. “Now his grandson has come back with several million dollars and is [developing] a hydro station in the area.”

Dan is far from the first contemporary Jew to take an interest in Aboriginal well-being. Late last year, the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), meeting in Sand Diego adopted a “Resolution on First Nations” advanced by a committee of the Canadian Council of Reform Jews/URJ. The resolution recounts the many social, economic, health and education challenges facing First Nations communities. It calls on Reform Jews to “continue to develop and strengthen relationships with the First Nations community.”  It also calls on the federal government to urge provincial authorities to teach First Nations history and to work with First Nations to address the challenges facing Aboriginal Canadians.

Meanwhile, Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish humanitarian and relief organization, is partnering with Aboriginal communities in the Treaty 3 area to improve the health of First Nations peoples.

With a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the support of philanthropist Larry Tanenbaum; Phil Fontaine, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations; and former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Ve’ahavta will send young people to communities in the Kenora area, near the Manitoba border, to support local community health programs.

In interviews with Dan, Sarah Zelcer,  Ve’ahavta’s director of national and international programs, and Martin, the longstanding ties of the Jewish and First Nations communities were stressed.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we were like them, second-class citizens in the countries we live in,” Dan said.

The hydro project that Gemini is promoting – it’s still seeking bureaucratic approvals – will over time be turned over to local First Nations communities, providing an income stream while encouraging financial self-sufficiency, he said.

“It’s much more than just a business deal,” Dan continued. “It’s trying to help this community become more self reliant. It’s taking all the smarts and knowledge we have on Bay Street and applying it to a community that was left to fend for itself without much success.”

“It’s much more than a project now. It’s a lifelong connection to the community,” he added.

Zelcer, of Ve’ahavta, said, Bri’ut (Hebrew for health) is a capacity-building program that will co-operate with the Kenora Chiefs Advisory to support community led health promotion programming in seven Anishinabe reserves over the next 3-1/2 years.

The program will see seven graduate students studying public health or social work under the direction of their host communities to promote health.

“We see Bri’ut as our entry point into building meaningful relationships with Aboriginal communities which are based on partnership, collaboration, mutual respect and trust. Our goal is to develop more programs which focus on supporting Aboriginal communities in Canada in the areas of health and education,” Zelcer said.

Ve’ahavta is hoping to involve Toronto synagogues in “a movement within the Jewish community that seeks to better understand the issues affecting Aboriginal Canadians, to build partnerships with Aboriginal communities, and to work hand in hand toward promoting a more equitable Canada.”

Contacted at his office in Montreal, Martin noted that “the Canadian Jewish community has for some time shown a great interest in the plight of Canada’s indigenous people. This is very much to the credit of the Jewish community.”

Martin, who spearheaded the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, which includes a five-year pilot project funded in part by the Judith and Lawrence Tanenbaum Family Foundation, said Aboriginal Canadians are the youngest and fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population. He urged young Canadian Jews to “get involved with young Aboriginal Canadians. That will lead to better understanding,” he said.

Tanenbaum said his involvement in Native issues can be traced back to a visit to the White Dog Reserve in northern Ontario nearly five years ago. Accompanying Martin at the time, he said he “was moved by what I saw and what heard that day.

“I take great pride that the Jewish community is engaged with and working on behalf of Canada’s Aboriginal people in many facets.

“The former Canadian Jewish Congress was deeply involved in programming with First Nations [and] the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs… participated in the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, as well as mentoring Aboriginal leaders in advocacy and leadership.

“I think we all view this work as part of our community’s tradition of tikkun olam. It is very basic, but so essential.  We seek to make our community, province and country a better place. It begins with helping others, and it is something that is rooted in the traditions of our people that were taught to me by my parents.”

Martin will discuss his education initiatives at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple on April 10, while Dan is scheduled to speak at Temple Emanu-El on April 6 on First Nations’ traumatic memory and economic marginalization.

- See more at: http://www.cjnews.com/news/initiatives-bring-jews-first-nations-closer-together#sthash.ATfB5e1w.dpuf

Posted by Robyn |
March
24

The value of helping others, religiously

By: Angelina Chapin

Click to read article on Huffington Post website.

It was a few hours into our mission, after the temperature had dropped to around minus 20 and my toes went numb, that I started to think of Amit Robson as a saint.

On a February afternoon I and the two other volunteers huddled near the van door. Our group leader smoked cigarettes with homeless people like it was a spring day. He said we could wait inside, but no one wanted to look weak. We were bringing sandwiches and coffee to people without gloves or hats. Some slept on concrete beds.

My religious colleagues were practising “Tikkun olam,” the Hebrew term for repairing the world. Agnostically, I was doing the same.

When I signed up for the ride-along in Toronto, I hadn’t considered that there would be any religious affiliation. I was referred to Amit, who drives the van a few days a week, by a friend. We corresponded over email. Religion never came up. So I was a little surprised when the black minivan pulled up outside my house with a the black and yellow “Ve’ahavta” logo painted on the side.

Most non-believers are too busy hating religions to think of the good work they do. I’m one of them. Trust me, this is not a Jehovah’s Witness-type plea disguised as a column. I’m as faithless as they come. I’m no fan of the dubious science of creationism, the hypocrisy of abstinence with a side of sexual abuse and the oppressive social constructs that lead people to say “God Made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” with a straight face. It’s enough to lead anyone off the holy path.

But when it comes to helping others, atheists and agnostics should take religious notes. As we work longer hours and live lonelier lives, we’ve become worse at dedicating ourselves to a cause.

Religion is a drill sergeant for charity. Whether the officer is Jesus, Buddha or Muhammad, helping others is fundamental to all faiths. And while those who go to public school learn the same, religion has institutionalized altruism with gatherings, scripture and prayer. If you’ve volunteered at a soup kitchen, it likely was named after a saint.

Almost 40 per cent of charities in Canada have a religious affiliation, according to Imagine Canada. Research shows those who regularly attend religious services are more likely to become the ultra-dedicated volunteers that charities depend on. If you were active in a religious organization as a kid, you’re almost 15 per cent more likely to volunteer as an adult.

Meanwhile, a new generation is ditching divinity. More than half of millennials never attend a religious service according to a Huffington Post Canada survey. And while we should reject oppressive values from outdated books, we should not be put off by the many religious charities and organizations that do secular work. Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa runs a soup kitchen, drop-in centre and shelter programs, all without proselytizing. Yet according to CEO Deirdre Freiheit, of their more than 400 volunteers, almost all are religious (the majority are Catholic, but some are also Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish) and 80 per cent are older than 40.

That’s not to say you have to be a mid-life disciple to help people; many volunteers are more culturally than spiritually religious, anyway. TheMillennial Impact report found that last year, 73 per cent of young people volunteered for a non-profit. But it also describes a more selfish attitude toward charity: “Their interactions with non-profit organizations are likely to be immediate and impulsive. When inspired, they will act quickly in a number of ways, from small donations to short volunteer stints, provided that the opportunities are present and the barriers to entry are low.” Millennials want to help, just on their own terms.

Some good initiatives have come from this spontaneous approach. RAK nominations (Random Acts of Kindness) are a great example of viral volunteering. People upload videos of themselves doing a good deed to YouTube (giving food to the homeless is common) and nominate someone else to do the same. But volunteering should be a routine rather than an impulsive act.

Every Sunday I visit a 12-year-old girl at a convenience store right by my house. Her parents are Chinese immigrants and speak limited English. She needs help with homework, but also some mentorship. I’ve been showing up intermittently for a few years now, but it’s only in the past couple of months that I’ve dedicated myself to going once a week (trust me, that felt hard). The more I go, the more she trusts me. She now talks about her period. Boys. How scared she is of what will happen when her parents die.

The best part about the Ve’ahavta van is its consistency. People can rely on it five times a week, and not just for bagels and caffeine. They rely on the company. Amit talks to his clients like friends. They call his cellphone when they need help. They see him more than their own social workers.

There’s a lot about religious culture we should throw away, but the dedication to helping others is a keeper.

Posted by Robyn |

We set out recently on a nighttime tour that took us no further than downtown Toronto, but in the words of our driver, Amit, it was to a parallel universe, a society of individuals from whom most of us almost instinctively look away. We volunteered to man the Ve’ahavta outreach van that prowls the night streets seeking out and providing food, warm clothing, and much else to the homeless. As owners of a family restaurant that has been in Toronto for more than a century, we thought we would join the Feed the Deed initiative and deliver some of our own hot soup to people downtown. We were not disappointed with our reception, and, we’re glad to report, neither were they with our soup. It was -15 C, but we took off our gloves again and again to offer a sandwich, a coffee, a pair of clean socks or underwear, a wool hat, gloves and even a couple of sleeping bags. Since our gloves were off, we had an opportunity to shake a few hands and to pass a few minutes just talking. Each person told a different story, but each one felt the pleasure of being “seen,” and all were grateful for the visit and for the goods. When we got to the vegetarian split-pea soup, we met some skepticism. But by the end of our four-hour run, we’d given away all but the bottom of the pot (which went to our driver, a hero in his own right). Some of our newfound friends came running back to the van for seconds, and even thirds. Our hats are off to Ve’ahavta. By caring for the homeless, they are taking care of us all, and they invite everybody to lend a hand.

Philip, Ruthie and Nathan Ladovsky - United Bakers Dairy Restaurant, Toronto

Posted by Robyn |

Auschwitz: “It’s Not the Sights so Much as the Sounds”

By : Vak Verikaitis - Co-Producer and Researcher for Ve’ahavta TV / Radio

Out in Independence square in Kyiv, I saw a solitary Lithuanian flag amongst the sea of blue and yellow Ukrainian ones during a protest gathering this past weekend. It wasn’t just a flag. It was my family. What’s left of it.

The yellow, red and green was always around in the house I grew up in. My mother was a great patriot, but unreservedly loved being Canadian. It was the same for most people who had emigrated to Canada in the late 1940s.

My mother very rarely talked about what happened to her in the Second World War. There were short bursts of recollection, little anecdotes of walking for days on end, seeing bodies scattered in the road. Bombed out buildings. Soldiers and military vehicles everywhere.

But the essence of her story was missing. Or not told. I knew as a Lithuanian she was stuck in between the fascists of Hitler and the Communists of Stalin. If you are facing two devils, two giants of oppression on either side, what do you do? How DO you survive?

In my mother’s case they walked. Clear across Europe. With a stop in the labour camps in Germany, making war materials in the factories. And after the war, interred in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp.

But what happened? What was it like where you were? What did you see? What did you eat? How DID you survive?

My mother is in a long-term care facility now with dementia. And now I’ll never know.

There are few people around left to tell us the stories of a world absorbed by the malignant growth of ideas that would justify killing and the displacement of entire nations, entire cultures, entire peoples. My search for personal answers led me on a trip to the north end of Toronto.

A nice, well-looked after apartment complex. A safe, trouble-free part of town. The doorbell rang and I could hear the shuffling of feet and a resigned “I’m coming, I’m coming” from somewhere inside the apartment. It took a while, and as I stood outside her door I couldn’t help but wonder what would this person be like.

When you think of the word “survivor” and “labour camps” there is a mental image of the emaciated figures with the hollow black eyes, and that “thousand yard stare” that soldiers returning from the war describe on people who have been exposed to battle and atrocities.

Obviously the physical aspects of that horror had healed with time. But what about the psychological, the emotional wounds?

A warm smile and the petite figure of 85-year-old Judy Weiszenberg Cohen greeted me.

She was engaging and friendly, warm and familiar, polite and sharp as a tack.

We talked about my background and I opened my briefcase to show her some papers I had brought with me. Papers from the DP camp my mother had been in in the city of Weisbaden, Germany. Her high school report cards. Her Lithuanian passport. The landed immigrant card from Canada.

Judy looked at the date on the card. “That’s exactly one week before I came to Canada,” she said. July 17, 1948.

Judy is a Hungarian Jew. The youngest of seven children, Cohen survived the Auschwitz-Berkenau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, a slave labour camp and a death march. Only two other siblings survived.

She was eventually brought to Germany to work in an airplane factory, one of 500 Jewish women who endured a tense environment with Ukrainian and Estonian women who were also forced to work there. An atmosphere of tension borne of the anti-Semitic hatred for the Jews that was prevalent in much of those countries.

“But we ended up putting up with each other,” Judy told me. “We had to, it was survival. Many of the women gathered up loose scraps of aluminum that dropped to the floor, and made pots and pans out of them in order to sell or trade to each other for scraps of food and to cook that food in.”

That was toward the end of the war. Judy had already been through so much.

“In Auschwitz, people ask me what I remember and I tell them it’s not the sights so much as the sounds. There were many gypsies in the camp, but they were allowed to stay in family units. Many women bore children in the camp. And for the most part they were left alone. But one day the Germans moved in and started killing them all. And the sounds of the screaming, you didn’t know that people could make those sounds. It still haunts me all those years later.”

On Monday, Judy was in New York at the United Nations, speaking to kids from the Pine Bush, New York school district as part of the UN March of the Living Exhibit, entitled “When You Listen to Witness You Become a Witness.”

The quote from Judy so impressed the organizers that they used it as their motto.

Jewish students in the Pine Bush district, located 90 miles north of New York City, have complained in recent years of anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, jokes about the Holocaust, being forced to retrieve coins from dumpsters and physical violence. Fellow students are accused of making Nazi salutes and telling anti-Semitic jokes.

Judy has spoken about here experiences to school kids for many years now.

The exhibit, which was launched on January 28, 2014, includes powerfully moving images and reflections in verse, gleaned from 25 years of March of the Living. The exhibit documents the stories of the aging survivors and their young students who travel to former camps to see what the survivors lived through.

There is also an interactive component of the exhibition that allows visitors to fill out their own pledge of tolerance and compassion which may appear at the UN, and taken on the March to Auschwitz-Birkenau and planted alongside thousands of other plaques.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the holocaust and the genocide of millions and displacement of millions more is that the whole thing, as Judy points out “starts with words.”

There is a rise in racist, anti-semitic and fascist thinking throughout Europe. In Judy’s native Hungary, the JOBBIK party, whose leader Gabor Vona speaks of getting rid of “gypsy crime”, was in London, England in January for a speaking engagement. He was trying to stir things up with the estimated 50,000 Hungarian immigrants living in the city.

The Guardian reports that JOBBIK is Hungary’s third-largest party, winning 17% of the vote and nearly 50 seats in parliament. It also has a claim to be Europe’s most overtly racist party. A favourite target is Hungary’s Roma minority, which could number as many as 800,000. Vona was the founder of the now banned, quasi-military Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard), whose garb and insignia evoke the pro-Nazi ultra-nationalist parties of Hungary’s past.

In the Ukraine, the far right Svoboda party are also represented in parliament. They are overtly racist and anti-Semitic. Many of them are the leaders of the current uprising in the Ukraine, and want to shape any future governments to their way of thinking, not necessarily that of the European Union or the United States.

“Hateful ideas lead to hateful actions,” Judy warned ominously. “The only hope is that a civilized society prevails.”

Judy would know. She was there when words brought about World War Two and genocide. She is a witness. Sadly. my mother can no longer be one. And I’ll never be able to ask her.

Read the article on the Huffington Post website here

Posted by Robyn |

The Roma Family Taking Refuge in a Toronto Church

By : Avrum Rosensweig

It appears that the church members had installed a small window in the door, likely so the family could look out and determine who was on the other side of it. Even though the church is their temporary home, it was felt, through great respect, they had the right to answer the door or not.

I am speaking of the Pusuma family, a Roma family that has lived inside Toronto churches for about two years so as not to be deported back to Budapest where they will likely be targeted by neo-Nazis.

The Pusumas arrived in Canada five years a short time after having been savagely beaten by right-wing thugs for the crime of being Roma and human rights activists. The choice of weapon was bats. The beating might have lasted three minutes but it was brutal and only stopped when a neighbour honked their horn. Everyone else passed by.

Jozsef, the husband, a sweet man, took some painful wacks to the legs and thigh. Timea was hit in the head and when she pulled her hand away from her ear, she saw it was full of blood. Their little girl, Lulu, was 15 months at the time. For a moment during the pounding, Timea could not see her. She didn’t hear her. The little girl’s mommy felt her stomach fall, a feeling one only knows when they’ve lost sight of their child. Death would be simpler and kinder.

Lulu was under Jozsef. He was lying on top of his little girl protecting her from the men who somehow felt justified in beating a man, woman and their child. (How does one do such a thing? What happens inside the mind of the perpetrator that allows for a crime against everything and everybody?)

The Pusuma family decided to chose Canada as their safe haven like many Roma before them.

When one is convinced that nothing else can go wrong, they are frequently incorrect. Within one week of the Pusumas landing on our sores were scammed by a lawyer who took their money and papers. This attorney did the same thing to other refugee claimants who have likely been deported. Because of shoddy legal work a judge determined the Pusuma’s would have to go back to Hungary.

Two dozen churches were asked to take the Pusumas in, but declined because it was their busy season – Christmas. So far no synagogues or mosques have agreed to give sanctuary to denied refugee claimants.

Timea is solid, and vital. She has spent her life helping peoples of all backgrounds. Jozsef is a warrior. While in Europe he travelled four million kilometers as a researcher and driver for an EU minister, checking out the rise in fascism and anti-Roma sentiment.

Lulu is beautiful. She speaks to her parents like an adult, as if she is a seasoned captive with a keen sense of human behavior and wisdom. Lulu will not go to school because she is deathly afraid to leave her parents. They share this sentiment. Recently a freelulu (freelulu.ca) campaign was launched asking people to sign a petition “imploring the minister of citizenship and immigration, Chris Alexander, to allow the Pusuma family to leave sanctuary and stay in Canada by granting them a temporary residence permit, while they wait for justice from the Immigration and Refugee system.”

This past Sunday I gave a sermon at the church which has given the Pusumas refuge. I thanked the congregants for their courage and bravery and assured them that millions of Canadians agree with their decision to rescue the Pusumas. I likened the congregants’ actions to ‘righteous gentiles’ – individuals designated as such by Yad Vashem (the living memorial in Jerusalem to those who perished in the Holocaust and to those non-Jews who saved many Jewish lives at risk to themselves and their families).

While the congregants at this United Church will not be dragged from their home in the cold and dark of a wintry Canadian night for their actions, the truth be told, our government does not look favorably on such actions and can determine their actions to be obstruction of justice.

Over the next few weeks decisions will be made about the Pusumas. Pronouncements will be heard that will conclude where they live and in fact, how the rest of their lives unfold. The Pusumas are hoping, as are thousands of supporters and fans, that they will receive a fair hearing and that our government will act compassionately and justly with the knowledge that a very dangerous landscape faces them should they be forced to return to Europe.

The window in the door has a curtain on it, a small piece of cloth that prevents others from peering into the small room which houses a Roma family in a church, in Toronto, Canada, in 2014.

Read the article on the Huffington Post here.

Posted by Robyn |

Repaying the Righteous Gentile

By : Avrum Rosensweig

A few nights ago, I met the Pusuma family, a Roma family from Budapest. They have been given refuge in a west-end Toronto church and live in a room that’s about 20 feet by 20 feet. Twenty other churches had rejected the request to give them refuge. So far, no shuls have agreed to give refuge to others.

The father, Jozsef, is 43 years old. His mother is Roma (pejoratively known as Gypsy) and his father was Jewish. Jozsef’s wife, Timea, 33, is Roma. She has moxie to spare and very deep dark brown eyes, reflecting joy and a terrible history. Their little girl is Lulu. She is six and adorable. Lulu is a child with opinions. Melts your heart.

Jozsef was a human rights activist working for a minister in the European Parliament. His job was to drive throughout Europe to places where Roma had been persecuted and determine what had happened. He takes great pride in the fact he drove four million kilometres to accomplish his goals.

Timea would often take children into their home, some of them Jewish, offering them a warm compassionate place when their parents were working.

One day in 2009, in daytime Budapest, the Pusuma family heard a car enter their courtyard. They saw an intimidating black sedan. Four men jumped out in scary black clothing, “with big shoes” and masks. They were neo-Nazis brandishing bats. When the family came out, they were set upon. Jozsef told me one of them swung a bat at his thigh and smashed into the bone. He said it was incredibly painful. Timea heard a buzzing in her head after taking a blow to her ear. She touched her head and saw “much” blood in her hand. She was woozy.

Timea didn’t know where her Lulu was. Where was her 15-month-old baby? She looked around frantically while the neo-Nazis beat them. Then she heard Lulu. She was lying underneath Jozsef. He was protecting their infant from the thugs. He was taking the blows that would have killed their little girl. Like a lion, like a father, like our people tried to do, he was protecting his little girl from evil. The entire event took three minutes. Evil is fast.

Five years ago, the Pusuma family arrived on our shores after reviewing our refugee policy and choosing our nation as their safe place. The first couple of years were fine, but then reality set in. They were scammed by a lawyer who took their money, but failed to process their papers properly. This led to a deportation notice issued by the government.

In time, through the assistance of very good Christians, the Pusumas were offered sanctuary in that west-end church. They moved in and haven’t been outside since. They’re in hiding. If they go for a stroll, they can be picked up and immediately sent back to Hungary – a country designated by our government as a safe place for its citizens.

In that tiny room, with shelves lined with donated toys, they teach Lulu her studies. Friends from the church drop by. Jozsef’s daily regimen includes spending time alone in a dark room, playing the piano, songs from back home. He cries while he plays. He looks tired and in need of vitamin D.

Today, groups of people, including congregants and children from Toronto’s Temple Emanu-El, are trying to find freedom inside our borders for the Pusuma family. By the time you read this, the family’s story will likely have been told in a number of other media outlets. But a deportation notice still hangs over the heads of this Roma-Jewish family, which sentences them to live in Budapest 2014, where they are remembered well by big-shoed neo-Nazis and hooligans.

Nazi beatings. Remember your Holocaust education and the stories you read about Jewish beatings. Remember your Holocaust education and ugly testimonies about Jewish babies being thrashed to death, and then remember 15-month-old Lulu.

We are a comfortable and accomplished Canadian Jewish community. Use your authority and resources to help the Pusuma family.

 

Many Righteous Gentiles saved us. Now is our chance to repay them.

avrum.rosensweig@veahavta.org

Read on the Canadian Jewish News website

 

Posted by Robyn |

Jewish – Aboriginal Program Receives a Tremendous Boost of Support from Influential Canadian Leaders.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Larry Tanenbaum, Philanthropist and Chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., and Phil Fontaine, former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Have Committed their support

TORONTO February 24th, 2014 — Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee’s national health promotion initiative has taken a huge leap forward thanks to the support from three influential Canadian leaders. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Larry Tanenbaum, Philanthropist and Chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., and Phil Fontaine, former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, have committed their efforts to improving the long term physical and mental health of Aboriginal populations within Canada.

“We must pursue partnerships with Aboriginals in a meaningful way – it must be a genuine partnership that encourages mutual trust,” confirms Mr. Martin. “The Jewish community can play a significant role in this issue.” During Martin’s 3 years as Prime Minister, the Liberals sought to further relations and enhance the lives of Aboriginal communities across Canada. Now in his post-political career, Martin sees tremendous opportunities for development by working with Aboriginal communities, particularly in Western Canada where Aboriginal youth are among the most challenged.

By working side by side with Ve’ahavta, the three Canadian leaders will help guide this groundbreaking health care initiative toward effective results, which will have a direct impact on improving the lives of Aboriginals across Canada.

For Larry Tanenbaum, the opportunity to work with Ve’ahvata hinges on his vision of furthering relations between the Jewish and Aboriginal communities. “I am proud to be the honourary chair of Ve’ahavta’s “Bri’ut” (Hebrew word for Health) Ontario, together with a true humanitarian and leader, Chief Phil Fontaine. I have seen great strides and growth in Jewish Community development over the years. This current initiative – to bring Jewish and First Nations minds, cultures and historical experiences together for the benefit of both communities and Canada – is one which truly reflects Jewish values of social responsibility, and rings loud and true to the testament of “Never again.”

Tanenbaum’s statement is further echoed by Chief Phil Fontaine, who was recently recognized as an Officer of the Order of Canada for his human rights work on behalf of all Aboriginal communities. For Fontaine, the Bri’ut initiative is deeply rooted in his beliefs and provides further opportunity for him to continue his lifelong goal of bettering the lives of Aboriginal people across Canada.

This past summer Ve’ahavta received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation in support of implementing the “Bri’ut” program with Aboriginal Communities over a four year period. The program is designed to improve the long term physical and mental health of Aboriginal populations by strengthening the delivery of community based health promotion programs.

To date, members from Ve’ahavta and leaders from the Kenora Chiefs Advisory Community in Ontario have begun to map out plans for establishing a long term strategy that seeks to improve local health care needs – from managing chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension, to healthy mother and baby groups – along with community support services for those affected by addiction and mental health issues.

The next steps for the program include the recruitment of fellows who will be charged with the task of working alongside the communities to implement the long terms goals. A meeting will also take place in Toronto this February with Ve’ahavta’s partners, followed by a scheduled community visit to the Kenora region this coming March.

For media inquiries please contact:

Robyn Segall, Director of Programs and Marketing: robyn.segall@veahavta.org (416)964-7698 ext 228

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Ve’ahavta is a Canadian Jewish humanitarian and relief organization, motivated by the Jewish value of tzedakah/justice, that assists the needy at home and abroad, through volunteerism, education, and acts of kindness, while building bridges between Jews and other peoples.

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A leading grant maker in Canada, the Ontario Trillium Foundation strengthens the capacity of the voluntary sector through investments in community-based initiatives. An agency of the Government of Ontario, OTF builds healthy and vibrant communities: www.otf.ca

Posted by Robyn |
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