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: firstname.lastname@example.org (416)964-7698 ext 228
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.
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
Scholar David. S. Koffman, has spent years researching the deep historical roots of the relationship and history between Jews and North American Aboriginals. For centuries a popular myth persisted that Aboriginals living in North America were in fact descendants of the so-called “Lost Tribes of Israel”.
A debate was born in 1650, when Menasseh Ben Israel, the Portuguese-Dutch rabbi largely responsible for the Jews’ re-admittance to England after their exile in 1290, published a book that suggested the end-times were near, given the discovery of the scattered remnants of Israel in the New World. Incredibly, this myth and its debaters persisted, among secular and religious thinkers of all stripes and politics, until the early twentieth century.
Koffman, who earned a PhD from NYU on the subject, said:
“Both Jews and Native Americans were deeply and emotionally divided about the implication of such an idea. For Jews, on the one hand being connected to American Indians made their settlement on these shores a divinely ordained homecoming. It implied they belonged to America in a most natural way. It meant the end of Exile.”
In fact, encounters with Jews and Aboriginals began with Jews as frontier traders. Jews had all sorts of synergies with Native peoples in the West. Koffman also points out how it was American and Canadian Jews who were the first and most vocal group to come out in defence of the Aboriginal peoples.
“Jews played a critical role in the formation of the Indian rights movement. There was a tense conversation that took shape about genocide. To what extent did Americans and Canadians turn the Nazi genocide of European Jewry into the universal story of human sins and victims, but fail to come to terms with the genocide that Americans perpetrated, by commission or omission, against Native Americans over the course of centuries?”
And where do we stand today? The cultural imperatives as now outlined by Koffman continue today but can only be further developed by feet on the ground work by the Jewish community inside Aboriginal communities. To that end, Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish humanitarian and relief committee has begun an initiative to re-establish those long cultural ties with Aboriginal peoples with an initiative called “Bri’ut” (Hebrew for health).
Ve’ahavta has already made several fact finding missions to in Northern Ontario, meeting local leaders from the KCA (Kenora Chiefs Advisory), participating in Aboriginal and Jewish ceremonies, and conducting an initial needs assessment with health directors from each partner community.
The Bri’ut Program will place “Fellows” within Aboriginal host communities as part of a process to provide support for community based health promotion programs, including initiatives that incorporate traditional approaches. The first Fellowship placement is planned for the spring, recognizing the need for a strong training component and focus on long-term positive outcomes.
However, the program can only work if the Jewish community as a whole recognizes the ties between the two communities, and sets out to help reintegrate and establish these positive outcomes.
To learn more about Ve’ahavta’s Bri’ut Program click here.
The Jewish Tribune article can be viewed here
We can justify things in our own mind to suit our created beliefs that we are civilized and live good lives. Passing by in our warm cars with heated seats while outside on the coldest night of the year, when even road salt won’t melt the ice, there they are.
Pale skinned, shivering. Odd mismatched pieces of clothing as the first line of defense against the elements.
They pass around a bottle as the second line of defense.
We can continue to glide on by, and feel fear, or nothing at all.
The façade of the old Canadian Imperial bank at the corner of Queen and Bathurst in downtown Toronto was built to last and it did. The face is the same, but the steps that used to lead into the bank are now occupied by street people, the indigenous inhabitants of a neighbourhood that has always seen its share of poverty.
What’s different is that wholesale gentrification has created an “us and them” mentality in the neighbourhood. We want it to be about us, a planned and purpose built life based on our morality and intelligence and values. In our arrogance we grant ourselves an illusion that they are not us.
But they are us. Because but for the grace of God each and everyone of us could find ourselves alone and without means. No family support, ostracized by people we used to call friends, chasing demons to kill the pain of hopelessness.
There’s a van that pulls up to the corner. Black and gold with large white letters on the side. The people on the corner get up and walk over as the back door of the van swings up and out. A gentle man with a toque and warm demeanour asks simply “How are you doing? What do you need?”
His name is Amit and he cruises the streets of the city’s most troubled corners and distributes emergency blankets, hats, socks, gloves, sandwiches, hot coffee and, in biggest demand, companionship. Amit works for Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, and the van is out there 5 nights every week. Even on the coldest night of the year. On the extremely cold nights, Amit ensures there is at least one open seat on his van (typically occupied by volunteers) in case he needs to transport someone to a warm shelter or hospital.
And there is no judgment. There is no holding of noses to avoid the stink of despair and defeat. There is human contact and conversation, a rescue boat in a storm. Tonight the cold has got people’s tongues. Conversation is muted and concise. Just the basics.
Amit looks around, says a quick “see you later” and closes the back of the van. Food, clothing and hygiene supplies in hand, the tribe of the corner scurry back to the steps and huddle for warmth. They’ll find a place to crash tonight, its just that they haven’t figured out where yet. Or perhaps some of them will apply their survival skills rather than face the challenges of going to a shelter bed.
Amit turns the ignition key, checks his mirrors and drives to the next location. Its cold, and while most of us are settled in our warm living spaces, he knows that there are still people on the street, so he has to keep going.
To learn more about challenges relating to homelessness, attend the panel discussion: “Should you give a homeless person a coin?” on Sunday, January 26th at 4:30pm at the Ve’ahavta office, 200 Bridgeland Ave
A good friend of Ve’ahavta, Vac Verikaitis, wrote this moving personal memoir for Toronto Life Magazine about the struggles of living below the poverty line in Toronto.
Memoir: I was once a high-power TV producer. Now, I live below the poverty line in a 50-square-foot apartment
In the early ’90s, at the height of my career in sports journalism, I produced television coverage for Formula One motor racing in London, England. I lived with my wife and our three daughters on a country estate once owned by Henry VIII. We had private tennis courts and a gardener to maintain the grounds.
My career took me to the biggest events in the world. The Olympics in Lillehammer and Atlanta. The FIFA World Cup in Mexico and Italy. I earned a six-figure salary and dined with Mick Jagger in Portugal, Simon Le Bon in Monaco and Paul Simon in Australia. Two of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, called me a friend.
Now, at age 56, I live in a 50-square-foot room at the Evangel Hall Mission, a subsidized housing project at Bathurst and Adelaide, run by the Presbyterian Church.
How did I get from there to here? A combination of bad decisions and bad luck. Back in the ’90s, when I was travelling the world and partying with celebrities, I was drinking a litre of vodka and snorting a gram and a half of cocaine every day. I never did drugs in front of my kids, but each night, after they went to sleep, I’d go out and get wasted.
In 1995, shortly after my family moved back to Toronto, my wife divorced me. I didn’t blame her; I was out of control. Desperate to repair our relationship, I sobered up and signed over our savings, RRSPs and house to my wife in the hope that she’d take me back—but she’d made up her mind. My daughters stayed with their mother.
I spent the next decade struggling with severe arthritis and depression, jumping on and off the wagon, landing jobs and losing them. By 2006, I was broke and homeless. I lived in shelters and rooming houses for a year before finding a spot at Evangel Hall. The building is rent-geared-to-income, which means I only have to pay 30 per cent of my earnings on housing. In the past few years, I’ve scored a few freelance TV gigs, but my main source of income is a disability pension. The space is bare-bones: three strides across, five to get from my bed to the door, with one small window that looks out over a parking lot. I have a stove, a mini-fridge and my own bathroom.
Unfortunately, I also have bedbugs, which relentlessly return no matter how often Evangel Hall sprays my unit. Once in a while, I spot one in my peripheral vision as I pull back my bedsheet. For the rest of the night, I’m consumed by the thought of the bloodsuckers crawling on my skin. It’s a kind of psychological torture. I lie awake, scratching until I bleed.
Every morning when I wake up, my knees and ankles are so wracked with pain from the arthritis that I have to hold on to the walls to get to the bathroom. The dark cloud of depression paralyzes me. I often struggle to get out the door.
Most of my neighbours are worse off. One tenant was evicted because he brought hookers to his place and beat them up. Another is a schizophrenic who loses control when he’s off his meds; once he tried to stab me with a butter knife. Yet another dropped dead a few weeks ago. He’d spent all his time collecting empty bottles, buying beer with the proceeds and drinking in the laneways behind local restaurants.
Right now, a unit just down the hall is sealed with police tape. The tenant had Lou Gehrig’s disease and drank himself to death with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and grape juice—“purple Jesus,” he called it.
On the ground floor of Evangel Hall is the drop-in, where the poor and homeless can stop by for a free meal. Each day, the room fills with drifters, ex-cons, people who can’t hold down a job. The staff do the best they can with their meagre donations. Sometimes the food is good, depending on who’s cooking. Most days we get turnips, zucchini, potatoes and mystery meat. But the price is right.
Last year, TVO asked me to make a short film about my community for the international Why Poverty? campaign. The movie was well received. It played at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. I saw my work onscreen again and travelled on a publicity tour. But despite all the positive feedback, I haven’t been able to land any work. I’ve knocked on dozens of doors. I’ve received encouragement from many influential people, but none of them know what to do with me. Old acquaintances still see me as the degenerate drug addict I was back in the ’90s. It’s taken a long time to get people to trust me again. Some of them never will.
The thing that scares me the most is going to bed one night and not waking up. In the past year, 24 people in and around my building have died. Some from cancer. Some from heart attacks or diabetes. Many of them just gave up.
These days, my priorities are simple: get a decent job and reunite with my kids; only my youngest speaks to me now. I want to believe I’ll get back on my feet, but most days I’m plagued by the fear that there’s nothing left for me. That I’m like Sisyphus, forced to repeat my penance forever. If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.
Vac Verikaitis is a Toronto writer and filmmaker.
View the Toronto Life article here.
Ve’ahavta’s own Eric Cisterna spoke with CBC’s Mary Wiens about how Toronto’s recent cold weather is affecting the homeless. You’d be surprised by how many choose the cold streets rather than a warm shelter. Click here to tune in!
For those of us without power, but with a supportive human network, we can likely find refuge if needed in the homes of family or friends. For those living on or near the streets of Toronto, this may not be an option. Although many shelters and drop in centres in the downtown core do have power, they are facing unusually high demand due to the severe weather warnings, and the pending dramatic drop in temperature over night. Falling trees and large icicles dropping from tall buildings are highly hazardous to those living outside, who are being encouraged by outreach workers to find safety indoors.
Lauren Gostick, Ve’ahavta’s outreach worker, has a plan in effect given the severity of the situation. On tonight’s Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless outreach van shift she will keep one seat open for emergency transportation of homeless clients to safe beds and warming centres in the GTA. She will also equip the van with double the typical quantity of warm clothing and emergency blankets.
The city of Toronto requests that if you see a homeless individual in distress please call 311 community services, or in the case of an emergency, 911.
Extreme cold weather alert this week sent our outreach van and super volunteers on a mission to keep people safe and warm.
Click here to see the clip. You’ll see us at 1 min 40 secs…
Our Chair of the Board, Bernie Farber, recalls the day he met Nelson Mandela in an article featured in the Huffington Post.
Read more here…
YNET wrote about one of our partner organization’s relief efforts in the Philippines. Click here to check out what the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) did to help!
An article in The Canadian Jewish News discussed Ve’ahavta’s and other Canadian Jewish non-profits’ fundraising efforts for the Philippines.