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Saturday, December 27, 2014

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Ve’ahavta honours the repair people

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Sometimes, we Jews have the opportunity to party. That’s a good thing, since there have been many times when we’ve not felt like it or have been prevented from doing so. And, of course, there are the parties, festive and all, where we celebrate our survival, such as Purim, with schnapps and dance, but never forgetting the brokenness that brought us to the party room.

In some ways, Jewish celebrations are like a parody on partying. 

Every year Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, holds an annual gala called Starry Nights. It’s a beautiful event/fundraiser with song, of course food and consciousness raising. On Dec. 4, 700 people will come together at Koerner Hall in Toronto to celebrate life and talk about our great ability as Jews and non-Jews alike, to share our resources and our tremendous creativity with others toward the betterment of our world. We learn about the impact humanitarian gestures have on our souls and our lives. We embrace our commitment to chesed and tikkun olam.  

And we celebrate the many lives we have affected and, in some ways, the brokenness of the world, and the need to have an organization like Ve’ahavta. Jewish merrymaking – a parody on partying.

Indeed the world is broken, some would say shattered. It needs repair. So at Starry Nights we feature the repair people, those individuals who have created a humanitarian toolbox and set about hammering together the shards of a vessel we refer to as our existence. These are brave handymen.

In the past we’ve had some pretty impressive repair people (keynote speakers), such as Eli Wiesel, Mia Farrow and Bob Geldof. This year, Starry Nights features international singer, songwriter and humanitarian Chantal Kreviazuk. The event will be hosted by Jian Ghomeshi of CBC.

And then there are the Tikkun Olam Awards – a moment when we recognize the simple, quiet and community repair people, the anawim (humble) individuals who have a clear understanding of “parodying on Jewish partying,” as they have often lived the strife that came before the festivities and feast. 

These are repair people who have spearheaded extraordinary tikkun olam projects without fanfare and ordeal. Some of our award winners over time include Dr. Michael Silverman, world renowned for his work on HIV/AIDS and infectious disease in developing nations, and Gerda Frieberg, a tireless Holocaust educator and activist. 

This year the recipients include Alice Bartol (Humanitarian Award); Nate Leipciger and Pinchus Gutter (Remembrance); Dr. Isadore Lieberman (Medical); Karen Goldenberg (Community) and Bilaal Rajan (Youth Leadership).    

Recently, I interviewed Karen and Nate on Ve’ahavta TV. Karen expressed to me the wonderment of her childhood, a time when she learned about tikkun olam from both her accountant parents. She said her father treated every client in a special way, and her mother made sure their grandmother had 24-hour care and companionship, from other members of the family. Nate talked about his passion for life despite the fact his mother and sister were murdered, and the fact he and his father were forced on long marches with thousands of other Jews and victims of the Nazis. He is a giant of a man, courageous and brave.

Starry Nights is a Jewish party. It reminds us to party and of the imperative to be valiant when called upon to do so, to enhance our world. Our parties feel different, but we know how to do them well. For more information on how to be a repair person or to attend, see our website at www.veahavta.org.

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