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Friday, August 22, 2014

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Ve’ahavta drive aims to move Jews to help others

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Ve’ahavta’s Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless van outreach project operates two vans in downtown Toronto.

Ve’ahavta is hoping its new $1.5-million fundraising campaign, It Is A Jewish Cause, will stimulate discussion about what responsibility Jews have for communities outside their own.

The money raised by the campaign, which runs until Dec. 31, will be earmarked for four Ve’ahavta programs: its outreach vans for the homeless, its street academy, a Jewish/aboriginal health program in Northern Ontario and a new youth leadership program, said Robyn Segall, director of communications and operations for Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee.

Volunteer and logistical teams distribute food, clothing and hygiene supplies to clients, and provide referrals to self-improvement and counselling facilities.

The Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA) is an eight-week program, in partnership with George Brown College, for people who live on or near the streets of Toronto. VSA helps marginalized people access education as a means to becoming self-sustainable.

Ve’ahavta’s recently announced a health promotion initiative, Bri’ut (Hebrew for “health”), in conjunction with seven First Nation communities in Kenora, Ont. Bri’ut aims to improve the long-term physical and mental health of aboriginal populations in Northern Ontario by strengthening the delivery of community-based health programs.

The campaign It Is A Jewish Cause is “expressing that homelessness and aboriginal health are some of the causes the Jewish community should be concerned with,” Segall said. “As a people, it is our responsibility to help others in need.”

She said that “we have experienced loss of land and culture, just like aboriginal people. It makes sense for us to work closely with our aboriginal brothers and sisters.”

Ve’ahavta, which focuses on poverty alleviation, is strongly based on Jewish values, yet the organization is universal in nature, she said.  It helps “all those who are in need, regardless of their faith because we were, too, among strangers. In our history, we would have benefitted greatly from a response from outside our community. We feel we have a duty to respond to people here in Toronto and on a national or international scale.”

Ve’ahavta has provided disaster relief in Haiti, Haifa, the Philippines and Pakistan. In Mali, Ve’ahavta partners with Muso, a group that aims to eliminate preventable deaths in the world’s most impoverished communities. Ve’ahavta distributes Kinder Kits, packs of school supplies, to children in Canada and to countries around the world, including in Israel.

Although Ve’ahavta’s local clientele is mainly non-Jewish, Segall stressed that there are more Jews on the streets than people would like to think. Ve’ahavta holds an annual community Passover seder and operates joint programs with Jewish Family & Child.

Segall pointed out that poverty is relative to where you live. For five days recently, Ve’ahavta staff took up the challenge of trying to eat and drink on $1.75 a day, as part of Live Below the Line, a global movement that raises money to combat extreme poverty.

“[Living on] $1.75 a day is way too low for someone in Toronto,” Segall said. In Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in Canada, “to be able to pay first and last month rent for an apartment, you need a good job.

“Many people in Toronto are at risk of becoming homeless. They could be couch surfing or living in a shelter. They are unable to secure stable housing. It’s easy for people on that shaky line to fall economically quickly.”

Avrum Rosensweig, president and CEO of Ve’ahavta and a CJN columnist, said that by working with the homeless and marginalized, “we live up to the Jewish value of ‘love your neighbour’ and we also introduce ourselves to the world, so they can understand first hand who we are.”

It’s a Jewish responsibility to work with the stranger, he said. “While we’re doing it, it lets non-Jews know who we are and that we are good people, and we break down stereotypes through our work.” n  

 

For more information, visit www.veahavta.org.

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