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‘Stars’ come out for Ve’ahavta gala

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CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi and Karen Ehrlich, Starry Nights co-chair [Stephanie Paisley photo]

TORONTO — Hundreds of people recently gathered at Starry Nights: Ve’ahavta’s Tikun Olam Awards Ceremony to celebrate deserving humanitarians for their leadership and bravery.

The ninth annual event, held on Dec. 4 at the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning in Toronto, raised $600,000 for Ve’ahavta’s local community poverty relief projects.

Founded in 1996 by Avrum Rosensweig, Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, assists people in need in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Israel through volunteerism, education and acts of kindness. The organization is inspired by the Torah’s commandment “Ve’ahavta l’rayecha kamocha” (“Love your neighbour as you love yourself”) and by the Jewish values of justice and repairing the world.

Ve’ahavta has sent millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and has provided thousands of hours of health care and professional training to local practitioners in its international client communities. Its crisis team has responded to earthquakes, floods and tsunamis abroad. The committee is also involved in projects to alleviate poverty in Canada.

This year’s ceremony honoured six people in the areas of humanitarianism, medicine, community development, Holocaust remembrance and youth leadership. The evening was hosted by CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi and featured a musical performance by Juno Award-winning artist Chantal Kreviazuk.

Awards were presented to Alice Bartole, founder of the House of Hope orphanage in Haiti; Dr. Isador Lieberman, world-renown orthopedic surgeon and founder of the Uganda Spine Surgery Mission and Uganda Torah Mission; Karen Goldenberg, former president and CEO of Jewish Vocational Services Toronto; Nate Leipciger and Pinchas Gutter, dedicated Holocaust educators and active participants in the March of the Living, and Bilaal Rajan, 15, environmental activist and founder of Making Change Now.

“It’s important to bring to light regular people who are doing extraordinary things,” said Kreviazuk, who is a supporter of War Child Canada and is committed to human rights causes. “This event is an amazing movement of giving and sharing. We have too much and don’t need it all. Our values need to be shifted. We must look at achievement from a different angle.”

Ghomeshi said he loves the “borderlessness” of Starry Nights. “It’s a philosophy of wanting to demonstrate integrity, value and the collective generosity of the community working together. We must lead by example.”

Attendees were given kits made up of supplies needed by people who live on the streets and were encouraged to hand them out the next time they see someone who could benefit from the help.

“Starry Nights raises consciousness and funds,” said Rosensweig. “We look up into the sky and see stars. Jewish people have been compared to stars. It’s the idea of recognizing that we’re all part of the cosmos and have the responsibility to repair our world.”

Rosensweig said the event is “unique and spirited” and gives a strong sense of Ve’ahavta’s pillars. “We live in blessed times, and many of us are very fortunate to have the ability to play an important and big role in tikkun olam. We want people to hear our message – look inside yourself, see what your strengths are and share them. If you will it, it can get done. You can make big changes. Everything starts with one person. Make sure to commit.”

He said he is most excited about the impact that the evening will have on the guests. “I look forward to the end, the aftermath. When we do this well, people leave feeling empowered. They feel they can really do something positive and substantial.”

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