Ve’ahavta is 20 years old and I’m proud

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Comment - Avrum Rosensweig

On Nov. 13, Ve’ahavta held its an­nual Starry Nights gala in Toronto cel­e­brat­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 20 years of tikkun olam – re­pair­ing the world.

It truly was a bril­liantly or­ga­nized evening show­cas­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pro­gram­ming since its in­cep­tion, in­clud­ing the very pop­u­lar mo­bile Jewish re­sponse to the home­less and its in­ter­na­tional tikkun olam work in such places as Is­rael, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Hon­duras, El Sal­vador, Guyana and Zim­babwe.

Lib­eral MP Michael Le­vitt, rep­re­sent­ing Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, spoke pas­sion­ately about Ve’ahavta’s com­mit­ment to strength­en­ing the Jewish Peo­ple and the world. Sim­i­larly, the 600 peo­ple in at­ten­dance were privy to heart­felt and in­spir­ing mes­sages from two of Ve’ahavta’s clients, both of whom at­trib­uted their growth and sur­vival to the Ve’ahavta Street Acad­emy and our work on the streets of Toronto.

Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tion, tikkun olam awards were handed out to in­di­vid­u­als who have shifted the world ever so slightly from bad to bet­ter. JIAS and Life­line Syria were hon­oured for their work as­sist­ing Syr­ian refugees. Ja­nis Roth and Les­ley Brown, CEOS of their re­spec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions, spoke beau­ti­fully about our com­mu­nity’s im­me­di­ate re­sponse to the plight of the tired and weary Syr­i­ans refugees. It was clear from their mes­sages that at the core of our peo­ple lies the im­per­a­tive of “lov­ing your neigh­bour,” even if that per­son or fam­ily stems from a place un­friendly to Is­rael and the Jewish Peo­ple. They helped us un­der­stand that given the chance, Syr­i­ans can be our friends and that Canada, a coun­try brim­ming with tol­er­ance, is the place to make that hap­pen.

My dear friend and for­mer Ve’ahavta chair­per­son Mark Di­a­mond ac­cepted the award for com­mu­nity vi­sion­ary and spoke about his com­mit­ment to Ve’ahavta and to the Jewish value of chesed, or kind­ness.

Once again, the very eclec­tic group of guests in the room – some from shel­ters and oth­ers from the man­sions of For­est Hill – lis­tened to Mark’s rem­i­nis­cences about trav­el­ling the streets of Toronto in the Ve’ahavta van with his wife and daugh­ters, learn­ing as he went along about our abil­ity to share our many gifts with the less for­tu­nate. Mark also talked about his Camp Man­i­tou, a classy, unique and earthy sum­mer home for thou­sands of kids over the years, where ev­ery­one plays a role in tikkun olam pro­grams through­out the sum­mer.

Fi­nally, those in at­ten­dance heard from Ruth Messinger, the world am­bas­sador for Amer­i­can Jewish World Ser­vices (AJWS), one of the largest and most ac­com­plished Jewish hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions in the world.

Ruth, an in­ter­na­tional icon, spoke ex­ten­sively about strate­gic ways and means of train­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of Jewish lead­er­ship. This very eru­dite woman, who once ran for the may­oralty of New York City, fas­ci­nated us with her de­scrip­tion of hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­grams that AJWS has un­der­writ­ten in dozens of coun­tries around the world. Ruth talked about AJWS’ ad­vo­cacy on be­half of some of the most des­ti­tute peo­ple in the world, in­clud­ing Do­mini­cans of Haitian de­scent who have had their land and rights taken away from them. As Ruth said, “this is some­thing we as Jews get.”

Starry Nights was ac­tion-packed. Mostly, though, it was an evening when the Ve’ahavta fam­ily rem­i­nisced, cel­e­brated the present and looked to the next 20 years, when the world might just be re­paired in its en­tirety. It was a night wrapped in spirit, at­tended by peo­ple who ex­em­plify gen­eros­ity of spirit, and cen­tred around the ex­is­tence of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has stood the test of time and will con­tinue to do so. Mazel tov to the staff and vol­un­teers who suc­ceeded at cre­at­ing the gala of the year!

Am I proud? Yes. Very much.


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