Here you will find Meaning4theMasses
I wrote this article during Ve’ahavta’s fifth year of operation. That was in 2002. As you will read, it was a very exciting time time for me as the founder of Canada’s only Jewish humanitarian and relief organization, and for many others who helped launch and build Ve’ahavta.
The paper clips were holy, and everything was part of the Ve’ahavta archives – be it a pen, pencil or beaded piece of art from Zimbabwe.
Read and enjoy. This is a small look into the history of a very unique organization that I must say, does some pretty funky-ass stuff toward tikun olam – the strengthening and repairing of the world.
I am proud.
I am thankful to everyone who has ever played any role in Ve’ahavta. Not one singular action could have been missed. Ve’ahavta simply would not have been whole, complete, without you.
Thank you. Yisha Ko’ach (Yiddish for ‘Way to Go’)
Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian & Relief Committee was established in 1997. Our goal was to encourage all Jews to play a role in making the world a better place – to participate in tikun olam.
The seeds of this idea came from my childhood. I was born in Kitchener into a rabbinical family and from an early age I was exposed to an ‘open door’ policy in our home. Anyone and everyone was welcome to drop by, eat and often stay over (sometimes for a while).
Growing up, my four sisters and I were exposed to Jewish activism. It was an upbringing that was filled with excitement, and definitely some challenges – but one that was likely more interesting than most.
My childhood was amazing that way. We would stay up late into the night singing and debating with university students. Once the late, great Jewish singer, Shlomo Carlbach slept over and sang and played guitar until the sun came up. We also hosted the likes of Meir Kahane – the founder of the Jewish Defence League”.
When I was 13, I came to Toronto to study in Yeshiva, which was followed by a year of study in Jerusalem. Later, I returned to Toronto and studied journalism at Ryerson, and met up with Shimon Zer-Aviv. Shimon was launching “The Israel Today Radio Show’ at the time and asked me to be the English speaking commentator. I was honoured to be asked and ultimately ended up doing the show with Shimon for the next two years.
In 1989, my father passed away. Before he died, I let him know that the United Jewish Appeal had hired me to be a fundraiser. He was very proud of this accomplishment and I believe felt strongly about his son’s participation in helping the Jewish world.
January 15, 1990 was my first day at UJA. Not long after I arrived, the gates of the Former Soviet Union flew open, and Operation Exodus was underway. It was an exciting time complete with weekly rescues of Jews in Odessa, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. I was living history and felt like a Jew who was making a difference.
My tenure with UJA exposed me to the complexities and the beauties of the Jewish world and some of the heroes who fought arduously in Israel and the Diaspora to rescue Jews all over the world. I met such great individuals as Zvi Garcy, an Israeli who was responsible for the Austrian Transit point for Soviet Jews. Israeli leaders such as Yitzchak Shamir and Dan Meridor would come to town and it was my responsibility to shadow them while they were here. It was a magical time…one I will never forget.
Suffice it to say that I was honoured and feel very blessed to have spent so many years with individuals who committed their lives to the betterment of the Jewish people.
In 1997, I left UJA and launched Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian & Relief Committee. (Ve’ahavta is found in the Torah (Leviticus 9:18) — “And Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” ). Our mission statement was to encourage all Jews to respond to the ills of the world through local and international programs, education and a crisis response.
Since then, Ve’ahavta has traveled to the rainforests of Guyana about a dozen times, setting up makeshift medical clinics in villages along the many rivers. Through donations from companies like Apotex, Novopharm and many of the name brand companies we have spent time in remote villages dispensing of life saving drugs and medical care which the locals would otherwise not benefit from.
We also received medical equipment from Gamma-Dynacare, which ultimately allowed us to do blood testing under the branches of age-old trees and roughage, smack in the middle of the rainforest.
Ve’ahavta’s mission in Guyana has expanded to include a summer mission. Last summer we flew to Bartica, a larger village, with thirty-five volunteers of all different backgrounds including business consultants, builders (to build schoolyard swings etc.), teachers, HIV experts and councilors and experts with children. The outcome of this program was magnificent and part 2 is about to happen this August. This year we hope to take Israelis with us.
Ve’ahavta is also in the midst of launching a brand new program in Israel. In Ramla, we will work with Elem – the voice of distressed youth in Israel, traveling the streets assisting street youth who have been affected by family violence, the economy and of course the most recent Intifada.
Ve’ahavta will also conduct an exchange program with Elem, whereby professionals from Israel will visit Canada and share information, which will assist both organizations in the field.
Ve’ahavta is well known for our local homeless program, called the Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless (MJRH). Our partners are the Native community and together we assist homeless people in Toronto and the surrounding areas.
Through MRJH we have successfully helped individuals get off the street; launched a Creative Writing Contest for the Homeless as well as an annual Winter Blues Evening (a dinner for over 1000 homeless). Israeli Gil Blutrich, the CEO of Skyline Inc, introduced the Winter Blues evening to us. Locally, Ve’ahavta also has a homework club in Regent Park every Monday night.
We have a medical operation in Zimbabwe; have gone to Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries to assist with their respective humanitarian and relief needs.
In short, Ve’ahavta is young but we are vibrant. We just completed our fifth year of operation and look forward to the next five years when we will expand to include more programs in Israel and around the world, and hopefully play an important role in making this world shine in the way that it is able to.
If you would like more information please call 416 964 7698.
The order that one should dispense charity: First, a destitute person, someone who is desperately poor. Next are your brethren, i.e. the poor of your own come before others. And finally, in the land, for the poor of Eretz Yisrael comes before those of other lands.
– Rashi on Deuteronomy 15:7