Ve’ahavta Gala Honours Leaders and Humanitarians

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The CJN, Friday, November 13, 2015

Jodie Shupac, Staff Reporter

Until a few years ago, Bob, 40, never imagined he would be homeless, but a personal crisis launched him into a tailspin that saw him experience serious psychological and financial straits, including homelessness.

A housing counsellor recommended he apply for the Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA), an eight-week program geared to marginally housed and vulnerable individuals. One of a number of programs Ve’ahavta runs to help vulnerable people, the VSA provides pre-employment and life skills as a way to reduce marginalization, social isolation and long-term unemployment.

Bob said he’d been looking for “a positive way out,” and the VSA, which he completed last year, gave him just that.

By the time he graduated, he had secured stable employment as venue support staff at an event space, a job he still holds today.

Bob was one of more than 600 guests who attended Ve’ahavta’s Starry Nights Tikkun Olam Awards Ceremony, held at Koerner Hall Nov. 12 to celebrate individuals the organization has identified as community leaders and humanitarians, and raise money for Ve’ahavta programs.

“I came tonight because I wanted to be in touch with the organization that has helped me so much and see what kind of role I can play with them in future,” Bob said.

The event included a dinner reception, addresses by community figures such as Bernie Farber, Ve’ahavta chair; Consul General of Israel DJ Schneeweiss; and Avrum Rosensweig, president and CEO of Ve’ahavta, as well as a live auction, the presentation of various awards and performances by bands Digging Roots and Jaffa Road.

The master of ceremony for the evening was Shad, a Canadian hip-hop artist and host of the CBC Radio One program q.

The recipients of the Tikkun Olam awards were as follows:

• The Emerging Leader award went to Laura Grosman, a young woman who, at age 18, drafted a private member’s bill in Parliament to have Canada build a national Holocaust monument.

• The Humanitarian award went to Kathy Laszlo and Susie Sukol, co-founders of DANI, an organization that creates opportunities for young adults with physical and/or cognitive challenges.

• The Bridging Community award went to Patti Falus, president of CEO of Barter Network, a business-to-business trading network.

• The Lasting Legacy award went to Holocaust survivor Hedy Bohm, who has shared her story of survival with thousands of young people.

• The Community Visionary award went to Michael Dan, a philanthropist and former neurosurgeon who in 2014 donated $10 million to the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health to create an institute that will study health issues in Canada’s aboriginal population.

Rosensweig, who founded Ve’ahavta, said the gala helps raise about one-third of the organization’s overall budget, and this year it raised around $550,000. “When you have a gala like this… it becomes like a family where you’re all celebrating the same thing – in this case that’s tikkun olam – repairing the world – and Ve’ahavta… To see that something I started up 19 years ago still exists and that it exists in such a beautiful way, that’s so special to me personally,” he said.

Shad told The CJN that the gala was the first Jewish community event he’s hosted.

“I’m a religious person myself, so I always appreciate when people make that connection between their faith and where they came from and the world at large, as well as seeing the imperative to contribute something positive.”

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