Today is the 17th Shabbat that hostages are spending in captivity in Gaza. While people rarely mention her, I often think of Emily, a 28-year-old woman who was kidnapped on October 7, and her mother Mandy, whom we met on our trip to Israel in November. At that point, Mandy, a British national, was trying through diplomatic channels to bring her daughter home. We were not seeing her name on social media or on lists of names, because of her work role. This week, I came across pictures of Emily on social media and saw the plea from her mother. It’s assumed that she was still alive and became worried that her daughter had been impregnated through repeated rape and was soon reaching a stage where she could no longer have an abortion.
I lead with this story as the connection we maintain to Israel, whether through philanthropy, advocacy, or combatting local anti-Israel sentiment and misinformation, is always for me connected to the people who are living through this on the ground. This morning, my friend in Jerusalem told me they are being advised to stock up on supplies in case there are extended power outages because of the escalation of conflict in the north. This week, on a Partnership2Gether steering committee call, we spoke about the continued and growing effects of being displaced, with ripple impacts on mental health. Our Israel Emergency Fund remains open. The funds you have donated continue to be allocated to assist agencies like the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, the regional councils who are providing respite, schooling and mental health supports, the Jewish Agency Victims of Terror Fund, and more.
The last few Shabbat messages I have asked our leadership and committees to tell you about their activities, so you could hear about the work of our lay leaders—meaning incredibly dedicated and hard-working volunteers. We will continue to ask committee chairs to write Shabbat messages so that you can be informed about their activities and efforts.
The latest committee to be established is the Jewish Community Centre Redevelopment Steering Committee, and I am thrilled to announce that Karen Leibovici has agreed to chair, with Lisa Miller as vice-chair. The Federation now has possession of the building and has been dedicating efforts to situate the committee and its terms of reference while preparing for a development permit application. We are speaking with local agencies to determine their desire and in what capacity they would like to be part of this building. We will carry on with keeping you up-to-date as this project moves forward.
“From the Desk of the CEO”—my desk has been full, bringing community concerns forward in discussions with Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Edmonton Police Service in the shooting's wake at City Hall. We are planning for upcoming events and programs which you can find in The Bridge. We are still in need of volunteers to help steer the Yom Haatzmaut and Heritage Festival programs.
I am also returning to Israel later this month on a Coast to Coast Mission and attend the Jewish Agency for Israel board of governors meetings. Visiting with displaced people will give the opportunity to bring some gifts and activities for people who are spending much time in the hotel lobby. I will bring a duffel bag that I hope to fill with activity kits, diamond dots, crochet needles and yarn, small toys and the like. If you would like to donate, please bring items to Federation offices prior to February 13.
I will be the guest speaker at Temple Beth Ora this Shabbat, and our Pride Committee has a Pride Tu'Bishvat Seder planned this Sunday at 5 p.m. I hope to see you this weekend.