Ezra Shanken, the CEO of Vancouver’s Jewish Federation, explains why he skipped British Columbia’s annual commemoration of Yom HaShoah

Ezra Shaken

The heart of any community is its safety and security. The Jewish community is no different. If any one community lacks this most basic right, then no community can expect to thrive fully. As a Federation CEO, ensuring community safety and security, now and in the future, is at the core of what we do.

This week, that meant sending a message on Yom HaShoah.

As a community professional, and simply as a Jew, I’ve always taken seriously my responsibility to stand with Holocaust survivors and their descendants on this day and every day. I take equally seriously my responsibility to show those in positions of power that we expect them to do all they can to fight antisemitism.

I usually make a point of attending the local Yom HaShoah commemoration here in Vancouver, and I travel to the provincial capital of Victoria to attend the commemoration. But this year, I made the difficult decision not to join the delegation of Jewish community leaders at the B.C. legislature.

As my colleague, Richard Marceau the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said so eloquently this Yom HaShoah, “The real test is not whether we cry over dead Jews, it is whether we are standing beside the live ones who are under attack today.”

More than anything, I wanted to stand together with survivors that day and with my many colleagues who did attend the commemorative event at the legislature. However, the attendance of Federation leadership at an event carries some weight. Instead, together with our board chair, Lana Marks Pulver, we chose to use our absence to send a message to government from outside the room, while our advocacy agent CIJA and others delivered a similar message on the inside.

Together, we were able to ensure that survivors were supported while making clear our disappointment and concern.

Our concerns are real:

  • Although only consisting of 1 percent of Canada’s population, 14 percent of all reported hate crimes are targeted at the Jewish community.
  • The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) reported that the Vancouver Jewish community experienced a 62 percent increase in police-reported antisemitic hate incidents in 2023 compared to 2022.
  • Of the 47 antisemitic hate incidents reported to the VPD in 2023, 33 occurred after Oct. 7.
  • The VPD has investigated 50 criminal offences connected to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks and ensuing conflict.

We have been vocal about the urgent need for action by the B.C. government to address the rampant antisemitism in the province. We appreciate their recent contribution to community security grants, there is much more work to be done.

We have repeatedly asked them to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to address antisemitism in K-12 education, post-secondary institutions, public unions and the B.C. Public Service. Sadly, to date, there has been no real movement on this.

Antisemitism has reached crisis levels and we cannot combat it alone. The time for words is over. We need action. We need help from those around us, starting with government. We need our elected leaders to lead.

Ezra Shanken is the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.