Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ve'ahavta: Making a difference

When you think of Judaism, it's often with an idea that one of its central tenets is tikkun olam - repair of the world through charitable or good deeds.

These days, when someone mentions tikkun olam to me, I automatically think of Ve'ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian & Relief Committee. For more than a decade this Toronto-based non-profit has done its best to help those in need around the world. Whether it's medical missions to Guyana, Darfur or Sri Lanka to help communities deal with overwhelming issues like AIDS, poverty, hunger and the like or their more domestic initiatives to help the homeless and indigent, Ve'ahavta continues to plug away at repairing our (local and global) communities, Jewish and otherwise.

So it's always a privilege to highlight upcoming activities of theirs whenever possible. A finer example of a group dedicated to gemilut chasadim would be hard to find.

Case in point: the organization is hosting its 7th Creative Writing Contest for the homeless. I'll let them explain it with their website's own words:

The idea behind it is to empower the homeless through their writing to recognize that they may have the skills to pursue writing as a career, and perhaps find their way off the street.

The Creative Writing Contest is part of Ve’ahavta’s Homeless Initiative department. In December we distributed five hundred packages into the street and through shelters, containing a sign up form, a pad of paper, pen and a self-addressed envelope asking people to write a poem, a song, an autobiography, a recipe used to survive on the street. They have the option of writing a fictional or non-fiction piece. The possibilities are endless.

To encourage participation in this program we led creative writing workshops in over 20 shelters/agencies across the city including: Covenant House, Turning Point for Youth Services, Evergreen, St. Christopher’s House and many more. The workshops were designed to give participants the time, space and inspiration needed to translate their thoughts and feelings onto paper. For some, this process has proven to be an extremely affective catalyst for change in their lives.

Contest co-ordinator, Katie Stemeroff said, “the true essence of this contest is to understand the plight of the homeless and the truthful and raw insight into the nature of the human spirit. By gaining a deeper understanding of this issue, we are able to break down barriers and common stereotypes, leading us to attainable and client-based participatory solutions.

The submissions will be judged by a list of writers, media personalities some including John Stackhouse from the Globe and Mail, Steve Paikin from TVO, Ralph Benmergui from Jazz FM and well known author Michael Ondaatje. The winners will receive various prizes including a creative writing course to Ryerson University along with the top cash prize donated by Kernel’s Popcorn for $1000. There are a dozen more cash gifts as well as gift certificates from Loblaws, Tonyc Salon and Spa and Tim Hortons.

The contest winners will be awarded with their prizes at our very special coffee house reading ceremony. Participants will have the chance to meet with the judges, read their winning entry and receive their prize. Also, everyone who participated in the project receives a gift basket for their contribution in the contest.

EVENT DETAILS: Sunday, February 24th at 4:30pm- 7:00pm
Congregation Habonim (5 Glen Park Ave). Free Admission.

Mazal tov and yasher koach! Another blow against the darkness in the world.

For anyone in the Toronto region who wants to know more, visit the Ve'ahavta website. You won't regret it.

ADDENDUM: Ve'ahavta will also be holding a rally for Sderot next week. Here's the blurb:

Rally for Sderot
Join us in a rally of solidarity on Feb. 25 at 7:30 PM at the Sheraton Centre, 123 Queen St. W. Featuring Alan Dershowitz and a live satellite broadcast from the beleaguered city.

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