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Seeing light in the eye of darkness

By Don Fennell

Published 5:15 PST, Fri November 19, 2021

Richmond Jewish Day School principal rejoices in community unifying in the face of storm

Light emanates even when it seems darkest. It’s a matter of perception.

In the wake of the atmospheric river that flooded parts of Richmond, and indeed a sizable portion of the province mid-month, at least one Richmondite was able to see the positives.

“There’s always a silver lining,” said Sabrina Bhojani, principal at the Richmond Jewish Day School on No. 5 Road.

“I have beautiful lakefront views in my office.”

Rather than dwell on the destructive fallout from the storm, which flooded the school’s parking lot and left her with no choice but to temporarily close the school as city crews and independent contractors worked tirelessly to pump out the water, Bhojani instead chose to highlight how the community came together. The ethnically-diverse community that makes up the school neighbourhood is often referred to as the “Highway to Heaven” because of its many places of worship.

“There is a togetherness that happens through adversity and trying times,” Bhojani said. “I think it is rather remarkable the kindness that exists among the members of the different faith groups.”

The school was able to open its doors three days after the massive flooding because of the kindness. All its staff and visitors were granted permission to park at the Gurdwara Nanak Niwas on the north side of the Jewish Day School. And on the south side, Subramaniya Swamy Temple also permitted the Jewish Day School to use its parking as a pick up and drop-off point.

As appreciative as Bhojani was of the neighbours’ gestures during the crisis, she says it’s increasingly apparent the community has more in common than its differences. Though she’s lived in Richmond for a number of years, that is something she sees growing each day.

To help build on that positive community light, the Jewish Day School is hosting its neighbours for an evening of socializing, celebrating diversity, and singing. The evening of Dec. 5 will also see the lighting of the menorah, a nine-branch candelabrum that Jews light annually during the eight-night Hanukkah celebration. That menorah commemorates the seven-branch menorah, described in the Bible as an ancient Hebrew lampstand made of pure gold and used in the tabernacle set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Celebration of Light on the Highway to Heaven, as the event is formally known, will be held outdoors starting at 6:30 p.m. There will also be entertainment and snacks and joy to coincide with Hanukkah. The goal of this simultaneous communal expression of solidarity is to call out and combat antisemitism and racism, with Bhojani hoping members of city council will also be at the event.

“One of Richmond’s greatest strengths is diversity, yet systemic racism targeted at minority groups is a prevalent issue in the city, despite the abundance of diverse backgrounds and cultures in the community,” she said. “This can be unintentional and does not necessarily mean that people within an organization hold racist beliefs. It is often caused by hidden institutional biases in policies, practices and processes that privilege or disadvantage groups of people. It can be the result of doing things the way they have always been done, without considering how they impact particular groups differently.”

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