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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

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Community ‘stars’ recognized by Ve’ahavta

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Isaac Sobol is one of the honourees

TORONTO — Ve’ahavta: the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee is honouring six people for their contributions to various communities at its annual Tikun Olam Awards Ceremony on Nov. 4.

Founded in 1996, Ve’ahavta helps those in need both locally and abroad, and builds connections between Jews and non-Jews around the world.

The organization’s current campaign is called “Could It Be Me?” and this year’s award ceremony is set to be a major source of fundraising for the campaign, which has a goal of raising $1 million.

Musician Steven Page, formerly of the Barenaked Ladies, will host Starry Nights 2012 at which awards in five categories, remembrance, humanitarianism, community, education and young leadership, will be presented.

Adam Hummel is this year’s young leadership award winner. The 27-year-old lawyer is being recognized for helping communities in Kenya.

In 2008, Hummel spent three weeks there volunteering in a village called Kiptere. He learned about the violence following the 2007 general elections in Kenya, which led to the death of some 1,300 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more.

Much of this violence stemmed from racism between tribes, Hummel said, so he decided to work to break down the racial barriers. To do that, he started a soccer tournament.

“There are 42 tribes in Kenya, and we wanted to try to engage a few of them at least, to come together, work together, play together,” he said, adding that his tournament ultimately involved three of the tribes.

In addition to bringing the tribes together, the tournament also broke down some of the barriers between the audience members’ tribes. Hummel ran peace seminars to engage the audience, as well.

While in Kenya, he also created Youth Ambassadors for Peace – an organization that is still going strong.

Robyn Segall, manager of marketing and public relations for Ve’ahavta, said Hummel’s work stood out, especially due to his youth.

“He saw a need and created a response,” she said. “We all walk around and see a need but don’t always create the response. We want to, but we don’t always have the drive to make it happen.”

However, he truly took on the issue and [worked] to solve the problem, she said.

Hummel, the youngest award recipient, said he was caught off-guard when he learned he was receiving the award.

“I was very humbled and felt very privileged to be recognized like this, especially in light of the other people receiving it,” he said. “I appreciate it, but I also feel small in comparison to the other people receiving the award.”

Isaac Sobol is another of the six honorees at this year’s ceremony. At age 41, he graduated from medical school, after an eclectic career history that included stints as an advertising copywriter, a rock-band manager, an animal caretaker in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Since finishing medical school in the ’80s, he has worked with native communities around Canada, as well as in eastern Tibet, helping to improve the health of the local populations.

“I saw there was a pretty big disparity between the health status of aboriginal and First Nations people in that community and Canadians in general,” Sobol said. He wanted to go where people needed the help, to “have an opportunity to contribute to a group of the Canadian population that has not been best served, at least in the health-care system.”

His first job took him to a Metis community in Saskatchewan. He said it was an honour to live on the reserve, where he could hear the local songs and dance and share in feasts with the people who lived there.

Just last year, Sobol finished a six-year term in Nunavut as the chief officer of health. Working in the territory, which has a mostly Inuit population, showed him there is a disparity between the health of aboriginal populations and the general Canadian population. Life expectancy is 12 years shorter in Nunavut than in the rest of Canada, he said, and Inuit are susceptible to diseases that have been virtually wiped out in the West.

“I’m conscious of the fact there’s great social inequity in Canada,” he said. “By reason of colonialism and misplaced policies over more than a century, aboriginal people have been marginalized, and we have passed laws to abolish their culture.”

Sobol said his parents inspired his work. His father is a doctor, and Sobol was influenced by both of his parents’ ethics and values.

“I remember [my mother] saying when I was a kid, ‘Never forget the people who are less well off than you,’” he said. “‘The person with the least amount of resources and skills is just as important as someone who has a lot of them.’ She gave me that message and I really value that.”

Sobol said he finds it strange to be offered an award for his work, given how many other people are working to make the world a better place.

However, Sobol’s work stood out to Ve’ahavta, who will award him the Tikun Olam Award in humanitarianism on award night.

Other award winners are Holocaust survivors Elly Gotz and Faye Schulman for remembrance, Dr. Phillip Berger for community, and Ellen Schwartz for education.

For more information about the awards ceremony, visit veahavta.org.

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