JWest is a remarkable community-led initiative deeply rooted in Jewish values but with a vision that extends its benefits to all Vancouverites. Representing a monumental undertaking for Western Canada’s Jewish community, it marks a historic milestone. JWest embodies the essence of unity and cooperation, drawing inspiration from Jewish traditions and principles. A collaborative effort by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), and King David High School, underscores the belief that collective strength can achieve far more than individual efforts. Together, they are dedicated to preserving and enriching the Jewish community while sharing its abundance to foster a brighter, more interconnected future for all of Vancouver. We spoke with Alex Cristall, Chair of the JWest Capital Campaign, to discover more about their initiatives.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
JWest is a community-led initiative that is Jewish at heart and will extend beyond to benefit all Vancouverites. It stands as a milestone in the history of Western Canada’s Jewish community as the most extensive project our community has undertaken. With its roots firmly planted in Jewish values and traditions, JWest embodies the spirit of togetherness and collaboration. Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), and King David High School joined forces, recognizing that together, they could achieve more than any could accomplish on their own. Through this partnership, they are committed to preserving the Jewish community and sharing its wealth with the entire Vancouver community to build a brighter, more interconnected future.
What problem does it aim to solve?
JWest is poised to tackle some of Vancouver’s most pressing concerns, such as access to community amenity space, increased childcare spaces, expanded services for seniors, and affordable rentals and housing. With the Cambie corridor’s population expected to increase rapidly in the coming years, the completed JWest project will keep pace with demand and provide more capacity for services to sustain the growth we are seeing in the city.
When did you start/join it?
In June 2019, I started a volunteer position as chair of the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. During this time, the JCC saw a growing demand for its programs and services. Projecting the growth of the neighbourhood and the needs of Vancouver’s Jewish community, the JCC approached the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver to discuss a partnership beyond just an updated facility. Together, Jewish community leaders began envisioning what would be needed to support Vancouver’s Jewish community and the surrounding neighbourhood at 41st and Oak. Upon extensive consultation with community members, leaders, architects and the city, JWest was born. As the planning for JWest picked up momentum, I was brought on board as chair of the JWest Capital Campaign Cabinet in 2022.
What made you want to get involved?
From a young age, the Jewish value of Tzedakah, symbolizing acts of charity, was instilled in me. Throughout my life, I’ve actively engaged with Vancouver’s Jewish community, seeking opportunities to help those in need, but I knew I wanted to be involved in a greater capacity. As the vision for JWest became clear, I realized that this was my moment to truly make a difference in our community by embodying the spirit of Tzedakah. When I first heard about JWest and the partnership between the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, King David High School and the JCC, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. The prospect of creating a haven where everyone, regardless of background, could step in and immediately feel welcomed was exciting. I saw it as an opportunity for people to develop meaningful relationships, and learn about Jewish culture. The existing facilities at the JCC are showing their age, and the demand for JCC programs and spaces at King David High School is outgrowing the current capacity. This redevelopment project will allow us to expand our highly sought-after programs, position King David as a leading-edge high school with ample room for innovative academic program options and support the new residents and families in the growing neighbourhood. JWest represents a unique opportunity to create purpose-built spaces that not only continue to serve our community’s immediate needs but also lay a foundation for future generations. I am honoured to be part of such an extensive undertaking by the Jewish community.
What was the situation like when you started? How has it changed since?
For generations, the Jewish community has called 41st and Oak Street in Vancouver home. What started as a place for the Jewish community to practice traditions and share stories has evolved into a thoughtful space for people from diverse backgrounds to connect, learn, grow, and celebrate. Lots of Vancouverites are learning to swim, performing at the theatre, playing on the basketball courts and participating in celebrations. But now the infrastructure is ageing, and we’ve outgrown the current space. We need a larger, more functional space to meet the needs of the Jewish community and the growing Oakridge neighbourhood.
What more needs to be done?
JWest is a project that will benefit everyone in the Oakridge neighbourhood and beyond. This is a community-led initiative, and we welcome everyone in Vancouver to join us in bringing this ambitious and transformative project to life. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about JWest and the services and amenities that will be brought to the neighbourhood to reach out and become involved in the project. While the Jewish community is spearheading the capital campaign, the impacts of the completed project are far-reaching for all Vancouver residents. We’d love for everyone to come join us.
How can our readers help?
If you are interested in learning more about JWest, we welcome you to follow along at JWest or reach out to the project partners to receive updates.
Do you have any events coming up?
The annual Chutzpah Festival, which runs from Nov 2-23.
Where can we follow you?
You can visit our website for more information.
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
One of the most inspiring non-profits in the area is the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, with its work in revitalizing the historic and iconic Chinatown. From its nearly completed 58 West Hastings social housing development, award-winning Chinatown Storytelling Centre, May Wah Hotel, and annual Light Up Chinatown! festival, the work the organization is doing is remarkable and makes a tangible impact on Chinatown residents and the wider Vancouver community. This is what JWest also aspires to.