From poverty to HIV, no problem too big for Canadian group

toronto | We are all busy at the High Holy Days. But Avrum Rosensweig, who co-hosts a popular Canadian radio show about food and produces five Canadian television shows with a friend is really busy.

Recently the 44-year-old son of an Orthodox rabbi has been thinking about Zimbabwe.

That’s because representatives of Ve’ahavta, a Canadian Jewish humanitarian and relief organization that Rosensweig founded, are now being credited with pioneering a method of treatment that drastically reduces HIV transmission from infected mothers to newborn babies in sub-Saharan Africa.

The organization’s medics in Zimbabwe field clinics have devised a system for administering the anti-HIV drug AZT that costs about $4 per mother, yet is twice as effective as the previous method that cost $110.

“It’s a groundbreaking Ve’ahavta result,” said Rosensweig, adding that the treatment had attracted the attention of the World Health Organization and other bodies.

The innovation, which has been written up in numerous medical journals, is just the latest in an impressive string of accomplishments by the Toronto-based nonprofit organization, whose name derives from the Torah and means, “And you shall love.”

Since its founding in 1996, Ve’ahavta has sent medical and relief missions to Guyana, Honduras, El Salvador and Turkey. In August, the group was preparing a mission to Sudan and Chad.

“Basically, our mandate is to encourage all Jews to play a role in tikkun olam,” Rosensweig said.

“Tikkun olam literally means ‘repairing the world,’ but to me it means using one’s own personal resources, know-how and strength to go out and make the world shine in the most beautiful way,” he said. “It’s all about making the world as strong, as beautiful and, some would say, as godly as possible.”

The group has about 10 paid staff, a pool of about 1,000 volunteers and a growing list of programming partners, both at home and abroad. Ve’ahavta’s budget has grown by about 20 percent annually, Rosensweig said.

“We’re very excited about sending out a Jewish peace corps, so to speak, into the world,” he said. “Ve’ahavta actually sends out Jews of all backgrounds into the field to do tikkun olam. I think that’s pretty innovative.”