From the Desk of Yair Szlak

May 7, 2020

Over the past seven weeks, the norms and traditional ways of life that we have all grown so accustomed to have been challenged and changed. We have learned how to carry on Jewish life through isolation, whether learning to mourn personal loss in the absence of a face-to-face Shiva, or celebrating lifecycle events such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs through Zoom rather than in a more traditional synagogue setting. And while all of us look forward to the day that we can return to pre-COVID-19 norms and traditions, we recognize that what we face in so many areas of our lives, is a new norm. This pandemic will define so much of what will be our future norms. This is true in our personal lives, our work lives, as well as our community lives.

At Federation CJA, As early as February 23rd, 2020, Federation CJA began taking the necessary and responsible actions to adapt to the new norm, understanding that change during this pandemic has been rapid and fluid, requiring tremendous flexibility and agility in order to forge ahead. We have forged new partnerships and collaborations with community organizations in order to ensure that communal needs are being met and we have convened different segments of our community to focus on priority issues.

Today, as 44% of Canadian households are impacted by this economic crisis, experiencing loss of employment, wage reduction, loss of business or general loss of financial wealth, we expect a similar impact in our Jewish community. One of the many difficult consequences of the pandemic will be its impact on the charitable not-for-profit sector – the "third sector of the economy". As needs will certainly increase exponentially, the already limited resources to address those needs will become even more scarce.

Business at Federation CJA is not as usual. We have had to make difficult decisions as an organization in order to meet the critical needs arising from this crisis, that have had a direct impact on people we care deeply for: our professional team. While these steps are necessary and responsible, they are no less painful. 

In early April, we took the painful and responsible decision to significantly reduce the size of our staff by 30%, through a mix of temporary layoffs, not filling vacant positions and contract cancellations. While we have reviewed all relevant government programs in an effort to mitigate the impact on our team, unfortunately none are fully adequate at this stage. Remaining staff have also taken a temporary but significant salary reduction, and senior management have voluntarily taken an even higher percentage. As a result, we have reduced our monthly human resource expenses by 63% so that more resources can be directed to our crisis response. Staffing reductions are deeply upsetting in ordinary circumstances, let alone in the current situation. We have approached this process with a commitment to fairness, sensitivity and compassion – recognizing the extraordinary dedication and talents of our professional staff.

At the same time, our programs are shuttered. We have reduced all other expenses by 68%, with remaining expenses resulting from fixed costs attributed to our building. This has allowed us to reallocate resources where needed the most.

Our community organizations and agencies have also acted decisively to recognize the moment. Social service agencies and community partners serving vulnerable populations have adapted their work to continue supporting our community's most needy and other agencies have made difficult decisions to reduce staff and expenses.

Starting this month, Federation CJA has taken the responsible position of funding agencies on a month-by-month basis rather than disbursing committed allocations. During these times, we have moved to a month-to-month process of discussing agency needs and funding only key priorities in the current crisis. For the month of May, we have reduced our allocations by 56%, ensuring that funds are being directed to the needs of the current crisis.

We are leading by ensuring our own "house" is in order and fully repositioned to focus on challenges ahead. The future will not be about restoring Jewish life to its pre-pandemic state, but rather reimagining how our community operates, with a focus on ensuring that the vulnerable are taken care of and that the essentials of Jewish life are maintained above all else.   

As a donor who cares deeply about our community, you have placed immense trust in us. We put a high premium on that confidence and strive to honour it every day. This becomes even more important in moments of crisis, when difficult but urgent change is needed to mount the kind of response our community needs.

What we do as individuals and as a community during this pandemic will define who we will be when it is over. We have no doubt that, with your continued dedication, our community will rise to the challenge and emerge stronger than ever.

From the Desk of Yair Szlak
Yair Szlak, LL.B
Chief Executive Officer, Federation CJA

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