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Edition 1, November 7, 2014
Looking Back and Looking Forward
Just as my parents remember clearly the moment they first heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot, I remember the moment I first heard – when our Rabbi announced it in shul – that Israel had been attacked on Yom Kippur. I also remember in great detail the weeks that followed that horrifying announcement.
Israel was caught by surprise and Jews all over the world were desperate to help the war effort in any way that they could. Every day saw literally hundreds of people pouring into Federation's beautiful new building at 5151 Cote Ste. Catherine Road to contribute to the Israel Emergency Campaign. Trouble was that the volume was overwhelming the space and the staff on the 4th floor (this was long before the 1999 renovation that gave us the Gelber Conference Center).
My mother had marched into Federation at the start of the war to offer her fulltime service for any job that needed to get done. Recognizing her formidable organizational skills the leaders put Mom to work setting up an emergency operation in the lobby of the building. She established a team of volunteers to man the desks and accept donations – pledges, cheques even cash gifts – and I became her assistant.
I was 14 years old, in grade 9, and the end of every school day saw me at Federation helping my mom and her volunteers. I answered phones, filled out pledge cards, ran deliveries and messages between the lobby and the 4th floor, got people coffee – whatever I could do to make myself useful and do my little part for Israel.
I didn't attend a Jewish Day School and had never been to Israel. But my parents were very implicated in Jewish community service, I went to a Zionist summer camp and I felt deeply connected to the Jewish people. The adults were visibly shaken by this war and in my own way I understood that our future was directly tied to the future of the State of Israel.
As I write this, I am flying back to Montreal from meetings in Israel, with our historic partners, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency for Israel and representatives of World Jewry. We heard briefings on Middle East security, Aliyah from Jews in the Ukraine, rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and "day after" needs in Southern Israel in the wake of Operation Protective Edge. We visited the hardest hit regions of the South and heard from Israelis whose lives had been turned upside down by 2 months of incessant rocket fire and marveled at their resilience and indomitable spirit. And we debated intensely how to have an honest conversation about Israel: how to balance our responsibility to ask tough questions within the Jewish family with our responsibility not to provide fodder outside the Jewish community to those who seek to delegitimize Israel.
I could never have predicted that the teenaged gopher of the Yom Kippur War would one day be the CEO of Federation CJA and have the privilege of serving the Jewish People in a professional capacity. In the coming months I will use this platform to share with you some of the challenges facing our Jewish community, the innovations and best practices that are emerging in federations across North America and the opportunities we all have to shape a brighter future here in Montreal, in Israel, and throughout the Jewish world. Whatever your connection to the Jewish people, your involvement in community or your point of view, I do hope you'll join me in this journey.
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