Rita Guindi

Sepharade Women's Campaign Chair, 1998-1999

1. How did you get involved with Federation CJA – and why?

It all started in 1998 with one man’s vision. Jean Alloul, President of Campagne Sépharade, understood how diverse the Sephardic community was, and that a Lebanese-Iraqi Co-President would help open the doors to a group that wasn’t yet keyed in to CJA’s cause. Additionally, I had just lost my younger sister and unconsciously I felt the need to devote myself to a cause to fill the void that her death had created in me. So I accepted his offer and threw myself body and soul into that campaign. I had an amazing experience, and loved every bit of it: the relationship with all the chairs, the volunteers, the staff, as well as the challenges and, finally, the successes. I remain very devoted to this cause.

2. What is your fondest memory to date of your time working with Federation CJA?

My fondest memory goes back to the beginning of my first campaign, during a team building meeting at Jewel Lowenstein’s home. It started with Sheryl Stein, who had volunteered to drive me there, a woman she barely knew. To our delight, we immediately connected. We talked about ourselves, our families, our hopes, we laughed and created a bond and friendship that I still cherish to this day.

That’s not all! When we arrived at Jewel’s house, they introduced me to a group of women, each one nicer than the last. I can’t find the right words to describe the warm welcome they gave me and how much I appreciate their precious advice, even today. I won’t mention anyone by name for fear of forgetting someone. Over the next few days, I received confirmation of what I had always believed to be true: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, none of that mattered. We were all simply women linked by the same drive and the same ideal: to serve our community.

Through our combined efforts, we have been successful in helping to bring together the Montreal Jewish community.

3. Can you recall a particular moment or event that impacted you profoundly?

As a teacher I always believed that I could learn from my students. If I have to choose one event that will always stand out in my memory, it will be the one about a 10-year-old boy who personified what tzedakah is. I had just hung up the phone after canvassing his parents, who had very graciously responded to my appeal and made their donation. Some 15 minutes later the telephone rang and a young voice said to me:

“My parents explained to me why they just gave you money. I also want to give you all I have in my piggy bank, so you can help children who need it.” I was so moved by his words that I actually did what no canvasser is supposed to do: I tried to convince him to give me half of what he had… But he insisted on giving me all of his money. “I am lucky and other children don’t have enough so please take all my money to help them,” he said.

Once I hung up I felt a deep happiness. This young boy of 10 was clearly sensitive and generous but he also demonstrated the importance of parents setting an example for their children. A small sidenote: that boy, now an accomplished and married young man, is none other than Joseph Abdulezer, Gilda’s son.

4. What advice would you give to the young women following in your philanthropic footsteps?

“Who gives nothing, has nothing,” they say. Moreover, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry insists on the fact that a community or even a thing does not become ours unless we devote our time and effort to them. There are so many great opportunities and programs that Federation CJA offers in which young women can participate.

It seems important to me that you, the future philanthropists, choose the program, the project, or the cause that most “speaks” to you. Then you can put your heart into it and get back the greatest satisfaction. If you aren’t sure of what you really want, throw yourself into a project and don’t hesitate to dive right in. Then, sit back and enjoy the satisfaction that you were able to give of yourself, not only to shape the future of your community for your loved ones, but also that you were able to help better the lives of people less fortunate than you are.

5. What is your legacy?

I think I helped build bridges between the diverse groups of our community. Certain “Mizrahi” (Lebanese, Iraqis, Egyptians) were already donors, others may have felt the need to participate in communal life but hadn’t acted upon it, while others didn’t even know what CJA was. They needed a motivator--me, in this case--to develop the impulse to get involved and help. In fact, these groups wholly identify themselves with the Jewish community in Montreal, their origins don’t really matter.

Furthermore, I was very lucky and honoured that my community has responded so well to my appeal. They have shown themselves to be extremely generous, but above all they espoused CJA’s causes with enthusiasm and ardor. However, it is the women’s involvement that pleases me the most. While some helped canvass (Anita Gabbay and Shella Abadi were so present from the beginning), others sat on committees, chaired events, opened their homes, participated or lead missions. And finally, the 2016 Women Philanthropy Campaign Chair is Iraqi. My biggest wish is for this to be just the beginning and for many more philanthropists to follow in our footsteps.


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