MONTREAL — Barry Pascal never forgets that he is just one generation removed from the Holocaust, that his mother and her parents came to Montreal with nothing after being deported from Poland and barely surviving severe deprivation and persecution as they were shunted around the Soviet gulag.
“She didn’t even have a coat when she arrived here,” Pascal said of his mother, Dana Bell, who was born Danusia Szeflan in Warsaw in 1938. “My family was received and helped by this community. We are very grateful.”
That heritage is guiding Pascal as general chair of the 2015 Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA), which will be officially launched on Aug. 26. “For me, it is a privilege to be able today to lead this campaign,” he said.
As is customary, Pascal led the chair’s mission to Israel this spring. He chose to combine it with the annual March of the Living, which brings Jewish teens to Poland before they go on to Israel. He joined the youngest of his three sons, James, on the trip and it was an especially powerful experience to light memorial candles with him in the Krakow synagogue.
This was Pascal’s first visit to the sites of the Nazi horror, and it left a searing impression. “I went to Jewish schools and learned about the Holocaust, but you really do not know the depths of the cruelty, nor can you imagine the scale until you go there. I was not prepared for that,” said Pascal.
“The Power of Community” is the theme of this year’s campaign, and Pascal thinks it could not be more appropriate because of the extraordinary cohesiveness and sense of mutual responsibility among Montreal Jews.
That may explain the amount CJA raises as it continues to rank in the top two or three communities per capita among Jewish federation campaigns, he said.
American actress Mayim Bialik, the four-time Emmy Award-nominated star of The Big Bang Theory, headlines the guest speakers at the Aug. 26 kickoff to be held at New City Gas, a trendy club and performance venue in a renovated 19th-century building in Griffintown.
She is joined by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major North American Jewish Organizations, and journalist Zvika Klein, whose report on the reactions to his walking in Paris wearing a kippah gained wide attention.
The evening is dubbed “FED Talks,” and the format is inspired by the popular TED Talks.
“People ask me what is new in this campaign,” said Pascal. “I say what is the same?”
Unfortunately, the answer is that the social needs of the Montreal Jewish community continue to grow. The focus of CJA is once again on helping the one in five Jews who live in poverty and other vulnerable members, from children to the elderly, as well as ensuring that the community remains vibrant.
This includes enabling Jewish children, regardless of their family’s income, to attend Jewish schools and summer camps and take part in programs in Israel designed to reinforce their identification with the community.
Pascal is not setting a dollar goal for this campaign, which officially concludes in November, but all donors are being asked to increase their gift by 10 per cent.
The 2014 CJA, chaired by Stephen Bronfman, raised more than $45 million by its official close, including $1.6 million for an Israel emergency fund. That figure restored the campaign to a pre-recession level.
The lion’s share of the proceeds stay in Montreal, while most of the rest is allocated to social needs in Israel or to Jews in peril around the world.
Pascal, who is in the insurance business, specializing in tax and estate planning, has been involved with Federation CJA since his early 20s. “I first came in with my late wife, Felice, whom I was dating at the time, to volunteer at Super Sunday [CJA’s telethon].”
Pascal is not related to the family that owned the long-closed hardware chain and were federation leaders. The 2015 CJA chair’s father, Michael, was born in Israel, an immigrant who also started a new life here.
Pascal chaired the Young Adult Division (YAD) and was a founder and president of the Jewish Chamber of Commerce, an expression of optimism in the bleak days after the 1995 sovereignty referendum.
He most recently was president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal.
Pascal is supported by a campaign team that consists of these division chairs: Karen Soussan, Women’s Philanthropy; Neil Uditsky, Network; Danielle Rogozinsky, Women’s Sépharade; Randy Abecassis, West Island; Moe Liebman, YAD; and Bryan Fuchs and Ali Itzkovitz, YAD FedNext.
The campaign leaders’ task is to persuade the community that, in the midst of ever-proliferating fundraising for worthy causes, CJA remains the “central” campaign.
To purchase tickets for the launch, visit www.federationcja.org/or call Federation CJA at 514-345-2645, ext. 3379.