Federation must respond to increasing Jewish diversity: new president

Gail Adelson-Marcovitz, the new president of Federation CJA, speaks at its AGM in Montreal on Sept. 26.

Federation CJA must become more relevant to young adults and the increasingly diverse Montreal Jewish community, according to its new president, Gail Adelson-Marcovitz.

“This is a dramatically different community to the one in which I grew up, which was traditional, Ashkenazi and anglophone,” she said at the Federation’s 102nd annual general meeting in Montreal on Sept. 26, when she began her two-year term.

Today, 25 per cent of Montreal’s 90,000 Jews are Sephardic, 20 per cent haredi, nine per cent Russian speaking and a third are immigrants, she said. A significant number of families also have a non-Jewish member, she added.

“We have an obligation to respond to this new reality” by developing new ways that they can engage with the community, she said. “We have to reach millennials where they are. There is not just one way to be Jewish. We have to open our tent wide.”

The Federation must also set measurable outcomes for the programs it funds, in order to demonstrate to donors and other stakeholders that they have a true impact, she continued. And collaboration “across the communal landscape” is essential if the changing needs are to be met.

Adelson-Marcovitz, who succeeds David Amiel, is the fifth woman to serve as president of the Federation.


A proud second-generation Montrealer, whose grandparents came from Russia and Poland, Adelson-Marcovitz was steeped in the Jewish values of tzedakah, chesed and tikun olam from an early age, she said.

She attended Jewish day schools and camps, and was active in the B’nai Brith Youth Organization before embarking on her long association with the Federation. Her hope is that her first grandchild, which is due in November, will make Montreal his or her home.

In his outgoing remarks, Amiel recalled that his 10-year association with the Federation began when he chaired the March of the Living. His motivation was to ensure that his three children grew up with a strong Jewish identity and an appreciation for the value of community service. Amiel and wife Robin are pleased that has happened.

In his report, chief executive officer Yair Szlak said the Federation successfully came through significant structural changes over the past year. There are now three senior-level departments: financial resource development, operations and Jewish engagement and identity.

A major initiative in the latter area is the Passport to Jewish Life program, the goal of which is to entice “more Jewish people to do more Jewish things more of the time,” he said.

He also welcomed the creation of Kehilla Montreal Residential Programs, the first new affiliated agency of the Federation in almost 40 years. Its first subsidized apartment building for low-income members of the Jewish and broader community is due to open soon.

He stressed that the Federation’s priority is finding adequate resources for the community’s safety. Its new Community Security Network is working to upgrade security infrastructure and protocols at 32 synagogues, schools and other institutions.

The Federation’s most prestigious award for extraordinary leadership and service to the Jewish community was presented to Edward Wiltzer, who has been involved in community service for 50 years.

Wiltzer praised his late business partners at the Algo Group, brothers Joe and Ben Schaffer, for serving as role models in taking on ever more demanding roles, as well as the support of his wife of 56 years, Heleena.

Wiltzer was general chair of the 1989 Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) campaign and his philanthropy expanded from there to a variety of causes, from Chabad Lifeline to Israel Victims of War. Starting in 2003, he co-chaired, with Morton Brownstein, a capital campaign for the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) that raised over $200 million.

The Samuel Bronfman Medal is presented to Edward Wiltzer, centre, by Federation CJA CEO Yair Szlak, right, and outgoing president David Amiel, at its AGM in Montreal on Sept. 26.

He is currently chair of the JGH Foundation and was just named president of the JGH’s board of governors.

“I was not well off growing up. I have a strong sense of empathy for those less fortunate,” Wiltzer said.

Current CJA general chair Marc Kakon announced that the 2019 campaign has raised a total of $29 million to date, more than $22 million of which is earmarked for the base campaign, which concludes in November. Last year’s campaign raised $44.6 million.

Joining Adelson-Marcovitz on the 2019-2021 board of directors are vice-presidents Mitchell Shiller and Gilbert Tordjman, treasurer Serge Levy, secretary Pascale Hasen and Amiel, the immediate past president.

The four earlier female presidents were: Dodo Heppner (1983-1985), Maxine Sigman (1989-1991), Marilyn Blumer (1999-2001) and Susan Laxer (2013-2015).

The evening concluded with Cantor Danny Benlolo conducting the new Shira Choir, composed of adults with developmental disabilities, in singing “O Canada” and “Hatikvah.”