If you opened a Jewish phone book – yes, kids, they used to put people’s telephone numbers in a book made of paper – you’d find Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA (JFC-UIA) among the bewildering array of acronym-bearing community organizations.
Yet JFC-UIA is a pretty significant one – an organization of national scope, whose mandate is to bring together Canadian Jews, while supporting the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world. All that on a budget of roughly $4 million per year.
On Aug. 15, Nikki Holland took over as the organization’s CEO and president, replacing Linda Kislowicz.
Not yet two months on the job, Holland is still learning the ropes, meeting representatives of constituent communities – she’s got a meeting scheduled in Winnipeg in mid-October – and implementing her vision of what JFC-UIA should be.
The mandate of the organization is to bring together the 10 Jewish federations across the country, as well as four unfederated communities, to help them remain vital while servicing their members, linking them to national programs where appropriate and representing the Jewish community in Israel and around the world, she said.
“It’s really a platform for communities to be connected and to share best practices,” Holland said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to find ways to accomplish that.”
Working for JFC-UIA is the first job Holland has had with a Jewish community agency. She came to it from the Carpenters’ District Council, Ontario, where she served as director of public affairs.
Before that, she was vice-president of public affairs at Invest Toronto, a foreign direct investment, marketing and sales firm. Holland also served as manager of government relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada and spent nearly 10 years working in the Ontario government, serving as a staffer for former premier Dalton McGuinty and former MPP Michael Bryant.
Holland believes her time in government helped prepare her for her current career. “Coming from the political world, I understand how to collaborate and bring people together and make decisions,” she said.
“Collaboration” and “connection” were two words that Holland used frequently, during an interview with The CJN in her office in uptown Toronto.
Her colleague, Adam Minsky, the president and CEO of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, calls her the “chief Jewish diplomat,” she said, but she prefers to call herself the “chief co-ordinating Jew.”
Attending to the needs of smaller Jewish communities has proven an important part of her job. The constant meetings make it “like a Pesach seder every day,” she joked, “but with better food.”
As Holland explains it, JFC-UIA has “a back office function to help move money (raised by federations in their annual campaigns) to Israel. And we have a relationship function with the communities.”
A group called National Collective Responsibility (NCR), which includes representatives from all the federations, meets to determine how the money they all raise will be allocated. JFC-UIA submits its proposed budget and NCR determines which federations will contribute what, Holland said.
Among the constituent groups supported by JFC-UIA with the funds it receives from the federations are Birthright, March of the Living, Honeymoon Israel – a new program that subsidizes couple’s honeymoons in Israel – and MASA, which connects young adults with volunteer opportunities in Israel.
JFC-UIA also runs a national leadership-training program. “One of the things I would like to focus on is to figure out a way to bring the next generation … of young leaders together and (find a way to) connect them to Israel,” Holland said.
For Holland, using her skills and being at the helm of an important Jewish organization is exciting.
“What attracted me to the job is that I have the opportunity to meet Jews across the country and strengthen the Canadian Jewish community’s relations with Israel on a regular basis,” she said.
“I’m not only making my dad proud, but I’m pretty happy myself.”