Following an 18-month “essential dialogue” with more than 2,000 community members, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto released a “strategic plan” that’s focused on renewal and refuses to rest on the laurels of the century-old Jewish institution.
Federation officials say six priorities emerged from the consultations: caring for the vulnerable; forging strong bonds with Israel; advocating for Israel, the Jewish People and Canadian values; galvanizing the community in times of crisis and celebration; inspiring young generations to embrace Jewish life and ensure a Jewish future; and maintaining Toronto’s position as a leader in Jewish education.
According to a statement about the plan by Morris Perlis, UJA Federation’s chair of the board of directors, and federation president and CEO Morris Zbar, information from studies such as the 2011 Canadian National Household Survey confirmed that “local Jewish poverty is on the rise; global anti-Semitism and efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel are at elevated levels; approximately 30 per cent of local young Jews are marrying non-Jewish partners; and participation in high-impact Jewish educational programs, particularly day schools, is decreasing.”
To implement the strategies to address these priorities, “more than $2 million has been removed from our operating budgets and our staff team has contracted by 16 per cent.”
On April 12, the federation hosted a “community conversation” at the Lipa Green Centre about the plan.
In one of the five sessions offered, Sara Lefton, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ Greater Toronto vice-president, led a discussion about the challenges and strategies of Israel advocacy.
She said CIJA reaches out to “advocacy targets” including decision-makers at universities – “people who are in control of what goes on in different segments of the university campus.”
When it comes to reaching out to the 197 newly elected MPs “from ridings where there may not be a single Jew… who have never before been forced to think about the Jewish community, never before had to think about Israel, have never been to Israel… CIJA has been taking members of Parliament to Israel on advocacy missions for years.”
She said CIJA has taken about 30 of the new MPs to Israel so far, and when they return, they become advocates for the state.
Community volunteer Joseph Shier commended efforts by Jewish groups to reach out to influencers and to seek their support, but said despite that, Israel supporters are losing the “propaganda war.”
“We have felt that we cannot win the battle, therefore we have withdrawn from that, and we’ve decided that we can try to fight on a different level,” Shier said.
When challenged that the organized community doesn’t seem to be attacking anti-Israel activists head-on, Lefton said, “I believe truly that the way for us to win and the way for us to really make a difference and have an effective advocacy strategy is to speak to the people who will be receptive to our message… This isn’t a cop-out. This is a real strategy.”
In another session about forging strong connections with Israel, Adam Minsky, UJA’s senior vice-president of community capacity-building, spoke about efforts to reach out to the Jewish community in war-torn Ukraine.
“There is an ongoing war in the eastern part of the Ukraine. We have, for the first time since the Second World War, a Jewish refugee population in Europe,” Minsky said.
“Together with the American Joint Distribution Committee, we are feeding thousands of displaced Jews on a daily basis, providing health care to them in the Ukraine. We’re also working with that community to help those who want to leave and make aliyah to come to Israel.”
Michael Diamond, founding chair of federation’s Israel engagement committee, spoke about the Shinshinim program, founded in 2007, which brings young Israelis to Toronto day schools and shuls as emissaries.
Diamond said the program tries to re-engage young Jews who’ve disconnected from the Jewish and pro-Israel community “because of bad PR related to Israel. We were losing those kids, even the ones who were going right through day school.”