Outgoing JNF Canada head looks to future

Joe Rabinovitch

MONTREAL — Joe Rabinovitch really dislikes the word retirement.

So as he prepares to step down at the end of this month as executive vice-president of the Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF) after 11 years at its helm, he is already planning new projects and new tomorrows.

Deciding to call it a day with JNF seemed entirely in keeping with Rabinovitch’s diverse career history going back to 1964. It has included top positions at the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (now the English Montreal School Board), the Association of Jewish Day Schools, and, just prior to JNF, the YM-YWHA.

At 71, he still exudes a lot of youthful energy.

“That’s the way I am,” Rabinovitch said in an interview last week. “I have always left every job, I think, on top. And I was never afraid to take risks.”

Rabinovitch said he was making way for Toronto’s Josh Cooper as JNF’s executive vice-president. He said the organization is striving to adapt to the times, as every Israel-based fundraising organization in Canada vies to find new donors and as the older generation of “legacy givers” begins to peter out.

“The nature of fundraising is changing drastically,” Rabinovitch said.

“The [JNF] head office is still in Montreal, but the offices all across country are taking on enthusiastic younger people and using new ideas and new approaches,” especially in the social networking age, in which Facebook, Twitter, Skype, have become essential ways to reach those generations, he added.

As well, Rabinovitch said, “people are much more discerning now about what they want to give,” especially in an era when previous “big givers” lived through the founding of Israel and donated as much as they could, but now construction cranes speckle the landscape and show how prosperous Israel is.

“Tree-planting and the pushke are still very important for profile-raising, but they are not our most important fundraisers,” Rabinovitch said, alluding to Negev Dinner or “legacy” projects.

Rabinovitch said that during his tenure at JNF, he was most proud of the fact that more than 150 JNF Canada projects came to fruition in Israel, representing $50 million from Canada and matching amounts from JNF Israel.

He was also happy that JNF has become a more green organization during his tenure and has launched a large number of local initiatives meant to attract younger generations, including an annual running event co-sponsored by Scotiabank and a floor hockey tournament.

A poignant personal highlight for Rabinovitch was visiting JNF’s Montreal Oasis – Be’er Sheva: the Barbara and Stanley Plotnick Family Park.

“The first thing I saw when I got there was a plaque in honour of my parents,” Rabinovitch said. “That moment really stayed with me.”