Veteran community leader takes reins at JFC-UIA

Julia Berger Reitman

For the next two years, Julia Berger Reitman, a veteran of Canada’s Jewish community leadership, will be chair of the Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA.

The position, which alternates its home base between Toronto and Montreal, returned to Montreal this year after Berger Reitman replaced Ralph Shedletsky earlier this month.

Having volunteered for both Jewish and non-Jewish community organizations for her “whole married life,” Berger Reitman said she was encouraged by some of her peers to consider taking the role.

She said that after completing a leadership program through the Wexner Foundation, a non-profit organization that fosters Jewish community leaders, some of her colleagues informed her that the role was up for grabs and suggested she take it.

“It’s a big position and it’s going to be very interesting. A lot of involvement, a lot to learn, but it’s a challenge and you take it on like other challenges,” she said.

Berger Reitman has years of experience needed to face those challenges.

She currently serves on the board of trustees for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and the board of Camp Cayuga, a camp for young adults with cancer. 

She also served on Federation CJA’s executive and on the board of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre for 10 years, having served as its president for two years. 

“I think that when I have sat around the federation table, when I have sat around the board table, the lay volunteers from across our country are phenomenal and we are so privileged to sit at the table with them,” Berger Reitman said.

“I have been on the executive of Federation in Montreal, but I’ve also been involved with the Holocaust Centre… I was there for 10 years – the maximum allowed by the bylaws. But I’m still there because it is a cause that I believe to be extremely important and so I’m still involved in their nominating committee and their fundraising committee and I’m working on a couple of special projects for them, including one that involves the digitization of all the oral histories of the survivor testimonies.”

JFC-UIA president and CEO Linda Kislowicz said she’s looking forward to working closely with Berger-Reitman “at this pivotal time in not only our history, but that of the larger national Jewish community. Her unique perspective and wide range of experience within local and national community organizations will serve us to great benefit.”

Berger Reitman said that she anticipates her role will be met with both challenges and opportunities for growth, and that the organization, like any other, needs to adapt.

“The times are changing. It’s harder to be Jewish. It’s harder for many reasons. There is intermarriage, anti-Semitism, there are all sorts of smaller communities, older populations and all the things we all know and read about. And the challenge is to have a national organization that remains relevant and is serving our population well. We have to morph into something. We can’t be static, we have to move with the times and the challenge will be to do that,” she said.

“Another challenge is to keep Israel on the front burner, either from the perspective of our philanthropic relationships, or our commitment to the next generation’s engagement.”

She said her goal is to keep the volunteers at the table, and to keep JFC-UIA’s leaders thinking national in focus.

 “I want everyone to feel a part of it. I think the national collective is a great thing. I’m a firm believer in it and I want to keep everyone there and happy and moving in one direction.”