I am the grandson of Szlojme (Shlomo) Jakow Rabinowicz, the architect of the Great Synagogue of Bialystok, son of Jewish immigrants and the current president of Jewish Family Services of Ottawa (JFS).
My mother, may she rest in peace, used to tell me there was no doubt I was part of my grandfather’s family. The story goes that, one day, in the frigid temperatures of Eastern Europe, my grandfather was walking home and saw a man shivering in the cold with only a shirt on. As others walked by ignoring the man – perhaps for his appearance, perhaps because he might have been mentally ill – my grandfather stopped, gave comfort to the man and gave him his new overcoat. When he got home, my grandmother became furious with him for giving away his overcoat (they were not wealthy people), yet she knew her husband did the right thing, the Jewish thing: providing comfort for someone in need.
Perhaps this is the reason I have spent many years volunteering for JFS: to bring comfort and warmth to those in our community who are so often ignored, forgotten or, even worse, invisible to others.
Over the years, JFS has grown exponentially. This was not because we wanted to, but because we needed to in order to serve and meet the needs of our Jewish community.
Some of these needs are reflected in:
• the $25,000 in direct financial relief that JFS provides to financially challenged Jewish families per month – although $35,000 per month reflects the true need;
• the $228,000 JFS receives from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany – although $240,000 better reflects the amount required (the shortfall of $12,000 is provided by our Jewish community);
• the 25 hours a week of homecare services, which some Holocaust survivors requireto continue to live in their own home;
• the Miriam’s Well program, which provides fresh fruit and vegetables to 120 Jewish families each month;
• the 80 Jewish families that use the resources provided by the Kosher Food Bank run by Agudath Israel and Temple Israel;
• the urgent need to find volunteers willing to drive seniors to medical appointments, take them grocery shopping and run other errands, and to provide them with companionship;
• the 25 Jewish women per year who turn to the JFS Shalom Bayit (partner abuse) program for help, while dozens more suffer in silence;
• the growing need to provide more spaces in JFS’ two adult day programs .
One of the attributes of Abraham is that he said little and did a lot. That is JFS in a nutshell. JFS sees a need, recognizes how to address it, and fulfils our duty and responsibility to provide assistance. There are no focus groups or consultations beyond the approval process of the board and finance committees. JFS just does what is right.
JFS is also a leader in providing services to a range of ethnic communities. In doing so, we continue to build bridges and remove barriers that once stood between our community and many others. It is this notion of tikkun olam I am most fond of: repairing the world, regardless of race, nationality or religion.
I strongly believe in the principles of chesed and tikkun olam, but I also take care to live it on a daily basis. This, I am sure, is because of my grandfather, and other examples like him. I must have absorbed it growing up. My priorities, as president of JFS, will be to continue to help JFS build a strong and healthy Jewish community; a community that is inclusive of all Jewish people.