The summer of 2014 did not go as planned or expected. As a Federation and a community, we went from the optimism and enthusiasm of installing a new board of directors and passing a bold, fresh strategic plan at our annual general meeting in June, to unrelenting terror in Israel and what feels like a significant escalation in bold expressions of anti-Semitism around the globe.
Added to the mix has been uncertainty and concern for Jewish communities in Ukraine, where we see a dramatic increase in demand for aliyah, and rising needs in vulnerable populations there for whom aliyah is not an option.
Finally, summer concluded with the horrifying decapitation of two journalists, American James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who held dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.
Rather than enjoying the wonders of a Canadian summer after a particularly harsh winter, much of this summer has been terrifying, thought provoking, and even humbling.
As I write, the cease-fire is holding and so it seems appropriate to contemplate some of the lessons learned. Not on a political or military level, but communal lessons.
Firstly, raw emotions made us yearn for opportunities to gather together and invoked in all of us a strong desire to make a difference. While there has been debate and discussion in Canadian Jewish communities about the merits of coming together in public spaces versus Jewish spaces, it is clear that, as a community, we want to be together. In fact, we need to be together.
Secondly, during times of crisis, the organized Jewish community in Ottawa is heartwarmingly united. During each of the three Federation-organized solidarity gatherings, I was amazed at how congregations and community organizations all worked together with the same goal of helping to spread the word.
Thirdly, our national advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), has done terrific work and should be commended. We tend to notice the results of their work mostly during a time of crisis. However, it is CIJA’s dogged pursuit of strategic advocacy – daily, weekly and throughout the year – which funds from our Annual Campaign help support that allows them to be so effective.
Consider the fact that CIJA took six parliamentarians on a mission to Israel in the middle of the war. The five MPs and a senator exchanged the comfort of friends and family for a daily barrage of rockets. They did not make this decision lightly, and it was only possible through the meticulous education and relationship building that CIJA has consistently provided.
Finally, we have learned that the Jewish world continues to be extremely generous. The Federation’s Israel Crisis Fund raised an incredible $195,000 through email appeals – and members of Ottawa’s Jewish community also contributed to a host of other giving vehicles to help Israelis. We should be proud that our crisis fund was the third largest in Canada, behind only Toronto and Montreal.
Like so many of you, this was not the summer I had originally planned, but it is a summer I will not soon forget. There has been much loss, profound grief and way too much pain. As I said at the Rally for the People of Israel, our tradition teaches us that we must both pray and take action. As the New Year approaches, please consider what action you can take on behalf of our community.
To quote the late Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society, “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”