Keynote speaker Julia Koschitzky delivered an inspiring address at Choices, an annual event of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Women’s Campaign. Louise Rachlis reports.
“We will do and then we will hear. We will go forward irrespective of the challenges,” said Julia Koschitzky, quoting a teaching from the Torah.
“At the end of the day, all the challenges turn out to be blessings, not only for the Jewish people, but for the world at large.”
Koschitzky, a Toronto-based activist and philanthropist who has held important leadership positions in the Canadian and international Jewish communities, was keynote speaker at Choices, an annual event of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Women’s Campaign, held October 8 at Agudath Israel Congregation.
In a world where the only certainties are “continual change, strife, civil unrest, fear, rise of anti-Semitism, boycott, divestment and sanctions,” said Koschitzky, “only Israel continues to stand steadfast, strong, [and] ready to fulfil the authentic purpose for which it was created: to provide a safe and caring homeland for Jews whatever corner of the world they may come from.”
Calling Choices “a wonderful ongoing tradition,” Koschitzky, who was appointed to the Order of Canada on July 1, said she was honoured to return to speak in Ottawa.
“There is nothing more rewarding and gratifying for a speaker than to be invited back,” said Koschitzky, who attended this year’s event with her husband, Henry Koschitzky. “This is my fourth or fifth visit here spanning 30 years! I don’t take any of this for granted.”
She said her husband asked if any other men would be present at the Choices event. The answer was yes as Arieh Rosenblum, director of development of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, was in attendance.
“How fortuitous,” Koschitzky said. “Arieh and Henry’s families survived the war years together in Khazakakstan before immigrating to Canada, and we have enjoyed a close friendship that has lasted over 70 years. Neither family could have foreseen in those bleak days that their children and grandchildren would meet in Ottawa for the purpose of fostering a sense of Jewish peoplehood.
“Our sages recognized our virtues early on when they said, ‘Hakol talui ba’isha – All depends on the woman,’ because they intuitively knew that the wisdom of women builds homes and communities,” Koschitzky said. “I know that the Ottawa community still fits that description of continuing commitment fuelled by unwavering effort and devotion.”
It is no coincidence that the beginning of a new Annual Campaign coincides with the beginning of the New Year on the Jewish calendar, she said.
“No sooner is one campaign finished than we must begin again to fulfil our responsibilities. It is Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah in the Book of Genesis that teach us that it is not only our right but our duty to take action and to make choices.”
The Choices event – with dinner and décor by Creative Kosher Catering – was attended by 275 women donors to the Federation’s Annual Campaign, which supports 23 Jewish agencies in Ottawa that build community, help the vulnerable, educate Jewishly and support Israel.
“I am delighted to see so many people here,” said Shari Silber, chair of Choices 2015. “I want to thank you all for making a choice to be here tonight.”
Federation Chair Linda Kerzner said she was inspired when she overheard a canvasser on Campaign kickoff day say to a person on the telephone, “I’ve lived through a life threatening illness as well, and I understand if you can’t give a donation.”
But, Kerzner said, the man insisted on making a donation even though he was in palliative care.
“It is my honour and my obligation to give to the campaign,’” he told the canvasser. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Women’s Campaign Chair Sharon Appotive described being challenged by Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman to take on the role of chair of Lion of Judah division for another year and to then become chair of the 2016 and 2017 Women’s Campaigns. She said she agreed to serve in the positions if Freedman would give up Diet Coke.
Appotive also said she was inspired when her son, Brody Appotive, gave a speech about his March of the Living trip and talked about how important it is to care about the preservation of Jewish life.
“I care about the health and well-being of my community,” said Appotive. “I haven’t looked back since.”
She said that “together we can do so much … I urge you to care, and join us to create a thriving Jewish community. Brody made a choice to care. What will your choice be?”
Barbara Farber, a past president of both the Jewish Community Council of Ottawa/Vaad Ha’Ir (now the Jewish Federation of Ottawa) and Jewish Federations of Canada–UIA, introduced Koschitzky and described their first meeting.
“I stood in awe of this woman who knew everything about everything,” Farber said, adding that Koschitzky was extremely helpful to her as a friend and mentor.
“You have earned the respect and inspiration 100 times over,” Koschitzky replied to Farber.
With each successive visit to Ottawa, Koschitzky said she gets to see what the community has produced. She asked for a round of applause for the girls of the Ottawa Jewish Community School’s Grade 8 class in attendance, noting they are future leaders of the community.
Referring to the close-knit family she grew up in, Koschitzky said, “It was where I was taught, nurtured, inspired and encouraged to take on many roles of leadership and responsibility … It made me realize that, as Jewish woman, in order for me to reach the centre of my Jewish being, I have to act!”
Koschitzky continued her praise for Israel and likened the Jewish state to a woman of valour.
“The changes in Israel’s achievements over the course of the last 30 years have been nothing short of extraordinary. And they have done it all with their hands tied behind their backs. This is due mainly to the miraculous steadfastness and resilience of the IDF and of every Israeli citizen,” she said.
“You are a fine example, Israel … You are today’s modern eshet chayil, whose praises we sing every Friday night, a woman of valour, a woman of worth! As are all of you here,” she said to the women attending Choices. “May all your good deeds continue to grow and multiply and may you become more beautiful each and every day.
“None of us as individuals can end global warming, bring peace to the Middle East or bring justice and compassion to the international arena,” said Koschitzky. “But we can, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has stated, develop the strength of character that will make a difference not only to our own lives, but to those around us.”