In her Emerging Gen column, “Sorry it took so long to call back: Is it you, me, or both of us? (February 8),” Stephanie Shefrin identified a challenge on how we get young adults and young parents involved with our community organizations and its many projects to maintain and improve our Ottawa Jewish community.
I welcome the dialogue. Stephanie raised many valid issues about the multitude of demands on young families and the impact these have on their ability to stretch to include a commitment to community. The underlying foundation of the article is that the commitment itself is important. That is a great place to begin the dialogue, since we agree on that.
Our community is our responsibility. It is a shared responsibility to maintain what we have to today, and to build for the future. It is a responsibility that can be shared in many ways, from participation (why build it, if no one comes), to the giving of time as a volunteer, to the giving of money as a donor.
As I have told my children repeatedly, we stand on the shoulders of giants: the immigrants who came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and built lives for themselves, their children and grandchildren. They built the shuls, the schools and the community institutions we have today. I remind my children that these people were farmers, labourers and small merchants, and they created all that we have today. It is our community, and it is our responsibility to make it thrive.
Today, more members of our community are white collar workers than blue. Most of our families, as Stephanie pointed out, are two-income families. Time is short, and we all involve ourselves in our children’s lives to a greater extent than may have been true (especially for fathers) in times gone by. So time is even shorter. But, truly, by the standards of what our forebears dealt with, are these not (as my kids would say) “first world problems”?
I have been involved in our community since I was a teenager. I have seen it evolve. The community of my teenage years was far more patriarchal and homogenous in background and outlook. Its leadership was not as inclusive as today.
Today’s Jewish Federation of Ottawa is enormously inclusive by age, gender, religious affiliation, socio-economic status, employment, interests and abilities, and strives to be even more so.
And Stephanie is right when she points out that we have to find ways to include people in the building of community when daytime meetings at the SJCC just won’t work for all of them. The funny thing is that, as I have become more involved in the Annual Campaign since last summer, I have seen just that.
It is the rare meeting that doesn’t have people joining by phone, when they can’t physically get to the meeting. I see discussion and debate by email. I see times for meetings being determined by the software program “Doodle,” which allows people to indicate availability before meeting times are decided. Meetings are held in the evenings and the daytime, dependent on people’s availability. Committees are streamlined to be more task-focused and then to dissolve.
Further changes are needed, so Stephanie’s column was particularly timely. As a small example, I have recommended the use of the computer program “Go to Meeting,” which allows people to be seen, and documents to be shared online.
Stephanie was right when she wrote, “When you look at the history of community leadership, it is striking how many past Federation leaders were self-employed.” But that is the past, not the future.
The point is that it is our community, and our responsibility. Evolution is good, and the right kind of change is good. But it doesn’t happen on its own. As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Our community is our responsibility. I invite all – young, old and in-between – to get involved, to build community and to be the change you want to see in the world. We can make it work for all of you, and because Stephanie opened the conversation, more people can be involved in this important dialogue and effort.
Michael Polowin is the 2017-2018 Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign chair.