Typically at this time of year, the Federation Report is dedicated to a message regarding the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign. But, first, a little story.
My home is in the ByWard Market. It is a fascinating area to live, in part due to the incredible mosaic of people, businesses, residences, tourist attractions, media outlets, social service agencies and homeless shelters.
On Monday and Thursday evenings, members of our Jewish community volunteering on behalf of Jewish Family Services walk around the market distributing gifts of socks, water and juice to the homeless people in the area. These amazing volunteers do this with the intention of helping these folks get off the street and to make sure they know where to go if they need a meal or a place to stay.
Often, at the end of their shift, we sit on a bench and chat. A few weeks ago, another community member and business owner in the market joined us. We were all chatting about the various types of involvement we have in the community, what we were doing for Rosh Hashanah and the like.
The business owner said, “Wow, when I talk with all of you all I feel like a Christmas tree among the menorahs. I’m not involved, I don’t feel part of the community, and when I’ve tried on occasion since being back in Ottawa after a long absence, I just don’t feel like I belong.”
That statement caused me to reflect on “The Changing Jewish Family,” a symposium held this past spring by Montreal’s Federation CJA on how people do not feel they fit the ‘norm’ of the traditional community member and should not feel excluded from the community.
Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA, moderated the symposium and was quoted as saying, “I think you will hear a recurring message: a desire to belong, but not necessarily in the traditional or usual way.”
As someone who grew up in Ottawa and was always part of the mainstream Jewish community, I know for a fact that others like me have trouble understanding people who feel they can’t fit in.
We do, however, have to take to heart the message from so many individuals, couples and families in Ottawa that there are several very real barriers to participation.
Some are geographical or financial, while others feel they simply do not fit the ‘traditional’ mould. These include interfaith families, immigrants, LGBT persons, Jews from different cultural backgrounds, the physically or mentally challenged, and others.
As one symposium presenter, Rabbi Adina Lewittes, said, we need to give these families and individuals “a clear message that we want and expect their involvement in Jewish life.”
In order to achieve this, we must be more open and more welcoming. Our community must adapt and our organizations and institutions have to find ways to be more inclusive.
It is essential to the sustainability of our community and, indeed, to its growth and future vibrancy, that we have a community-wide strategy to achieve these goals.
So, how does this all tie into the annual campaign?
Campaign fever is upon us. We have almost 200 volunteer canvassers, dedicated staff, 2,000 pledge cards, and an ambitious goal to increase our annual campaign to benefit 24 local agencies plus Jewish communities overseas and in Israel. Needless to say, we have lots to do.
None of this can be achieved without all our community members working together to build and maintain a thriving Ottawa Jewish community that is inclusive, accessible, educated and engaged. Our Campaign motto for 2017 says it all: Our Community. Our Responsibility. Our Future.