Approximately 15 years ago in Montreal, about five years before my arrival there, Jonathan Wener, as chair of the board of the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), orchestrated two events that forever enhanced the contributions of the JGH to the delivery of health care in Quebec.
Firstly, he facilitated the hiring of Myer Bick as CEO of the JGH Foundation. Myer transformed the foundation from a $6 million per year campaign to more than $35 million annually.
Secondly, he negotiated the purchase of land adjacent to the hospital, at the time a convent, from the Catholic Church for a significant reduction in price. Significantly, this purchase was based on an agreement to respect the dignity of the property and to preserve the chapel.
These two changes permitted the hospital to grow into one of the leading academic health centres in the country. Jonathan was able to do this largely because he enjoyed the trust of the Jewish community and the Quebec government. He inspired people through his vision, his grasp of good governance and good management, and his holistic commitment to his community which, in addition to his contributions to the JGH, have included sponsoring mega missions to Israel and serving as chancellor of Concordia University.
Jonathan became my mentor, friend and, as I reflect on why I accepted the position of chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, my role model. There are many other examples of exemplary contributors to Jewish community life and citizenry in Ottawa and elsewhere. It is simply that Jonathan stands tall amongst them and it is he who inspired me.
I have learned, and believe passionately, that there are no issues or threats that the Ottawa Jewish community faces which cannot be overcome with a clear vision, inspiration, trust, leadership, and a sound plan. I further believe that we are blessed with a strong management team and Board at Federation. The strategic plan developed under the leadership of Linda Kerzner, my predecessor, and Andrea Freedman, is excellent.
What I see as obstacles are not simple, but are unequivocally fixable. The first hurdle is the sustainability of the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) and the future of Jewish education in general in Ottawa. The second is the flattening of overall philanthropy in the Jewish community. I believe that the inspired recruitment of Jon Mitzmacher as the new head of school at OJCS, combined with a restructured board, is fundamental to the plan of sustainable, affordable, high quality Jewish education in Ottawa. But it is not sufficient.
Secondly, we, as a community, must share a vision of what we collectively believe is the right plan for all Jewish educational needs, and then act in concert to leverage all the human and other resources to make it happen. No matter how well we come together on this issue, we will inevitably face the reality of declining community engagement, most tangibly, but not exclusively, represented in money raised. Quite simply, we will need a substantial increase in annual giving to meet all of the community needs, in particular those of Jewish education.
I hope to do what Jonathan Wener taught me. I expect to listen carefully to all of you, gain your trust, and with the help of our strong team at Federation, OJCS, and all of our other agencies, obtain your support in re-engaging you in our exciting plans for our wonderful community.