No baseball player wants to hear “strike three” when the bases are loaded. No student wants to hear the teacher say, “We will be handing back tests from the highest mark to the lowest!” No congregant wants to hear the clergy say, “I am almost finished!” And no member of Ottawa’s Jewish community wants to answer the phone and hear, “Hi, I’m calling on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Annual Campaign.”
We have an almost visceral response to fundraising calls, especially from Federation. It engenders all of our prejudices about the cost of being Jewish. Synagogue dues are always too high, especially for those who attend and participate infrequently. Membership fees at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) are too steep compared to other fitness centres, and day school tuition and supplementary school costs are outrageous, especially for those ambivalent about Jewish education.
The 2019 Annual Campaign is underway and I asked Director of Development Micah Garten – in the spirit of transparency, he is my son – to respond to some frequently heard questions and comments that may be heard as excuses to under-contribute or to avoid contributing. I don’t know if the answers represent official Federation policies or are the responses of one individual, but they provide us with insight into the concepts underpinning the notion of communal campaigns.
My questions and comments are presented in regular type while Micah’s responses are in italics.
1. Why should I contribute to the Federation? I don’t agree with its priorities and certainly don’t agree with all of its decisions?
Community life is an ecosystem. Even if you only care about one component, that component will suffer without a vibrant invested community to support it. Who will support Hillel Lodge in 20 years if we do not educate our children about the Jewish value of honouring elders and mother and fathers? Will there be individuals using the SJCC in the future if we don’t allow exciting and subsidized youth programming? The list goes on.
It is true that a community’s survival depends on each generation feeling responsible for those who come before and those who come after. This is a difficult concept to promote in a time when narcissism predominates the political and the cultural milieu.
2. Why should I contribute to the Annual Campaign when money goes to an Israeli government whose policies I abhor?
No part of any gift to the Annual Campaign goes to the Israeli government nor any institution beyond the Green Line. Federation does provide funding for social institutions in the Northern Galilee. This is one of the most impoverished areas of Israel and community monies go to programs for the elderly, youth and individuals with special needs.
The disconnect between the Diaspora and Israel is growing. There is statistical as well as anecdotal evidence of this. The disconnect is especially noticeable among the generation born in the last 45 years. Yet Israel was born as a haven for those fleeing anti-Semitism. Many inhabitants of the Northern Galilee are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Should our political disagreements inhibit our ability to make a difference in the life of the needy, disabled or disadvantaged?
3. We are not the same community that we were 45 years ago, 25 years ago or even 15 years ago. How does an individual donation to the Annual Campaign help alternative activities reach beyond the standard old time approaches?
This community works well together in hundreds of areas. It is a mistake to only focus on the new. Yet we recognize that communities are not static organisms. The genius of the Jewish Superhighway is that it recognizes the need to grow the Annual Campaign in order to create a new, nimble funding stream that can provide speed monies for the incredibly important new projects. An increase in funding does more than maintain the status quo; it insures that the future is offered a fighting chance.
We are certainly not one community any more. It is debatable whether we ever were one community or whether the majority approach simply marginalized the outliers. However, in 2018, we are certainly cognizant of the myriad Jewish lives and Jewish lifestyles that comprise our community. If the Annual Campaign can find the resources to fund alternative approaches to Jewish life and Jewish continuity then perhaps our Jewish future is brighter than some prognosticators suggest.
When the dreaded call comes, take the time to consider these questions and answers. Our future may depend on your willingness to do so.