From the Publisher: Criticism is one thing, action is so much better

Adapted from the poet John Lydgate, American President Abraham Lincoln once famously remarked “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” Based on this quote, it is entirely possible that President Lincoln once worked for Ottawa’s Jewish community.

A couple of years ago, I found myself at a cottage near Toronto. When a friend of a friend’s mother discovered I work for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, she let loose with a litany of complaints about the Toronto Federation, some dating back decades. (Before I said a single word, the one-way “conversation” had lasted 15 minutes).  While this personal exchange struck me as comical, I do encounter similar situations in my roles with Jewish Ottawa.  And I struggle with it.

On the one hand, I am delighted that people want to express their opinions and that they care and are passionate about the Jewish people.  This is indeed positive and commendable.

On the other hand, how do you distinguish between venting and unfair criticism based on a lack of facts or bias, versus a genuine desire to engage, understand and make things better?  In the age of social media, it is increasingly complicated.  Disparaging comments can be made so quickly on Facebook feeds, levelling thoughtless criticism at people and institutions.

Can this passion be channeled constructively? I don’t know, but I hope so. I do know that I have a strong personal preference for working together to try to solve issues, rather than spending time on planning how and if to respond to public criticism. And I also know that I am only human. While I try to be objective, there is no question that it is easier to work and find compromises with folks who reach out personally rather than attack publicly.

I often use a quote from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”.

Though they have their place, the best arena is not Facebook or the Ottawa Citizen. One stark example is the recent column by Andrew Cohen, which criticized the work of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Far better and more constructive are the coffee shop discussions and meeting rooms where people who want to elevate our community debate, plan and dream. And, most important, people who really want to make a difference DO it in action, rather than just observe and criticize.

Many years ago, a friend of mine had travelled around Southeast Asia and was struck by the poverty. Most of us would be touched by such scenes and perhaps share our angst about the suffering on Facebook. My friend was different. He started a non-profit organization designed to offer meaningful employment to the most disadvantaged in Cambodia.  It now operates in several countries and employs hundreds, bringing entire families out of poverty.

Commentary and criticism can be useful. Action is even better.

Andrea Freedman is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.


1 Comment

  1. Sid Kardashi says

    Thank you for your prompt response to Andrew Cohen`s column in the Citizen;your address to the Top Donors is most appropriate. What struck me was Mr.Cohen`s statement about “the majority of Canadian Jews..” supporting various positions of the Canadian government with respect to Israel . Have I missed something here ? What is the evidence for this statement? Who are these Jews in the “majority”But aside from this and many other specific comments in the article,let me state my position vis a vis Israel :as Jews in the Diaspora,we must never ever criticize policies adopted by the freely elected parliament of the only country in the world safe for any Jew here,there,or elsewhere. The specter of rising antisemitism in all forms and at numerous organisational and political levels must give every Jew and every citizen of Canada serious pause for further study and reflection.So now is not the time for criticizing our important lobby groups by advocating redirection of funding. Organised structured lobbying on behalf of the State of Israel remains a cornerstone of our duty and obligation as Jews in our community.

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