Inspiration and inclusion were the themes of presentations delivered at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Members’ Meeting, May 2, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
“The Jewish superhighway is a metaphor for meaningful Jewish experiences and journeys, where Jewish life is vibrant and no one is left behind,” explained Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman to the crowd of about 50.
With a $1.7 million annual funding target, the superhighway is the Federation’s bold new vision for Jewish Ottawa. It embodies the message of innovative progress, forward thinking and inclusion for all community members at every stage of their lives.
Freedman presented the plan by explaining the highway is a metaphor for busy, active Jewish life. It is accessed and intersected by a multitude of “on-ramps” and “pathways” made up of programs and projects for all ages, interests and needs.
The example given to show an early on-ramp to the superhighway was the PJ Library program. A quick show of hands in the room revealed that more than half of the attendees were engaged in PJ Library either as parents or grandparents. Freedman said stats from the program show that PJ Library families are more likely to make Jewish choices. For this reason, funding this successful program helps fuel the next steps in people’s Jewish journeys – like Jewish preschool, day and supplemental school, and later the March of Living and Hillel Ottawa.
“The four main outcomes of the superhighway,” Freedman outlined, “are inspiring Jewish experiences for all ages; enriching Jewish education and learning; ensuring care for the vulnerable; and providing a safe and secure community.”
To meet these outcomes, Federation is looking at innovative approaches to connecting community and to raising funds.
Freedman said the Annual Campaign, which covers the basic operating costs of the community, needs to increase to simply keep pace with inflation.
“For example, if Tamir continues to do just what it did last year, it will still need more funding as cost increase… Basically, this is what we need to just keep the lights on.”
An example of new approaches is that Federation and the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation are increasing their partnership. Federation has invested some of its reserve funds into Foundation for healthier returns. This sould result in an extra $15,000. Foundation has also increased its 2017 disbursement rate to four per cent, which means an additional $200,000-plus is being dispersed to community agencies this year.
Among the innovative ideas for programming that resonated with many in the audience was school transportation. As Freedman explained in the section on Jewish education, she shared results from a recent pilot project in Alta Vista where a private donor helped Congregation Machzikei Hadas cover the cost of a bus for families to get their kids from the south end of the city to Jewish schools in the west end. She said the families were polled and 46 per cent said they were unlikely to send their kids to Jewish schools if they didn’t receive transport help. Federation is actively seeking funding and aims to support the cooperative project in the future.
In another example of forward planning, in the section on helping the more vulnerable, Freedman said Federation aims to support programs to help families before they are in crisis, like helping parents with the modern challenges of how to teach kids about drugs and navigating the internet. “We hope to invest in measures not previously funded,” she explained.
To sum up, Freedman showed an image of a busy figure-eight roadway, a map of success, each stage building on the next one, with the end result that more people stay on the Jewish superhighway, keeping the journey going: “The results of a successful superhighway will be more frequent and significant Jewish experiences, which lead to more people engaged in community, which will attract newcomers to Ottawa, which will mean more philanthropy and stronger community organizations, which brings us back to the start, creating a place where Jewish life is vibrant and no one is left behind.”
The theme of inclusivity was continued by Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada-United Israel Appeal, who delivered a presentation on the results of the national conference, “Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion & Jewish Community,” which was held in Toronto from April 15 to 17.
The conference had more than 25 presenters, panelists and moderators and the goal was to validate the importance of inclusion, inspire innovation, educate and develop national networks.
“All speakers were individuals with disabilities who shared their experiences and showed what they had accomplished,” said Kislowicz.
The themes of the talks spoke to issues they faced in their daily lives: Rabbi Ruti Regan, who has autism, shared that “access speaks louder than words”; Ari Neeman reinforced the idea that people with disabilities must be fully involved in their own life choices saying “nothing about us, without us”; and Maayam Ziv stressed that “people are not disabled, environments are disabled.”
The topics that were discussed were affordable housing, employment, education, synagogues and camps, and dating and relationships.
Of great importance to many was the issue of employment, Kislowicz explained. She gave some powerful examples of entrepreneurial projects, like one undertaken by Ziv who has created an app that shows where people can find accessible services when travelling, like restaurants and bathrooms. Another example is Dani, which is a catering service run by people with disabilities and was created by two mothers who wanted to ensure their kids could find fulfilling, meaningful jobs that fit within their Jewish lives.
Kislowicz also highlighted some of the adaptations communities are making, some as simple as their choice of language. For example in synagogue, instead of the rabbi saying “please rise,” consider the small, but meaningful and inclusive addition, “please rise if you are able.”
Summing up, Kislowicz said this is not short-term work but will require long-term engagement and relationship building. The next steps involve capacity-building consultations and proposals for pilot programs to be funded by micro-grants.
The conference also helped identify inclusion specialists and professionals in local communities to help leaders in different cities implement change at their own level. Perhaps most importantly, Kislowicz said the conference helped connect people and was hugely successful in creating a new national network. She is hopeful this will help keep the topic of inclusivity permanently on the radar of all areas of government and community.
“This was a milestone event for Jewish communities,” she added, saying for the Jewish Federations of Canada, “it was part of their responsibility to put this important social concern on the national agenda.”
Stressing the importance of both talks, Federation Chair Hartley Stern, asked people to take away a few important points from the common messages that while there is much to inspire us, there is still a lot we as a community can do to fill the gaps that exist in services. He urged us as Jews to consider what kind of community we want to live in and how we can step up to help make these inspiring visions our reality.