87th annual AGM focuses on community, and an optimistic future

Enjoy videos of appreciation from award winners

The Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s 87th Annual General Meeting, held last week, was a time of celebration, acknowledging the last 15 months of challenges and the great work done by so many in the community.

Outgoing Chair Michael Polowin delivered a special thank you to Rabbi Reuven Bulka for his tremendous work co-chairing the Annual Campaign for the past three years. Polowin shared how Rabbi Bulka and co-chair Dr. Karen Palayew had worked tirelessly to help support our community’s vision for the Jewish Superhighway while raising extra emergency funding when COVID struck. Together they raised over $7.2M between the 2021 Annual Campaign and the Emergency Campaign

“For this we are grateful,” said Polowin. “This has meant Federation maintained regular annual allocations, distributed over $2.5M in emergency grants, with more still to come, as well as strategic funding for programs like microgrants, the innovation fund for capacity building, and the second year of Jewish Jumpstart, a special program incentivizing synagogue and SJCC memberships.”

Polowin also welcomed new Campaign co-chair Josh Engel, who will be leading the Campaign alongside Palayew for this year’s campaign. A special thank you was extended to Emerging Generation Campaign co-chairs Jonathon Greenberg and Elyssa Nassi, and Adam Zaret and Jodi Weinstein for their hard work this past year. Greenberg and Nassi will be returning to co-chair the EG Campaign for 2022, Polowin explained, while Samantha Sigler and Shlomi Barshan will be joining them.

Once the business of the AGM was concluded the highlight of the event was the recognition of the 2021 Community Service Awards winners.

The first award was the Student Leadership Award, which went to Joelle Soriano. 

Next honoured were the winners of the Freiman Family Young Leadership Award and Lawrence Greenberg: Dr. Madelaine Hill Werier and Jonah Rabinovitch. View their messages of appreciation here:

Next was the Shem Tov Community Volunteer Award, which recognizes outstanding and active volunteers for their lifetime of service dedicated to the betterment and enrichment of Jewish life in Ottawa. This year’s award was shared by Joel Diener and Barbara Levinson. View their messages here:

The final award was the Gilbert Greenberg Distinguished Leadership Award, which is the highest tribute that the Ottawa Jewish Community can bestow on an individual and it honours a lifetime of leadership in the Jewish world and is presented every second year. This year’s deserving winner was Debbie Halton-Weiss. Please view the remarks she made at the meeting here:

After the awards, Polowin and Federation President Andrea Freedman spoke about the state of Jewish Ottawa in a “fireside chat,” before welcoming new Board Chair Ian Sherman.

“I think the most important role a leader can play is once you get past the technical decisions that need to be made, in this case, it was providing a sense of calm and control,” said Polowin, reflecting on the last 15 months.

“The community needed to understand and see that Federation was on top of it … with calm, control and a little bit of humour.”

Polowin said the Ottawa Jewish community will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic as strong — or even stronger — than we went into it.

Imagining the AGM as a “state of the union” presentation, Freedman noted that the pandemic has only highlighted how strong the Ottawa Jewish community is, acknowledging pivots made by Federation and so many community organizations, which kept the community strong.

“We’ve supported each other, leveraged resources, contributed between organizations,” said Freedman. “It’s been tremendous to watch the community come together.”

Freedman said none of it would have been possible without the Federation team — staff and board alike — “We have the best team in the business,” led of course expertly by Polowin. 

Very grateful to Polowin for his leadership during this time, Sherman eagerly steps into the role after such a tumultuous year.

“Exactly two years ago (less three days), with some degree of nostalgia, I returned to ‘active Federation duty’ as Vice Chair and tonight I accept the honour and the privilege of becoming Chair of Federation’s Board,” said Sherman, thanking Freedman, Polowin and the nominating committee for their work.

“The isolation of COVID has been profound and the potential effects that it could have had on our sense of community … but for the incredible efforts and transformative leadership of the past 15 months. We often talk about the essential partnership between our lay leadership and the professionals. Today more than ever, I have experienced the partnership in a completely new light and in a much deeper way.”

Capturing this momentum, Sherman said we’re on the ‘Back 9’ of the pandemic and that Federation will continue to strengthen its ties and connections with its partner agencies, community projects and other ongoing programs.

Read our recent story saying goodbye — and hello — to departing and incoming board members.

To view a recording of the AGM, visit here.