The Jewish Federation of Ottawa is excited to welcome Gary Viner, an outstanding community leader, to the helm of the Annual Campaign for 2024 where he will volunteer alongside current co-chair Evelyn Silverman as outgoing co-chair Josh Engel ends his two-year term.
An Ottawa native, and University of Toronto Medical School graduate, Viner is now semi-retired, but remains active in the community, including sitting on the board for Tamir and co-chairing the Temple Israel Door To the Future fundraising campaign.
“I feel honoured and privileged to be asked to do this,” said Viner about becoming co-chair. “I’ve been involved in the Campaign for close to 40 years. I guess I’ve always had a commitment to the community and I’m very proud to be a Jew and support our institutions.”
Viner’s family is one of the largest interconnected families in Ottawa, with his grandfather immigrating here in 1913. This large family life has helped Viner recognize the importance of community and community service.
“To me, it’s a responsibility to help support the community. If we don’t support our own, no one else will,” said Viner. “We have important institutions that do good work.”
Over the years, Viner has sat as a Vaad Ha’ir Board member (precursor to Federation) and has had multiple roles at Temple Israel from youth advisor, and ritual chair, to board and executive member. He is also an annual participant in the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge’s “Biking for Bubbies” fundraiser. He retired from his clinical practice in June 2021.
While it can be uncomfortable to ask people for money, Viner said the lens he uses changes the approach.
“I’m giving people the opportunity to fulfill that responsibility by being able to contribute. I say here’s what we need, can you help us? To me it’s a very social thing, making it a very pleasant experience, not a painful one.”
Viner plans to use this approach to encourage volunteer canvassers.
“I think we need to share the perspective that this is an opportunity to connect, to benefit the greater good,” he said. “My biggest concern is that we have far too few new people who come here who are invited into the community. It’s a matter of having that openness to inclusivity and developing relationships.”
From Federation’s perspective, the community is going from strength to strength with the transition of co-chairs from Engel to Viner.
“This past Campaign, Josh and Evelyn lead our fundraising team with great dedication and energy,” said Federation CEO Andrea Freedman. “Before that, Josh worked alongside Karen Palayew to lead Campaign 2022, after taking on the role early in support of our beloved Rabbi Reuven Bulka Z”L”
The past few years have been challenging but for Federation, every achievement is due to volunteers and leaders like Josh and his co-chairs, the community members who step up to care for Jewish Ottawa, said Freedman adding that “Josh did an outstanding job and it is due to his passion and ability to connect with people that the Campaign team was so successful. Our community owes Josh and Evelyn a huge debt of gratitude for their leadership.”
Micah Garten, Federation’s VP of Development, shares similar kudos for Engel.
“Anyone who knows him sees what a mensch he is,’ said Garten. “In addition to the generosity which he inspired, his analytical mind served the community well, as he consistently was asking questions, looking for trends and helping to refine our best practices. Josh’s impact on the Campaign will be felt long after the funds he helped to raise have been disbursed.”
Silverman said she was honoured to have co-chaired the Annual Campaign with Engel last year.
“He immediately made me feel welcome and was always so warm and kind,” she said. “He definitely always had my back and I will miss him. At the same time, I am very excited to welcome Gary. I know he has lots of experience to bring to the team.”
Meanwhile for Viner, working with Silverman, along with the rest of the Campaign team, is something he is looking forward to.
“I’m not an expert fundraiser, I’m learning on the job,” he said. “Evelyn actually canvassed me last year. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better, and working with the rest of the team.”
When it comes to campaigning, Viner said that it’s all about Tzedakah.
“It’s not just spontaneous acts of goodwill, it’s not the Western notion of charity. It’s a very thoughtful, careful expectation of what we are all responsible to do for our community.”