In June 2019, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa approved a five-year strategic plan — and now, looking back, it seems like a lifetime has passed. There was a global pandemic and overnight there were workforce changes like remote and hybrid environments, a dramatic increase in antisemitism, and rising inflation leading to food insecurity; not to mention Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Forward-thinking organizations like Federation are finding success by quickly adapting business models and staying ahead of the curve. In doing this, Federation can rely on its many strengths including the compassion and vibrancy of community leadership, a healthy balance sheet, and its ability to act as a convener to leverage resources and partnerships.
“One of the things I’m proud of is the Federation’s continued focus on our strategic objectives, while also meeting shifting needs,” said CEO Andrea Freedman. “Throughout all the necessary pivots and ‘unprecedented’ challenges in so many areas, our commitment to building the Jewish Superhighway has not wavered.”
For Federation, the vision for the Jewish Superhighway – meaningful Jewish experiences and Jewish journeys, with no one left behind, remains relevant and appropriate for Jewish Ottawa. However, Freedman explained that what has shifted are some of the means to achieve this vision, emerging needs in the community, and the overstretched bandwidth of many organizations and individuals.
“It was a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication from our staff and volunteers,” to shift focus the way Federation has, said Freedman. “Along with our generous donors who have supported us to do multiple things simultaneously.”
Federation has fundamentally shifted its engagement strategies away from large-scale, profile-building events. Instead, they are focused on the development of niche events and building on the successful microgrants model to boost engagement.
Since June 2022, the microgrant program has already allocated $57,000 of an available $70,000 in grants. Some highlights are: Ottawa Jewish Community School held a Community Casino Night; the Jewish Youth Library was able to run a Rosh Chodesh Lecture Series; Chabad of Wellington presented a public menorah lighting for Chanukah; Temple Israel Social Action Committee and Federation held a powerful weekend highlighting Indigenous-Jewish relations through the creative arts; Beit Tikvah ran a special Chanukah party with Simply Tsfat; Jordan Morgan held a Jewish fraternity party; and the Soloway JCC partnered with Tamir for an inclusive community-wide Chanukah party that was joined by the mayor and several city councillors. All of these events help build meaningful Jewish experiences for all members of Jewish Ottawa and the impact is broadly felt.
“ We’ve been delighted with the growth of microgrants and our board has had to increase the amount allocated each year,” said Freedman. “They are about expanding outreach to bring more people onto the Jewish Superhighway. People who run these events, they’re tapping into their social network, so the effects are multiplying.”
Freedman added that while there’s a lot of power in having a few hundred people in a room for larger events, the impact is not always as lasting.
“We’d much prefer to have small events bringing like-minded people together to continue their Jewish journeys.”
Freedman pointed to Hillel Ottawa as a “pioneer” on this front, mentioning their coffee dates with students as a form of micro-engagement.
“The other piece we’ve been really intentional about is to constantly evaluate the environment and figure out what the new normal is going to look like and how we can engage the maximum number of people in that new normal.”
At the same time, with antisemitism on the rise, resources have been redirected to address those needs, with a focus on advocacy work. A recent step forward was the successful advocacy efforts that lead to the unanimous vote at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) in support of hiring a Jewish Equity Coach.
“While the OCDSB’s decision in support of a Jewish Equity Coach is meaningful and important, sadly, it is not a panacea,” explained Freedman “Our team will continue to meet regularly with the senior administration of the OCDSB and offer input and support into overall plans. Meanwhile, Federation’s Board just made the decision to hire an additional part-time staff person to deal with the growing advocacy file. We did this because we know that pushing back against the normalization of antisemitism is a monumental challenge and requires appropriate resources.”
Looking forward, Freedman said in many cases it’s “full steam ahead.”
“While our initial strategic plan was for five years, it is likely we will extend it by one year to make sure we’re meeting the reality of the world today, not what it was three years ago.”