The vital importance of Federation then and now - Andrea Freedman

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. To commemorate this remarkable milestone, the Federation is embarking on a series of year-long initiatives about our shared journey. Among the initiatives are monthly articles delving into our history, including columns from past leadership. As such, we are delighted to share this column from former president & CEO Andrea Freedman.

Let me begin by congratulating the Jewish Federation of Ottawa on 90 years of enormous impact and for leading Jewish Ottawa in such a stellar manner.  I am honoured to have been asked to contribute a few thoughts on Federation as part of this year-long celebration.  

Over the span of 90 years, organizations come and go, their importance typically crest and wane, and impact is often diminished; but not the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Why?

As I reflect on my 10+ years with Federation, I have concluded that had Federation not been created 90 years ago, it would be invented today.  From years 80 through 90, here are what I see as some of the most significant accomplishments and recognize that the leadership I was blessed to work with, stood on the shoulders of giants.  

First is the vision for the Jewish Superhighway – understanding that Jewish engagement is a series of on-ramps and interconnected pathways of meaningful Jewish experiences that span a lifetime – is a noteworthy Federation accomplishment as it connects substantially more people to Jewish life and connects community partners to one another. Federation’s unique accomplishments are the amazing pathways that it funds and runs, such as PJ Library (with one of the highest market penetration rates in North America) and marquee programs, such as Birthright Israel and March of the Living.  

Second is Federation’s unique ability to raise funds that keep the community vibrant and engaged. During the pandemic, in the midst of so much uncertainty and fear, Federation stepped up and immediately launched an Emergency Campaign for Community Resilience raising $2.6M.  Similarly, after the devastating massacre of October 7th, Federation brought the community together and raised $3.5M for the people of Israel.  This is in addition to an Annual Campaign that increased from $4.5M to $5M at a time when many other centralized campaigns have diminished.  And, let us not forget that Federation also undertook to create the largest campaign in the community’s history for an endowment for Jewish education, Generations Trust, which has raised $22M and is slowly growing.  Without Federation’s unique ability to raise funds (and of course its generous donors), I shudder to think what the community would look like.

Third, what stands out is Federation’s skill in bringing the community together. Thanks to excellent and trusted relationships with community organizations, Federation was able to make pandemic funding last twice as long as expected. Our community partners understood how serious the situation was and they interpreted our emergency allocations in the manner it was intended, as a backstop. When they were able to find other sources of funding, they literally gave money back so that it could be re-allocated, allowing more needs in the community to be met. 

At the darkest moments, our community always proudly stands together. When in a barbaric act of antisemitism, a gunman murdered 11 Jews in prayer in Pittsburgh on Shabbat, less than 36 hours later, Federation brought the community together and it was standing room only at the Soloway JCC when 700 of us gathered in unity to pray and to mourn. On October 7, our beloved ancestral homeland experienced a modern-day pogrom. Two days later, 1,400+ gathered at the Soloway JCC to stand in unity, prayer and grief.  When the room was filled to capacity, people stood on the stairs and in the lobby. When the lobby was filled, people gathered in the gym. In that moment, the only thing that mattered was being together. 

Finally, what stands out to me is Federation’s ability to serve as the voice of the community and to have formed trusted relationships with elected officials at all levels of government. It is a point of pride that on October 9th, less than 48 hours after the massacre, our community stood together with the Prime Minister, Official leader of the Opposition and the Mayor of Ottawa. We can never take this for granted. When the media needs a spokesperson, their first stop is Federation and leadership never backs down from advocating for Jewish interests and Israel. Federation never ceases meeting with elected officials, with clear asks and requests. Federation is relentless.  

Through it all – the never-ending urgent situations, the fundraising, building the Jewish superhighway, advocacy and so much more – Federation was never satisfied with the status quo. Federation has always had, and will always have, tremendous drive to raise the bar and do more and do it better. 

Heres’ to 90 more years of success and impact!