A lot has changed in 90 years - Past chair Sol Shinder

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 regular articles delving into our history, including columns from past leadership. As such, we are delighted to share this conversation with past chair Sol Shinder, who served from June 1979 to 1981 and is also celebrating his 90th birthday this year.

On his roots and motivation to get involved in the Jewish community
My parents were active Labour Zionists in the late 1930s. My mother, a young woman relative to her peers, was one of the founders of the Pioneer Women, [a Labour Zionist women's organization today called Na’amat.] I grew up in a household that supported and encouraged Jewish causes. 

After graduating from law school, I started a new life with my wife, Zelaine, and began practicing law. (Zelaine and I got married in 1962 and have been together for almost 64 years.)

In the late 1960s or early 1970s, the late Hy Hochberg Z”L organized a leadership development group of people my age. It culminated in a trip to Israel, I believe in 1972. Following that, I became the leader of that leadership group. It was my first leadership role in the Jewish community.

My engagement was also influenced by my good friend Norman Zagerman, whose family were already leaders in the community. Norman was probably the youngest president of the Vaad at that time. Through that friendship, I was nominated to serve on the board, and I spent the better part of 20 years on various committees of the Vaad and ultimately became the president of the Vaad Ha’ir [in 1979.]

On his time as president of the Vaad Ha’ir
Well, when I was president, several very significant events occurred. One was a change to the allocation system. This change had a long-term impact on the Vaad. (Read about this in this column from the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin)

We also created the Community Distinguished Service Award, and the first recipient was the Chevra Kadisha in recognition of the services they have rendered over many years and continue to do. 

Shortly after I became president, Gilbert Greenberg tragically passed away. He was my predecessor and a giant in our community, as you know. The community lost an immense leader. The board immediately decided to change the award’s name to the Gilbert Greenberg Distinguished Service Award. 

The 50th anniversary of the Vaad occurred shortly thereafter. The late Hy Hochberg was another important and influential person in my leadership journey. He and I became very good friends because of the years I served alongside him. There was a 50th birthday party for me and Hy took me for a walk around our cottage. He told me that he was very sick, and unfortunately, six months later, he died. 

Those two deaths, during my active involvement with the Vaad, were traumatic, earth-shaking events for the community. It was a blow for me to lose two good friends. 

[The two leaders] had shaped wherever we were going, and we were able to build on the aspirations of men like Gilbert Greenberg and Hy Hochberg. 

During that same time, we became aware of the fact that there was a school for sale by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. I was involved in negotiating with the archdiocese for the acquisition of what was then Saint Joseph's High School, which is now the home of the Ottawa Jewish Community School building on the Jewish campus. The acquisition of that building and subsequent campus additions have deeply shaped our community.

On other community involvement
Zelaine and I have not only been involved in the Federation, but we were also chairs of State of Israel Bonds for several years. I was also chair of the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, and one of the highlights was when the Foundation reached the awesome sum of $2,000,000. Now we have a Foundation endowment that is approaching $100 million. Truly amazing!

On philanthropy and giving back to community
It begins with my family. My father was the second youngest of six or seven siblings. He became, in my view, the leader... Unfortunately, my father took ill in his early 60s, so his active community involvement was somewhat cut short. 

I'm very proud of what my children and my nieces and nephews have done for the Ottawa Jewish community. My son, Neil, hosted the Federation’s Annual Campaign opening event and he was instrumental in getting Eli Wiesel to come to Ottawa. That event was one of the largest gatherings of Ottawa Jewry, with 1,200 people who came out to see this beacon of Jewish history. I'm very, very proud of what my nephew Ian Sherman has done over the years, and of course, Jason, and his current involvement with the Generation Trust ... they all benefited from learning these values.

The Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation is significantly tied to our family. My cousin Bernie was one of the advocates of creating the Foundation. Bernie’s older brother, my cousin Izzy Shinder, who was the eldest cousin of all the Shinders and Kents was also very active in the creation of the Foundation. Izzy was at the forefront of creating the community cemetery and the cemetery in Osgoode.  I think the dedication of that cemetery was when I was president of the Vaad. I remember it was on a rainy, cold day. So, I'm proud of my family's involvement.

On his wife
Zelaine grew up being a Yiddishist. Even at a young age, she taught Yiddish to students, and there was a natural connection when I met her as we came from similar backgrounds.  Then when she came to Ottawa, my mother immediately took her under her  wing, and she became very active  in various communal organizations. Because we shared the common bond of the Jewish community, it made life easier for me to do what I was doing at that time. 

Zelaine was also a teacher. She taught nursery school at Hillel Academy for many years. Eventually, she started her own Jewish resource organization committee. She supplied teaching aids to teachers in all the schools. It was a very successful program and appreciated by the teachers.

So, I’m very proud of what she’s done and what she’s supported me to do.

On his hopes for the future
So, what do I see for the future? The challenges of Israel right now are obviously paramount and on everybody’s mind, and I think we’ve got to stand together and give strength to our brothers and sisters in Israel and fight off the antisemitism that is still rampant throughout the world. Those are the challenges that I think we're facing.
I also hope my grandchildren and my nieces and nephews, who are now very numerous, will find ways to contribute to the continuation of our people. I hope my legacy lives on through them.