Federation Report: Our responsibility to build and enhance our community

Federation Report: Get involved – it is our responsibility to preserve, build and enhance our community

By Michael Polowin

Chair – Jewish Federation of Ottawa

Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe are a time when we at once look back and forward. Our traditions of looking back include asking for forgiveness of our fellow man, and of Hashem, for wrongs committed in the past year. We visit our departed loved ones. Yet at the same time, we look forward. The formula for the request we make of Hashem at Kol Nidre is expressed in terms of the future, not the past.

New years are like that. We look forward and back, at once. Indeed, in the secular calendar, January is named for the Roman god Janus, whose two heads looked forward and back.

In the first few months of my term as chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, I have spent some real time looking back. I have had meetings with a number of our larger community agencies, to learn more about who they are and what great work they do in our community. I have learned a great deal, and the esteem in which I hold our agencies has grown as a result.

Yet I have also spent time looking forward. Over the spring, we finalized our new five-year strategic plan, which is looking forward in a significant way. We have tried to envision what will truly enhance our community over that period, and set our goals to achieve that enhancement. Truly, what our community needs is more engagement. Engagement can be at the individual level, or in larger groups.

Our community is embarking on a range of exciting initiatives that will ensure the future and make it better and better. Smaller initiatives like Jewish Jumpstart and Federation Microgrants enhance Jewish engagement at the micro level. Larger initiatives, like our largest-ever endowment to preserve and enhance Jewish education in Ottawa, will increase engagement and benefit our community for years to come.

All of this, however, is built on the foundation given us by those who have come before. Our community is a trust, given to us to hold for a time, and then passed on, stronger than how we found it, to our children and grandchildren. Our forebears, both actual and notional, were giants. They built a community from nothing, often having not much themselves. Can we, who have personally benefited from their labours, do anything less?

Community is our responsibility. We all must pitch in to help. In a time where the pressures of the outside world seem to be growing; where we are feeling the ancient wounds of antisemitism more and more, none of us can stand idly by and not get involved. Involvement can take a variety of forms. Attend community and agency events; get involved with our various agencies and Federation as a volunteer; donate your time, and yes, your money, to help others, and your community.

None of us can stand to the side waiting for community to be given to us. It is the responsibility of all of us to preserve, build and enhance. Get involved. Like getting into the water, it can be intimidating at first, and then it’s just wonderful. We have schools, shuls, camps, and social agencies that would love to have you join the effort!

Melanie, our children, and I wish you and those you love, a Shana Tova Umetukah, and Gmar Chatimah Tova.

Michael Polowin is the chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. He can be reached at chair@jewishottawa.com.