Federation Report: Rekindling the spirit of a remarkable street

By Michael Polowin, Chair, Jewish Federation of Ottawa

I grew up on a remarkable street. Of course, we had no idea that it was remarkable. Edgecliffe Avenue, in the Carlington area, was a solidly middle class street in the 1960s. One of its distinctions was the number of Jewish families – it was perhaps 65 per cent Jewish, in a time when that was quite unusual.

All of our shuls had members on Edgecliffe. Indeed, one of our shuls was founded by Morris Kimmel, of blessed memory. We had Holocaust survivors, teachers at Hillel Academy, a cantor, immigrant families, and long-time Canadian families. Almost all of the children on the street went to the only Jewish day school, Hillel Academy. Those that didn’t, went to supplementary school. We were community. We represented the spectrum of Ottawa’s Jewish community, our parents participated in it strongly, and that got passed down to us.

From the kids that grew up there, we count three shul presidents, and leaders of Hillel Lodge, Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS), Camp B’nai Brith, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign, two Federation chairs and one future chair. We have two recipients of the Gilbert Greenberg Award. Those kids became teachers, cantors and rabbis. We learned community values at our parents’ knees.

The community we inherited was envisioned and inspired by giants, but was built by everyone. It welcomed new people, from overseas and across Canada. It was a community that built Jewish education in Ottawa, provided services to the needy, and transmitted the values of community to the children. It is all of this that we must do, to keep our community strong as it moves further into the 21st century, and looks to the 22nd. We must rekindle the spirit of Edgecliffe Avenue.

So what can the Jewish Federation of Ottawa do to move “back to the future”? We have to transmit to our children the same values that were transmitted to us. We have to ensure that our community is a welcoming one. We have discovered in our consultations that people do not understand what Federation is and does. We have to correct that in order to strengthen community bonds. In short, Federation is the spine, the infrastructure of community. It helps make possible all that we want in community. These are captured in our new five-year strategic plan.

The Federation Board needs to be more visible, and will be. Did you know that our meeting summaries are available on our website? They are – and I encourage you to read them. Board members will be more visible, in person and electronically, across the community. If you have things to say, please tell us. We would be pleased to hear from you.

Most importantly, we need to strengthen and preserve Jewish education. To that end, we will be working with Torah Day School and OJCS to better understand the financial needs, and then to help close the gap. Endowment funding of a size never seen in our community will likely be necessary, providing stable funding without the need for yearly campaigns to keep schools going. We will be working through the summer to formulate a plan, and then we will report to you.

This is an exciting time for our community. It will take all of us to enhance its foundation for the future. And so, with apologies to John F. Kennedy, I encourage all of us to “ask not what our community can do for us, but what we can do for our community.”