By Hartley Stern, Federation Chair
In Dallas, recently, I visited the Texas School Book Depository, the building from where U.S. president John F. Kennedy was shot, and which is now a museum marking that tragic 1963 event.
The Americans, unfortunately, suffer from many gun-inflicted tragedies, including the recent mass murders at Parkland High School in Florida and Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, but, sadly, they seem unable to alter their laws, policies and attitudes towards guns. They are excellent, though, at honouring their heroes and the Kennedy museum is no exception. While there, I reflected on Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech, and how relevant it was to me as I contemplate the end of my term as chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
I have mixed feelings about this departure. On one hand, I lead a busy life juggling my job, with significant travel time, my time with an expanding family, and the significant commitments Federation requires. On the other hand, there are very few opportunities like chairing Federation in which, with effort, vision and a superb management team, we can make serious contributions to the health, security, durability, and well-being of the community.
The choice to live in Ottawa was not entirely our own to make. While some of you were born here and have stayed and thrived here, others, like me, moved here for work; while others moved here for love. What is remarkable is how many of you have spontaneously, or with foresight, responded to the second half of Kennedy’s admonition to “ask what you can do for your country” or, in this case, the Ottawa Jewish community.
Our community is filled with volunteers committed to enriching the lives of every Jew in the city as well as the broader community with which we interact. It is difficult to determine the number of volunteers we have, but some 450 of you attended Mitzvah Day in February, and a standing-room-only gathering of approximately 600 participated in the Pittsburgh vigil with just a few hours’ notice.
Our community is powered by hundreds of volunteers who give of their time, talent and energy. We have raised the bar dramatically for fundraising at Federation. Through your warm embrace of the Jewish Superhighway, and the generosity of three donor families and their challenge fund, we are on track to increase our Annual Campaign this past year from $4.5 million to $5.5 million! On second thought, it could have been the terrific volunteer song and dance acts at Kickoff that motivated everyone to increase their generosity!
I am stunned by the success of PJ Library with close to 700 Ottawa children receiving Jewish books each month. Our day schools and after-school and Sunday Jewish programs are enjoying greater enthusiasm, confidence and enrolments than we have had in recent years. Hillel Ottawa and the Chabad Student Network collectively fought off the BDS movement at the University of Ottawa. There are countless other volunteer successes in the community that I do not have the space to review. I simply want to point out how extraordinary the volunteers of Ottawa’s Jewish community are. I did not have to ask myself what I could do for my community. By giving me the honour of chairing Federation for the past two years, you asked the question for me, and I will be ever grateful for you doing so.