Our Volunteer Leaders: Meet Karen James

Our volunteer leaders make Jewish Federation the vital resource it is. Our governance process, our fundraising efforts, events and projects – they’re all brought to life with the help of community members who dedicate their valuable time to the cause. 

Our volunteer leaders are at the heart of our organization and we would like to acknowledge the countless hours and expertise they contribute to the bettering of our community both locally and abroad.

Meet Karen James, immediate past chair of the board of directors of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and serves on the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Karen has a long history of service in the Jewish community, including having served terms as Jewish Federation’s chair of Women’s Philanthropy, chair of Financial Resource Development, and chair of the Israel and Overseas Affairs Committee.

Karen competed as a swimmer in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and the 1965 Maccabbiah Games, and won medals at the 1971 Pan America Games and the 1972 Commonwealth Games.

  1. Talk about the importance of women taking leadership roles in our community?
    It has been a long process for women!I wish we could just talk about leadership. Women bring different perspectives and that’s valuable.That being said it is encouraging to see more women stepping up – like Diane Switzer, past Board chair and now Foundation chair, Candace Kwinter our board vice chair and Lana Marks Pulver as campaign chair and before her (12 years ago) Judi Korbin, who later served as chair of the Foundation of the board of governors. I hope all leadership figures will inspire others to step up, get involved and take leadership positions.
  2. What inspired you to get involved with Jewish Federation?
    I did a mission with Jewish Federation to Israel in 2007 and it was that trip that really opened my eyes. We were there for Yom Ha Zikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut and that experience was profound for me. The emotions I felt when we heard from families on Yom Ha Zikaron, the loss and what it’s taken to get Israel to that point. And then seeing the flag raised - going right into celebration, that touched me.

    A number of us who came back from that mission said we wanted to get involved. For me, that trip opened the gate to getting involved with the Jewish Community, to giving back and reconnecting.

    I was asked to come on the campaign team as vice chair for Community Affairs. That was a great role for me because it got me in front of and opened my eyes to all the different agencies that Federation touches.

    I’ve always been grateful that I have the time and resources to be able to give back to my community. It’s important to me to be a part of the community.  
  3. Why is important to engage members in emerging Jewish communities. What was it like for you raising your kids in White Rock, South Surrey.
    It is hard to be connected to the overall Jewish community when you live in the suburbs or regional communities.There was no Jewish community in the White Rock South Surrey area when my kids were growing up. But sometime in the mid ‘90s there were a few people who were wanting to pull a community together out there. I received a phone call from someone saying they heard I was Jewish and did I want to get involved? I said yes! My kids were in their teens then but we did go to community seders.

    If we want to keep the next generation connected to Judaism it’s really important to have outreach to adults, parents and their children, offering what they feel would be best to connect to – Shabbat services, after school Hebrew classes, community Shabbat dinners, whatever meets that communities needs.
  4. You’re on the board of Jewish Agency for Israel and the past chair of Israel and Global engagement – Talk about your passion for Israel?
    I really feel that we are one Jewish family and making that connection, whether you are Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, for people with Israel and Jews around the world is important. What happens there, like with the Lag B’Omer tragedy, everyone was Chasidic but we all care. It still matters to all of us as Jews. 

    In 1965, at the age of 12 I went to Israel to swim in the Maccabiah Games. Not only did I experience Israel but I met Jews from all around the world. It was exhilarating! And it was then when I met my family there for the first time - my grandfather’s sister and her children and grandchildren. One cousin was my age and we are friends and stay in touch to this day.

    In 1972 at the Munich Olympic Games I swam for Canada. I also witnessed the tragedy there where 11 Israeli Olympic team members were killed. That too touched me deeply.

    And so, I have always felt connected to Israel.