Yesterday evening we had the privilege of hearing from Mark Wilf, chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), when he joined a zoom call for our major donors led by Alex Cristall, our board chair, and Jonathon Leipsic, chair of the Federation Annual Campaign. Mark spoke about the power of the Federation system and about his own, very personal motivations for his commitment to community.
He shared with us the details of his grandmother’s harrowing escape from Poland during the Holocaust, and how it was “so extraordinary… that she didn’t allow the past to become her only story. Despite those years of hell, she never lost the ability to dream for a better future for herself, her family and her people. She never lost her sense of the Jewish mission.” He talked about how she and his grandfather dedicated themselves to reinvigorating Jewish community life, and how they never stopped helping others in need. It was truly inspiring to hear how his family has continued to be deeply committed to Jewish life multiple generations later.
Mark highlighted some of the actions JFNA has taken to respond to the impact of COVID-19. This includes establishing a coalition of major Jewish organizations to respond to the pandemic’s impact on Jewish life, and raising funds to purchase Personal Protective Equipment for smaller not-for-profit Jewish nursing homes and hospice centres. Through their security arm, the Secure Community Network (SCN), they work with local and regional experts to provide guidance to Jewish organizations as they emerge from lockdown.
In Israel, there has been an increase in new COVID-19 cases, after the reopening of schools, synagogues and shopping malls. JFNA has provided support for wayward teens and struggling olim (new immigrants) as well as aid to first responders.
Our partner, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which operates in more than 70 countries, has had to find new ways to deliver food, medication and homecare to vulnerable populations. This has included increased connections through call centres and hotlines to compensate for the lack of person-to-person interaction that is critical to lonely clients. JDC and JFNA are using their network of Jewish community volunteers for emergency communication and remote assistance for clients.
In every corner of the world, the Jewish Federation system is making an impact. The only way that is possible is thanks to the generosity of donors like you.
“No single entity is better situated to make this kind of impact,” is how Mark put it last night. He continued by remarking that “some say the model of collective giving has gone out of favour, but I beg to differ. I think that leveraging the power and impact of collective action is the best way we get things done.” We couldn’t agree more.
If you haven't been following our electronic newsletter e.Yachad, you may have missed the reporting we've done on the impact of the $505,000 in targeted emergency funding that we distributed to our partners to address needs resulting from COVID-19.
Part one focuses on impact through Jewish Family Services, food security in Richmond, and the JCC. Part two focuses on impact in the areas of supplemental Jewish education, housing support and seniors' services. As our partners report their results to us, we will continue to share them with you.
Personal stories, like the one Mark shared with us last night, reveal the heart and soul behind big projects. We have one of those for you today from the #MitzvahMask project.
#MitzvahMask is still going strong, with 500 masks delivered to the Louis Brier Home and Hospital yesterday, along with another 250 for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Beth Israel, Chabad Richmond, and the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC.
Ayelet Cohen Weil, our associate director of community engagement, helped with the deliveries and shared with us the background about a special bag of 10 masks. These masks, which were made by #MitzvahMask volunteer, Anney Soronow, were part of the delivery to Louis Brier. Anney’s husband is one of the residents at Louis Brier, and the hope was that by putting them in their own bag, he would be able to receive a mask made with much love by Anney. In a time when so many people are still separated from their loved ones, it was a really touching moment that brought to life the ways in which something as simple as a mask is really a profound act of love.
While care homes like the Louis Brier are not yet able to welcome back visitors, we are very pleased to see that our partner, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, is preparing to welcome visitors back by appointment starting on July 15th. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to view their acclaimed exhibition, Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy, please email or call them at 604-264-0499 to book in advance. Appointments are available to view the exhibition on Wednesdays between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. They will coordinate your entrance to the building with the JCC to ensure you have a safe experience.
On a final note, I was honoured to be invited onto The Discovery Pod, a podcast dedicated to conversations with leaders in the “social profit” sector. If you’d like to hear more about how we try to find precedent in unprecedented times like this, I hope you’ll have a listen and let me know what you think.
Ezra S. Shanken
Chief Executive Officer