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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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Like father, like daughter, at Federation CJA

Susan Laxer succeeds David Cape as president of Federation CJA for 2013-2015.

MONTREAL — Susan Laxer has become the first daughter to follow in her father’s footsteps as president of Federation CJA.

Laxer, a longtime volunteer, was officially installed at the federation’s 96th annual general meeting on Sept. 30.

Her father, Carl Laxer, was president of the federation’s forerunner, Allied Jewish Community Services, from 1985 to 1987. He and Betty Laxer were present to see their daughter succeed David Cape, who completed the two-year term.

She is also one of the few women to have held the top volunteer position at the federation.

Laxer, a chartered accountant by profession, credited her parents with instilling in her the importance of serving the community and the values of charity and justice. They have been models for volunteerism, philanthropy and leadership, she said.

A recurring theme throughout the meeting was that the federation is changing, with the aim of becoming more efficient: in the way it governs itself, the way it raises funds and the way it decides how to allocate that money.

The federation is going to be “right sized” over the next two years, Laxer said. It will be taking a more “business-like approach in determining what the needs are and what we really can afford,” she said.

Relations with donors will become year-round, rather than only during the annual Combined Jewish Appeal campaign. Other options for giving will be offered to “align donors’ dreams with the strategic goals” of the federation.

Among the top priorities is continued support for programs that reinforce Jewish identity among the young, “recognizing that the one-size-fits-all approach” is not adequate for a community that’s increasingly diverse, Laxer said.

Federation chief executive officer Deborah Corber elaborated on these points. Donors will have more opportunities for designating where they want their money to go and for “planned giving” outside the annual campaign, in association with the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal.

One successful example has been the establishment of the Generations Fund, an endowment fund with assets now of $65 million, which supports activities aimed at ensuring a Jewish future in Montreal, such as Jewish education.

“In the next three to five years, we expect to get the model right,” Corber said of this “new kind of conversation with donors.”

There will also be “a different way of doing business” with the federation’s agencies, she said. Allocations will not automatically be based on the previous year; agencies will have to be accountable and show results.

Across the federation, everything is being examined to see where savings can be made, Corber said, describing a “culture of ongoing evaluation.

“We’re running the federation more like a business. We will save everywhere we can without compromising our core values… We will assess our effectiveness in everything we do and everything we fund… Donors expect this,” she said.

To streamline its administration, the board of directors and executive committee have been folded into a single governing board.

In his outgoing address, Cape suggested the federation, which has a tradition of strong lay leadership, give its senior professionals more sway in daily operations. “The job of the president is not to run the federation, but to see that the federation is well run,” he said.

The federation is in good financial shape, treasurer Kathy Lempert reported, with $96.8 million in total assets and $47.9 million in annual revenue. A surplus of over $2 million was realized during the last fiscal year.

The federation’s highest award for leadership, the Samuel Bronfman Medal, was presented to veteran volunteer and philanthropist Rosalind Goodman.

She has been involved in a myriad of causes, from support for Israeli universities to the federation’s Women’s Philanthropy to cancer research and public education, over the decades.

Goodman noted that she is the 11th woman among the 49 laureates of the medal since its creation in 1971, and she named all of them and said she was proud to have known 10 of them.

Goodman, who described herself as from “the last generation of stay-at-home moms,” paid tribute to her three main mentors in community work: the late Milly Lande, who gave her confidence when she was a young woman, and later on, Dodo Heppner and Sheila Kussner.

She also recalled her mother, Winnipeg native Edith Donner Drucker, setting an early example for her. After World War II, her mother, a Hadassah-WIZO member, adopted a Holocaust survivor family, helping them to get re-established.

Goodman remembers going along with her mother across town on the streetcar to see them.

She also thanked her husband, Morris, for his unwavering support and especially his wise counsel to “take the job seriously, not yourself.”

As a mother and grandmother, Goodman advised: “It’s more important to leave your values to your family than your valuables.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the federation’s former executive vice-president, Danyael Cantor, who worked there in different posts from 1987 to 2012, and has had a 36-year career in the Jewish community. He currently works in development at the Jewish General Hospital Foundation.

Evan Feldman, general chair of the 2012 CJA, was named the federation’s first vice-president. Traditionally, those in that post then become president.

This year’s campaign chair, Jeff Segel, reported that more than $26 million had been raised to date, including one-time gifts, a better showing than at this point in the 2012 campaign. Another $12.5 million is sought before the drive winds up in November, he added.

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