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Combined Jewish Appeal seeks more donors

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Joel Segal and Gilda Shahin-Abdulezer head up this year's Combined Jewish Appeal campaign.

Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) is aiming to boost its donors to 18,000 by 2018.

The number of people giving to the annual campaign has been hovering around 16,000 in recent years, a very respectable figure for a community of about 90,000, but well below the 22,000 of a decade ago.

The 2016 CJA campaign, which was officially launched Aug. 24, has begun by asking each of its hundreds of canvassers to secure 18 new donations.

Leading the campaign team are general chair Joel Segal and Women’s Philanthropy chair Gilda Shahin-Abdulezer.

Their message is that giving to CJA is, as Segal puts it, “the best bang for the buck.” The Montreal appeal, like those run by federations throughout North America, is competing with a proliferation of charitable causes, and still rebuilding after the global financial crisis.

Each new donation and all increases over a 2015 donation will be matched dollar for dollar by the Segal family, up to $1 million.

Donating to CJA may not have the glamour of, say, having one’s name on a university building, but it will benefit the most vulnerable in the community and connect Jews to their community thereby making a long-term impact, the chairs say.

“CJA represents our Jewish collective responsibility” is what they want to get across.

Their point is that Federation CJA is in the best position to identify the community’s most pressing needs and has the expertise to address them, due to its network of affiliated agencies and other organizations, as well as its national and international partners.

The federation’s 2016-2017 allocations totalled $31.2 million: 87 per cent of that is being spent locally (including contributions to national Jewish organizations) and the rest goes to Israel or elsewhere overseas.

The 2016 campaign launch was held at the Monument National, a heritage site on St. Laurent Boulevard that has historic significance for the community, because it was where Canadian Jewish Congress was founded in 1919. Originally the headquarters of the St. Jean Baptiste Society, the building was also home to Yiddish theatre for many years.

The guest entertainer was Jewish American reggae and alternative rock singer Matisyahu.

Segal is continuing in a family tradition of philanthropy that his father Alvin continues to exemplify. The younger Segal recalled that, back in the 1950s, when his dad started working on the factory floor at Peerless, now the leading men’s tailored clothing manufacturer in North America, CJA canvassers tracked him down and reminded him of the custom of handing over one’s first paycheque to the campaign.

Segal, who manages Peerless’ investments, said CJA is dealing with the reality that many of its longtime donors have moved or passed away.

“It’s never easy. People have plenty of other choices to give their money to. But this community has a rich history – this is the 99th campaign – and is very strong and proud… If you want to support the Jewish community here and elsewhere, this [CJA] is the smartest way to do it.”

Shahin-Abdulezer, an events planner by profession who has been involved with the federation for four years, said she feels humbled to be following in the footsteps of so many dedicated women.

She is a member of the Iraqi community, and hopes that connection will enable her to explain what the federation does to those who perhaps are not so plugged in, including younger people.

“Giving to CJA is about more than money,” she said. “We need your time and experience as well.”

Shahin-Abdulezer only fully came to appreciate the good the Montreal federation does, especially in Israel, when she joined the 2014 Montreal Mega Mission.

On Segal and Shahin-Abdulezer’s team are division chairs Ariel Sabbah (Sépharade), Marc Kimmel (Network), Doug Liberman (West Island), Joshua Hasen (YAD), and Jeremy Levy (YAD FedNext).

The campaign will close on Nov. 21 with an event at the Palais des congrès featuring Jay Leno.