Bernie Farber, former CEO of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, is returning to Jewish communal advocacy on a voluntary basis as the new chair of Toronto-based Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee.
He replaces outgoing chair Henry Greisman.
Ve’ahavta founder, president and executive director Avrum Rosensweig said the appointment of Farber just “made sense.”
He was voted in as new chair at the organization’s annual general meeting in April.
“Bernie has shown interest in Ve’ahavta for many years. Over time, the organization and Bernie moved closer together, and at some point it seemed natural for him to step into a position of leadership,” said Rosensweig, who is also a CJN columnist. “His style and approach to humanitarian work are very similar to Ve’ahavta’s.”
Outside his volunteer work, since leaving Congress in 2011 – when it was amalgamated into the new Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – Farber ran as a provincial Liberal candidate in Thornhill, and, in 2012, he accepted a job working with First Nations as senior vice-president of government and external relations with Gemini Power Corp., a hydroelectric developer.
Speaking to The CJN last week, Farber said he was excited by the opportunity to return to an official role within the Jewish community – “albeit a voluntary one,” he said – and to use his experience to help Ve’ahavta enhance its brand and focus more on advocacy.
“I wanted to find an organization that meshed with my view of the world… and does work that brings meaning. And I couldn’t think of a better fit than Ve’ahavta. It does work that virtually no other Jewish organization does [and] is the epitome of what tikkun olam should mean to us as Jews,” he said.
Asked what his vision is for Ve’ahavta, Farber said while the organization’s focus will remain on helping the poor and homeless, he hopes to make the 15-year-old agency more of a household name.
“I want to raise its profile. I want people to better know us. Ve’ahavta is well-known among the groups it helps and the agencies it works closely with, but I don’t know if it’s familiar outside of that limited sphere,” he said.
Over his career, he said, he’s always been able to use media effectively “to move good ideas forward.” In doing so, his hope is to attract new members and new donors to the organization.
Ve’ahavta has done a lot of good work “for those who really do not have a voice” such as the homeless and the poor, Farber said.
“One of the things I want Ve’ahavta to become is an advocate” for those segments of society, he said.
“I want to be able to create an advocacy voice that comes from a Jewish perspective. I believe that governments respect the history of [the Jewish] people and what we’ve been through. We have a keen understanding of being the stranger and what that means.”
Farber said he believes the non-profit agency has the potential to play a “very important” role in advocating on behalf of the disadvantaged, many of whom are refugees and immigrants.
That means the work he hopes to do with Ve’ahavta could cross over into political advocacy from time to time.
“Working with immigrant communities… more and more, we are losing the cachet we had as a country as being an open door for those who have been stateless and discriminated against,” he said.
“I think that by virtue of the fact that we are going to be advocates for the poor and those that don’t have a voice, some of that advocacy is going to spill into working with refugee groups.”