TORONTO — The new shaliach for the Jewish National Fund of Canada, Yossi Milstein, said he’s eager to build relationships with Canadian donors who want their contributions to benefit meaningful projects.
“My job is to liaise between Canadian donors and worthwhile projects in Israel and to make sure that the hard-earned money that people donate is put to good use,” said the 60-year-old Milstein, who arrived in Toronto last month from Israel for a two-year term with JNF Canada.
Milstein is a second-generation emissary, born in Israel, but raised in a number of cities worldwide, as his father, Shraga Milstein, served as a Jewish Agency shaliach.
“I spent many years outside of Israel. I went to kindergarten in London,” he said, adding that he also spent part of his teen years studying at Montreal’s Herzliah High School.
Now, he’s hoping to call on some of his high school buddies to help him get acquainted with Toronto’s Jewish community.
“It takes time to get to know the people, and a place, and two years is a very short time for that… I have some high school friends who used to live in Montreal and now live in Toronto… I’m being helped to blend in quicker,” he said.
Although working with JNF is new to Milstein, he has decades of experience in business, economics and fundraising.
In 1979, after obtaining a business degree from the New York Institute of Technology, Milstein returned to Israel, where he served the Tel Aviv municipality as an economist in the budget department, as a manager of the lands department, and as chief aide to the mayor.
“Because I knew well the mayor and the Tel Aviv Foundation – which collects money from all around the world for projects in Tel Aviv – [the Jewish Agency] asked me to help them in England.”
In 1984, Milstein joined the Jewish Agency’s aliyah department in London. That year, he also established and directed the London-based Tel Aviv Foundation, which he ran for 10 years.
Today, Milstein’s focus is on raising funds and awareness about an organization that he believes has an “understated” image.
“JNF is the definition of Zionism today. People know about the blue box and planting trees, but they don’t really know what JNF does. The have a budget of almost 1 billion shekels a year,” he said.
“In the last few years, JNF took on a few more projects. One is water. You know that Israel has very serious water problems. What JNF is doing is funding, especially in the south, water reservoirs and clever ways of collecting water.”
He explained that JNF has developed a new way to capture and make use of winter floodwaters from the Arava River to compensate for the water lost to the heat in the summer months.
He also talked about JNF’s ambition to develop settlements in the Negev, by building on the local economy and the transportation infrastructure.
“Today, [JNF is] not just about planting trees. There is a very wide variety of projects that someone interested in donating to a project can find anything they desire. It’s just a question of bridging the gap and matching the person to the project,” Milstein said.
“I want to help donors and serve as their adviser to make sure their money goes to good use. A lot of the funds raised for Israel today, only a small portion reaches Israel… JNF prides itself on the fact that 100 per cent of the money goes to Israel.”