The UJA Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto has tapped its internal talent pool in naming Morris Zbar its new president and CEO.
Zbar, 66, assumes the position on Sept. 1 when he takes over from outgoing president and CEO Ted Sokolsky, who is retiring.
Zbar expects to “hit the ground running” when he assumes his position, based on his longstanding association with Federation, which includes his most recent position as Chief Operating Officer, a job he’s held since January.
As part of that role, he examined the Federation’s administrative processes, its budget and looked at ways of increasing organizational efficiencies.
Because of his knowledge of the Federation, he is able to set priorities now, without having to spend six months familiarizing himself with the organization, he said.
He has set several priorities for the Federation, including:
• maintaining its supportive relationship with Israel,
• working with Hillel and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) to help ensure that students attending universities feel safe and comfortable in what has become a less than welcoming environment,
• addressing needs of the vulnerable in the Jewish community, including seniors, Holocaust survivors and those living in poverty,
• seeking creative solutions for issues surrounding Jewish education,
• “engaging the next generation” as well as immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Israel into the community,
• working collaboratively with the Federation’s partner agencies in the delivery of services to the Jewish community.
Zbar has held senior government positions at the provincial and federal levels in connections to corrections and criminology, including as Deputy Minister of Correctional Services for Ontario. From 2008-2013 he served as special advisor to the federal government on correctional services.
“I keep jumping between UJA and corrections,” he said. “There are organizational similarities, such as running large organizations, dealing with governance” and bridging the ground between lay leadership and professional staff.
Referring to his management style, Zbar said, “I believe in collaboration. I believe in sharing information. I believe in letting managers manage. I believe in empowering staff – they have the expertise. I believe in working in a cooperative way, taking risks” and ensuring staff benefit from professional development.
Expanding on the risk-taking aspect of his managerial style, Zbar said creative, “outside the box” solutions should be found to address the problem of poverty in the community. “We need to find different ways of dealing with it,” including “helping people get out of the poverty cycle,” he said.
In respect to Jewish education, he said the Federation “will never be able to provide the kind of funding that allows for open access. But we have to try to find a creative solution to keep costs capped” and make it as accessible as possible for the middle class and for those who receive subsidies.
Similar efforts need to be taken to ensure supplementary schools are also as accessible as possible and able to provide a quality Jewish education.
“We can’t just throw money at it. We need other solutions,” he said.
As to the land that once housed the Bathurst Jewish Centre and is now vacant, Zbar said staff are developing a business plan to make sure any construction on the site is viable, taking into consideration community demographics and the costs involved.
“It has to make sense from a business point of view,” he said.
Zbar acknowledged that at first blush, people might wonder why he would agree to take on this current position. It’s a question he was asked by his son, who “asked me why are you doing this at this stage of your life?
“I have a passion for this Jewish community,” said Zbar, who hails from Montreal but who has lived in Toronto for more than 30 years.
When the Federation board’s search committee approached him with the offer, “they felt I could be a very good fit. I am aware of all the administrative issues, I have knowledge of the community, I have a strong sense of place, of who I am and what I can bring to the table.”
The Toronto Jewish community is a “world leader” in many respects, “and I want to maintain that.”
“This place is a magnet to me. I believe in what the Federation does, with the role it plays,” he said.