In September, Sarah Beutel became the national president of Na’amat Canada at the organization’s convention in Ottawa.
A native of Montreal, Beutel, 46, has been director of community collaboration at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa since 2009. She has lived in the national capital since attending Carleton University, where she earned a master’s degree in public administration, after graduating from McGill University. She attended Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools and Bialik High School.
She and husband Steven Morgan have four children aged 9 to 18.
The Beutel name in Montreal is synonymous with community service and philanthropy. What was it like growing up in such a family and what influence has that had on your life?
I have always been proud of my family’s legacy of community service and philanthropy. My parents [Judy and Morton], late grandparents, my late Uncle Irwin [who passed away in August] and others are a source of pride and inspiration for me. They were strong role models who taught me the value of caring for others, of tzedakah and social action, through their untiring commitment and dedication to the Jewish community in Canada and in Israel.
From a young age, I was taught the importance of standing up and taking action for what is important to you. The lesson that I took away from them was that it is not only important to count oneself as part of the Jewish community, it’s also incumbent upon each one of us to actively help shape the community and take part in activities that help bolster Jewish life if we want to ensure a Jewish future for our children.
Na’amat Canada is probably not well known to younger generations. Historically, it was associated with Labour Zionism and originally called Pioneer Women. What is its relevance today, in this country, to women your age and younger?
Na’amat Israel (sister organization of Na’amat Canada) is one of the most important and relevant organizations in Israel today, working to improve the status of women and their families. Na’amat programs and service offerings span the State of Israel and provide support to hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and all walks of life. Na’amat is also a strong force for social change, as it actively promotes women’s and other important issues through the legal and political systems in Israel.
Na’amat Canada continues to be active, and has many longtime, as well as new members and supporters, across the country, who believe strongly in Na’amat’s mission and values. This is despite the fact that the world is rapidly changing around us, and it has been challenging for Jewish membership organizations such as ours to adapt. It is true that it’s harder to get the message out to the younger generation today, as there are so many other charities, causes and activities competing for their attention. To meet these challenges, Na’amat Canada is focused on looking ahead at ways in which we can inspire the next generation of women, and ensure that Na’amat Canada continues to be a strong organization.
We have had some great successes in attracting women with young families looking for meaningful ways to become involved in their Jewish communities and for ways to support Israel. We seek to build on these successes.
How long have you been associated with Na’amat and what attracted you to the organization, besides family tradition?
I have been an active member of Na’amat Canada for around 18 years. While I grew up with Na’amat – my mother was the Na’amat Montreal executive director for 30 years – my own personal connection to the organization started when I moved to Ottawa and was newly married. At that point, Na’amat Ottawa was starting up a new chapter, and I was looking for ways to get involved in my new Jewish community.
What attracted to me to Na’amat, and continues to be an inspiration every single day, is the important mission and values of the organization. Na’amat seeks to care for, to strengthen, empower and assist women in so many ways in Israel, and in our own communities as well. It is women helping women, Jewish people helping to strengthen the Jewish state and our local communities, and a network of women from countries all over the world bound together in this important mission.
How has Na’amat changed over the years, in terms of its mission and activities? How successful has Na’amat been in attracting a new generation? Does it vary across Canada?
Na’amat’s mission and values have not changed over its 90 years in Canada. What has changed is the way in which we have gone about achieving our mission. The types of activities and fundraisers have changed with the times. The ways we communicate with each other across the country and within the international movement have also evolved along with new technologies.
As I mentioned before, attracting the next generation of Na’amat members is one of our top priorities. While we have new clubs of young women such as in Toronto, this is definitely one of the challenges facing our organization as we look across the country and ahead to the future. The large number of Jewish and non-Jewish organizations vying for the next generation’s attention, talents and dollars is staggering. However, building on Na’amat’s many strengths, we are working to attract younger members to our organization and to support our cause.
How have you managed to balance your family, professional and communal lives?
This balance is definitely hard to achieve, and it’s a work in progress. It is a good thing that I like to be busy! It is also a good thing that I inherited the “highly organized” gene! I like to make time for things that are important to me, and I know that life is short, and I try to get it all in while I can. I am fortunate to have a supportive husband and family. This has allowed me to balance full-time work, family life and volunteer roles.
What does directing “community collaboration” entail? Is this a recently created position and why was it necessary considering that Ottawa is a small Jewish community?
In my professional life, I am fortunate to work for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. My main role is to manage several of the federation’s local and Israel programs. A lot of the programs and activities of the federation are done through working together with other local Jewish organizations to strengthen the Jewish community. This is not a new position, although the title itself is newly minted! Despite its relatively small size, the Jewish community of Ottawa has a large number of Jewish organizations, and by working together, we can all achieve so much more.