TORONTO — The Jewish community is compelled by Torah values to forge links with other ethnic groups, Rabbi Baruch Frydman Kohl told a recent conference hosted by JVS Toronto.
The day-long event, titled Building Bridges, showcased the cross-cultural initiatives of organizations with ethnic roots.
Glenys Lindenberg, vice-chair of the agency’s board of directors, said the aim of the conference was to respond to the emerging needs of the broader community through collaboration with others, “and [to build] on our success in meeting the needs of the Jewish community.”
The Jan. 31 conference, held at the Toronto Reference Library, heard a keynote address by Rabbi Frydman-Kohl, senior rabbi at Beth Tzedec Congregation, as well as a panel discussion with community leaders.
Also at the conference, the first Building Bridges Innovation Award was presented to Mazon Canada for demonstrating leadership and innovation in building bridges with other communities.
Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said that Judaism has something precious to offer others, “and we have the obligation to carry that forward. [At the same time] we also benefit from the commonweal.”
He said the Jewish community needs to build a broad bridge, “which is anchored in values that define our essence.”
Community groups all share the same concerns about family, medical care, jobs, shelter, and care of the elderly, “just to name a few,” he said. “We may differ in how we approach education and prayer, but we should respect the dignity of difference. The Torah tradition has core values that mandate us to build bridges to sustain others.”
At the same time, the rabbi said, we have to maintain the Jewishness of our own agencies. “A high percentage of our funding now comes from government [sources], but we have to challenge the agencies to strengthen their Jewish core. Staff and rabbis should celebrate together, and they should respect Shabbat and kashrut, and develop programs for students of Jewish day schools.”
The challenge, he said, “is to balance our concern for creative Jewish continuation, and for the participation in the world around us. We need boundaries, and we must build bridges.”
Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services, said his agency’s historical roots lie in the Italian community.
“We have maintained services that are specific to those religious and cultural needs, but we have evolved into a multicultural agency,” he said.
“When we looked for extra resources, we had to open our doors to other communities. We needed to balance the relationship between our [historical roots and the needs of others.]”
For multiple identities to work, he said, “we have to nurture them respectively. The name COSTI is vague enough to include everyone, but it remains a recognized brand for Italians.”
Mark Gryfe, who has held senior professional positions at four organizations, including Baycrest and Mount Sinai Hospital and who now heads Gryfe Philanthropic Solutions, said that each organization must determine when to reach out and build bridges.
“If the organization is considering it, it has to ask ‘Why?’ Is it to share knowledge, or to access resources. It needs to evaluate where the organization is in its evolution,” Gryfe said.
“Building bridges is undoubtedly a good thing, but if the reasons are not clear, it could run risks. [Organizations] should never lose sight of the things that are important. They need to build bridges, and have their boundaries respected.”