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Community security stressed at 2019 CJA launch

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A member of the Israeli musical group Koolu-lam leads the audience in a giant singalong at the 102nd Combined Jewish Appeal campaign kickoff at Arsenal in Montreal on Aug. 22. (Janice Arnold photo)

An undercurrent of anxiety ran beneath the exuberant kickoff of the 102nd Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) campaign in Montreal on Aug. 22.

With anti-Semitism rising around the world, Federation CJA president David Amiel warned that the Montreal community “must take a vigilant, pro-active approach” to its security.

“We cannot, and will not, ignore the harsh reality we face.… But our response is hope, not despair.”

Amiel urged people to give an extra donation this year, to go toward the Federation’s revamped community-wide security plan. As previously announced, in addition to the general campaign, $10 million is being sought to upgrade the security infrastructure and protocols at synagogues, schools and other buildings. Thirty-one institutions are part of the Federation’s new Community Security Network.

Amiel said the plan is being developed with “a leading global security firm” and a “third-party security firm” is being trained to implement it.

More than 1,000 people filled Arsenal in Griffintown, a cavernous former shipyard that is now a trendy contemporary art space.

“Now, more than ever, we must all come together to ensure a strong, vibrant and safe community for our children and our children’s children,” said Marc Kakon, CJA’s general campaign chair. The theme of the campaign is “securing our future,” which encompasses the community’s physical safety, preservation of a strong Jewish identity and support for those in financial need, including those coping with such problems as abuse or addiction, or living with a disability, said Women’s Philanthropy campaign chair Ruth Bensimon Choueke.

Twenty per cent of Montreal Jews still live below the poverty line, she said, and more than half of Jewish day school students now receive tuition assistance.

Each campaign team member offered their feelings on what a secure future means to them. Most striking were the words of Laura Sonego Assor, chair of the GenMTL campaign for young adults.

The mother of three young children with another on the way said she wants them “to grow up feeling safe and comfortable being Jewish” in Montreal.

The other campaign chairs are: Michael Dadoun, Sepharade Philanthropy; Mark Brender, the Network; Steven Sitcoff, West Island; and Gillian Gornitsky, GenMTL NXT.

Kakon said he is also relying on over 500 canvassers and other volunteers.

READ: FEDERATION CJA SEEKS $10M FOR NEW SECURITY PLAN

Mitch Garber was introduced as the general chair of the 2020 campaign and Samantha Mintz Vineberg as the Women’s Philanthropy chair.

As is customary, no goal was announced for this year’s campaign, which concludes in November.

The 2018 campaign, led by Jonathan Goodman, raised more than $44.6 million. This was comprised of $36.1 million from the base campaign, plus $2.4 million in one-time “free gifts” and $6.1 million in one-time donations designated for local and Israel-based projects.

Including other sources of revenue for the Federation, the total available for allocation in 2019-20 was $55 million.

Almost $32 million was spent locally under the broad categories of “caring for the vulnerable” and “strengthening Jewish life and continuity.”

About $6.1 million was directed to national organizations, principally the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Jewish Federations Canada-UIA, with approximately $3.8 million destined for Israel and Jews in need in other countries.

As the Federation’s 2019 Impact Report states, “While we continue to support Jews in need in Israel, our relationship has also evolved over time, moving beyond that of donor-recipient to one of mutual growth and strengthening of Jewish identity.”

For the 10th consecutive year, corporate sponsorships of over $1 million are defraying campaign costs, enabling approximately 90 cents of every dollar raised to go to the intended cause.

The evening’s entertainment opened with an excerpt from the original Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre musical, A Century Songbook, which was commissioned by the Federation for its 100th anniversary in 2017 and remounted this spring at the Segal Centre.

Once the formalities were over, the crowd joined in one big singalong led by the Israeli group Koolulam, which for the past couple of years has been bringing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of diverse Israelis together to sing about peace. These mass gatherings are filmed and shared on social media, as was the Montreal event.

Koolulam conducted a harmonized version of “One Day,” a popular song by Matisyahu, which speaks of praying for a time when there is no more violence and hate.

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