The 2018 Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) campaign raised just under $45.6 million, general chair Jonathan Ross Goodman announced at the campaign’s official closing on Nov. 14.
Last year’s campaign grossed almost $52 million, but reaching that record was helped by the attention surrounding Federation CJA’s 100th anniversary.
“Some people ask me why I put on a kippah when I enter the Federation building, as I would to pray in synagogue,” said Goodman. “I believe conducting tzedakah, making a difference for the 20 per cent of our community that lives at or below the poverty line, is equally holy.”
The mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27 and the rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel more recently marked the late days of the campaign, and the community’s solidarity with the victims found expression in support for CJA.
Tribute was paid to the 11 people murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue and bracelets with the slogan “Stronger than Hate” were distributed.
The campaign began in August, in a big tent in Hampstead Park, and in keeping with the more relaxed style, ended at the Imperial Cinema with a movie screening.
The hundreds present were treated to the first public screening anywhere of the feature film, The Red Sea Diving Resort, which will be released sometime next year.
“Inspired by true events,” this thriller is about a daring Mossad operation that resulted in the rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews over several years starting in the late 1970s. The means would be deemed foolhardy, if they were not so brilliant – and ultimately successful.
Unruly agent Ari Kidron (Chris Evans) convinces crusty Mossad boss Ethan Levin (Ben Kingsley) that the situation faced by the persecuted Jewish minority in that country is desperate and that his outlandish plan is all that can save them.
The Israeli government, under the guise of a shell European vacation company, leases a derelict hotel in Sudan, on the shore of the Red Sea, as a front for the operation. Tourists once came there to scuba dive, but the property has been abandoned because of the lawlessness in that Muslim nation, which is an enemy of Israel’s.
Kidron assembles a team of four former agents who persuade – with a lot of money – the authorities to let them re-open the resort
Despite having no hospitality experience, they welcome an ever-increasing number of tourists by day, while shielding Ethiopian Jews smuggled out of a refugee camp by night.
These beleaguered men, women and children had fled on foot from their homes in Ethiopia, across the desert into neighbouring Sudan. The movie highlights the role of Ethiopian activist Kebede Bimro (Michael K. Williams), who risked his life repeatedly until “no one was left behind.”
The refugees are evacuated by Israeli naval commandos to a ship anchored off the coast in international waters, which takes them to Israel.
Their cover is blown when the thuggish Sudanese army realizes people are gradually disappearing from the refugee camp, which is a source of income from the United Nations.
The Red Sea Diving Resort comes to a nail-biting, action-packed conclusion as the lives of the last 400 refugees in the pipeline appear to be doomed.
The mission, codenamed Operation Brothers, was followed by the better-known Operation Moses and Operation Solomon airlifts.
The film’s director and screenwriter, Gideon Raff, co-creator of the Homeland television series, and producer Aaron Gilbert, head of Vancouver-based Bron Studios, were present at the screening.
Bron Studios’ chief legal officer, Joel Guralnick, who is originally from Montreal, played a key role in landing the sneak preview for his home community.
The Federation, JIAS and other groups and individuals in Montreal were active in supporting the rescue of the Ethiopia Jews, and in the resettlement of a small community in Montreal.
The late Baruch Tegegne, who risked his life bringing his fellow Jews to Israel in the 1970s and ’80s, lived here for many years and his daughter expressed her appreciation in a video message.
Raff said he saw the potential for a movie when information about the mission was declassified a few years ago, but he thought it was unlikely that a Hollywood producer would be interested in such an Israel-focused story. Nevertheless, The Red Sea Diving Resort has been given the Hollywood treatment with the intention that it reaches a broad audience, he said.
“When I meet one of the leading doctors in Israel, who tells me his father carried him as a four-year-old on his shoulders out of Ethiopia, or artists or members of the Knesset (of Ethiopian origin), I know this is something the world should know about,” he said.