TORONTO — Despite economic uncertainty, Toronto’s Jewish community is not abandoning those who need its help, said David Koschitzky, left, chair of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, at the organization’s annual general meeting last week.
The federation’s annual campaign is approaching $55 million, he said at the meeting, which was held at Beth Tzedec Congregation Dec. 11.
Koschitzky added an assurance that “we are closely watching our own UJA Federation expenses in the interest of financial responsibility.”
He said that plans were made for the multi-million dollar construction projects at the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan and at the site of the current Bathurst Jewish Community Centre “many years ago, before the economic downturn. By planning during the good times for what our future needs would be, we are in the fortunate position of being able to move ahead even now during the downturn.”
The projects are part of the federation’s $400-million “Tomorrow” campaign, which is separate from its annual campaign.
The second phase of the Lebovic campus is underway, Cole said. It will include a $110- to $115-million community services complex that will house a Jewish community centre, to be known as the Schwartz Reisman Centre, as well as a day treatment hospital and community offices.
“We hope we’ll begin construction in spring 2009 and complete it in 2010,” said Stephen Cole, chair of federation’s business and finance committee.
One area of increasing focus for the federation is the issue of the working poor, Koschitzky said.
The federation had revenues of $91 million for the year that ended June 30, Cole said. He noted that revenues the previous year were even higher, in part because of an Israel emergency campaign that raised more than $20 million. As well, he added, the federation received a one-time provincial government grant of $15 million.
Cole said, however, that the federation’s foundation assets, now at $213 million, declined by $8 million from the previous year, because “the markets were not generous to us.
He added that, “because of market events – the stock market, the bond market – our assets have dropped a further 12 percent to date.” However, he noted, the foundation continues to hold “a balanced portfolio,” – roughly 52 per cent in equities, 38 per cent in bonds and about 10 per cent in cash.
“We now have $94 million invested in property and equipment,” he said.
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Keynote speaker Jay Footlik, a Washington, D.C.-based former liaison to the American Jewish community for former U.S. president Bill Clinton and a senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish affairs for the John Kerry campaign in 2004, said that president-elect Barack Obama’s priority once he takes office will be getting the American economy “back on track.”
As well, Obama will focus on health care and energy issues, said Footlik, a principal in a consulting firm that specializes in homeland security, who spoke about “U.S.-Israel relations under the new administration.”
Footlik said that Israelis have been meeting “quite actively” with Obama’s team to discuss job creation and a new Israeli initiative to provide electric cars with the goal of making the country energy-independent within 15 to 20 years.
However, Footlik warned, Obama won’t have the luxury of operating within a vacuum, and will have to contend with world crises “that will demand his attention,” including a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, the issue of safely withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and “how to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
Footlik predicts that, although Obama will not be able to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “that’s not where a lot of his time and energy will go initially. It’s proven to be far more difficult than any one term or any one president can usually handle.
“He will have to show or demonstrate that he is not his predecessor, that he does care about the region.”
Obama intends to give a major address somewhere in the Islamic world to try and “reboot America’s image in the eyes of the Muslim and the Arab world,” Footlik said. Part of that will involve paying some attention to helping resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
He suggested that Obama would likely focus more on the “Syria-Israel track,” which “seems to have some life.”
Footlik, who was in Beirut over the summer, said he was surprised by “how many people were eager and anxious to establish relations with Israel.”