In an effort to encourage the hundreds of Jewish community groups in Toronto to use the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) as a resource, the organization launched the GTA Assembly, which invited Jewish leaders to talk about challenges they face on issues such as government and media relations, and community security.
More than 100 people representing some 75 Jewish community organizations, including day schools, synagogues and social service agencies, came together at the Lipa Green Centre June 2 to talk about “what we do, what we need to do, what they would like us to do and what their concerns are. And we heard concerns that were new to us,” said Berl Nadler, CIJA’s Toronto Council co-chair.
Nadler said the GTA Assembly, which will meet three times a year, is something CIJA has “wanted to do for a while.”
“We want to connect CIJA to our constituents to whom we provide services… We give strategic advice and advocacy solutions tailored to local conditions and consistent with CIJA’s overall advocacy priorities,” he said.
Nadler added that most people in the community are aware of CIJA’s role when it comes to Israel advocacy and fighting anti-Semitism, but few know that the agency is a resource when it comes to media and government relations.
“Let’s say you [operate] a cemetery or a synagogue and you have a zoning issue… something that would need an intercession with a local municipal government. We can help with that. We have government relations and everyone there knows people on city councils and bureaucrats, and that’s something people don’t think about when they think of CIJA.”
Nadler, who considered the inaugural meeting a huge success, said the participants were assured that CIJA could “help them in ways they never imagined.
“It was an eye-opener for all of us. For me, this was, to date, the best thing we’ve ever done, because we’ve connected ourselves directly with our grassroots constituents, the people we represent as an advocacy organization.”
JIAS Toronto executive director Janis Roth, who said she has been working with CIJA since it was founded in 2004, felt the message CIJA was putting forward “felt different.”
“It felt very open, very inclusive, and really, a message that we should consider them as a resource,” she said.
“I really liked their message about helping and considering them as a resource for government relations issues. An agency like mine, which is 67 per cent government-funded, obviously has it’s own relationship with government, but there are issues sometimes that you want some support or expertise or consultation on, and that came across really clearly.”
She said CIJA can be a benefit even to larger organizations that have adequate capacity.
“There is still some expertise and some connections that they can help facilitate,” Roth said.
Roth praised Sara Lefton, CIJA’s GTA vice-president, for her effort to reach out to community leaders, learn about the challenges they face and offer appropriate support.
She said during the meeting, Lefton committed to “identifying what added value CIJA can bring to our issues, not theirs.”
She said this initiative feels different in the sense that CIJA is committed to developing a closer relationship with Jewish community leaders.
“It felt like they get it and they want to get it, and they are listening, and they really outlined what they could be doing to succeed in that message.”
Jordan Kerbel, CIJA’s deputy director of communications and advocacy training, said he wants to spread the word in the hope more groups will take part.
“In my eight years here, I have never seen anywhere near that many Jewish organizations in the same room. This meeting really marked a new phase of CIJA in Toronto, where we’re connecting directly to these various community organizations who can also provide input into our local advocacy agenda and give us guidance on issues that the community is dealing with,” he said.