Around 3,200 people packed the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in downtown Toronto on Sept. 6 for the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s 2018 campaign launch.
Senator Linda Frum, a co-chair of the campaign along with Elan Pratzer, said the Federation has raised a record amount of money so far – $29 million.
The star of the evening was comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who brought the house down multiple times during his set and received an almost immediate standing ovation when he finished.
He drew some of the biggest laughs from the audience when he referred to family vacations as “spending a lot of money to fight in a hotel,” and when he said that the word “golf” could only stand for one thing: “get out, leave family.” Seinfeld also joked about the laggardly marketing team behind Sun-Maid raisins and his favourite TV show – the Flex Seal infomercial.
Patrick Erlich, the Federation’s senior director of communications, believes Seinfeld helped draw the evening’s record-setting crowd. But that’s not the only reason they came.
“I think the community, our donors and our sponsors understand our collective impact in achieving our mandate, which is to improve the quality of Jewish life here in Toronto, in Israel and around the world. So I think when you combine that with Seinfeld, you get what you had last night: a wonderful event with the community coming together,” Erlich said.
Before Seinfeld took the stage, there were a number of speakers and a few videos. First up was guest speaker Emily Martell, a student in Grade 12 at TanbenbaumCHAT. She spoke about how Jewish education was important to her, especially after spending time in public school, and how the recent Jewish education affordability initiative that’s being spearheaded by UJA allowed her and other students to attend the school. Around 300 Grade 9 students entered CHAT this year, compared to around 190 last year, she said.
Next up was Aryella Weisz, the chair of UJA Women’s Philanthropy, and following that was a video from the Bernard Betel Centre, a non-profit community centre that offers services for older members of the community. Those represented just a few of the programs and services that UJA helps support, said Erlich.
“Programs that help fight poverty, care for the vulnerable, create affordability around Jewish education, provide Jewish identity experiences that help foster a love for Jewish life.”
Erlich added that the money also supports seniors and Holocaust survivors, struggling communities in Israel and advocacy for Canadian Jews.
He said that at this point in the campaign last year, Federation had raised around $23 million, and ended their campaign with around $58 million. He can’t predict how much it end up with this time around, but is optimistic about the fundraising potential.
“We’re not going to get there by basking in what was an amazing event. It’s now time to redouble our efforts, make sure that we’re reaching the community, continuing to talk to donors and ensuring that they understand that the need continues to be great and that there are a lot of challenges that we still need to address, and the only way we can do that is by working together,” he said.