MONTREAL — Concerned that Jewish communal identity is weakening, FEDERATION CJA has launched what it hopes will become a community-wide effort to reverse that decline through educational and cultural projects aimed at children and youths.
Generation J is to be an ongoing program, backed initially by $1 million in seed money from the federation, which promises to contribute a further $678,000 per year for an indefinite period.
Federation president Marc Gold and his immediate predecessor Richard Vineberg, who is chairing Generation J, describe the program as a long-term investment.
“This initiative is imperative for the survival of the Jewish community in Montreal, and I’m not overstating that,” Gold said. “I’m concerned that in 10 years, we’ll be a community of Jews, not a Jewish community.”
However, Gold stressed that this money is being made available not as an end in itself but as a stimulus to others, whether organizations or individuals, to similarly invest in the future of the community or come up with creative ideas to make being Jewish meaningful to the young.
Generation J has already attracted about $300,000 from other sources, mainly U.S.-based foundations.
The money is to be spent, not to be used to create an endowment, although if enough funds were raised, that would be ideal, Gold said. The $1 million has come from the federation’s reserves, not from the 2007 Combined Jewish Appeal. The continuing contribution of $678,000 will come from the annual campaigns.
One group that will immediately benefit from the new money is the Jewish day schools, which will receive a total of $250,000 more per year to subsidize students who don’t pay full fees. This amount will be on top of the current $2.55 million the federation allocates to the schools for this purpose.
The new Academy for Performing Arts at the Segal Centre will also benefit. This is an arts education program for children and teens, being run in conjunction with schools.
Up to 230 children will be able to go to a Jewish summer camp thanks to the increased funding.
Another priority is more follow-up with young adults who have participated in organized trips to Israel, such as Birthright Israel and March of the Living. The federation is seeking to engage these young people in social action, Israel advocacy, Jewish culture and environmental issues.
New projects include:
• providing Jewish-content books and magazines to families with young children through such American-based programs as PJ Library and BabagaNewz;
• a moot court of Jewish Law to teach high school students concepts in Jewish law and their relevance to current issues;
• the West Island Jewish Learning Centre for Young Families, where families in that area can become familiar with Jewish holidays and Shabbat, and take parenting classes.
The federation is seeking to collaborate with its own agencies, as well as with schools, synagogues, camps and other community organizations in furthering the objectives of Generation J.
A total of $300,000 from the $1 million seed money is being made available to fund other ideas. Non-profit or community-based organizations serving the Jewish population in Quebec can apply for one-time grants of up to $30,000.
The new funding brings the total the federation is allocating in 2008-2009 to Jewish education, both formal and informal, and other projects that strengthen Jewish identity to nearly $10.8 million, Vineberg noted.
Although Montreal probably has one of the most cohesive communities in North America, according to such measures as synagogue membership, day school attendance and charitable giving, the federation does not think this community is immune from “the precipitous decline in the number of affiliated Jews and an alarming upsurge in rates of assimilation” being observed elsewhere, Gold said.
He sees this trend as an inevitable result of an open, pluralistic society and of a globalized, electronically connected world.
He said the flexible nature of Generation J is a recognition that youth today connect with their Jewishness in different ways, and that there are, in fact, multiple ways of encouraging a sense of belonging.
Gold acknowledged that some parties may think all the money should be put into the Jewish day schools, but that would not serve the objective of reaching out to those not connected to the community in this way. Not everyone would send their children to a day school, even if cost was not an issue.
“Generation J is not a passing fad; it’s a long-range commitment to change the conversation in our community about what it means to be Jewish,” Gold said.