Making Jewish education more affordable took centre stage at the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s annual general meeting on Dec. 13.
Numerous Federation executives and board members echoed that message, saying that the cost of education is the organization’s No. 1 priority going forward. This initiative follows the success of TanenbaumCHAT lowering its tuition from $28,000 to $18,500, which resulted in an increase in enrolment of 70 per cent among Grade 9 students this year.
Adam Minsky, the Federation’s president and CEO, said that UJA will work to find ways to make elementary and middle schools more accessible for middle-income families, since the best way to sustain Jewish high schools is to ensure that the feeder schools are thriving.
Bruce Leboff, the outgoing chair of the board, reiterated the point, saying that the Federation will pursue an “affordability solution for elementary and middle school as the highest philanthropic priority.”
Incoming chair Warren Kimel, who previously served as the vice chair of the board, called the lack of accessible options for middle-income families a “crisis of affordability.” He also said that although Federation provided 2,300 subsidies in the previous year, it clearly was not enough and that many middle-class families didn’t qualify for them at all.
Treasurer Eric Cohen gave a short presentation about the Federation’s fiscal year. The annual campaign raised almost $60 million. An additional $40 million was raised through other gifts. In total, Federation’s revenues exceeded $152 million.
That money was used for its three strategic priorities: fighting poverty and improving wellbeing, fortifying Jewish identity and education, and strengthening connections with Israel and empowering global Jewish communities in need.
In its Annual Report to the Community, UJA Federation noted that there are 24,000 impoverished members of the Toronto Jewish community, including 2,250 Holocaust survivors. Over the past year, UJA Federation allocated $9 million to 11 service agencies and launched a new program to help vulnerable seniors called DoortoDoor.
In terms of strengthening Jewish identity, the Federation worked to support the Kultura Collective, a network of Jewish arts and culture organizations, which included broadening the reach of the Ashkenaz Festival.
In order to improve connections with Israel, Federation is developing partnerships between Israeli and Canadian schools, so that students can work on joint projects in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Federation also helped the community integrate 25 ShinShinim, Israeli volunteers who stay in Toronto for a year after completing high school.
To empower global Jewish communities in need, UJA Federation partnered with the American Joint Distribution Committee to provide relief and welfare for 100,000 at-risk Jewish people, including 20,000 in Moldova.
The keynote speaker at the meeting was Daniel Gordis, an American-born Israeli author of 11 books and regular commentator on Israel. Gordis began his talk by recounting the experience of American Jews learning about the Yom Kippur War and contrasting it with the way American Jews, especially young ones, responded to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014.
That conflict prompted the founding of IfNotNow, an organization whose goal is to end popular support in North America for Israel’s continued presence in the Palestinian territories. Gordis said at least part of the responsibility for the difference in attitudes falls upon the older generation allowing younger people to take Israel for granted and see it as a regular democracy, rather than the homeland of the Jewish people.
Young North American Jews “are waking up and scratching their heads and saying … ‘If the things that happen over there (in Israel) could never happen over here and should never happen over here, why is it OK for them to happen over there?’” said Gordis. “We’ve actually completely failed them. We’ve actually never engaged them in a serious conversation about the ways not in which Israel and Canada or Israel and the United States are similar, but in the ways in which they’ve intended to be very different.”