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Working to alleviate poverty in the Jewish community

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MONTREAL – When it comes to alleviating poverty in the Jewish community, whether the person in that situation is Ashkenazi or Sephardi is irrelevant for Marc Kakon and Michael Goodman.

The two men are heading up this year’s gala campaign for Hessed, the charity arm of the Communauté Sépharade unifiée du Québec (CSUQ), which helps the neediest members of that community.

For Goodman, it was perfectly natural that he chaired last year’s campaign, and this year, as immediate past chair, is working hand in hand with the current chair, Marc Kakon. Kakon actually founded Hessed seven years ago, while he was CSUQ president, when the organization was beset with people who were struggling.

READ: JEWISH POVERTY INCREASING IN CANADA

Over its history, Hessed has distributed more than $1.2 million in aid. It takes the form of regular monthly support, emergency relief or donations to defray the costs of Passover or Rosh Hashanah.

The clients range from large families, sometimes headed by a single parent, to the elderly.
The gala will be held April 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Le Windsor Ballrooms. Kakon’s real estate company, Groupe MK, and the Goodman Heritage Fund, the family’s charitable fund, are the chief corporate sponsors.

The black-tie evening begins with a supper, followed by entertainment by Les Oiseaux du Paradis, an eye-popping aerial ballet, and the Gypsy musical group Les Ninos de Sara.

The honoree is Michel Bitton, owner of Buffalo Jeans Canada. The minimum donation is $1,200 per couple.

Hessed works in close co-operation with Agence Ometz, the social sevices agency of Federation CJA, in order to avoid any overlap.

Goodman stressed that Hessed fills a niche in the community not met elsewhere. Sephardim have traditionally turned to their rabbis or own immediate community when they need help, and that continues until today.

Mark Kakon, left, and Michael Goodman
Mark Kakon, left, and Michael Goodman JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO

Hessed’s clients feel more comfortable being aided by a community organization where they feel at home and not caught up in bureaucracy.

“A lot of people would not be served if it was not for Hessed,” Goodman said.

As a woman in a CSUQ promotional video says, Hessed is “like a second family to me.”
Goodman was attracted to Hessed by the warmth and understanding it extends to anyone who comes to it. No one is judged.

“They do not have to go through miles of red tape, or feel as if they should be ashamed or uncomfortable.”

Adds Kakon: “Even when the parents are working, families with six, seven, eight kids can’t make it.”

There are also those who suffer unexpected reversals of fortune, such as job loss or illness, that alter their circumstances dramatically.

The rising cost of kosher food and observing the holidays with dignity is affecting many more.

READ: AS FOOD PRICES RISE, KOSHER CONSUMERS ARE STRUGGLING

Hessed expects to help some 500 families this Passover with food and cash. It also provides counselling or other social services when necessary.

Kakon said he has been fortunate all his life. Although he was born in Morocco and immigrated here with his family, he said he has never known want and enjoyed material success from an early age.

He believes that places an onus on him and others similarly fortunate to give to those in financial straits. “I believe we have a mission from God to help others,” Kakon said.
Goodman added that his colleague has worked quietly behind the scenes his whole life in philanthropy, making an impact.

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