The 2016 campaign for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has raised $30 million so far, organizers said at the official campaign launch.
The announcement received applause from the crowd of more than 2,200 who attended the annual event. This year’s edition, held Sept. 10 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, included a little of everything: veteran comedian Steve Martin headlining the evening, journalist and author Douglas Murray contributing Middle East analysis, and a parade of federation lay leaders exploring the meaning of it all. Julie Albert and Stephen Libin co-chaired the campaign launch.
Last year’s core campaign raised $56.1 million, Steven Shulman, campaign director and counsel at federation, said in a post-event interview, and supplemental gifts increased the total to more than $60 million. No target has been set for this year, aside from eclipsing last year’s result.
The launch coincided with the recent release of federation’s strategic plan, which adopted aggressive five-year targets for the city with North America’s third-largest federated campaign.
“We want to grow the campaign by one-third,” said Shulman, “because we feel that reflects what we have in Toronto and the role that Toronto needs to play in federation in the Jewish world.”
The increase, he said, will depend on two groups.
“It can be done by growing the number of donors and by those who are already giving gifts understanding the pivotal nature of this organization in the community” and donating commensurately.
One surprising result from preparing the plan, officials said, was the community’s lack of awareness about federation’s local contributions.
“One important fact we discovered through these consultations,” said Morris Perlis, chair of federation’s board, “was that too many people had no idea of UJA’s full width and breadth throughout our community and across Israel, and what we do on a daily basis to ensure that Jewish Toronto continues to be a leader among Diaspora communities.”
Speakers highlighted the multiple causes that benefit from UJA funds. Felicia Posluns, co-chair of the 2016 campaign, highlighted Jewish Family & Child and other social service agencies, such as Jewish Immigrant Aid Services, which helped her father and other survivors begin new lives after the Holocaust.
Shoel Silver, the second campaign co-chair, emphasized overseas efforts, including federation’s beneficiaries in Israel, such as an Ethiopian woman who will soon graduate from nursing school courtesy of a federation scholarship, and the city of Sderot, which has absorbed years of rocket attacks from nearby Gaza.
And Ruth Ekstein, chair of UJA 2016 Women’s Philanthropy, emphasized local groups that fortify Jewish identity, from Jewish day schools, to Hillel and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, to the PJ Library.
But it was comedy’s Renaissance man, the final performer, who occupied the night’s spotlight. Spurred by a question-and-answer session with sportscaster Elliotte Friedman, Martin’s trademark combination of goofiness and sophisticated one-liners delighted the audience.
At one point, while considering the comedic influence of Jews in Hollywood, he asked rhetorically: “Who’s funnier than Mel Brooks?” Friedman, playing the straight man, answered, “Nobody.” Martin’s mock offence triggered gales of laughter.
Martin’s hour-long appearance also showcased some of his non-comedic pursuits. He played the banjo for about 10 minutes and even answered two questions from the audience on the subject. He also discussed Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris and the exhibit of the Canadian’s works that he is curating. It will visit the Art Gallery of Ontario after an American tour beginning in October.
British journalist Murray’s remarks proved more sobering. The associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank, lamented that Israel has become a partisan issue in many countries.
He also worried the recent P5+1 agreement with Iran won’t thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“As part of his defence of the [agreement], [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama has claimed that in the event that Iran were to breach the agreement, mechanism will be in place that would trigger the immediate return of sanctions: a sanctions snapback,” Murray said. “But in reality, the procedures set out mean that at best, restoring sanctions would take a number of months, and there is no guarantee that this move might not meet with opposition from key international powers.”