Too often, we take what we have for granted, whether it be our health, jobs, spouses, children, grandchildren or even our safety, or use of basic technologies, like making a telephone call or using the Internet.
I remember well the words of a ’60s folk song called You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Until You Lose It). This axiom applies to all the above, and also to certain critical community institutions. Our various levels of government, regardless of their imperfections, are central to our way of life. And for this country’s Jewish communities, that critical organization, which is usually taken for granted, is the local Jewish federation. I have experienced this lack of awareness through my involvement with Toronto’s federation, but the theory applies equally to most other Jewish communities in Canada.
UJA Federation is often criticized: it doesn’t do enough to reduce the cost of living a Jewish lifestyle; it doesn’t do enough for the poor; it is losing the battle to keep the next generation Jewish; it’s not paying enough attention to students on campus; it’s not sufficiently supportive of Israel. Much of the criticism is well meaning, and some of it is valid: UJA Federation does so much that it would be impossible to satisfy everyone, and like most large institutions, it is imperfect, as we humans tend to be.
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto raises about $58 million per year to support the community in areas of poverty relief, Jewish identity, working with new immigrants and emerging communities, supporting Jewish culture, bringing Israel and Toronto closer together, advocating for our community and for Israel, investing in full- and part-time Jewish education and investing directly in Israel. It also raises significant amounts of money to build the physical infrastructure required to support all that it does – infrastructure that is second to none.
But we have a problem. UJA Federation has a strategic plan and the expertise and reach to respond to our community’s challenges. But the community does not provide it with sufficient funds to meet all of the requirements of that plan. While there are many who are generous with their time and money, there are many others who take UJA Federation for granted and either give nominally relative to their wealth, or don’t give at all, thereby taking advantage of the largesse of others. Fifty-eight-million dollars is a lot of money, but it is not enough to meet the needs of the 200,000 members of the Jewish community in the Greater Toronto Area, and is a small fraction of the wealth available to support what could, and should, be done.
This community would not be what it is without the presence of a central organization that is responsible for the community’s welfare. There is only one broad-based organization that serves each Jewish community and that is UJA Federation. When push comes to shove, when crisis hits or mobilization is required, UJA Federation is there. When Israel is threatened, politically or otherwise, UJA Federation organizes a community response. When multiple agencies need to work together, UJA Federation makes that happen. UJA Federation is unique in its capacity to respond to community needs. It is no coincidence that Toronto has one of the strongest Jewish communities in the world, and one of the strongest federations.
UJA Federation belongs to all of us. It is also the responsibility of all of us. If you are a donor, thank you on behalf of the community, but are you giving enough? If you are not a donor, perhaps you should become one. Community does not happen by accident and should not be taken for granted.
UJA Federation does a great deal, but more investment is needed to do what can and should be done. As we continue to struggle with internalizing and understanding the passing of two of the foundational pillars of our community, Barry and Honey Sherman, there is an even greater need to stand up and be counted.