This message contains a few more words than usual, but won’t take too long to read.
This week marks five years since my start as CEO, so we’ve pulled some of the highlights from the Board Chair and CEO Messages that have opened our annual reports.
We would like to start by acknowledging Mark Gurvis, our CEO for more than a decade, and Richard Fruchter, who was Interim CEO before I started. Together with our volunteer leadership, the senior management team, and the CEOs who served before them, they laid the groundwork for a strong and stable Jewish Federation.
We would like to thank everyone who served in a volunteer leadership role, and in particular those who served as Board chairs, Annual Campaign chairs, Women’s Philanthropy chairs, Israel and Overseas Affairs Committee (IOAC) chairs, chairs of the Planning Committee, chairs of the Local Allocations Committee, and chairs of the Jewish Community Foundation’s Board of Governors: Diane Switzer, Stephen Gaerber, Karen James, Harvey Dales, Neil Pollock, Alex Cristall, Jonathon Leipsic, Judith Cohen, Lisa Pullan, Megan Laskin, Candace Kwinter, Jill Diamond, Eric Bulmash, Penny Gurstein, Bob Pekeles, David Albert, Ron Rozen, and Judi Korbin. They have taken our organization from strength to strength, and led our fundraising efforts to record heights.
They have an experienced professional staff to work with, currently led by Shelley Rivkin, Marcie Flom, Becky Saegert, If’at Eilon Heiber and Tamara Signer. Kol hakavod to each of them and all of the Jewish Federation staff for playing key roles in getting us to where we are today. We never take these journeys alone and that is why my respect for this professional team is boundless.
Add to that our generous donors and fund holders, and committed partners, and it’s no surprise we’ve accomplished so much together.
Looking back to 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge just a month after I started. We launched a relief fund, worked with our partners to address security needs across the community, and I accompanied our leadership on my first mission to Israel as CEO.
A quick digression: someone recently asked if we cover the travel cost of these missions for our volunteer leadership – we do not. Our leadership not only devote their time, talents and tzedakah to strengthening our organization and our community, they cover their own expenses when their roles involve travel. Often, that means multiple international trips each year. The extent of their commitment cannot be overstated nor praised highly enough.
That fall, we began the visioning process that led to the creation of our 2020 Strategic Priorities, which have since guided our work.
Our young adult program, Axis was going strong and by 2015 we had 40 alumni of our Leadership Lab program. When BDS reared its ugly head at UBC, students defeated the motion, thanks in large part to the leadership of the UBC Hillel students and staff.
When we launched our 2020 Strategic Priorities, two areas of importance were front and centre: security and education. We created our Community Security Advisory Committee, and our Jewish Education Task Force released its final report and recommendations.
We continued to invest strategically in our partnership region, and we welcomed our first ShinShinim – teen emissaries from Israel who volunteered for a year in our community. The program has been going strong ever since.
We took what some considered to be a risk in the 2016 Annual Campaign, but to us was clearly a necessity – we focused on the community’s security needs. Just six months later, our JCC received two bomb threats in eight days. Three years on, other Canadian and American communities are in touch with us for guidance about how to raise security funds for their communities.
In alignment with our 2020 Strategic Priorities, we addressesed two key community challenges: the affordability of Jewish community life, and accessibility of Jewish programs outside of Vancouver.
We led the Jewish Community Affordability Summit, an outcome of which was the Jewish Food Security Task Force that was jointly led by our Federation and Jewish Family Services. The task force recently released their report and recommendations.
On the recommendation of our Regional Communities Task Force, we launched Connect Me In and hired a community development manager to create Jewish programs beyond Vancouver’s city limits. Jewish community life is now flourishing from Squamish to Langley, with programs and Hebrew schools going strong.
In our 2020 Strategic Priorities, we recognized that the Jewish Community Foundation was poised for considerable growth. The Foundation completed a strategic planning process, appointed Marcie Flom as executive director, and now has $65 million in assets under management.
In 2017-18 we celebrated our 30th anniversary, the IOAC engaged in a strategic planning process, and we continued to diversify the ways in which we generate funds. Our partners began to see multiple pathways to access support to meet community needs.
We advanced our work with fund holders and donors to support high priority community needs, including Jewish education. Nearly 70% of local Jewish children are not exposed to any form of Jewish education, and we are continuing to work with our Jewish Education Subcommittee to launch innovative programs that reach more families.
Our 2020 Strategic Priorities continue to guide our community planning process. The Changing Landscapes: Pathways Ahead forum that examined the needs of community members who are 55+, and the Day School Strategic Education Council are just two recent examples.
In Israel, Beit Vancouver is expanding its impact beyond its four walls, and up and coming leaders are honing their skills through the Galil-Up program – both direct outcomes of the IOAC’s strategic planning process.
We are generating more resources than ever before – an incredible $14.2 million to meet community needs this year alone. This is the combined result of a strong Annual Campaign, tremendous growth at the Jewish Community Foundation, and successful efforts with donors to generate special project funding.
On a personal note, thank you for welcoming Rachel and me to this community so warmly when we arrived. As our family has grown our connections to this community have deepened and you have all been with us every step of the way.
At Shavuot we remember standing together as a People at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah before continuing our journey. On this anniversary, we look back at where we stood as an organization and as a community five years ago. We look forward to many more accomplishments together as our community continues its journey!
Shabbat Shalom & chag Shavuot sameach.
Ezra S. Shanken
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver