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Jason Gisser

Jason Gisser's Speech at the Jewish Federation's AGM

December 6, 2015

Good Evening.


I’d like to start by thanking the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and its wonderful staff led by Elaine Goldstine, for inviting me to speak to you this evening.  I’d also like to congratulate Elaine on recently being named the permanent CEO of the Federation.  This is the first time that I have spoken in the Multi-Purpose Room since my Grade 10 Student Council speech in 1999.  My only hope is that this time around, no one throws balls of paper at me.


I’ve been asked to speak to you this evening about my participation in the Jewish Federation and what it has meant to me over the years.  What better day than today to speak about this subject, given that today, December 1, is designated as “Giving Tuesday”, a new movement for giving and volunteering, taking place each year after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 


At an early age, my parents, who had taken leadership positions in the education and synagogue spheres of our Community, instilled in me the importance of being an active participant in the Winnipeg Jewish Community.  My parents inherited these values from my grandparents, who arrived to Winnipeg and Montreal with barely anything, but still recognized the importance of giving back to the Jewish Community.  My maternal grandmother was a founding member of the Rovne Ladies Association in Winnipeg in addition to various other Jewish causes, while my paternal grandfather served for over 40 years as Cantor of the Shaare Zion Synagogue in Montreal; always supported by my grandmother who worked tirelessly in the Jewish community.


It was around this young age that I realized that a relatively small Jewish population in Winnipeg could not continue to punch above its weight and support such an impressive community infrastructure without the commitment of hundreds, if not thousands of active volunteers.  On top of that, I was fully aware that I was a direct beneficiary of that community infrastructure, having been a student at the Gray Academy, a camper at BB Camp and counsellor at Camp Massad, and a participant in the Birthright Israel Program.  The impact that these early experiences had on me was significant.  I felt grateful for these opportunities, which helped shape me into the person that I am today.  These opportunities gave me a deep appreciation for Hebrew, Jewish culture, and the State of Israel.  They taught me the value of prayer, good deeds and charity.  They also taught me the importance of leadership among your peers and in your community. 


But these opportunities are only provided through the work of others.  Teachers, program directors, counsellors.  These Federation programs and those of its partner agencies need to be supported; not just through financial contributions, but contributions of time and effort.


It was on that basis that I took my first step into active community participation by joining the Federation’s Community Relations Committee in 2003 at the age of 19.  My contributions through the Federation have grown over the years to include the Federation’s Community Planning Committee and more recently, the Young Adult Division, or YAD.  A few years ago, I also had the opportunity to participate in both the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Young Leadership Program, and the National Jewish Young Leadership Program, organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ Political Action Committee.   These opportunities have prepared me to be a leader in the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg by teaching me about the different organizational structures in our community, and have exposed me to the advocacy and fundraising arms of Federation, which allow us to continue to thrive as a proud Jewish Community.  In fact, my experiences with Federation have also taught me to become an active volunteer in the general community as well, shaping the little kid who collected CJA donor sheets on Super Sunday in the gym of the old YMHA, into someone who runs election campaigns and chairs board meetings.


My experience in the CJPAC National Young Leadership Program was particularly memorable, as it culminated in an incredible trip to Israel along with non-Jewish Members of Parliament.  What was so interesting about the trip to Israel with CJPAC was seeing the deep emotional impact that Israel had on these non-Jewish MPs. 


This experience in Israel has driven me over the last few years to take an increased leadership role in the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.  Federation, through its diverse programs and services and those of its partner agencies, has the ability to provide a meaningful connection to anyone.  Whether you’re a new Canadian who seeks assistance from JCFS, or a young family that enrols in PJ Library, there is a place for everyone to find that connection.


I choose to be an active contributor for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg because I feel a responsibility to ensure that the Federation can continue to provide those meaningful experiences, the same way that my parents, grandparents, and countless other volunteers made sure that those experiences were available to me through their time and effort. 


My roles in YAD, Community Planning and Community Relations all have a common goal, and that is to continue to build and improve our Federation and our Community.  That includes bringing in new volunteers who previously thought that involvement in Federation wasn’t important.  It includes creating new Federation programs that draw in those who were previously unengaged in the Community.  And it also includes connecting Federation to other communities who did not know a Jewish person before.  The future of our Jewish community depends on this continued growth, exposure and innovation, and Federation provides the infrastructure and resources to reach these objectives.  That is why I choose to be a young leader in the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.  If I can play a small role in growing and strengthening our community, and bring a few new faces along to help me, then I can be confident that future generations will be able to enjoy the same opportunities and have the same wonderful experiences that have helped shape my life for the better.


Thank You, Todah Rabah.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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