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by Joel Lazer, posted here Dec 26, 2020

Good evening. It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to this year’s Annual General Meeting, where we celebrate the milestones and accomplishments of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg over the past year.

I would like to begin by thanking all of you for joining us – board members, committee members, staff, representatives of our beneficiary agencies, donors and community members. Your support and presence have been an integral part of our past and will continue to shape our future.

When I assumed the role of President one year ago, it was a time of optimism and stability. All of our beneficiaries were in good financial standing, our campaign was on-track to raise a record amount and the community as a whole was prospering.

Our mission to Israel had over 30 people registered up and ready to pack their bags, a record number of students were poised to go on the March of the Living, and we were making our final preparations for Yom HaShoah at the Manitoba Legislature. We had some great programs in the works from PJ Library, PJ Our Way, and others.

Then, in March, our world changed, seemingly overnight.

When COVID-19 arrived, it caused a seismic change to our way of life. We became familiar with terms such as social distancing, pandemic, and Zoom meetings. We learned that there were right ways to wash our hands, and wrong ways to wear a face mask which we now have to wear when we go out  shopping, or on errands – an act which even now seems like a luxury.

We went from meetings about lack of space at the Campus to working in our living rooms, kitchens, basements, or balconies.

We went from meeting about affordability in our community, ensuring that all Jewish children could attend summer camp, to having camps scaled back, or  shut down completely.

Worst of all, we would have to limit our contact with our friends, our family, our community, and all that we hold dear to our hearts.

Despite these hardships, our community did what Jewish people do when times get tough – we banded together, demonstrating our tenacity and perseverance.

I am immensely proud of the way our organizations came together, and helped out one another in unprecedented ways. We quickly assembled biweekly beneficiary agency meetings, where I heard first-hand how our community agencies adapted. In-person gatherings shifted almost seamlessly to being held virtually. Gray Academy pivoted from in-school teaching to virtual learning within just two days and was able to conduct classes for full days. Gwen Secter went from preparing zero meals a week to six hundred for isolated seniors. It was through the beneficiary agency meetings that I witnessed the tremendous passion and enthusiasm the professionals in our community have for their work, their constituents, and the community.

This year, we facilitated the Allocations process virtually for the first time, ensuring that our beneficiaries would continue to receive the funding they count on from the Federation without interruption.

I am a believer in looking at the positive in tough situations. Going virtual offered us the opportunity to learn new skills, and to be more adaptable. While it was challenging to brainstorm the best ways to communicate, commemorate, and celebrate, we joined together with national partners to mark Yom HaShoah virtually, and launched our Never Forget social media campaign locally.  This allowed community members and government officials to participate. We also joined together nationally and with our Israeli friends to commemorate Yom Ha’zikaron and Yom Ha’azmaut. And this year, our community Kristallnacht event brought people together from across Canada, the US, Germany, and England to recall and commemorate those tragic events from 82 years ago.

Unfortunately, not 100% of our events were able to be adapted virtually – namely, our annual Kavod evening. We believe our honourees deserve to have the same level of recognition as all of r past honourees, and so we have postponed the event until we are able to have it in person. Tentatively scheduled for Thursday May 6.

We eagerly await the day we can be together again, to celebrate together, to commemorate together, and to mourn together.

In this challenging time, our community has demonstrated its kindness and willingness to help others outside of the community – truly embodying the philosophy of “living generously” through donations to Agape Table, Children’s Hospital and One Just City, among others.

In the Spring, we recognized the need for increased outreach and set up virtual gifts and visits to the Simkin Centre, and did drive-by parades to let them know we were thinking of them and to bring them some happiness.

This fall, Community Planning had fabulous representation of 61 participants from more than 20 organizations and active volunteer committees to discuss scenarios related to the pandemic. Through their Community Forward Plan one implemented initiative was the addition of a senior outreach worker hired by Jewish Child and Family Services. Thanks to the committee, isolated seniors have been reached.  This has been immensely beneficial, especially during the pandemic.

Grow Winnipeg has not lost momentum during this pandemic. We welcomed 27 new families to our community, continue to reach and advocate for them and support them during their transition. We recently advocated for and facilitated virtual exploratory visits to keep immigration to Winnipeg moving forward.

A pandemic did not stop us from meeting with government officials, and we have met with a number of businesses about immigration. Stay tuned for news on that in the new year.

I invite you to review a more detailed summary of our accomplishments over the past year, which can be found in our virtual Annual Report, located on our recently-launched website.

Thank you for attending. We look forward to a great year together, and continuing to work together as one community to ensure its strong future.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.