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Joel Lazer President of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg

Federation President Joel Lazer: Community Pulled Together During COVID-CJA Campaign Successful

by Rhonda Spivak, May 1, 2021

Joel Lazer, President of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg is very pleased with how the Jewish community has pulled together during COVID. He notes with pride that the CJA campaign met its goal. Lazer told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that “The response from our community has been nothing short of stellar. When COVID hit, one of our concerns was how the campaign was going to be impacted during a time when many had to curtail spending due to a potential change in personal circumstances. What we saw was a community who stepped up to the plate in a big way to ensure that the vital work of our beneficiary agencies was able to continue. As a result, the total amount that we have to allocate to our beneficiary agencies will be higher than last year.” 



The CJA Campaign total this year was $6,439,994. It should be noted that there were a few factors that went into this year’s campaign having such a large increase, one of which was the COVID-19 Social Services Matching Fund, which the Campaign was able to access through the Jewish Federations of North America. As Lazer pointed out, "Through this fund, and three extremely generous local donors, we were able to raise an additional $230,000 in directed donations, which has already been distributed to Jewish Child and Family Services and the Gwen Secter Creative Living Center for specific community needs related to COVID-19. We also received an incredible one-time gift of over $150,000 specifically for this year’s campaign and community needs. We don’t expect either of these gifts to renew next year and so will base our targets for the 2021-2022 campaign excluding these amounts. 



Lazer stressed that “While we reached our campaign goal this year, there are still uncharted waters ahead – we remain optimistic that we will all be vaccinated and that life will return to some semblance of normalcy soon. The community’s support of Federation and our beneficiaries, continues to be vital to their continued operation – as they rely on the allocations they receive from Federation to continue their important work of supporting the vulnerable and maintaining the essentials of Jewish life in our community. 



Lazer pointed to the fact that beneficiary agencies rose up to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic. As he stated, “Every one of the Federation’s 12 beneficiary agencies weathered the COVID storm as well as could have been expected given the difficult and unpredictable circumstances, with the ground constantly shifting beneath their feet. What I saw was a group of highly-dedicated professionals rising up to meet the challenges they faced on a level that was unprecedented. From Gray Academy pivoting their students to online learning within just a couple of days, to Gwen Secter ramping up their meal production from a dozen or so to hundreds of meals, to all of the precautions the Simkin Centre staff quickly implemented to ensure the health and safety of their residents – it was quite amazing to witness.” 


Lazer commented on the fact that although the Rady JCC has been one of the agencies that has been hardest hit during Covid, it has been putting on cultural programming free of charge sponsored by the Asper Foundation and the Babs Asper Centre for the Cultural Arts. He told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, “The Rady JCC has become well-known in our community as providers of rich, high quality cultural programming. As the agency that was the hardest hit during the pandemic, this was of course interrupted. Until such time as they are able to offer programming available in person, their creativity in providing whatever programming they can in this regard virtually is welcomed by the entire community. I appreciate The Asper Foundation and the Babs Centre for Cultural Arts providing funding so that those programs can continue in virtual spaces in the interim.” 



Lazer also noted that "Gray Academy demonstrated their agility and adaptability in how they expertly handled the shift from in-class learning to virtual learning in the span of mere days. While other schools, particularly those in the public system were struggling to transition their students to virtual learning, Gray Academy students were already learning from home. I credit the administration at the school, the teachers, and the students for this. As a community, we should be proud of this and extend a sincere yasher koach for how well they handled the situation.”  



CJA Co-Chair Neil Duboff added, "The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown our Jewish community at its best. From the launch of our community-based response fund, to the increases in donations to the Combined Jewish Appeal, our community’s generosity is showing up both to help the community organizations challenged by the pandemic and recognize the ongoing need for support of our beneficiary agencies. Confronted with the pandemic individual Jewish community charity has been responsive and engaged. We could not be more grateful. 

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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.