By MYRON LOVE
These are challenging times that we live in – but Nola Lazar, the current president of JNF Manitoba/Saskatchewan has proven over the years that she is up to the challenge. If the presidency of the local Jewish National Fund operation is not enough heavy lifting, she is also slated to be stepping into the same position on a national level with Mercaz Canada – the Zionist voice of Conservative Judaism in Canada – as soon as her term as JNF president here comes to a close.
Masorti Judaism – the Conservative Movement in Israel – is Israel’s fastest growing religious movement. Mercaz Canada is affiliated with Masorti/Conservative Judaism which, in Israel, offers a third choice between ultraOrthodoxy and a secular life. MERCAZ-Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism work in cooperation to foster and strengthen Masorti/Conservative Judaism in Israel, based on the ideals of tradition and tolerance, study and spirituality, and social action and love of Israel. They promote and support Israel education and programs, and represent the interests of Masorti/Conservative Judaism in the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel.
Lazar has taken inspiration for her leadership roles in the community from her mother Rae. “My mother always seemed to be having meetings at our house,” recalls Lazar, who was the second youngest of eight children born to Rae and the late Cecil Shnier. “Because there were so many of us children, it seemed to be easier to hold meetings at our place”.
Her mother, Lazar recalls, served as president of Hadassah WIZO in Winnipeg as well as being involved in organizing the annual Angel’s Ball and volunteering at Hadassah’s Opportunity store and the Golden Age Club and many other organizations.
“Wherever she’d go as a volunteer, she would take some of us kids with her,” Lazar says. “She was always involved.”
While Nola is trained as an interior designer, she married at a relatively young age – to Matthew – and raised her own family of four (two of whom have made aliyah). Her own service to the community over these past 25 years has largely been through her synagogue involvement.
In the 1990s she was invited to become a board member of the Beth Israel Congregation, where she served two terms. In that role, she was involved in the merger of the Beth Israel with the Rosh Pina and Bnay Abraham Synagogues to form Congregation Etz Chayim. She subsequently served an additional two terms on the board of the new congregation and was involved with youth programming at the shul. In addition, she volunteered at the Gray Academy while her children were attending the school. “All of our children are graduates of Gray Academy,” she says with pride.
Lazar was invited to join the JNF Manitoba/Saskatchewan board five years ago. “Karla Berbrayer was president of the board at the time and was looking to expand the board membership with people who had connections with Israel,” Lazar says. “We had children living in Israel and had visited several times.”
As the current president, she was inaugurated at the Negev Gala in 2019, succeeding Jessica Cogan.
The local JNF received quite a surprise last fall when longtime executive director Ariel Karabelnicoff announced that he was leaving to take up a position in Toronto with the Israel Bonds organization. “It was a real shock,” says Lazar of Karabelincoff’s departure. “We miss him and wish him well.
“It has been a smooth transition though. David Greaves, our new executive director, knows the community well and has a lot of connections.”
She reports that, despite the limitations on fundraising imposed by the Covid situation, the JNF is doing well under Greaves’ leadership. “JNF has been keeping busy. While we weren’t able to conduct our annual High Holiday campaign in person this year,” she notes, “we are thankful to both the Shaarey Zedek and Etz Chayim for their help this year. They included our link on their webpages and the rabbis directed people to our link during their sermons. The community support for Israel has been amazing.
“Even with Covid, David and his staff have managed to maintain our fundraising numbers close to what we have done in the past. On November 15 we are holding a ‘Night of 100 Dinners’ with video entertainment by Yidlife Crisis. Our Negev Gala honouring Ted Lyons has been rescheduled to May 19 2020.”
Lazar’s introduction to Mercaz Canada also came about through her synagogue involvement. She points out that all Conservative synagogue members are also eligible to join Mercaz. The organization has long been centered in Toronto, she notes because, in Toronto, several Conservative synagogues make membership in Mercaz Canada an automatic part of membership, whereas in Winnipeg, membership is optional. Thus, there were fewer members in our community.
“Marion Mayman, the president at that time, felt that Mercaz Canada was too Torontocentric,” Lazar recalls. “She wanted a board that reflected more of our country, and was looking to recruit Western Canadians. Matthew and I had already joined Mercaz when Marion phoned me to ask me to join the board. However, I am not the kind of person who joins a board without participating, and because I got involved, I became vocal, and before long, I was moving up the ranks.”
Most of the meetings that she has been involved in have been over the phone. “I still haven’t met all of the board members in person,” Lazar says. “The nice thing about Zoom is I am getting to see board members from across the country.”
The organization’s vice-president since July of last year, she reports that the current president of Mercaz, Stan Greenspan, will stay in his position until her term with the JNF in Winnipeg is over.
She concedes that there will be some challenges leading the organization from Winnipeg, but, she says, “we will make it work.”
She adds that she has already learned a lot from Mercaz executive director Rabbi Jennifer Gorman and current president Stan Greenspan. “They are both very knowledgeable,” Lazar says. “I love learning from them.”
Coming up for Nola Lazar on the Mercaz menu are preparations for the World Zionist Congress scheduled for October 20-22 via Zoom from Israel. She is a voting delegate.
“At the Congress, we debate various topics of relevance to the Jewish world,” she notes. “I will be spending a lot of time over the next few days on the phone and on Zoom meeting with Mercaz Canada and Canadian Zionist Federation representatives. We will be having orientation meetings and strategy meetings. I find it all very fascinating”