By GERRY POSNER When you are instilled with Judaism, it can take many different forms in life. With Ryla Braemer, her Judaism came through her schools and, even more so, her camp. Her feeling for her faith, her connection to her history, her passion for causes, all come from a firm foundation rooted in Winnipeg.
It all began on Lincrest Avenue in Garden City where Ryla, a sibling to two brothers, Avi and Sam, grew up, the daughter of Leah (formerly Chisvin) and Joel Braemer. Ryla was a student at Talmud Torah and later, a graduate of Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. What really propelled Ryla though were her years at Camp Massad, where she went from being a long-time camper to a member of the staff and finally, to camp director in 2003 and 2004.
Ryla had already moved to Toronto in 2002 when she became Massad’s director. She had also studied for a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – in 2001. Still, she returned to Winnipeg to complete her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Winnipeg in 2003.
A few years later, Ryla met her husband, Yacov Fruchter, in Toronto, and it was not long thereafter that she was married to the former Montrealer and former president of Hillel Montreal.
Ryla finished her formal education with an M.Ed. in Adult Education and Community Development from OISE at the University of Toronto in 2009.
Now, three children later, Ryla is very much involved in her role as a mother and yet, at the same time, she is also a full time employee of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
From 2009-2015 Ryla was Associate Director, Issues Education & Manager, Advocacy Education Centre for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, better known as CIJA. This national organization is not-for–profit and non-partisan, dedicated to improving the quality of Jewish life in Canada through advocacy and education. It has a broad reach and a forceful impact across the country.
Her position led Ryla to her initial involvement with the United Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto. She was asked to be the director of what was called Israel Engagement, whose purpose is to cultivate significant relationships between Diaspora and Israel Jews.
To do that job Ryla had to manage a large team in Toronto, including six professional staff plus over 100 lay people… no small job as anyone who has worked in community affairs would attest. This assignment went from July 2016 to March 2018.
Subsequently, she was invited to become the director of what was known as Strategic Volunteer Engagement for the Federation, which she did from March 2019 to June 2021. That’s a fancy title, but what it meant was that Ryla was in charge of creating the vision, creation, and implementation of volunteerism as a way to engage. The group that Ryla headed, consisting of 2 paid staff and a committee of 5 volunteers, had to move volunteerism from engagement to something beyond that.
It meant developing strategic relationships with social service agencies, food banks, camps and day-schools – again, not an easy ask or task.
From June 2021 right up to the present, Ryla Braemer has been the Vice- President of Community Mobilization and Volunteerism for the UJA. What does that mean? For starters, Ryla leads a team of 10 professionals called the Genesis team. They were responsible for creating and implementing a plan for the pandemic and after. Ryla was instrumental in having 14,000 volunteers give over 60 000 hours of their time (You read that right!) to help support thousands of people in the GTA (as the Greater Toronto is called), including 2400 Ukrainian newcomers. It is a big assignment, but one which Ryla embraces.
And, not to be forgotten in the mix is husband Yacov Fruchter, not exactly an unknown name to many in Winnipeg, or at least in Winnipeg Beach. Yacov has been an integral part of the Toronto Jewish community and now serves as the Director of Community Building and Spiritual Engagement at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto. But, if you ever go the shul in Winnipeg Beach in the summer, you will likely see Yacov and Ryla there as well.
In 2019, Ryla, who grew up at the beach, together with Yacov, purchased a cottage of their own. They make the trek back to Manitoba each summer now as they want their children to have the authentic experience of a summer at Winnipeg Beach. And, of course Ryla uses that time to reconnect with her Camp Massad network.
In essence, in Ryla Braemer you have a very dedicated community professional whose origins and indeed present day sentiments are very much rooted in Winnipeg.