Dancing at Jewish Federation event

To be honest, I didn’t know what the Jewish Federation event that I was going to be attending on October 10 was all about.

Titled “Footprints – Celebrate the Past – March to the Future”, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was it going to be like other Federation events that have been held in the past, where speakers would try to drum up support for all the good work the Federation does?
But then, why was it going to be held in the Metropolitan Centre, which for me will always represent childhood memories from the 1960s seeing some of those classic Walt Disney movies, such as Mary Poppins or Swiss Family Robinson (which I saw with Rabbi Norman Fredman and his family)?

It actually turned out to be quite an imaginative event, with a huge number of participants. As a matter of fact, by the end of the evening I had to wonder whether everyone who was there was either part of the production or else a close friend or relative of someone who was in it?
Was it meant to whip up support for the Combined Jewish Appeal? I wondered. If so, it’s a shame that it wasn’t better explained to members of the community what it was going to be all about, because it turned out to be highly original in how it played out and I’m sure some people will be kicking themselves that they didn’t attend.

The evening began with welcoming remarks from Laurel Malkin, President of the Jewish Federation, and Steve Kroft, Chair of the Combined Jewish Appeal (for the second consecutive year, he noted).
During his remarks Kroft said that “this year we’ve decided to try and compress the (CJA) campaign into 120 days”, which is a shorter time frame than past campaigns.
“Last year the campaign raised more than $5.8 million,” Kroft observed. “We’re going to try and replicate that this year” with a target of $5.75 million.
“The 2018 campaign is off to a good start,” he added. “It’s ahead of last year’s pace. We’ve raised $1 million so far. We had the most successful Super Sunday ever. And, we have more people participating as volunteers and donors than ever before.”
Kroft also made particular mention of the large number of newcomers to the community who have stepped forward, both as volunteers and donors. “They want to give back to the community what the community has done for them,” Kroft said.

Following Kroft’s remarks five different women took turns explaining what the Jewish Federation means to them. First up was Lindsay Sawyer Fay, who told about her initial experience as a youth volunteer for the CJA, followed by participation in March of the Living, and eventually becoming increasingly involved in the CJA campaign to the point where she’s headed the women’s philanthropy division.
Gail Asper, who needs no introduction as to how much she has given of herself to the community, having chaired the two most successful CJA campaigns ever conducted, spoke of her longstanding commitment to giving back to the community.
“If you’re benefitting from something,” Asper said, “you ought to put up your fair share of contributing in return. Our community strength comes from providing for one another.”
Asper noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Asper Jazz Festival. When her father, the late Izzy Asper, was looking for an organization to sponsor the festival, it was the Rady JCC that stepped up, Asper noted.

Elissa Abrams, a relative newcomer to Winnipeg from Ottawa, said that her family has particularly benefited from the PJ Library program, which is run by the Jewish Federation. In turn, she explained, she has taken on a major role in that program.
Jessica Cogan, who is president of the JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan region, told of how her family came from India. “We didn’t lose any relatives in the Holocaust”, Cogan said, but when she was 17 she went on March of the Living, which had a profound impact on her.
“Last year I went on March of the Living with my daughter” – something, she added, she will do with her other children when they reach the age of eligibility to participate in that program (also another program under the auspices of the Jewish Federation).
“Over 400 Winnipeg students have made that journey since 1988,” Cogan added.
Carli Rossall spoke of the support she received from Jewish Child and Family Service (a beneficiary agency of the Federation) in dealing with her substance addiction. As a result, she herself has become the first addictions counselor at JCFS, helping others who are in a similar situation.
“Winnipeg’s Jewish community is the exemplification of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts,” Rossall observed.

In a light-hearted and sometimes saucy sketch Debbie Maslowsky and Megan McArton played the parts of two women who decided to take on the task of contributing to the CJA in the 1970s.
At that time, the character played by Debbie noted, women didn’t have money of their own; they were given allowances by their husbands. So, when a group of women decided they were going to start putting away small amounts to give to the CJA, they would put coins into a shoebox, which eventually came to be known as the “Shoebox Bergade.”
“We would put 50 cents a day, maybe 75, or even a dollar into the shoebox. You’ve got to have a gimmick if you want to get ahead,” Debbie’s character explained.
“The group grew from 10 to 100 women; we formed networks,” she added.
By 2006, the Women’s Campaign had reached $1 million – something that began only with coins being put into shoeboxes.
(By the way, Debbie and Megan’s characters did have a juicy exchange about going to the hairdresser on Fridays during the 1970s. In their telling the story, they said that Friday mornings were given over to cooking for Shabbes, but Saturdays were for sex. “The Jewish Post should leave out that part,” Debbie’s character suggested. Sorry – that’s like giving a dog a bone. Also, the last time I heard that story, the version I heard went like this: “Why did Jewish women have sex only on Thursday nights? Because Friday was hairdresser day.” That version makes more sense than Debbie’s character’s.)

Other speakers included Evelyn Hecht, who recalled her years of volunteering for the Combined Jewish Appeal, then applying for the position of Community Relations Director. It was as a result of Evelyn’s determination that the Jewish community, working in tandem with the Gary Filmon-led provincial government, began the process of pitching the prospect of moving to Winnipeg to Argentinean Jews – one of the most successful outreach programs ever mounted by the Jewish Federation.
Evelyn also added that it was not until she was 57 that she actually went on March of the Living – a life-changing event, if ever there was one.
Josh Malam explained how, as a young gay man, he found support and encouragement from within the Jewish community through such programs as Anakhnu (which is run by the Rady JCC).
Yet, Josh noted, it wasn’t until he went on March of the Living that he found that he could come out openly as a young gay man. That experience, along with going on Birthright (also a Federation program), inspired him to come out, he said.
Other speakers included Mira Buchwald, who described herself as a “professional volunteer” – she’s been involved in CJA campaigns so many years, and Carrie Shenkarow, who said she attended Balmoral Hall as a youth, but “connected to the Jewish community through her going to BB Camp” (another beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation).

Perhaps the most poignant point of the evening came when Karla Berbrayer, who is well known as a music impresario, told of her gratitude to the community for the support she and her husband, Allen Kraut, have received over the years with their 29-year-old son, Micah, who was born severely autistic.
“From the time he was very young my husband and I knew we would need to reach out for support,” Karla said.
Micah, Karla observed, is now living along with two other residents in a Shalom Homes residence on Oxford Street. This past Yom Kippur Micah invited the entire family over for a pre-fast meal at the home, something that he had never before attempted.
“All this has taught me how important it is to give back,” Karla said. “I could not do what I do if it weren’t for the programs in the community.”

Lest you think the evening was overly serious, let me assure you there was some terrific entertainment, provided by the marvelous a cappella group Those Guys, along with a number of other musicians and singers. If you want to see a video of a flash mob emerging from the audience right toward the end of the evening, when Those Guys were singing Hava Nagila, go to http://jewishpostandnews.ca/categories-media/71-local/239-jewish-federation-event

Jewish Fed. montage