June 14, 2007
By DAVID LAZARUS
MONTREAL — Zeev Bielski, chair of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the World Zionist Organization (WZO), praised United Israel Appeal Federations Canada for being among the first to respond to an urgent appeal to help the children of Sderot, Israel, as Qassam rockets from Gaza rained down on them last month.
“In Sderot, I could see there was nothing I could do, so I called Canada,” Bielski said at a luncheon during United Israel Appeal Federations Canada’s (UIAFC) annual general meeting in Montreal. “That was the solution.”
As a result of an influx of $2 million from Canada, he said, 8,200 children from Sderot, which borders on Gaza, will be able to spend one week in camps over the next two months, out of harm’s way.
Others responding to JAFI’s call for help have included United Jewish Communities (UJC), representing U.S. federations, and other federations around the world.
Bielski was named head of the Jewish Agency two years ago, after serving 16 years as mayor of Ra’anana, a city north of Tel Aviv.
At the luncheon, Bielski, who was born in 1949 in Jerusalem, was relaxed and affable as diners watched a brief JAFI video on the crisis in Sderot and listened to him describe the mood he witnessed there as Hamas rockets fell.
“It was almost too much,” he said. “Your whole life there revolves around the 18 seconds it takes for the rockets to fall. It’s like Russian roulette, and the children are paying the price.
“It’s very sad,” he said, since there does not appear to be a clear solution to the continuing bombardment by Hamas.
He said one of the priorities for the Jewish Agency now is to find suitable employment for the many Ethiopian Jews who are members of the professional classes.
“Lawyers and accountants can’t find jobs,” he lamented, but told an amusing anecdote about how he helped secure job interviews for Ethiopian candidates with the CEO of Bank Hapoalim. The CEO’s receptionist was completely incredulous that her boss was interviewing immigrants for jobs, Bielski said.
During the luncheon, Australia’s Mark Leibler, chair of the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal board of trustees – Keren Hayesod is a fundraising arm and, along with the WZO and the UJC, a constituent body of JAFI – cited the positive relationship between Keren Hayesod and UIAFC as something that must be preserved and enhanced as the Jewish fundraising world is determined to be more transparent and accountable in its work and processes.
Canada has been a model for those goals, Leibler said. In particular, he praised the fact that funding for JAFI has become part of UIAFC’s “core” budget.
He said UIAFC has delivered a complex and sophisticated model for fundraising that serves as an example for the rest of the world.
Leibler praised three Canadians in particular for their activities in Keren Hayesod: the late Phil Granovsky of Toronto, its founding board of trustees chair; and Julia Koschitzky of Toronto and Harvey Wolfe of Montreal, who also held that position.
Leibler praised outgoing UIAFC president Stanley Plotnick, who is joining Keren Hayesod’s world executive, for his “warmth, charm, good humour and clarity.”
Plotnick, in his outgoing remarks as president, noted that over the last two years, UIAFC was obliged to work in the context of federation structures being redefined in an effort to eliminate “overlapping” of fundraising and advocacy activities.
“The lay and professional leadership… are the true heroes of Canadian Jewry,” he said.
Plotnick is being succeeded as UIAFC president by Barbara Farber of Ottawa.
Farber is CEO of Leikin Group, a family-owned real estate development and property management company.
She has served as a Canada-Israel Committee executive board member and, for several years, as treasurer and vice-president for administration for UIAFC.