With Linda Kislowicz, President & CEO of JFC-UIA; Yossi Tanuri, Director General in Israel
With Linda Kislowicz (L), Wynne Thal (R) and Gail Sidorsky at a Lion of Judah event in Calgary.
With Madam Justice Rosie Abella at the GA in Washington, DC - November 2015
Julia has been an active leader in the Jewish community for 25 years. As Chair of Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA, she represents Canadian Federations both at home and in Israel.
We asked Julia about her work and motivations.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is meeting and working with people from across Canada and Israel. I visited most of the communities across Canada and have met many engaged volunteers. In addition, our Board members are dedicated and passionate and it is a privilege to serve with them and to address issues of sustaining and enhancing Jewish life across Canada.
What inspires you to work in Jewish communal service?
The example of family and values that were instilled in me from a young age were my inspiration. My father was a Zionist and a strong voice in not only the Ottawa Jewish community but in the community at large. He was on numerous boards and was on City Council, running twice for Mayor (unsuccessfully). My brother, David Berger, served in Parliament for 15 years and then was the Canadian Ambassador to Israel. My other brother Robert chaired Project Renewal for Federation CJA and served on the Federation Campaign in the Builders Division. My husband’s family were builders of the Montreal community and involved in numerous philanthropic activities.
There were numerous examples of community involvement around me as I grew up so being active in community was quite a natural thing. I internalized it at a very young age and continue to act on it to this day.
What motivates you?
The knowledge that really doing even a little can make a huge difference. It is very uplifting to be in a position to make even the smallest of changes that might have an impact on people and their lives and ultimately to better the society in which we live.
What does being ‘Jewish’ mean to you?
Being Jewish is to adhere to Jewish values and traditions. It is the knowledge of belonging to a community with a history that dates back thousands of years with all that that entails. I am a secular Jew and I believe in the concept of Tikun Olam. I try to live by that value and act according to it both in working within our community or within broader society.
What does ‘Jewish community’ mean to you?
In a global view, it conjures up a sense of belonging that follows one wherever one travels in the world. Locally, it immediately brings to mind the many volunteers that devote their time and energy to our causes whether that be cultural, political advocacy or social advocacy concerns. This is truly remarkable and unlike so many communities. In fact, I know that we are the envy of other communities.
I am humbled by the commitment and dedication of the people that sit around our community Board tables. They give of themselves in so many ways; they are extraordinarily generous with their time, their knowledge and expertise, and their financial support. It is truly remarkable.
Why is Israel important to you?
There is an inextricable link between Israel and the Jewish people. Over the years the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel has changed from one of complete dependence to a more interdependent one. The relationship is more equal, more balanced. And there are now so many points of interconnection.
I have had the pleasure of travelling to Israel a couple of times a year in my current position. Each time that I go I have new experiences that serve to intensify the bond and strengthen my deep connection. At the same time, there are many complex and sometimes uncomfortable issues that can influence the relationship. We must continue and encourage respectful dialogue to ensure that we maintain these personal and relevant connections.
What would you tell young people about getting active in community?
Our community is varied and multi-faceted and I believe that anyone can find a place in which to engage and make a difference. I would encourage involvement in our own community and in society at large because it brings so many rewards. It is often said that volunteers get more than they give. This is not a cliché for me. I truly believe it and I would pass that message on to our younger community members.
I also worry about the future as our community is aging and we have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation gets involved. We, the current active volunteers, need to actively solicit and listen to the ideas of the next generation.
Is there one thing about JFC-UIA that is not widely known and would surprise some people?
There are quite a few aspects that are not commonly known but perhaps the most important would be the fact that we manage Canada Israel Experience, the sole organizer for the Birthright Israel program for Canadians. This outstanding program keeps evolving to appeal to a larger and more diversified population. We are very proud of the work that is being done in this area.
Over the years, the profile of JFC-UIA has diminished (along with its budget) and we have had to do more with less. I think that we are now in a position to reverse the trend because the national leadership recognizes that the organization serves such an important function both nationally and internationally.
If you could only share one aspect of JFC-UIA, what would it be?
I would like to emphasize how much good work is done both in Israel and in Canada. In Israel we sit at the table with the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod and help to make decisions that can really have an impact. We are an important part of the global Jewish agenda. We have wonderful partners and we are highly respected because we have been there working alongside Israelis for a very long time.
In Canada we serve to preserve a connection to the larger Jewish community by helping to maintain Jewish life, a Jewish presence and Jewish activity in communities of all sizes – from 200 to 200,000. We connect, we share information, best practices, and we help unite our leadership. I believe that all of these activities are important and serve to strengthen Canadian Jewry and Israel.
Julia currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. She has also served on the Executive of Federation CJA and on the Board of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre for 10 years, including a 2-year term as president. She currently sits on their fundraising committee.
Previous Board involvement includes Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom and participation on the Advisory Council for the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. She has a B.A. from Middlebury College and an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University.