Atlantic Jewish Council
Atlantic Jewish Council
With NS Premier Darrell Dexter during the opening of the SS St Louis exhibit in Halifax.
Jon Goldberg, executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council, is the eldest son of Morris and Barbara Golberg, who married in 1945 and raised their three children in Halifax. Brother Victor Goldberg is a prominent lawyer and active community member. Sister Susan Goldberg Jones lives in Pennsylvania.
Since establishing themselves in Halifax in 1912, the Goldberg family has been an active and prominent supporter of the Halifax and Atlantic Jewish community.
On arriving in Halifax, Jon’s grandparents opened a small dry goods store that catered to seamen and stevedores. The family suffered hardship when the patriarch of the family died and Morris was forced to quit school in grade seven to help his mother and older brother in the store.
He joined the army in 1939 only to be honorable discharged a few months later. Morris Goldberg was a self-made businessman who didn’t miss an opportunity. Any success he achieved was by being hard-working, proactive, creative and service oriented. By 1943, he was the largest ship outfitter on the east coast, in part because he would bring goods onboard ships docked in the harbor at all hours, instead of waiting for customers to come to the store.
This energetic spirit profited him not only financially but also personally. He forged strong and lasting relationships with merchant seamen. After Israel’s War of Independence, he became Chair of the Israel Maritime League and often hosted Israeli ship captains at his home.
Jon Goldberg notes that “Israel played a main part of my household for as long as I can remember.” He shared memories of Jaffa oranges and Israeli houseguests when thinking back to his childhood.
As a child, Jon was active in the Young Judea movement, attended Camp Kadimah and Biluim. As a young adult, he was involved in State of Israel bonds and the UJA annual campaign and still holds the record for being the youngest UJA of Atlantic Canada campaign chair in history. Jon was present at the founding of the Atlantic Jewish Council in 1975.
In his first career, as a retailer, Jon helped grow the family business. However, the economy faltered and the business closed in the 1980s. After a number of years in real estate, Jon was asked to explore career opportunities within the Jewish Community. A 6-month period as an apprentice at Winnipeg federation led in 1992 to the role of Executive Director of the AJC.
The secret of his success and longevity as a community leader? “I really care and I like what I do.”
As Executive Director of the AJC, responsibilities include community outreach, promoting Jewish continuity, actuating CIJA and Israel advocacy agenda, countering antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment and managing the annual fundraising campaign.
Favorite aspects of the job include helping people connect to community and advocating for Israel. Among the least favorite aspects is dealing with anti-Israel sentiment and the inevitable bureaucracy that exists at any multi-layer organization.
‘I lived my entire life in Halifax and I know many aspects of the Jewish and non-Jewish community - from synagogues to camps to senior services to politicians. I enjoy helping people find ways through life as a Jew in the community, whether it’s connecting them with community programs, jobs or summer camp.”
As with many communities across the country, the local Jewish population began shrinking as young people left for educational and career opportunities. An immigration program welcoming Russian Israeli Jews to Canada was spearheaded by the AJC in the last decade. Between 2009 and 2014, it brought 100 families to the area, effectively increasing the community by 20% to 600 families. While integration still remains a challenge, AJC hosted events and Chagim bring in over 250 people each time.
It is clear that Jon’s commitment to the local and global Jewish community was inspired by his parents and family circle and was cemented by the community itself. Since his first trip to Israel at age 21, he has been back 20 times.
“As a key member of the Coast-to-Coast Israel partnership, we have been a part of a very successful effort to strengthen communities in northern Israel - ‘Etzbah hagalil’. I get great satisfaction from bringing resources to Israel and seeing them put to good use. Simply put, the partnership allows AJC to be a real partner with other Canadian communities in performing a meaningful role in Israel.” Jon’s strong personal relationships with Israeli mayors and community leaders in the north has also helped forge indelible connections.
When asked what he would tell potential lay leaders and community volunteers, he said ‘if they don’t get involved in community today, there will be no community. There is a dearth of lay leadership. It’s critical that people get involved.’
To professionals, he’d tell them to jump in. “It’s a very rewarding career opportunity. You get to experience every aspect of Jewish community life. And to witness the success of young people, to help them grow within themselves and as leaders within their communities, there’s nothing like it.”
While Halifax is going strong as the Jewish capital of the Atlantic Provinces, Jon stressed the need to recognize that ‘one size does not fit all’. There are many other Jewish communities in the Atlantic region. Each community is distinct and unique, as are the resources available in each. He stressed the critical importance of national collective responsibility and the benefits of larger communities supporting smaller ones. “How can we promote Jewish continuity in smaller communities without the necessary resources?”
While he has no children of his own, Jon feels somewhat like a parent to the thousands of kids whose lives the Atlantic Jewish Council has touched. “I’ve always treated everyone’s kid as I would have my own. I want the best for everybody.”
“I get great satisfaction in working with the Jewish community. I’ll miss the ruach and chevra (spirit and friendship) I have developed over the years with Canadian and Israeli professionals and friends. I’ll especially miss dealing with the community at large as the spokesperson in Atlantic Canada for Israel and the Jewish community.”
Jon will be retiring at the end of 2016.