Beginning in early 2020, two significant developments have emerged to shake the foundations of society and our community.
First, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented and previously unimaginable threats. In our Toronto Jewish community, the needs of at-risk community members have dramatically grown. Those who previously struggled with poverty or isolation required new forms of community support. Many others faced vulnerability for the first time in their lives due to job losses and reduced income. The pandemic also brought rising mental health challenges, addiction, and domestic violence – with many confronting the darkest, most dangerous crises of their lives.
Second, as Hamas launched a new wave of terror attacks against the people of Israel in May 2021, we witnessed a surge of antisemitism here in Canada. The volume and nature of rising Jew hatred is a sobering warning of what our future looks like if we fail to confront this threat in a strategic and effective way. Doing so is essential if we are to preserve two critical elements of our community’s well being: our physical security and our secure place of belonging in Canadian society.
In the early days of the pandemic, our community received a special message from the great Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, may his righteous memory be for a blessing. Throughout history, he observed, the Jewish people “went through many, many crises. Most people aspire no more than to survive a crisis. Jews did not merely survive a crisis, they gave birth to something new.”
The ability to see in crisis not only recovery but the opportunity to strengthen ourselves is at the heart of our history. It’s also one of the keys to a thriving Jewish future. As we have responded to the immense challenges of the past few years, we have learned that a Jewish community’s capacity for resilience – and its ability to emerge even stronger from adversity – is ultimately rooted in that community’s very culture.
A community with strong cultural characteristics – those traits that define the life of our community and how we see the world – is one poised for success in both ordinary and extraordinary times. For generations, our Greater Toronto Jewish community has been defined by various cultural elements that set us apart as a leader in the Jewish world.
But as the challenges we face evolve, so too must the culture within our community. This is the foundation of the initiatives outlined in this strategic plan that will guide us forward to 2024.
The five priority initiatives outlined in this plan ultimately serve to foster a community culture defined by four essential characteristics:
Jewish Pride. Today, living a Jewish life is very much a matter of choice. Making that positive commitment begins with a love of being Jewish and pride in the Jewish experience. But this strength of our community is being tested in many ways today, including through the rise of Jew hatred. Growing Jewish pride – and the confidence and dedication to community that it brings – is essential in addressing virtually every challenge we face.
Active Ownership.Local Jewish institutions have done incredible work to strengthen Jewish life in our community. At the same time, these past few years have revealed that a community whose members choose to actively shape our shared future is a stronger, more resilient one. We must increasingly pair the important efforts of Jewish organizations with the energy of community members seeking to donate their time to Jewish causes. Doing so will enable more Jews across Greater Toronto to make a personal impact for the Jewish people, and will ultimately inspire a greater sense of commitment to community.
Adaptation and Innovation. Across our strategic priorities, what worked five or ten years ago will not suffice to meet today’s challenges. There are many examples of changes within our community to which we must respond. A common thread is the impact of rapid developments in digital technology, which is permanently shifting how people engage with community and the world around us. Seizing the opportunities to be found in these and other changes is essential to ensure Jewish Toronto continues to thrive, and will prove vital to the success of the initiatives in this strategic plan.
The Drive to Reach Every Community Member. A strong community is one that both nurtures its core of highly involved members and engages those who have not yet found a home in – or have not yet had their needs met by – our community. In every priority area, we must seek to connect with the broadest possible segment of our diverse community. Different pathways and approaches are needed to meet people where they are at – and to demonstrate a sense of unconditional commitment to our fellow Jews.
Taken together, these four cultural traits reflect a community defined by empowerment, one that strives to unlock the potential of every one of its members.
In setting out to build an empowered community over the next three years, we will emerge stronger and more secure in the wake of the pandemic and the recent rise of antisemitism. And in so doing, we will ensure that our exceptional community is better positioned to transform crisis into opportunity well into the future, whatever crises may come.
We are excited to invite you to be a part of this important work over the next three years. Let’s get started, together.