Volunteers make a huge impact on Jewish Edmonton

When I was in grade 7, we were required to choose an activity for our Wednesday afternoon blocks. When I heard about the need for volunteers at Maimonides, a Jewish care home, I signed up. Rather than basketball or chess, I felt compelled to contribute to the community. And so, my volunteer career was born, spanning into my adult years.  

This coming week is National Volunteer Week in Canada. Ask any volunteer and they will usually tell you they gain more than they give, and while most don’t do it for the recognition I want to take this moment to thank every volunteer who says “hineni”, Here I am, to help fulfill the mission of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton and strengthen our community, whether a board or committee member, or someone who assists on many events and programs.  

To quote Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks z”l about the importance of volunteers to the Jewish community:  

“Jews know this in their bones. Our community could not exist for a day without its volunteers. They are the lifeblood of our organisations…It’s a tradition going back 26 centuries to the Babylonian exile when, for the first time after achieving statehood, Jews found themselves without a land or home of their own. They were without rights or power. They knew that if they were to maintain a communal infrastructure, they would have to do it for themselves. So began a tradition of voluntary collective responsibility that sustained Jews through centuries of exile and dispersion during which, always and everywhere, they were a minority, usually vulnerable and often desperately poor.” 

We identified talent development as a capacity building priority in our 2022-25 strategic plan. We strive to position the Federation as a great place to work and volunteer. To mark the success would generate a robust pipeline of professionals and volunteers.

This week we have seen how these efforts are being realized. As soon as we made an announcement for volunteers to help set up the Shabbat table installation at the Legislature last Friday, we had an abundance of people step forward who came early to set up and to help take it down. When we put out a call over social media for people to assist with LGBTQ2+ programming, several people responded right away. Our ongoing and upcoming signature community events—Edmonton Jewish Film Festival, commemorations of Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Ha’atzmaut would not be possible without our many volunteers. And so it goes on. 

We currently possess a young leader development program in its final stages, thanks to the Community Services Recovery Fund (CSRF) grant “Building a better future for all”, and are offering additional training to our board with a governance consultant. We are in conversation with national partner foundations about leadership programs for our smaller Canadian communities and I look forward to sharing more about this with you shortly.  

Over the past two years, we were fortunate enough to employ university students with the Canada Summer Jobs Grant, providing them with mentorship during the summer and gaining the advantages of their fresh perspective and energy. Just recently, approval was granted for two positions. Applications are now open. Their feedback about working with our staff and gaining a deeper understanding of community infrastructure has made a positive impact. If you go through our Shabbat message archives, you can read their messages of appreciation.

Finally, despite not being volunteers, the Jewish Federation staff often experiences a sense of obligation and receives requests to ‘do extra’. It is widely known that Jewish community professionals experienced heightened stress and demands since October 7. Thanks to the CSRF grant, we could take part in mental health and resilience workshops as a staff team, as we consistently support one another. I want to give them a shout out and thank you as well.  

If you are in town this weekend, Bernard Pinsky, chair of the Roadburg Foundation, will be a guest speaker at the Jewish Seniors Citizens’ Centre this Sunday at 11 a.m., presenting his book at the Community Tea, recounting the story of his father. I hope to see you there.  

Shabbat Shalom,