There’s never been a time in Valda Levin’s life when she hasn’t been asking someone for money. Valda isn’t asking for money for herself. It’s always been for a good cause in the Jewish community.
When she was growing up in Sydney, Australia, Valda used to go door-to-door with the Jewish National Fund blue box. If she received any polite refusals for donations, it did not seem to deter her. Valda continued with fundraising solicitations and volunteering for Jewish organizations as she entered her teens. She was asked to join the Jewish Youth Council at 18 as the secretary. It was an immediate yes and a learning experience.
“I learned how to organize and how to run a drama festival,” says Valda.
Her involvement with Jewish Federations spans more than five decades, in four cities and two countries. For her dedication, Valda received the Dianne and Irving Kipnes United Jewish Appeal (UJA)/Kavod Award. The award was set up by the Jewish Federation of Edmonton in 2019. Its purpose is to recognize individuals and organizations for their exceptional generosity and commitment to the Edmonton Jewish community.
Valda first began to raise funds for UJA in Montreal in 1966 and every year since, she has been a fundraiser and a donor. When her children started school and began competing in swimming, she also jumped in to help. “I volunteered at school functions. I seem to have been raising money everywhere I went,” she says.
One of her challenges was becoming familiar with the community. When she came to Edmonton, she knew no one. Valda decided to stop by the Jewish Community Centre and the Federation office to see how she could help. Another challenge was leading Federation women’s divisions.
“There didn't seem to be anyone to step into positions of authority or leadership. As time went on, I just naturally sort of fell into place as the leader and to raise money,” says Valda.
She chaired Federation women’s divisions in Hamilton, Ontario and Akron, Ohio in the 1970s. When she moved to Edmonton in 1982, she chaired the UJA women’s division here and later chaired the general UJA campaign in mid-1980s. Moving to new communities and not knowing anyone did not deter her from becoming involved.
“When I was raising money, parents would put me on to someone else and then another person. So that's how you learn to raise money—making connections all the way through,” says Valda.
She adds that she conveyed to donors the passion of how she believed in an organization to sway them to contribute funds.
Valda served on the Jewish Federation of Edmonton’s board for many years and in many roles, including president from 1998 to 2000. She is a passionate advocate of Holocaust education. She led a Jewish Federation national mission to Poland and Israel in 1990. Together with Gayle Tallman she worked to reinstate the Holocaust Education Committee of the Jewish Federation in 1993 and went on to launch a Holocaust Education symposium for high school students.
Determined to provide sustainable, stable funding for future generations, Valda became a champion of the Edmonton Jewish Community Charitable Foundation, and, along with Catherine Miller Dolgoy, led the successful effort to re-launch the EJCCF in 2001.
For the past decade, Valda has also put her fundraising skills to work to the benefit of the Edmonton Jewish Film Festival (EJFF). Valda has almost single-handedly raised the funds for the EJFF every year. Thanks to Valda’s efforts, the Federation has raised the funds for delivery of the film festival and to finance the Edmonton Partnership 2Gether program, supplying educational exchanges and capacity-building programs in the partner region in Northern Israel.
She considers herself a career volunteer and enjoys what she receives from contributing.
“I just feel that I've done some good for someone. It never strikes me that I should say no. Maybe it’s something that my parents instilled in me is to always give of myself,” says Valda.
She is concerned that people aren’t willing to give their time to help others. Valda believes that even a short amount of time for volunteering can make a difference.
“I don't think people care as much as they used to, and this is very important in volunteering. They're all so busy. They forget about other people out there who need their help. That's what the Jewish community is all about, is reaching out to people who need help. Everyone can find the time to go and have a coffee. We must be part of our community and help others,” says Valda.