With consolidation, Canadian Jewish agencies shift to new model

Canada's leading Jewish communal groups are consolidating to form a new umbrella agency for Jewish and Israel advocacy. Pictured here is Canada's parliament building in Ottawa. (Karl Baron via CC)

Canada’s leading Jewish communal groups are consolidating to form a new umbrella agency for Jewish and Israel advocacy. Pictured here is Canada’s parliament building in Ottawa. (Karl Baron via CC)

TORONTO (JTA) – It’s an age-old question in the organized Jewish world: With so many similar-sounding organizations doing so much similar-sounding work, is there any way to streamline things and eliminate unnecessary duplication by consolidating like-minded agencies?

While American Jewish organizations have rarely gone that route, in Canada some of the country’s main Jewish groups are undergoing a major overhaul that will transform the governing agencies of Canadian Jewry.

In early June, after 18 months of talks, the boards of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, or CIJA, and United Israel Appeal Federations Canada approved a major restructuring of community agencies.

Since its birth in 2004, CIJA had overseen and coordinated the advocacy work of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee, Quebec-Israel Committee, National Jewish Campus Life and the University Outreach Committee.

Starting July 1, those organizations will be folded into a new Canadian umbrella agency for Jewish and Israel advocacy. The agency has yet to get its formal name.

Shimon Fogel, CEO of the temporarily named CIJA 2.0, has said it’s possible the new agency will be named the Canadian Jewish Congress. The traditional CJC, founded in 1919, endured a round of layoffs concurrent with the consolidation decision.

The new organization "will continue the work of all the agencies that it is succeeding or that are being folded into it, including the whole range of traditional Congress activities," Fogel told JTA. Noting that Canadian Jewish Congress leaders were involved in the process, he added, "This isn’t a hostile takeover."

Fogel has said that the need for a reorganization stemmed from the belief that the lines between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have become almost indistinguishable.

"The lines and distinctions between what they used to call the domestic agenda and the Israel agenda have blurred so much that it’s impossible really to tell one from the other," he told the Canadian Jewish News.

“This isn’t about changing the agenda. This is about delivering on that agenda in a more efficient and effective way. Nobody’s abandoning any of the elements of one organizational agenda in favor of another," he said. “We had an opportunity to integrate and consolidate all the thematic agendas – campus, antisemitism, Israel relations, social policy agenda at the local community level – all of those things could be brought into one, holistic institution."

Fogel said the new entity will transform the relationship with local Jewish federations.

"It represents an opportunity for the federations to engage more directly in the advocacy process," he said.

The new organization will have a national 21-member board and local committees, according to Moshe Ronen, a former CJC president and current chair of the Canada-Israel Committee. The nuts and bolts will be implemented over the next month or so, he said.

A branding study to come up with a name is nearly complete, he added.

"We haven’t received its report yet. There is no name yet," Ronen said. In the meantime, "everybody is trying to deal with whatever we have to do very fairly" in dealing with CJC staff dismissals, he said.

Earlier this month, six senior CJC employees received termination notices in the wake of the restructuring, including the acting CEO and one employee who worked in the Ottawa office for 24 years. Community officials are not ruling out more dismissals as the new agency takes shape.

"It’s impossible for anybody to be happy when other people are losing their jobs," said Ottawa Rabbi Reuven Bulka, a former co-president of the CJC. "It’s impossible to say it doesn’t hurt."

But Bulka said he hopes "that whatever comes out of this will be something positive for the community. If it works, it works."

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