Community Change

Making Systemic Change – During a Pandemic and Beyond

By Natana Shek and Dena Libman

It may be a truism to say that broad and long-term Jewish community change is necessary, but that doesn’t make it more likely to happen! For example, in our community of Montreal, while we know that the current scope of Jewish programming does not match the diversity of the community we wish to serve, it can be challenging to implement the strategies and rally the collaborations needed to catalyze growth.

Therefore, with much goodwill, shared values, and a large investment of capital (both financial and social), we launched a partnership in Montreal between funders and Federation CJA. What began as a collaboration to make long-term community change has already proven its value.

Passport to Jewish Life was created in 2018, to reimagine how people could connect to their own Judaism and to community. Federation CJA and the Funders Collaborative developed a bold theory of change, to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of Jewish opportunities and programs in Montreal.

It was no small feat to have a consortium of donors and Federation CJA professionals coalesce around common and complementary strategies that would help achieve the outcomes identified in the theory of change. What became evident during this process was that a wide range of views and perspectives are at the heart of making Passport to Jewish Life stronger, more effective and more vibrant.

In true collaborative fashion, each partner took on different roles. The know-how and infrastructure offered by Federation CJA, as the backbone organization, provided the engine for growth. Since the foundations recognized that high risk can yield high rewards, large scale projects were identified that could push beyond the limits of more traditional initiatives. By identifying these under the brand of Passport to Jewish Life, we hoped to engage more organizations and people through a new and more accessible point of entry.

In our theory of change, we prioritized approaches that could bring about the transformational change we envisioned. Our first investments were a professional development program, and a bold new technology initiative that for economies of scale will be piloted in Montreal and Detroit; the latter is poised to be a game-changing tool for communities across North America.

Our professional development initiative, the Passport to Jewish Life Fellowship, was run by M2: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education. As a first investment, this Fellowship made a statement about what the Passport to Jewish Life was about, anchored in the core assumption that Jewish education will only be as good as the professionals who facilitate it. We had to push the boundaries of existing silos, allay organizational suspicions of the Federation “monolith,” and ask the highly diverse population of educators in our city to work together toward a shared goal of transformational change.

Just after the Passport to Jewish Life Fellowship began, the Covid-19 pandemic overturned all of our plans. We quickly recognized that it was critical to forge ahead, and we adapted the work of the Fellowship to meet the uncertain and evolving needs of the community. While Jewish federations and major foundations were struggling to represent the broad diversity of their communities and use collective-impact to respond to the pandemic, we already had in place a group of professionals committed to this very mission.

Together with the M2 team, we identified strategies and methodologies to adapt the Fellowship to address the new realities on the ground. We incorporated small work groups into the fellowship framework. These groups tackled the most pressing questions facing the Montreal Jewish community. This enabled the Fellowship to respond to local challenges in a meaningful way, and put the skills developed in the program to practical use. Fellows eagerly took the opportunity to be a voice for thought leadership, and to speak for the community on issues of relevance; these included responding to the loss of in-person gatherings, creating new collaborative opportunities, and maintaining a connection to Israel, to name a few.

As the first initiatives are now underway, the partnership between the Federation and the funding collaborative is now considering new directions. Our aim is to take steps toward change that will bring the community organizations closer to people, and people closer to the community, so that everyone can build together what is both desired and possible.

The work demands honest communication and partnerships that are based on common vision, maximizing the strengths of all of the parties. We are each playing critical and complementary roles in putting the future of our community at the forefront.

It is a privilege to have partners on this journey.

The Funder Collaborative is comprised of the Azrieli Foundation, the Sylvan Adams Family Foundation, the Claudine & Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation, the Morris & Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation, the Alvin Segal Family Foundation, and the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal.

Natana Shek is the Chief Jewish Identity and Engagement Officer at Federation CJA.
Dena Libman is the Chief Strategy Officer for the Azrieli Foundation Canada.