Montreal’s Jewish organization Federation CJA is facing a mounting scandal over one of the blog ads for their 2015 fundraising campaign, one they are trying to erase every shred of evidence even existed. On Sept. 1, 2015, Federation CJA posted sponsored content on MTL Blog, entitled, “10 Realities Of Having A Jewish Best Friend In Montreal.” The blog post faced a backlash for the Jewish philanthropy organization’s emphasis on upper middle class and rich Montreal Jewish stereotypes, when the city has the highest Jewish poverty rates in the whole country, a problem that keeps on growing, but the organization has done nothing to curb.
Since then a petition has been posted online and Federation CJA and MTL Blog removed the original article. Even the article about the controversy published on Sept. 10 the Canadian Jewish News entitled “Federation CJA pulls ‘humorous’ blog post after complaints” was taken down, in is place a page that says, “access denied.” Except for Federation CJA’s original Twitter post announcing the article, the petition, and some remnants search engines remain, but for the most part every traced has been removed, but why?
Montreal’s Jewish charitable organization Federation CJA caused a controversy with one of their ads for 2015 fundraiser campaign, glorifying Jewish rich stereotypes, Sept. 9, 2015
Federation CJA seemed to have not realized their article perpetuated the worst upper middle class stereotypes of Montreal’s young Jewish community everything that is wrong with the community and its youth’s afluenza epidemic. The article was a top 10 characteristics of young Jewish Montreal, which included the following:
1. Guaranteed to find great food in their fridge.
2. They’re well connected.
3. Impeccable taste in venues, but they do tend to favour the familiar.
4. They pretty much know everyone on the island of Montreal.
5. The indispensable vocabulary you couldn’t help but assimilate into your own.
6. You envy how they escape when it gets too cold and disappear when it gets too hot.
7. The long journey to the West Island.
8. They were obsessed with camp.
9. The art of schmoozing.
10. As much as they’ll try to deny it, they know these realities are true and we love them for it.
The article was aimed not just at the community, but non-Jewish youth with Jewish friends. The article however, painted Montreal’s Jewish youth as more like the Kardashians than anything else. Self-obsessed, rich spoiled brats, that live in the suburbs, go to summer camp each year, spend winter vacations in Florida with their rich grandparents and go to the trendiest and most exclusive restaurants, hotspots and events.
After all the blog post’s recounting of everything rich and privileged, then the article plugged Federation CJA, writing, “We’re lucky to live in a city that not only accepts but also embraces the Jewish community and its culture. A big reason for that is thanks to Federation CJA, which has been caring for the vulnerable, strengthening Jewish vibrancy and continuity, and advancing communal interests in Montreal for close to a century. Its impact stretches from Montreal to Israel and to over 70 countries around the world, but they can’t do it alone.”
Federation CJA was trying to counter the city’s and country’s most anti-Semitic incident filled year, by showing how accepting non-Jewish youth are of their Jewish peers and lucky they would be to have such fun loving influential friends. Instead, the organization pointed out everything that is wrong with the Jewish community, everything that Montreal’s Jewish poor might have lost with the economic downturn, never experienced and resent of their own Jewish classmates and peers.
Federation CJA’s Twitter account proudly posted a link promoting the article on their Twitter account, writing: “Federation CJA @FederationCJA Sep 1 10 Realities Of Having A #Jewish Best Friend In #Montreal | http://buff.ly/1LIIdEC via @MTLBlog Retweet 1 Favorite 1 7:51 AM – 1 Sep 2015″
Not everyone took the blog so well, an open letter and corresponding petition against the MTL Blog post was addressed to Federation CJA leadership and they reminded them of the ramifications of their sponsored and pad for post. In their letter, the petitioners told Federation CJA they “strayed from its important mandate of ‘caring for the vulnerable, nurturing and strengthening Jewish life, education and values and advancing our communal interests.'” They noted the post “perpetuated a stale, unfunny, uninspired and sad stereotype of what it is apparently like to be an upper-middle class Jew,” and “that for a large swath of our community, these “realities” are not reality at all.”
The petition reminded Federation CJA of the reality of a high poverty rate in the Montreal Jewish community. The Jewish poverty rate in Montreal is 20 percent or 18,130 Jews, the highest in the country according to the Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA’s 2011 National Household Survey, in Canada it is 14.6 percent. The problem is not new, but growing in 2002 it was 18.6 percent. Still there was increase of 740 more Jews living under the poverty line while the Jewish population declined 2.9 percent, the economic recession is partly to blame, as it the majority of the population that left the city are the most upward mobile.
There are three segments of Montreal’s Jewish community that are most vulnerable, Young Jews living in single mother homes and young Jewish adults and Jewish seniors, the exact demographic depicted in the MTL Blog post. As 2011 National Household Survey points outs poverty affects “health, housing, academic success, job opportunities, self-image, and social
interactions.” It also affects religious observance making it difficult to pay for Kosher food, Synagogue membership, and Jewish education.
The “Economic disadvantage affects a broad spectrum of the Jewish community. Different cultural or age groups, immigrant and Canadian-born, religious and secular orientations.” Those defined as poor live “below the “Low Income Cut-Off” (LICO)” and it might include individuals who own a house or a car, but depends on how much of their income is spent on food, clothes and shelter. In Montreal 3,615 Jewish seniors or 19.5 percent live under the poverty line, a third are elderly women living alone. Too many Jewish children aged 0-14 years are living under the poverty line compromising 20.5 percent or 3,655 children.
Montreal’s Jewish poor are living in all 19 geographic districts including Dollard-des-Ormeaux highlighted in the blog post. Eight districts have 1,000 Jews each living in poverty, and they represent the communities with the highest concentrations of Jews even some of the most upper class communities Cote St Luc has 3,105 or 16 percent under the poverty line the majority 1,070 are elderly, while the West Island, which includes Dollard has 1,130 poor or 9.4 percent. The major concentrations of poor are in Cote Des Neiges, NDG Montreal Ouest, Snowdon and Outremont with its high ultra Orthodox population and largest families. The most affluent neighborhoods in contrast are Hampstead, Town of Mount Royal, the West Island and Westmount.
Single mother led homes are the most vulnerable 34 percent live in poverty and among Jewish children in poverty 51 percent live with single mothers. The young hip Jewish adults the blog post aimed at those between 15-24 years old are the most vulnerable, 81.5 percent of those living alone or with a non-family member live in poverty, while in general 3,015 or 23.5 percent live in poverty. There are 3,975 or 20.5 percent of Jewish adults aged 25 to 44 living in poverty. Montreal’s Jews living on social assistance or workers’ compensation compromise 60.7 percent, especially leading up to retirement age 55 to 64 where 74.4 percent live under the poverty level. Additionally 2,870 Montreal Jews are working, but not making enough to survive.
Anti-Semitism has grown in Canada across the board, according to recent Montreal Gazette article, “B’nai B’rith found 2014 was the worst year to date for anti-Semitic attacks in Canada” with “1,627 anti-Semitic incidents.” Anti-Semitic incidents were also up in Montreal. The rising anti-Semitism in the city shows just how inappropriate the blog post was, as the open letter noted, “article reinforcing the stereotype that all Jews are wealthy does a great disservice, and it “supports and reinforces dangerous Jewish stereotypes about Jewish wealth, influence and character traits is quite distressing and damaging.”
For all the petitions valid arguments they are far from their goal of 1000 signatures, with only 52 brave Montreal Jews willing to sign and speak out against Federation CJA. The open letter praised the organization for most of their work for the community, singling out just the blog post. Considering the past year for the Montreal Jewish community, with high poverty rates, lowering enrollment in Jewish schools, highest levels of anti-Semitic incidents and increased activism in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel at the city’s universities Federation CJA is failing the community.
Federation CJA is in the midst of their 2015 campaign, which began on Aug. 26 with a gala celebrity filled launch headlined by Jewish actress Mayim Bialik of the Big Bang Theory and culminates with the Super Sunday marathon phone fundraising event on Oct. 25, 2015. By erasing the controversy surrounding the MTL blog post, Federation CJA hopes to erase their public relations disaster in every way hoping it will just disappear, even going as far as ensuring CJN’s article covering the controversy is also erased.
It all makes one wonder what the organization would ever do if any wrongdoing or mistreatment by them were ever uncovered, it shows just how much lack of transparency there is in the organization and what other undesirable situations they are covering up, Charity Intelligence Canada has already noted that Federation CJA does a poor job at financial transparency.
The open letter and petition expressed that they “hoped that CJA will make stronger efforts to paint a picture of the Montreal Jewish Community that actively reflects its diversity and inclusivity.” That is one of the problems with Federation CJA is it operating by self-crowned ruling elite in the community. The same families have been president of Federation CJA and Agence Ometz, board members in all the roster of Federation CJA’s organizations overlap, patronage has been a key in the leadership posts as it is in filling staff positions throughout the organization.
If you are not in, rich enough, friends or have become enemies with the influential players or their close friends, you cannot find a job or leadership position, education, talent, accomplishments and one’s CV means nothing. It is like the high school popular click, the mean girls, cheerleaders and jocks keep those that do not fit up to their standards on the sidelines, except when an organization whose campaign tagline is the “power of community” it is hypocritical. The blog post emphasis that that is in fact the reality. The post portraying the young rich and most popular of the community as the leaders the same translates to the older generation running Federation CJA.
The open letter and petition is right, Federation CJA has to focus on “not only the value of charity but the value of justice as well, which is at the root of the Hebrew word for charity (tzedakah).” The organization needs to go back to its Jewish roots applying Maimonides principles of Tzedekah in its highest form, helping those in need help themselves so they in turn can give back to the community. Instead, poverty rates soar, and they espouse and stereotype upper middle class wealth, showing that despite their calls to “explore the power of community” the only community that truly matters is the image and reality portrayed in the blog post, “10 Realities Of Having A Jewish Best Friend In Montreal.” Maybe this post is not the lapse the petition politely says it is, but a growing problem that should all donors reconsider who and what Federation CJA really stands for.
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, editor, & historian. She writes regularly about news, politics, education, and Judaism forExaminer.com. She is the editor of Academic Buzz Network, and History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program.