Bonnie K. Goodman
Historian, Librarian, and Journalist

How Federation CJA failed: The worst year for the Montreal Jewish community

September in Canada for the Jewish community means the High Holiday season and the annual fundraising for the Jewish Federations of Canada, UIA, Canadian Jewish Federations. The campaign is relentless and more visible the US presidential campaign, radio, newspaper and TV ads, billboards, fundraising events, launches with celebrities, carnivals, etc. The campaign is keyed at the time most of world Jewry is atoning for the sins and transgressions from the past, the Jewish community plays on the on Jewish need for Tshuvah, Hashem’s forgiveness in order to be written in the book of life for the year ahead. The question though remains how much of the millions of dollars being collected each year are helping the community they way they are selling it? According to the statistics, the Canadian Jewish Community is in bad shape so where is the money going?

The Jewish Federations of Canada are lagging behind in all areas in education, social services, Israel advocacy, support for seniors and stopping anti-Semitism. Nowhere in Canada in the situation for Jews worst than in Montreal. Federation CJA’s big money launches with celebrity speakers and flashy campaigns and slogans masks the fact the Federation CJA is failing the grade and spending more on fundraising, self praise and their workers’ salaries than they making Jewish life for the second largest population in Canada.

Attendance in Jewish schools continues to drop; Montreal’s Jewish community has the highest poverty rate in the country with seniors facing the brunt of the poverty being a large segment of the community’s population, Montreal has rising anti-Semitic incidents, and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel thriving at its universities especially Concordia, boasting the largest local Jewish population.

Federation CJA keeps collecting donations, but are still failing the community in their mission. Montreal’s Federation CJA is in the midst of their 2015 campaign season, coinciding with the high holiday season, the organization keeps collecting donation money, but this past year the Montreal Jewish community faced their worst year in recent history.  

The Jewish poverty rate in Montreal is 20 percent, 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. Montreal wins the poorest community by a long shot; the lowest poverty rate goes to Ottawa with 8.9 percent, Calgary 10.8 percent, Toronto 12.9 percent, only Vancouver comes close and still four percent less with 16.1 percent. It speaks to the dire poverty problem in Montreal, and it is not new in 2002 it was 18.6 percent, why will the millions raised each year and programs in place could the poverty rate not be lowered never mind grow.

As of 2011, Montreal’s Jewish community was composed of 90,780 individuals, 2.4 percent of the city’s population, with 20.4 percent seniors over 65 years of age the largest concentration of Jewish seniors in the country, 10.7 percent were seniors over 75 years-old. There are only 16.9 percent seniors in the Canadian Jewish community. The problem is a huge segment on Montreal Jewish seniors 19.5 percent are living below the poverty line, with a third 39.8 percent being women.

Two other demographic areas are vulnerable to living under the poverty line; women run single parent families and their children, and unmarried single alone young adults under 24 years old. Additionally, nearly 61 percent of Jews receiving social assistance or worker’s compensation live below the poverty level. It is not only those that do not work, 2,870 Montreal Jews are “working poor” not earning enough to survive.

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.

Susan Karpman, director of community services and immigration at Agence Ometz gave a nice concerning quote last year to the Canadian Jewish News. Karpman told them, “We also have significant numbers of large families with lots of children in the observant community, and that also tilts the balance, because that community has its own challenges in terms of supporting the larger and growing communities.”

Jewish education is also in trouble in the Canada, especially Jewish high schools are seeing declining enrollment, the situation is no different in Montreal, but no matter how much is supposedly done to curb the trend, it continues. High and rising tuition rates are a main reason for the enrolment decline although Federation CJA’s affiliate Montreal’s Bronfman Jewish Education Centre the “two formidable obstacles” are “the shrinking size of the anglophone Jewish community,” and the “waning commitment to Jewish education.”

Shimshon Hamerman, director of formal education at BJEC told the Canadian Jewish News, “The trends are not looking pretty. The community is working hard to improve the situation.” The cost of tuition is being ignored for the most part with exception of the mention of funding to the city’s four Jewish high schools and a new subsidy program aimed at the middle class. The incentives and subsidy program are more a demeaning sign of shame for the families rather than true help with the interfering hoops necessary to prove one merit the subsidy.

The best way to lessen the burden is putting donation dollars to work to lower the cost of education that can be between $8,000 for kindergarten to $10,000 for grade 11. This excludes building and donation fees that further heighten the burden in families with two or more children the costs add up, $20,000 to $30,000 a year for two or three children. Instead of the embarrassment of subsidies, families choose not to send their children to Jewish schools.

In the realm of higher education and Israel advocacy Federation CJA also fails, BDS activity increased in US universities and colleges by 31.2 percent according to Israel on Campus Coalition’s “Campus Trends Report,” it also increased in Canada and Montreal in the 2014-2015 academic year. This year saw BDS votes by undergraduate associations at both of Montreal’s English language universities, Concordia and McGill, one vote succeeded, one failed, still the problems remains.

Concordia Student Union (CSU) voted in favor of the BDS movement against Israel in their December 2014 by elections. They followed the Concordia Graduate Students Association, which passed their resolution in 2013. Concordia has a long history of anti-Israel activity and anti-Semitic dating back 15 years at least. Still in all that time why was more Israel advocacy funded to counter the movement, more done to stop anti-Semitism at the university with Montreal’s largest local Jewish student population of 1,000.

A BDS vote failed in March 2015 at McGill where it was closely defeated at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly. The no camp featured widespread support including from Liberal leader and McGill alum Justin Trudeau. This was the second time in the same academic year that BDS resolution was voted on by SSMU. At October’s general assembly the vote to “stand in solidarity with the people of the occupied Palestinian territories” and condemning Israel’s “siege” of Gaza and “illegal” settlement expansion failed, but with a larger margin. Jewish students make up nearly 8 percent of McGill’s student population.

Anti-Semitism has grown in Canada across the board not just at its universities. 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. Anti-Semitism in Quebec known as Quebec anti-Semitism according to McGill University Sociology professor Morton Weinfeld has always been unique, because of the province’s French majority, and has increased recently because the growing Arab community, anti-Israel attitude and Islamic radicalism.

The most common form of anti-Semitism is harassment, followed by vandalism and to lesser extent violence. The situation has gotten to the point that Mayor Denis Coderre wants to create a hate crimes unit in the Service de police de Montréal (SPVM) and met with Jewish community leaders in June. The Jewish Defence League has recently set up a chapter in Montreal to combat the rising anti-Semitism, the right-wing group has a radical violent past especially in the US where it was branded a terrorist group, but in Canada has been peaceful.

The JDL wants to create a surveillance program as a means of preventing incidents in the city. National Director Meir Weinstein pointed out to CBC News, “There’s serious problems, serious groups promoting radical jihadism, radical Islam and we monitor these organizations. We provide security at times for Jewish institutions, Jewish events and we’d like to offer that in Montreal.”

Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Congregation Beth Israel and Beth Aaron opposed the JDL’s new chapter, acknowledged the rise of anti-Semitism, while insisting the police are doing enough, something Montreal’s Mayor does not even believe. Rabbi Poupko told CBC News earlier this year. “The truth is we have suffered from anti-Semitic vandalism in Montreal. And in each serious instance, the events were followed by investigations, prosecutions and imprisonment.”

Although the JDL past maybe too radical, Federation CJA has to do more to deal with the growing anti-Semitism within legal means and possibly heighten security and preventative measures. Rabbi Poupko’s belief that the police are enough is not true, or else there were not be such a rise in incidents and there would more preventive measures in place, also the police too overlook complaints of anti-Semitic harassment.

Last year Federation CJA received over $45 million in donation, yet the Montreal Jewish community faced their worst year in recent history, why? According to the statistics for Federation CJA provided by Charity Intelligence Canada, the organization “provided direct financial aid to 2,203 families and 8,300 people, gave home care to 2,500 elderly, supported 1,000 kids with special needs, and helped 690 new immigrants to find work.” Additionally, their operate Le Café, “served over 3,300 hot kosher meals,” provided “tuition assistance” to 3,600 students at the Jewish day schools, and helped 1,000 children attend summer camp.

According to financial reports last year, Federation CJA received 48.8 million from fundraising and distributed 58 percent of the funds, $28.4 million to 69 charities under the organization’s umbrella. Meanwhile, they spent 9 percent, $4.4 million on CJA charity programs. The organization’s “grants and program cover 4 areas;” $13.7 million or 28 percent on “Jewish vibrancy,” $8.4 million or 17 percent on care for the elderly and poor, $6 million or 12 percent on Israel and $4.7 million or 10 percent for national advocacy organizations.

Still Federation CJA spends 14.3 percent on administrative costs and 8.3 percent on fundraising, and the average salary for 115 full time staff is over $71,000 with its president being paid between $300,000 and $350,000. Four staff members are paid $200,000 to $250,000 and five staff members are paid between $160,000 to $200,000. Salaries that are bit steep for a charitable organization, with a 20 percent of their community living in poverty.

Federation CJA spends too much on administrative costs including salaries and on the donation campaign, the money instead could be spent on more programs and fighting poverty, lowering the cost of Jewish education, fighting anti-Semitism and Israel advocacy to counter the growing BDS Movement. Federation’s Toronto counterpart United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto’s (UJA) spends less on salaries and their fundraising and more on programs. Only 8.9 percent of their total revenues are spent on administrative costs and fundraising. More of the funds go to covers programs, and the poverty rate in Toronto’s Jewish community is 7 percent less than Montreal at 12.9 percent.

Part of the problem might have to do with operations and management at the organization given the prime responsibility by the umbrella organization Federation CJA to fight poverty, give employment, social and immigration services. The poverty statistics contradict the amazing success stories of help and compassion used in Agence Ometz and Federation CJA’s annual reports, news releases or for the campaign season, making one wonder are they real or contrived to play on donators’ emotions. Agence Ometz claims in their 2014-2015 annual report to have reached in the last year 6,805 children, 2,050 families, 1,160 individual 1,647 immigrants, and 2,230 job seekers.

According to the statistics for Agence Ometz provided by Charity Intelligence Canada the organization worked with more than 13,000 people; 7,340 children and youth, 2,196 job seekers, 1,659 new immigrants, 1,348 families and 1,130 single individuals.” They focused most of their funding on children and youth 23 percent, poverty 19 percent, and employment 18 percent. The organization “worked with 2,196 job seekers helping 1,008 adults find work and 125 entrepreneurs start businesses.”

The majority of Agence Ometz’s $4 million funding comes from Federation CJA, $2.3 million, and they spends 12.2 percent on administrative costs including salaries, which is an average of just over $70,000 for each of their 50 full time workers with the highest salary between $160,000 to 200,000.  They spend 7.6 of their funds for fundraising, and 18.6 percent on program costs. In the end only a little over 61 percent goes to helping Montreal’s poor, immigrants, job seekers and those suffering from social and mental health issues.

Agence Ometz run by a group of social workers who have forgotten what it means to be social workers, their jobs more secure than a tenured professor at a university is. The organization describes its mission as a “human services agency, offering employment, immigration, school and social services to help people fulfill their potential, and to secure the growth and vitality of the Montreal community.” Promising their services will be “founded on Jewish values” Tzedekah, charity but also social justice, the way the organization operates, there might be charity, but past actions, discriminations prove that the justice is missing.

The organization has admitted to systemic discrimination in the employment services in violation of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They treat those who come to them for any help with condescension, abandon those in the community who say they experience anti-Semitism and advocate throwing the seniors in residences as a means of dealing the large senior community living poverty. Privately their motto is if you are part of community’s poor there is really nothing you can ever do to change your circumstances.

How did the Montreal Jewish community face their worse year when Federation CJA collected $45 million in donations for 2014, and claims to distribute nearly 60 percent of their funds to programs? Considering the percentage and number of individuals and families helped in poverty compared to the city’s total Jewish population in poverty, there should have been more headway to improve the financial situation and of the poor, still the poverty level remains exponentially higher than Jewish communities in other parts of the country.

Some of the problem might have to do with the mindset of Federation CJA and their affiliated agency Agence Ometz. Federation CJA’s recent ad campaign included a sponsored article on MTL Blog “10 Realities Of Having A Jewish Best Friend In Montreal.” The blog post faced a backlash for promoting rich Jewish sterotypes that were both an affront to the 20 percent living under the poverty level and an invitation to increase the already heightened anti-Semitism towards the community. An open letter and petition was mounted, but the community tried to erase everything related to the faux pas, the article was pulled along with CJA funded Canadian Jewish News’s report on the controversy.

The ad campaign also reeked of prejudice within the community based on social circumstances, preferring the upper middle class and rich in the community, than those then are suffering financially. It may be this frame of mind, superiority, and heightened privilege that prevents the community from doing more to actually help the poor. The charity given might be enough to keep the poor from drowning, but not enough to help change the circumstances. The article showed that those who are poor are to be separated as the rich’s mitzvah, but not partake in the same social circle, countering their campaign tagline, “power of community.”

Just as world Jewry is reexamining their lives, asking for forgiveness and repenting the community organization has to do the same. What is needed is a shake-up, a reexamination of how the organization is operating, leading and employing. New talent, leadership based on accomplishments not bank accounts is needed to bring in new ideas to infuse the floundering community organization whose, actions or lack of actions have led to the increased and continued problems Montreal Jews are facing.

More of the donations need to go to the programs they are touting rather that unnecessary workers and salaries that are more a drain than a help to the community they are supposedly to work helping. Flashy campaign and celebrities at launch events that barely make the news afterwards are unnecessary when the money instead could go to help those need, decrease Jewish school tuition prices, or fighting anti-Semitism and BDS in the city.

Most of all Federation CJA has 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. The organization needs to help the Jewish population thrive and being that support system that just advocates community, but actually makes every single Jew feel they belong and are family. Jewish leaders and organizations need to actually practice what they preach and truly “explore the power of community” as their campaign tagline says and follow through on their promise to “nourish, inspire, connect, empower and comfort” all in the Jewish community every single one of the Montreal’s Jewish population without bias, discrimination and personal motivations.

About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies. Her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over 15 years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.” She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, and her scholarly articles can be found on where she is a top writer.
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