Elizabeth Wolfe Begins Term as Chair, UJA Federation Board

Community leader cites her belief in organization's importance in accepting new role

Published: February 17th 2011
in Culture » Society

Elizabeth Wolfe

When Elizabeth Wolfe began her role as Chair of UJA Federation’s Board in November, 2010, it was almost a case of her fulfilling a destiny. With her life-long involvement in UJA Federation, and with her parents, Ray and Rose Wolfe, both having served as UJA Board Chairs, the tradition continues.  


“I’ve been involved with Federation in one form or another, my whole life,” says Elizabeth, a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. “We grew up with UJA Federation and so for me not to take the position would be to challenge all the commitments that I’ve made to the Federation over the last 30 years. It was a natural progression to my involvement throughout my lifetime.”  


But it’s clearly not a sense of familial obligation that enticed Elizabeth to accept this heady and time-consuming endeavour. When she speaks of UJA Federation, the pride she feels is obvious.  


“It’s been a significant piece of my life and I believe in the organization,” says Elizabeth. “I believe in the importance of the organization and its role in the community and if we are involved as lay leaders, and as volunteers, and we are not prepared to step up and assume positions of responsibility, then what are we doing here? Imagine a Toronto without UJA Federation and you immediately understand its significance. Imagine a community that does not raise the dollars to provide for the needs of its most vulnerable within a Jewish context. Imagine a community with disparate agencies that do not have a mechanism to coordinate initiatives or advocate for improved funding and social change. Imagine a community where schools operate in isolation with no financial assistance for tuition. Imagine a community with no funded Jewish programming on our university campuses. Imagine a community that doesn’t raise money for Israel, does not encourage or promote Israel engagement and does not advocate on its behalf. Imagine a community that could not respond to anti-Semitic attacks or the campaign to delegitimize Israel. Federation enables us to leverage our strength through combined efforts, in pursuit of our common purpose.”  


Wolfe recently returned from a Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Investment Institute in Palm Springs featuring 300 participants, where her pride for Jewish Toronto was again justified.  


“Everyone there recognized the success that Toronto has with its Jewish community, and that Toronto is a vibrant Jewish city with a dynamic Jewish Federation,” said Wolfe. “It is perceived as one of, if not the leading Jewish communities in North America. Actually, we are recognized outside of our community and outside of Canada to a much greater extent than we are aware of.”  


Wolfe realizes that while she had specific priorities when she assumed her role as Chair, flexibility is essential today, as we face a unique and disconcerting climate of increased anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiment.  


“As circumstances change, we have to be ready to shift our priorities to meet very altered realities,” she explains. “I think we are facing tensions that go beyond our community that we have not seen since the Second World War. We need to strengthen the organization so that it can respond to those changing circumstances since we need to ensure that our role in advocacy for the Jewish community is as effective as it can be while continuing to meet basic needs. I came into this position with pre-existing priorities that are going to be there. We have a capital campaign where we’re on a course to develop the infrastructure that’s going to continue. Advocacy is on a course that’s got to be pushed forward.”

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