By DAN HOROWITZ
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has recently had to make some tough, creative decisions in today’s new COVID 19-inspired realities.
For the first time in its 51 years, UJA’s popular Walk with Israel, which year after year turned the streets of Toronto into a veritable sea of blue and white, has been cancelled and replaced with a virtual version.
This year’s Walk was scheduled for May 24. It still is, in a different form.
UJA Federation also had to take what it called another “painful decision.”
According to Adam Minsky, UJA Federation’s president and CEO, the organization was forced to lay off 25 percent of its workforce, while its senior staff has taken substantial voluntary pay cuts.
“While we have reviewed all relevant government programs in an effort to mitigate the impact on our team, unfortunately none are fully adequate at this stage, Minsky wrote in a recent letter to UJA donors.
“We are saddened to share that it was necessary for us to significantly reduce the size of our staff, including through a mix of permanent terminations, temporary layoffs, and contract cancellations,” Minsky explained. “Senior management and other staff have also voluntarily absorbed temporary but significant salary reductions so that more resources can be directed to our crisis response.”
One component of the crisis response to which Minsky referred is UJA’s recent launch of its Emergency Campaign for Community Resilience, launched to help blunt the economic and other fallout from the virus.
“While we have mobilized many times in the past to support Jews in crisis overseas, never before have we faced an emergency on this scale in our own community,” said Minsky.
He said current needs in the Jewish community are projected to grow by $25 million due to the pandemic.
Through this one-time campaign, UJA’s goal is to raise funds “over and above” its annual drive in two key priorities across the GTA: Supporting the Jewish vulnerable, and preserving access to the essentials of Jewish life for Jews in financial crisis.
Despite the cancellation of the physical Walk with Israel, Minsky remains upbeat.
“Every year, the sight of tens of thousands of Jews united in the streets of Toronto – young and old, secular and religious – for UJA’s Walk with Israel has been a beautiful statement of the power of Israel to unite and inspire,” he said.
The Walk has also been a reminder that Toronto “is home to one of the strongest and most exceptional communities in the Diaspora. While the pandemic means we can’t gather in person, we’re doing what Jews have always done when faced with adversity: Adapting with resilience.”
Through the creative use of technology, unity with Israel will be celebrated at the first-ever Virtual Walk with Israel. “Maintaining that sense of community unity is more important than ever during this terrible pandemic,” Minsky said.
With continued support of this event’s title sponsors, RioCan, Mizrahi Developments, Metropia, and Yogen Fruz, and the presenting sponsor for the Renee and Irwin Nadal Street Festival, Peerage Realty, the virtual Walk will be held, as mentioned, on May 24, 2020.
The morning of the event will see a celebration of the last 50 years and include Canadian and Israeli talent to showcase the connection between the two nations.
The Walk will kick off around 10 a.m. and last about two-and-a-half hours. The afternoon will be an opportunity for families to participate in their own Walk activities, all while maintaining proper social distancing protocols.
For more information, or to register for UJA’s Walk with Israel, visit walkwithisrael.com.
“Everything we do as individuals and as a community during this pandemic will shape and define who we will be when it is over,” Minsky said with a note of caution mixed with determination. “I have no doubt that our community will emerge stronger than ever.”