My Baba Sarah may have been responsible for my strong belief that women should be philanthropists in their own right. One of my earliest memories is of her weekly gin rummy games, the proceeds of which were donated to our local Edmonton Talmud Torah.
My Jewish identity was also inextricably tied in my early years to food; Baba was an extraordinary cook, who regularly produced delicious Eastern European delicacies, and my father owned the first Jewish deli in Edmonton.
Most of my father’s family perished in Auschwitz, but he miraculously survived, making his way to Canada in 1947 at the age of seventeen. He was adopted by a prominent Jewish family, who impressed upon him and my mother their expectation that they give back to the community. They did not disappoint: they were generous contributors in Edmonton and my dad was a Negev Dinner honoree. My parents instilled in my sisters and me the importance of philanthropy, so that one of the first things I did when I moved to Toronto in 1979 was to become involved in UJA.
My husband, Henry Wolfond, and I share a deep love of Israel and have tried to ensure that the obligation to support our homeland and to cherish our connection to it has been passed to our children, Serena and her husband, J.B., to Joseph, Max and Maddie, to my stepson, Adam, and our grandsons, Cory and Jesse.
It is so important to me that living Jewishly embody not only a recognition of the centrality of Israel in our faith and tradition, but the remarkable values that Judaism teaches, from tikkun olam to tzedek, tzedek tirdof, our ingrained pursuit of justice for all. That means including a diversity of Jews, regardless of their colour, sexual orientation, income or disability.
Im Ein Ani Li Mi Li...? If I am not for myself, who is for me, and if I am only for myself, what am I? This is a seminal Jewish teaching that has always resonated with me. I am more and more convinced that we must impress upon future generations this obligation of tzedakah; it is our best path to ensuring the continuity of our traditions, and of our people.