Strengthening ties between our community and Israel – the heart of the global Jewish community - is one of UJA’s core priorities. It is the ancestral home of the Jewish people and the birthplace of Judaism. It is the land to which we returned after 2,000 years of exile. We invest more than $15 million every year for programs that strengthen the relationship between Israel and the Greater Toronto Jewish community, and advance solutions that support Israeli communities facing unique challenges. Evan Cooperman, CEO of Foremost Financial Corporation, has been a member of UJA’s Israel & Overseas Committee (IOC) for six years, and was the Co-Chair of the committee in 2018. UJA spoke with him about why he continues to volunteer with IOC, and the impact that Israel has had on his Jewish identity and experience.

UJA: Why do you think it’s important to dedicate your time, money and energy to supporting Israel?
Evan: Toronto provides a tremendous amount of support to those less fortunate in Israel, and it is important that we dedicate time to ensure that our charitable dollars have the maximum social impact. It is exciting and vital to pilot bold and innovative initiatives that, if successful, materially strengthen the demographics and future of Israel, while also offering significant return potential. It is also personally rewarding to see the meaningful changes, first-hand, that our community is bringing to our sisters and brothers in Israel.

UJA: What has IOC accomplished that you are most proud of?
Evan: There are many accomplishments. We have funded programs to encourage girls to study sciences. We funded a program called Youth Futures that mentors at-risk youth—and this program was so successful that it was rolled out nationally. We funded a strategic plan for the region of Eilot which culminated in their focus on renewable energy, and has brought tens of millions of dollars to the region. We stuck with Sderot at a time when most other donor communities stepped back after the most acute emergency had subsided. I am most proud of Toronto’s continued steadfast support of Israel.

UJA: What story about the work you do has affected you the most?
Evan: In Bat-Yam, we focused on helping the Ethiopian immigrant community. During the time of our intervention, the percentage of Ethiopian students who matriculated from high school rose from 47% to over 80%. One program in our intervention was called ‘Warm Home’. Perhaps this impacted me because I am a father, but we learned that many Ethiopian children came home to empty apartments because their parents were working. In addition, their parents were not educated, so they could not help with homework, and many kids were not getting three full meals a day; it’s hard to focus on learning when you have an empty stomach. Warm Home provided young children with a safe and enriching after-school environment that included meals and tutoring until parents came home from work.

UJA: Why do you think the Jewish community of the GTA should continue to support Israel and small Jewish communities around the world?
Evan: We are blessed to live in Canada in a relatively affluent community. While we have no shortage of challenges at home, there are so many people in Israel, especially in the geographic periphery, who live below the poverty line and live lives filled with hardship and adversity. Also, as our children grow up in Canada, it is important to support Israel and teach them to realize the vital link that Israel holds for their Jewish identity and nationhood.

UJA: How do you respond to the sentiment that Israel has reached a point where help from the Jewish community in the GTA is no longer needed?
Evan: This simply is not true. There are many Israelis who fall through the social safety net, and it is important to remember that it is our job, as compassionate human beings, to act as the Global Jewish 911 for those in need.