November 19, 2010
Choices celebrates women
This year’s event featured fun and an educational component.
Marla Groberman, Meagan Laskin and Stacey Lederman, co-chairs of the fifth annual Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver Choices Women’s event, managed to keep the evening’s program a secret from 400 Jewish women for five months, and they were excited to finally let the cat out of the bag. Held for the first time at the Riverside Ballroom in Richmond, on Nov. 4, the totally revamped event – promoted with the slogan “Get Your Boa On” – featured surprise entertainment by impersonator Bonnie Kilroe, who had the audience clapping, laughing and, for some, dancing.
Started in 2005 as a grassroots community-building event, Choices has historically featured a speaker meant to inspire women about philanthropy, showing how the choices people make can influence others. According to Karen James, chair of Federation’s women’s philanthropy division, this year, they decided to change the program and have the evening be a celebration of philanthropy and the women who give, while also educating attendees about how Federation uses their donations.
Lederman, co-chair of Choices for the second year in a row, was excited to have been able to bring a such a large number of women together in such a positive way. “We have the chance to acknowledge the power of community together in a fun way tonight,” she said. “We wanted to bring the fun back and thank the women who came and gave money to Federation.”
The turnout was significantly larger than last year. One reason for this was that the organizers returned to the format with table captains inviting guests to join them, a structure that was dropped last year. Miriam Freedman, who was a co-chair of Choices in 2007 and 2008, was happy to see the table-captain approach back. “I like to have a destination and to be invited to something like this,” she explained.
Clearly, Freedman was not alone. Riverside Ballroom, a very large venue, was filled to capacity with women of all ages, from many parts of the Jewish community. Laskin mentioned how proud and excited she was when she looked around the room to see so many women who are involved in philanthropy in the Jewish community. Of the 4,000 donors to Federation, 25 percent are women who make donations in their own names. There are many who make a joint donation with their partners, which accounts for the discrepancy, but, for many reasons, Federation finds value in identifying individuals as donors.
James praised those in attendance for their generosity: “We are all ‘Jews by Choice.’ We choose to live as Jews, to live with Jewish values and teach those values to our children and grandchildren. According to Jewish tradition, it is both a privilege and a responsibility to give back.”
The Federation slogan this year – “Your gift touches others and it touches you, too” – reflects James’ words. The video produced for the campaign, already shown to 1,500 members of the community at the campaign kick-off event featuring Alan Dershowitz, was shown to the assembled guests. More than a few women were visibly moved by the stories.
Also featured were several short vignettes of women who have been helped by Federation donations, including a women who can now send her two children to Jewish day school; an 86-year-old woman with mild dementia who attends the L’Chaim day-care program at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, keeping her involved and active; a student from Kamloops attending the University of Victoria, who encountered Judaism for the first time in a meaningful way at Hillel and on a Birthright trip to Israel; a new immigrant from Israel who connected to the Jewish Family Service Agency’s employment services; and a 15-year-old girl living in Israel who was struggling to find a place for herself in Kiryat Shmona and found a future in a Federation-funded computer training program. Laskin summed up the brief presentations by reminding those in attendance that, for every story represented, there are many others: “The power of a single gift touches many lives.”
Another educational element of the evening was that each table had a sign on it listing Federation’s 40 constituent agencies, with each table featuring one of those agencies, giving more information about it. But the night was not all about informing attendees about what Federation does. Kilroe entertained the audience with impersonations of Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Cher, Tina Turner and Lady Gaga. The costumes and wigs complemented her singing and dancing, approximating the personalities she was impersonating with varying degrees of accuracy but with a high level of kitsch and humor.
Although some women missed having a quality speaker on a meaningful topic, most left smiling, having had a chance to socialize and see an entertaining performance. If the number of women and their energy at Choices is any indication, women’s philanthropy is alive and well in the Lower Mainland.
Michelle Dodek is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.