By Matthew Levine
(AJNews) – As part of their annual Tu Bi’ Shevat campaign and celebration, Jewish National Fund Edmonton recently hosted a “Sips & Sweets” event led by Jason Cairns and Orna Richter, two executive directors for JNF. There were a wide variety of both sips and sweets on hand including wine, fruits and vegetables, and donuts supplied by Bliss Baked Goods. It was nice to see so many friendly and familiar faces from the Edmonton Jewish community in attendance.
Jay introduced Orna as a “hometown hero” who grew up in Edmonton and worked her way to becoming the youngest executive director of the Jewish National Fund. Orna’s hour-long speech gave insight into her life’s journey and dove into themes of generosity and the stigma around money.
Orna explained how she adopted her “trace origins of generosity” through three different people. Her Bubbe was always generous and gave food to friends and neighbours, her Zaida exemplified volunteer service, and her mother opened the door to anyone in need. As she grew up, she became involved in NCSY which showed her the importance of fundraising, making cold calls, arranging Purim baskets, and organizing fundraising events.
She went on to talk about her most memorable volunteering experience: working in Kiryat Moshe. Orna worked at a summer camp there, tutoring underprivileged children in English. She emphasized how much these kids needed role models and how volunteering with them helped them stay on a positive path.
After getting her biology degree at York University, she moved back to Edmonton and became involved in the Jewish Community as a Synagogue youth director. She tried pursuing lab work with her biology degree, but when she found she did not enjoy the work, Orna applied for and was hired as a director with the Jewish Federation of Edmonton (JFE). She then moved to Hamilton and got a job working at the McMaster Children’s Foundation, while beginning a board position at JNF.
While working for JFE she discovered the fundraising stigma; she learned “people are afraid to talk about, and ask for money.” Later, working at the children’s hospital with investors, Orna learned about the negative mindset associated with money. Orna explained that terms like “loaded” and “filthy rich” create a negative mindset that takes away from the beauty and excitement of what money can do.
The most insightful part of Orna’s speech came when she talked about the ethics involved in asking for money. She insisted that too many organizations use guilt to influence investors, but that she has learned to evoke hope instead. Orna claimed that through the evocation of hope, long-standing relationships can be built, whereas guilt does not create these relationships.
Orna concluded her speech by talking about the complicated history of Israel and the most recent projects that she has worked on. She emphasized the importance of supporting Israel even if you do not support what is going on there politically. Israel is important to Orna; her biological father lives there and even fought in the Yom Kippur War. She described Israel’s history as complicated and insisted that its past and present are by no means perfect. She believes that because of this we have a duty to engage in communicative conversations about Israel, and insists that JNF has, and will continue to build Israel into a better place through hard work and determination.
In October, Orna took a trip to Israel with Jay Cairns and shared some of the projects they worked on. She was able to see the Restores of Jerusalem project that her Zaida worked on. This was emotional for her as she saw the amazing work her Zaida had done and saw a plaque in his name. She mentioned a hospital-building project (Bait Shelonit), where JNF arranged to have gardens surrounding every access point rather than just concrete. This allows patients the ability to see and enjoy the outdoors, boosting their mental health in the worst of circumstances. She went on to talk about Bait Cham, a home for orthodox girls suffering from mental health issues. Many of these girls are kicked out of their homes because their personal beliefs clash with those of their parents. Children come to Bait Cham for hot meals, and to enjoy therapy sessions. JNF is also rebuilding the outdoor garden area surrounding this clinic.
Orna truly is a hometown hero whose presentation was informative and impactful for everyone in attendance. “Leave a positive footprint in the way that is most meaningful to you,” she concluded.
Click here to learn more about the annual Tu Bi’ Shevat campaign that focuses on two project – rejuvenating the beloved Segev forest and building community housing for adults with disabilities.
Matthew Levine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.