Leadership Profile: Evan Zelikovitz, Current Chair of the March of the Living Digital Archive Project and Canada Israel Committee (CIE) Management Committee

EvanWhy are you committed to community work?

I’ve been volunteering in communities where I’ve lived in for over 30 years, starting at the early age of 17 in Sydney, Nova Scotia where I became one of the youth leaders for Young Judea in the Maritimes. My connection to community continues today and is stronger than ever. I would have to say that it all started from seeing my parents involved and then evolved, spending 16 years at Camp Kadimah, learning more about the importance of being Jewish and giving back to community.

For the most part, engaging with the younger generation and trying to teach them about the importance of community and that being Jewish is, in many ways, less about religion, and more about engaging in community and being a good human being and doing that all under a Jewish umbrella.

Whether it be involvement in summer camp, community programs like Mitzvah Day, Ottawa’s Jewish Community Centre, Jewish sports leagues, March of the Living or Birthright, I’ve tried to help our younger generation better understand the importance of being involved in their communities and giving back to the community that has given them so much.

The focus of my community work over the past 5 years has been with Canada Israel Experience and more specifically, the March of the Living. For the past 4 years, I have traveled to Poland with March of the Living Canada and worked with a team of videographers to create short, educational videos that tell the story of our incredible Holocaust Survivors.

The work done by the March of the Living Digital Archive Project is an educational resource that can be used by all Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Canada and throughout the world. As our courageous Survivors continue to age and leave us, the Digital Archive will become an increasingly important resource that will ensure our Survivors’ stories are never forgotten. Visit www.molarchiveproject.com today.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of community work?

My favorite part of community work is seeing the positive change I and others are making within our communities. If I can make a difference with one person and get them involved in their community, I feel like I have made a difference.

My least favorite part is the reality of politics within our Jewish communities and the often unfortunate reality that making financial contributions is seen as significantly more important than volunteerism. It’s not just about giving money, as important as that is. If I am able to get someone to become passionate about volunteering, I truly believe that in time they will see the importance of giving financially as well. But they first need to understand the importance and value of what it means to have a strong community.

What inspires you to do Jewish communal work?

For me it comes down to two things – family and Camp Kadimah.Growing up in the small city of Sydney, Nova Scotia, within a very small Jewish community of 200-300 families, helped me understand the importance of being Jewish without the luxury of being around a lot of Jewish people. My parents were involved in community for as long as I can remember, whether it be Hadassah or Sisterhood or the Synagogue or Camp Kadimah or UJA. They were always involved in something and I suppose it just rubbed off on me. Community involvement was never seen as a chore or even a necessity, but more of a responsibility and a way to make our community better. It was a way of life.

While we weren’t religious, I went to Synagogue every Friday and Saturday until the age of 15, for the most part because I was forced to go, but also because I was needed to make a minion many Saturday mornings. While it might not have been my favorite thing to do, it created in me a sense of responsibility and I believe that has stayed with me as I became an adult and a parent.

I always felt proud to be Jewish, and growing up in Sydney and then Halifax meant it wasn’t about being surrounded by other Jewish people because that was never the case. It was more about being a good person and including many of my non-Jewish friends in Passover Seders and Chanukah parties. It was about inclusiveness.It was also about respecting other religions, which meant going with my non-Jewish friends to church on Christmas Eve and helping them decorate the Christmas tree. I came to understand that being involved in the Jewish community was about not being insulated; not living in a Jewish bubble.

And then every summer I would leave the city and head to Barss Corner, Nova Scotia and Camp Kadimah – a place I will always call my second home. A place where I was able to connect with other Jews from all over North America. A place where I learned about the importance of Israel and of being a good person. A place where I established life-long friendships.

I truly believe I had the best of both worlds; an amazing group of non-Jewish friends (many of whom I remain close with to this day), and a core based in the pride and importance of being a Jew in a sea of those who were not.

As I have grown and gotten married and had children, it has become inspiring for both me and my wife to teach our children about the importance of being Jewish, but not in a bubble and not insulated from other religions or other communities. For me and my wife, while our lives are firmly and proudly rooted in being Jewish, it’s not just about being Jewish. It’s about being involved in a much greater community.

When I see my children inviting their many non-Jewish friends to our house, whether Muslim or Christian or other, and at the same time, counting down the days until they can go back to Jewish summer camp, it tells me and my wife that we are doing something right. And when my kids see how involved my wife and I are within our Jewish community, I’m inspired by their own evolution and recognition that being Jewish is something to be proud of and that being involved in community is so very important.

What inspires you to continue when the going gets tough?

For me, it’s not so much about when the going gets tough. It’s more about figuring out how to channel frustrations of working through the politics of our Jewish communities. But I’ve come to realize that all communities have politics. We aren’t the only community or religion or culture that is at times “meshuggana”.

I’m inspired by the commitment of other lay people and our community staff who continue to persevere and work and come together when the going gets tough. I’m in awe of the work done by Jewish community staff, who work so very hard for often, little financial reward. They are our community champions. Our communities often tend to find the common denominator to work through adversity, just as the Jewish people throughout our history.

Why is Israel important to you?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer; perhaps more complicated than difficult. I’m not an Israeli citizen. I was born and raised in Canada. I vote in Canada and care deeply about this great country we live in. But my upbringing in the home and my 16 years spent in a Young Judea camp has allowed me to appreciate all that Israel is and why it is important to all Jewish people living in the Diaspora.

I have also had the good fortune of traveling to Israel many times and lived there for a year and am honoured to say that my brother served in the Israeli army for three years, much of that during the 1982 Lebanon war. For me, Israel is the Jewish people’s ultimate symbol of struggle, perseverance, strength, and success. Israel is a beacon of humanity and democracy living within a world of conflict and inexplicable darkness.

We have all seen many throughout the world use Israel as that excuse of all that is wrong in the world and the main reason for instability in the Middle East. We have also seen the world cloak their anti-Semitism with anti-Zionist rhetoric. While the ignorance throughout the world frustrates and saddens me, it enables me to appreciate even more all that Israel has become.

When I tell my family that I would fight for Israel if some dire situation required it, it tells me just how important Israel is to me, the Jewish people and the entire world. Israel is the “glue” that brings our global Jewish community together, more than anything else.

My love for Israel is a reminder to me and my family of how important it is to maintain our Jewish value and cultures. It is a reminder that despite there only being approximately 12-14 million Jews in the entire world, there is this power; this strength that brings us together. Israel is by no means perfect, politically speaking, but what it means to the Jewish religion and culture is so important.

It’s about heart more than just a piece of land. It’s about history and culture and religion and customs and humanity all rolled up into one country.

What does being Jewish mean to you?

I would never presume that being Jewish is more important to me than what being Christian or Muslim means to someone else. For me it’s more about a sense of pride and community. I am Jewish because I was born Jewish – it is as simple as that.

How and why I live Jewishly and why my wife and I made our own independent decisions to be involved in our communities has been an evolution that has defined who we are as human beings. Being Jewish is most importantly about being a good human being. For me it is not just a religion or about customs. It’s about a way of life.

When asked if I am a Canadian Jew or a Jewish Canadian, the answer for me is simply – I see myself as a Jewish Canadian so I suppose that explains what being Jewish means to me.

What does term ‘Jewish community’ mean to you?

I don’t associate “Jewish community” as a term. For me it’s a way of life. Being involved in the Jewish community is about giving back. It’s not about listing things to put on your resume. I truly see it as a responsibility, but not in the same way as say, paying taxes. It is a responsibility that I cherish. It enables me to be part of something much bigger than just myself or my family.

What would you tell young people thinking about getting involved in their community?
To be honest I wouldn’t tell them anything. Our young generation needs to figure it out for themselves. It can’t be forced upon them. They have to want to be/get involved. Our Jewish communities and leaders have to demonstrate the importance of getting involved, whether that be financially or through volunteering.

I am more comfortable telling young people what community means to me and why it is important, not just for them individually, but for something bigger than themselves. I hope that my involvement will inspire my children and others to recognize the rewards of giving back to one’s community.

Why do Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA (JFC-UIA) and Canada Israel Experience (CIE) matter?

For me, JFC-UIA it is a key conduit that connects our national communities to each other, whether that be Toronto or Vancouver or Sydney, Nova Scotia. Equally important, JFC-UIA is our communities’ conduit to Israel. While the work of JFC-UIA is often unknown or unclear, the work done by this organization behind the scenes to bind our Jewish communities together is critical.

Canada Israel Experience (CIE) is the umbrella for all experiential Israel programs, including March of the Living, Birthright, MASA Israel and many other programs that connect the Canadian Jewish community to Israel and to being Jewish. While the brand may not be well known, in my view the programs within the CIE are the most important educational programs available because they connect the next generation to their Jewish roots and to Israel.

While many would associate JFC-UIA with money and funding, for me is equally if not more important to recognize the educational link that JFC-UIA and CIE provide to our Jewish communities from coast to coast to coast.


Evan Zelikovitz

Current Chair of the March of the Living Digital Archive Project (since 2013) and Canada Israel Committee (CIE) Management Committee (since 2014).

Evan Zelikovitz was born and raised in Nova Scotia. He has a Bachelor of Social Sciences from the University of Western Ontario (1987) and an LLB from the University of New Brunswick (1992). For the past 20 years, Evan has worked as a Public Affairs, Government Relations and Crisis Communications consultant, assisting companies in the face of uncertainty and provide solutions to their business and reputational challenges.

Evan moved to Ottawa, Ontario in 1992 to do his article apprenticeship following law school. It is here where he met and then married his wife Lenora in 1996. Lenora and Evan have two children, Noah, nineteen and Arielle, seventeen.

Past and present volunteer activities include:

  • Former head of Young Judea for the Atlantic Provinces (1983-84)
  • Past chair of Ottawa Yom Haatzmaut community program (1 year)
  • Past chair, with his wife Lenora, of Ottawa’s annual Mitzvah Day community program (4 years)
  • Former member of the Board and Executive Committee of the Ottawa Soloway Jewish Community Centre (6 years)
  • Former member of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Resource Development Committee (2 years)
  • Former member of the Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa Board and Chair of the Marketing & Communications Committee (8 years)
  • Past Chaperone of the Ottawa contingent of March of the Living (2012)

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