Young Jewish professionals take break from busy lives to connect at Chanukah Ball

Evening hosted by Jewish Federation of Ottawa's Emerging Generation division

There were dreidels, donuts and dancing awaiting the nearly 100 attendees of the Chanukah Ball organized Saturday by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Emerging Generation division.

Young professionals from Ottawa's Jewish community took some time off from tending to their children and careers in order to spend a fun and relaxing night out at the annual holiday gathering, held this year at the Canadian War Museum.

“It’s great to hang out with Hebrews and Shebrews and enjoy a little Chanukah spirit in a community that doesn’t always have that much going on Jewish-wise,” said the event's bar sponsor, Solomon Friedman, managing partner of criminal defence law firm Edelson & Friedman LLP.

Chanukah Ball
From left, Josh Brantz and Sheva Brantz with Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Solomon Friedman at the Chanukah Ball held at the Canadian War Museum on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The evening was held in support of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, which runs an annual campaign to build community, assist the vulnerable, boost Jewish education and support Israel. Ottawa is home to some 14,000 Jewish residents.

Among the JFO's partner agencies are local Jewish schools and preschools, youth groups and summer camps, social service organizations and the Hillel Lodge long-term care facility.

Its campaign, officially launched in September, hit the $4-million mark a couple of weeks ago.

“I’m happy to help,” added Friedman, who’s also a member of Young Israel of Ottawa, a father of three and past OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient. “We’re very lucky that we have one organization that supports a lot of really fantastic causes, from the preschool to Hillel Lodge."

The evening was chaired by Arielle Kreisman, a kindergarten teacher at Turnbull School, and by Ottawa lawyer Jacob Polowin with Gowling WLG. Both his parents, Melanie and Michael Polowin, are law partners at the firm. He works with his father, a well-known municipal and real estate lawyer.

Chanukah Ball
Arielle Kreisman and Jacob Polowin co-chaired the Chanukah Ball, organized by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa's Emerging Generation division, at the Canadian War Museum on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The JFO’s Emerging Gen aims to bring together Jewish people between those tricky ages of 18 to 40, when they’re busy with their jobs and families.

“It’s about building a community and keeping people engaged within that group, so that they don’t fall off the map,” said Polowin. “Across the board, our generation tends to be less engaged with more traditional community institutions, anyway.”

Also seen were Samuel Levine, tax manager at Ernst & Young and co-chair of the Emerging Gen division, as well as incoming co-chair, Zev Kershman, a real estate broker.

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From left, Zev Kershman and Samuel Levine at the Chanukah Ball, held at the Canadian War Museum on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips

First-time attendees included Dr. Gillian Presner and her husband, Neil Presner. In past years, they'd seen fun photos from the Chanukah Ball posted online and on Facebook, and regretted not having gone. This year, the parents of three young children decided to take the party plunge.

“We so rarely get out now but we just figured it’s worth it, to try this one night, and see some other friends,” said Dr. Presner, who was enjoying herself.

She wasn’t planning to stay out late; she's so tired from having a young family and from recovering from the effects of both cancer and its treatment.  The emergency medicine pediatrician at CHEO was diagnosed with a malignant tumour the size of a tennis ball in her brain, in her mid-30s, while expecting her third child. Her other two kids were only three and one.

Chanukah Ball
From left, Neil Presner, from Tier Three Brokerage, with his wife, Gillian Presner, Jen Zaret and her husband, Josh Zaret, at the Chanukah Ball, organized by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa's Emerging Generation division. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Dr. Presner was the keynote speaker at the annual Choices event organized by the JFO’s Women’s Campaign in November.  As well, she was honoured in June with the Freiman Family Young Leadership Award for being a tireless community leader.

Upon receiving her award, she spoke briefly about her devastating diagnosis in a thoughtful, insightful and inspiring way.

“What has happened to me has also completely changed the way I view getting older,” she said at the time. “While I still fret about my little grey hairs, I’m also happy I’ve made it to the point of my life to have them, and that I can have fun covering them up with bright pink.

“I relish and savour birthdays like never before. I love learning new things and I take great joy in planning for my family’s future, picturing it as I plan instead of being devastated that I will probably miss most of it.”

The Presners were out that night with Jen Zaret, who co-chaired the Choices event, and her husband, Josh Zaret, vice-president and general manager Gemstone custom homes, project management and general contractor.

The Chanukah Ball was catered by the Jewish community's go-to caterer, Creative Kosher Catering. Its spread of food included yummy-looking donuts, in keeping with the custom of eating fried foods during Chanukah. 

The evening also featured a photo booth filled with props and speech balloons with "You had me at Shalom" and other cute expressions. A menorah was on display, along with table centrepieces made up of Chanukah coins, candles and dreidels.

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Micah Garten, the new director of development for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, with his wife, Jessica, in the photo booth at the Chanukah Ball, held at the Canadian War Museum on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips