Brenna Rivier was born and raised in Ottawa. She can be spotted singing in hallways and elevators, adding a dose of positivity to any endeavor she takes on. Her passion for helping people communicate and connect with their Jewish heritage as well as each other, has led her to the boards of Ottawa Modern Jewish School (OMJS), Jewish Family Services (JFS) and Community Mediation Ottawa (CMO).
I grew up in Britannia where we were the only Jewish family in the school until Merle Haltrecht-Matte came on the scene as a teacher. How exciting that was – a Jewish teacher! I went to Ottawa Modern Jewish School as did my sisters and in fact two of us still sit on the board today. Since 1954, when the school was founded, it has provided Jewish families in Ottawa a place to connect with other Jewish families and establish a community. For my family, it has been a solid thread, a true tradition as all our kids have gone as well. Our motto is “OMJS getting your kids out of bed since 1954!” And that is the truth!
Currently, I sit on the boards of Ottawa Modern Jewish School, Jewish Family Services and Community Mediation Ottawa which offers free mediation services. The commonality being connection and communication; connecting people who might otherwise feel on the outside looking in, and facilitating communication to help them find their way.
At OMJS we aim to help families connect to their Jewish roots in whatever way, shape or form that may take.
At Jewish Family Services, the work they do in providing services to the vulnerable in our community, welcoming Syrian refugees, helping Holocaust survivors live a life with dignity and love. What an inspiring organization!
At Community Mediation Ottawa we work to help bring peace to people one conflict a time, through the skills of empathy and plain ol’ listening. When you see someone who has spent much of their life not being heard or seen, turn around and communicate safely with someone they saw as an enemy – it melts your heart.
Currently, I live in Hintonburg and for years I have been volunteering for the Carleton Tavern Christmas day dinner – let’s face it, what else would I do on Christmas day? This event is bustling, full of song, food, warmth and kindness – it’s actually very much like Mitzvah Day!
It is all about bringing people together, directly connecting with them, making an impact and bringing absolute joy in the process. I love participating in this event because to me, coming together in this way is the definition of community.
It started with my mom who taught my sisters and I the importance of caring and giving to the community you live in - any way you can. We were taught from a young age to take action and make a change any way you can. If you want something to happen, you make it so whether it’s reaching out to schools, community associations, walking a picket a line, telethons, you give the time for what you believe in.
Volunteering is a family tradition to say the least. I am continually amazed at the strength and kindness of both my sisters – their unwavering commitment to making the place we call home a kinder and more just world. If we are talking role models they are it for me!
Whether as a musician connecting with an audience of 10 or a 100, or co-directing a kids’ rock choir and hearing them belt out Twisted Sisters’ “We’re not gonna take it” - it’s all about connection. Connecting to oneself, to others, to family, to the big, sometimes scary, not so pretty, and other times joyous, world around us.
As a gay woman I have experienced being on the outside. I know the feeling of being told I do not belong or there is something wrong with me. I do not ever want to be part of something that repeats those messages to anyone! Watching my kid Sadie extend a hand to someone feeling a little vulnerable, a little quiet, a little small, lets me know that she gets it. This family tradition lives on and for this I am truly grateful.
At my work, I am known as the singing woman – elevators, hallways, washrooms, line-ups, I sing in ‘em all! The fact that this one little unconscious doing on my part can bring a smile, a conversation, an elevator of strangers to laughing is such a delight. And it is so simple. Simple is what this is about. You do not need to pull off a grand gesture to make someone’s day.
That is the beauty of volunteering, the possibilities are endless. We can all come up with reasons why we can’t (don’t have the time, how do I choose just one organization - it’s like exercise in that way) but in the end I think it is simply about what kind of world do you want to live in. What part can you play as Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say to “Make it so”.
Thank you Brenna for sharing your story with us!