When the Jewish Teen Board of Greater Toronto starts its inaugural year, Aron Katz will not only be taking the helm as coordinator of Toronto’s first Jewish teen board – he will be making the two halves of his life whole.
As a member of and leader in the Jewish community, Katz’s experiences run the gamut. As a child he attended Jewish supplementary school, and in high school found his place on his local North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) board, participating in many tzedakah and philanthropy projects. He’s worked as a classroom Hebrew teacher, a music teacher, a youth group advisor, and a b’nai mitzvah coordinator.
At the same time, Katz’s professional life has been mainly in communications, marketing, and journalism. Though he grew up deeply rooted in the Jewish community, he saw himself living two lives: one through his successful career coordinating communications for a number of service organizations, and the other in evenings and on weekends in the Jewish world. After graduating from teacher’s college at York University this past June, he found himself in a new role: leading the Jewish Teen Board of Greater Toronto, which kicks off October 18th.
The Jewish Teen Board is in its first year as part of the second cohort in JTFN’s Foundation Board Incubator, an initiative that brings Jewish teen philanthropy programs into cities without an existing Jewish teen foundation board program. Funded by Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund, JTFN works closely with each host institution to develop high investment and high intensity community-based programs.
“Jewish teen philanthropy is a rising part of Jewish youth education,” Katz says. “I had heard about the Jewish Teen Funders Network, and I knew these teen boards were popping up in other places. It was natural that one would start in Toronto, because of the nature of the community, which has really rallied around itself as far as helping others in the community.”
“As our potential board members applied, we asked them what areas they’d like to focus on – no surprise, many of them listed working with Holocaust survivors and seniors in general as a top priority,” Katz says.
This is likely because Toronto is home to one of the largest population of Holocaust survivors in the world, and unlike other locations, that number is actually going up. Many elderly Holocaust survivors are moving to the city to be closer to their adult children and families who help make up Canada’s largest Jewish population. Still, teen foundation members will have many other causes to consider as they work together to allocate grants.
The teen board will bring an already philanthropy-oriented teen community together. The Jewish Foundation’s B’nai Tzedek Youth Philanthropy program, through which teens can establish a tzedakah fund in his or her name, has been a very popular endeavor. Each year, the teens donate a part of the income earned to organizations to which they feel connected, and which they’ve learned about through funding presentations.
“There’s definitely a buzz in the air,” Katz says, about the new teen board. “Not just around the (UJA-Federation) building, but also around the community. For the teens, it presents itself as a really unique opportunity to make a difference.”
Katz explains that the Province of Ontario requires all high school students to complete 40 hours of community service before graduation. For Jewish teens, their community involvement can often be volunteering in a food bank, in a synagogue, or helping the homeless. The Jewish teen foundation board takes those experiences and helps create a deeper, richer connection between the teens and the issues they find important. “If a teen joins the foundation board in 9th grade and completes his or her 40 hours of service in just one year, it means they can easily choose to do more community service,” Katz says.
“I’ve grown up with the Jewish community all around me,” Katz says. “Working in the Jewish world is a natural fit.” For the Toronto Jewish community, the Jewish Teen Board seems to fit just as clearly.
Learn more about the Foundation Board Incubator .