One of my earliest memories concerning community engagement revolves around a book, written in Russian, that was given as a gift to my siblings and me.
In the late eighties, a lot of Russian Jewish families were immigrating to the Detroit area where I grew up. Our family had been matched to one, and after several visits with them, and donations of various items we thought might be of use, they offered us this book, precious to them, because our help had been so appreciated.
That gesture made a lasting impression on me, as did the many wonderful times I spent with my grandmother, Lillian Kaufman, on our trips to assist at the Kosher Jewish Food Bank.
My parents, Sue and Alan Kaufman, had such a strong influence on my affinity for Jewish engagement. They certainly led by example. As I grew up, attendance at Shabbat dinner was mandatory, but friends and strangers were always welcomed. I continue to be amazed at how much time, energy and focus my parents lavish on their Jewish community in Detroit.
By the time I moved to Canada after completing law school, I had already been involved in Hillel on campus; helping others solidify their Jewish identity strengthened my own. I became engaged with Toronto’s UJA almost immediately, chaired events for Israel’s sixtieth birthday, and eventually made my way to the UJA Federation Board. My husband, Jamie, did not grow up participating in the community as I did, but he supported and encouraged me, and now, he is involved as well.
Jamie and I, emulating my childhood experience, have advised and welcomed to our home through JIAS, immigrant families from Mexico and South America. Our children, Ella, Madeline and Jonah are still very young, but it is important to us that they learn early the importance of supporting our community. And they get it! Half their birthday money goes to charity, and they have their own tzedakah boxes.
I am passionate about doing everything in my power to ensure the vibrancy and strength of our community, and inspiring my friends and peers to embrace the responsibility of giving back. It is my hope that by engaging young people, we can create future security for our students and care for our vulnerable. I believe that if we collaborate, there is great power in individual effort!