My philanthropic journey

Talia took part in a Mission to Ethiopia last winter.

by Talia Bensoussan

In our own unique way, Montreal teens care about their community and the world around them.  The Montreal Jewish community has taught me how to take initiative and act as a leader.  I am so fortunate to be part of this community, which has given me so much, and has provided me with the opportunity to pay that generosity forward.

B’nai Tzedek – The Journey Begins

At Herzliah High School, I didn’t only learn about respect, Tikun Olam and Jewish values. I lived them each and every day.  As I prepared to leave the comfort of my Jewish day school family, I knew that the only way for me to remain connected to my community was to step up.

My uncle introduced me to the innovative B’nai Tzedek program run by the Jewish Community Foundation.  The organization encourages a new generation of philanthropy that appeals to young people like myself.  It was compelling to see how many young children care about a variety of causes.  As Co-Chair of B’nai Tzedek, I had the opportunity to speak with bar and bat mitzvah groups, and empower them to take ownership of the community in which they live.  By allocating sums annually to charities of their choice, B’nai Tzedek kids stay engaged throughout their lives and build lasting relationships with their community.

Next Stop: Ethiopia

In December 2011, I traveled Ethiopia on YAD FedNext’s inaugural Tikun Olam Mission.  I was part of a group consisting of nine Montrealers and eleven Israelis from our sister city in Beer Sheva. The first few days of our trip focused mainly on volunteering, while the rest was spent visiting all the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s sites, where Ethiopian Jews passed through on their way to Israel.


Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel

The group of students that chose to go on this humanitarian trip all shared a common goal—the desire to fulfill the Jewish mission of Tikun Olam, and the will to be Jewish in a greater and unique way.  My trip to Ethiopia made me realize that opening my eyes to the world around me makes me a smarter person; that helping the world in which I live makes me an engaged person; that building a schoolhouse in a rural village makes me a fulfilled person; that teaching a child to hold a pen for the first time makes me a happier person; and that one small act of Tikun Olam makes me a Jewish person. I benefited from this life altering and awesome experience because of the generosity of the Montreal Jewish Community.

Paying it forward

Upon my return to Montreal, it became clear to me that it was my turn to pay this generosity forward. It brings me great joy to educate others about Ethiopian Jewry and to share my enthusiasm about the wonderful opportunities that the Montreal Jewish community provides for youth who think differently and see the world in a different way. This past spring, the Ethiopian participants organized an out of the box fundraising event in support of the Na’eh Youth Centre, which services many Ethiopian Jews in Beer Sheva.  We created a vernissage, showcasing beautiful images from our African journey.  Our event not only raised funds, it attracted different young members of our community.  Most recently, a fellow participant and I led a session about the history of Ethiopian Jews at the LE MOOD Festival, which once again attracted a diverse and progressive group interested in Jewish arts and culture.

Initially, I got involved in the community in order to stay connected, and to give back.  I never thought that the community would continue to give to me. The professionals and volunteers of our community have become my second family.  I believe that by approaching our community through a youthful and creative lens, we can engage a new generation of interested and committed young people.  In addition, I have learned that Tikun Olam is a mindset.  It does not end with the completion of an act of kindness. In fact, that is just the beginning. A true act of Tikun Olam is perpetuated through education, awareness, follow up, and simply continuing to pay it forward.

Israel and overseas allocations from Combined Jewish Appeal through the Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA address, with our partners abroad (such as JAFI and JDC), social issues including youth, education, social welfare, capacity building and people-to-people connections.

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