May 10, 2007
22 Iyar, 5767


Youth give back with Tikkun Toronto

CJN Intern

TORONTO - Whether through baking, biking or playing basketball, the Tikkun Toronto event on April 29 helped teach 145 Jewish youths that giving back to the community is both rewarding and fun.

“I learned that it feels really good to volunteer, knowing that you made a bunch of people happy, including yourself,” said Josh Harendorf, a 15-year-old Westmount Collegiate Institute student who participated in the day.

The afternoon event that gave students in grades 5 to 12 the opportunity to volunteer in one of 12 community service activities across the Greater Toronto Area.

This was the third annual Tikkun Toronto event. It was co-ordinated by Missy Korn, program director of Toronto’s B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO), along with organizers from Young Judaea, Bnei Akiva and United Synagogue Youth. Funding was provided by the UJA Federation Board of Jewish Education

“These kids are required to have community service hours,” said Korn, referring to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s requirement that high school students accumulate 40 hours of volunteer time in order to graduate. “This provides them with the perfect opportunity to fulfil those and instil in them values for when they get older, values of giving back to the community.”

Korn said one of the most interesting events was a basketball tournament led by Daniel Moshe Johnson, who heads the International Charity Association Network’s sports and mentoring program.

In the past three months, he has set up five basketball teams for youths living in some of the city’s highest crime areas. The team that played with the Jewish students was made up of teens from an underprivileged Toronto Somalian community.

“We mentor the youth on the rules of the game and how it has to be carried over into everyday life,” said Johnson. “We empower young people within each basketball setting.”

Johnson, a black Jew who is originally from New Orleans, got in touch with BBYO after being impressed with the work it did there after Hurricane Katrina.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity for the youth from two religious backgrounds to meet together on the same court and be able to play in peace,” Johnson said.

The teens played two games, one against each other and one where the teams were mixed. No scores were kept.

“It was all about getting to know each other and having fun,” said Harendorf, who played in the tournament.

“It went really well to see two different cultural and religious groups coming together as one,” he said.

“I think we should be more aware of different cultural groups and religious beliefs, because we are all one, living in one community together.”

Another volunteer opportunity was an aerobic workout for disabled teens from Yachad, a support group that’s part of the Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for the Disabled.

Jaime Glassman, a Grade 10 student at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, planned and led the workout, which was designed for about 15 disabled teens and 15 volunteers.

“It was a great opportunity because it allowed me to meet people of all different types,” Glassman said. Her favourite part of the afternoon was not the workout, but the time spent with the Yachad teens at a park afterward.

“We hung out there and it was totally a bonding experience,” she said.

This year was the first time children in grades 5 to 7 were part of Tikkun Toronto, and they participated in a bake-a-thon and painting a mural for the North York Women’s Shelter.

Other activities included an environmental bike ride, in which teens collected more than 500 aluminum cans; replanting the organic garden at the Toronto Heschel School; and participating in the “Global Day for Darfur” downtown.

“I am thrilled with the turnout,” Korn said. “It’s important to give back, and I hope that this event instilled the value of tikkun olam within participants.”