Elana Metter said that volunteering is the perfect way to become part of a community and to make improvements to it.
Metter, 31, has been volunteering with the Annex Shul since 2007, when she decided that she ensure that the shul had a Shabbat dinner every week. With only one paid employee, spiritual leader Yacov Fruchter, Metter said you know your contribution is necessary. That’s one of the things that makes volunteering at the Annex Shul special for her.
“If you’re given something to do and you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done,” Metter said. “Part of what makes it such a special place is because of the investment of the community.”
She added that the Annex Shul is much different than the synagogue she attended while growing up because everything was done for her there. At the Annex Shul, even being involved in setting up chairs is important because then you think about acoustics and how the service looks, she said.
Her role as a volunteer has changed over the years; now she is a member of the Annex Shul advisory board. She’s also involved in developing a family education program, which was inspired by a conference she attended in April 2010. She said that making changes to an organization is as easy as having an idea.
“If there’s something you want to change, you kind of have to go for it,” Metter said.
She added that what she loves about the Annex Shul is the fact that it’s for young people, and it’s not like their parents’ shuls. She said what makes the Annex Shul what it is, is that you can come as you are and shape what the shul becomes. At the Annex Shul, she said it doesn’t matter what you wear or how often you come; people there are always happy to see you. She is particularly looking forward to the High Holiday services coming up.
“I grew up in a fairly big-box shul, but at Annex it’s the most meaningful High Holidays that I’ve ever experienced,” Metter said.
Metter has also been a volunteer in several political campaigns and for Mount Sinai Hospital. She was nominated for a UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Top 20 Under 40 Award, given to volunteers in organizations that serve young professionals.
“I thought it was a huge honour,” Metter said. “It was very touching that they thought of me.”
She said that at the Annex Shul she gets to bring people of all different levels of Jewish observance together, and she also tries to bring together the community outside of the shul. Metter wants to challenge peoples’ perceptions about members of the Jewish community with different beliefs than their own.
One of the ways she has tried to build bridges within the Jewish community is through a reading group that she runs with a haredi rebbetzin. The group includes 35 women, ranging from haredi Jews to a young woman who once debated whether to attend synagogue on Yom Kippur. Metter said she enjoys hearing all of the women’s different reactions and perspectives on the book they’re reading.
“We have more in common than we have different,” she said. “I wanted to make our community a little bit stronger by bringing together a spectrum of women and helping them to examine why they believe what they believe.”
She added that while creating unity and volunteering in the community are important to her, Israel is also one of her passions. She wants all members of the Jewish community to feel connected to Israel.
“If you want the Jewish community to be here in the future, we need active volunteers,” Metter said. “It’s also important that we all feel like we’re a part of Israel, not just a part of whatever denomination we belong to.”
Metter is currently in Israel, on a trip organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) to introduce Canadian members of Parliament to Israel. She’s one of the young Jewish leaders showing Canadian politicians Israel. They will experience Shabbat at the Western Wall and wine tasting in the Galilee, and they will get to see Israeli technological innovations, including Project Better Place, which is building a network of electric cars. Metter has wanted to be involved in a trip like this since she was asked two years ago, but this was the first time she was able to go.
“I’ve always been passionate about Israel and interested in politics,” Metter said. “This is a way to advocate for Israel in a real way that can make a difference. I can show the [Canadian] leaders of the country, who are the people that dictate the laws, what Israel’s really about and create a real connection for them.”
Metter added that volunteering in the Jewish community has taught her that when you do things for yourself, you are able to take ownership of the community you belong to. She said that the Annex Shul, in particular, taught her that lesson well.
“You can’t just wait for other people to do things,” she said. “Volunteering is about taking the future of your community into your own hands.”
For more information about the Annex Shul, go to www.annexshul.com.