TORONTO — Participants in JVS Toronto’s Kohn Summer Intern Program will be the among those who decide what the Jewish community will look like in 10 years, Michael Soberman, national director of Canada Israel Experience, said last week.
“It’s a tremendous obligation on your shoulders,” he told about 30 alumni of the internship program, who gathered at the Hillel Wolfond Centre last week for a networking evening with professionals in the Jewish community.
“The community needs people who are going to step up and become leaders,” Soberman said, and this program is vital because it fosters leadership skills in young Jewish students. “You may not be able to appreciate the value this internship has, but when you start your careers, you will,” he told the students.
The Kohn program, now in its sixth year, was created to help Jewish students have meaningful summer jobs and get an inside look at the type of work available in the Toronto Jewish community. The 10-week program places students with a Jewish organization for four days a week, with the fifth day spent alternating between volunteering in the city and hearing lectures from lay leaders.
“JVS is invested in this program because we’re helping Jewish students on their career path and it helps them when they graduate,” said Lisa Rae, manager of volunteer and student services at JVS Toronto.
Jessica Parker, a recent Queen’s University graduate who attended the event, said the Kohn internship was “professionally helpful” for her career.
“My [internship] supervisor actually cared about teaching me and letting me try different things,” she said. “The program is invested in you and in the community, and that’s part of why they’re doing it.”
But despite overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students who take part in the program, there’s speculation every year about whether the program will continue.
“It’s a real challenge to get enough funding for the program,” Rae said. “There are so many charities out there asking for that dollar.”
The students said that in addition to helping foster their career growth, the program also had an impact on their Jewish outlook. According to an alumni survey conducted in 2010, 59 per cent of respondents said they had done something different Jewishly as a result of completing the internship, and 50 per cent had begun volunteering for a Jewish organization after their internship ended.
The organizations that host the Kohn interns agree that the initiative is valuable. “It’s an amazing program,” said Dan Hadad, associate director of new media and campaigns at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), who worked with a Kohn intern last summer. “It exposes the young generation to the wide range of opportunities in the Jewish community.”
He said this is especially important, since many students don’t realize the diverse jobs available in the Jewish community.
“There’s a perception of the typical ways to fight for Israel – like through advocacy at camps and synagogues,” Hadad said. “But then there are diverse portfolios within the community like Size Doesn’t Matter (SDM).”
SDM is a social media campaign that advocates for Israel by focusing on Israeli culture, technology, arts and innovation rather than the conflict in the Middle East.
Many young people “who weren’t relating to traditional advocacy [relate to SDM],” Hadad said. “The Jewish community needs more innovative, out of the box programs like this one.”
But students won’t have a chance to intern for organizations in this way if the Kohn program can’t secure stable funding. “We can’t say yes to every organization that wants to have a Kohn intern because of a lack of funding,” Rae said.