On July 25, Rabbi Elie Karfunkel from Forest Hill Jewish Centre in Toronto spoke with about 65 kids, aged seven to 19, to help inspire them and offer himself as a positive role model.
He spoke as part of Trust 15, a charitable organization that helps foster positivity, creativity and co-operation among underprivileged children in the North Etobicoke and Rexdale areas of Toronto.
Marcia Brown founded Trust 15 in 2011. “It was the year of the gun in Etobicoke. There was a lot of shooting going on in our community,” said Brown, who serves as the organization’s executive director.
The organization’s name refers to the trust she had to earn from the community, as well as the 15 girls who showed up on the program’s opening day.
“Right now, we have over 190 youth in the program,” Brown proudly said, “and I don’t want to forget where it all started from.”
At the second annual Trust 15 initiative this year, Rabbit Karfunkel opened his talk with a joke: “ ‘I am a rabbi. I don’t know everything, but there are two things I know well: Judaism and baseball.’ And that just chilled them out,” he said. His love of baseball goes way back to when he was a pitcher and shortstop in the Staten Island Jewish Baseball League.
The program consisted of an empowering talk, a Q and A with some tough questions surrounding Judaism and baseball, a Tov-Li pizza lunch and Jewish bingo.
“These kids are all-star mensches and very special kids,” said Rabbi Karfunkel. “Marcia and I had the goal of explaining to them that they each have unique qualities, and if God created you, it means he has a game plan for you. And if there is a game plan, then he needs you, and if he needs you, it means you are important.”
Many of the Trust 15 kids are coming from difficult home and community environments, which diminishes their hopes for the future.
Rabbi Karfunkel told the youth a great person is someone who completes a task.
“The Jewish people always look up to the lion – be strong like a lion, because, as it says in Deuteronomy, a lion doesn’t stop until it eats his prey,” said Rabbi Karfunkel.
Some children asked questions: why don’t Jewish people believe in Jesus? If the Jewish people are so special, how did God let the Holocaust happen? Why are the Yankees always hiring the best players?
“My goal is to build bridges and I don’t want to misrepresent,” Rabbi Karfunkel explained. “The message is to open their eyes and appreciate that other people they respect can have different positions on matters of faith.”
Brown told The CJN a touching story about the rabbi’s influence. After hearing Rabbi Karfunkel speak, a seven-year-old boy announced that he wanted to be a rabbi himself when he grew up.
“One of the older kids said to the seven year old, ‘You’re not Jewish, you can’t be a rabbi,’ to which he responded, ‘It doesn’t matter. I still want to be a rabbi.’ So if he wants to be a rabbi, let him – I’m not going to take away his dreams of hope,” Brown said.
“Many of these kids don’t have father figures in their life. They are looking at him not just as a friend, but as someone that they respect.”
The kids walked away with a strong message that there is a rabbi, a man of faith, who believes in them.
“The hope is that they believe in themselves and in the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Karfunkel.
To learn more about Trust 15, visit trust15.com