TORONTO — Rabbi Yossi Ives founded the Tag Institute for Jewish Social Values, and its sister organization, Tag International Development, because he became increasingly uncomfortable with the “self-imposed isolation” of his Orthodox Jewish world in London, England.
“[The two organizations] are separate entities unified by a common cause: Jewish contribution to the wider world,” he said.
Now his London-based organizations – one of which works in developing countries, while the other addresses social issues in the western world – have a fledgling presence here. Seymour Epstein, director of Tag Canada, expected the new group would be incorporated soon, after which it would apply for charitable status.
Like its parent organizations, Tag Canada will have a dual focus. It will be a Canadian organization with its own projects, not a “Friends of” group, said Epstein, who is the former director of Toronto’s Mercaz (formerly the Board of Jewish Education). He was hired in May to set up and run Tag here.
The new group is considering a project with the aboriginal communities in Ontario, Epstein said. As well, it will be supportive of Tag’s international projects.
Rabbi Ives, the former spiritual leader of London’s Richmond Synagogue, started Tag – which has a combined annual budget of $1.4 million (US) – in January 2010. He coined the name as an acronym for the Hebrew words “Torah” and “Gedulah,” signifying “spiritual learning” and “worldly greatness” respectively.
Funding comes from private donors, and like-minded NGOs are also involved in Tag projects. The organization works with partners in the countries where projects are located, as well as in Israel, for its international projects.
Recently, the rabbi spoke at what was technically the first board meeting of Tag Canada, at the home of Gella Rothstein.
“There are no rules that prevent us from having a more dynamic interaction with the world,” Rabbi Ives said.
Having grown up in “an intensely Jewish environment,” Rabbi Ives said he appreciates Jewish values and the importance of Jewish learning. “There’s plenty we could do to be a really positive influence on the world.”
The 39-year-old rabbi said he found it “astonishing” that he never came across a Jewish idea when studying for his PhD in social science. The Tag Institute for Jewish Social Values includes a research component to find new ways, based on Jewish ideas, of addressing issues such as bullying, mid-life crises and aging.
As well, as a life coach, he has instituted research on singles issues, using a coaching-based approach.
Jews have had to cope with difficult challenges, he noted. “We’ve learned how to adapt, bounce back and do great things. What about our experience could help other people?”
For the development organization, Rabbi Ives wanted to draw on Israel’s experience to help developing countries.
“How could we bottle up some of that expertise, experience, know-how, so that others could benefit and solve their own problems?
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. As well, he added, the Jewish people, and Israel as a country, cannot afford to be isolated. “The fact is, we gain enormously from doing this, but that’s not the main reason.”
His work with Tag has taken him as far afield as Azerbaijan, a Muslim country where he said Jews and Muslims have co-existed well for centuries. Other projects – mostly in the areas of health, agriculture and community development – are based in more than a dozen countries, among them Sri Lanka, India and Rwanda.
For more information, contact Epstein at email@example.com, or go to tagdevelopment.org and taginstitute.org.