Prominent Toronto activist, philanthropist and Jewish community volunteer Julia Koschitzky was the keynote speaker at this year’s annual Choices event, held by the Jewish Federation Ottawa’s Women’s Campaign.
Koschitzky’s message of the importance and value of being involved resonated with the 275 women (and two men) present at the Oct. 8 event, held at Agudath Israel Congregation.
Koschitzky shared her own life story, which began in Wales, where her German Jewish parents had settled after escaping from Germany. Ten years later, the family immigrated to Canada, living in Toronto, where she later met her husband, Henry.
She spoke of the various choices she has made over the years, including the decision to accept a volunteer position that led to more and more volunteer experiences, leadership roles and ultimately the Order of Canada this past summer.
“I was nurtured and inspired to assume many roles,” she said of those who mentored her along the way.
Speaking of recent events in Europe, where so many Syrian refugees are seeking new homes and lives, Koschitzky reminisced about her involvement in the rescue and resettlement of Soviet Jewry many years ago.
Seeing pictures of the Syrians trying to board trains in Budapest “stands as a stark contrast to when I stood at the same train station in Budapest in the early 1990s to welcome Soviet immigrants,” she said.
“I felt that I was witnessing the Exodus from the Bible… Israel welcomed them all with open arms and unconditional love – how markedly different from the refugees arriving in Europe today.”
Koschitzky acknowledged the many dedicated volunteers in the Ottawa Jewish community and listed a number of projects the community has undertaken to help Israel. “At the heart of all these efforts is the knowledge and realization that without solidarity with Israel, there can be no continuity,” she said.
Over the past 30 years, Koschitzky’s volunteer work has taken her to 52 communities on five continents. She said she feels privileged to have been able to do the work she has done and encouraged the audience members to become involved in their community as well.
“Let us be inspired to learn more, to do more, but most of all to be more,” she urged.
“I believe that women are change-makers and community-shapers of the world.”
The Choices event, chaired this year by Shari Silber, is an annual dinner that seeks to involve women in the Jewish community and encourage first-time donors to the federation’s annual campaign.
This year’s event included 60 women who attended for the first time, as well as nine students from Grade 8 at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, who were invited with the aim of inspiring the next generation.