TORONTO — A group of Israeli exchange students living in Toronto took a stand against substandard housing by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Toronto earlier this month.
The group is part of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Diller Teen Fellows Program, which aims to bring together Jewish young people from North America and Israel in the name of tikkun olam.
For the first time, 30 teenage exchange-student volunteers who participate in the program – 20 Israeli and 10 Canadian students from across the GTA – worked a full day with Habitat for Humanity Toronto on March 17.
Some of the students helped to build a home in Brampton, Ont., while others volunteered at Habitat’s ReStore Etobicoke, a community-based retail outlet that salvages and resells renovation materials, as well as selling new and used donated household and building items.
“It is very important for our young Jewish leaders to make an impact on all the cities they touch,” said Daniel Sourani, co-ordinator of Israel Engagement and the Diller Teen Fellows Program. “Habitat Toronto provides them with the unique experience of making a tangible difference they can call their own.”
Enloe Wilson, faith and community relations co-ordinator of Habitat for Humanity Toronto, said, “The shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform our society is close to the heart of Habitat for Humanity Toronto. Habitat’s pursuit of Christian faith in action bears a root in the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam. We are honoured, then, to serve in partnership with organizations such as the UJA Federation toward that important work.”
Israeli chaperone and junior counsellor of the group of Israeli teens, Carmel Boubil, told The CJN, “This is the first time these teens have been to Toronto. They are here to connect to the Jewish community and create one united group to work as Jewish future leaders.”
Twenty volunteers worked at the Brampton building site. The day was filled with team-building and skill-sharing, under the supervision of experienced volunteers who served as crew leaders. The teens helped with exterior siding as well as interior drywalling
The remaining 10 volunteers, at the ReStore, organized the storeroom, while others constructed lighting fixtures and helped with sales.
“It is nice to be able to help people improve their living condition, to help those less fortunate – especially before Passover,” said Gabby Herman, a Grade 11 student at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in Toronto.
Leadership development is the aim of the Diller Teen Fellows Program, for Jewish teens in grades 10 and 11. Now operating in 16 other communities in the United States, Canada and Israel, the goal of the Diller program is to develop future leaders with a strong Jewish identity, commitment to the Jewish People, respect for pluralism and love of Israel. Together with the counterpart Diller group in Eilat-Eilot, Israel, they explore the four Diller pillars – Jewish identity, community service, leadership and Israel.
The Diller Teen Fellows began in San Francisco 15 years ago and, after eight years, was embraced by other Jewish federations. The program nurtures the students for at least 15 months, “providing both thinking and practical tools to understand their past and to look to the future,” said Liat Cohen Raviv, director of Diller Teen Fellows International. “We help them understand that a good leader is someone that gives, and does it out of Jewish values that are rooted in our history.”
Habitat for Humanity Toronto is a non-profit, non-denominational Christian housing organization that welcomes all people without discrimination to join them as they build simple, decent, affordable homes in partnership with low-income families.
For more information, go to www.jewishtoronto.com/Diller.aspx and www.torontohabitat.ca