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Ambitious charitable project chooses Toronto as testbed

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Rabbi Benji Levy signs the Shalom Corps pilot project agreement with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto (Credit: UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)

Later this year, Toronto will be the site of a pilot of an ambitious Jewish initiative that its creators hope will eventually go global.

Shalom Corps is designed to engage Jewish millennials around the world by rebranding social action as a core Jewish value. A joint initiative of Mosaic United and the Jewish Agency, Shalom Corps is designed to be a response to the declining rates of participation of youths in Jewish programs. According to one study cited by Shalom Corps’s press release, 72 per cent of Jewish millennials around the world value volunteer work, but only 18 per cent choose to volunteer with Jewish organizations.

“I think often we blame the next generation, but it’s really us that are the custodians that are responsible for educating the next generation, for engaging with the next generation, that are ultimately responsible. Of course they need to engage, but we need to make sure that we’re giving over in a way that they can engage, that they can access it,” said Rabbi Benji Levy, CEO of Mosaic United, an organization dedicated to strengthening engagement within the global Jewish community.

Before he held his current position, Rabbi Levy was the principal of a Jewish day school in Sydney, Australia. From his experience there, he learned that disengagement often says more about the execution of an idea than the willingness of young people to participate in it.

“I think we need to ask them what they’re looking for instead of trying to guess it for them. Once we listen, we’ll see that we’ve got the greatest possible product, we’re just not always the best salesmen. Judaism is more relevant today than ever before. Israel is more relevant today than ever before. People are searching for meaning … and Judaism is an answer to these questions that we’re all grappling with,” he said.

Following that line of thinking, the purpose of Shalom Corps is to provide a service that matches up with the values of Jewish millennials. According to the press release, even some of the most impressive and impactful Jewish charities are limited in one way or another, whether it’s outreach, capacity, funding or something else. Shalom Corps will serve as a sort of platform, a Jewish foundation that allows young people to both achieve their high-minded goals and access their Jewish identities at the same time.

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There are three main tracks to Shalom Corps, according to Rabbi Levy: local volunteering, international volunteering and humanitarian aid.

At the local level, Shalom Corps will create a centralized system that accredits organizations and helps connect them to prospective volunteers. At the international level, it will work with Jewish organizations that plan trips for young Jewish people to do good work around the world. And in the event of a humanitarian crisis, people will be able to volunteer through Shalom Corps, which will help place them where they are needed.

Shalom Corps will also assist volunteer organizations with resources for recruitment and marketing, education, professional training, funding and more.

After analyzing Jewish communities from all over the world, Shalom Corps decided to launch its pilot project in Toronto, in partnership with the UJA of Greater Toronto, in part because that organization is so strong and well-supported.

“Toronto is unique. Toronto is special. It’s an incredible community. It’s somewhere that we saw a genuine partnership in, that we saw was a worthwhile place for Mosaic United to invest.… The way the infrastructure in the community works and functions, we thought it was the ideal place to pilot this,” Rabbi Levy said. “They’re willing to innovate, they’re willing to take charge, they’re willing to take risks. So the combination of all these things makes it a recipe for opportunity.”

There’s no word yet on when Shalom Corps will launch, but Levy said more information should become available towards the end of the year.