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Inspiring Jews share their stories at JEDx

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From left, Mark Shapiro, Ace, the Toronto Blue Jays’ mascot, and Jaclyn Leebosh take the stage at the JEDx conference in Toronto on June 12. (Credit: Danielle Perelman Photography)

Do you know the Minyan Man? No, he doesn’t live on Drury Lane, or Jewry Lane for that matter. He is the titular hero of a song about a lone Jew who arrives in an Alabama town an hour before Shabbat and completes the local minyan.

More than 1,000 Torontonians in attendance at the seventh annual JEDx event on June 12 now know the Minyan Man. One of the event’s speakers, Claudia Oshry – who’s better known by her popular Instagram handle @girlwithnojob, which boasts over three million followers – belted out the first verse and chorus when asked to share her favourite Jewish song.

“Oh, this is a classic. Sing it if you know it – and I really hope someone knows it,” Oshry said to the audience of mainly Jewish young adults.

“I stepped off the bus in Mobile, Ala. The sun was slowly setting on the bay,” she began, as the audience clapped along, ending to loud applause as she crooned the last few words of the chorus: “Won’t you stay with us for Shabbos Minyan Man?”

READ: JEDX ATTENDEES HEAR JEWISH IDEAS WORTH SHARING

Oshry was one of four speakers at JEDx, along with Mark Shapiro, the president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dr. Yehudit Abrams, the founder and CEO of cancer detection company MonitHer, and David Yarus, the founder of JSwipe. The theme of this year’s JEDx, which stands for Jewish Ethics Defined and is designed to be similar to TEDx events, was “uniquely you.”

First up was Shapiro. To begin, he explained why he pronounces his name the way he does (shap-eye-ro versus shap-ee-ro).

People often insinuate that he pronounces it that way because he’s trying to hid his Judaism, he said. “I’m thinking to myself, if I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m Jewish, wouldn’t it be like Smith, or White?”

Turns out that people with his name in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, N.J., pronounce it that way because one of the processors at Ellis Island told them that was the way to say it. “Anyplace else in the world, you’re going to be told you pronounce your name wrong,” he said.

Shapiro values his Jewish upbringing and uses it to better himself. He believes that the Jewish commitment to learning has helped him succeed.

Shapiro spoke about the importance of remaining open to learning, especially from unconventional sources. The Blue Jays’ motto is “get better every day.” Its purpose, explained Shapiro, is to “model a learning culture.”

Next, Abrams explained how she went from a Quaker cowboy in Boise, Ida., to an observant Jew who made aliyah and created a new technology to detect breast cancer.

Her Jewish journey began when she received the sheet music for Kol Nidrei. Abrams felt an immediate connection to the melody and, once she learned the origin of the music, she sought out the local synagogue. The rabbi there was also a convert – in fact, his father was a wizard in the KKK. But he learned to follow his heart, as did Abrams, and that’s the lesson she shared with the audience.

“If you follow your heart, life will take you where you need to be,” she said at the beginning of her talk, and then demonstrated that principle through the telling of her life story.

Jesse Tepperman, left, and Claudia Oshry discuss various topics at the JEDx conference in Toronto on June 12.
(Credit: Danielle Perelman Photography)

The third speaker was Claudia Oshry, who was interviewed by JEDx co-chair Jesse Tepperman. Along with lighter moments like Oshry singing and dismissing all cold cuts as “sweaty meat,” the two touched on some serious topics, such as how her Jewish values helped her respond when some of her old racist tweets came to light.

Finally, Yarus spoke about what he sees as the disconnect between institutionalized Judaism, what he terms “Big Jewish,” and millennials. He used the example of an eager university freshman choosing between a cool party or a sterile Shabbat dinner with lukewarm chicken on a styrofoam plate.

“And we wonder why they don’t choose that. Obviously they’re never, ever, ever going to unless we create an aesthetic, an immersive experience that blends lifestyle and vibe, makes it interesting and exciting so it doesn’t have to be a decision between ‘eh’ and ‘word, let’s go!’ ” he said. “Going to Shabbat dinner becomes ‘word, let’s go!’ ”

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