Success is not defined by how much money you have in your bank account but ultimately by how you change the world with your success.
This maxim is the principal that has directed 29-year-old Avi Levinson of Thornhill to establish programs for Jewish business students on community leadership combined with Jewish values.
Levinson studied in Israel, where he received a bachelor of talmudic studies. He decided he wanted to be involved with outreach in Jewish education.
On his return to Canada, he accepted an invitation from Rabbi Glen Black of NCSY of Canada to become the Toronto director of student advancement responsible for programming in Thornhill.
“Working with adolescents made me realize that I could be doing so much to help them more than just spiritually,” Levinson told The CJN.
He decided to return to school and earned a master’s degree in counselling psychology from New Brunswick’s Yorkville University in 2011, then completed a placement at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.
“I was approached by Matan Hazanov, a student at [York University’s] Schulich School of Business, who had formed the Jewish Business Network, to teach high school students about incorporating Jewish values into their lives, and teaching the value of community leadership and making an important impact under the auspices of NCSY,” he said.
“I realized that if I were to approach the students and try to teach them about Jewish values, they would roll their eyes and make sure to avoid me the next time they saw me,” he added.
“With a business program, I was able to engage many students. It was their desire to network and their desire to build their resumes for university applications.”
Levinson arranged for very successful business leaders in the community to make presentations to the students. This, he notes, not only got the students attention “but they would often lead the leadership events tremendously inspired.”
Last year, Levinson formed NextJen, the Jewish Enterprise Network for high school and university students, and young professionals.
He said his goal is to give them the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with business mentors who would not only guide them in their future careers, but also in community leadership and Jewish identity.
Along with his volunteer work with NextJen, Levinson has established a company called Leave It With Us Concierge that provides services for seniors who neither want to live in a retirement residence nor have a caregiver in their home.
NextJen has an advisory board of 40 student executives from various high schools and six university campuses. They’ve formed a network of leaders who facilitate a variety of programs in the community.
“With the support of successful business leaders on the advisory board of NextJen, we have managed to maintain a balance that allows us to facilitate programming for more than 120 NextJen members.”
NextJen’s leadership development events include a philanthropic leadership challenge for charity, summer internships, community service events organized by students, and a program in which students get investments for their business ideas.
“As well, we have our annual Dragons’ Den with distinguished business leaders. One of our students recently had 50 per cent of his company bought by a member of our venture capital board. There were three employees when the business leader came into the company, and there are now 75 employees, and it’s still growing. Our next Dragons’ Den for Social Action will be held on May 17.”
As well, at the university level, NextJen partners with Hillel Ontario to provide resources to help facilitate programs on campus.
Levinson told The CJN that he’s looking forward to seeing NextJen grow into an international Jewish business organization “that will be a source of inspiration to the next generation of Jewish business leaders who will be more connected to Jewish values.”