TORONTO — Some 20 volunteers from various Conservative synagogues, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, recently spent a day in east Toronto building housing for low-income families.
The 29-family multi-housing unit, at 4572 Kingston Rd., is scheduled for completion at the end of March, when it will be ready for the last 17 families to move in.
The day spent working on the construction site, March 25, was the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s (USCJ) first community mitzvah mission for 2012. The mission was supported by Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Beth David Synagogue, Shaar Shalom Synagogue and Beit Rayim Synagogue.
“My daughter, while attending Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto… got involved with Habitat for Humanity in Virginia. It was she who inspired the idea to start a USCJ mitzvah mission in Toronto,” said Irv Siegel, sub-district chair of USCJ eastern Canada.
“By spending a day building the future for Toronto families living in need, USCJ will have a direct hand in building a better community. This was integral to our efforts to give back to the community and was a perfect fit,” Siegel said.
Enloe Wilson, faith & community relations coordinator of Habitat for Humanity Toronto, said that 76,000 families are “currently in line for some form of social housing in Toronto. This is subsidized housing. (The city simply doesn’t) have the volume to accommodate that demand.
“A wait for a one-bedroom unit can take up to eight years for a family in need. (Habitat for Humanity Toronto) can’t fix that situation all by ourselves, but we can be a part, and we are only a part by way of volunteers like USCJ.”
As an alternative to dependence on subsidies, Habitat for Humanity Toronto partners with families to build and mortgage their own homes over a 25-year term.
Volunteers, who ranged in age from 16 to 70, were responsible for raising a minimum of $75 each, with a goal of $1,500, which many exceeded.
The volunteers arrived at the site at 8 a.m., completed the registration process, and received steel-toe boots and hard hats. They also received a safety training session and were led in the Habitat cheer, a Swahili saying, “Oyee,” which means “We can do it,” in English.
Volunteers also received a Habitat T-shirt. USCJ had added logos with the name of the kehillah, along with the USCJ and Habitat logos, to the shirts.
Volunteers were split into groups and led through projects by crew leaders, who are experienced construction volunteers.
Barry Levine, from Beth David Synagogue, had volunteered before on a similar project, and he wanted to introduce his 16-year-old son, Ben, to the work.
“Dad brought me out today. I am laying laminate flooring with the guidance of crew leader Roger LeFebrve, who has shown all the volunteers how to use power tools to get the job done,” Ben said.
“I like the idea that I am helping those less fortunate and it’s a good feeling.”
Rabbi Irit Printz, of USCJ eastern Canada, said she worked with Humanity for Habitat when she was a rabbi in Atlanta. “When Irv Siegel suggested we do a project where the synagogues could participate, I thought it was an excellent idea. It really embodies what Judaism is all about which is fixing the world and making the world a better place.
“It worked very nicely with Passover, because part of what we are supposed to be doing between Purim and Passover is helping those who are less fortunate than us. At Purim we send gifts of food, and during Passover we are supposed to invite people into our home. We thought it would be nice if we could help these underprivileged families create their own home so the ‘who’ value of fixing the world fits in generally with our mission, tikkun olam,” Rabbi Printz said.
Wilson said that “providing simple, decent, affordable housing remains a matter of social justice, and we are proud to champion a social justice model that essentially helps people help themselves.”
This article appears in the April 5 print issue of The CJN