On June 12, around 1,000 people, mostly young adults from the Jewish community, filled Koerner Hall in Toronto for The House’s sixth-annual JEDx event.
JEDx stands for Jewish Ethics Defined, and is based on the TED talk model. Each year, The House, an organization that works with Jewish young professionals, invites influential Jewish people to speak about how they incorporate Jewish values into their everyday lives.
Since it debuted to an audience of 150 five years ago, JEDx has become an integral component of The House’s programming.
“Every organization needs a marquee event. It’s the event that puts The House on the map,” said Mitch Freed, co-chair of JEDx. “The House’s mission is basically to inspire and empower young professionals to lead a purposeful life that’s led by Jewish values.”
Tamar Zagdanski-Weisbrod, the other co-chair, recognizes the value that JEDx provides.
“There’s lots of events going on (that are) run for young professionals in the Jewish community. This one, to me, was exceptionally inspiring,” she said. “It’s more than just a networking event.”
This year’s JEDx featured four speakers, all talking about empowerment. The first was Ethan Zohn, who played soccer on the junior team at the Maccabiah Games, played professional soccer in Zimbabwe, won the TV reality show Survivor: Africa, is a two-time cancer survivor and co-founder of the charity Grassroot Soccer. Through all these different experiences and challenges, he has relied upon his Jewish values.
Zohn first appreciated the importance of Jewish community when he was 14 years old and his father died of cancer. It was his friends from Maccabiah and the shul, as well as his rabbi, who supported him and his family through the difficult time. When he ended up on Survivor over a decade later, he realized that those values were ingrained in him.
“Once you take away food and water, and you’re tired and hungry, your true colours come into focus. All that I was left with was my character, compassion and perseverance,” he said. “These are the same values I learned growing up Jewish, and the same values we live by as members of the Jewish community.”
Survivor also changed Zohn’s life. For one of his rewards, he visited a small Kenyan hospital, where he played with a group of children. It was only later that he learned the children were all HIV-positive.
Coupled with his knowledge of the devastation caused by HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe, Zohn felt compelled to act. That’s why he used his winnings from Survivor to help start Grassroot Soccer, which teaches youth about AIDS prevention through an original, soccer-based curriculum. So far, it has educated over 2.2-million children.
When Zohn was himself diagnosed with cancer, his Jewish upbringing once again helped him stay strong.
The House’s mission is basically to inspire and empower young professionals to lead a purposeful life that’s led by Jewish values.
– Mitch Freed
“In Hebrew, the word for a challenge and the word for a miracle stem from the same word – the Hebrew word ness,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of challenges in my life. And when you’re put through a challenge, it brings out miraculous things in you.”
When Zohn was fighting cancer, he made the conscious decision to continue working with Grassroot Soccer.
“Never let a crisis go to waste,” he said. “Focusing on the plight of other people helps you heal as a human being.”
The next speaker was Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, who started a program called Kids Kicking Cancer that teaches sick children martial arts, meditation and breathing techniques, to help them conquer their fear and pain.
Next was Jodi Kovitz, founder and CEO of #MoveTheDial, a movement to advance women in tech. She spoke about how she decided to focus more on helping the world when she almost lost her young daughter to illness.
The final speaker was Jordan Banks, who most notably managed Facebook and Instagram in Canada. He discussed the internal and external benefits of philanthropy and work-life balance, among other topics.