The fourth annual JEDx began with a giant cocktail party as 770 people – mostly young professionals in their early 30s or younger – mingled and fressed in the lobby of the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto.
Beer, wine and conversation flowed as people munched on elegantly presented hors d’oeuvres like Vietnamese spring rolls and seared sesame tuna.
But JEDx, the gala held May 31 by The House, was much more than an upscale schmooze fest that raised $192,000.
JEDx, which stands for Jewish Ethics Defined, is modelled after TED talks. It is rooted in Jewish ideas designed to inspire participants of The House, an organization that provides innovative programming for Jewish young adults.
Rabbi Rafi Lipner, the founding executive director of The House, told The CJN he saw a gap in Jewish programming for young adults post university, and to fill this void, he started The House. Twelve years ago there were 50 participants. Today there are 1,500.
At the start of this year’s JEDx presentation, Rabbi Lipner, introduced the theme for 2016 – “Now or never,” based on Hillel’s famous saying, “If not now, when?”
The four Jewish personalities who took the stage were chosen as much for their exceptional life stories, as for the inspirational messages they imparted.
Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, a combat reservist in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) is the founder of Our Soldiers Speak, a non-profit organization that sends Israeli soldiers to speak at campuses and communities to “battle public opinion” on Israel in English-speaking countries.
When the English-born activist attended the University of Manchester, the anti-Zionism there was so pervasive that he abandoned his plans to become a lawyer and joined the IDF, he said.
The audience applauded him when he equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. “The world demands that Israel adhere to a moral standard that no other people would find acceptable,” he said. “You don’t surrender your homeland, even if world opinion tells you that you should.”
He urged people to be proud of the Jewish state without being apologetic. “Stop advocating for the State of Israel as a defendant.”
The second speaker, Montreal-born Joey Adler, is the founder of ONEXONE, a philanthropy program that promotes the value and essence of a single human life through random acts of kindness. She is also the former president and CEO of Diesel Canada Inc.
Adler, who now resides in Los Angeles, said her life changed dramatically when her husband suffered a terminal illness in 2001.
After his death in 2003, she decided to honour his memory by humanizing the workplace of the clothing manufacturing company the couple had co-founded.
She created Industrial Revolution II (IRII), a new environmentally and socially responsible business model for apparel manufacturing.
She also founded ONEXONE. “I left a great career because of the lack of integrity of just making money… True success is measured by the joy that you bring to others.”
The third JEDx speaker, Hillel Fuld, was named Israel’s top marketer. A well-known tech blogger, Fuld wears several professional hats.
He is the chief marketing officer of Zcast, a company that facilitates audio broadcasting. He is also a startup strategic adviser and he has been a mentor for various Israeli start-ups, including Google Launchpad, The Junction and the Microsoft Ventures accelerator.
Fuld said he had a passion for technology and began to write about it. Providing content has been critical to his success in developing a following. “Writing passionately transcends borders… I began to cultivate relationships with leaders of technology.”
But Fuld, an observant Jew, stressed the importance of giving back to his community. He said he is helping the Israeli economy by connecting job applicants to employers. “People started sending me resumes. So far, I’ve helped the 116th person get a job in Israeli technology.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to help someone help themselves.”
Jonathan Ross Goodman, president and CEO of the Montreal-based Knight Therapeutics Inc., spoke about overcoming catastrophic health hurdles.
As a university student, he became a cancer survivor, and then he went on to get a law degree and an MBA from McGill University.
Goodman later suffered a traumatic brain injury in a cycling accident. “I had a 90 per cent chance of surviving in a vegetative state and a 10 per cent chance of living.”
He spent 4-1/2 months in hospital learning to walk again. “It was infinitely harder on my wife and parents.”
While he is successfully in business, Goodman said he is very proud of his philanthropic work. Last year, he raised $4.5 million for cancer research through the Ride to Conquer Cancer, which goes from Montreal to Quebec City.