In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, The CJN presents 40 profiles of some of the most prominent Jewish Canadians throughout our history.
“You never know what a ‘yes’ can lead to,” says Julia Koschitzky, an activist, a philanthropist and a leader of Canadian and world Jewry who is passionate about Jewish education.
Koschitzky’s involvement in communal life began when she volunteered with the Parent Teacher Council of Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto. Her four children, who are now in their 40s and 50s, were students at Associated. As the council’s president, she encouraged many donors to come forward and support the school.
Koschitzky said these are challenging times for Jewish education. Enrolment at non-Orthodox schools is down, despite the growing Jewish community. “The commitment of families towards sending their children for a formal Jewish education, which builds strong identity and guarantees the future of Jewish life, really has lessened. That’s also coupled with the rising cost of Jewish education, rising at a rate of 2 1/2 times the cost of living,” she said.
Much of Jewish philanthropy goes to non-Jewish causes, she pointed out. “If it would be redirected to Jewish education, the cost would not be an issue.”
Koschitzky said Jews who immigrated to Canada at the turn of the century came here with nothing, yet “their priorities were right.” They managed to build a foundation for us – of synagogues, day schools, benevolent organizations, theatres and newspapers. “It was a rich Jewish life in poor times. Now when I think of the incredible wealth there is in our community, and that we should be facing such hardship with keeping Jewish schools afloat, it’s a very depressing time.”
Recent major donations for Jewish education – from the Jesin-Neuberger Foundation and an anonymous donor – will reduce tuition at the Anne & Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. “We hope their stepping up to the plate will motivate and inspire others to do the same,” Koschitzky said.
After 12 years on the Associated council, she was invited to chair the Toronto United Jewish Appeal (UJA), 1985 women’s division campaign, to engage more Orthodox women, and she said yes. In 1988-89, she went on to co-chair the general Toronto UJA campaign. “I owe a great debt of thanks to the UJA because I felt that was where I was taught and nurtured. That led me to so many extraordinary experiences. The more involved I became, the more I learned, and the more I learned, the more I saw and understood the scale of Jewish needs here and in Israel and around the world,” she said.
As president of United Israel Appeal/Jewish Federations of Canada in 1990-92, Koschitzky helped raise money for Operation Exodus, the rescue and resettlement of Soviet Jewry in Israel. After successively upping its fundraising goals, the UIA raised more than $100 million from Canadian Jews for Operation Exodus, in addition to the contribution from the annual UJA campaign. “The Six Day War and Exodus campaigns showed as never before that Jewish people can be united,” she said.
Since then, Koschitzky – a patron of the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, and through UJA Federation, the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education – has continued taking active roles in Jewish affairs locally, nationally and internationally. She’s been showered with awards for her work, including the Order of Canada in 2015.
Currently, she’s involved with the Jerusalem Foundation, which raises funds for social, cultural and beautification projects in the city. She also volunteers at Canadian citizenship ceremonies, where she has so far granted citizenship to some 1,000 people.
Koschitzky, who immigrated to Canada with her parents from Cardiff, Wales, said she tells the newly minted Canadian citizens they will “make a living by what they do, but they will make a life by what they share,” as well as how important it is for each of them to share their time, talent and their resources with their own community.
Koschitzky said as a volunteer she’s grown in every position she’s taken on and she’s made friends around the world. “What we do in our community sends a message to our children, to future generations. My children are involved, whether it’s here or in New York or in Israel. Everybody does something because they saw the joy in how it fulfills your life, that you’re doing something not just for yourself but also for others.”