As the House celebrates 10 years of bringing Jewish programs to Toronto’s young professionals, Samantha Banks, the organization’s new director of operations and development, said she’s excited to help it reach new heights.
“There are so many organizations in Toronto, and the House has always really spoken to me, because it focuses on both the social and educational element of incorporating Judaism into our daily lives, which, I sometimes find, can be lost when you’re chasing after kids, or cooking dinner for your boyfriend, or just [dealing with] life,” said Banks, 26, who was hired in August following a three-year stint as the director of Next Gen at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
“I’m going to help the House reach new goals and help them accomplish all their programming needs and make sure that young Jewish professionals can be educated Jewishly in Toronto in a way that meets their interests.”
The House, a non-denominational non-profit organization, located on Eglinton Avenue, creates programming for Jews between the ages of 22 and 35.
For the past 10 years, the House has grown to reach more than 1,000 Jewish young adults annually through programs including workshops, Shabbat dinners and volunteer initiatives.
“The House really is relevant to every young Jewish adult,” said Rabbi Rafi Lipner, the House’s founder and director.
“The goal of the House is not to show why you must be Jewish, but rather what Judaism can add to your everyday life and the decisions you make and the fulfilment you’re looking for.”
In honour of its 10th year, the House has launched a fundraising campaign that, for the first time, involves a young leadership board.
“The young leadership board is involved in programming engagement and now also fundraising. They have added a new dimension to our success in outreach and every year we have new faces that are looking to come on board and make a difference for their peers,” he said.
Banks explained that the fundraising drive, called “Our Story, My House” will be a peer-to-peer initiative.
“The really unique thing about this campaign is that there is no running a marathon, there is no sliding through mud, or throwing paint at someone. It’s just a fundraising campaign that you ask your friends to donate to… but there are no overhead costs in the sense that we are not throwing a huge black-tie function or a hole-in-one golf tournament,” she said.
Banks added that the money raised will go directly into funding the programs. “The campaign is really a celebration of how we’ve come from simply an idea and a scribble on a piece of paper 10 years ago,” Rabbi Lipner said.
“It really started as an idea, and it is amazing to see the thousands of people that have rallied around it both in terms of support and in terms of engagement and education. We’re really at the stage where we’re trying to keep up with the demand that we created.”
He said it is easy to be discouraged by demographic reports that suggest younger Jews are disconnected from institutional Judaism, “but when we sat down with the board, both the executive board and the young leadership board, the messaging came across for a very hopeful and exciting future.
“It’s not that we’re losing these souls, but rather there is an opportunity where people really want to reconnect to something meaningful, relevant and inspiring, and our 10th year celebration was [a way to] look at what we’ve achieved in 10 years, and realizing that our next 10 years are bright and optimistic… It reflects a generation that is looking to connect to something that resonates in a meaningful way.”