By: Ashira Weiss
As pandemic restrictions set in across Canada last year, Michael heard stories of Senior Citizens isolated, anxious and alone, and they horrified him. So he sprang into action. He applied for a federal grant through a program called “Rising Youth,” which gives people aged fifteen to thirty funding for humanitarian initiatives. When his request for $1500 was granted, he purchased ten tablets with headphones and accessories and then set about calling members of the Synagogue he attends with his Grandpa. He found ten isolated Seniors, delivered the devices to them, and set about teaching the recipients to use Instagram, Facebook, email and play games.
But, ever the doer, Michael couldn’t stop there. “I didn’t want to end my connection with these special Seniors, so I did a lot of thinking,” he says. The result: Senior Pals, a monthly Zoom program where his fellow CTeen members hang out with Seniors, playing games, sharing experiences and watching entertainers.
Since then, Senior Pals has given way to an interview program where teens help Seniors write down their life experiences to be preserved for future generations. Now that the Seniors are comfortable with Zoom, many of them join Torah classes and other Synagogue social events too.
This is not the first time Michael has raised money to fund a humanitarian initiative through Rising Youth. A few months earlier, Michael submitted an application for $750 to be used to purchase PPE and food supplies for needy members of his community. The young man’s proposal impressed the funding board so much that they granted him double his request. Michael got his friends together and they purchased and packed the items, leaving the rabbi to arrange delivery of the packages to the recipients anonymously in a way that would preserve their dignity.
Then Michael taught his friends how to apply for Rising Youth grants and for the last eighteen months the teens have sent out packages of food, dry goods, and toiletries regularly.
A board member and Youth Recruiter for the Conservative Party in his constituency, Michael helps bring awareness of local Jewish issues to political candidates. Still, his activism isn’t limited to large-scale communal projects. His friends know him as the guy they can rely on to help them out with a homework jam, or the person they can talk to when things are tough.
When a friend saw Michael putting tefillin on daily before school, he asked if he could join and Michael would lend him his tefillin each morning. When COVID closed his school, Michael raised money to purchase a pair of tefillin for his friend, whose father and brothers subsequently joined him in donning tefillin each day.
As his nomination says, “Michael seeks out opportunities, and if he doesn’t find one, he creates it.”