Olivia Varkul, Kicking-off Jewish adulthood with a commitment to tikkun olam

photos_of_olivia_varkul

L to R: Olivia with her parents Mark and Joanna, and brothers, Jonah and Ethan; a young Olivia ready to play soccer with her Dad

By Jody Kamen-- While it was not a foreign concept to include a charity component as part of her bat mitzvah celebration, Olivia found herself “overwhelmed” by the support and generosity of her guests to the Olivia Varkul Tzedakah Fund she established through the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto’s B’nai Tzedek Teen Philanthropy program.

Tzedakah was taught at home, and was reinforced at school where “we brought toonies in every Friday for the less fortunate,” recalls Olivia on her early years. At the time of her bat mitzvah, Olivia felt it important to do something beyond giving, but rather, doing.

As a soccer player, Olivia can list off the positive benefits of playing as part of a team, practicing and developing new skills and friendships on and off the field. Olivia set up her tzedakah fund at the time of her bat mitzvah, and asked her guests to contribute to the fund in lieu of gifts. Olivia has decided to use some of the money in her fund to allow youth in Bat Yam, Israel to participate in an after school soccer program. “Israel is the Jewish homeland, and it is an automatic association I make with becoming a bat mitzvah” explains Olivia on her decision to offer youngsters in Bat Yam this incredible opportunity. Bat Yam is home to the fastest growing Ethiopian-Israeli community in Israel, which is also the most vulnerable segment of the Israeli population. Soccer offers an excellent opportunity for these Israeli youngsters to build self-esteem, develop friendships and foster teamwork.

This summer, Olivia will have the opportunity to see the difference she is making in Bat Yam by meeting some of the kids who will be participating in the soccer program. Every year, Olivia will continue to make an impact in the community by refl ecting on her personal life and making decisions about worthy causes in Toronto or Israel that she wants to support through her tzedakah fund.

“I am proud of what I am able to do and am happy that other teens my age will benefi t from the program” describes Olivia; spoken like a true philanthropist.

Up Close and Personal with Olivia

B’nai Tzedek: Where did you learn about tzedakah?
Olivia Varkul: In grade one; we brought toonies into class every Friday for Shabbat. It was also something we practiced at home.

BT: Why did you choose to support the soccer program in Israel?
OV: Israel is the Jewish homeland, and it is an automatic association I make with becoming a bat mitzvah. I am excited about the opportunity I will have in August to visit Bat Yam and meet the teens who will now be playing soccer.

BT: How do you feel after seeing the support of your friends and family?
OV: I am overwhelmed by the support, in a good way! I am proud of what I am able to do and am happy that other teens my age will benefi t from the program.

BT: What would you say to other teens your age about the B’nai Tzedek program?
OV: It’s a great opportunity to do something meaningful as part of the celebration. I think it’s important, and I would encourage others to choose a project or cause that they feel a personal connection with.