Montreal student only Canadian selected for Bronfman Fellowship
June 25, 2012 | Daniel Smajovits - Montreal Correspondent
Bronfman Youth Fellowship recipient Jacob Shapiro says, “I think there will be issues and discussions that I never would have thought of before.… I am looking forward to coming together with other people who might think differently about Judaism and the world.”
MONTREAL – For the Shapiro family, the Bronfman Youth Fellowships are beginning to become a rite-of-passage.
Jacob Shapiro, a recent graduate of Bialik High School in Cote St. Luc, became the only Canadian in 2012 to be selected to join the exclusive program. His selection comes three years after his brother, Adam, was accepted into the program in 2009.
While Jacob’s friends will be spending the summer at camp or on vacation, Jacob will soon be joining 25 of his peers from across the United States for an intensive five-week program in Israel designed to develop future leaders committed to Jewish unity.
Founded by Edgar M. Bronfman in 1986, the fellowship offers carefully selected students, who are already community leaders in their own right, the opportunity to cultivate a sense of social and Jewish responsibility.
“Both my older and younger brothers, Adam and Matt, influence and impact me tremendously. Judging from the experience of my older brother, I know this will be a very exciting experience,” said Jacob Shapiro. “The experience had an impression on him. He had a different outlook after meeting so many people and absorbing the educational components. Just now, beginning with the books we have to read, I’ve found them very interesting.
“I think there will be issues and discussions that I never would have thought of before,” added Shapiro. “People say Montreal has a very unique Jewish community and a very unique community in general with the English and French populations. Coming from this environment, I am looking forward to coming together with other people who might think differently about Judaism and the world. I’m excited to meet with them, the faculty, different people, different authors and politicians; it will give me a more global and involved Jewish perspective. I will have thoughts that I never had before and hopefully it will lead to actions down the road that I could not even imagine today.”
Although Jacob’s ultimate goal is to become a teacher at either the high school or elementary level, politics and community involvement has shaped his life thus far.
At Bialik High School, Jacob served as the prime minister of the student parliament, a student-run body, which he helped create. Outside of Bialik, Jacob is president of the Human Promise, a student-run social justice organization.
“The student parliament was really something that I put a lot of effort into this year. I have served on student council since Grade 6 and I think we had some productive years, but I got the feeling that there was more that we could do,” he said. “Bialik is one of the only schools in the country that now has a government which closely mirrors the Westminster Parliamentary system. The system includes 22 kids from Grade 7 to Grade 11 and a Senate composed of teachers and administrators. It’s really a way that people can get involved, engaged and actually get things done because a lot of the time, student council is unable to do that.
“For the first time that I can remember, we were able to change rules and make an impact,” he added. “It’s really cool to see people getting involved and doing something, aside from the learning perspective of learning how our government works.”
Shapiro’s work at the Human Promise has helped raise more than $40,000 in the past four years.
“The Human Promise is about letting young adults do things on their own with minimal adult guidance,” said Shapiro. “It started when I was in Grade 6 when a group of my friends and I organized a hockey tournament that raised nearly $10,000. It was really exciting that at 12 years old, you are working almost independently and raising that kind of money. The tournament was so successful that the next year, Ken Dryden was there. I’ve been involved for the past four years and it’s cool to know that next year, it will happen and I won’t even be involved in it. It’s cool to see something like that grow with you, expand and get bigger.”
Between his strong academics, his extra-curricular activities, which also includes Bialik’s theatre program, the annual bible contest and model United Nations, Jacob was also selected to participate in McGill University’s Vivre Ensemble project, an initiative which works to deconstruct stereotypes and build deeper mutual understanding among young Jewish and Arab leaders, it’s evident why Shapiro was selected to become a Bronfman Fellow.
“I want the opportunity to always be engaged and to always be learning. Next year, I will be attending Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa in Israel. It will give me an opportunity, beyond this trip, to expand my knowledge of Judaism,” added Shapiro. “Regardless of what I want to teach when I’m older, I want to be well rounded and I want to get to the point where I’m comfortable with what I know and potentially one day teach it.”
Clearly, for Jacob, this summer and this experience cannot come soon enough.