Profiles in Leadership
Laura Orzy, Chair, Women’s Division International
What was it like growing up in South Africa?
Was there a sense of Zionism in your home life?
My childhood was very different from most children in the Western world. I grew up during the true Apartheid, South African Apartheid.
Despite that, I had a wonderful childhood; but I didn’t know it was different from most until my parents took us at a young age ‘overseas’ to different countries where we were exposed to different cultures and lifestyles.
I became uncomfortable with life as a white, privileged person in South Africa. Having said that, my parents always showed only respect and care for every person they encountered – regardless of colour or religion. My parents were not religious or even strong Zionists (my first visit to Israel was when I was in my early 20’s), but they gave us a strong sense of identity as Jews, and emphasized tradition, unity and philanthropy. My grandfather was instrumental in starting the first and only Jewish orphanage in Johannesburg after WWII
How did your volunteer activities Start?
My first volunteer activities began when I moved to live in Toronto. I was 30 years old.
As a new immigrant and not having papers to work just yet, I decided to volunteer my time as a Big Sister with Jewish Family & Child Services; and as a member of the National Council of Jewish Woman, packing and distributing boxes to those in need at Pesach, and also as a helper with Zareinu, a Jewish educational organization for students with special needs.
When and where did you start to get involved in a higher-level
activity as a lay leader?
As a mother of 2 (and then 3) young children in Toronto, I decided to become a ‘stay-at-home’ mom. This wasn’t an easy change for me.
I had always worked, and I had to find something more to fill my days. I volunteered at my children’s school, overseeing after-school programs, United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and youth programs at our synagogue.
As a lay leader, you’ve doubtless inspired many others to step
up and do their part for our communities and for Israel. But
who was an inspiration for you?
My husband, Rick, was, and still remains my biggest mentor. He showed me by example how much we receive by giving of ourselves to others less fortunate.
Over the years, he has been involved in the Soviet Jewry Movement, Jewish Family & Child Services, UJA, Israel Bonds and so many other organizations.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from Rick, is how one can provide others with invaluable help without needing validation in terms of being called a ‘leader’ or
looking for recognition, despite performing leadership roles.
I was also inspired by many others, both men and women in Toronto - in particular, Elinor Gertner z”l, from Jewish Family and Child Services.
When and how did you first get involved with Israel Bonds?
Growing up in South Africa, I had never heard of Israel Bonds, but I became aware of them when Rick and I bought bonds for ourselves and our children. Rick had been involved with the Israel Bonds organization for many years before he met me.
When our eldest son, Ilan, was within two years of becoming a Bar Mitzvah --he attended a Jewish Day School --I was asked to help Israel Bonds with the design and solidification of a program that would see the integration of the Bar Mitzvah experience – for the kids and for their parents – with support for Israel in a tangible way through Israel Bonds.
That became, in Canada, the Israel Bonds Bar/Bat Mitzvah School Program. I wanted my children to get something truly meaningful instead of an assortment of 30 or 40 standard and uninspiring gifts that everyone was giving each other.
I managed and nurtured this Program for several years during which time it was brought in under the Women’s Division of Israel Bonds. I then got involved with Women’s Division and later became Chair of the division which led to being involved on the National Council.
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