A pillar of Toronto's Jewish community, Julia Koschitzky leaves behind legacy of saying yes

Julia Koschitzky, a community leader involved in many of Toronto's Jewish organizations, has died.

Philanthropist and organizer who died Monday remembered as 'one in a lifetime'

Julia Koschitzky, a pillar of the Toronto Jewish community, has died. ( Liora Kogan)

Julia Koschitzky always said her life changed because she said yes.

Koschitzky, a high-profile philanthropist and pillar of Toronto's Jewish community, died on Monday.

"There was never a leader like her. She's one in a lifetime," said Rafi Yablonsky, the national executive director of the Canadian Shaare Zedek Hospital Foundation.

"Every organization in the Toronto Jewish community had her involved.".

Born in Cardiff, Wales in 1943, Koschitzky's family came to Canada six years later.

She often said her life of saying yes began when she was a young mother and answered a call from her children's school asking for her help with an outreach program.

From leadership positions within United Jewish Appeal (UJA), to sitting as a trustee at York University, she said yes to commitments large and small, lending a hand in Canada and abroad. She played a central role in Operation Exodus, helping with the immigration of hundreds and thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel in the 1990s. 

She shared the speeches she gave over the years at philanthropic events in her 2010 book, It's Been My Privilege.

'A very unusual philanthropist'

"She was a very unusual philanthropist in that she gave time and talent," said Linda Frum, chair of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

She was forever attending events, but meaningful moments often came in the in-between moments. 

"She was effusive in her support and praise," said Frum. 

Linda Frum, left, says Julia Koschitzky, right, was effusive in her praise of others, rarely letting a chance go by to send an organizer of an event a kind email. (Liora Kogan and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto)

Frum says when she accomplished something in her own life, such as organizing an event or giving a big speech, it was usually followed by a thoughtful email from Koschitzky.

"This is what really set her apart from other leaders. She was so humble. She was always concerned about other people. And she liked to nurture everybody around her," said Frum.

"You can't have given out so much goodness in your life and be easily forgotten."

Commitment to Jewish education

Along with her husband, Koschitzky founded the Julia and Henry Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education, which provides tuition assistance to attend Jewish schools and fosters other education opportunities. 

Yablonsky experienced the organization's impact firsthand.

"If it wasn't for the centre for education helping my parents subsidize my tuition and my siblings' tuition, I wouldn't be sitting here today," he said.

Koschitzky was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2015 for her dedication to interfaith dialogue and education.

She was also presented with the Volunteer Service Award of the Province of Ontario in 1999, along with numerous other awards by Jewish organizations in Canada and Israel. 

Raquel Benzacar Savatti considered Koschitzky a mentor who was always lifting up others. (Submitted: Raquel Benzacar Savatti)

Raquel Benzacar Savatti, CEO of Israel Bonds Canada, says Koschitzky was always looking for ways to lift others up.

Koschitzky would accept any invitation if it might help elevate an event that needed support and would happily add her name to newer initiatives or organizations who could use a boost, she said.

If she was being presented with an award, she would use that honour to bring people into the fold of an organization, she said, sometimes even suggesting other women who should be honoured.

To always be saying yes, giving back and lifting up others, "we could all do better in our lives if we model that," said Benzacar Savatti.


Clara Pasieka is a CBC journalist and associate producer in Toronto. She has also worked in CBC's national bureau and as a reporter in the Northwest Territories, Ontario and New Brunswick. She holds a Masters degree in Public Policy, Law and Public Administration from York University.