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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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IDF vet volunteers with Toronto Police Auxiliary

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Mayer Elharar received a master’s degree in economics from York University last year.

Mayer Elharar laughs on the phone. He had no idea his name brings up so much information in an Internet search.

The 27-year-old has a long list of extracurricular activities that come up with a click of a Google search button: Toronto Police Auxiliary member; founder of Hillel at the Glendon campus of York University; Millennium Scholarship winner and co-founder of a non-profit that aims at getting Canadian youth involved in social change. These are just a few of the pieces of information that come up in search results.

Since arriving in Canada from Israel six years ago, Elharar has done his best to get involved in his community in some way.

He wants to give back, he says.

“That’s really my main motivator,” he says. “I’m very passionate about change, very passionate about making things better. When I see something that needs to be changed, I get involved.”

After Elharar finished his Israel Defence Forces military service, he, like many Israelis, planned a long backpacking trip across South America. Elharar and two friends had everything worked out. While he was planning his trip, he also applied to universities, specifically York University in Toronto.

York accepted him to study business.

Elharar decided to go to school rather than Peru.

He spent his first year at Glendon — York’s campus nestled in the ravine between the posh Bridle Path neighbourhood and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre — becoming comfortable in Canada. By second year, he was involved in campus life, founding the Glendon Entrepreneurial Club and the campus’ Hillel branch, which came about after a chance meeting in the campus gym.

An older man approached Elharar in the weight room one day, asking him about the IDF T-shirt he was wearing. The man asked Elharar if he was Israeli and Jewish. Elharar answered yes. Then he asked the next question on his mind: why are you at Glendon? There are no Jews here.

“And it’s true,” Elharar said.

York’s large Jewish population, which attracted Elharar to the school, is mostly on the school’s main campus. Glendon’s Jewish population is sparse.

In his third year, Elharar and a friend decided to see if anyone would come out for a local Hillel chapter. They postered the campus and ordered two pizzas for the meeting, worried that they would be the only two eating.

“I came over to the room, and I saw a room full of people. I was really astonished,” Elharar said. Then he had another thought: “Do we have enough pizza?”

The chapter got involved in campus life. During Holocaust Education Week, the group brought in survivors to speak to students, Elharar said.

For his efforts, Glendon and Hillel Toronto recognized him with awards, the latter group giving him four awards for his efforts to reach Jewish students at the small bilingual campus.

Last year, Elharar graduated from York with a master’s degree in economics. Today, he works as a forensic accountant for Soberman Chartered Accountants. He tends to work long hours, but that hasn’t dissuaded him from getting involved in his community.

When he first arrived in Canada, Elharar considered places to volunteer. The Toronto Police Service seemed like a logical choice.

“If something’s wrong, you call the police… They’re the number 1 people you can call and hopefully they’ll save the day,” he said. “That’s where I want to be if I want to help the community as a whole.

“That’s one of the main things that made me want to participate in the Toronto police. It’s an amazing opportunity for me to help the community where I live and make the streets safer for all of us.”

At first, he couldn’t find a way to volunteer with the force. Maybe it was his English, he said, but he was politely turned away at the local station. Two years ago, he decided to try again. This time, he walked into police headquarters and strode to the human resources department. Again, he asked about volunteering. This time it was suggested to him to join the auxiliary. Elharar signed up.

It was a long process that took more than a year, Elharar said, but last year he was officially made a member of the auxiliary. The official graduation ceremony – during which he was presented with an award for finishing at the top of his class – came after his first assignment: assisting police during the G20 summit in Toronto in late June. For the most part, though, Elharar has worked crowd control at events such as the Santa Claus parade.

“It is very interesting work. Most of the things we do are community events,” Elharar said. “You feel like you can really help. When you see someone at the end of the day telling you, ‘Thank you, officer’ – it just makes my day.”

Auxiliary police officers are expected to donate 150 hours a year to the force.

While that may keep Elharar busy after long days at the office, he said he is still looking for more to do. While the police keep him connected to the wider Toronto community, Elharar said he wants to do something that would keep him connected to the city’s Jewish community, either through an existing program or through a new venture.

Elharar pauses for a moment and begins to talk about the ideas in his head. After just going through a job hunt, Elharar said he thought there must be some way to make it easier. There are a number of successful Jews who likely want to help today’s youth land that first job. Maybe there’s a way to connect the two, he said.

Elharar hasn’t connected the dots, but it’s an example of how he views the world: he sees something he feels needs to change, and then he finds a way to make his ideas a reality.

Elharar does find the time to relax, but he’d rather be busy. He’d rather get involved in activities for his community.

“That’s just my personality and that’s what I like.”

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