Immigrating alone to Toronto “the land of opportunities” at the age of 17, Alex Katz’s life’s journey has demonstrated that resilience, perseverance and the kindness of a Jewish community can make all the difference. Shortly after arriving in Canada, he rented a small, cheap apartment in old Parkdale (west end of Toronto; a rough neighbourhood at the time) and enrolled himself in the local public school. Alex’s first real experience with the Jewish community in Canada was after he was offered a completely subsidized tuition at CHAT. “So grateful to attend the amazing school,” he traveled 1.5 hr by subway and bus to get there each day. Attending CHAT as an ESL student, and living alone with no support was an extremely difficult struggle but Alex “had great teachers”; he was determined and persevered “Once I was here I decided I am going to grow, become successful and realize myself in Canada” Alex eventually moved closer to school and rented a basement apartment in Clanton Park; his journey into Orthodox Judaism started to take shape – his apartment turned out to be much more than a place to rent. He accompanied his landlord’s family to Aish Hatorah for shul, enjoyed Shabbat meals with them and was exposed to the beauty of Jewish family life. “I loved the family dynamics and the atmosphere that I felt in their house. The Aish HaTorah classes made sense to me. It was a long journey…eventually I became fully integrated in the community.”
Alex began working at a textile warehouse after graduating high school; he was unable to pursue higher education because of the cost. After a few years, his boss, also a prominent member of the Jewish Community, pushed him to “go back to school; there was nothing I could accomplish by working in a warehouse”. He studied accounting at York University and worked part time at the textile company. In his final year he landed an internship with the Ministry of Finance. After graduation, he pursued and obtained a CA designation. Alex met his wife Natalie Natasha shortly thereafter.
Reflecting on his childhood in Kyiv, Alex has happy memories but also recalls regular encounters with antisemitism “the school I went to, I often had a fight because I was Jewish. Whether for myself or the other 2 Jews in my class…Most Jews in the former Soviet Union do look different compared to a local population. Right away people could recognize I was a Jew, not Ukrainian or Russian. Very often I heard slurs”. In 2016 he returned to modern Ukraine with his sister who lives in Israel; he felt it had become much more cosmopolitan and tolerant, then it was under the Soviet Union. He developed feelings of nostalgia and loyalty to Ukraine, and has consequently been deeply devastated by the current war. Last year, invited by Jewish Federation NY, Alex traveled to Lodz, Poland to celebrate Rosh Hashana and volunteer with Jewish refugees from Ukraine. “It was a very emotional and heart breaking experience.. Hearing people’s stories about horrors of war, and about having to leave your entire lives behind, I realized how blessed we are to live in Canada; going to work, sending my kids to school, and having a roof over my head. They had these same lives back in Ukraine, and all of a sudden they had to leave everything and escape to come live in a little motel room.”
“I have multiple identities. Canadian, Jewish, Russian, Ukrainian, Israeli – all those identities are kind of mixed in. I feel affiliation, I feel loyalty and I feel a sense of belonging to all those identities. That’s what makes me. I want to be involved in all those identities, I want to bring them all together. The sum is greater than the parts.” One of the ways Alex achieves this is through his role as an organizer of Limmud FSU Canada. Limmud FSU brings together and empowers Jews with roots in the Former Soviet Union through Shabbatons and rich educational experiences.
Alex met his wife Natasha, who immigrated from Russia, in Toronto and they have 3 children. Two are graduates of Netivot, and 1 is a current student.