Remembering Julia Koschitzky, Canada Jewry’s 'Foreign Minister'

Julia Koschitzky passed away from cancer last week.

 Julia Koschitzky (photo credit: COURTESY KEREN HAYESOD)
Julia Koschitzky
(photo credit: COURTESY KEREN HAYESOD)

If there was one message of condolence that moved philanthropist and Jewish-Canadian businessman David Koschitzky after the death of his mother-in-law and aunt, Julia Koschitzky, it was one from a stranger the family never knew.

“About three hours after she died, and it wasn’t public knowledge yet, a friend forwarded us a post on Facebook,” said Koschitzky, trying to remember the exact wording. “The post went something like this: ‘I just heard that Julia Koschitzky died. I hope it’s not true.

She was the most humble and nice woman I ever met. I am a customer service representative at Toronto Pearson Airport. Every time she came, she gave a present. I said to her, “You don’t have to give me a present.” ‘And she said, “I know, but everybody screams at you. And I want you to know you do a good job.”’

“Julia wasn’t on an airplane since the COVID-19 pandemic, yet some complete stranger felt the necessity to write this on Facebook. This woman isn’t Jewish, but that’s the point of my mother-in-law’s Jewish identity. She was a member of the Order of Canada, meaning that she could swear-in new immigrants. She officiated thousands of ceremonies. She would make sure she would have a picture with every person. And she would talk and learn a little bit about them.”

Julia was chair of the Keren Hayesod World Board of Trustees during the 1990s, having completed a two-year term as president of the United Israel Appeal of Canada. Until her death, she served on the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA) Executive and was named honorary president. 

 Julia Koschitzky (credit: COURTESY KEREN HAYESOD) Julia Koschitzky (credit: COURTESY KEREN HAYESOD)

As UIA president, she had an important role in shaping the relationship between Canadian Jewry and Israel, with particular reference to UIA’s mandate in supporting human, social and educational needs.

This was especially meaningful, as Canadian Jewry had taken a central place in “Operation Exodus,” the campaign to assist the mass immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel.

She became increasingly involved with the Jewish Agency, serving as a member of the Board of Governors since 1990, a member of the Executive, and co-chair of its Education Department.

Julia was buried in Israel where the family held the shiva mourning period, which ended on Tuesday.

“I’ve just been overwhelmed at how many people have come in whether they are lay leaders, or professionals within the NGO world,” said Koschitzky, himself an executive of Keren Hayesod, a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Strategic Planning Committee, and chairman of Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “She made them feel like the thing they were doing was extremely important. And because of that, they felt that they really blossomed.”

Koschitzky is married to Sarena Koschitzky, a daughter of Julia. Even before Koschitzky married Sarena, Julia was his aunt.

“She was always insulted when people thought I was her son, for many good reasons,” he said laughingly, “because it would make her older than she was. I marched at her wedding. I was five and a half.”

Koschitzky said that Julia was the first of the broad and active family members who took on a role with international Jewish causes, and of course, Israel.

“Her sister-in-law, my mother, was very involved in Canadian Jewish needs,” says Koschitzky. “Julia expanded her involvement in the global Jewish sense.

She felt a significant drive to play a part in global Jewish needs, especially those that were connected to Israel. So whether it was freeing Russian Jews or Ethiopian Jews, she always put an emphasis on a global picture, and with a specialty on Israel. She was a real Zionist.

She had a relationship with every Israeli leader that wanted to have a relationship with her. And when they met her, they wanted to continue their relationship. She entertained them at her home and would meet them when she was in Israel.

Whether it was Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Bibi Netanyahu or Ehud Olmert, she was apolitical. Her friendship had nothing to do with what side of the politics you were on.”

Koschitzky said she didn’t follow Israeli politics, but was very well connected: “She didn’t care about the politics. If you asked me, ‘Did she know the political nuance of who was going to form a coalition?’ It didn’t bother her at least. All she cared about was that you now have a role and wanted to work with them.”

Julia was the recipient of many distinguished awards, including the Woman of Valor Award, the Israel Goldstein Prize for her outstanding service to Keren Hayesod, the Washington UJA Federations of North America special presentation honoring past chairs of Keren Hayesod, the Bronfman Award to Julia & Henry Koschitzky from Canadian Jewish Congress, and several other awards.

She served as chair of the Israel Now Consortium, and as chair of Israel Advocacy for the Toronto Jewish Federation. Julia also served as a trustee of the York University Foundation, and served on the Advisory Board of York University for Jewish Studies. 

“Julia Koschitzky was one of the most prominent figures in the entire Jewish world, and was Keren Hayesod royalty,” said Keren Hayesod World Chairman Sam Grundwerg. “She was a standout leader in Toronto as well as in so many Jewish organizations where she greatly enhanced the status of the Jewish people in the world, and advanced Keren Hayesod’s activities on behalf of the people of Israel."

"I am confident that Julia’s memory and legacy will continue to inspire the global Jewish community, including the next generation of leaders, and will serve as a guiding light for future generations. She will be sorely missed,” Grundwerg added