Egan: Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein defends expansion of Jewish student center


The centre, a three-storey brick building on the edge of the University of Ottawa, is a community hub, offering comfort and support to any young Jew as they navigate life, work and study.

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Harley Finkelstein is president of Shopify Inc., one of those tech miracles that was a brilliant idea 16 years ago and now has billions in the cash.

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Of online success, then, he knows a thing or two.

But on Wednesday afternoon, he was standing in a pile of renovation rubble, on a makeshift plywood floor, in a large room gutted to the studs and joists and — in a thin black hoodie and luxurious gray pants. , nor of a rack at Winners, we suppose – positively beaming.

“That’s how you build great cities. We’re kind of building out loud, building in public, talking about this story,” he said, an evangelical touch in his tone.

“It’s a flywheel of reciprocity and giving.

Finkelstein, 37, and his wife Lindsay Taub are committed to being major philanthropists in Ottawa and this particular project is close to his heart – even helped him, in some way, to get where he is.

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In 2018, Finkelstein donated $500,000 and helped raise another $1.2 million to purchase a building and establish the Finkelstein Chabad Jewish Center on Friel Street, near the corner of Rideau, bordering the University of Ottawa.

It was his way of repaying the comfort and generosity he found while studying law at university (2005) and being swept into the orbit of Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky, a charismatic cleric who regularly walked around campus to connect with Jewish students, especially foreigners.

The rabbi regularly had 30 to 50 students at his home on Sweetland Avenue, where he and his wife Yocheved fed mouths (and souls) on Friday nights.

The new center, a three-story brick building, now provided a suitable place for the rabbi to conduct programs, hold religious events, hold “lunch and learn,” act as a drop-in center, and generally support any young Jew who makes its way. through life and work and academics.

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Well, didn’t it become gangbusters?

Rabbi Boyarsky reports that there were sometimes as many as 150 people in the center and that a handful, perhaps spending sleepless nights with essays or exams, even slept on makeshift beds in the basement.

“At some point it became clear that the original idea was a good idea, but there was a great idea somewhere,” Finkelstein said. A major extension of the center has been decided, with a complete overhaul of the existing floors, which have been cut inefficiently.

Knowing more about paywalls than brick walls, he assembled a team: Ian Shabinsky, the Glenview executive who comes from a big philanthropic family and knows a lot about commercial space; Jules Sigler, a real estate investor familiar with building, zoning and city hall; with the famous architect Barry Padolsky to face a space with heritage qualities.

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Finkelstein is donating an additional $1.5 million, while Shabinsky is leading a fundraising effort to fund the rest of the $3.7 million project. It adds about 1,500 square feet (bringing the total to about 6,000) and involves building over an existing lane.

“Anyone can write a check,” Finkelstein said, explaining his charitable giving philosophy.

“It’s much harder to bring in different people from different backgrounds and come up with a vision for something that is will have a huge impact. And I hope this building will last 100 years, help thousands of students.

Shabinsky, who runs a foundation with members of his family (including patriarch Sol), also strongly believes in giving back to the community that has helped Glenview thrive.

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“We’ve all enjoyed this town,” then repeating what is sort of a mantra for this group: “If you have room in your heart, you have room in your house. It’s a message that has always stuck with me. »

(Sigler, meanwhile, has family roots that go back 115 years to the clutch of Jewish merchants that surrounded the ByWard Market. Of the value of a Jewish comfort center for young people, he added, “And look what happened with Harley.”)

And, wise reader, lest you think we’ve been negligent in not asking the boss of Shopify a question that’s constantly swirling around town these days, the stock market gorilla doesn’t seem interested in buying the Ottawa Senators.

“I don’t think that’s our style,” Finkelstein said, sounding suspiciously like a Canadiens fan. “We love hockey and we love the city, but I don’t think that’s our style.

The new center will have a commercial kitchen, a few small “guest suites”, laundry and shower facilities, programming rooms and a more solemn area for religious worship and Torah.

the supporters hope the larger and brighter Chabad center will open in about six months, during the fall semester.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-291-6265 or email [email protected]

  1. Shopify cheesy Harley Finkelstein has donated $500,000 to build/renovate a Jewish community center in Sandy Hill.  This has special meaning for him and his faith.

    Egan: Giving 2.0: Shopify boss donates $500,000 to create Sandy Hill synagogue

  2. Ottawa entrepreneurs Harley Finkelstein and Lindsay Taub, along with their daughters Zoe and Bayley, are excited about the future of this city.

    Finkelstein and Taub: A love letter to Ottawa’s future

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