Top 20 Under 40 - Bram Belzberg
From the Cool Shul to improving School: Bram Belzberg does it all
Shalom Life is proud to introduce our inaugural ”Top 20 Under 40” list. This list encompasses 20 individuals of diverse occupations and backgrounds from businessmen and businesswomen and innovative entrepreneurs, to philanthropists, entertainers, doctors and more, the inaugural list places a spotlight on the myriad of talented, creative and passionate Jews, all under 40, who call Toronto home. Each day we'll introduce a new profile. We hope you enjoy the list and look forward to expanding it to other cities in the coming year.
Bram Belzberg is a cool guy. After all, the Toronto native is the founding member of what many residents of Hogtown have affectionately dubbed “the cool shul”, that being The Annex Shul.
Known for its fun, modern environment in the Carlebach tradition, the Annex Shul was actually inspired by a Montreal institution, known as the Ghetto Shul. It was while Belzberg attended Montreal’s McGill University for his undergraduate degree, that he got involved with the Ghetto Shul -a grassroots student synagogue in the McGill ghetto neighbourhood. Upon graduation, Belzberg moved briefly to New York to pursue an investment banking career, but soon moved back to his home, Toronto. Upon his homecoming, Belzberg spent a few months searching for a meaningful Jewish experience one that would replicate the ghetto shul phenomenon.
"When I was unable to find an existing synagogue, my friends suggested that I start one for them," said Belzberg. "I sent around an e-mail with my vision, asking that it be forwarded on, and before I knew it, I was getting hundreds of responses, including from Rich Meloff who shared my vision and would become co-founder."
Belzberg created the shul with the idea that it should be "run by its members, celebrate Judaism, create a fun environment through song and dance, and yet still be somewhere that young professionals can come and celebrate their Judaism."
"My vision is that The Annex Shul should continue to evolve and be an important part of downtown Judaism in Toronto," Belzberg said. He sees the Shul as having found the balance between traditional Judaism and a progressive inclusive membership base which allows them to attract hundreds of people to all of their events.
He now sits on the shul’s advisory board and provides guidance to the current chair of the board as well as the spiritual leader. Belzberg also helps with fundraising and community relations, which includes programming partnerships with other organizations.
No stranger to communal voluntarism, Belzberg is co-chair of the Ben Gurion Society of Toronto, a division of UJA Federation’s Impact Toronto. In the past he has been chair of ONE COOL DAY, head of the Young Finance Division, co-president of the Harvard Business School Jewish Students Society and co-chair of the CJPAC Action party.
After leaving Harvard Business School in 2009, Belzberg, a member of the board of Whitespark, a non-profit incubator for Jewish start-ups, joined Kev Group - a company that provides accounting and payment processing software solutions to over 5,000 schools across the U.S. and Canada – as COO, and in only six short months, after proving his worth as only Belzberg can, the was promoted to CEO and Chairman of the Board.
What began as strictly an accounting business, KEV Group quickly saw a need to be filled by expanding into an on-line business, where, with only the click of a mouse from the comfort of their own home, parents no longer have to worry about their children bringing cash or cheques to school to pay for programs or books, and possibly losing it.
“Also, believe it or not, teachers spend 15 hours a year managing students’ money,” explains Belzberg. “Our business is growing very quickly, expanding into new markets in both the United States and in Canada. Imagine a world in ten years from now it would be hard to imagine parents not paying their kids’ school expenses on-line. We want to make it as easy and convenient as possible for the parents, their kids, while also letting parents know that their kids are spending their money on what they’re supposed to be spending their money on.”