“Oh Captain, my Captain!” Our new Executive Director Mike Savatovsky was brought to us in the most poetic fashion: schlepping from a faraway land (Montreal, Quebec), this passionate innovator of dual tongues (Franҫais, bien sur!) answered his calling to bring unparalleled experiences of exploration and self-discovery to the young minds of The House.
He also brought Montreal bagels his first day, so… we’re keeping him.
And because he’s new and therefore has absolutely nothing to do (Ha!), we thought we’d put him to work with a few questions that’ll better acquaint you with who he is, why he’s here, and most importantly, how many lives he’s saved by refraining from turning right at red lights (the French are a gallant people).
Joanna: Name? (Just doing my due-diligence.)
Mike: Mike Savatovsky
J: Hi, nice to meet you! Now that we’ve broken the ice, what’s a horribly embarrassing moment you’ve experienced that still haunts your dreams? …You’ll quickly learn, we don’t kid around over here.
M: I’m a big hockey fan… As a four-year old my parents signed me up for skating lessons at the local rink. It was their hope that I’d be the first of my family to assume a true Canadian identity and someday grow into my anticipated 6’2 frame and become a great hockey player equal to the multi-Cup-winning legends of Les Canadiens they cheered for in the 60s and 70s.
Let’s say things didn’t go according to plan. My first step on the ice was an epic fail: rapid ascent into the air, horizontal hang-time (for what seemed like an eternity), legs and arms flailing at my sides. Then splat… Fully laid-out on the ice – a total yard sale. And that was it! I was taken off the ice never to return.
J: Oh no! That’s not only embarrassing, it’s actually painful!
M: Yes! It haunted me for years that I never learned to skate and consequently to play hockey. But last year I celebrated a life milestone, and to mark the occasion I teamed-up with The Montreal Children’s Hospital, The Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation, The City of Cote Saint-Luc (in Montreal), Concordia University TV, a few local celebs and a volunteer team of skating and hockey coaches — not only to raise money for these important kids’ charities, but to finally be able to skate and play in a competitive game of hockey.
Take that embarrassing childhood moment!
Check it out: www.mikesgoal.ca
J: What is one of the coolest, most innovative projects or partnerships you’ve been able to incorporate into an event?
M: In 2013, in partnership with the ROI Community, I created and ran an ambitious think-tank called NU Montreal. The three-day, 24/7 gathering assembled some of North America’s foremost experts on Millennial Engagement in the Digital Age – leaders from Mashable, Viacom, Obama for America’s election campaign, etc. Each of these experts offered the “nugget of truth” from their life’s work in an attempt to cross-pollinate and glean wisdom from their knowledge.
In the end they teamed-up in pods of three and together raced through a 24-hour hack-a-thon to pitch (in a Dragon’s Den / Shark Tank-style grand finale in front of an audience of 150 people) a total of one dozen experimental new methods that connect young people to their Jewish identity.
The participants and the audience left inspired and fuelled by new projects that we micro-granted…
J: Micro-granted? That means they actually got a small amount of funding?
M: Exactly! Some were built soon-after and brought to the community. It was a ton of fun! (3-minute video recap of the event here.)
J: So you love the experience of collaborating on projects and inspiring creativity. Where does that come from?
M: I do! I owe it all to my former high school students in who I observed a sense of marvel in the discovery and creation process each and every day. I absolutely loved encouraging their questions, their sense of awe and pushing them to be courageous in taking chances.
And each day they inspired me and their classmates with their unique perspectives and experiences of the world. We adopted a culture of innovation in everything we did – trying to make sense of and embracing the rapidly changing world in front of us! They reminded me to stay voraciously curious – to explore the gift of life anew every day, and to see challenges as an opportunity to improve the world and people’s quality of living.
I’ve never let that go. It was a gift and I cherish the relationships I’ve maintained with many of my former students over the years, having even collaborated on some projects since then.
This is why I’ve felt attracted to professional roles that work with young adults… So many of them see roadblocks as opportunities and they harness their passions, interests and desires for meaningful experiences to address those challenges and improve upon them.
J: I hear you’re from Montreal. An exceptionally important question: Do you know Jay Baruchel? Side note, he’s in Toronto now. Are you following him?
M: I don’t know Jay Baruchel personally, but I have jay walked. It’s a thing in Montreal.
J: Ha! Well, it’s a completely foreign concept to Torontonians, I assure you.
J: Sure, why not.
J: What’s one thing you already miss about Montreal?
M: Montreal is an incredible place. Anyone who’s been has their own reason for feeling the same. It has a certain, “je ne sais quoi” (and yes I’m a fluent French speaker).
J: Bon! I totally follow you, but just for our ‘audiences’ who need a translation…
M: It means something that cannot be described or named easily.
J: Exactly. Thanks for the translation…
M: So about Montreal… I love the diversity of people and opinions; the activism, the summer festivals and the year-round great food. I do miss the Expos.
Here’s a great book about Nos Amours written by a high school friend. It’s a great read about the love affair between Montrealers and our now defunct ball club. (Side note: Tim Raines, Rock the Hall, baby!)
J: Was there anything about Toronto/Torontonians that struck you as odd or different?
M: I’m still getting used to right-hand turns at red lights. I know it’s a North America-wide phenomenon, but having grown-up in a city where the aforementioned jay-walking is a sport, I can appreciate the thrill that comes with turning right even though the light is red.
…Is stopping at stop-signs optional after midnight here too? (Jokes.)
J: One of the most inspiring personalities you’ve met? (No, we have to put our foot down. Your answer cannot be Rabbi Rafi)
Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper… Two sisters who used to be members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka… You know? The “You’re all going to Hell but the 70 of us” church?
J: Wow, you really did a 180° from Rabbi of the year, didn’t you?
M: That’s why their story is so fascinating: they left a couple years back. Came to a new realization about the world.
But traditional dialogue surrounding their story usually focuses on them having escaped the clutches of a cult, or overcome brain-washing, and it doesn’t do them justice. Even their great work today speaking all around the world trying to help people better understand extremists doesn’t reveal how thoughtful and how much they are people like you and me.
They were ex-communicated by their family. They can never return unless they denounce our world and return to the way of the Church. But they won’t ever go back. They can’t. And so they try to write the wrongs they did.
J: I can’t even imagine how hard that struggle must be.
M: But the thing that gets me the most is that they love and miss their family so much – with every breath they take, with every heartbeat. Their parents and siblings (10 of them) mean the world to them. And Megan and Grace are noble… When they tell their story, they do not demonize the members of WBC… There’s a nuance there about a family trying to do the right thing, trying to save the world (from their perspective). Most of humankind wouldn’t agree with their point of view, but that said, Megan and Grace always take the high road and remind me of the value of hard work – striving to make this world a better place for all; and treating “the other” with dignity, patience and love as a starting point. We all have to live in this world together. It’s a salient point for the times we live in right now.
J: Few may know this, but you’ve also got a slight competitive streak (but no grays, we promise). What’s this new “lunchtime showdown” you’ve introduced at the office?
M: LOL. I like to eat healthy and fun food as much as possible. Every day I pack a pretty elaborate lunch – or as one of my co-workers points-out – I pack the entire produce aisle of a grocery store.
J: Don’t look at me!
M: It’s prompted same said co-worker to up her lunch game every day. And so when we get to work in the morning we meet at a desk and take out each item in our lunches, one at a time in a head-to-head showdown.
I may have started the game, but sometimes she can really take it to the next level. It’s pretty hilarious and fun!
Now that you know so much about Mike, it’s like he’s you’re bestie! But we promise, he’s much more three-dimensional in person. And taller. You should probably meet him yourself at one of our next events.