From Linda's Desk: Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion

 

From Linda's Desk

by Linda Kislowicz

President & CEO

Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA

 

We live in complex and challenging times. It almost seems that a day does not go by without some reminder of this reality.

Events in Charlottesville, where violence and hatred took the life of an innocent young woman, Heather Heyer, were condemned by the Jewish community worldwide. In Spain, a terrorist group targeted civilians in two attacks in one day. Across Israel, over time the countless stabbings and shootings and bombings and car rammings have claimed the lives of thousands.

There is only one response to this hatred, this intolerance, this bigotry. We must condemn this behavior and we must embrace a world that includes and respects diversity.

In Israel we have been following the developments on the conversion legislation and the kotel agreement with great interest. Both of these situations have been of concern to Diaspora Jewry, particularly as they have the potential to fracture the Jewish world and create a deep schism between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry.  JFC-UIA has been actively engaged as part of the broader North American effort led by JFNA and the Israel based effort led by the Jewish Agency to educate and to influence decision makers.

There does appear to be some light at the end of this tunnel with the delay in the tabling of the legislation and the recent outcome of the Supreme Court hearing holding the government of Israel accountable to uphold the agreement. Both of these developments are a direct result of the strength of the democratic process and the many actions taken by various individuals and groups. While there remains much to be done, the early results suggest that there may be some positive change in the future.

Here at home, it has been a very busy year.  In particular, Canada Israel Experience (CIE) has successfully expanded the Birthright Israel and Israel experience portfolios while maintaining an award winning level of service and original programming.

Last December, CIE launched a Birthright Experience with a customized program for participants with developmental challenges and their aides. A second program is scheduled for December of this year.

In June, CIE sent a dedicated LBGTQ group to Israel on a program that coincided with the Tel Aviv Pride parade. Talk about celebrating diversity within a Jewish context. As participant Ellis Furman told the Canadian Jewish News: ‘This was the first step of my journey to explore how my Jewishness, queerness and passion for activism can intertwine. I left Birthright Israel feeling cared for and respected. I feel inspired to pass these feelings on to others through practicing compassion, love and unconditional positive regard.’  

Honeymoon Israel, launching this year initially in Montreal through Federation CJA, will bring groups of young intermarried and/or unaffiliated couples to Israel that want to build and enhance their personal connection to Israel and Judaism. It must be the first trip to Israel for at least one spouse. The long term objective of the program is to encourage ongoing meaningful involvement within local Jewish communities once they return home. Once home, they can focus on a community project, program or institution of their choice.

A national conference in Toronto in April 2018 - organized by Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, DANI and The Network - will explore the issues facing physically and developmentally challenged individuals in the Jewish Community. ‘Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and Jewish Community’ is partially funded by the Azrieli foundation. This will be the first such conference in Canada that specifically explores the challenges and opportunities facing the disabled within the Canadian Jewish community.

I think we can all agree that as Jews, we have a deep connection to one another. Regardless of personal capacity, geography, level of observance or religiosity, we are intrinsically linked.  Like it or not, the Jewish people is ‘Am Echad’; One People. It is this historical truth that inspires JFC-UIA and Canadian Federations across Canada to continuously create opportunities for people of all different backgrounds, abilities and interests to connect to Israel, to the larger Jewish community and to their Jewish identities. 

In line with our sense of responsibility to care for each other and the larger community, Jewish communities across the world responded in force with donations for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The Canadian Jewish community has donated more than $60,000 to date. Within five days, a team of mental health professionals working with iAid , an Israel Rescue Coalition, arrived in Houston to help victims deal with the psychological and emotion trauma.  As of September 4th, Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry was advancing a plan to send $1 million in emergency aid to Houston’s flood-hit Jewish community. JFC-UIA is very proud to be a part of such a compassionate and responsive global community. 

In just a few days, on Rosh Hashanah, we will begin the festive meal- replete with sweet dishes – dipping apples slices in honey. The blessing said before eating the apple asks for the Jewish people “May it be your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.” 

As we stand in synagogue or temple or in a community centre, on erev Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre, we are reminded of the unbreakable bond we share as a people. We pray not only for our individual sins, but for the sins of the entire Jewish people.  For 24 hours, we will seek forgiveness not just for ourselves and our family – immediate and extended, but also for each and every one of our Jewish our neighbours – living next door and two continents away.   

To be Jewish is to be a part of an extended family made up of relatives of all different backgrounds and practices, one that is not divided by borders or boundaries. We may not agree or even like some members of our family, but we still invite them to the table.

We are and must be one people, undivided and united.