Message from the CEO - November 2019

Every trip to Israel is special in its own way. Sometimes something miraculous happens to remind us why our biblical country exists. Sometimes family makes the experience extra meaningful. And sometimes you gain enlightenment by looking at the familiar from a new angle, or a new mindset, or with updated reasoning that refreshes the familiar and clarifies its relevance. Regardless, all the above experiences have the same outcome, a shift in perspective about Israel that has residual impact. 
I experienced all the above during my most recent visit to Israel. The reasons for this trip were many.  I attended the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem as a representative of the Canadian Jewish community alongside colleagues and lay leaders. The Jewish Agency, with 90 years of serving the Jewish community, is currently focused on adapting their processes, policies and initiatives to align with the realities and needs of today’s Jewish community. I was impressed by the ongoing open and collaborative discussions between international partners. During intense conversations and productive workshops and sessions, I was once again reminded just how critically important our collective dollars are and how they are helping Jewish citizens of Israel and the world.
Immediately following, I travelled north to Etzpah HaGalil for the Coast-to-Coast Galilee Panhandle partnership meetings. This partnership consists of 6 Canadian communities – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and the Atlantic region – and 5 Israeli municipalities -Metulla, Kiryat Shmona, Galil Elyon, Mevoot HaHermon and Yesod HaMa’ala. Once a year, 60 representatives from these communities sit around a very large table discussing current and future investments in the people and communities of northern Israel.  It was the second time I’ve witnessed this model exercise in collaboration and communication.  It’s truly unique and inspiring. We passed through Metulla, Israel’s northernmost city, on the way to the Lebanese border to see for ourselves the tunnel that was discovered in 2018. It was a striking moment to realize just how much potential danger Israel’s border towns face every day, and the incredible bravery of the residents of the region. 
The next leg of my journey brought me to Be’er Sheva, where I spent a day with Federation CJA’s Israel & Overseas committee, a dedicated and inspired group of Montrealers. The transformation to the Negev region, resultant from the efforts and investments of the Montreal Jewish community through Federation CJA, made me pause in wonder for all that they have achieved, all we have achieved together.
Throughout my drives up and down and across Israel, on once desert roads now bordered by lush vegetation, I felt such gratitude to be able to breath the fresh air and see the land of milk and honey that once existed only in Herzl’s dreams. 
As we returned to Tel Aviv Erev Shabbat, with stores closing and streets started to empty of people and cars, I realized that the big city was not just any big city of skyscrapers. It was a big city preparing to observe Shabbat, one unlike any other on the planet.
All this would have been enough to say ‘dayenu - enough’. But there was one final experience that topped off what I consider to be my most meaningful visit to Israel to date as President & CEO of JFC-UIA.
JFC-UIA organized and facilitated Yom Canada, a day in Tel Aviv for Federation professionals and lay leaders active with their Israel and Overseas departments to come together for a day of learning, collaboration and networking. On November 3rd, over 50 professionals and lay leaders from Halifax to Vancouver shared their stories and experiences and best practices, learning from each other and from presenters in guided sessions and seminars. A highlight of the day was a visit to the Peres Center for Peace & Innovation. 
The day capped off with a private dinner reception at the home of Deborah Lyons, Canada's Ambassador to Israel. Also, in attendance was Bougie Herzog, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency. It was a very special evening, to be in the room with so many champions of Canada’s relationship with Israel.
Yom Canada was a historical first for the organization. I look forward to many repeat experiences, where we come together as a country from each of our individual federations to talk together. It is my hope that we will continue to learn from each other as we work to enhance and grow our community partnerships across Israel.
Nikki Holland
Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA
President & CEO