My Israel Experience: by CFOO Jeremy Grafstein

July 2019
I have just returned from my first trip to Israel in my capacity as Chief Financial & Operating Officer of JFC-UIA.  Since my first trip in 1994, I have been fortunate enough to visit Israel multiple times as a tourist and to visit family. On each trip to Israel, I always felt that I was contributing to the nation by spending money, supporting the economy and even the simple act of just being there, especially during times of conflict.

This trip was different.  On this trip I had a different sense of contribution to Israel. This was a sense of belonging and connection. Walking along Keren Hayesod St. to work at the office, I felt like my purpose in being there extended well beyond the incredible people, culture and food. I felt like I was a part of local community and not just a tourist.

My trip in June served two purposes: (1) to attend the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Board of Governors (BOG) meeting, and (2) to meet and work with the staff at our Israel office.

At the JAFI BOG meetings, as a part of the global group of federations representing communities that support Israel, I realized the significance of the role that JFC-UIA plays in the global system. At the BOG, I had meetings with leaders of Keren Hayesod and Jewish Federations of North America. In these encounters it was energizing to learn that their perspective of Canada’s role within the global organized Jewish community system is perfectly aligned to JFC-UIA’s organizational vision of being the national and International representative of Jewish Canada

The time I spent with the Israel team was exciting on a personal and professional level. I had the opportunity to speak to the team about the new direction that JFC-UIA is headed towards through the operationalization of the strategic plan.  In addition to gaining knowledge about the work of our Israeli team, it was wonderful to foster new relationships. I witnessed the unbreakable connections that our staff have to Israel. I felt their love for Israel and the work that our organization does to support Israel and to strengthen the Canadian Jewish community. Being there on the ground was a great way to connect with our colleagues and build a frame of unity between the 2 locations.
An added highlight to the trip was my shawarma on Ben Yehuda street. I am sure every visitor to Jerusalem has a shawarma on Ben Yehuda street story. It’s almost a rite of passage.  But this particular shawarma connected my past with my present, as it was in the company of my longtime friend Yair Szlak, current CEO of Federation CJA in Montreal. 
As we approached each other on Ben Yehuda street he smiled and said “18 years later and here we are again”.  Yair and I have been friends since elementary school. In 2001, we ate shawarma on Ben Yehuda street as participants of a CIE: Birthright Israel young professionals’ group.  And today, 18 years later, we found ourselves together again, this time as experienced professionals working in the Jewish Community.
The past three months have been exciting and challenging. Every day is a learning experience as I continue to gain invaluable knowledge about JFCUIA, its partners and affiliates, and how all the parts and people that make up the organized Jewish community fit together.  It is a privilege to be able to contribute professionally to strengthening the foundation and future of our local and global Jewish community.
Jeremy Grafstein joined JFC-UIA as Chief Financial & Operating Officer in March 2019.