(This message will take about 4 minutes to read)
April 4, 2023
There’s no sugar coating it. These past few months have been extraordinarily difficult for Israelis, Canadian Jews, and the entire Jewish people. Yes, there have been deadly attacks and external threats from terrorists and antisemites, the significance of which cannot be diminished. But, by far, the greatest sense of angst has arisen from internal division sparked by proposed judicial reforms in Israel. At the same time, engagement by Israelis and Jews around the world on this issue, is a cause for hope and a sign of strength. That engagement helped ensure a pause in the proposed reforms, resulting in an opportunity for dialogue and consensus building.
The activities of individuals and groups in Israeli civil society have left the strongest impression on us. The deeds of Israelis leave no doubt about the democratic values shared with Canadians. Israeli voter turnout for November’s election was at a level Canadians can only aspire to, and Israelis have exercised their democratic rights through peaceful demonstrations in frequency and proportion not seen in Canada. While Israel can certainly learn from Canada, Israelis are also a source of inspiration for us.
The importance of Israeli civil society in addressing the issues at hand is why Jewish Federations Canada – UIA (JFC-UIA), represented by our Director General, Israel, Sarah Mali, has been meeting with civil society leaders, including those running think tanks, NGOs, foundations and partner charities. We have listened, learned, and shared our concerns about polarization in Israel and how dialogue and other initiatives can improve the situation in Israel and bring Canadians and Israelis closer together. We will continue these efforts when our JFC-UIA Board travels to Israel later this month.
Last week JFC-UIA published a personal message from Sarah which reflected the turmoil experienced as an Israeli, in recent weeks, but in closing expressed hope for this Passover pause shared by Jews everywhere: “We will commit to talk to one another, to hold steady and to push for a new era of restoration and healing.”
Statements from our federations’ and JFC-UIA’s partners, since the pause, including our advocacy agent CIJA, Keren Hayesod, and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), echoed the opportunity the pause provides for dialogue and building unity.
That focus on unity, achdut in Hebrew, without regard to political or religious outlook, race, or ethnicity, is the ethos of what our federations, in partnership with JFC-UIA, support in Israel and across the Jewish world. Collectively, our Canadian Jewish federations partner with Keren Hayesod and JAFI to address many of the greatest needs and opportunities of the Jewish people, such as the largest mass aliyah in two decades, resulting from the war in Ukraine and crisis on its borders – more than 75,000 olim since the war began. Not only are our federations and JFC-UIA partners in this effort, but Canadians are playing a leadership role with Bruce Leboff, as Chair, and Rabbi Steven Wernick, as Vice Chair of JAFI’s Aliyah Committee. Together with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), we are addressing essential needs of Jews in Ukraine and those who remain in Europe, including their Jewish connection.
Within our partnership regions in Israel, we build bridges by strengthening the quality of life – education, leadership, and collaboration - for people in communities on the periphery like Beersheva, Eilat, and Kiryat Shmona. Anyone who has visited programs we direct and partner on, has witnessed the diversity of Ashkenaz and Mizrahi, religious and secular, Russian and Ethiopian Israelis working together and with us to strengthen the society. What we fund is about unity, humanity, and the best of Jewish values; and has never been dependent on politics or the government of the day.
It's most appropriate and symbolic that at this time of pause and desire for dialogue, Jews within Israel, in Canada, and around the world will experience the most shared annual practice in the Jewish world, the Passover seder. We will recount the foundational narrative of our people’s exodus from Egypt, that is no less compelling and relevant today than it has been over millennia. Although how each of us conducts the Seder may be different, the essentials and purpose are shared.
May those in political leadership on all sides, buoyed by those in Israeli civil society and the diaspora, find the inspiration derived from the Passover story itself, to bridge divides and continue to build the greatest modern project of the Jewish people - Israel. Our federations and JFC-UIA are not bystanders, nor have we ever been, in the story of Israel and our people. We have the overwhelming privilege to participate in the modern miracle of Israel in ways that will help the country and our people thrive.
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. These pictures of a modern day exodus from the war zone, of newly arriving olim from Ukraine on Sunday are worth 10,000 words about the importance of Israel and the work that our donors and federations’ support, informed by our common past, addressing our collective present, and building for our shared future.
Photos courtesy of Keren Hayesod
With love for our Canadian Jewish community, Israel and the Jewish people, and with the humility necessary to listen to varying views and work together at a civil society level with Jews in Israel, Canada, and around the world, we hope and pray that this period of Pesach, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and the 75th Yom Ha’Atzmaut, will inspire greater unity – achdut - within Israel and among the Jewish people.