Participants in the Young Leadership and Parliamentary Mission to Israel at Beit She’an National Park. Author Samantha Banks is in the front row, second from the right.
“This trip will be like nothing you have ever experienced before,” Rachel Chertkoff of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Com- mittee (CJPAC) told me the night before I left on the Young Leadership and Parliamentary Mission to Israel.
The mission, August 27 to September 3, was the culmination of a year-long program jointly sponsored by CJPAC, UIA Federations Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, designed to engage the next generation of young Jewish leaders with the Canadian political sector. Participants included young Jewish leaders from across Canada and several members of Parliament. Everyone, from Avi, our bus driver, to Avi, our tour guide (do you see a trend?), brought their unique personalities and perspectives to our jam-packed Israel adventure.
The journey began in Jerusalem where our days were filled with scrumptious meals and captivating briefing sessions from some of Israel’s most acclaimed speakers.
On the first day, we trekked through the Western Wall tunnels and received an in-depth update on the Middle East. Our second day began with a detailed review of Israeli politics followed by a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The rest of the week continued similarly. We met and heard from key representatives of the Palestinian Authority and from reporters covering the current crisis. We also tasted wine in the Golan, test drove electric cars
and visited strategic lookout points, Christian archeological sites, Masada and Yad Vashem.
What separated this mission from others was the opportunity it provided to spend all day conversing with peo- ple you might otherwise never imagine spending more than 20 minutes with. Listening to – and learning from – members of Parliament was fascinating. Seeing their reactions at the Western Wall on Shabbat, or laughing as we all washed off the mud from the Dead Sea were moments when I recognized how much I truly appreciate what I take for granted as a young Jewish adult living in the Diaspora.
We are offered so much: a free trip to Israel when we turn 18 and numerous opportunities to return on subsidized missions while most of the population will never set foot there. It was shocking to hear the parliamentarians relate their personal experiences in politics to the day-to-day challenges faced in Israel. This helped me to recognize that many of us share similar goals; we all just have very different ways of achieving them.
My fondest memory is sitting with the MPs after dinner, sipping on Israeli wine, asking them personal questions and receiving the most brutally honest answers. They acted and spoke in such a way that they became at once mentors, professors and friends. Hearing how they juggle the work/life balance and how they maintain cohesion amongst their constituents and ridings made me realize the applicability of these political skills to life in general. I learned so much more from them about the Canadian political arena than I was ever taught in a classroom.
I also loved the friendships formed among my fellow young adult leaders during the trip. We came from all walks of life, yet we all seemed to have a distinct purpose for being on the trip.
There was a nice balance of work and play, which allowed us time to dive into deep conversations on topics such as policy, economic decline, Israeli innovation, the nuclear threat and peace negotiations. The awareness of the importance of these issues made me realize the pervasiveness of politics in all our lives.
Aside from the briefing sessions and tours, this mission was about the human connection. The networking and one-on-one time was in- valuable. Each stage of the trip was so thoughtfully planned and executed. I pray it will continue to run in years to come for the benefit of both future generations of young Jewish leaders and Canadian MPs. It is crucial that our politicians visit Israel. Regardless of the number of books and articles one can read, it is almost impossible to understand the nuanced dynamics and love we have for our homeland without setting foot on Israeli soil. I believe this trip truly allowed the participants to rethink their ideologies toward Israel, to ask challenging questions and to speak up for what they believe.
Israel is a country of a billion puzzle pieces. However, with continued support and investment from the Canadian and international Jewish communities, we will continue to try to put the puzzle pieces back together.
I strongly believe, despite the spectre of the current nu- clear crisis and the economic decline, there is still hope for the peace process and a solution for this state we all call home. People say I hum to my own tune, whether it’s a bit of a different style or talk. This mission taught me never to lose the qualities that keep me from blending in. If you want to be an extraordinary leader, you need to be followed and there is no better way of attracting someone’s attention than to be a little unique.