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A Journey to Israel Different Than Any Other

Dec 8, 2015 | Canada-Israel Cooperation, Community Partners, Judaism, Middle East

Group with 102 yr old Pesach

I’ve just returned to Toronto after an intense week in Israel. For many professional and lay leadership in the Jewish community, travel to Israel is routine. But for this Jewish community professional, it had been just over 21 years since I stood on Israeli soil.

As a teenager I spent two summers in Israel, 1987 on a Canadian Zionist Federation tour for Jewish teens and 1990 on a solo backpacking and kibbutz adventure. As a young adult, I was one of four Canadians on Project Otzma VII – a 10-month immersive Israel experience which is now in its 28th season. As an Otzmanik, I attended an Ulpan on Kibbutz Beit Hashita, worked at a youth village and volunteered for six months in Beer Sheva – Montreal’s partner city. The following year I enrolled in Boston University’s inaugural Masters of Science in Management program at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva. I remained in Israel until October 1994, when after a brief stint in Tel Aviv I returned to Montreal.

In the years since, I worked in various industries, lived in several cities and travelled to many countries. But I did not return to Israel.

On November 19, after almost six years as Director of Marketing & Communications for Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, I finally made it back. My Israel experience on this journey was strikingly different than any other.

In my job, I am constantly writing about what it is that we do. Out of necessity, I relied on 2nd and 3rd person accounts for this information. But on this trip, I saw finally with my own eyes the projects and programs in which the Canadian Jewish community is invested. I witnessed how, as a national community, we enhance the lives of thousands of Israelis every day.

I spent the better part of a week with a group of incredibly dedicated and passionate professional and lay leadership from Canada and Israel. Almost 50 stakeholders gathered in the Upper Galillee for the annual Coast-to-Coast Partnership Joint Steering Committee meetings in Israel– hosted by Galil Elyon Upper Galilee Regional Council. The meeting agenda encouraged strategic collaboration and open communication between partners and allies.

In order to get a feel for the process by which funds are designated, I sat in on a few allocations meetings. At times I listened in on impassioned conversations about how to best go about giving funds to a worthwhile program over and above what was requested. Funds are designated according to programs that thematically adhere to three pillars – Capacity Building, Gesher Chai (‘Living Bridges’) and Youth & Education.

During site visits, we were exposed to the workings of various programs by the dedicated staff. We were introduced to program participants and heard in their own words about the impact the program is having on their lives.

At Avnei Derech Mechina, a temporary residence for 16 autistic adults who have a strong desire but lack the skills to live independently, we met several of the high-functioning young people who are learning how to be self-sufficient.

Students with robots

Students with robots

At a high school neighbouring Kfar Blum, energized students demonstrated their technological skills and achievements by bringing out their self-made robots. These enthusiastic students compete at international robotics events.

At a senior’s day centre in Qiryat Shmona, we met 102-year old Pesach who lives alone on a kibbutz near Qiryat Shmona. Four mornings a week, Pesach gets breakfast and lunch and participates in a wide range of activities, including art, yoga and woodwork. The heavily subsidized cost of 15 shekels a day also includes transportation. He also gains the love and support of an extended family.

Post-doctorate fellow Boris, at Bar-Ilan Medical Faculty in Tzfat, demonstrated how his electronic microscope can zoom in to one million times on a human cell. His research and that of his colleagues at Israel’s newest medical faculty will help discover new cures and treatments for illnesses. The faculty has become an important resource for the local community.

In Tel Aviv, Sarah – MASA Israel participant from Hamilton, Ontario on a 5-month internship in the fashion industry – described her experience as ‘an alternate reality of a dream come true’.

Students at STEM class in Bat Yam.

Students at STEM class in Bat Yam.

I saw at several sites how STEM (Science,Technology,Engineering, Mathematics) education is changing matriculation results across Israel. In Sderot, as elementary students learned about circuit boards from an instructor, the principal was enthused about the impact this strategic curriculum is having on the student’s academic achievements. In Bat Yam, science instructors are bringing a love for science and technology to middle school students and the larger community with outreach programs based on the XLN 3D printing technology. The program coordinator of ‘Cracking the Glass Ceiling’ explained how 1200 girls in communities across Israel are excelling in science because of personalized extended academic and mentoring programs.

In Sderot, Noah – a young mother of two who manages the local Youth Futures mentoring program – told us how did not miss a day of work in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge when rockets were falling on Sderot. Nor did the dozens of mentors she supervises. Although she was in her third trimester with her second child, Noah did not leave the area because ‘this is when the kids and their families need us the most.’

At Beit Canada Absorption Centre in Ashdod, three new Olim – all medical school graduates from the FSU – spoke about their desire to contribute to Israel society as medical doctors. Two of the three decided to make Aliyah after their Birthright experiences.

During the course of my week in Israel, I witnessed amazing things. I looked out from the kitchen of the Mayor of Metulla’s house onto Lebanon. In Sderot, I stood just 3 kilometers away from Gaza. Every day, I was exposed to a broad variety of people and projects and programs. Each person I met was genuinely invested in their objective, whether it was to improve math skills in 8-yr olds, teach senior citizens woodworking skills or teenagers how to play the trombone. Every professional and lay leader I met expressed enthusiasm about the role the partnership plays in strengthening Israel. The authenticity of their energy pervaded the space around them.

I came away from my Israel experience with three main thoughts:

1. The Canadian Jewish community is changing lives in Israel by changing communities. At the same time, the Canadian Jewish community is changing communities by changing lives.

2. The impact of Canada – Israel partnerships – through collaboration, strategic investments and the leveraging of resources – is far reaching and makes a real difference.

3. The Jewish people are geographically and culturally diverse, yet each of us has a home in Israel. No matter your distance, as a member of the Jewish people, whether you are from Ukraine, Halifax or India, you are never far from it.

My intense journey left me closer to Israel than before. But more importantly, I came away more aware of how connected we are as a community. The ties that bind us to each other are resilient. The Canadian Jewish community, through its Israel partnerships and investments, is doing its part to ensure these ties remain firmly in place.

Coast-to-Coast Partnership Joint Steering Committee

Coast-to-Coast Partnership Joint Steering Committee

About the Canada-Israel Partnership program: Israeli and Canadian communities collaboratively address social issues in struggling and underdeveloped regions in Israel with projects focused on youth, education, social welfare and capacity building. The aim of these partnerships is to generate waves of change based on shared ideas, challenges and models of success. The three Canadian partnerships are: Toronto – Eilat/Eilot, Bat Yam & Sderot; Montreal – Beer Sheva/B’nei Shimon; Coast-to-Coast(Atlantic Canada, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg) – Galilee Panhandle (Kiryat Shmona, Metulla, Yesod HaMa’al, Upper Galilee Regional Counci, Mevo’ot Hermon Regional Council) Visit http://www.jewishcanada.org/israel-partnerships

Terri Boidman is Director of marketing and Communications at Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA. JFC-UIA is a national organization that partners with the Canadian Jewish Federations and communities to maximize our commitment to Israel and our collective impact on the local, national and global Jewish agenda. Visit www.jewishcanada.org to learn more.

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