One of Bob Dylan’s most famous songs (and albums) is The Times they Are a-Changin’. The title applies as much to the Jewish community of Atlantic Canada in the summer of 2016 as to the political and social changes that Dylan was describing in 1964.
There are new Rabbis at Halifax’s Shaar Shalom and Beth Israel congregations and a new Director of Jewish Student Life for campuses across Atlantic Canada. There will soon be a new CEO of the Atlantic Jewish Council, which is, itself, on the move to the Bayit. And, as I began my new job at the end of July, I resigned my advocacy consultant position with The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
I am proud to call myself a Zionist. I can best explain my Zionist philosophy by quoting Professor Gil Troy:
I am a Zionist because I am a Jew – and without recognizing a national component in Judaism I cannot explain its unique character. Judaism is a world religion bound to one homeland, a people whose Holy Days are defined by the Israeli agricultural calendar, rooted in theological concepts and linked with historic events.
As a Zionist, and a person active in Jewish religious life and Israel advocacy for most of my adult life, I think we are in especially challenging times. I don’t make accusations of antisemitism lightly, but it is clear to me that antisemitism is as prevalent now as it ever was. Even more troubling, it is often deliberately and disingenuously disguised as criticism of Israel – the most prominent example of which is the BDS movement. And, even if one has not personally experienced antisemitism, please do not think that its poison is confined to the United Nations, the Middle East or Europe. It is readily available locally, especially in its anti-Israel form, and especially on certain university campuses. While I do not want to overstate what I see as the current reality, neither can I turn a blind eye to it. In that vein, you can interpret the first verse from Dylan’s famous song as you wish:
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
In my previous CIJA columns, I have urged people to become involved in advocacy. It is perhaps fitting that, in my last CIJA Report, I reiterate that exhortation: give some of your time, energy and talent toward making a difference. There are lots of ways to get involved, and some of the issues that require advocacy, such as genetic discrimination, might surprise you. Re-engage with your synagogue (whether in Halifax or elsewhere) and your local Jewish community. Support the new leadership. Take the time to communicate with them and let them know what matters to you in your community or on your campus. Support the annual UJA Campaign. Whatever you do, get involved, because you can help make a difference.
I want to say “thank you” to a variety of people:
- My colleagues at CIJA: you were always available to assist with issues, large and small, and gave prompt and practical advice. Your experience and guidance gave me a better understanding of a strategic approach to advocacy and made me a better advocate;
- My colleagues at the AJC, for your constant support; and
- The small but dedicated group of individuals across Atlantic Canada, both in the Jewish community and beyond, who were actively involved with advocacy.
Finally, I cannot close my final report without expressing my deep appreciation to Jon Goldberg. Our strong friendship goes back further than either of us would care to admit, and we have had our share of both laughter and tears along the way. I am hard-pressed to name anyone more passionate than Jon when it comes to Israel. We met and spoke regularly about advocacy matters, and I’m going to really miss those Sunday morning meetings. Jon always supported my advocacy efforts, even if we occasionally disagreed on tactics. I wish him only good health and happiness in his retirement.
It has been a privilege to serve the Atlantic Canada Jewish community as the CIJA advocacy representative for the past five years. May you all enjoy health, happiness and prosperity in 5777.