Shabbat Candlelighting 5:32 p.m.                                                Friday, February 26, 2010/12 Adar 5770

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So What is Canada Centre in Metulla?
If you’ve been watching the ice dancing competition during the Olympics you’ve doubtless seen Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky, the Israeli brother and sister team who finished in 10th place. Their final piece, performed earlier this week to music from Schindler’s List, was a beautiful and very emotional performance.

Each time the Zaretskys skated, the CTV commentator talked about Canada Centre, the ice arena they used for practice. It isn’t often that one of our projects in Israel gets repeated mention in national broadcasts watched by tens of millions around the world, so I thought I’d provide a little background.

Canada Centre is a large sports complex and community centre located in Metulla, Israel’s northernmost town. Metulla sits atop the “Etzba HaGalil” – the finger of the Galilee, so-named because it is a little peninsula of Israeli land sticking into and surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. From the beautiful homes lining the hills of Metulla, you can see with your naked eye the yellow flags of Hizbollah flying over the border.

The centre was the brainchild of former Metulla mayor, Yossi Goldberg, who felt that a major sports complex would provide an excellent recreation and respite centre for Israeli soldiers stationed over the border in Lebanon. Because of the region’s long relationship with Canada, he approached United Israel Appeal of Canada, the umbrella organization of the Canadian Jewish Federations. With generous support from private donors across Canada, the result was Canada Centre. And being a Canadian project, it was, of course built with a full scale ice arena – the only one in Israel. There is also a curling rink in the centre.

In the years since, Canada Centre has drawn to the north many new immigrants from North America, and the former Soviet Union, many of whom immigrated during the 1980’s and 1990’s. The Zaretsky family is a perfect example.

When former Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled Israeli forces out of Lebanon in 2000, life along Israel’s northern border once again became much more challenging, with rocket attacks from Hizbollah forces becoming habitual. Thereafter, Canada Centre lost much of its raison d’etre as a respite station for soldiers. The economic basis of the centre faltered, just as its aging infrastructure was catching up with it.

In 2006, at the time of the Second Lebanon War, the United Israel Appeal of Canada was actively working with Canada Centre leadership to strengthen the governing board of the centre, and to develop a strategic plan to guide its future. That plan called for infrastructure investments to upgrade the facility, including new systems to dramatically lower energy costs. It also called for new management of the centre, and the development of a more aggressive marketing plan.

After the Second Lebanon War, when the Canadian Jewish Federations were considering several national projects that would help Israel, and particularly the north, it was natural that Canada Centre would again receive attention. Of the funds raised across Canada in the emergency campaign, $1.5 million were applied to help Canada Centre implement infrastructure upgrades called for in the strategic plan. In the years since the completion of the project, under new management, Canada Centre has been able to rejuvenate its program and operate on a self-sustaining basis. More than 120,000 people visit Canada Centre each year, making it one of Israel’s most important recreational centres.

Located as it is on Israel’s northernmost border, it will always face challenges. But, as you look back on Canada Centre, it stands as one of the great and inspiring projects undertaken and sustained by Canadian Jewry in Israel. Now, we can add to its proud legacy that it produced Israel’s first Olympic competitors in ice dancing.

The Olympics have been a wild ride for our city and region. Lots of commentators are saying we will never be the same. For our community, it has been wonderful to have Israeli athletes competing, and also connecting with our community on multiple occasions. For those who know about Canada Centre connection with our community, and that now includes you, there is an extra special connection to this wondrous event.

Go Canada!

P.S. Tomorrow evening begins the Jewish holiday of Purim. Chag sameach!

Shabbat Shalom!

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