Shabbat Candlelighting 8:45 p.m.                                             Friday, May 27, 2011/23 Iyar 5771

Assessing the Gap Between Obama and Netanyahu

Depending on your analysis or interpretation, there was either a major flap or a minor kerfuffle between the US and Israeli leaders this week as they made their respective speeches on the path forward on an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It appears to me that the perceived gap is much greater than the real one. The basic outlines of an ultimate deal for peace have been known for a long time. It will involve return of most of the West Bank and swaps of land to accommodate Israel’s development of the greater Jerusalem area. It will involve a defined end to the conflict and also an end to dreams of Palestinians’ to return in large numbers to Israel. Also, it will inevitably involve an ongoing security risk for the Israelis, and certain guarantees from external parties for resources to address the inevitable security issues.

Sadly, I don’t think such an agreement is at hand anytime soon. Such a deal has been almost achieved twice within recent memory. But, the Palestinians still seem intent on insisting on things Israel cannot accept because they would spell Israel’s demise, and Netanyahu’s current coalition doesn’t provide the political stability or maneuvering room that would enable him to soften his rhetoric enough to signal openness to negotiation.

In this context, the volatility of the Mideast amidst the “Arab Spring” creates a lot of confusion and turmoil, as people make all kinds of assumptions about what has to change in the Israeli-Palestinian equation. While I think the volatile environment heightens the sense of urgency and risk, I don’t think it really affects the underlying dynamics that I identified above.

20th Anniversary of Operation Solomon

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Operation Solomon, the secret Israel Defense Forces rescue of the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia. Operation Solomon took place in May 1991 amid political turbulence in Ethiopia, where rebel Eritrean and Tigrean forces were threatening to overrun Mengistu Haile-Mariam’s Communist government. What followed was one of the most dramatic rescue operations in Israel’s history. Over 34 hours, 34 Israeli cargo and passenger planes worked around the clock, airlifting 14,310 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The entire world saw dramatic television images of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, clad in their traditional white embroidered garments, disembarking from planes and falling to the tarmac, reverently kissing Israel’s soil.

Since Operation Solomon and the earlier Operation Moses in 1984, the Ethiopian-Israeli community has been slowly integrating into Israeli society. At 116,000 strong, it is a young community; approximately 84% are younger than 44. Today, about 32% of Ethiopians Israelis are native-born in Israel. The community has made significant inroads into the fields of business, law, education, medicine, civil service and politics. Increasing numbers of Ethiopian students are graduating high school and university. The Ethiopian-Israeli community has also organized its own advocacy groups, which are working to increase greater participation in Israeli society.

Many challenges remain. Considerable gaps still exist between education levels in the Ethiopian-Israeli community and the general Jewish population. While the employment rate of younger Ethiopian Israelis is roughly similar to that of Israeli society, unemployment is disproportionately higher among the older population. Many adult immigrants barely knew how to read and write in their mother tongue, and have struggled with a new language. More than 50% of Ethiopian-Israeli families are trapped in a troubling cycle of poverty, generating a high number of at-risk youth. Family violence is also a significant concern in the community.

Last week our Israel and Overseas Affairs Committee saw the Ethiopian National Project youth centre that our Federation supports in Sderot. Providing homework assistance and positive adult role models, the youth centre is working to break that cycle by helping ensure that Ethiopian Israeli teens complete high school and enter the mainstream of Israeli society.

Building Community Through Stanley Cup Mania

I imagine that people in all kinds of organizations and businesses spent a chunk of their time this week recalibrating their plans and schedules for the next few weeks as the Vancouver Canucks won the Western Conference, and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 17 years. As the game schedule was released yesterday, we started shifting around meetings and events that now conflict.

It would be easy to decry organizational inefficiencies and chaos flowing from the manic energy now focused on the Canucks' pursuit of the Stanley Cup. But, when you take a step back you recognize that, much like the Olympics last year, we are caught up in one great big community-building moment. Over the next few weeks our region and much of Canada will cheer and groan, celebrate and cry together while we see the final series played. Since we at Federation are in the community-building business, we understand that this is about much more than the sporting event. It is about how people identify together, join together in common purpose, build and nurture relationships, and mark special moments.

Of course, it will be a much better community-building moment for the Lower Mainland and Canada if the Canucks bring home the Cup!

Parashat Bamidbar

My thanks to our Partnership 2000 chair, Pam Wolfman, for this week’s reflection on the Torah reading.

This week’s parasha takes place in the second month of the second year during the exodus from Egypt. God instructs Moses to take a census of the Israelite community - the second census incorporated in the Torah - and provides strict instructions: “Take a census of the entire Israelite community. By families, following the paternal line, according to the names of each male, taken individually.”

In the first census the counting was conducted with the objective of unifying the Jews as a nation, following their departure from Egypt. That counting served to combine individual elements into a group – a collective nation. In Bamidbar the census is conducted so as to emphasize the individuality of each family group, and each person within the group. Identifying a person by name focuses on individuality.

All Israel is taking part in this unique census. And here we are in Canada, in the midst of our important, comprehensive national census. Over the past weeks we have emphasized the importance of being counted as Canadian Jews, in order to strengthen our ability to access demographic data to assist in community planning. Now we are in the period in which select households have been asked to complete the National Household Survey (formerly, the long-form census). If your household has received the NHS, we encourage you to take the time to complete and submit it – and to proudly indicate that you are Jewish in the religion or ethnicity section.

Shabbat Shalom!

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