Click here for web version
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

January 13, 2017 | 15 Tevet 5777 | Shabbat Candlelighting at 4:22 p.m.

This message has 710 words and will take about 3 minutes to read.

There’s no place like home. Of course, when you’re traveling back from Israel, as I did yesterday, there’s always a sense of leaving home even when you’re coming home. It’s that push/pull we have between the Diaspora home where we live our day to day lives and the homeland our souls are rooted to. I cannot tell you how much more committed to our work I feel, especially after the difficult time Israel had this week.

Axis Shipwrecked HanukkahWe were, as you may have realized, in Israel during the terror attack that killed four young people on Sunday. This was the first time I visited the scene of an attack so soon after, and it was emotionally overwhelming. Since I cannot find the words to describe the experience, I will instead share with you a video that someone else took in that moment.

While the low point of this mission was undeniable, there were highlights, too, one of which was Israel’s High Court decision that moved a step closer to allowing egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. You can read more here. This is an area in which Jewish Federations of North America has been active in seeking “room for a diversity of Jewish religious practice and expression,” which is a core value not just of Diaspora Jewry but of much of Israeli society. The ability of citizens to appeal government actions through the judicial system is yet another example of where Israel and Canada share democratic values that draw us together.  

Traveling with a group of Federation CEO’s, we focused on the real and often tricky challenges of this country that is at once ancient and modern, that is Jewish and yet so incredibly diverse. As Israelis so often phrase it, life there is complex. Invariably, it is in these complexities that the opportunities for tikkun olam (repairing the world) abound, and that’s what the federated system and our partners are here for. We visited innovative projects that are trying to create a fuller, fairer Israel for all, in an effort to better understand some of the more difficult challenges Israel is grappling with.

One of these projects is the Riyan Arab Employment Centre, operated by our partner the Joint Distribution Committee in 22 locations. There are more than 1.5 million Arabs in Israel and nearly half of them live in poverty. While that’s certainly not good for this large minority population, it’s not good for Israel as a whole either. As the country continues to develop its reputation as a tech powerhouse, it needs every segment of society to play a part in building its success. These centres help break down employment barriers through courses that teach the skills needed in the modern workplace. The impact is felt on the individual level, the family level, in the workplace and across the country.

Axis Shipwrecked HanukkahAnother was Bina, a program funded by several Federations (although not ours) which helped us better understand the situations of non-Jewish refugees and migrants in Israel through the experience they’ve gained volunteering with these populations. Israel is both the only western nation that can be reached from Africa by foot and a gateway to Europe. While some enter the country legitimately seeking asylum, there are obviously heightened risks when anyone enters Israel illegally. The refugee and migrant populations in Israel are largely transient and living in poverty, and the country is working through how to implement policies that are just and humane. Jewish Federations of North America has been monitoring this particularly complex situation.   

Israel may be wrestling with some genuine challenges internally, but that is simply part and parcel of being a vibrant, diverse democracy – and a young one at that. When we look at these aspects of Israel we are reminded that this country is no longer just a dream or a hope, but that we are privileged to live in a time when the State of Israel is a reality, with all that entails.

I came away from this mission, as I always do, with an even deeper love of Israel. The fact that we spent time learning about areas in genuine need of improvement doesn’t lessen that. When we see challenges around us, we don’t ignore them, wish them away, nor apologize for them - we meet them.

But we can only do that because of you.

Your involvement allows us and our partners to continue to improve the world around us, whether that is here at home, in Israel, or in Jewish communities in need around the world. Creating a more perfect world is something we do together, and it is powered by the generosity you show and your involvement in the work we and our partners do.

Shabbat shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver