Mattathias and the Apostate (1 Maccabees 2:1-25) in Gustave Doré’s English Bible 1866. The time has not yet come when we no longer need the warrior Maccabee. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Before the rebirth of the modern state of Israel and the unprecedented success of Jews in North America, Jews had very little to celebrate. After our triumphant Exodus from Egypt, it was more or less downhill and, in the competition between monotheistic faiths, we were always on the losing side. The God who chose us, to quote Woody Allen, was a consistent “underachiever,” at least when it came to looking after our interests.
One of the few exceptions in this tragic tale was Chanukah. For a moment, we won. Who we defeated and what we achieved are debated though. Were the Maccabees fighting a foreign, occupying force that wanted to deny the Jewish people their freedom and liberty, or was the war essentially a battle against Hellenization and assimilation? Was the miracle the military victory or a spiritual one? Before the 20th century, it didn’t really matter. We had won at something. Dayenu. The light of Chanukah illuminated the darkness that engulfed much of Jewish history, and gave hope that, one day, we would again prevail.
That hope came true in the 20th century, and both Israel and North American Judaism embraced Chanukah as the paradigm for their success. Each, however, tells a very different Chanukah tale and sees itself as combating a very different darkness.
Now, differences alone are not a problem, as long as they complement each other. In the case of Chanukah, however, these differences express a deep schism between Israel and North American Jewry. It is not hyperbolic to argue that, unless we learn how to share a Chanukah story, our shared enterprise and common identity are at risk.
In Israel, Chanukah is primarily a story of our military victory over an oppressive enemy that sought to destroy us. Zionists who wanted to re-form the Jewish psyche and heal it from its diasporic defeatism and powerlessness saw the foundation for the new Jew in the Maccabees of old – a Jew who was brave, a Jew who was willing to bear arms and, most significantly, a Jew who was victorious.
The Maccabean victory of the few over the many continues to serve as a dominant theme in Israeli discourse. In our experience, we continue to encounter forces of darkness who seek to destroy us. We are the light that they yearn to extinguish and, as we celebrate Chanukah, we recommit ourselves to the heroism and sacrifice that our survival requires and demands. If, in the past, our tradition commanded every Jew to see themselves as coming out of Egypt, in modern Israeli society, the demand is that every Jew commits himself or herself to being a modern Maccabee.
In North America, a very different Chanukah story is told. As paragons of religious tolerance, the United States and Canada have created an unprecedented environment for Jews to live and thrive as a powerful and beloved minority. There is no war of survival. Consequently, North American Jews have little personal use for the warrior Maccabee.
Through the North American lens, Chanukah celebrates the constitutional rights of all to religious freedom and to the fostering of religious tolerance. The war of the Maccabees was a battle against religious oppression, and the Maccabees were liberal warriors against the darkness of religious oppression and fundamentalism. Through the chanukiyah, which stands proudly side-by-side with the Christmas tree, Jews pledge to lead the fight to preserve the religious freedoms of liberal democratic life. The Chanukah light is the torch leading their way.
The beauty of religious symbols is that they have no inherent meaning, and the history on which they stand is but raw material to be molded by each generation and community in search of meaning and relevance. People in different times and circumstances will inevitably develop diverse understandings. The problem arises when these differences become expressions of value systems that are positioned as mutually exclusive.
A community is a collection of individuals who do not merely share common symbols. A strong and vibrant worldwide Jewish community is only possible if we share as well a set of common values. For North American and Israeli Jews to walk hand-in-hand, we cannot be alienated from each other’s values, but, quite to the contrary, we must respect and seek to embody them. In short, we must not only light the same candles, but strive to illuminate and overcome the same darkness.
Israelis must begin to fight against the darkness of religious intolerance. Religious freedom must be the foundation of Israel’s democracy, and Israelis must cease to vote primarily for the Maccabean leader who will lead us to victory against external foes, and instead seek a Maccabee who is devoted to creating a Jewish society where all forms of Judaism and all religions are supported and treated with equal respect. No North American Jew will in the long run have a relationship with Israel that does not strive to embody these values.
At the same time, the generation of North American Jews for whom the survival and power of Israel are a given, must learn to recognize and respect the real threats and dangers that their people in Israel experience every day. The time has not yet come when we no longer need the warrior Maccabee. While we share the same values of justice and peace, in the realities of the Middle East, their implementation is challenging at best. Israelis will not feel connected to a North American Jewry that does not appreciate the complexity of this reality.
As a people, we share the same Chanukah. To be a united people, we must learn how to share each other’s stories, share each other’s needs and values, and together fight to embody them in our lives.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartmanis president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and author of the 2016 book Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself. This article was initially posted on the Times of Israel in 2015. Articles by Hartman and other institute scholars can be found at shalomhartman.org.
The Jewish Federations of North America held its annual General Assembly this year in Tel Aviv Oct. 22-24. (photo by Pat Johnson)
The Jewish Federations of North America held its annual General Assembly in Israel, as it does every five years, Oct. 22-24. This time, for the first time, the convention met in Tel Aviv. The event was marketed with the theme “We need to talk,” the provocative title suggesting that the meetup would frankly confront the many points of contention between Israelis and Diaspora Jews.
By the time about 2,500 delegates, including a sizeable number of Israelis, arrived at the conference centre, the theme had shifted from the ominous pre-romantic-breakup phrase to the more upbeat “Let’s talk!” Delegates talked among themselves and listened to a plethora of speakers, including Israel’s president, prime minister, leader of the opposition and other elected officials, heads of civil society organizations, a recipient of this year’s Israel Prize and leading figures in the Federation movement.
While some observers – including the organization Am Echad, which placed a full-page ad in the Jerusalem Post – said the conference did not reflect the diversity of demographics or opinion in Israel, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken refuted the criticism.
“I think that we’re never going to have a shortage of people who want to criticize our gatherings,” he said. “I don’t believe that that is actually accurate. When I look around the room, I see kippot on people’s heads, I see people coming from the Modern Orthodox side of the community and I see people coming from the liberal side of the community. We have made an effort, in Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Federations of Canada and our Federation, to dialogue with as wide of a group as we can. I think there is a lot of diversity here.”
A two-and-a-half-day conference provides an intensely limited time to address, let alone resolve, the range of issues on the table. Topics included broad issues like the stalled peace process, treatment of Eritrean and Somali asylum-seekers in Israel and a Nation State Law that some say undermines the democratic nature of the country. There are also a host of issues that cause friction directly for North American Jews, including the reversal of the promised egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, and Orthodox control of lifecycle events in Israel, which negates Reform and Conservative members, who make up the preponderance of North American Jews. If anything, the GA in Tel Aviv was the beginning of a conversation, or the widening of a conversation already in progress.
Some of the divisions were illustrated in public opinion poll results that were projected throughout the convention centre. The percentage of American Jews who believe that non-Orthodox rabbis should be permitted to officiate at Jewish ceremonies in Israel is 80%, compared with 49% of Israeli Jews. Fifty percent of Israeli Jews believe in God “with absolute certainty,” compared to 34% of American Jews. Among Israeli Jews, there is 85% support for the decision by the United States to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, compared with 46% among American Jews. Support for the existence of a mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall stands at 73% among American Jews, compared with 42% of Israeli Jews. Among Jewish Israelis, 42% believe that Jewish settlements in the West Bank improve Israel’s security, compared with 17% of American Jews. Sixty-one percent of American Jews believe that Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, compared with 43% of Israeli Jews.
Jerry Silverman, president and chief executive officer of Jewish Federations of North America, illustrated some of the lines of divergence.
“As North Americans and Israelis, we ask very similar questions. But each through a different lens,” he said. “North Americans may ask, after nearly a century of unwavering support, do Israelis really think our opinions should not be considered when it comes to policies that affect us? Israelis ask, why should anyone other than Israelis have a say in the decisions of our democratically elected government? North Americans, we may wonder how Israel can claim to be the nation state of all Jewish people when it doesn’t recognize the value of Jewish practice of 85 to 90% of Jews living outside of Israel. Meanwhile, Israelis feel that, well, we live here, so what makes you think you have the right to define what it means to be Jewish in the Jewish state? How is it possible, North Americans may ask, that the chair of the board of Brandeis [University] or a student from Florida are questioned or prevented from entering Israel because of their activism and views? Is this a democracy, or isn’t it? Israelis ask, what gives anyone the right to question our security decisions when we are the ones under constant threat?
“These are just a few of the questions of two proud communities who have learned to thrive in two very different environments; two members of one family who operate in their own political realities, where North Americans are seeking validation, empathy, partnership and understanding from Israel and Israelis who are living in a sovereign state have largely been insulated from a global conversation about Jewish peoplehood. I don’t have all the answers to all these questions, but I can tell you this – we will only find the answers if we start asking the questions to each other and if we really start working together.”
One after another, speakers acknowledged the challenging differences between the two communities, which together make up more than 85% of world Jewry, and then accentuated the commonalities.
“We are not strategic allies,” said Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel. “We are family…. We don’t have shared interests. We have shared faith, a shared history and a shared future – and a very bright one. It may not be easy to have the truly honest conversation, but this is, I believe, what needs to happen.”
Rivlin suggested a “reverse Taglit,” a Birthright-like program for young Israelis to travel to Diaspora communities, summer camps and schools.
Danna Azrieli, who, with Israeli high-tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Marius Nacht, co-chaired the assembly, has a personal history suited to facilitating a conversation between the two communities. Born and raised in Montreal in a Zionist family, she made aliyah 18 years ago and now heads her family’s business operations in the country, Israel’s largest commercial real estate enterprise. She was born in June 1967, at the time of the Six Day War.
“My mother tells the story of how, when she was giving birth, the radio was on and the doctor would be listening to the news from Israel between contractions,” Azrieli said.
“We have come to this ‘let’s talk’ conversation about our future together from very different starting points,” she noted. “For example, how do we as North Americans begin to understand what we perceive as backward thinking, when women are not allowed to pray at the wall? And yet, the prime minister reneged on the Sharansky Compromise because of the pressure exerted by religious extremists. As a North American, you are probably asking, how could he have done that? Some of you, and I know a few, might go even further and ask, why should I support a country that does not support the way I practise my religion?” On the flip side, she acknowledged the fears of religious Israelis, who see any diversion from tradition as a step toward assimilation and extinction.
“Since I come from the real estate world, I’m going to use an image of an arch,” she said. “An arch is two sides pressing together. North American Jewry and Israeli Jewry are like two sides of an arch. We need each other. We need to push against each other to stay strong. By leaning into each other, by providing each other with the right amount of resistance and the right amount of support, we will have the strength to withstand the pressure from all sides. But one side of an arch cannot stand without the other. The art is to find the right amount of resistance, the right amount of pressure and the right amount of dependence and independence to ensure that our two sides will always remain strong vis-a-vis one another.”
She acknowledged the differences over policies, but tried to differentiate this from core support for the state of Israel.
“We don’t give up when we disagree with our leaders,” she said. “Don’t walk away because your liberal sensibilities are insulted. Don’t assume that nothing can change. Things do change, just painfully, slowly, incrementally, and with all of our help. Help by continuing the dialogue. Help by infusing your children with a love of our heritage. Let’s celebrate the good. I am not suggesting that we ignore the things we disagree with. I am simply suggesting that we remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Isaac Herzog, the former leader of the opposition who recently became head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, said the growth and successes of modern Israel could not have been forecast.
“No one could have imagined that, 70 years later, [Israel’s] population would increase more than tenfold, its GDP would grow more than fiftyfold, its share within the Jewish world would grow from six percent to 45% and that Israel would become what a great country it is today.”
Herzog, a grandson of Israel’s first chief rabbi and the son of a president, added: “Israel is not the only Jewish marvel in the last 70 years. You, too, North American Jewry, are a marvel. The saga of North American Jewry is one of the most exhilarating and inspiring success stories of the modern era and your success is evident not only in your high level of education and income, and in the fact that the number of Nobel Prize winners that you’ve got are over 120, but because your success is palpable in the fact that you are organized, committed and energetic. You donate more than any other group in society, both locally and globally, and your success is manifest in 3,500 congregations, in 150 federations, in 350 JCCs and countless organizations and foundations that you’ve created together into a beautiful, unique civil society.”
He spoke of the historical bonds between the two communities.
“You nourished us ever since we were a helpless newborn,” Herzog said. “We were, we are and we shall always be reliant on one another. Our alliance is profound, is heroic and is eternal.”
He added: “I see the growing rift between our communities and am shaken to my core. In Israel, there are those who shamefully refuse to recognize the great non-Orthodox Judaism of North America and, in North America, there are those who disavow the centrality of Israel in Jewish life.
“Ironically, in this, the first era in our history when the external existential threats we have faced are greatly diminished, we ourselves are endangering our own existence. It is up to each and every one of us sitting here together in this hall to look into the eyes of our young generations and see where did we go wrong. The obligation we all share is to listen to their pains, to listen to their questions and to listen to their frustrations and ask ourselves, how can we do it better? We must dare to think anew, dare to act differently.”
Herzog called for a renewed dedication to the Hebrew language.
“Our first act should be to find a common language,” he said. “When I say common, I mean both literally and figuratively. We have a rare and sacred national treasure: the Hebrew language, the language of the Bible and the state of Israel. For all of us to be able to speak to one another and listen to one another and to debate, discuss and delight one another, we must return to our national heritage and treasure. We must enable every young Jewish person in the world to learn Hebrew.”
He called on the government of Israel to allocate funds for a program that teaches Hebrew all over the world.
“From here on, it will be every young Jew’s birthright, wherever he or she may live, not only to visit this historical homeland, but to learn the language of the Jewish people,” said Herzog. “Hebrew can be a common denominator of all Jews from all streams of Judaism – a beautiful language can serve as a tool for unity.”
Other ideas being mooted, he said, include a Jewish “peace corps” that brings Diaspora and Israeli Jews together for tikkun olam projects around the world, and inviting thousands of young Jews from around the world to Israel to participate in groundbreaking “startup nation” technology projects.
As head of the Jewish Agency, Herzog promised to “reach out to all of you to advance hundreds of faction-crossing, stream-crossing, continent-crossing dialogues under one common tent. Israelis will learn to appreciate and know the magnificent civilization of world Jewry, while world Jewry will learn to appreciate the achievements of Zionism and the beauty of Israeliness. Reform and Conservative Jews will learn to cherish Jewish orthodoxy and Orthodox Jews will learn to respect the Reform and Conservative. We shall learn from one another and learn to appreciate one another and endeavour to resolve our internal differences through a new Jewish dialogue. All that I ask of you is not to despair and not to give up. Indeed, let’s talk.”
Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, speaker of the Knesset, addresses delegates in the parliament’s Chagall Hall. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Before the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America began on Oct. 22, a local delegation, headed by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board chair Karen James and chief executive officer Ezra Shanken, toured Vancouver’s partnership region, the Upper Galilee Panhandle, which includes Israel’s most northerly communities.
Shanken said that a “mirror” volunteer board of community members from across the panhandle region has been created, including people who are sourcing projects, bringing them in and deciding, along with funders from Vancouver, which critical projects within the region will receive support.
“Those can be everything from a kitchen that we just opened that’s helping developmentally challenged individuals learn cooking skills, or we are looking at education programs … really trying to lift up the north,” he said.
The periphery in Israel has always faced more challenges than the centre of the country, Shanken added. Trying to rebalance that situation, he said, involves engaging the people in the partnership region to take ownership of the projects funded from Canada.
“One of the great things that we saw was the graduation of [the first cohort of] something called Galilee Up, which is something we’ve been working on,” he said. “It’s a leadership development program where we looked around the table and said, who’s going to be the great volunteer leaders of tomorrow?”
More than 20 individuals with leadership potential, mostly younger adults in the early stages of their careers, have been brought together, participating in courses at Tel Hai College. On the Vancouver group’s October visit, the cohort pitched concepts that could help improve the region.
Shanken also celebrated the reopening of a medical centre in Kiryat Shmona, for which Vancouverites had advocated alongside residents of the panhandle.
“This was a huge, huge win for us,” he said.
Democracy in Israel
Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein assured delegates that the health of democracy in Israel is strong.
“Purposely misquoting great American author Mark Twain, I can say that the rumour of the demise of Israeli democracy has been slightly exaggerated,” he told a special evening plenary held in the Knesset’s Chagall Hall. “Israeli democracy has been strong, is strong and will be even stronger.”
He encouraged Diaspora Jews to write, email and telephone members of the Knesset with their concerns.
At the same event, Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition, offered an alternative view, warning that the Nation State Law undermines the democratic leg of the “Jewish, democratic state.”
She said that her opposition to the law is not based on what is in the law, but what was left out. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that Israel is a Jewish nation, but guarantees equal rights for all its citizens.
“When the state of Israel was established,” she said, “all the Jewish leaders signed – we’re talking about socialism, communism, revisionism, Charedim – they decided, this is a moment in which they should put aside all the differences and say that Israel is being established as a nation state for the Jewish people, but also giving equal rights to all its citizens.”
This assurance is missing from the Nation State Law, she said.
“And it’s not that somebody forgot it,” she stressed. “It was part of the discussion here. I wanted to add in the first article of this bill: keeping Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. The answer was no. Let’s refer to the Scroll [Declaration] of Independence. The answer was no. I said, let’s have equality. The answer was no. Israel is a democracy and we will keep Israel as a democracy, but, frankly, this is a challenge now.”
Livni added that Diaspora Jews who spend a certain amount of time every year in Israel should have the right to vote in Israeli elections.
“Our decisions as an Israeli government affect your lives as well,” she said.
Trauma experts thanked
Stacy Kagan, the vice-mayor of Parkland, Fla., fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Israel, but acknowledged she never envisioned it would be under such circumstances. Kagan was at the General Assembly to thank Israeli emergency responders for stepping up after the mass murder at a high school in her city last February.
“In the days following the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school, grieving and in shock, we received an outpouring of support from across the country, across the world and Israel,” she said. “Within days, experts from the Israel Trauma Coalition were on the ground in Parkland. They were training our local counselors, who were there themselves and unprepared to address the impact of a large-scale attack that terrorized our local residents. The team from the Israel Trauma Coalition was nothing short of incredible. Their experience was invaluable.
“Today, I stand before you not only as an elected official, but as a Jewish woman who has always wanted to visit Israel,” she said. “I’ve dreamed of this but never made it until now. I never could have imagined that I would be here under these circumstances. As a Parkland resident, I come here to express my appreciation to the Israel Trauma Coalition, the entire Federation movement and the people and government of Israel for standing with us. This was our time of need. You showed up. You gave us strength and you taught us how to be resilient. As a wife, a mother and a consoler to those families and children that were taken by this horrible tragedy, I am here to say todah. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.”
Danna Azrieli, co-chair of the General Assembly, spoke of the Zionism of her childhood, which was mixed with the intergenerational trauma of being a second-generation Holocaust survivor.
“I struggle with anxiety and fear that an enemy may lurk in a place I don’t expect,” she said. “I am always vigilant. I’m the graduate of a 95-day outdoor leadership training course, just in case, one day, I will have to survive in a forest. And I hope that my overactive antennae that work overtime all the time and have deeply psychosomatic effects on my health will save me if ever, one day, I am faced with an unexpected horror in a restaurant or dance club.”
Since moving to Israel, she has witnessed brutality on both sides, she said.
“I have been within six metres of a terrorist running down the main street of the city where I live,” Azrieli told the plenary. “I saw his knife. I saw him sweat. I heard the sirens because he had just stabbed a 70-year-old lady in the coffee shop on the corner. And I also saw the total abandonment of morality, the bestiality, that overcame my Jewish neighbours when they ran the terrorist over with a car and hit his legs with a stick as he was face down at the bus stop while they were waiting for the police to arrive. I am a product of all of these things.”
Deborah Lyons, Canada’s ambassador to Israel, delivered an address that repeatedly brought the audience to laughter and their feet. Citing the Federation movement’s commitment to helping people in North America, Israel and throughout the world, she said, “Your goals are nearly interchangeable with those of the Canadian government.”
She said, “We both are committed to supporting the most vulnerable around the world … regardless of background. And we both are strongly supportive of Israel, its future and a deepening, closer relationship with Canada.”
Both federations and the Canadian government are facilitating cultural and economic missions to Israel to strengthen connections, especially in the business sector. In recent months, Lyons said, Canada’s governor-general, prime minister and a large number of senior cabinet officials have traveled to Israel.
“Our international leadership is perhaps best demonstrated by our recent partnership in rescuing White Helmet volunteers in Syria, one of the best moments of my career,” she said.
Along with allies, “Canada and Israel answered the moral obligations to ensure the swift evacuation of 422 members of this incredibly brave civil defence group, and their families. It was the support from Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and, in particular, the incredible professionalism and heart of the IDF that brought that evacuation about.”
The ambassador added that combined efforts include batting antisemitism.
“Canada has worked alongside Israel to produce an internationally accepted working definition on antisemitism and we will continue to work with Israel to combat this ill everywhere – wherever, whenever,” she said, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will officially apologize for Canada’s turning away of the refugee ship MS St. Louis in 1939.
She reiterated Canada’s support for a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians and spoke personally about her experiences living in Israel for two years now.
“It’s a complicated, invigorating and empowering place that can touch every emotion and challenge every belief,” she said. “It’s filled with energy, with incredible vitality and with endless warmth. I come from Canada – I know warmth when I feel it.… It’s simply very alive here.”
The most emotional presentation of the General Assembly was delivered by Miriam Peretz, winner of the 2018 Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society, whose story of the price Israeli families pay for the security of the nation had audience members sobbing. Earlier this year, Education Minister Naftali Bennett delivered the news of the award to her by arriving at her front door, the same door where, a decade ago, officers arrived to deliver, for the second time, the worst news a mother can receive.
“Ten years ago, on the eve of Passover, three angels knocked on my door,” Peretz said. “They didn’t bring with them the prophet Eliyahu. Rather, they were the bearers of terrible news. My second son, Eliraz, a deputy commander of Battalion 12 of Golani – a father of four little children, the biggest was 6 years old, the littlest was 2 months old; she didn’t know her father – he was killed fighting the terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“As soon as I saw who was outside my door, I ran. I shut the door. I shut the window so no one could enter,” she recounted. “When they finally came in, I begged them and asked them, please don’t say the word, don’t deliver the news. Just let me [have] my son for one more minute. Because, as long as you don’t say this horrible news, my Eliraz still lives for one more minute. It has to be a mistake, I explained, for I had already paid the ultimate price of our country’s survival. A dozen years earlier, my firstborn, Uriel, an officer in a special unit of Golani … was killed fighting the Hezbollah in Lebanon. And, if it’s not painful enough, my dear husband, unable to bear the loss of Uriel, died five years after of a broken heart.
“So it was the eve of Passover and we were gathered to the seder without Uriel, without Eliraz, without Eleazar, my husband,” she continued. “And we read … we cried when we read in the Haggadah, l’dor v’dor, in every generation they rise up to destroy us…. There is no mother in Israel that wishes her children to be a combat soldier. When we have these children, we only pray to Hashem to let them be alive, to keep them healthy, but not to be soldiers. And my children, every time, when called upon to defend our nation, they did not hesitate. They said simply, Ima, it’s our turn.”
Peretz spoke of her childhood in Morocco and how, one night, her father told the family that “this night we will meet the Moshiach, the Messiah. I asked my father how he looked? And he said he will come with an open shirt, with shorts and with sandals. This is the shaliach of the Jewish Agency.
“They took us from the alleys of this place in Morocco to this country,” she said. “When we arrived to Haifa, I saw my father kneeling and kissing the ground when he said the Shehecheyanu. I didn’t understand the behaviour of my father and I never imagined that, one day, I will kiss this earth twice, like my father, when it covered the bodies of my children on Mount Herzl.”
She said that, after the death of her second son, she asked: “What can I do with this grief and sorrow? I can continue to sleep on my bed, to cry about my destiny, to blame the government, the IDF – this is not my way. I chose to continue and to hold the life. I chose to look outside … to see all this land and ask myself, every day, what can I do to be worthy of them? They gave their life for me. I didn’t want to waste my life, because life is not how many years you are here. It’s what you do with this minute that God [has] blessed you.”
Peretz has devoted the years since to comforting bereaved families and wounded soldiers.
“She did not choose the circumstances of her difficult life,” Bennett has said of Peretz, “but chose to live and revive an entire people. She is the mother of us all.”
“It’s not only my personal story,” Peretz told the General Assembly. “It’s the story of this land. It’s the story of faith and hope. It’s the story of the price that we pay for the existence of this state.”
Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, addresses the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, in Tel Aviv Oct. 24. (photo by Pat Johnson)
The theme of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Tel Aviv was “We need to talk.” The conference was explicitly dedicated to confronting the issues that divide Jews and alienate the Diaspora from Israel. But, when the moment came to meet with the most powerful man in Israel, conference organizers folded like a house of cards.
Outgoing chair of the board of trustees of the JFNA, Richard Sandler, sat with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on a stage and performed what Haaretz rightly dismissed as a “fawning” conversation. More Oprah than interlocutor, Sandler first offered belated birthday wishes to the prime minister, then proceeded with one softball lob after another, allowing Netanyahu to control the dialogue – which he could have done more effectively if he had delivered a conventional address instead of the folksy sit-down – while Sandler offered no resistance or challenge to anything the prime minister said.
The JFNA is a non-partisan organization, of course. But the very nature of this meeting was to frankly confront the very real divisions between Jewish people in the Diaspora and those in Israel.
Here was the first question: “I’m just wondering, when you were back in high school or college, did you ever imagine someday you would be the prime minister of Israel, and would you share with us a little bit of the path from that time to what got you here?”
Even Netanyahu seemed a bit embarrassed by the question and offered assurances that he was not, in childhood or young adulthood, some Machiavellian born with his sights on the levers of power. What seasoned politician would respond to such a question with, “Yes, I’ve been planning this since I toddled”?
Next question: “I’m wondering, in all the years you’ve been doing this, how do you see the relationship between our two countries, between Israel and the United States, evolving – and what concerns you most, if anything, about that relationship today?”
“If anything”? Thousands of people had traveled from North America to Israel to address the very tangible friction points between the two Jewish communities and the inteviewer effectively invited the prime minister to assert that everything is rainbows and unicorns. And Netanyahu accepted the offering. Everything is pretty great, he contended. The trajectory of American support for Israel is increasing, he said. When he and his wife walk around Central Park or visit the Strand bookstore in Manhattan, they get warmly welcomed. The audience of 1,300 at a performance of Hamilton gave him a standing ovation. (“How did you get tickets?” heckled an audience member. “My cousin’s wife works in the production,” the PM replied.)
Then it was time for the interviewer to get tough.
“One of the things that we spoke about, Mr. Prime Minister, that we’ve been talking about the last couple of days, are all the things that we have in common,” said Sandler, moving in for the kill, “We’re having frank discussions on some of the issues that concern many North American Jews and I’m sure you are aware, as I am, that we have a number of concerns about pluralism, acceptance of Reform and Conservative Jews here in Israel, the Nation State Law and.…”
At this point, Sandler’s words were drowned out by applause from an audience who seemed to think they were finally going to get some red meat. Instead, Sandler asked, “Are we missing something? And where do we have it right?”
“I don’t think you should be concerned, but I think you should be informed,” Netanyahu responded to a room filled with the leadership of every major Jewish community in North America. “So much of this is – let me be charitable – misinformation.”
Netanyahu went on to say that, from the first prime minister on down, Israel’s leaders have managed the status quo by making modest, incremental compromises.
“We have a series of slowly evolving arrangements and that reflects the evolution of the Israeli electorate,” he said. On the issue of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, Netanyahu acknowledged a delay in the opening, but insisted his goal remains a place where women and men can pray together.
On a two-state solution, Netanyahu dismissed the terminology. “I believe that a potential solution is one in which the Palestinians have all the powers to govern themselves but not the power to threaten us,” he said. “What does that mean?”
He explained by recounting a conversation with then-U.S. vice-president Joe Biden.
“Well, Bibi,” Netanyahu said, describing the discussion, “are you for two states or are you not? I said, Joe, I don’t believe in labels.”
Netanyahu committed that Israel would retain security control west of the Jordan River, envisioning a situation where Palestinians would govern themselves but that overall security would remain in the hands of the Israeli military. This is not only good for Israel, the prime minister said, but for Palestinians, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel uncovered and foiled a plan by Hamas to not only overthrow Abbas, but to murder him, Netanyahu said. Without Israel’s military control in the West Bank, Hamas would swoop in, overthrow Abbas’s Fatah and Israel would have another Gaza to the east.
“They’d be overrun in two minutes,” he said.
This is all true enough, perhaps, and the first job of the prime minister of Israel is to ensure the security of his country and people. But, in acknowledging that his position would negate the possibility of an independent Palestinian state, Netanyahu reduced it to a matter of nomenclature.
“Give it any name you want,” he said. “But that’s the truth. And this truth is shared much more widely across the political spectrum than people understand, because we’re not going to imperil the life of the state for a label or for a good op-ed for six hours in the New York Times.” Like a flailing comedian, Netanyahu then turned to the audience and complained, “Nobody’s laughing.”
Sandler’s final question to the prime minister was, “What are you the most proud of about Israel today that you want us to think about when we’re going home?” And Netanyahu offered a response worthy of the question, a meandering reflection on visiting a synagogue in his family’s ancestral home of Lithuania.
As the loudspeaker was trying to advise people to remain in their seats while the prime minister’s entourage departed, Netanyahu, already standing for his farewell, interrupted to take the opportunity to tell the audience that his real concern for the Jewish people was the loss of identity. “It’s not conversion,” he said. “It’s the loss of identity.”
He warned, “Jewish survival is guaranteed in the Jewish state if we defend our state. But we have to also work at the continuity of Jewish communities in the world by developing Jewish education, the study of Hebrew and the contact of young Jews coming to Israel.”
He talked about additional funding for programs to support study-abroad programs in Israel and other things the Jewish state is doing to advance the strengthening of Jewish peoplehood.
Given the last word at the close of the three-day conference – a meeting explicitly convened to address contentious issues between the parties – Israel’s prime minister took the opportunity to school the leaders of Diaspora Jewry in how their shortcomings could imperil Jewish survival. Then he departed.
Consul General Galit Baram was in Vancouver last month. (photo from Consulate of Israel)
Galit Baram, consul general of Israel to Toronto and Western Canada, was in Vancouver last month.
“The visit was very good,” she told the Independent in a phone interview. “It included some political meetings and an academic meeting and I addressed the Jewish community and I attended the Negev Dinner of the JNF…. I had the opportunity to see the city, which is beautiful, and the weather was nice.”
Baram will be returning to Vancouver in November, when the late Dirk Pieter and Klaasje Kalkman will be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations for the assistance they provided to Jews during the Holocaust. The ceremony will be held in conjunction with Yad Vashem Canada and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
Baram’s June meetings explored the opportunities of expanding cooperation between Israel and British Columbia in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“I believe that there is great potential in economic cooperation between Israel and British Columbia,” she said.
The provincial government, she said, “is making its initial steps now…. There is interest, there is curiosity, there is awareness of what Israel has to offer in innovation, in the medical field. When it comes to pharma, when it comes to cybersecurity, Israel is a leading country in the international arena in many of these fields.
“We had very good relations with the previous government and we hosted a mission … in November of 2016, a mission that was led by then-minister of finance [Michael] de Jong; there were representatives of different business sectors in British Columbia…. [It] is our intention to work very closely with the current government as well.”
The change in the federal government in 2015 also hasn’t affected Canada-Israel cooperation. On May 28, in Montreal, François-Phillippe Champagne, minister of international trade, and Eli Cohen, Israel’s minister of the economy and industry, announced the signing of the modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
Cohen spent two days in Canada, said Baram, adding, “I hope that Minister Champagne will soon reciprocate and visit Israel as well.
“I believe this is very important to have visits on such a high level … because I believe that governments can contribute greatly to bringing countries together. But we have to remember that, at a certain point, governments have to take a step back and leave it up to the business sector and the private sector to build bridges and to bring the countries together, but, as governments on both sides, Israel and Canada, we do as much as we can in order to strengthen and broaden our bilateral relations.”
Baram also sees the possibility of building a groundwork for peace in Israel through business and trade.
“I believe that economic mobility plays an integral role in bringing communities together,” she said, “and we are watching with pride the growing high-tech sector in the Israeli-Arab community, especially in the Greater Haifa area, in cities such as Nazareth…. We would like to see more Israeli-Arab students concentrating on science, concentrating on business, in business management and innovation and entrepreneurship.
“When it comes to building social bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, not necessarily Jews and Arabs, there are many activities that concentrate on that … and they are conducted by civil societies in Israel and it is heartwarming to see that. I would like to mention the activity of an organization such as Save a Child’s Heart … [which] brings children to Israel [for cardiac care] from Arab countries, from the Middle East, from Muslim countries in general, and they do wonderful, wonderful things in building bridges…. Another example I can give you is the upcoming visit of Dr. Yossi Leshem, one of Israel’s greatest experts on bird migration – he is going to be in Vancouver towards the end of August and he will be accompanied by his friends from [elsewhere in] the Middle East, and they are going to present beautiful regional projects in a conference that will be held in Vancouver…. Two other organizations that I would like to mention … are Ultimate Peace, that organizes Frisbee tournaments for youth … and another project, by Danny Hakim – Budo for Peace – teaches martial arts to Israeli Jews and Arabs, Palestinians, Jordanians and others, and they have instructors coming to Israel from Japan and from other countries…. I believe that such organizations can do so much good for Israeli society in general, for the Palestinians and for neighbouring countries in the Middle East.”
Of course, there are significant obstacles to peace, not the least of which are the ongoing altercations at the Gaza border.
“When it comes to the situation on the Gaza border, we are facing some very serious challenges,” admitted Baram. “It is an uphill battle. We see that there is sometimes a deterioration, sometimes the situation stabilizes a little bit and then there is another deterioration, the situation changes constantly.
“There are many, many challenges on a daily basis that are facing not only IDF [Israel Defence Forces] soldiers and the Palestinian civilian populations, but also the civilian population on the Israeli side of the border. Sometimes there is a tendency to forget about them but there are families, there are entire communities, that raise their children on the Israeli side of the border and because of this intifada of burning kites and balloons, they have to deal with arson cases on a daily basis, with a loss of crops and forest in the south of Israel, and it’s heartbreaking to see that because so much work has been put into making the desert bloom, especially in those regions.”
She added, “The one very disappointing thing for me to see as a former director of the department for Palestinian affairs was the fact that the Kerem Shalom border crossing that was built in the first place to enable trucks to enter Gaza was burned down by Hamas activists and by other terrorists and it’s a shame to see that because so much money was invested in that, so much effort was done in order to make trade between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and especially Gaza, easier and simpler for us but especially for the civilian population in Gaza. And it’s difficult to see a civilian population that is being held captive by a terror organization…. Of course, there is awareness of the situation in Israel and understanding that the main enemy that has to be dealt with is definitely Hamas and not the people of Gaza.”
As for the Canadian government’s initial statements after the violent March of Return protests – in which Canada admonished Israel, saying its “use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable,” and called “for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground” – Baram said, “I would like to mention that, after Hamas started attacking Israel, [with] renewed rocket attacks to the south of Israel, there were statements that were released by Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau and by Minister of Foreign Affairs [Chrystia] Freeland condemning Hamas for this activity and I believe we should concentrate on these statements.”
And Canada’s reluctance to move its embassy to Jerusalem?
“When it comes to Jerusalem,” said Baram, “we believe that all countries should move their embassies to the capital of Israel and the capital of Israel is Jerusalem. Every sovereign country has the right of defining and choosing its own capital and we believe that we don’t have to prove over and over again the story connecting the people of Israel and the land of Israel, between the people of Israel and its eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
With respect to the almost 40,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel, Baram said, “We have to remember that the first Western country that these people from Africa, from Eritrea, from Sudan, asylum seekers, work migrants – define them as you wish – the first Western country they encounter is Israel. And, several years ago, many of them came to Israel…. This is never an easy issue to deal with because the personal stories are very emotional and very difficult, and these people, many of them have been through terrible ordeals, until they reached Israel.
“The issue of migration in general … is an issue that is dealt with in Europe and in other parts of the world,” she said. “In the Middle East, for example, the issue of Syrian refugees is a very big issue that many countries deal with and, now, Syrian refugees, for example, are coming knocking on the doors of European countries, as well, but this is a problem that many Middle Eastern countries have dealt with for quite awhile, a long time now.
“With the African refugees or asylum seekers or work migrants, definitely a solution must be found in order to protect them, protect their rights. On the other hand, we have to keep the sovereignty of the state of Israel and we cannot allow floods of refugees entering Israel because we have to think about our population and … providing an answer that would satisfy all parties involved. This is not easy,” she said.
And neither is Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jews always easy.
“When you look at Israeli society, you see that the public debate in Israel is very heated and emotional,” said Baram. “This is how we do things in Israel. People are very opinionated … they don’t hide their views and opinions, and I think this is wonderful. This is the strength of Israeli democracy.”
She recalled a statement made by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin about a year ago. “He talked about the four tribes of Israeli society, and he referred to secular Jews, to Orthodox Zionists Jews, to the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel and to Israeli Arabs…. And he called for these four tribes to join hands to discuss the future of Israeli society for the benefit of the country. Later on, he added the fifth tribe … and I believe this is very important to mention that the fifth tribe is Diaspora Jews because Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people…. I am actually very encouraged when I visit Jewish communities throughout Canada and people ask me sometimes challenging questions … about the nature of Israel and about the nature of Israeli society, and what should be done and what is done correctly, or what should be corrected in Israel. I encourage that and I welcome it, because it shows love and devotion and interest in Israel.
“And I encourage people to come visit Israel and express their opinions and to keep us Israeli diplomats on our toes … and I thank Jewish communities for participating in this ongoing discussion. I think this is vital not only for Israel by the way – this ongoing discussion is vital for Diaspora Jews as well.”
To participate in and to follow some of that discussion, follow the consulate on Facebook and Twitter.
הונג קונג (סין) היא העיר היקרה ביותר בעולם. (צילום: Estial)
מי אמר שקנדה יקרה: רק 5 ערים קנדיות ברשימת 209 הערים היקרות בעולם
חברת הייעוץ מרסר מפרסמת את הדוח השנתי ליוקר המחייה בעולם. המדד של מרסר המתפרסם זו השנה ה-24 ברציפות כולל 209 ערים, והוא מתבסס על בדיקת עלויות של למעלה מ-200 מוצרים שונים (כולל הוצאות לדיור, הוצאות על מזון, הוצאות על תחבורה, הוצאות על מוצרי צריכה לבית, הוצאות על ביגוד והוצאות על בידור).
קנדה שיש טוענים שהיא מדינה יקרה מיוצגת רק על ידי 5 ערים ברשימת 209 הערים היקרות בעולם. טורונטו במקום ה-109, ונקובר גם כן במקום ה-109, מונטריאול במקום ה-147, קלגרי במקום ה-154 ואוטווה במקום ה-160.
הונג קונג (סין) היא העיר היקרה ביותר בעולם. אחריה בעשירייה הראשונה: טוקיו (יפן), ציריך (שוויצריה), סינגפור (סינגפור), סאול (דרום קוריאה), לואנדה (אנגולה), שנחאי (סין), נג’מנה (צ’אד), בייג’ין (סין) וברן (שוויצריה).
העשירייה השנייה: ג’נבה (שוויצריה), שנז’ן (סין), ניו יורק (ארה”ב), קופנהגן (דנמרק), גונגג’ואו (סין), תל אביב (ישראל), מוסקבה (רוסיה), ליברוויל (גבון), ברזוויל (הרפובליקה של קונגו) ולונדון (בריטניה).
דיון בוועדת העלייה והקליטה של הכנסת להוקרת תרומת יהודי קנדה
ועדת העלייה, הקליטה והתפוצות של הכנסת קיימה דיון מיוחד להוקרת יהודי קנדה, ביום שלישי שעבר (ה-26 בחודש).
בקנדה חיים כיום למעלה מ-400 אלף יהודים ומדובר בקהילה השלישית או הרביעית בגודלה בעולם, מחוץ לישראל. מרבית היהודים בקנדה חיים בריכוזי הערים הגדולות: טורונטו ומנטריאול.
שגרירת קנדה בישראל, דבורה ליונס, שהשתתפה בדיון המיוחד של ועדת העלייה והקליטה, אמרה בין היתר כי היהודים החלו להגיע לקנדה כבר בשנת 1760. הפרלמנט הקנדי החליט כי חודש מאי יהיה חודש מורשת יהודי קנדה, מדי שנה. ליונס הדגישה כי קנדה תמשיך להילחם עד חורמה באנטישמיות ובתנועת החרם נגד ישראל והיהודים. ובמקביל קנדה תמשיך להנציח את זכר השואה תוך אמירת השבועה “לעולם לא עוד”. היהודים בקנדה ימשיכו להיות בטוחים ומוגנים כמו שאר האזרחים בקנדה.
ליונס עושה רבות לקירוב היחסים בין ישראלים לפלסטינים. במרץ אשתקד היא אירחה במעונה הרשמי כמאה נשים מתנועת “נשים עושות שלום”, המבקשת לקדם את הפיתרון הסכסוך בין שני העמים. האירוע לרגל יום האישה הבינלאומי, כלל את השתתפותן של 11 שגרירות שמהכנות בישראל (בהן מסלובניה, פינלנד ואירלנד). וכן שלוש סגניות שגרירים. ליונס אמרה באירוע: “התכנסו הערב, נשים מכל העולם, כדי לתת הכרה לתפקיד הקריטי שנשים ישראליות ופלסטיניות ממלאות בחברה כאן על כל רבדיה. אין מטרה נעלה יותר מאשר שלום במדינה. במיוחד היום כשאנו נושאות את מבטינו מסביב, אנו רואות מספר עולה וגובר של קונפליקטים, אשר גובים מחיר אנושי במיוחד מנשים וילדים. לכן מצאנו לנכון שהיום – יום האישה הבינלאומי, נישא על נס את התפקיד החשוב שממלאות חברות בארגון נשים, שעושות שלום ובקידום השלום. הטרמינולוגיה בה משתמשות הנשים הייתה ביטחון כולל על רבדיו השונים. ביטחון הוא לא רק צבא, אלה הוא גם ביטחון כללי, חברתי ואישי. אך מעבר להרחבת המושג, מדובר בשיתוף נשים בהליכים המובילים להסכמי שלום. כאשר נשים מעורבות במשא ומתן ההסכמים שנחתמים מכילים יותר ומחזיקים מעמד לטווח ארוך יותר. למרות זאת, כיום רק 9% מהנושאים ונותנים הינן נשים. ורק 4% מהחתומים על הסכמים הן נשים. משמעות הדבר היא בפועל כאשר מדובר בהחלטות קריטיות על ביטחון, ממשל, חוקים ותקציבים, כחצי מהאוכלוסיה נשארת מחוץ למעמד החשוב של קבלת החלטות. אנו תומכות במעורבות גוברת של נשים בחברה, דבר היביא לשיפור מצבה”.
מפעל הבונדס ישראל יצא לדרך בסוף שנת 1950, כדי לסייע לישראל לאור הקשיים בהם נתקלה לאחר מלחמת העצמאות.
מחר (יום חמישי ה-31 בחודש) תסתיים מכירת הסדרה החדשה של אגרות החוב – בונדס ישראל של מדינת ישראל, המונפקים בקנדה לשנה זו. בוונקובר יתקיים מחר אירוע ביוזמת אגודת הידידים בקנדה של אוניברסיטת תל אביב ובונדס ישראל בקנדה, לקידום מכירת הבונדס של ישראל. אירוע דומה של ידי אגודת הידידים של האוניברסיטה מתקייים היום (יום רביעי) בקלגרי. ואילו אתמול הקיים אירוע בטורונטו. האירוע בוונקובר יתקיים במשרדים של חברת פשקן ברחוב בורארד בדאון טאון, בין השעות שמונה בבוקר לאחת אחר הצהריים. הוא יכלול ארוחת בוקר וארוחת צהריים. שלושת המרצים שישתתפו בו: ד”ר אוהד ברזילי מאוניברסיטת תל אביב, המשמש חוקר בתחום ניהול טכנולוגיה ומערכות מידע, שידבר על הפלטפרומה הדיגיטלית – ההגיון בעשייה של הכלכלה הדיגיטלית. פרופסור אוריה שביט מאוניברסיטת תל אביב, המשמש חוקר בתחום תאולוגיה ופוליטיקה באסלאם המודרני, שידבר על האסלאם הרדיקלי במדינות המערב. וכן פרופסור יניב אסף מאוניברסיטת תל אביב, המשמש חוקר במחלקה לנוירוביולוגיה, שידבר על הדור הבא של טכנולוגיית סריקת המוח.
ארגון בונדס ישראל בקנדה יקיים אירוע מיוחד להוקרת חיילים בודדים המשרתים בצה”ל בחודש הבא. האירוע יתקיים בטורונטו בבית הכנסת שערי שמיים ב-26 ביוני, בין 7.30 ל-9.30 בערב.
אגרות החוב של ישראל בונדס בקנדה מונפקים פעמיים בחודש: בראשון ובחמישה עשר. להלן התעריפים של אגרות הבונדס הבולטים בקנדה, שמחר כאמור הוא הדד-ליין לרכישתם. למי שמשקיע לפחות 25,000 דולר: שנתיים 2.58%, שלוש שנים 2.88%, חמש שנים 3.47%, עשר שנים 4.25% וחמש עשרה שנים 4.45%. למי שמשקיע לפחות 5,000 דולר: שנתיים 2.43%, שלוש שנים 2.73%, חמש שנים 3.32%, עשר שנים 4.10% וחמש עשרה שנים 4.30%.
הבונדס או בשמו הרשמי מפעל מלווה העצמאות והפיתוח הוא ארגון העוסק במכירת אגרות חוב של ישראל ליהודים בתפוצות. מפעל הבונדס יצא לדרך בסוף שנת 1950, כדי לסייע לישראל לאור הקשיים בהם נתקלה לאחר מלחמת העצמאות. את המפעל יזמו ראש ממשלת ישראל דוד בן גוריון, ביחד עם שר האוצר אליעזר קפלן ושרת העבודה גולדה מאיר. וכן עם שלושה מראשי קהילת היהודים בארה”ב: הפוליטיקאי הנרי מורגנטאו, איש העסקים, הפילנתרופ ומראשי המגבית היהודית המאוחדת שמואל (סם) רוטברג, ומנכ”ל המגבית היהודית המאוחדת והרב הרפורמי הנרי מונטור. בן גוריון זימן לישראל חמישים מנהיגים בולטים קרב קהילות היהודים בארה”ב ובארצות אחרות, והציע להם להקים את הפרוייקט שיאפשר מימון כספי לצרכים הדוחקים של המדינה. אגרות הבונדס החלו להימכר בארה”ב ב-1951, במדינות אמריקה הלטינית ב-1951, בקנדה ב-1953 ובמערב אירופה ב-1954.
בשנות השישים של ישראל הבונדס היה אחד ממקורות ההכנסה העיקריים של תקציב הפיתוח של הממשלה. הכספים שהגיעו מהיהודים בחו”ל עזרו להקמת מספר פרוייקטים לאומיים חשובים מאוד בישראל. בהם: המוביל הארצי, מפעלי ים המלח, תחנת הכוח אורות רבין בחדרה ופיתוח הנמל הימי בחיפה, הנמל הימי באשדוד והנמל הימי באילת. בשנות השמונים ולאחריהם שימשו הכספים של הבונדס כעזרה חיונית לפרוייקטים לאומיים נוספים. בהם: עליית היהודים מברית המועצת לשעבר, עליית היהודים מאתיופיה, הרחבת נמל התעופה בן-גוריון (ובניית טרמינל 3), שיפורים במערך של רכבת ישראל ותשתיות נוספות. עד סוף שנות השבעים מפעל הבונדס הצליח לגייס למעלה ממיליארד דולר. ומאז המפעל מגייס מדי שנה למעלה ממיליארד דולר. מדובר בסכום שהוא כמחצית ממה שישראל מגייסת ברחבי העולם כולו מדי שנה. עד היום מפעל הבונד גייס למעלה משלושים ושלושה מיליארד דולר.
Akiva Gersh teaching a group in Israel. Gersh is the editor of, and a contributing writer to, the book Becoming Israeli: The Hysterical, Inspiring and Challenging Sides of Making Aliyah. (photo from Akiva Gersh)
If you or someone you know is considering making aliyah, there is a book that offers a glimpse of the experience. Becoming Israeli: The Hysterical, Inspiring and Challenging Sides of Making Aliyah (Rimonim Press) is a compilation of blogs and essays written by 40 olim (immigrants), including the editor, Akiva Gersh.
“The book speaks about the various sides of aliyah, from the hysterical, to the challenging, to the frustrating, to the emotional,” Gersh told the Independent.
Gersh grew up in the New York area. He and his Philadelphia-born wife, Tamar, made aliyah about 13 years ago. As they were going through the process, Gersh wrote about it in a blog. When he realized others were doing the same thing, he was spurred to collect as much information as he could for publication in book form.
“I kept thinking, someone must have done this,” said Gersh. “People had written about their own aliyah experiences, but not a broad compilation of experiences … and that is what I wanted to do, what I wanted to share. I worked on it for about two years – finding the blogs, talking to the bloggers, telling them what I’m doing, and getting permission to use their posts in the book. And, after about two years doing all this compiling and editing, the book was born.”
In Becoming Israeli, said Gersh, there are the insights of (English-speaking) Jews who have made aliyah, as well as those who have been to Israel, but haven’t yet made the move. “In the book,” he said, “you can really sense the things they love about Israel. Above and beyond that, there is the general world … and much of that includes the Christian world who loves coming to Israel.”
The feedback has been good, especially from olim who have read the book and can relate to their fellow travelers. “They went, ‘Wow! Amazing!’” said Gersh. “Every page, they’re like, ‘This is my story!’ They’re laughing, they’re crying.
“I’ve read the book multiple times and I still laugh at the jokes and cry at the same emotional places,” he added. “It’s a really powerful book and I’ve had really positive feedback from olim who say ‘thank you’ and feel it is awesome … [and] exactly what they’ve been going through and experiencing.”
Gersh is a teacher by training and works in a private English-language school in Israel. He also connects with people using music, through a program he started in 2007 called The Holy Land Spirit.
As a musician and teacher, Gersh offers groups – mainly Christians – who visit Israel an evening program of music, prayer and spirituality from a Jewish perspective. “They love it,” he said. “We pray together, dance together, speak together.”
Gersh teaches at Alexander Muss High School, a study-abroad institution near Tel Aviv. There, kids from 45 different countries come to learn for a few weeks or up to a few months at a time, about Jewish history and Israel. They spend half their time in the classroom and half their time traveling around the country.
“So, it’s academic and hands on,” said Gersh. “It’s awesome. I’ve been there about 10 years now. The language of instruction is English and, for those who want to improve their Hebrew, there are opportunities.
“We have young Israelis who are fresh out of the army. And, for those who want the Hebrew experience, they can get it from them and also from being out and about in Israel.
“The kids are inspired, enlightened, pumped up about Israel,” he continued. “We’re not a religious program. We’re not a church denomination. We’re pluralistic. We have Jews on staff, but we don’t push Judaism. We just open up a space for kids to explore connections to Judaism.”
According to Gersh, many of the students are experiencing certain aspects of Judaism for the first time. This is something especially meaningful for him, he said, noting, “I had no connection to Israel growing up at all. I never thought about it, nor talked about it. It just wasn’t a thing in my community. I heard about it a couple times in Hebrew school, but it wasn’t on the radar at all. By the time I was done with high school, going into college, I was really done with anything Jewish…. In college, I began searching for something more cultural, meaningful, spiritual in my life.
“That journey, which was a three-year journey, took me to many different places, meeting different people, reading different books. At the end of the journey,” he said, “it brought me full circle to Judaism. But, I found a new side and a new expression of Judaism that I hadn’t seen before.”
Among the places Gersh traveled after college was West Africa, where he spent two months learning more about the drumming he studied in school.
“After traveling around there,” he said, “I went to Israel for the first time. I was about 22 years old at that point. I traveled around Israel for two months, backpacking and enjoying, taking a class here, a class there, doing a Shabbat and just really getting into it. After those two months, I realized I wanted to really explore my roots and see what Judaism was about. Still, at that point, I did not want to become religious.”
Eventually, Gersh did become religious. He spent some time in a yeshivah, both in Israel and in the United States, before making aliyah with his wife in 2004.
The foreword of Becoming Israeli was written by Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli author Gersh looks up to as a Jew, as someone who made aliyah and as a writer.
“We had a book launch at the beginning of the summer and we had a panel of me and a bunch of other bloggers from the book, and he was one of the panelists,” said Gersh. “It was amazing to have his voice and his perspective.”
Becoming Israeli is available on Amazon, and Gersh also has a website, becomingisraeli.com.
Shakshuka is a combination of flavours, aromas and colours that appeals to all our senses. (photo from Café FortyOne)
Choosing a dish that defines us gastronomically is an impossible task because Jewish cuisine comprises a long and varied history of aromas and flavours fused by our many journeys around the world. But, if we narrow our task to discussing a representative Israeli dish, then shakshuka might be it.
Although there are many variations, shakshuka is generally made with stewed tomatoes, spices and eggs. It is one of the foods most loved by Israelis and it is a dish that has been enjoyed by countless tourists to the country. It is said that its secrets were brought to Israel by Jewish immigrants from North Africa but, for me, it also has a taste of home. My parents used to prepare it to pamper us, using the recipe of my grandparents from Turkey and giving it an Argentine touch. And there is nothing like shakshuka as an example of how certain foods have traveled with us throughout our history and to the different countries in which we have settled.
Shakshuka means “a mixture.” It is a combination of flavours, aromas and colours that appeals to all our senses. In Israel, it is often eaten for breakfast, a bright and spicy way to start the day. But it is also an excellent dish for lunch or for a special brunch.
Like many great dishes, there are as many versions of shakshuka as there are cooks who have made it, and it can be found on café and restaurant menus throughout the world. Modern culinary interpretations enhance the basic dish with salsa, with all kinds of vegetables, including eggplant and kale, and with cheeses such as feta. Some even incorporate meat into the recipe, modifying it according to personal taste. Some variations replace the tomatoes entirely – for example, there is a version that replaces the tomato sauce with one of spinach and cream.
Although there are many ways to cook shakshuka, from the Mexican version called huevos rancheros to the Turkish menemen, my shakshuka cuts to the traditional. The recipe below will give you a lovely shakshuka, rich in flavour. Once you have mastered the basics, you can add your own touch by using other ingredients that you like. However, this dish has one must: it must be accompanied by pita, challah or one of your favourite breads. Why? Simply because the sauce is really delicious and you will not want to leave a drop of it in the pan.
But, enough talk. This recipe I’m sharing is special – it is the one my family uses and which has given us many beautiful memories. It makes enough for two people.
5 ripe large tomatoes 1 large chopped onion 1 red pepper 4 garlic cloves (if you find it too strong, remove the centre) 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 4 eggs touch of kosher sea salt 2 tbsp paprika pinch of cumin chopped parsley for decoration tomato paste or concentrated tomato (optional, for a stronger taste)
Pour the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until lightly softened, stirring occasionally. Add the red pepper and garlic, frying for a few minutes until they are soft and lightly browned.
Add chopped tomatoes, paprika, cumin and salt. Stir until all ingredients are well mixed, then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. The idea is for the tomatoes to become soft.
Once the tomatoes are cooked, stir and then make two holes with a spoon in the surface of the sauce. Break an egg into each one of the holes. Arrange the eggs and the surrounding sauce so that the egg whites are below the surface of the sauce.
Cover and let simmer for five to seven minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolk is still runny.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately in the pan it was cooked in, along with pita (or other bread), hummus and an Israeli salad.
Yamila Chikiarco-owns Café FortyOne with her husband, Daniel Presman.
יו”ר מועצת המנהלים של הג’ואיש פדריישן: “החלטות ממשלת ישראל פוגעות במרקם היחסים המיוחד בין הקהילות בקנדה לישראל”
“ההחלטות האחרונות שהתקבלו על ידי ממשלת ישראל פוגעות מאוד מרקם יחסים המיוחד שקיים בין הקהילות בקנדה לישראל”. דברים חמורים אלה נאמרים על ידי יו”ר מועצת המנהלים של הג’ואיש פדריישן של מטרו ונקובר, קרן ג’יימס. זאת, בתגובת להחלטות הממשלה על הקפאת מתווה הכותל שהיה אמור לאפשר להכשיר את החלקה הדרומית, שם יהיה ניתן לקיים תפילה שוויונית. וההחלטה בנושא חוק הגיור שקובע כי כל הגיורים יהיו רק במסגרת הרבות הראשית בישראל, וכן תהיה בחינה של כל הגיורים שכבר קיימים. משמעות הדבר שיהודים שמשתכיים לזרמים שונים ביהדות דבר שמאפיין את הרוב הגדול של יהדות התפוצה, יהדותם לא תהיה מוכרת על ידי ישראל. אם כן גל המחאות הקשות נגד החלטת הממשלה שהתחיל בקרב יהודי ארה”ב מתפשט גם לקנדה. יש לזכור שבקנדה יש כיום את הקהילת היהודים השלישית בגודלה בעולם, מחוץ לישראל.
ג’יימס (ילידת 1952) כיום היא אשת עסקים שגרה בוונקובר, ועבר נמנתה על נבחרת השחייה של קנדה לאולימפיאדת מינכן שערכה ב-1972, בה נרצחו תשעה ספורטאים ושני מאמנים של נבחרת ישראל על ידי טרוריסטים.
ג’יימס ביקרה בחודש שעבר בישראל כולל אצבע הגליל, במסגרת השותפות של שש קהילות יהודיות בקנדה (מוונקובר, אוטווה, קלגרי, אדמונטון, וויניפג והליפקס) עם האזור שבצפון. השותפות בין הקהילות לאצבע הגליל כוללת קצאת מיליוני שקלים לטובת מערכות החינוך והרפואה באזור, וכן פעילויות משותפות עם אחד עשר בתי ספר באזור, משלחות נוער ותורמים רבים. ג’יימס מזכירה שהקהילה היהודית בוונקובר מקיימת מערכת יחסים מיוחדת עם אצבע הגליל לאורך עשרים השנים האחרונות, שכוללת השקעות כספיות גדולות, על מנת לשפר את איכות החיים של התושבים המקומיים. “במהלך שנים אלו נבנה גשר חי בין שתי הקהילות, שכולל חברויות רבות של בני משפחה אחת גדולה, של עם אחד”.
ג’יימס מוסיפה: “כל זה עומד בניגוד מוחלט להחלטות ממשלת ישראל בנושא מרחב תפילה שיווני בכותל ובנושא חוק הגיור, שמעניק לרבנות שליטה על הגדרת מי הוא יהודי. ובכך מעמיד את הסטטוס של אלפי יהודים בסימן שאלה”. היא מדגישה כי החלטות הממשלה בסוגיות חשובות אלה פוגעות במשמעות התפיסה של מה זה להיות עם אחד, והממשלה שולחת מסר לרוב היהודים בצפון אמריקה כי היא איננה מכירה ביהדותם. “זה מעמיד את המשך תמיכתם של יהודי התפוצות בישראל במצב של סיכון משמעותי. ולכן המצב כרגע הוא חמור ביותר”.
לדברי ג’יימס היא משתייכת לאחד מבתי הכנסת הגדולים ביותר של ונקובר, בו גברים ונשים יושבים ומתפללים ביחד. וכן נשים חובשות כיפה וטלית אם כך הן חפצות. לא מעט גברים ונשים מבית כנסת זה עשו עלייה לישראל. סגנון תפילה זה המשותף לגברים ונשים הוא הנורמה המקובלת עבור מרבית היהודים החיים בצפון אמריקה. ג’יימס מסיימת בדברים אלה: “אני מאמינה כי הזהות המשותפת של כולנו כעם יהודי אחד, ללא קשר לזרם היהדות אליו כל אחד מאתנו בוחר להשתייך, גדולה ומשמעותית לגשר על כל שוני באשר הוא”.
יצויין כי הקונסולית הכללית של ישראל בקנדה, גלי ברעם, שלחה מברק למשרד החוץ בישראל כי קיבלה מסרים חריפים מבכירים בקהילות היהודיות בטורונטו וונקובר, שמזהירים כי שתי החלטות הממשלה יחמירו את הניכור כלפי ישראל, בקרב הדור הצעיר של יהודי קנדה. לדבריה אחד הרבנים בקנדה אמר לה כי סטודנטים יהודים אומרים שמה שישראל עושה זו אנטישמיות”.