Since the start of this year, Israel’s new government repeatedly set off confusion and alarm bells in Jewish communities across Canada. Extremists in government advanced policies aimed at removing the checks and balances on their power, as well as encouraged violence against protestors, Palestinians, and others.
As we revealed in our JSpace-NIFC opinion survey, the vast majority of Jews in Canada oppose these policies despite months of silence from establishment institutions.
In this vacuum, synagogues, youth groups, and communal leaders have been turning to us for help educating their constituents about the government’s plan, why Israelis are protesting in such numbers, and what they can do to help. I’m proud to say that we are responding to a demand in our educational efforts that we’ve never encountered before.
In February, hundreds of Canadians joined our cross-country emergency speaking tour featuring religious freedom activist Lihi Shmuely of our funded partner Israel Hofsheet. We spoke at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal, Temple Israel in Ottawa, the First Narayever Congregation in Toronto, and Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver.
During this tour, we were thankful also to meet with the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and Member of Parliament Ya’ara Saks.
Great speaking with Lihi Shmuely of Israel Hofsheet ישראל חופשית to hear developments to continue to protect & advocate for religious minorities &the LGBTQ2S community & how we can ensure our shared values in 🇨🇦🇮🇱 for diversity&inclusivity continue to be part of the conversation. pic.twitter.com/O8AXdU5Jp4
— Ya’ara Saks יערה זקס (@YaaraSaks) February 28, 2023
Great to meet with @benmurane from @nifcan today @JewishVancouver to discuss their work in #Israel today especially during these days. Hearing from diverse voices is important now and always. Thank you to my friend @DavidJBerson for joining the conversation. pic.twitter.com/KzfS5iuP0C
— Ezra S. Shanken (@eshanken) February 28, 2023
Since then, we’ve been presenting weekly in-person and virtually across the continent about our work helping Israeli’s defending democracy and pushing back against extremism. We proudly accepted invitations by Temple Beth Ora in Edmonton, Temple Sholom in Vancouver, Shir Libeynu in Toronto, and Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.
(Missed our event at Holy Blossom with Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer and the Toronto Star’s Martin Regg Cohn? Watch the recording here.)
I’m proud also that representatives from NIFC have regularly addressed the weekly Sunday protests in Nathan Phillips Square organized by UnXeptable Toronto, including myself, two of our New Gen leaders, and our Advisory Council members Prof. Sylvia Bashevkin and former Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen.
Thank you to @benmurane from @nifcan for coming to speak! Showing up, speaking out, and standing in opposition to oppressive and regressive government is our right and responsibility. pic.twitter.com/CmMpzsYOOV
— Unxeptable Toronto (@UnxeptableTo) April 17, 2023
Personally, the most moving events were two workshops called “When Is It Okay to Criticize Israel?” that I led for teens and parents with Hashomer Hatzair Canada and again for Limmud Toronto. Putting aside my “advocacy” hat, these workshops delved into attendee’s diverse and highly personal reasons for when they decide to speak up — or to silence themselves — about events in Israel.
Afterwards, I especially bonded with parents of Hashomer students who spoke with me about their desire to raise their children as Canadians who feel connected to Israel, but never shy away from being involved in the fight for democracy and human rights from here at home. As a parent of little children, this weighs on my mind too.
All of this work demonstrates that Canadian Jewry is eager to learn about difficult issues in Israel. Canadian Jewry wants to understand and to take action. Leading that education and inspiring action is one of NIFC’s most important roles — and I’m so proud of the work we’ve done these past three months.
P.S. Missed an event and want to watch the recording? You can find our archive of past events right here.