Naftali Bennett did not become a practicing Orthodox Jew until he moved to Canada.
The new Israeli Prime Minister, who was born in Haifa to American immigrants, credits a Montreal Chabad preschool he attended for influencing a change in his family’s observance, which started after he came home one day wearing tzitzit and a yarmulke.
“We needed a kosher kitchen, because other children visited us at home,” Bennett’s father Jim told Haaretz in 2013. “We started with simple things, like lighting candles on Sabbath eve. One thing led to another, until we also started to attend synagogue and so on.”
Bennett’s family relocated to Montreal when he was a toddler as part of his father’s public relations job for the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. They remained in Montreal for two years before moving to New Jersey and eventually returning to Israel.
“I am eternally grateful to Chabad,” Bennett was quoted as saying in an Arutz Sheva article published in February. “Thanks to Chabad of Montreal, my father, of blessed memory, and my mother and all of us became connected to Judaism.”
Bennett’s government was formed from a coalition of eight parties from across the political spectrum. The unlikely marriage of parties enabled the unity government to topple Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which had held office since 2009.
As a rotation government, former Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid of centrist party Yesh Atid is poised to take over as Prime Minister in 2023.
Reactions of Canadian Leaders
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement on Sunday restating Canada’s position of friendship with Israel and his desire to build on existing economic ties while additionally reenforcing Canada’s position supporting a two-state solution. The new Israeli prime minister is openly opposed to a two-state solution and has been a vocal supporter of Israeli settlements and the annexation of the West Bank.
The statement came just three days after Trudeau welcomed former Green MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberal Party, a move which caused concern throughout the Jewish community.
Atwin made waves in May after posting multiple tweets with anti-Israel sentiment alleging human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
The Fredericton MP claimed in an interview with CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that she was the one approached by the Liberal Party. Her decision to cross the floor was partially caused by what she called “irreconcilable differences” regarding reactions to her tweets from within the Green Party.
Several other Canadian politicians were also quick to congratulate Bennett and the new coalition government. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and former prime minister Stephen Harper tweeted their support of Bennett’s victory on Sunday and thanked outgoing PM Netanyahu.
Progressive Jewish groups like JSpaceCanada stated they are wary of the new government due to violent statements Bennett made towards Arabs in the past but expressed hope for peace and healing and celebrated the diverse new government. For the first time, an independent Arab party is part of the national government.
Additionally, nine of the ministers are women.
Bennett himself brings several firsts to his position as prime minister. As he assumes office, he will become the first to be religiously observant.
He will also be the first to regularly wear a yarmulke—something which he started to do in Montreal.