Prior to his departure as Israel’s consul general in Toronto, DJ Schneeweiss thought it would be a good idea to celebrate Israel’s 68th birthday by feeding hungry schoolchildren, rather than diplomats, dignitaries and community leaders.
It had been a tradition for the consulate to host a reception each year as part of the country’s Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) celebrations in May. This year, however, the meals will be enjoyed by children at four York Region public schools.
On Sept. 30, the consulate presented a cheque for $6,800 to the York Region District School Board to fund 6,800 school breakfasts. The gesture was meant to demonstrate the diplomatic mission’s gratitude at being welcome guests in Canada and at the same time, to give something back to the community, said Consul General Galit Baram, who took over from Schneeweiss in August.
Israeli diplomatic missions around the world, along with those of other countries, sponsor events like this to demonstrate the close ties to the local community. In some cases, where the need is great, it is an expression of tikkun olam (repairing the world). That’s not necessarily the case in a country like Canada, Baram said.
“It’s more of a token of our appreciation and an expression of the friendly relations between the two countries,” she said.
As a teacher’s daughter, Baram said it is especially gratifying for her to participate in a program that helps students. “It’s fun to work with young kids, schools and teachers,” she said.
To mark the donation, Baram joined Jay Brodbar, national executive director of Mazon Canada, and representatives of Food for Learning/York Region District School Board, as well as parent volunteers, consulate staff and local politicians to prepare and serve breakfasts at Thornlea Secondary School.
Youngsters at Thornlea enjoyed a breakfast of french toast, yogurt, carrots, apples and bananas during the consulate’s presentation on Sept. 30.
Mazon Canada, whose mandate is to address hunger in the Jewish and broader communities, facilitated the link to the recipient school board after being approached by Schneeweiss.
The project “is a gesture on the part of the consulate and Mazon to say we as Jews care about all vulnerable Canadians and we want to do something that comes out of our tradition,” Brodbar said. “We want to share our good fortune with the less fortunate.”
“The key thing we should not lose sight of is that there’s hunger and malnutrition in the community and the consulate is trying to do something about it,” Brodbar added.
Patti O’Sullivan, community resource facilitator for York Region District School Board, said the consulate’s donation will fund 6,800 one-dollar meals that include a fruit or vegetable, a grain product and a milk product.
In some situations, parents are unable to provide breakfasts to their children, while in other cases, teenagers come to school without eating breakfast. Research shows that providing morning meals boosts students’ attention span, increases their attendance and leaves them better prepared for the school day, O’Sullivan said.
In addition to Thornlea Secondary, Vaughan Secondary School, Stephen Lewis Secondary School and Maple High School will benefit from the consulate’s contribution.
O’Sullivan believes the Israeli Consulate is the first diplomatic mission to participate in the region’s school meal program.
For a small country like Israel, with few natural resources, “our strength is in our brains – education,” Baram said.
“We believe that fit, healthy students study better. If we wanted to fund a worthy cause in Canada [it would be] the education of young people,” she added.