Former IDF soldier finds work in Toronto to learn about Israeli-Diaspora relations

Eyal Shmueli

Eyal Shmueli spent eight years serving in the IDF. He went through the naval academy, patrolled the borders with Lebanon and Gaza, and eventually oversaw a unit of six patrol ships in northern Israel. When his service ended, in March 2017, he was faced with the same challenge that countless others have confronted in the past: what should he do next?

“You serve your country for eight years and you devote everything in your life to the country. And then after eight years, it’s over and you basically ask yourself: What now? What is my mission? Do I just need to go and make money or make a living or just join a business?” he said.

“I was constantly looking for my next mission, the next thing that I can contribute to my people.”

The next thing, it turned out, was working for an organization called HaShomer HaChadash, which supports Israeli farmers. Many of them were struggling to stay in business after a rash of fires struck the country’s farms.

One day, Shmueli took an American man on a tour of the organization’s operations and the man was so impressed, he decided to donate two firetrucks. Shmueli was grateful, but he was also curious – why was this man from halfway around the world making a donation to this charity?

“It was the first time in my life that I realized that I’m a part of a bigger picture, that there are Jews all around the world that care about my country – even though they didn’t fight in the army or weren’t born there. They really care. And I was 26 or 27 at the time and it was my first time realizing that there is a bigger picture that I need to learn about,” he said.

“So at that moment I said, ‘OK, that’s my next mission. I want to get to know other communities outside of Israel and I want to explore this relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.’ ”

A few weeks later, Shmueli sent his resume to Keren Hayesod, a state-run non-profit that fundraises for the State of Israel, and inquired about opportunities to work in a Jewish community outside of Israel.

He eventually chose to go to Toronto, because it is very well-known in Israel as a “very Zionist community, very supportive of Israel and Jewish-identity driven,” he said. A three-week visit in August 2018 blew him away so much that he knew he had to make the move.

Before moving to Toronto, though, he went on a tour of the Toronto Jewish community’s projects in Israel, to have a better idea of the kind of support it provided. Once again, Shmueli was blown away. He shared a story of a civilian hospital in Eilat that the efforts of the Toronto Jewish community helped keep open, and how one of his soldiers had to be rushed there after being injured in an accident. Without that hospital, he could have lost his finger.

Shmueli moved to Canada with his wife and young son early in 2019, to work for three years at the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto as the manger of donor development and Israeli shaliach. At the beginning of the month, he was promoted to the position of director of major gifts and Israeli emissary.

“Every day I’m experiencing new things and I’m getting to know this community better, and I’m blown away because you’re not really exposed to these things in Israel,” he said. “These are things that, literally, Israelis don’t know about.”

For example, he sent a picture from the annual Walk With Israel to his friends back home and they thought it was taken in Tel Aviv. The image was a powerful message for him, as well.

“Seeing 30,000 people so far away from Israel supportive of the country that I fought for, that is something that is very significant for me,” he said.

“It feels that, that for the eight years that I really, really dedicated my life to the State of Israel, it feels that it was worth fighting for. And it wasn’t only for the citizens of Israel, it was for the entire Jewish people.”