Israeli MKs tour Toronto to strengthen ties to Diaspora

Robert Ilatov
MK Robert Ilatov

A group of Israeli members of Knesset from across the political spectrum were in Toronto this week as part of a seven-day North American tour that highlighted the importance of strengthening Israel’s relationship to Diaspora Jewry.

Organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel, the five MKs, all of whom are members of the Knesset’s Caucus For Strengthening the Jewish People – which advocates for legislation that benefits Israeli and Diaspora Jews alike – spent their time in Toronto meeting with community and religious leaders, local politicians, and young Jews.

“The Jewish Agency for Israel plays the role of connecting global Jewry with Israeli Jews and one of the many initiatives they are involved in, is ensuring that members of Knesset have an understanding of Diaspora Jewry,” explained Adam Minsky, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s president and CEO.

“When issues come to the Knesset floor that have implications for global Jewry, they’ll have an understanding of what those implications are, so that they can think about the Jewish People in addition to their concern for Israelis.”

MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu), Nechama Shai (Labor/Zionist Camp), Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu), and Mickey Levi (Yesh Atid), who were in Toronto from Sept. 6 to 7, met with various Jewish community leaders and members to help give them a well-rounded picture of how Toronto’s Jewish community operates and how it connects to Israel.

“They spent time meeting with rabbis from each of the major denominations… They went to Robbins Hebrew Academy and saw how Robbins has integrated, through their work with federation, Israeli science, technology, engineering and math programming into their schools, and they met with teachers who have gone to Israel to be part of a joint Israeli-Canadian effort to enhance our science teaching in the schools and make a connection to Israel,” Minsky said.

The MKs also met with local Jewish politicians, including Thornhill Conservative MPP Gila Martow and Toronto City Councillor James Pasternak, as well as leaders from Jewish social service agencies to learn how the Jewish community responds to issues such as poverty, and they toured some of the GTA’s Jewish infrastructure, including the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan.

“They met with shinshinim – young Israelis who have dedicated a year of service to the community… who reflected on a year of volunteer service in Toronto, on the similarities and differences between their communities in Israel and here, and… how their time in Toronto has changed their identity as Jews. That really influenced the MKs,” Minsky said.

Ilatov said his time in Toronto was eye-opening.

“It was a very interesting experience and I learned a lot about the Jewish community in Toronto, how federation works, how you solve problems in the community and how deeply you love Israel,” Ilatov said.

“In Israel, we have our own problems, and it was interesting to see how the Jews see Israel out of Israel, in the Diaspora.”

He said although it wasn’t his first visit to Toronto, it was the first time he had the opportunity to see the Jewish community through the lens of federation.

“This was the first time I had a deep experience… and an explanation about how you live, how you work, what you do, your community centres. It was the first time I saw your life up close.”

Overall, Ilatov said the main message was one of unity and mutual respect.

“We are one nation and we have to see how easily we can help and solve problems in Israel. We have many parties and many groups in Israel… we have to learn and explain to each other how we can live together,” Ilatov said.

Minsky said in addition to learning about how Toronto’s community operates, the MKs gained an appreciation of Toronto Jews’ connection to Israel.

“The different experiences they had here reinforced how important it is that we are united as Jews and that together we can strengthen each other. That idea of reciprocity is really something that evolved out of the collective experience.”