One of the guiding principles and strategies of UJA’s Israel Engagement Department is the cultivation of meaningful People to People Connections. People to People Connections encompass every relationship built between a ShinShin and a Torontonian during the ShinShin’s time in our community. Our research shows that the more times our community members interact with a ShinShin there’s a bigger impact of the People-to-People Connection. The interactions with a ShinShin leads to an increase in the knowledge about Israel, strengthens the connection and commitment to Israel.
One of our tactics to engage in People to People Connections, is through a program called “Sparks of Change”. Sparks of Change is a delegation comprised of Arab and Jewish Israeli teens who meet to explore dialogue and coexistence in contemporary Israel. Working closely with Sparks of Change and our partners in Toronto is a continuation of the path already established by the ShinShinim, DILLER and STEM programs. Sparks of Change is not a break from the model, rather it is a natural next step. Even more importantly, it represents a model for how Israel Engagement can continue to grow and provide innovative People to People Connections experiences for the Toronto Jewish Community.
Currently, our programs allow our community to directly experience Israel through the wonderful individuals that join us from Israel. However, one issue with our current paradigm is that even though Sparks of Change is comprised of a diverse group which have unique identities, it does not and cannot represent all of Israel. The current reality in Israel, which was articulately described by President Rivlin in 2015, is that Israeli first graders in 2015 were approximately one quarter Arab and one quarter Haredim. These two populations will most likely continue to grow, and potentially become one half of the overall Israeli population. While this raises challenges for Israel, it also raises an important question for us: What does it mean for Israel Engagement in Toronto if we focus our People-to-People Connections with half of Israel?
Sparks of Change provides a challenge to our existing programs, but it also offers an opportunity and a vision for the future. There are obvious constraints in creating People to People Connections with representatives of all of Israel. However, the Sparks of Change program prompts us to consider what is Israel, who is currently missing in our education model, and how do we bring more of the “real Israel” to Toronto. Through dialogue, consultation and contemplation we will continue to forge forward to create richer Israel Engagement opportunities and meaningful connections with Israel’s diverse population, especially with those that might challenge us.
Coordinator, ShinShinim Program