Like many in our community, we are alarmed by rising political tensions in Israel and what it means for Israelis, as well as Jews worldwide. Today, we’re updating you on UJA’s approach to this serious challenge.
On the one hand, watching the news from Israel and seeing a nation whose citizens refuse to be apathetic—whatever their politics—brings a sense of pride. If grassroots engagement is a sign of healthy democracy, Israel has proven itself a beacon of democratic freedoms throughout this tumultuous year.
But when divisions run deep and the political temperature is dangerously heated, the very cohesion of a society is at risk. Polarization in Israel has spread beyond politics into the country’s institutions, communities, and even families. The shared story of what Israel means and aspires to be—which has united Israelis for generations—is increasingly being drowned out by voices that seem to be talking past one another.
We hope for and urge Israelis to come together in political compromise on judicial reform. Today, we have voiced this message directly to Israel’s government and opposition leadership, in an urgent appeal from the Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the world’s largest Jewish organizations.
But this debate has exposed deeper issues that are stretching the fabric of Israeli society. This includes a growing tendency in Israel, as in most democracies, for politics to revolve around fixed positions where the possibility of compromise is discounted. The ability for Jews to continue thriving, whether as Diaspora communities or as a Jewish state, will increasingly depend on our capacity to listen to and understand one another.
As a Toronto Jewish community that cares deeply about Israel, we have a responsibility to act. This begins by asking: how can we make a positive difference in a very difficult situation?
One approach is to add more volume to an already deafening debate. A much more constructive approach is to help Israelis rebuild their ability to lower the volume, hear one another, and work together with a renewed sense of shared purpose. This is what’s guiding UJA’s response.
Here are three ways we’re taking meaningful action:
1. Strengthening dialogue and unity in Israel. Along with our partner Federations in Montreal and Vancouver, we have come together through the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA to play a crucial Diaspora leadership role. Together, we are among the pioneering supporters of an urgently needed dialogue project under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog. The newly announced President’s Initiative will convene powerful sessions—at the leadership and grassroots levels alike—for Israelis to meet, listen, and recognize the shared humanity of one another despite differences.
The national scale of this ground-breaking project is bold, as it’s projected to reach several hundred thousand Israelis across social, political, and religious lines. The idea is to strengthen the capacity of Israelis to manage divisions in a way that allows for consensus-building and societal healing. We are grateful for President Herzog’s leadership and encourage you to read this piece in the Jerusalem Post.
2. Building social equality and opportunity in Israel. As we’ve shared previously, UJA’s funding for projects in Israel isn't directed to the Government of Israel, regardless of the party in office. Instead, our funding enables non-profits to build civil society and provide essential services to many of Israel’s most vulnerable residents, including in our partner communities of Sderot, Bat Yam, and Eilat/Eilot. At a time of political polarization, there is a risk of forgetting that there are many in Israeli society who remain in need, regardless of politics. By continuing to invest in those struggling at the margins of society, we will do our part to ensure every Israeli can be fully included in the promise of this extraordinary country.
3. Elevating dialogue within our Greater Toronto Jewish community. In recent months, UJA has brought together hundreds of Jewish community professionals, leaders, and community members for dialogue. Anchored in our shared love of Israel, these sessions have enabled those with diverse views to listen, share concerns, and emerge with greater mutual understanding. This has gone hand-in-hand with similar meetings we convened with Israeli ministers who have visited Toronto. UJA also recently hosted formal consultations for Canadian Jewish leaders to help shape the creation of Voice of the People, a new global forum developed through the President’s office to unite Jews to address our greatest challenges.
Throughout these conversations, we have encouraged participants to be completely candid and unfiltered, while remaining respectful with one another and with visiting Israeli representatives. This work will continue because, now more than ever, we must speak to each other and Israelis in a way that will open minds rather than close them. For more information on the latest developments in Israel, we invite you to join a special webinar hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday at noon.
Starting Wednesday night, the Jewish people will observe Tisha B’Av, the solemn fast day when we mourn the destruction of our Holy Temples. Tradition teaches us the timely lesson that it was baseless hatred between Jews that led to the destruction of the Second Temple and centuries of exile from the Land of Israel. We are much more vulnerable to external threats when we are internally torn apart.
Today of all days, we remember that, as Jews, our willingness to hear and humanize one another isn’t a matter of manners. It’s essential to our ability to survive and thrive—especially when it’s politically difficult to do so.
As we continue to closely watch events in Israel, we hope the coming days will bring Israelis together in consensus and enable the country to move forward and engage in a productive, ongoing dialogue. We wish all who are observing Tisha B’Av a meaningful fast.
Am Yisrael Chai,