What's Happening in Israel and What It Means for Us

We’ve been reflecting on recent Israeli political developments and the implications for our Greater Toronto Jewish community. Today, we’re writing to share a few thoughts and update you on UJA’s approach to this evolving story.

Importantly, we want to challenge our entire community to dig deeper and draw closer—to Israelis and to one another—because we all have a stake in this conversation.

"Israel has to be the most analyzed yet least understood country in the world."

Former NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher saw firsthand that intense media scrutiny may offer information, but it doesn’t always offer a real understanding of the lives of Israelis. We all know that news headlines fail to show Israel as it really is, to describe what daily life looks like for Israelis. This is a time to deepen our understanding of events in Israeli politics and society.

It means going beyond the headlines and into the details. Replacing instant conclusions with curious questions and nuance. Reading thought-pieces from different parts of the Zionist spectrum. And listening to those with whom we disagree—even if we still disagree after.

Jews have always defied history. As a people of ideas and dialogue, we must resist the current polarization and vitriol that’s shaping political debate around the world. While there are many great sources out there, one helpful starting point is this resource guide from Jewish Federations of North America.

“The only pressure Israelis can’t resist is an embrace.”

To paraphrase Michael Oren, the noted historian who also served as an Israeli ambassador and Member of Knesset (Parliament), Israel’s relations with its friends around the world reveal a key truth. We listen to those whom we know truly care about us.

As Canadian Jews, our connection to Israel is more than the affection of friends. It’s the love of family and the linked destiny of one people. We have something to say to Israelis about how policy choices affect that shared future. For UJA, how we convey that message is guided by a clear goal: to speak in a way that will be heard and engage in a way that advances Jewish unity, rather than division.

This is why we advocate to Israeli officials—directly, candidly, and responsibly—together with the largest, most representative organizations in the Jewish world locally, nationally, and globally. This includes our partner Federations across Canada through the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Jewish Agency, each of which are in ongoing dialogue with Israelis.

Among the issues being raised are the need to maintain the status quo on recognition of conversions as well as the Law of Return, which grants Aliyah (immigration) rights to people with at least one Jewish grandparent.

But engagement isn’t just about dialogue. It’s about contributing to Israeli society in ways that reflect our aspirations. Israel is home to a civil society that is among the world’s most active and influential. Every day, countless Israelis roll up their sleeves—in quiet but powerful ways—to make the country a better home for all.

That vision is very much at the heart of UJA’s approach to funding projects in Israel. We don’t invest in the Israeli government, whatever the political stripe—be it Right, Left, or anywhere in between. We invest in the Israeli people and their dynamic society.

Our funded programs focus on vulnerable individuals and communities. This includes the life-saving work of the Jewish Agency to absorb 50,000 refugees making Aliyah following the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the mental health work of the Sderot Resilience Center for terror victims. 

We also invest in non-profits that make Israel a stronger and more unified society. Support for the Jewish Agency and Reut promotes efforts to bolster Diaspora consultation in Israel’s parliament. Investments in organizations fostering collaboration between diverse leaders—be they Jewish or Arab, secular or religious—strengthen social cohesion.

This work is vital to Israel’s future, and to our own relationship with Israel as part of the Diaspora. This is a time to engage, not disengage, from Israeli civil society.

“We…hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. …it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…”

These words from Israel’s Declaration of Independence remind us that, from day one, our national homecoming has embodied two essential ideas: a Jewish and democratic state. The liberation of the Jewish people in our ancestral land—the most important project of world Jewry in modern history—is both about Jewish self-determination and the democratic values that we bring to life in our national freedom.

Issues come and go. Political pendulums swing Right and Left. In the past week alone, the rollercoaster of Israeli politics has taken unexpected turns. For those who have been fortunate enough to travel to Israel, we have inevitably heard that we have arrived in Israel at the most interesting and important time in Israeli history. It feels like this is often the case, which suggests that the Israeli story is never really over and is continually unfolding. Uncertainty and dramatic change are inherent to life in Israel.

But what should never change is our united dedication to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and to the people of Israel. Support for that vision, penned 75 years ago by a group of brave Jews, must always be a defining feature of our Toronto Jewish community, of the Diaspora worldwide, and of our extended Jewish family in Israel.

Let it be our guide as we deepen the conversation—with each other and with the people of Israel—in the days ahead.

Am Yisrael Chai,

Jeff Rosenthal

Chair of the Board

Adam Minsky

President & CEO