Engaging The Israeli Diaspora: Toronto as a Case Study

Drawing upon the case of Toronto, this report identifies opportunities and challenges in the relationship between Israelis abroad and local Jewish communities, and offers guidelines for meeting them.

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In recent years, the growth of the Israeli diaspora has garnered the attention of and challenged the State of Israel and Jewish world.

This document on this issue, is a result of a strategic partnership between the Reut Institute and the Toronto Federation. The Toronto Federation became the leading Jewish organization seeking to engage the Israeli diaspora.

The change of approach of Jewish organizations towards the Israeli diaspora is a result of increasing understanding that the strength of Jewish communities depends on their ability to meet the needs of the changing demographics.

Jewish communities today have had only partial success in doing that. The approximately 50,000 Israelis (about one-quarter of Toronto's Jewish community), do not "mix" with the greater Jewish community despite living side-by-side along Bathurst street. This is partly because the mainstream Jewish community sees in the Israelis both a burden and an ideological liability while most Israeli-Canadians perceive the connection with the Jewish community as irrelevant. In place of integration, Israelis established a de-facto "Little Israel" around the City of Vaughn, where Israelis socialize in Hebrew.

Unfortunately, however, "Little Israel" fails to produce another generation of Israeli Sabras. Instead, "Little Israel" brings about a 2nd and 3rd generation Israelis who are moving away from their parents' Israeli national identity and toward the all-Canadian national identity-skipping over their inherent Jewish identity.

In response to this challenge, we at Reut call for Israeli leaders and Jewish communal organizations to strive to facilitate the integration of 2nd and 3rd generation Israelis into the Jewish community, acknowledging that the gap between 1st generation Israelis and the Jewish community is currently too wide to close. We seek to challenge the concept of "Little Israel" by investing in projects that are "hybrid", namely, maintaining a strong Israeli dimension, but also a robust connection to Jewish community and heritage.

Reut outlines four criteria for said projects. These include vision-driven "hybrid" leadership, meaningful engagement with the Jewish community, Jewish education and Hebrew and a connection to Israel. Implementing these into platforms and programs is essential for success.

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