UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Israeli-Canadian project director Galya Sarner believes there is nothing that brings people closer than arts and culture.
Sarner is a promoter of the four-year-old Mifgash Theatre, which is presenting a play by the late Israeli playwright Moshe Shamir called He Walked Through the Fields. She hopes this production will build on the efforts to connect Israeli immigrants to the Toronto Jewish community.
The Mifgash Theatre, Toronto’s only Hebrew-language theatre company, was established in 2008 as part of a larger initiative to reach out to the growing Israeli-Canadian community, many of whom felt disconnected from the larger Jewish community.
Sarner, who referred to the community theatre project as “one of her babies,” said that presenting Israeli culture to Torontonians is a dream come true.
“My philosophy is that there is nothing better than bringing people together through art and culture,” she said, adding that she studied theatre when she was in university.
“There are a lot of talented people in our Israeli community and we have professional actors and actresses, as well as volunteers, and that is the beauty of it.”
She added that while the play is presented in Hebrew, there are English subtitles for members of the community who don’t speak the language.
Adding a personal touch to the upcoming production is the fact that the play is directed by Yael Feingold, daughter of the late Shamir, who, in addition to being a writer, was also a former Knesset member.
“I think it’s going to be very special because it was and still is one of the most successful plays in Israel, but it actually reflects in many ways our own Israeli Jewish identity,” Sarner said.
The play, which runs from May 20 to 24 at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, is about a young sabra, a native Israeli, who falls in love with a Polish Holocaust survivor on the eve of the War of Independence. He becomes torn between staying with his family and fighting in the Palmach.
Ran Mesterman, who wears many hats for federation, serves as the chair of the Israeli Forum Committee and was federation’s first Israeli member of the board of directors.
He said he’s proud of what the Mifgash Theatre has achieved.
“I think the [Mifgash Theatre] has done tremendously good, and I was amazed to see the amount of people who are joining the program – not only the people who are coming to see the show, but the people who are volunteering to be a part of the show,” Mesterman said, adding that all of the past shows had sold out.
“It’s really amazing to see how much it is necessary.”
He said that although many of the Israeli division of federation’s initiatives have been successful, he feels there is potential to reach out to many more Israelis.
“We found two major arenas in the Israeli community [that have succeeded]. The first and most important one is education and the second is culture,” he said.
Through initiatives such as Kachol Lavan, a supplementary school for children from junior kindergarten to Grade 8, as well as the Mifgash Theatre, which is part of the Hamifgash program at the Schwartz/Reisman Centre, many Israelis have become involved with the Jewish community, Mesterman said.
“The Israeli community is special in a way that they form many small groups, and they feel they don’t need other parties… They don’t necessarily understand that the federation is giving the actual infrastructure for it to be successful.”
As for the future of federation’s Israeli division, which represents 50,000 to 60,000 Israelis living in the Toronto area, Sarner said the community seems to be getting younger.
“I think more and more young adults are moving to Toronto – I would say young professionals around 27, 28. They’re looking for a better future, they’re looking for job opportunities, social opportunities, and we cannot ignore this fact.”
Mesterman said now that the educational and cultural approaches have proven to be successful, he has ambitions to work on the business side and to engage Israelis who want to network.
“I’m trying to find people who want to take the initiative to reach out to Israeli people and to get the message out that… we want them to become part of the infrastructure that we’ve built over the past few years. It’s taken us a lot of time and we’ve worked very hard for that,” Mesterman added.
For more information about He Walked Through the Fields, call 416-635-2883, ext. 5316. Tickets are $25.