Dvora Blum and Karin Amit had more on their minds than just the Israeli academic centre where they both work when they were in Canada recently.
They also wanted to study similarities between the two countries in terms of identity.
Part of their purpose was indeed to raise the profile in Canada and within the Jewish community of the Ruppin Academic Center (www.ruppin.ac.il), a unique Israeli college with both “green” and social agendas.
First on the agenda at Ruppin, which has 4,200 students and is situated in the Sharon region, is to seek ways to exploit the sea as an essential tool for Israel’s economic development.
But the second has a more particular resonance in Canada.
In 2007, Ruppin became Israel’s first and only institution to put into place a master’s degree program in immigration and social integration, a field with special significance in Israel as well as in Quebec and the rest of Canada.
In that context, Ruppin collaborates on a continuing basis with the ACS.
“The issue of identity in Israel, the extent to which immigrants grow to feel attached to Israel – Canada has the same parallel issues,” said Amit, academic committee co-ordinator at Ruppin’s Institute for Immigration & Social Integration that houses the MA program.
“We study immigrants from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, and ask how being an immigrant to Israel affects their feelings of identity as Jews, as Israelis.”
Blum, the Institute’s director for the last two years, noted a distinction between Jewish immigrants who come to Israel under the Law of Return and automatically become citizens, and others who undergo conventional immigration processes known in Israel as the Law of Entrance.
The issues that are potential areas for research and study at the institute seem infinite, but some have, especially of late, become especially topical in Israel, Blum and Amit said. They include the experiences of “asylum-seekers” from Sudan, for example, or the subjects of human trafficking, as well as foreign workers who come into Israel.
There are also the more conventional issues, including immigrant identity, diversity, adaptation, absorption and integration.
Even the topic of “multiculturalism,” a term all Canadians have grown up with since the mid-1980s, is a subject of increasing research at Ruppin, since Israel has so many cultures it has to interact with.
“We have started to work with the JDC [Joint Distribution Committee],” Blum said, and with Israeli ministries to see through research how “cultural sensitivity” might be increased in the general population.
“I think Israel has a lot to learn from the Canadian experience in this regard,” Amit said.
Jedwab said he learned something “profoundly important” in his dealing with Ruppin and through attendance at conferences: that identity is a “global” issue and not one restricted to one’s immediate surroundings.
Before coming to Montreal, Blum and Amit were in Ottawa with Jedwab for ACS and Carleton University’s 15th National Metropolis Conference, which this year was chaired by Jedwab and focused on the theme of “Building an Integrated Society.”
Metropolis is described as “the world’s largest network of researchers, government officials, international organizations and civil society organizations in the field of migration and population diversity.” Its goal is to have an influence in policy-making.
In Montreal, Blum and Amit met with Jewish community figures and delivered talks at Concordia University and at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).
ACS and Ruppin will stage their annual Canada-Israel Forum at the centre in Israel in May, focusing on the theme of “Migration, Globalization and Racial Discrimination,
“Issues of racism in both Canada and Israel are generally viewed by the majority as priorities,” a press release for the forum states. “But debates around national identity and citizenship are often influenced by the fear of the ‘other’ and the issue of direct and indirect forms of racism need increasing attention.”
As part of their own research for Ruppin, Blum and Amit have travelled to other countries including South Africa and Japan, to glean from their experiences.
Japan has its own “law of return,” Blum noted, but unlike Israel, it has a virtually homogeneous population.