HALIFAX — While threats in Israel were on the minds of Atlantic Jewish Canadians, revitalizing small Jewish communities generated the most discussion at the 18th biennial convention of the Atlantic Jewish Council.
The weekend event, held Nov. 23 to 25, brought community leaders from across the region to Halifax for informational, educational and celebratory events.
In his presidential address, newly elected AJC head Michael Argand of Halifax stressed the need for more young people to be involved in regional and local activities.
“I promise you that in two years, you will all feel part of the community,” the 60-something businessman told younger attendees. “We can recapture that 25-45-year-old age group to a sense of Jewish involvement. But you must volunteer yourselves to be part of this growth.”
Argand was elected for a two-year term, succeeding Shulamith Medjuck, also of Halifax. Chosen to the executive were Haligonians Howard Conter as first vice-president, Howard Budovitch as second vice-president, Nana Shteinberg as treasurer, and Marilyn Kaufman, who hails from Fredericton, as secretary.
In a Sunday discussion group, a score of under-40 participants talked about creating non-synagogue based social and Jewish cultural events to draw in that demographic.
It was suggested that the community should find a “volunteer” volunteer co-ordinator to organize strong Jewish programs such as Shabbat dinners in private homes, while discovering the skills and interests of the younger demographic so programs of value can be offered to them.
It was also stressed that younger community members should become involved in the AJC’s executive structure in order to give continuity to its future.
Immigration is growing in the region – Halifax has attracted 70 new Jewish families since 2008 – and a session co-ordinated by mostly Israeli newcomers revealed that their main concerns are connecting children to the community, finding employment, and retaining their children’s Israeli culture by teaching Hebrew language skills (at Hebrew school) to newcomer children who are growing up as English-only speakers.
Also attending as speakers and panelists were Joel Lion, Israel’s consul general to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, Jewish National Fund of Canada CEO Josh Cooper, Jewish Federations of Canada–UIA chair Marc Gold and CEO Linda Kislowicz, and Jordan Kerbel, deputy director of communciations and advocacy training for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Kerbel headed a discussion about pro-Israel advocacy and overcoming antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment in the media. He suggested that local Jews engage their non-Jewish friends by spreading positive social media items.
“We also have to educate our own communities,” he said. “We have to understand the reasons that Israel deserves to be our own homeland and ramp up our education to those who don’t know. We must get to our friends in local media for more positive coverage and write letters to the editor to combat anti-Israel sentiment.”
He concluded, “Always speak positively about what Israel is. Never talk negatively.”
Lion, who earlier sat on a panel with Kerbel about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, carried the positive theme further.
“In 65 years, Israel has gone from nothing to everything. We mustn’t defend Israel. We have to celebrate it. Give the message ‘Look where we are. Look what we have given the world.’”
He said people should overcome the criticism of Israel as “an apartheid state” by coming to Israel and “seeing what’s really there. We have won the Middle East because we continue to exist, innovate, invent. The others dance on the blood of the dead.”
Community members Kathy Zilbert and Lloyd Newman, both of Halifax, and Harry Gorber, of Moncton, were recognized for their longtime commitments to their local communities and their contributions to Israel through organizational involvements.