TORONTO — A new study by the Reut Institute, an Israeli think-tank, focuses on how Israeli-Canadians in the Toronto area are integrating with their Jewish North American peers and vice versa.
The case study, Engaging the Israeli Diaspora: Toronto as a Case Study, explores the challenges faced by what the institute terms “North America Jewish Sabras” and how to overcome them.
According to the study, the growth of the Israeli diaspora “has garnered the attention of and challenged the State of Israel and the Jewish world.”
It estimates some 800,000 Israelis are currently “building a communal life abroad,” which in turn is “shaking the Jewish boat” in many of the traditional North American Jewish communities.
Eran Shayshon, the institute’s director of policy and strategy, told The CJN the study – which saw Reut Institute staff studying the Toronto community since 2011 and engaging with numerous community organizations, primarily with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto – was sparked by the growing phenomenon of Israelis leaving their homeland to live abroad.
“We decided to take Toronto as a case study, primarily because the local federation has been providing a global leadership role on this issue, by investing resources in order to engage Israelis in the Greater Toronto area,” he wrote in an email.
Shayshon said that an estimated 50,000 Israelis now comprise nearly one-quarter of the city’s Jewish community, and most live side-by-side in the traditional Jewish community along Bathurst Street. But the two communities “don’t mix.”
The study underlines some wide chasms between the two communities, some of which, he believes, cannot be bridged.
“The mainstream Jewish community sees the Israelis both as a burden and an ideological liability. On the other hand, most Israeli–Canadians perceive the connection with the Jewish community as not relevant,” Shayshon said. “Instead, Israelis established a de-facto ‘Little Israel’ around [the town of] Vaughan, where Israelis can socialize in Hebrew.
“The problem is that ‘Little Israel’ is evidently not producing another generation of sabras, and also lacks resilience in the absence of a significant connection to Jewish culture and heritage, which characterizes many secular Israelis. Thus, second and third generation Israelis are moving away from their parents’ Israeli national identity towards the all-Canadian national identity, skipping over their inherent Jewish identity.”
He added: “We thus call for Israeli leaders and Jewish communal organizations to work to facilitate the integration of second and third generation Israelis into the Jewish community, acknowledging that the gap between first generation Israelis and the Jewish community is currently too wide to close. The goal should be on challenging the concept of ‘Little Israel’ by investing in projects that are “hybrid”, namely, maintaining a strong Israeli dimension, but also a robust connection to the Jewish community and heritage.”
The report, due out this week, outlines four criteria relationship-building projects: vision-driven “hybrid” leadership, meaningful engagement with the Jewish community, Jewish education and Hebrew and connection to Israel.
“Implementing these into platforms and programs is essential for success,” Shayshon said.