TEL AVIV — The inaugural dragon boat race on the Sea of Galilee last May was such a success that Canadian organizers have raised their expectations for the upcoming sophomore event.
“Last year’s event  far exceeded our expectations,” Linda Kerzner, chair of the sponsorships committee, told The CJN during her recent visit to Israel. “We’re only going to build on the success of last year. Our goal is to have the same number of teams, but we plan on doubling spectators. Last year, we had 2,200 people at the event. This year  we expect to have 5,000 people.”
While the sport of dragon boating was considered foreign – and even peculiar – to the Israelis who took part last May, with news of a second festival came a swell of blue-and-white participants who wanted to take part.
The second annual Dragon Boat Israel festival is planned for May 9 and 10, 2013. The 20-team quota for Israeli teams is already filled. And 14 of 20 international squads set to attend the event are confirmed from Canada, Germany and the United States.
The winners of the Dragon Boat race in May 2012 [Photo courtesy of UJA Canada]
It was a Canadian dragon boat team that brought this traditional Chinese team sport to Israel. Based in Ottawa, the team members thought it would be fun to combine their love of dragon boat racing with their love of Israel. That gave birth to Dragon Boat Israel (DBI), a joint Canada-Israel initiative.
But the real reason Kerzner and Debbie Halton-Weiss, chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, were in Israel recently was to help the Israeli side of this festival with fundraising.
“We want a parallel steering committee,” Halton-Weiss says, explaining that an important part of dragon boating is fundraising.
Last May, the event raised $50,000 for two educational charities: Youth Futures, which provides disadvantaged youth with mentors, and Net@, which trains young people in high tech. This year, the goal is to raise $75,000 for the Bayit Cham (Warm Home) centre for children at risk and the Kav Hazinuk leadership training.
While the goal is to transition the event to be run by organizers in Israel, what Kerzner and Halton-Weiss didn’t know was that “benefit campaigns” are still pretty mysterious to Israelis.
“We’re helping to create a new model for philanthropy in Israel. People [in Israel] aren’t used to giving money to their friends to participate in a fundraising event. We’re getting a lot more support,” says Kerzner.
Kerzner and Halton-Weiss helped secure the event’s first corporate sponsor.
“We’re developing a model to help Israelis ask for money for these kinds of events,” says Halton-Weiss. “We didn’t realize this was a foreign phenomenon for them.”
In addition to setting up the infrastructure of the festival, the two Ottawa residents were also busy implementing projects that would use the dragon boats on a year-round basis. In the coming months, the boats will be used regularly by a group of blind paddlers and they’ll also be used for corporate team-building fun days.
“We’re focusing on developing dragon boating in Israel,” says Halton-Weiss. “We’re trying to make it a group activity.”
And though interest in these long colourful boats is only gaining momentum, there are no plans to purchase more boats just yet. However, there will be more to do this year on the grounds of the festival while participants and fans are waiting between races. Organizers are adding workshops in krav maga (a non-competitive martial art), yoga and wine tasting, as well as children’s activities, for the May 2013 event.
“It’s going to be a great festival,” Halton-Weiss says.