TORONTO — A dozen independent Israeli groups that met in Toronto recently became part of a single organization by joining the Israeli Forum.
The forum, formed three years ago, is supported by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and now has 4,000 members. Ehud Telem, a forum board member, said he expects the numbers to double in the next two years.
The Israeli Forum was created to organize the Israeli community in Toronto of about 50,000, Telem said.
The majority of Israelis who now live in Toronto moved to the city in the past decade. “The Jewish community cannot ignore such a huge number of Jews,” he said. Israelis make up about one-quarter of the city’s Jewish population.
The founding members of the forum believed that many Israelis were falling through the cracks in the Jewish community because they didn’t know what services were available to them.
“The nature of Israelis in general is that they are very secular,” Telem said. “[But] just because they are secular doesn’t mean they don’t want their kids to get a good Jewish education. We also realized that if Israelis are not brought into the established community, we would have a big problem of intermarriage.”
The Israeli supplementary school Kachol Lavan, established by the forum, now has 180 students. A summer camp by the same name, operating out of the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre, was also created for Israeli-Canadian children.
The chairman of the Israeli Forum, Gil Blutrich, who helped bring about the Israeli groups’ unification, said the merger is one of the first serious attempts to integrate Israeli immigrants into a Jewish community.
Through the forum, a business group called the Canada-Israel Chamber of Commerce, whose goal is foster interaction between Canadian and Israeli corporations, was formed.
“Hamifgash (Hebrew for “meeting”) – the group’s cultural wing – has organized several activities, including Yom Ha’aztmaut celebrations and an event honouring the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. There have also been film screenings and a Purim carnival, and there is a Hebrew book club. Some events have been presented in conjunction with the Schwartz/Reisman Centre, which will be part of the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan. The forum hopes to build an Israeli heritage centre on the Lebovic Jewish Campus.
In the first week of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, several hundred people affiliated with the Israeli Forum gathered at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto and raised $160,000 in emergency funds for Israel.
Blutrich said that federation president Ted Sokolsky made an important gesture in January 2006 when he met with 30 Israeli businessmen to discuss building the coalition.
Galya Sarner, the UJA’s Israeli-community project leader, said: “[The group is a] great move in engaging the Israeli community and bringing them closer to the Jewish community.”
David Zaltzman, secretary of the forum, noted that a survey published in 2004, commissioned by federation, outlined how the Israeli community is in conflict with the mainstream Jewish community. The coalition should minimize this conflict, he said.
“We now have a unified group that can help Israelis better understand one another, and have the established Jewish community understand the Israeli community.”
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