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Friday, December 26, 2014

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Israeli teen goes missing in Toronto

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TORONTO — 16-year-old boy from Eilat, Israel, in Toronto as part of a reciprocal visit to the Jewish community, left the group without permission and, on the eve of Passover, remained unaccounted for.

York Regional Police have been asked to investigate, and friends on his social network back home, as well as members of the Toronto Jewish community, are being asked to tell him to contact his family as soon as possible.

“At this point, we don’t know where he is,” said Tali Aronsky, a spokesperson for the Jewish Agency for Israel. “Our priority is to locate him and make sure he’s okay.”

The Ethiopian-born youth, Raphael, was in Toronto as part of the Diller Teen Fellows Program, a Jewish leadership initiative that includes a visit to an overseas Jewish community where the visitors meet and interact with other Diller Teen Fellows. It is run under the auspices of Jewish Agency, in partnership with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and other communities in North America and Israel.

Brian Keshen, UJA’s vice-president of community capacity building, said, “We are still looking to find him and have contact with him.”

The Israeli Consulate has been informed of the missing teen and they are spreading the word among expatriate Israelis that he is in Toronto on his own, said Keshen, who supervises the Diller program in Toronto.

According to Aronsky, prior to the group’s arrival in Toronto on March 14, the teen had asked for permission to leave the group and spend time with friends. He was told that this was “not an option,” Aronsky said.

Last Wednesday, while visiting the Vaughan Mills shopping centre in York Region with a couple of members of the group, the boy went to the washroom. “He gave them the slip” and disappeared with nothing more than his laptop and some cash, Aronsky said.

Mall security was informed, but a search did not turn up anything. York police were then contacted.

Aronsky said the teen later contacted organizers and his family in Israel to let them know he’d left the group but that he planned to make the flight back to Israel on Sunday. He did not.

Prior to his going missing, there was no indication he’d leave on his own. “He was bright and engaging, very involved in the workshops and discussions,” Aronsky said.

The teen “had been part of travel groups on behalf of the Eilat community before,” Keshen said. “He’d been recommended by his teachers and school.”

Jewish Agency staff is in contact with the youth’s parents, but as of Monday at noon, there was no indication his parents would file a missing person complaint.

The last word his parents received from their son was that he was with a friend in Toronto, Keshen said.

The youth left without his passport or luggage. “We want to make sure he’s safe and aware of the support that’s available,” Keshen added.

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