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Comparing Jews living in Canada vs. Israel

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Prof. David Koffman responded to my last column by telling readers that no speaker at the York University symposium “No Better Home for the Jews … than Canada?” compared Canada to Israel (Letters, Nov. 30). However, Ron Csillag’s report about Canadian Jews in Israel in the Nov. 2 issue invites such comparison, for he wrote that, in the last 25 years, no more than 7,861 Canadians have moved to Israel. This suggests that, despite occasional anti-Semitic incidents here, Jews do indeed regard Canada as a better, perhaps the best, home for themselves.

The reason isn’t inadequate aliyah information, but the favourable conditions under which Jews live in Canada. Though Jews from around the world still make aliyah because they’re committed Zionists, the majority of immigrants nowadays seem to settle in Israel because of unfavourable conditions in the Diaspora. Thus, the recent influx from France has more to do with the growth of anti-Semitism there than with the pull of Israel.

But Jews who feel uncomfortable in France may also seek refuge in Quebec. For them, too, Canada may seem to be the best home. And here they won’t even need to learn a new language or adapt to an unfamiliar culture.

Csillag seems to have found it difficult to identify contemporary Israelis of Canadian origin who’ve come to play significant parts in Israeli society. The few he mentions aren’t exactly household names. It seems that, nowadays, perhaps most Israelis with Canadian roots are there because their children came many years ago as Zionists and now they have joined them in retirement.

On the other hand, the number of Israelis who now live in Canada is considerable. Though I’m not aware of official statistics, the impression is that they’re many times the number of Canadians in Israel. You are much more conscious of an Israeli presence in Toronto than of a Canadian presence in Tel Aviv.

READ: A WAKE-UP CALL FOR YOUNG, POST-HOLOCAUST CANADIAN JEWS

Some Israeli citizens may have moved to Canada from the former Soviet Union via Israel, but most of those who immigrated here were probably born and educated in Israel. The observant among them would have joined local congregations that reflect their religious needs. The majority of them, however, seem to have distanced themselves from the organized community, despite apparent efforts by Jewish federations to integrate newcomers.

By all accounts, there are also many Israelis who have spent time in Canada, perhaps doing postgraduate work in medicine and other fields, and then returned home. As Israel seems to be blessed with more academics than teaching and research positions, some have benefited from time spent in Canada temporarily. Others have settled here for good.
Occasionally, Israelis visit Canada as guest teachers. One of the most prominent among them is former president of the Israeli Supreme Court Aharon Barak. He would lecture regularly at the University of Toronto law school, usually in connection with visits to American universities. Other distinguished Israelis come to speak in synagogues or address conferences. It was my honour to introduce a number of them to members of Holy Blossom Temple when I served as its rabbi.

The great foreign influence on Israel – alas, even on the Hebrew language – is the United States. But Israelis appear also to think highly of Canada and Canadian Jewry. They may even know of some Canadian Jews. Names like Bronfman and Koffler are familiar to many. Arguably the best known Canadian in Israel is Prof. Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal minister of justice and a human rights advocate with an international reputation. He’s often in Israel, and I’ve heard him address audiences in Hebrew.

Most Canadian Jews may indeed be committed to Israel, and many profess to have strong ties to the country, yet they seem to prefer Canada as their permanent home. They choose to show their support in other ways than as citizens of the Jewish state.