Ziv Nevo Kulman, Israel’s consul general for Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, will be leaving Montreal at the end of November, to head the cultural diplomacy bureau of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem.
Kulman, who arrived in September 2014, had expected to remain in his current post until next summer, but this change represents a promotion for the 48-year-old career diplomat who has previously been responsible for cultural affairs at postings in Tokyo and Paris.
Exposing Quebecers to Israeli filmmakers, dancers and writers has been a significant part of Kulman’s work here, as has strengthening political and economic ties between Canada and Israel. He thinks that significant progress has been made on both fronts.
Philippe Couillard was the first Quebec premier to lead business and institutional representatives on a trade mission to Israel this past May.
“We were afraid that journalists might focus on politics, but they reported on Israel’s innovation, the things that Quebec and Israel can do together,” said Kulman. “Israel is seen as a normal country. That’s a very big achievement.”
Another major breakthrough was the launch of Air Transat’s direct flights between Montreal and Tel Aviv, its first Middle East destination, this June – a move that was later matched by Air Canada. Air Transat’s twice-weekly, non-stop service, which ended Oct. 30, will be increased to three flights a week next summer.
Kulman said that Air Transat had been reluctant to institute the route at first, but, as the Israeli government believed, it has proven popular, especially with non-Jewish Quebecers. That was helped by an unprecedented $2-million advertising campaign – in French – by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.
An interim consul general will replace Kulman until next summer, when a permanent envoy will fill the vacancy.
Kulman has told the Foreign Ministry that Israel must continue to maintain a consulate in Quebec, due to its unique language and culture. To cut costs, Israel has closed several missions around the world, including one in Philadelphia last year.
In his new job, he will impress upon his higher-ups the impact Israeli artists have had as goodwill ambassadors, as well as the effectiveness of bringing foreign journalists and event organizers to Israel.
He noted, for example, that the Batsheva Dance Company’s performances were seen by 3,000 at the Place des Arts this past year and another 1,000 in Quebec City.
He has also worked to spread the Israeli presence beyond Montreal, as much as his budget has allowed.
This included a visit to the Gaspésie for an international garden festival at the Jardins de Métis (Reford Garden), a historic site that’s visited by thousands of people each summer, to support the two Israeli-designed gardens there.
He also visited the Atlantic provinces on numerous occasions, including attending the opening of a Holocaust exhibit in Halifax in 2015 and marching in the Halifax Pride Parade last year.
Personally, Kulman said his understanding and admiration of the Diaspora has grown immensely while he’s been here. Like most Israelis, he said he never really knew what Jewish life was like in North America.
Early in his mandate, he attended the general assembly of Jewish federations in Washington, D.C. He said he was astonished by the thousands of participants from all walks of life who attended the event, and how dedicated and well organized they were.
“Israelis have tended to think of the Diaspora as a bunch of machers collecting money for Israel,” he said. “Until I was posted here, I did not really understand how the system works.”
The Montreal Jewish community, he believes, is unlike any other today – highly varied, but cohesive, especially when it comes to Israel.
“It’s so diverse, but what unites all is Israel. They may not agree with everything a certain government does, but still feel Israel is family; they feel at home there,” said Kulman, who was gobsmacked by the sight of 900 Montrealers on Federation CJA’s Mega Mission in May.
The Israeli-Diaspora relationship would be healthier if Israelis stopped thinking of themselves as the “poor cousins” looking for a handout from their rich relatives, he thinks.
OurCrowd, an international organization that encourages investment in Israeli startups and innovation, is a refreshing development, to his mind, and an approach that particularly appeals to younger Jews.
“Israel has changed. The standard of living there is higher than in many Jewish communities. There are business and employment opportunities. It no longer has to ask for favours. We can do business as equals,” he said.
Similarly, he thinks a pilot project conducted in Montreal and Los Angeles this year that brought young Jews, many of whom were not engaged with the community, to Kenya, to see Israel’s development work there, should be expanded.
Among the highlights of his tenure, Kulman regrets that he must include what was probably the most difficult moment of his life.
Two years ago, he had the duty of informing some parents that their son, a 21-year-old yeshiva student and off-duty soldier, had been stabbed to death by a terrorist in Jerusalem. They were visiting their other son, who lives in Montreal, at the time.
The tragic situation was complicated by the fact that the family is Orthodox and could not be told officially until after Shabbat. “That meant 7:13 precisely, because a minute later and someone else would be telling them,” he said.
Kulman went to the Côte-St-Luc home of the brother with a female Israeli doctor who was on a fellowship here, to break the news.
“Nobody prepares you for a situation like that,” Kulman said. The family could not fly to Israel the next day, or sit shiva, because it was the start of Sukkot.
Kulman will never forget the heart-gladdening sight of 500 community members gathering outside the home for a spontaneous candlelight vigil of sympathy. It only reinforced his appreciation of Jewish life here.