In May we celebrated Israel’s Independence Day, as well as 70 years of excellent bilateral relations between Canada and Israel. When thinking about foreign relations, the tendency is to see different countries as monolithic entities and such relations as a rigid system of national interests and international understandings. But the truth is that diplomatic relations are conducted not only through agreements, but also through an intricate system of personal connections and ties. This is the heart and soul of diplomacy, what actually brings people and countries closer together.
The relations between Canada and Israel are based on shared values, such as democracy, freedom of religion and equal rights for women, minorities and the LGBTQ community. Both societies are known for their diversity and multicultural influences. This solid foundation nourishes warm relations on the political level, and in economy and trade, and is reflected in close academic co-operation, cultural exchange and tourism. In addition, the vibrant Canadian Jewish community is deeply committed to strong Canada-Israel ties.
As is well known, Israel often finds itself in the centre of international attention. Israeli diplomats work tirelessly, to represent their country, provide information, support a wide range of initiatives and identify opportunities to expand bilateral co-operation. In some countries, this is an uphill battle, while in others, such as Canada, the sky is the limit.
In the film Operation Grandma, a beloved Israeli classic, one of the characters, a no-nonsense kibbutznik, explains his life philosophy: “You go full steam ahead, and slowly increase your speed.” Well, this is exactly what Israelis do. During the last couple of months, Israeli diplomats serving abroad have been extremely busy. Nothing unusual, considering the hectic pace of life in Israel.
President Reuven Rivlin arrived in Canada at the beginning of April on a state visit, and was received with open arms. A few days later, elections were held in Israel, and negotiations on the formation of a coalition government began. The situation on the Gaza border deteriorated and for a few difficult days the south of Israel was exposed to Hamas rocket attacks. Israel, like Jewish communities everywhere, watched with alarm the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, as well as the appalling terror attacks against houses of worship, including synagogues. And then, veering sharply in another direction, the entire country celebrated the Eurovision Song Contest, which was held last month in Tel Aviv.
This year, as every year, on Israel’s Remembrance Day (Yom ha-Zikaron), the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada organized an official ceremony, attended by a thousand people, many Israelis among them. This number was not unusual, because Israelis tend to seek their compatriots’ company on this day, this holiest-of-holy days on our national calendar. Great consideration was given to every detail, to honour the memory of our fallen soldiers and victims of terror.
Canadians participated in this ceremony as well, in an expression of respect and sympathy that we found deeply touching. Generally speaking, we Israelis do not tend to be generous with our praise, and one has to be attuned to the spoken word to catch the meaning. When members of bereaved families who attended the ceremony approached us and said, “You did well,” and “You got it right,” we sighed in relief.
Independence Day (Yom ha-Atzmaut) followed, always an abrupt transformation from mourning to celebration. It brought with it a whirlwind of events, including flag-raising ceremonies and our annual reception. Many Canadian elected officials attended these events and made statements of support and friendship, reflecting the high level of bilateral relations between our countries, the open channels of communication and the mutual commitment to continue to bring our countries even closer together.
The UJA Federation’s Walk with Israel that flooded Bathurst Street in blue-and-white, amazed the mayors of Bat Yam, Sderot, Eilat and Eilot Region, who were invited by the Jewish Federation. As I was sitting with the mayors on the stage, waiting for the walk to begin, enjoying the sea of Canadian and Israeli flags, we were grateful to the many people who came to show their love and support.
As the community walked with Israel, we Israelis walked with the community: young and old, families with babies and toddlers, grandparents, teenagers, and everything in between, schools, student organizations, volunteers, rabbis and leaders. This event, which celebrates Canada-Israel relations as well as the unbreakable bond between Israel and the Canadian Jewish community, was overwhelming. Israel is fortunate indeed to have such a friend and ally as Canada by her side.
My hometown Ra’anana is known for its annual Yom ha-Atzmaut Folk Dance Parade. When I was a schoolgirl, the legendary choreographer Shalom Amar was our undisputed hot-tempered Lord of the Dance. In the long hours of rehearsal under the scorching sun he used to yell at us: “Yemenite step to the right! I said to the right! Lighter steps! What are you, a herd of elephants?”
On the Walk with Israel, I joined a circle of dancers and kept my Yemenite steps light, while peeping over my shoulder every now and then, in fear of seeing him standing there, brooding, a cigarette in hand. Judging by the high spirits on Bathurst Street that day, I think he would have been pleased.