Shortly after I became mayor of Bat Yam, Israel, in 2018, I gave a lecture to students in one of our local schools. An anti-Semitic incident had recently taken place in Europe, and the students had many questions about growing anti-Israel sentiment and the BDS movement. “It seems like the whole world is against us,” one of the students said. I explained that this is not the case, and that Israel holds an important place in the international community. But I was not sure that I succeeded in persuading the student, or myself.
I went back to the same school recently, after returning from Toronto where I was part of a delegation to the 50th anniversary of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Walk with Israel. They looked at the pictures I brought from the walk and were amazed by the joyous river of 30,000 people, Jews and non-Jews, marching together to support the people and the land of Israel. This time, when we talked about anti-Semitism, it wasn’t about our enemies – it was about our supporters and friends. We did not discuss the problems, but the solutions.
There are many wonderful Jewish communities in North America, Europe and Asia. In my previous positions, I have had the opportunity to visit many of them. But I have never encountered such a cohesive, supportive and organized community as the Toronto community, which successfully combines a love for Israel and tikun olam.
The support and assistance of the Toronto Jewish community is critical to the residents of Bat Yam. Our city is one of the largest in Israel, adjacent to Tel Aviv, but includes many residents who are on the margins of society. Knowing that there is someone on the other side of the world who believes in them – who wants to invest in them – makes them believe in themselves. Those investments have led Bat Yam residents, especially younger ones, to succeed in all walks of life. If this is not tikun olam, I do not know what is.
Toronto’s Jews – all of Canada’s Jews, really – are an inseparable part of us. Even if you live and work thousands of kilometres away, we take great strength in knowing your heart is with us in Israel.
My trip to Toronto, meeting with its wonderful Jewish community leaders and volunteers and the extremely emotional experience of the walk, really helped me understand the strength of Toronto’s commitment towards the people of Israel. And it reminded me that this relationship must be two-way. We need to help as much as possible to strengthen the Jewish identity of the children in Toronto and to continue to carry out joint projects in Jewish education and identity. This investment is vital to our collective future.
A short time before my trip to Toronto, I met a young Ethiopian-Jewish woman who had dreamed of lifting herself and her family from poverty by becoming a nurse. Early in her education, this young lady was told that she had no chance to succeed. But thanks to the Federation’s investment in education, training and scholarships, she ended up qualifying for a nursing program, achieved the highest grades in her cohort and secured a well-paying and stable job in a hospital.
A simple comment she made to me best sums up what I discovered and felt after my week-long journey of 8,850 kilometres, dozens of meetings and an unforgettable walk in solidarity with Israel: “The Toronto community’s investment did not change my life – it saved my life.”