Celebrating Culture: Toronto’s Vibrant Israeli Community

The connection between Canada and Israel is deep, reaching back 70 years to the foundation of Israel as a Jewish state. According to Jahanzeb Hussain’s analysis, Canadian citizens worked tirelessly with the UN to establish the state of Israel, and Canada’s vote against the Arab states’ motion to protest the partition kept the matter out of the International Court of Justice. Israel was born, and Canada was one of the midwives.

United Jewish Appeal Federations. (Dan Pearce, Metroland)

It is fitting that Toronto — a city whose motto is “Diversity is our strength” — is home to Canada’s largest Jewish and Israeli population.  The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) reports that Toronto is home to roughly 200,000 Jewish residents, and the province of Ontario hosts the greatest number of residents of Israeli descent.

The cultural implications of the relationship between Canada and Israel are extraordinary.  There are scores of organizations that promote, celebrate, and educate Canadians about Judaism and Israel.

For example, the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation (CICF), with chapters in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottowa, directs programs that connect Israeli and Canadian artists and cultural ambassadors.  Scholarships give promising young Israeli artists funding for developing their talents.  Dance competitions launch the careers of up-and-coming dancers.  CICF brings Israeli artists to Canada and sends Canadian artists abroad to experience Israel and bring home a fuller understanding of the culture and people that make the Jewish state so unique.

CICF is also hosting the fourth annual Spotlight on Israeli Culture, a four-month-long celebration in Toronto from March to June, 2018.  The event showcases the dazzling diversity in Israeli literature, music, dance, cuisine, theater, and visual arts.

As the state of Israel celebrates its 70th birthday, Toronto celebrates as well.  What events like Spotlight on Israeli Culture highlight is that while Israel is a young state, its cultural roots are as deep as human memory.  Shared traditions unite people of Jewish heritage all over the world, and cities like Toronto are a beacon for those who seek to bridge cultural divides.

In addition to sharing the splendor of Israeli culture with the citizens of Toronto, the Israeli community works tirelessly to defeat anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind, both in Canada and abroad. The message of tolerance and acceptance is an antidote to the troubling proliferation of hate and injustice that infuses so many communities across the world.

As ties between Israel and Canada have grown stronger, Israeli culture has flourished in Toronto.  A number of Jewish organizations conduct trips that provide an opportunity for Canadian Jews and non-Jews to visit Israel and learn about her people and culture.

The effect of such trips can’t be overstated.  As CIJA relates, one participant in the creation of a joint accord that bolstered ties between Israeli and Canadian colleges and universities said “This has been an eye-opening experience. We have learned about Israeli history and culture, visited university leaders and heard from star researchers in their labs. Canadian university presidents have been deeply impressed by Israel’s innovative spirit and its equally deep commitment to basic university research.”

Strengthening the ties between Canada and Israel is increasingly important.  Even as the Jewish state celebrates its anniversary, tensions in the region are rising.  As violent protests abound and as international debate rages, it is the work of small communities of Jewish and Israeli people in cities like Toronto who hold a key to future peace.

Bridging divides while preserving cultural identity is possible, but it doesn’t happen on its own. It won’t magically appear.

And that’s why events like the one that will happen in Wood Valley Park on Sunday, June 3 are so vital. Thousands of people — Jewish, Gentile, and Israeli — will gather to celebrate the foundation of the Jewish state. Vendors, games, entertainers, and Jewish advocacy organizations will create a safe, harmonious space to reflect on the significance of an event that occurred 70 years ago and also on the work that is still to be done.

The United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish community in Toronto hosted the Walk with Israel on May 27.  The 2018 event raised more than $400,000 for Jewish causes, and the photographs of the event underscore the power of people joining together for a common cause.  Smiling children, balloons, and faces painted blue and white promote unity and provide hope that freedom and peace are possible.

Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, celebrates the foundation of a homeland for a people long oppressed and displaced.  It is fitting that Toronto was the scene for “Blue and White” parties, as Canada’s role in establishing the state of Israel — along with the vibrant Israeli community that still thrives in Ontario’s largest city — are well worth commemorating.

Toronto is a cosmopolitan city, home to diverse peoples from all over the globe, and the Israeli community’s foundation and future there are both secure and promising signs for the future of Jews, Canadians, and Israelis everywhere.

About the Author
Baruch Labunski is an entrepreneur, internet marketing expert and author from Toronto, Canada. He currently serves as CEO of Rank Secure, an award-winning web-design and internet marketing firm.