Shabbat Message from Ezra S. Shanken

Conversations about Israel continue

Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken


March 24, 2023 | 2 Nissan 5783



This message has about 1,172 words and will take less than 4 minute to read.

We have lots of updates on Israel this week, but first I want to shout out two great achievements by our partners.

The first is a big mazel tov to Richmond Jewish Day School on their 30th anniversary and to Sabrina Bhojani, head of school, who received an honourable mention from the BC multiculturalism and Anti Racism award. The second is that grade 11 students from King David High School who are visiting our partnership region, ran with their sister school, Har Vagai, in their second annual Terry Fox Run. We’re very proud to support their Israel experience!

Conversations about Israel continue to percolate throughout our community, as they should.

The CEOs of all the Canadian Jewish Federations have signed an opinion piece that my colleagues at the Montreal and Toronto Federations and I co-authored. “On Israel, Canadian Jews embrace unity, not uniformity” will be published in tomorrow’s Globe and Mail, but you can read it online now. I also want to share this excellent message from the Toronto Federation, "The Debate in Israel: When Good People Disagree”.

On Tuesday, our continental representatives, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), together with our partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Hayesod, and the World Zionist Organization wrote to PM Netanyahu and the Leader of the Opposition, MK Yair Lapid, urging “all sides (to) seek dialogue at all costs, and take the time to reach, through an inclusive and wide-ranging conversation, without preconditions, the broadest possible consensus.”

We and our partners have been offering multiple events over many weeks to help people learn more about what is happening and to facilitate discussions, and we will continue to do that.

I encourage you to engage in as many opportunities as possible for education and discourse. Take the time to read through the statements and letters that we link to. Understand the work that is being done by the Federation system and our partners. If you missed the virtual gathering on Sunday with the Honourable Irwin Cotler regarding the proposed judicial reform in Israel and its implications, click here to watch the recording. You can also click here to watch CIJA’s townhall Unity Not Uniformity: Unpacking the Controversy from yesterday, which focused on the controversial judicial reform proposal, counter-terror raids, the new Iran-Saudi Arabia deal, and the debates they've generated inside and outside Israel.

I also encourage you to participate, to listen, and to approach the issues with both curiosity and passion. It can be easy to entrench in a point of view and dismiss all whose opinions differ, but when we make room for dialogue that is open and respectful, we can have important and powerful conversations. Those who are “within the family” who question Israeli policies and politics also care deeply for Israel's survival.

When it comes to our work in Israel, I want to reassure you that we are focused on funding critical social services in our partner region – and just like in Canada your tzedakah supports people in need, and not the government or military.

Last week we wrote about the 24-hour fly-in organized by JFNA and attended by representatives of 30 Federations.

JFNA’s statement on behalf of Federations across the system read in part: “...we are worried that certain aspects of the proposed reforms could have a very negative impact on the relationship between our communities and Israel. We urged all the leaders we spoke with to work with President Herzog to negotiate a solution that could have broad support across Israeli society.”

There were two Canadian members of the delegation, and one was from our community.

It was fortunate that Hodie Kahn, a member of our Board and chair of our Jewish Day School Council, happened to be in Israel when the fly-in took place. We were delighted when she agreed to take part on our behalf to observe and learn directly from those involved. Only Federation gets this kind of access, and she was one of only two Canadians in the room, the other being Sarah Mali, JFC-UIA director general. Hodie has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on the experience with our community here:

I was privileged 10 days ago to represent Vancouver at a delegation of JFNA leadership that flew to Israel from the United States for 24-hours to convey their concerns directly to the Israeli government about the judicial reforms and the reverberations thereof in North American Jewish communities. The “Fly In” was a unique opportunity to engage with representatives from right to left (or vice versa), including President Herzog and politicians, thinkers, pundits, and business leaders from high tech. Sixteen “speed dates” in as many hours with decision makers and influencers at the nexus of what is happening in Israel today. It was intense.

I went into the Fly In with no agenda. I did not go to "lobby" the government nor try to "negotiate an end to the crisis," as was suggested in post-Fly In press here and abroad. I went to listen and learn, and to gain understanding of the issues of the day. And I did. It was a lot to take in. I am still processing. 

The issues are far more complex and nuanced than a single caption of "judicial reforms.” For the record, everyone we met said it was his/her belief that the judiciary, as a whole, needs an overhaul. And further, even were the reforms to have passed, as they were (at the time we met), no one suggested that Israel would cease to be a democracy. The biggest criticisms are around the pace and process of the changes.

Since last week, I have augmented my Fly In experience through lectures and conversations with the people who live and work here, scholars, friends and family members across the spectrum of Israeli society. They are intelligent, articulate and thoughtful. Each one passionate in his/her position and each filled with deep emotions about the current state of unrest. As the mother of two of those Israeli citizens, I respect that it is my daughters and their fellow citizens of Israel who are empowered to exercise their democratic right to elect their government. As a Diaspora Jew, I do not get a vote here. But as part of the global Jewish family, I get a voice everywhere. And I must use it responsibly and wisely. 

I must use it to encourage us all to embrace our inner Talmudic scholar and lean into the discomfort of differing views, respectfully, with elasticity of thought and with open minds. To nudge one another from an observational stance to one of engagement. And to champion Israel in public, and share our grievances in private. Our enemies do not distinguish who is pro- anti- or pareve on judicial reforms.

As committed as I am to using my voice, I am likewise committed to not wavering in my support of my extended family. Their needs are chronic, regardless of politics. If I pull away in protest, it will not affect the outcome of the debate on judicial reform, or reframe the political climate or landscape in Israel. But it will affect the ones I love. The members of my Jewish family who count on me. Who count on each one of us. 

Am Yisrael Chai. Shabbat shalom.


Shabbat Shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

KDHS and Canadian Ambassador to Israel Lisa Sadelbauer joined sister school Har Vagai for second annual Terry Fox Run in our partnership region

Hodie Kahn

Jewish Federations of North America Delegation