The first-ever global conference of Israelis living abroad was held in Toronto, January 18-20, 2011. The conference was sponsored by the UJA Federation of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs and the Israeli non-profit organization Mishelanu.
It laid the first building blocks of establishing relationships among Israeli communities around the world, and their relationship with the local Jewish communities and the State of Israel.
“There are believed to be about one million Israelis in the Diaspora, mostly in North America, with others in Europe and Australia. In the Greater Toronto Area, 85 per cent of all Jewish immigrants are Israelis”, said Toronto UJA Federation of the GTA Board chair, Elizabeth Wolfe.
Speakers included Ted Sokolsky, President & CEO, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and prominent Israeli leaders, such as Natan Sharansky, Chairman of JAFI, Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein and Amir Gissin, Israel’s Consul General for Ontario and Western Canada.
Representatives of Israeli communities from around the world, including the U.K, Australia, Berlin, San Diego, Chicago, Vancouver and Budapest, discussed for the three days of the conference issues under the three pillars:
Pillar 1: Building an Israeli Community Abroad – Israeli organizations around the World
Pillar 2: The Relationship between the Israeli and Jewish Communities and how to move forward
Pillar 3: The relationship between the State of Israel and the Israelis abroad
The conference represents a new approach towards Israelis living abroad by the State of Israel and the World Jewry and the understanding that strong partnership with Israelis abroad is essential to the Jewish people. “This conference is a metaphor for the changing relationship between Israel and the Diaspora and marks a new beginning. The boundaries in the global world are blurred where Israel ends and the Jewish people begins…Israelis living abroad are the bridge between us and Israel. We have moved from a people building up our land to a people building up our people” noted Ted Sokolsky, the primary conference sponsor.
“Israelis abroad are our best ambassadors. For many we are soldiers, military. There is no opera, no restaurants…only the conflict. Sometimes we’re the conquerors, sometimes the victims. You (Israelis abroad), first and foremost, can change that perception” emphasized Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Diaspora Affairs.
Natan Sharansky conveyed a similar message. “In the global effort to secure Jewish identity, Hebrew speaking Israelis abroad can play a major role. This conference is the switch that will turn on the light awakening change in local communities, in Israeli institutions and among Israeli’s living in the Diaspora.”
Amir Gissin spoke about the relationship between the State of Israel and Israelis abroad. “Israel wants to keep in touch with all its citizens and sees their strength as a part of Israel’s strength… Israelis are capturing key roles in the Jewish community. Many of the teachers in the Jewish day schools are Israelis. Kachol Lavan (the Centre for Hebrew and Israel Studies in Toronto) is a leading example of how Israel, Israelis and Jews are creating Israeli culture and preserving it”.
The conference addressed a strong need among Israelis abroad for interaction, idea-exchange, cooperation and recognition. It was the first time that Israelis from around the world came together to share their community building initiatives experiences and challenges, to learn from each other about their relationships with the local Jewish community, and to explore ways to enhance their relationship with the State of Israel.
“The events that took place in the last few days are so unique and profound in the span of Jewish history… What you have achieved is the beginning of something spectacular.” concluded Ted Sokolsky.