Why do we support Israel?

“I wished I could bottle up the innovative thinking and life-changing programming that…was offering the chance for a better life to so many disadvantaged members of Israeli society.”

By Deborah Corber, LL.M.
CEO of Federation CJA

In February, I had the privilege of participating in my very first Executive Mission to Israel, chaired by Federation CJA President, David Cape. Of course, I had been to Israel several times before that, beginning in the summer of 1976, when I spent eight weeks travelling from the Golan Heights to Sharm el-Sheikh, courtesy of a high school graduation present from my parents. Like so many others of my generation, I was a product of the public school system, and my only exposure to Jewish learning had come from a Zionist summer camp. Not surprisingly, then, my first trip to Israel was transformative, for nothing quite beats the intensity of an Israel experience for teenagers. I remember coming home from that trip convinced that I would make aliyah in an instant were it not for the fact that I couldn’t imagine leaving my family.

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Federation CJA supports over 30 initiatives in Israel. Focus areas include supporting vulnerable populations, education and community development.

My unforgettable Summer of ‘76 was followed by numerous trips over the years to visit with family and friends, each occasion weaving new insights into my own personal tapestry of Israel experiences.

I confess that I approached the Executive Mission to Israel largely as any other business trip: an opportunity for professional development and for getting to know some of the Federation CJA lay leadership. But the Mission proved to be so much more than that.  It was my second transformative experience in Israel, teaching me and touching me more profoundly than I could ever have imagined.

Many of us have read Dan Senor’s Start-Up Nation, which tells the tale of Israel’s economic miracle, having produced – against overwhelming odds – more start-up companies than large, peaceful and stable countries like Japan.  We know, as well, that the tiny Jewish State is home to a disproportionate share of Nobel prize winners.  So like many people, I had assumed that Israel’s greatest strengths were concentrated in the areas of science and technology.

I had little idea that Israel was also on the cutting edge of educational and social programming.  I returned from the Executive Mission wishing that I could bottle up the innovative thinking and life-changing programming that I could see, with my own eyes, was offering the chance for a better life to so many disadvantaged members of Israeli society.

“The idea that as Jews living in Montreal, we are part of a global Jewish family, responsible for one another, is no longer a theoretical one for me - it is my new reality,” writes Deborah Corber, seen here (third from left) with Susan Laxer, CA, First Vice President; David Cape, President; and Shlomo Toledano, Director of Israel & Overseas and Special Projects.

But perhaps the biggest take-away for me was the realization that the Montreal Jewish community has the power, through our human and financial resources, to effect positive change in Israeli society.  We can’t do it by voting for the governments that we, as individual Canadian Jews, might think would take Israel in the “right” direction.  But we can effect change by partnering with like-minded Israelis who are dedicated to strengthening the human fabric of their country.

Arguably, when we raise and allocate funds to provide for the most vulnerable members of our community here at home, we are addressing needs that are the proper responsibility of government.  Yet we step up to meet these needs because we believe that we are responsible for one another.  Following the Mission, my understanding of that responsibility has taken on a whole new dimension.  The idea that as Jews living in Montreal, we are part of a global Jewish family, responsible for one another, is no longer a theoretical one for me – it is my new reality.

The Montreal Jewish community has a long and proud tradition of generously supporting the people of Israel in times of need.  Today, however, the question sometimes arises as to why we would allocate to projects in Israel in the face of growing needs in our local community.  I believe that the answer is that we can, and we must, do both.  Our commitment to the people of Israel is a commitment to the global Jewish family of which we are an integral part.  And as we fulfill that commitment, we strengthen the entire mishpacha, which ultimately resounds to the benefit not only of our sisters and brothers in Israel, but of our own community right here in Montreal.


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