The third Dragon Boat Israel (DBI) festival took place May 28-29 on Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).
The DBI festival was founded in 2012 by then-Jewish Federation of Ottawa chair Debbie Halton-Weiss, and seven other Ottawa women, whose vision was to bring people to northern Israel to learn the sport of dragon boating.
“We never quite knew the direction things were going. We still don’t know, but it’s evolving,” said Halton-Weiss in an interview with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin following her return from the festival.
Halton-Weiss said this year’s DBI festival hosted 30 teams from Israel and abroad. She also explained three significant changes introduced this year.
The first is a charitable partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Funds raised at the DBI festival this year were designated for autism research and programs at the university.
The new partnership also gained DBI new participants as many students, faculty members and alumni were eager to join their university on its charitable quest.
The second new change involved new corporate connections for DBI. The Israeli high-tech company Ex Libris, for example, sent more than 150 participants to the festival – forming seven teams.
This was a breakthrough, said Halton-Weiss, as “corporate connections help DBI get funding and sponsorship, which was a previously challenging aspect.”
She said Matti Shem Tov, the Ex Libris CEO, “thought it was an amazing festival and loved the inclusivity of the event and the charitable aspect.”
Halton-Weiss hopes to build on their new relationship.
“We talked about getting 10 to 20 high-tech companies, in the future, to compete against each other.”
The third change was a new relationship with the embassy of China in Israel. China’s ambassador to Israel, Zhan Yongxin, opened the two-day festival by preforming the ritual rice ceremony.
The ambassador’s involvement generated new participation from teams like “The Chinese Mix,” made up of Israelis and their Chinese spouses. Halton-Weiss felt proud that DBI could offer “something traditional for them so they could marry their Chinese background with their new Israeli life.”
This year, the DBI festival saw less direct Canadian involvement. Israelis were put in charge and “pulled it off,” said Halton-Weiss. DBI has now established an Israeli-based board that has assumed responsibility for the future of the festival.
With these advances, Halton-Weiss says there is still a learning curve.
“We Canadians know what it’s like to raise money by asking our friends to support us. This is a new concept for Israelis to understand: that it’s OK to ask friends for support.”
Halton-Weiss hopes participation in DBI will continue to expand among Israelis and that it will continue to “bring people to Israel in a new and different way.
“People from abroad and Israelis get to be together, talk together, learn together and paddle together,” she said. “We share an experience that’s real and it feels like we’re one big family.”