In the midst of the horror and disgust about the racist and anti-Semitic graffiti that shocked the Jewish community and the rest of the city in late-November, there was a ray of light.
The day after the community learned that Machzikei Hadas and Kehillat Beth Israel had joined the Glebe Minyan as the latest Jewish targets of the hate spree, Jewish Federation of Ottawa President and CEO Andrea Freedman and I woke up to a wave of emails from Israel.
They were messages of sympathy, solidarity and inspiration from lay leaders and mayors in the Upper Galilee, our partnership region under the P2G (Partnership 2Gether) program. These messages were meant for our entire community.
As I’ve written before, the Ottawa Jewish community, along with the Jewish communities of Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Atlantic Canada, is partnered with five municipalities and regional councils in the Upper Galilee.
We participate in Gesher Chai (Living Bridge) programs, such as school twinnings and exchanges. We also allocate money to youth and education projects in the region, as well as capacity-building projects such as leadership development.
The Canadian and Israeli partners have accomplished great things in the region. But the real strength of the partnership is the people-to-people connection, as we were reminded last month.
“We stand with you in good times and in difficult times, and we are always here for you, as we know and feel you are always here for us, backing each other with a lot of strength and encouragement,” was the message from Metulla Mayor David Azulai and a group of community leaders.
A video from Ofir Binder and Mayor Beni Ben-Movhar of Mevo’ot HaHermon, which I had visited two days earlier with the 36 Ottawa women participating in the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip, moved us to tears. Another message of support closed with a link to the late Leonard Cohen’s anthem, “Hallelujah.”
We heard from every one of our partner municipalities, often with multiple messages. One subject line read, “A hug of support.” And that’s exactly what these messages felt like.
Coming so soon after Andrea and I had been in the region for very productive meetings with Israeli and Canadian members of P2G’s Joint Steering Committee, and after some very emotional visits to projects that our Ottawa community has helped sponsor, we had no doubt these messages were from the heart.
Consider the source. Even though they live in a Jewish state, our Israeli partners in the north live with the reminders of anti-Semitism on a daily basis. In Metulla, you can walk right to the border with Lebanon. Other parts of the region also border on Syria.
These are enemies whose only quarrel with Israel is its Jewish identity and its Jewish inhabitants. That’s anti-Semitism on a big scale.
Our partners also know what it’s like to be under rocket fire and to live in shelters for weeks at a time, as they were forced to do during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
When the Canadian P2G members visit the Upper Galilee, we are welcomed into homes and hearts. On my two visits to HaNadiv School in Metulla, which is twinned with the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we were greeted by the school’s 100 students, waving Canadian and Israeli flags and singing “Shalom Aleichem.” The entire school proudly sang “O Canada,” along with its rousing school anthem, and “Hatikvah.”
“My son has been practising ‘O Canada’ at home for the last two weeks,” said lay leader Miri Armon.
Mayor Azulai must have told someone at the school that I would be doing my bat mitzvah next spring. So the teachers and students surprised me with a bat mitzvah ceremony.
No Torah reading (phew!), but 12 blessings and 12 touching gifts presented by the students, including the same bat mitzvah diary and workbook that the Grade 6 girls are using to prepare for their own big event.
Our partners’ sense of Jewish solidarity doesn’t stop with its Canadian friends. Shortly before our visit, an Israeli soldier was shot and lightly wounded near the border. A lone soldier from the former Soviet Union, he didn’t want his family to know he’d been injured.
So Mayor Azulai and the residents of Metulla “adopted” him, and took turns visiting him in the hospital.
Having friends in Israel won’t stop ignorance and hatred in our community. But messages of solidarity and affection from our Israeli partners remind us that we are, indeed, one big family. Am Yisrael Chai!