Engaging the Israeli Diaspora: Toronto as a Case Study

Executive Summary

  1. In recent years, the growth of the Israeli diaspora has garnered the attention of and challenged the State of Israel and Jewish world. Estimated 500,000 Israelis that are building a communal life abroad are shaking the Jewish boat.

  2. Traditionally, The State of Israel and Jewish communities alienated from Israeli immigrants due to the inherent tension between the phenomena of Israeli immigration and Zionism.

  3. In recent years, however, this has changed. The State of Israel and Jewish communities increasingly realize that the Israeli diaspora can be a political, economic, social, and cultural asset. Jewish communities recognize Israelis’ strategic significance as instrumental in strengthening Jewish Peoplehood. Additionally, Israelis help in Jewish community efforts to develop pride in Jewish identity. Finally, Israelis offer opportunities for real engagement with Israeli society and can mobilize and be mobilized against the assault on Israel's legitimacy. Accordingly, the State of Israeli and Jewish communal organizations are beginning to engage Israelis.

  4. Following years of alienation, the Toronto Federation has changed its approach toward Israeli immigrants. Today, the Toronto Federation is the leading Jewish organization seeking to engage the Israeli diaspora. In that, it has been paving the way for the Government of Israel and for other Jewish communal organizations globally.

  5. Yet, most Israeli-Canadians still perceive the connection with the Jewish community as not relevant, not important, not a badge of pride, and certainly not a duty. Most of the North-American Israelis made little effort so far to engage with the local Jewish community and see little value in investing in Jewish life abroad. Among Israelis we met, there is a strong suspicion toward the Jewish communal establishment and "Israeli" activities, which is also a result of ignorance toward the Federation's role. Looking for the familiar, Israelis established de-facto a "Little Israel", where Israelis can socialize in Hebrew in schools, cafes and gyms.  

  6. At the same time, many Israelis realize that striving for an exclusively Israeli identity for their children lacks resilience in the absence of connection to Jewish culture and heritage. Meanwhile, the Israeli and Jewish identity of second- and third-generation Israelis is fading. Thus, "Little Israel" is not good enough for cultivating a resilient identity. Thus, second- and third-generation Israelis are moving away from their parents' Israeli national identity towards the all-Canadian national identity, skipping over their inherent Jewish identity.

  7. This understanding heralded the emergence of a new type of Israeli leadership, the North America Jewish Sabra (NAJS). The NAJS seeks to opt for a hybrid identity comprised of both an Israeli identity and a strong connection to Jewish life.

  8. It is the task of the NAJS leadership, the Jewish communal organizations and the Government of Israel to meet the challenge of consolidating a resilient identity among second- and third- generation Israelis in the diaspora.

Strategy and Policy Options

  1. The heretofore approaches to the Israeli diaspora have proven ineffective: The negation of the Israeli diaspora did not bring back the Israelis to Israel; any attempt to fully integrate Israeli-Canadians into the community fails due to the lack of trust of first-generation Israelis in Jewish organizations; and “Little Israel” is evidently not producing another generation of Sabras. Thus, the Reut Institute offers an approach intended for the next generation:

  2. The Vision: Facilitating the integration of second- and third- generation Israelis into the Jewish community, acknowledging that the gap between first-generation Israelis and the Jewish community is too wide to close;

  3. The Mission: Cultivate a hybrid Israeli social space. Relevant actors should focus on challenging the concept of "Little Israel." To do so, they must further cultivate a social space that is hybrid, which encourages the emergence of a resilient identity constellation – this includes a strong Israeli dimension as well as a robust connection between Israelis, Judaism and the local Jewish community.

  4. The Strategy: Build the organizations of the "Diaspora in the Making".  The Government of Israel, the Jewish community, and Israeli leaders should work together to establish programs and institutions that reflect the desired hybridism between 'Israelism' and Judaism. These programs and institutions would provide the necessary infrastructure and support, as well as a relevant toolkit for the next generation of Israelis to become active members of Toronto's Jewish community. This effort will also incentivize hybridization among the many existing Israeli informal organizations.

  5. The Reut Institute outlined four criteria aimed at cultivating the Hybrid Social Space: Vision-Driven Hybrid Leadership, Meaningful Engagement with the Jewish Community, Jewish Education and Hebrew and Connection to Israel. Implementing these into platforms and programs is essential for success.

  6. At the Strategy and Policy Options section, we provide detailed recommendations, which mainly draw upon the Schwartz Reisman Centre (SRC) to illustrate how to implement these parameters. That is due to our belief that the SRC is uniquely positioned to strengthen the Israeli-Canadian identity.



Philanthropy, Government, Jewish People, Israeli-Diaspora Relations, Nation-State


Conceptual Framework

Jewish Peoplehood

Israelis Abroad

Today, the Toronto Federation is the leading Jewish organization seeking to engage the Israeli diaspora. In that, it has been paving the way for the Government of Israel and for other Jewish communal organizations globally.

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