Helping the Israelis Find Jewish Identity

Published: July 13th 2010
in News » Local

Congregation Yozma in Modi'in, Israel
Rabbi Nir Barkin

It is never easy to be an Israeli living outside of Israel. It is sometimes even harder to be an Israeli living outside of Israel and having a strong connection to Judaism. If you are an Israeli and have ever felt this difficulty, an upcoming program in Toronto may hold the answer for you.


This coming Sunday, July 18, Rabbi Nir Barkin from Yozma Congregation, a Reform congregation in Modi’in, Israel, will be in Toronto to speak on the topic of “New Ways to Keep Israeli Jewish Identity in Canada”.


Rabbi Erin Polonsky of Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto (one of the sponsors of Sunday’s event) told Shalom Life that the idea for the program came up after she met an Israeli congregant whose fiancée is undergoing a conversion to Judaism.


“He, being an Israeli, had never really known much about Reform Judaism,” explained Polonsky. “He had been in an Orthodox community in Israel and since moving to Canada hadn’t connected with that community and was moving more into secular life but needed to find a way to also have a Jewish expression in his life. I think his fiancée’s searching brought them to Temple Sinai, and since he has learned about Reform Judaism he’s become so enthusiastic about it. He says things like ‘Everybody needs to know about this! We have to spread the word!’”


Polonsky added that the congregant, who was an observant Jew in Israel but now “wants his observance to be more modern”, introduced her to some other members of the Israeli community. One friend of his attended a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration at Temple Sinai. “When I told her about what Reform Judaism was, she said: ‘Wow! You just changed my life!’” described Polonsky. “And then I met with a friend of hers who is also a mother of a young family and is Israeli, and she said: ‘That’s exactly what I do. I just didn’t know what to call it.’”


Polonsky explained some of the issues Israelis she has met have brought up to her: While they keep Kosher in the home, Shabbat means something different to them other than not driving and praying. She added that Israelis would like their children to have a Jewish education and speak Hebrew, know where they come from and have a connection to Israel, but at the same time to be able to be participating members of Canadian life and society. She added that she feels that “there’s also a disconnection in terms of vocabulary, because when Israelis say ‘secular’ they mean non-Orthodox. When Canadians say secular, they mean that they don’t do anything: they probably don’t have a Pesach Seder, and maybe they take the day off work on Yom Kippur but maybe not. They don’t really care if they intermarry or not or if their kids do. To an Israeli, a secular Israeli is likely having a Pesach Seder, fasting on Yom Kippur, acknowledging in some way that it’s Shabbat, possibly even keeping Kosher in their home.”


Related articles: (Rabbi Nir Barkin, Israelis, Jewish Identities)
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