Jonathan has very recently arrived in Israel from Canada, where he lived for the first 30 years of his life. I question him in Jerusalem, where he is in the process of completing the absorption process.
An Orthodox Jew from Hamilton, Ontario, Jonathan found the move to Israel was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “I believe in Israel as the Jewish homeland, and every day I prayed three times to go to Israel. Since anything we pray for should also have our actions behind our prayers, it seemed right to make aliyah.”
Jonathan felt a profound sense of connection when he visited the country on a Birthright Israel trip several years ago. Two of his acquaintances immigrated the same month, and another friend joined him on his flight. And an aunt lives in the Jerusalem area. Having people he knows in the area has helped reduce any cultural shock he might feel, and overall, he is finding the absorption process to be painless. He cites the many benefits that Toronto’s Jewish Agency office arranged for him, including a free flight, Hebrew lessons, health coverage, and subsidized housing. He will also receive financial assistance to complete graduate work.
After consultation with the Toronto office of Israel’s Jewish Agency, Jonathan, a public relations manager, decided that he would attend the Beit Canda-Ulpan Etzion program in Jerusalem. This five-month program is geared toward single professionals or graduates between the ages of 22 and 35.
The Jews in Canada
Jews first settled in Canada during the eighteenth century, primarily from Europe. Today, Canada is home to a thriving Jewish community, largely Orthodox. Canada contains the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, surpassed only by the U.S., Israel, and France. Most of the Canadian Jewish population lives in either Onatio or Quebec. Today approximately 300,000 Jewish citizens reside in Canada.
As Nefesh B’Nefesh representatives have pointed out, Jewish Canadians are not fleeing Canada but running toward something, compelled by the strong desire to raise families in Israel, the Jewish homeland. Anti-Semitism is not systemic, but not unheard of. The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism was established in 2009, charged with investigating and combating acts of anti-Semitism. However, compared to other countries with a significant Jewish presence, anti-Semitism is not significant.
Canadian Jews in Israel
Jonathan was part of a large group of over 500 new citizens who arrived recently from Toronto, London, and New York – constituting the largest Jewish immigration from English-speaking Western nations in one day. While the immigration came at a time of intense fighting in the north of Israel, the war actually reinforced some immigrants’ desire to go to Israel and show their support. Prime Minister Olmert noted this accomplishment at the time, stating that the message to the world is that “we are afraid of no one.”
About 430 Canadians make aliyah each year, representing a higher per capita rate than for the United States, and 12% of all North American Jewish immigrations. Israel welcomes Jewish westerners in particular, as they assimilate easily and promote a strong image for the country.
For westerners, Israel offers the appeal of being a world leader in such areas as renewable energy and clean technology, as well as one of the industrialized world’s wealthier economies. But the primary draw for most Canadian immigrants is less about opportunity than it is about destiny. As Jonathan says, “Living in Israel is like coming home. It is truly home for Jewish people.” While he misses family and friends in Ontario, he knows he is fulfilling the dream of his daily prayers and looks forward to his future here.