With Rabbi Splansky’s encouragement, the Israel Engagement committee has taken the initiative to create this resource to shine a vital spotlight on Israel. Lean Into Israel is a new hub for Holy Blossom Temple to provide our members with the most insightful articles, engaging podcasts, passionate sermons, and more- so that you, our members, can stay connected with the Jewish state. This page hopes to help answer some of the great questions that our leadership is so often asked; What is going on in Israel? How can I get involved? When are we going to Israel? And when is Israel coming to us?
Articles and resources are thoughtfully curated by our diverse team of readers, and we extend our deepest thanks to them.
This page will be regularly updated with new materials and is a central location to learn about our wide range of upcoming Israel programming. Please be certain to check back often and stay informed.
Rabbi Samuel Kaye
IMPJ & IRAC Emergency Campaign
For decades, the Israel Reform Movement, and its legal and advocacy arm, the Israel Religious Action Center, have served on the front lines of nurturing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state – one that adheres to the vision of Israel’s Declaration of Independence as a country for all its citizens; and one that Jews around the world are proud to call home.
Today, members of the new government threaten to override Israel’s core democratic values with extremist policies tainted by racism and discrimination.
And as the new government plans to actively undermine non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, the Israel Reform Movement stands to lose more than $1.5 million in government funding for programs that provide critical support for rabbis and congregational activities, educational programs, and assistance to new immigrants, including many from Ukraine and Russia.
Help us battle these challenges and secure an Israel we are proud of.
Help us fight for an Israel guided by our shared Jewish values and vision.
Wine and Cheese & A Fireside Chat with Anna Kislanski, CEO of the Israeli Reform Movement
Reform Cantors & Cantorial Soloists of Canada Concert celebrate their Launch and Israel’s 75th Anniversary
Yom Ha’Atzmaut Film Screening: The Future of Israel and Its Defenders!
Dorot Presents: My Musical Journey of Israel in Song with Cantor Beny Maissner
From our Team of Readers
Karen Kollins is the Director of Canada for Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. In this role, she is responsible for developing strategy, programming, and relationships primarily in Toronto, where she lives, as well as in Montreal. She is involved in various leadership capacities at Holy Blossom Temple.
(March 17, 2023) Karen Recommends:
Michael Davis is the managing director of The Responsive Marketing Group, the largest data analytics firm in Canada focused on helping centre/right Canadian political parties win elections and remain in power. Michael has been referred to as the most “influential Jewish person in Canadian Conservative politics that nobody has ever heard of”. He has been a Board Member and Financial Secretary of Holy Blossom temple and served as one of the initial co-chairs of the Renewal Committee that completed phase one of Holy Blossom’s renovation.
Sharansky: No, Israel is not becoming Russia, but we need broad consensus on reforms | The Times of Israel
What Matters Now to philosopher Micah Goodman? Preventing civil war
Welcome to our inaugural episode of What Matters Now, a new weekly podcast exploration into one key issue shaping Israel and the Jewish World — right now. https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/what-matters-now/id1067953235?i=1000597740033
What Matters Now
What Matters Now to Haviv Rettig Gur: Taking advantage of this ‘moment of decisions’
Welcome to What Matters Now, a new weekly podcast exploration into one key issue shaping Israel and the Jewish World — right now. On Wednesday, stun grenades, tear gas, water cannons and horse-mounted police were deployed against Israelis protesting the judicial overhaul. Images of a wall of citizens of all ages holding Israeli flags, standing defiantly opposite a line of mounted armed law enforcement headlined Israeli media and were seen all over the world. These images are galvanizing, and to many, terrifyingly indicative of what will follow once the government’s reforms are passed. Because despite the massive protests, according to many experts including The Times of Israel’s senior analyst Haviv Rettig Gur, they’re sure to go through. This became more clear when, on Wednesday night, Israelis who had seen liberal Tel Aviv in turmoil that day, tuned in to primetime news at 8 p.m. to see whether this increased violence and chaos on the streets was a watershed moment. Would it prompt Prime Minister Netanyahu to slow down the judicial overhaul that was rocketing ahead through the Knesset even as tear gas was deployed on Israeli citizens? Netanyahu, like a father chiding his miscreant children, compared the anti-overhaul protestors, who are stopping traffic and disrupting the nation, to those rampaging Israelis who had torched the Arab village of Huwara on Sunday night. Netanyahu is clearly determined to charge ahead with the overhaul package — even while parts of Israel are burning. So this week, we ask Rettig Gur, how did we get here and What Matters Now? What Matters Now podcasts are available for download on iTunes, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, PlayerFM or wherever you get your podcasts. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/what-matters-now/id1067953235?i=1000602479170
Michael Diamond is a business consultant, entrepreneur and investor as well as an active philanthropist. Michael was on the Executive of the Canada Israel Committee as well as the local partnership council of CIJA for several years as well as being an active blogger. He is a past Chair of the rapidly growing Israel Engagement Committee of UJA Federation and the lay founder of Toronto’s enormously successful ShinShinim program. He is a member of the Board of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
For those of you who are following, and concerned about, the proposed Judicial reforms in Israel, there are a number of excellent articles below which will inform you. The first is about the best overview I have read of the nature of the current situation, the proposed changes, and the objections on either side to what is being proposed.
There is no question in my mind that if the proposed changes are made as currently tabled in the Knesset, Israel will become a far less democratic state. It won’t end the state, and due to the nature of their election processes, a left-wing coalition could indeed change things once again. However, in the interim, the proposed changes would be damaging in my view.
The comparisons being made to Canada or the US are specious because the various checks and balances in each of those countries are entirely different than in Israel where basically there are no checks and balances at all. In fact, were the proposals to be implemented as currently presented, the only check and balance would be the ability of the electorate to vote out those they are unhappy with. But there would be no protections available to minorities because the court would be basically emasculated.
I continue to be of the view, perhaps naively, that the Israelis will sort out this crisis as they have sorted out many crises in the past. This is a young country, and perhaps it was inevitable that there would be an internal crisis such as this, particularly given the highly activist nature of the supreme court since the former President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Justice Barak, took the reins.
In the interim, many in the Diaspora are justifiably worried, and some afraid, while many in Israel literally apoplectic at the prospects of such changes going into place. And while some will denigrate the extremely emotional response of some Israelis to the situation, I think my response, if I were an Israeli citizen, would not be a lot different because the proposals simply try to solve a current admitted problem by going much too far.
I continue to counsel that those wishing to object to the proposed legislation should do so carefully, in order not to provide ammunition for the Israel haters, many of whom would be happier if Israel did not exist. In addition, we should NOT call on our government of Canada to make statements or get involved – that is neither fair to the GOC nor is it helpful to Israel and Israelis. I also think we need to acknowledge that even our love of Israel and our investment in Israel in time and/or dollars do not give us the same rights as Israeli citizens.
Finally, the most important point being made by most writers on the subject is that what must happen in response to what is certainly a constitutional crisis MUST be built on the consensus, of legislators, judges, and the Israeli public. Without consensus, it remains a country far too divided to be healthy. Therefore, the pace at which the proposals are being pushed through must extend to whatever period of time is necessary to achieve the necessary consensus, which of course will require compromise.
The argument that change is needed, both in the scope of the Court as well as in the appointment of its justices, is a valid one. But to move the needle so far in the other direction that Israel becomes controlled entirely by the ruling coalition at the time with no real protections for those who are not beneficiaries of the current coalition is highly problematic. And to make any major changes without consensus is similarly problematic.
Is judicial reform dangerous for Israeli democracy? – Israel Politics – The Jerusalem Post (jpost.com)
March 24, 2023, Michael Recommends:
Les Rothchild, Vice President, Kehilla Kedosha, Holy Blossom Temple Board of Directors. Outside of Holy Blossom, I am the Past President of ARZA Canada and currently President of the Canadian Zionist Federation. I also chair the Canadian Friends of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
March 24, 2023, Les Rothschild Recommends
Israel is in Crisis. What should we do?
You are probably aware that the current Israeli government has put Israel in a crisis situation that threatens the democracy that we are all so proud of. Many articles have been written to explain the situation and some can be found on the Lean into Israel page on the Holy Blossom website.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have demonstrated every week for the past 12 weeks to protest the legislation that the government is pushing through. This is the most right-wing government Israel has ever had so there are many aspects of their agenda which are very troubling to those both in Israel and in the diaspora who have a more liberal point of view. But the major concern is the judicial overhaul that they are proposing which would basically put the Supreme Court under the direct control of the government, including appointments to the court and a law that states that by a simple majority, the Knesset can override any court decision.
This dire situation was brought home to us this past week when Anna Kislanski, CEO of the Israel Reform Movement was at Holy Blossom. The Israel Reform movement has made great strides in the recent past, growing congregations by battling the orthodox Rabbinate which controls religious practices in Israel. Rights have been won for the equality of women, for payment of some of our rabbis by the state, for our synagogues to get land to build on, for our Rabbis to perform conversions that are recognized by the state, and for many other areas that are opposed by the Rabbinate. All of these and many more achievements have been made through rulings of the Supreme Court based on human rights and equity considerations. These will all be in jeopardy if the current government is able to impose its views on the country. In addition, the Reform Movement received in excess of US$1 million dollars from the past government. This could all be at risk as several of the current key ministers do not even recognize Reform Judaism as a legitimate movement.
The headlines read that Democracy is at risk in Israel and if the government proceeds as planned jurists and legal leaders from all over the world have indicated that this will be the case.
So, what can we as Canadian Zionists do?
Anna Kislanski tells us not to give up. Support Israel in every way we can by voicing our concern for the direction Israel is taking. Israelis may be the ones who have the most say in what happens to their country but we too must show our support for the homeland that is so important to us.
Here are a few of Anna’s suggestions for what we can do:
- Be informed. Read and understand what the issues are.
- The Reform movement is under threat of losing financial support so we must help. An emergency campaign is now underway and any donation you can make will be extremely helpful. Please donate here https://www.canadahelps.org/en/dn/m/79203?v1=true
- As Abraham Heschel said when he participated in marches for civil rights in the US we must “pray with our feet”. Apart from the demonstrations across Israel, rallies are being held around the world in over 50 countries. The diaspora initiative is called UnXeptable and is organized by Israelis currently living in countries outside of Israel. Toronto Israelis have also organized Last Sunday a group from Holy Blossom went to hear Anna Kislanski speak at the gathering to support Israel and Israelis. The best thing we can do right now is to show that Holy Blossom members are strong Canadian Zionists and join the rally this Sunday at 4 pm at Nathan Phillips Square. If you have an Israeli flag, bring it. Make a sign that says Save Israel’s Democracy.
- 4. Write to the Consul General in Toronto and to the Israeli government to express your deep concern. One easy way to do that is to use the write-in form provided by the Israel Religious Action Centre https://www.drove.com/campaign/63d11d3c9d4e7171c5a619d5
The Israeli government’s plan is to have the judicial legislation passed by April 2. They are moving full speed ahead. You should act now in any way that seems right to you.
Les Rothschild Recommends
Mark S. Anshan, a semi-retired lawyer (called to the Ontario Bar in 1984) continues to provide legal advice to several not-for-profit organizations. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I was a foreign service officer with the then-Canadian Department of External Affairs (now Global Affairs Canada), having served at the Canadian Mission to the United Nations (New York) and the Canadian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden and various positions at headquarters.
March 24, 2023, Mark S. Anshan Recommends:
Mark S. Anshan Writes:
This statement, by Canadian jurists, law professors and lawyers, was released early in February. Its purpose was to record the concerns of members of the Canadian legal community regarding the proposed changes to the judicial system in Israel and illustrate the negative results of the changes. As important, the statement provides a clear and concise response to those in Israel who have referenced Canada as an example of why the proposed changes are appropriate and align with other judicial systems in the western world. This statement dismisses the analytical comparison with the Canadian judicial and political system and its laws and illustrates that the comparisons are not correct.
Statement by Canadian jurists on proposed transformation of Israel’s legal system
Statement by Canadian jurists on proposed transformation of Israel’s legal system:
The undersigned are Canadian law professors and jurists. We write out of concern that recent proposals to transform Israel’s legal system will weaken democratic governance, undermine the rule of law, jeopardize the independence of the judiciary, impair the protection of human rights, and diminish the international respect currently accorded to Israeli legal institutions.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust and the other atrocities of the Second World War, the great project of legal reform throughout the world has been the establishment of systems of rights that protect human dignity. These systems exemplify the definitive legal repudiation of those (and similar) horrific events. Canadian and Israeli jurists have been partners in this project at the judicial, professional, and academic levels for decades. The transformation sponsored by the Israeli government would constitute a retrograde step that endangers the legal structure for protecting human dignity in Israel.
The lesson of the twentieth century in Europe and elsewhere is that democracy is more than electoral choice at periodic intervals. Democracy also presupposes a set of enduring legal norms and institutional arrangements that enshrine the rule of law, protect fundamental rights, and safeguard the freedom and dignity of all who are subject to official power. Strong and independent courts are integral to the democratic functioning of modern diverse societies.
The proposed changes undermine these norms and their institutional frameworks. They undercut the independence of the judiciary by (i) giving the executive effective control over the process of appointing judges, (ii) severely restricting the power of the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of statutes, and (iii) empowering the governing coalition to override the invalidation of laws that infringe rights. They also weaken the rule of law by putting the hitherto independent legal advisor of each ministry under the control of its minister and by authorizing ministers to disregard their advisors’ legal advice. Moreover, they abridge the protection against arbitrary administrative action by limiting the norm against unreasonable decision-making by public authorities.
Particularly at risk is the functioning of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the crown jewel of Israeli law. This Basic Law protects rights to dignity, property, privacy, life and bodily integrity, personal liberty, and freedom of movement to and from Israel. It also forms the jurisprudential basis for the right to equality, to self-expression, to marriage and parenthood, to freedom of conscience, to freedom regarding religion, to education, to healthcare, and to a dignified human existence. The government’s proposals portend a future for Israel in which these rights lack effective judicial protection.
Given the exceptional concentration of political power in the Israeli system, any one of the government’s proposals would be disturbing. Taken together they render government decisions effectively unassailable, regardless of their content.
Anyone subject to or affected by Israeli law would be exposed to the danger of abusive exercises of power by a government no longer accountable for violations of the most basic legal rights and principles. Israeli society would be deprived of the benefits of a reasoned and transparent judicial process that adjudicates in specific circumstances and upon established facts. Israel’s international standing would be diminished by the perception that its Supreme Court had become the creature and extension of partisan politics.
Proponents of these changes point to Canada and other democracies to argue that the proposed changes are commonplace. This argument is disingenuous.
Israel’s system of government differs from that of other democracies, like Canada’s, in its exceptional concentration of political power. Other democracies have a suite of mechanisms that distribute or moderate the exercise of political power. Examples of these mechanisms are: (1) a formalized constitution that the regular legislative process cannot change; (2) a comprehensive bill of rights that protects the dignity, liberty and equality of all by judicially enforcing a wide range of political, legal, social, and human rights; (3) the possibility of recourse to a transnational court of human rights to review government action; (4) an electoral process based on geographic constituencies, thereby inducing political parties to appeal to citizens generally rather than merely to the identity or beliefs of their core supporters; (5) bicameral legislatures that allow an upper house to deliberate upon the legislative proposals emanating from the elected representatives of the lower house; (6) a federal structure that divides power between local and national levels of government. These mechanisms disperse or limit political power and provide safeguards against its intemperate exercise.
In contrast, in Israel the prime minister and his coalition partners in the cabinet wield concentrated political power through their control of the legislature. The only constraint on the exercise of political power is the Supreme Court’s role in upholding the rule of law, interpreting the Basic Laws, and applying the fundamental concepts of legal ordering. In adjudicating the extraordinarily difficult controversies that have come before it, the Supreme Court of Israel has established itself as one of the world’s most respected judicial institutions.
Any legal system, including Israel’s, can be improved. But if reform is to be legitimate, it cannot take the form of the partisan and hurried enactment of massive institutional changes that endanger human rights, undermine judicial independence, and compromise the rule of law.
Holy Blossom Temple Recommends:
Times of Israel Editorial from Left, Right and Center
Reflection on the Protests from Jennifer Isackov, who grew up here at Holy Blossom and has made Aliyah.
Reflection on Praying at the Kotel with the Women of the Wall- from Temple President Phyllis Denaburg
Protecting Israel’s Democracy- From Holy Blossom Temple Foundation Chair Joan Garson
Maps of Israel: A Rabbinic Reflection from Senior Rabbi Yael Splansky
Hearts of Stone: An Israel Sermon from Senior Rabbi Yael Splansky
The 2-Hour Crisis: An Israel Drash by Rabbi Samuel Kaye
Rabbinic Reflection: Rabbi Yael Splansky (Metaphors, March 3, 2023)
Demonstration in Beer Sheva
Interesting and Scary Times in Israel
Reflections from Israel: YEC March Break in Israel
WATCH a fascinating debate between two Israeli scholars on the validity and course of the democratic reforms and constitutional crisis:
HBT Travels: HBTeen March Break Israel Experience: Exploring the land through People and Places
Eligibility: all students in grades 9-12
Registration deadline: December 22. After December 22 as space permits.
Cost: $6600 (includes airfare, all land costs and all meals) *some subsidies are available
Led by Lisa Isen Baumal and Rabbi Samuel Kaye, The Holy Blossom Teen Israel trip will be a unique and exciting opportunity for teens to engage with Israel and the people who live there. Not only will we be touring and experiencing different sights and places, teens will also learn about the country directly from Israelis and engage in meaningful activities that have a direct impact on individuals. This trip is a great first taste of Israel, and equally meaningful as a return trip!
HBT Travels: UJA Israel at 75
Join us for an unforgettable journey!
Israel is reaching the milestone of its 75th anniversary in 2023 and we want you to join us for this historic celebration!
The entire Toronto Jewish community is invited to partake in this trip of a lifetime. With hundreds of other Jews from around the world, we’ll celebrate everything Israel has to offer. From its natural beauty and beaches, world-renowned cuisine, inspiring leaders and innovators, and exciting nightlife, this UJA Mission will cover all areas of interest.
HBT Travels: Shalom Hartman Community Leadership Program
Discover the power of Jewish ideas with Hartman’s world-renowned faculty.
To learn more visit: shalomhartman.org/CLP
Questions? Please contact us at [email protected] or 212.268.0300 ext. 8442