By AJNews staff
(AJNews) – In November 2023, several Jewish community leaders from Alberta, traveled to Israel for an emergency solidarity mission as part of a delegation of Canadian Federations. They came back with a renewed sense of urgency for Hamas and other terror groups to return the hostages that were brutally abducted during the Oct. 7 massacre. They felt conflicting emotions – sadness, anger, solidarity and also respect for the Israelis for their resiliency and their commitment to prevent future terror attacks.
The Alberta delegation included Calgary Jewish Federation CEO Adam Silver, President Lisa Libin, Past-President Jordan Balaban, along with Jewish Federation of Edmonton CEO Stacey Leavitt-Wright and Past-President Steven Shafir.
In Israel, they spent three, long and difficult days meeting with experts and political leaders, visiting some of the attacked Gaza envelope towns, and meeting with survivors of Kfar Azza and family members of the hostages.
The group was joined by several members of parliament including Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner, with the hope that sharing these experiences on the ground with leaders from our Jewish communities can help further drive change here in our own country. There was also an opportunity to see the incredible work in action that our communities support through their generous donations to the UJA Israel Emergency Fund.
On the first day of the Canadian National Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel, the Alberta delegation engaged with representatives including Jewish Federation board and committee volunteers and CEOs from across Canada, as well as several MPs. The group was joined and supported by volunteer and professional leadership from CIJA, Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and JDC.
Following introductions and tone setting for the mission (including an inspiring address by Professor Gil Troy), the delegation left for Kibbutz Shefayim, where members of Kfar Azza are temporarily living after the Hamas terror attack on their community.
In a meta post, the delegation from Calgary wrote, “We met with survivors and heroes of October 7, some whose family members were murdered or kidnapped, and others who engaged in heroic actions. It was an honour and responsibility to listen to their pain, comfort them, and assure them that we will not forget what they shared with us.
“After an emotional visit and a renewed commitment to honour and keep alive the testimonies we heard, a quick visit to the Old City and Kotel was a perfect energy boost and soother of emotions. One thing is clear: although Israel is in the fight of its life, it remains a remarkable beacon of hope – a country built and defended by its people. It is amazing to see how Israel has come together during this time of great darkness; even more determined to drive out hate and terror and be a model of hope and resilience.”
The second day of the Canadian National Leadership Solidarity Mission was a mix of extremely painful and inspiring feelings.
“We began with a visit to Sderot (the largest city close to Gaza), where rockets upon rockets fall each and every year, and where Hamas terrorists attacked on October 7, taking control of the police station. We met with Mayor Alon Davidi and some of his staff and community members. They continue to envision a thriving city, a dream they earnestly pursue even in the wake of recent events.
“We then proceeded to Kfar Azza, the site of horrific attacks by Hamas – including murder, torture, and kidnapping. It was an extremely difficult visit as it was once a thriving and energetic community, which is (at least for now) a place of death and destruction. The buildings show signs of bullets, grenade shrapnel, broken windows, and more. To even contemplate what occurred there on October 7 is tragic and sickening.”
The delegation was joined by Speaker of the Knesset, Amir Ohana, MK who was presented with a gift from the Speaker of the Alberta Legislative Assembly, Nathan Cooper – the flag of Alberta that was flown at the Legislature in solidarity with Israel.
“Even with all of the pain and sorrow, there is a sense of commitment and resilience, and a clear desire to rebuild and re-establish the community once it is safe to do so. Our sense is that morale is very high – despite a long road ahead. To close the evening, we joined displaced members of Kiryat Shmona, and experienced their hope and optimism while participating in a sing-a-long. Israel might be bruised and in pain, but its spirit is alive and well. Am Yisrael Chai!”
“The purpose of our trip to Israel was to see, learn from and experience the country and the Israelis in solidarity following the horrific events of October 7,” stated Jordan Balaban at the Community Menorah Lighting at Calgary City Hall. “We had the opportunity to meet with some of the 300,000 Israelis who are displaced by the conflict, to hear from survivors of Hamas’ brutal and inhumane attacks, to grieve with family members of those murdered by Hamas, to tour some the devastated communities overtaken on October 7 and to convene with community leaders. Our solidarity at this time with the people of Israel who share our democratic Canadian values was deeply impactful by all those we spent time with.”
“Israelis feel very alone right now,” continued Balaban, “and so do we all collectively as Jews. Israelis are, one step at a time, processing their collective trauma, as well as facing up to the eventual challenge of healing, and making difficult choices to ensure their security.
Israelis are some of the best in building and innovating…They are strong, resilient and resolute in ensuring a safe and secure future for their citizens.”
Stacey Leavitt-Wright said, “Most striking to me was the unity, the determination and clarity [that we saw] on the mission and seeing this through, to get hostages released and to live in security. While the country is in pain, there is much heroism and resilience. And they were equally concerned about us and antisemitism abroad.
“What I witnessed has strengthened my resolve to assist, and to have a strong Jewish Edmonton – to keep us connected and ensure we have a Jewish homeland.”
In her remarks at the Menorah Lighting in Edmonton at the Legislature Grounds, she said, “When I stood in Kibbutz Kfar Azza, among the destruction and ashes…there were three things that struck me: First, that we must bear witness, and continue to tell the stories, of the survivors, the heroes, the victims, the displaced and those who remain hostage.
“Second, that Jewish Alberta and Israel are closely tied and deeply impact one another. We were able to express solidarity with people of Israel who share our Canadian democratic values in reading a strong letter of support and solidarity from the Honourable Nathan Cooper, to the Speaker of the Knesset Mr. Amir Ohana with an Albertan MP, Michelle Rempel-Garner at our side.
“And third, while standing in the aftermath of the massacre, declaring that life and laughter will return to Kibbutz Kfar Azza, as well as other communities across Israel, that the Canadian Jewish community will be there to help make it so. What further jolted me in that moment, was how important it is that we as Jewish Edmontonians continue to live public and proud Jewish lives in the city our community has called home since 1893.”
Balaban concluded his remarks by saying, “While our trip was just for a few short days, the road ahead for peaceful co-existence will be long. As Canadians, we should do our part in making that road as short as possible to promoting understanding, respect, and peace.
“We are praying for the return of all the hostages to their families and for conditions that allow for peace and dignity between Israel and the Palestinian people. Together we can overcome the darkness, death and devastation of this horrible conflict and we can reject divisive ideologies like the rising antisemitism. Together we can focus on our common humanity.”
“You can’t go and be unchanged,” said Adam Silver to Global News. “You also can’t go and not see the resilience and the morale and commitment to living life and not letting these terrorists defeat us. It gives me great hope for the future.”