Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
A Billion Piece Puzzle by Samantha Banks

YLIA participant, Samantha Banks (second from the left), with fellow young leaders.

The night before the mission left, I emailed Rachel Chertkoff to see if I needed a towel. She chuckled and said, “Sam the last thing you will need to pack is a towel, this trip will be like nothing you have ever experienced before.” The Young Leadership Israel Advocacy Mission to Israel which is jointly hosted by United Israel Appeal, The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), is the culmination of a year-long program designed to engage the next generation of young Jewish leaders with the Canadian political sector. Everyone, from our bus driver Avi, to our tour guide Avi (are you detecting a trend?), to our Canadian Members of Parliament brought with them to our jam packed Israel adventure their unique personalities and perspectives.

The journey began in Jerusalem. Our days were filled with scrumptious meals and captivating briefing sessions from some of Israel’s most acclaimed speakers. We trekked through the Western Wall Tunnels and received in-depth updates on the Middle East. Day two began with a detailed review of Israeli politics followed by a visit to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The rest of the week continued in a similar fashion, during which time our group had the opportunity to meet with and hear from key representatives in the Palestinian Authority and reporters covering the current crisis. Other highlights included: wine tasting in the Golan, strategic lookout points outlining the security situation in the surrounding towns and countries, visiting Christian archaeological sites, Masada, Yad Vashem, and test driving cars at Better Place, the premier global provider of electric vehicles.

What separated this mission from others was the opportunity it provided to spend all day conversing with individuals who you would otherwise never imagine getting to spend more than twenty minutes with. Having the opportunity to listen to and learn from Members of Parliament and their spouses was fascinating to me. Seeing their reactions at the Western Wall on Shabbat or laughing as we all washed off the mud in the Dead Sea were the moments when I stopped and recognized how much I truly appreciated what I usually take for granted as a young Jewish adult living in the Diaspora. We are offered so much; a free trip to Israel when we turn 18 and numerous opportunities to return on subsidized missions while 95% of the population will never even set foot in Israel. It was shocking to hear the parliamentarians compare their personal experiences in politics to the day-to-day challenges faced in Israel. This helped me to recognize that many of us share similar goals; we all just have very different ways of achieving them.

My fondest memory is of sitting around the table with the MPs after dinner one night, sipping on Israeli wine, and asking them personal questions and receiving the most brutally honest and real answers. They acted and spoke in such a way that they became at once mentors, professors and friends. Hearing how they juggle the work/life balance and how they maintain cohesion amongst their constituents and ridings made me realize the applicability of these political skills to life in general. This mission left an unforgettable impression in my heart and in my mind regarding the Canadian political arena — one that could never have been taught within the four walls of a classroom.

What I also loved about the trip were the friendships formed between my fellow young adult leaders. We came from all walks of life – our backgrounds ranging from pharmaceuticals to real-estate (and of course a few lawyers in the mix) – yet we all seemed to have a distinct reason for being on the trip. There was a really nice balance between work and play which allowed for us to dive into deep conversations on topics such as policy, economic decline, Israeli innovation, nuclear threat and peaceful negotiations. Similarly, the awareness of these issues made me realize the pervasiveness of politics in all our lives — something we all have to deal with. Life is a constant game. The more colleagues and friends you make, the easier your next move will be. Never be ashamed to ask for help from those who came before you, because their wisdom is the key to success for those following in their footsteps.

Aside from the briefing sessions and tours, this mission is about the human connection. The networking and one-on-one time is invaluable and this is the only trip in Canada that opens doors for this kind of connection. Each stage of this trip was so thoughtfully planned and executed that I pray it continues to run for the benefit of the next generation of young adults and for the future of Canadian politics. It is crucial for Canadian politicians to visit Israel because, regardless of the number of books and articles one can read, it is almost impossible to understand the nuanced dynamics and love we have for this country without setting foot on Israeli soil. I believe this trip truly allowed the participants to rethink their ideologies towards Israel, ask challenging questions and speak up for what they believed in.

Israel is a country broken up into a billion puzzle pieces. However, with continued support and investment from the Canadian and international Jewish communities, we sure as hell can try and put the puzzle pieces together. I still strongly believe that despite the specter of the current nuclear crisis and economic decline, there is hope for peaceful negotiations and for finding a solution for this state we all love. People say I hum to my own tune, whether it be a bit of a different style or talk. This mission taught me to never lose those qualities that stop me from blending in because if you want to be an extraordinary leader then you need to be followed and there is no better way to attract someone’s attention than by being a little unique.

This article was also published on Samantha’s blog.