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Toronto educator leading by example to teach students how to be Zionists

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Zionist educator Aviva Polonsky, president of the Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools, told TheJ.ca: “Enough being on the defense. That has to change with our educators.”

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Aviva Polonsky says that her mission, as an educator, is to “foster in her students a love for Israel and dedication to Zionism.”

Polonsky is currently a Jewish history teacher, and head of the Ivrit department, at TanenbaumCHAT High School in Toronto, where she has been teaching since 2001. In recent years, she has also been at the forefront of several major educational initiatives, with the aim to advance the cause of Israel and the Jewish people.

With this, the new school year upon us, she sees it as a perfect opportunity to double down on efforts to inspire more students to connect to Israel advocacy. In fact, she says the prescription begins with being role models of activism.

“Many leaders and many educators believe that love of Israel and love for the Jewish people is assumed to just stick, and that’s just not going to happen naturally. I say it won’t happen organically. It has to be emphasized, and you have to lead by example,” she insists.

When IDF reservists came to speak at York University in Toronto, an event that spurred a now-infamous anti-Israel campus demonstration. “Students saw me going there, and live-streaming it. That’s what empowers them. It’s about taking a stand – getting involved,” she says.

“This inspires them to be go-getters. Just to sit there and preach to them, isn’t going to help.”

The overall strategy, she asserts, should be to “connect them to activism, not passivism. Enough being on the defense. That has to change with our educators.” Even the way Zionism is discussed in an academic setting must be carefully presented, she says.

“So, ‘prove Israel isn’t an Apartheid state’ won’t be written on any of my tests, because just writing it that way, means maybe there’s something to it. I’m going to ask: ‘explain why Israel has a right to exist.’”

In still another example of her dedication, she convinced the organizers of the Milstein Family Foundation Innovation Competition to include her students. Geared towards college students, participants present original pro-Israel campus initiatives, with winners eligible to receive grants of up to $15,000 to fund their ideas. Polonsky, in a volunteer capacity, spent months with her students preparing for their presentation, at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC in both 2018 and 2019.

CHAT was the only high school in the competition, and the only group from Canada. Both times, they won second place.

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She says the results of her Israel activism have carried forward to the next generation. To date, she boasts that many of today’s young Jewish leaders were once students that she had in her classroom, citing Lauren Isaacs (Herut), Rebecca Katzman (StandWithUs Canada), Rafi Yablonsky (UJA and JNF), as well as scores of Hasbara and StandWithUs interns.

“She was my grade 11 Jewish History teacher and she taught us about what was occurring on university campuses across Canada at the time when it came to anti-Israel sentiment,” Yablonsky related. “That was the same year of the Concordia University Netanyahu riot. I already knew in grade 11 I would be a proud Zionist on campus. She set the path that led me to creating Hasbara at York – the only student lead and student run Israel advocacy group on campus at York back in 2007 and still exists today.”

Standing up for Israel has been part of her role as president of the Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools, a position she has held since 2016. To mark Israel’s 70th birthday, she organized the Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools gala in May 2018, where some 400 people attended, including educators, politicians, Israeli consul general Galit Baram, Member of Knesset Dov Lipman and donors. Polonsky’s advocacy has extended to spearheading various Israel-related events.

In January 2019, part of the Israel Week celebrations, she and David Matlow organized a school-wide assembly at CHAT, to celebrate Theodore Herzl’s significance and contribution. The Israeli consul general, Galit Baram, spoke to those in attendance.

(Matlow, as it happens, is not just a CHAT parent and a graduate himself, but is said to have the largest collection of Herzl memorabilia in the world).

For these and other efforts, she was honoured with an award in May, 2019 from Hasbara Fellowships. Just two months later, she helped lead a trip to Israel for local Hebrew school educators, in partnership with JNF.

Aviva Polonsky convinced the Milstein Family Foundation Innovation Competition to include her high school students, then coached them to a second place finish at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC in both 2018 and 2019.

Outside academia, she is involved on a political level. As an outspoken member of the Conservative Party of Canada, she attended the party’s Halifax convention in 2018, and voted in favour of moving the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem. It passed and became part of the party’s official platform.

 Roughly two years later, however, one of the candidates for leadership of the party, Peter McKay, publicly said that he would not commit to moving the embassy. Polonsky fired at him on social media for not following the party platform – until he later backtracked.

 “You have to call our leaders out on things like this, and have the courage,” she said, referring to herself as “a social media warrior.”

It is her belief that Zionism is inextricably linked to Jewish continuity: the stronger the Zionist, the stronger one’s Jewish identity. And she believes it is ultimately up to all of us to walk the path, so others will follow.

“It depends on the kind of Jewish community leaders of the future we want. Do we want the kind that are passive? Do we want leaders that say, ‘keep quiet and it’ll go away?’ Or do we take a stand?”

“Your actions determine where we end up.”

Dave Gordon’s work has appeared in more than a hundred media organizations around the world, including all of the Toronto dailies, BBC, Washington Times, and UK Guardian.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

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