As Canada evacuates citizens from Israel, some Israeli-Canadians want to stay

By Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

As Shawna Goodman-Sone spoke to a reporter from a suburb of Tel Aviv Wednesday, she had to end the call abruptly and seek refuge in her home’s safe room as an air raid warning went off.

Before fleeing into the reinforced room, she spoke about moving to Israel from Montreal nine years ago — and why she has decided to stay in the country despite the war with Hamas.

“We’re taking a leap of faith that this is where we belong,” Goodman-Sone said. “This is where we chose to live, this is where our home is, our community, our friends, and all of our friends’ kids are serving in the army. I’m so grateful we made this decision.”

Global Affairs Canada estimates that roughly 35,000 Canadian citizens live in Israel, which allows people with at least one Jewish grandparent, and their spouses, to quickly obtain citizenship. Since Israel declared war on Hamas on Sunday, more than 1,300 Canadians have left the country on military flights organized by the federal government, but Goodman-Sone is among the many Canadians who have made their home in the Jewish state and say they aren’t going anywhere.

“Nobody wants to be living under rocket attacks, that’s not a way to be living,” said Todd Sone, Goodman-Sone’s husband, “But you can’t run away from threats. You need to confront threats because if we spent our life running away from threats and from evil, we would have no justice in the world.”

The couple and two of their three sons were on vacation in Paris when they heard about the Hamas attacks in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, including the son of a close friend. The family had the opportunity to head to Canada, where they have relatives, but instead they returned to Israel.

“There are pivotal moments in your life when you have to make difficult decisions,” Sone said. “You can take a safe route, in this case, a much safer route, or you can take the road that brings meaning to your life.”

Sone, who is originally from Toronto and works at an investment fund that invests in medical technology companies, said that since the war started he spends half his days volunteering at a food distribution centre packing food for Israelis who have been displaced by Hamas rocket attacks.

After a year of massive street protests across Israel against judicial reforms brought in by a governing coalition that has polarized Israeli society, Sone said he now sees a strong sense of unity in the country.

Myriam Azogui-Halbwax, who moved to Israel seven years ago after immigrating to Canada from France in 2005, said she too has seen people coming together.

Her kids have visited Israeli children who have been displaced by the attacks, and in WhatsApp groups, she said, people are sharing information about funerals and about families sitting Shiva — the weeklong Jewish mourning period.

On Tuesday, Azogui-Halbwax attended the funeral for Tiferet Lapidot, a young Israeli woman with Canadian ties who was killed Saturday. Like most of the hundreds of mourners at the funeral, she said she didn’t know the 23-year-old or her family.

“We all felt the urge, the importance, to come and show support and tell them we are with you, because it could have been our kids,” she said.

Azogui-Halbwax, who has Canadian citizenship, works at the Israel office of the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, where she organizes visits to Israel for groups from Canada. She said the thought of leaving has never crossed her mind.

“This is my country, my home. I love Canada, I do love Canada, but this is home, this is where my people live, and this is where my family is. This is my home, where I belong,” she said in an interview. “Especially in these difficult times.”

Azogui-Halbwax’s three daughters were born in Montreal and she hopes they’ll make their lives in Israel. Her oldest is now 19 and is serving in the Israeli military.

“As a woman and a feminist, I am proud that my daughter is serving in the army as an active combat soldier, but as a mother, I am extremely anxious. I don’t sleep well,” she said.

Her two other girls — one 12, the other almost 17 — could have left, but Azogui-Halbwax said she doesn’t think they’d be safer outside the country than they are at home, where they’re protected by the Israeli military.

She said life has changed since the war began: school is cancelled, people don’t go out walking or to restaurants. But the brutality of last Saturday’s attack has reinforced her decision to stay in Israel.

“Jews won’t disappear, Israel won’t disappear, and Jews won’t leave Israel,” she said.

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