A delegation of mayors from 23 countries on Tuesday toured a school in south Tel
Aviv – and drew international attention – after a documentary about the school’s
multi-cultural students won an Oscar earlier this year.
The mayors of
places as far as New Jersey, Harare, Zimbabwe and Trujillo, Peru met with pupils
of the Rogozin-Bialik School and learned about the challenges and hardships they
face as children of refugees and immigrants.
One member of the
delegation, Winnipeg Mayor Samuel Michael Katz, knows what it’s like to be an
immigrant from personal experience. When Katz was a young boy, his Jewish family
emigrated from Poland to Canada via Israel, where he was born.
family] had a cousin in Canada and they sought opportunity,” he recalled. “My
father was a salt-maker in Poland, and he became a baker, and my mother worked
in a store.”
Growing up in north Winnipeg in the 1950s and 1960s, Katz
still remembers the taunts at school because of his
“Anti-Semitism is everywhere – it’s just to what level and how
it surfaces,” he said. “If you don’t see it one day, it doesn’t mean it’s not
there. When I was elected, I was the first Jewish mayor of Winnipeg, a city of
about 700,000 people, and there were many people who thought there would never,
ever be a Jewish mayor.”
He said the Rogozin-Bialik School reminded him
of the importance of embracing newcomers and providing them with an education to
help steer youth away from crime, and prevent poverty.
The delegation of
mayors is part of an annual event now in its 27th year organized by the Foreign
Ministry, the Union of Local Authorities in Israel and the American Council for
World Jewry, a Jewish advocacy group.
“We chose mayors to come because
they are the ones closest to their residents in their local communities –
speaking directly to them – and they are also potential future leaders of their
country,” said Jack Rosen, president of the American Council for World
“From our experience, we had the mayor of Warsaw who ended up
president [the late Lech Kaczynski], and two other mayors who ended up as
senators [Norm Coleman and George Voinovich],” he added.
bringing municipal leaders to Israel was a good opportunity to educate them
about the country, and forge future diplomatic ties.
At the school, the
children put on a show for their guests, singing songs in Hebrew and banging on
Cecil Alexander Joseph, the mayor of Roseau, on the
Caribbean island of Dominica, said he was touched by the
“You come from all over the world – from Africa, Thailand
and the Philippines,” he said, with a Caribbean lilt. “You will enjoy the peace
of Israel and you’ve taught us what love is.”
One of the larger
contingents of children at the school is Filipino, a fact that Michael Rama,
the mayor of the Philippine city of Cebu, acknowledged when he posed beside
Angel Natur, a 10-year-old boy born in Israel to parents from the
“On Behalf of our country, the Philippines, I would like to
thank you for giving the children a future, and not discriminating,” he said.
Click here to follow Gil Shefler on twitter