It was a brief three year term, concluded prematurely because of a previous assignment abroad, yet Joel Lion made a lasting impression as the Consul General of the State of Israel to Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces.
Lion, his wife Rivka and six of their eight children, returned to Israel last week. During his time here he was a presence at virtually every community event. Generally speaking without any notes, he would always have audiences attentive to his every word. Within days of his arrival in the summer of 2011 he began to meet with community representatives and in rapid speed he got to know people on a first name basis.
|Joel Lion, shown here at an Israel anniversary rally.|
“I am sad to leave, but after six years on the road it is time to go home,” Lion told the Jewish Tribune in an interview on the eve of his departure. “Our eldest son is in the army and this is not an easy time for us to be so far away.”
I feel a personal loss with Lion's departure. I have worked with many people who held his position before, but never have I felt a deeper connection. He is a very special individual and I miss him already.
Lion chose to have his personal residence in a rented home in Côte Saint-Luc, quite a departure from his predecessors who preferred something closer to the Consulate downtown. As a result, Lion had a presence in the community and made it a point to attend different local synagogue services and community events.
Asked to indicate what the highlight was during his term he responded: “My entire stay here was one big highlight. But I am happy with the contacts I made here and in Atlantic Canada. In Quebec we reached out successfully to the provincial government. That included the Parti Québecois. During their term in office I secured funding to send the Ballet Jazz de Montréal to Israel and we were engaged in serious talks to establish a Quebec office in Israel.”
Lion also played ice hockey for the first time, suiting up in what was called the Kiddush Cup between two local synagogues at the Bell Centre. “I hope to introduce some street hockey in Israel,” he said. “I will be wearing my Montreal Canadiens PK Subban sweater.”
Lion, 49, is an ordained orthodox rabbi. He was born in France, grew up in Luxembourg and immigrated to Israel in 1982. Prior to his Montreal posting he was the spokesperson for the Consulate General of Israel in New York and permanent representative of Israel to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – a post he maintained while in Canada.
A few days before his departure, Lion penned an editorial in the French language daily newspaper Le Devoir in which he took some of the Quebec media to task for their coverage of the war in Gaza. “During the last month, when my country was at war against Islamist fanatics, the voices of those who hate the Jews here were mixed with those who do not recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” he wrote. “They brought with them many do-gooders who have fallen into the trap of Islamist propaganda and did not want to hear the facts. Some Quebec media have also joined these voices. You accuse us of killing. Let me be clear: I cry every casualty of this conflict, but I would not allow anyone to demonize us because we never deliberately targeted civilians. Never!”
B’nai Brith Canada’s Ted Greenfield notes that he always found Lion to be very accessible. “Very early in his mandate, he met with the local BBC Board and then spoke to the seniors at our building,” he said. “I found that he understood that the way to reach the general community was by promoting the normality of Israel, its creativity, industriousness, and the strides it has made in so many fields in its short history. Obviously, his strength in the French language was a major plus in that regard.
Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko added: “Joel was a wonderful addition to our community over the last three years. He vigorously defended Israel in Quebec with grace and courage in ways that will benefit all of us for years to come.”