Left to right: Ilan Pilo, Michelle Pollock, Dr. Neil Pollock, Wendy Eidinger Spatzner and David Goldman. (photo by Robert Albanese)
Vancouver supporters of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) gathered in their finery at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver on June 3 to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday and pay tribute to philanthropists Neil and Michelle Pollock.
Michelle Pollock is a former lawyer, the immediate past president of the board of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and has co-chaired the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign’s women’s division for six years, as well as supporting Jewish education, among many other causes. Dr. Neil Pollock is chief surgeon and medical director of Pollock Clinics. He has undertaken teaching missions to Rwanda, Congo and Haiti, as well as being involved in philanthropy at home and abroad.
JNF Pacific Region president David Goldman welcomed the crowd – who had to pass a few dozen protesters on their way into the hotel – and introduced the evening’s emcee, Michael Nemirow, a friend of the Pollocks, who is also involved in various community organizations and activities. “I’ve done the math, and we have around 11 hours of speeches and entertainment for you this evening, but we’ll try to compress it into three,” Nemirow said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
After Maurice Moses led the audience in O Canada and Hatikvah, B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin took the stage. She praised JNF for its work in the “restoration and preservation of the Jewish homeland,” which covers everything from ecological to social to security initiatives. Austin also commented about the Pollocks, highlighting Neil Pollock’s work in Rwanda to prevent the spread of HIV.
Galit Baram, consul general of Israel for Toronto and Western Canada, focused her remarks on the 70th anniversary of Israel, “the only democracy in our region, a bastion of democracy.” She described its strengths in the areas of human rights, medicine, multiculturalism and technological innovation. She said Israel is led by people “both on the right and on the left who love their country with all their hearts” in the face of multiple existential threats. “We rely on our friends who share common values, and Canada, our ally, is among them,” she said.
“The success of Israel did not happen in a vacuum,” said Baram, citing JNF as a key organization in supporting the state, one in whose name every Israeli has a tree planted. She also spoke of JNF’s contributions in a multitude of activities, including supporting soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and her “personal favourite,” the building of a protected playground in Sderot in an area that has suffered shelling from Hamas and other militant groups. Baram thanked Canadians for the warm welcome and open arms with which Israeli diplomats are welcomed in the country.
After Hamotzi, chanted by the Kollel’s Rabbi Avraham Feigelstock, Ilene-Jo Bellas, former president of the JNF Pacific Region (2012-2015), was presented with the JNF Bloomfield Award by local shaliach Ilan Pilo. He described Bellas as an indefatigable servant for Israel who “bled blue and white,” a portrayal she affirmed as fact after taking the podium.
The video on the work of the JNF was introduced by JNF Canada president Wendy Eidinger Spatzner, who explained that the First Zionist Congress established a fund to purchase land in Israel and that this fund became JNF. She talked about JNF’s extensive work to “build the infrastructure of Israel,” noting that it affects the daily lives of “pretty much every Israeli citizen.”
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz then led everyone in Birkat Hamazon, before Vancouver TheatreSports performed a series of improv skits centred on the Pollocks’ life as a married couple.
The keynote speaker of the dinner was Doron Almog, a former major general in the Israel Defence Forces, who received the Israel Prize for lifetime of achievement. He discussed his role as founder of ALEH, the charity for children with developmental disabilities that the Pollocks chose to support with monies raised from the evening.
Almog spoke on the theme of commitment, as experienced throughout his life and in the work he has done for children. He shared the story of the death of his brother, a tank operator who died after being injured, left behind by his fellow IDF soldiers. Almog subsequently swore to never leave behind an injured soldier.
Almog’s son Eran, who was named after his fallen uncle, was born with a combination of autism and developmental problems, and a psychiatrist told the family that he would probably never speak, remaining at the cognitive age of an infant. “This son became the greatest teacher of my life, he taught me more than anyone about life, about commitment,” said Almog.
After his son died, Almog went to see how children like Eran are treated “in the only Jewish state in the world.” What he saw horrified him: “The first thing you saw is the stink; distorted, terrified faces; shameful things. What the hell are these places, why are they being punished more?”
Almog discovered that such children were objects of shame in Israeli society. Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, had a granddaughter with Down syndrome who, as an adult, gave interviews to the press, said Almog. In these interviews, he continued, “she said, ‘Golda never visited me, Golda never loved me, Golda told my mom, “Never mention the prime minister of Israel having a retarded granddaughter.”’ Yigal Alon [deputy prime minister of Israel, 1968-1979] had a beautiful child who, at age 5, was taken away from the kibbutz she was born in and sent away to Scotland and he never spoke about her. And inside me I heard my son screaming, ‘My dear father, I will never complain to the media, you can send me away to Scotland and never speak of me, but, if you do that, you do not deserve even the title of “father” or even the title of human. I am the ultimate test of commitment,’ he said to me, the echo box of your bleeding brother.”
After Almog left the military, he established the village of ALEH, “a paradise where the children can have a full life. We broke the walls of stigma and shame and stereotypes.”
ALEH Jerusalem, a multi-service home for children with disabilities, now receives help from more than 450 volunteers from all over the world. Some of them, said Almog, are children of Nazis, who say they are coming as atonement for Hitler’s decision to kill people with disabilities. “The social chain is always measured by its weakest link,” said Almog, receiving a standing ovation.
After a video explaining more about ALEH, there was a video tribute to the Pollocks introduced by their children, Josh, Elliot and Shoshana. The Pollocks said a few words, after which Goldman and Pilo wound up the celebration.
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
This year’s Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner honourees are Michelle and Neil Pollock. (photo from Pollock family)
For their contributions to a diverse range of philanthropic causes, Neil and Michelle Pollock are being honoured at this year’s Negev Dinner.
“Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, is proud to have Dr. Neil and Michelle Pollock as our 2018 Negev Dinner honourees on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel,” said Ilan Pilo, shaliach and executive director of JNF Pacific Region. “Their longtime contribution to the community and their leadership are widely recognized, as they are inspirational philanthropists who go above and beyond to involve the community in creative ways to fund critically important projects. We are very pleased they have chosen to work with JNF and ALEH Jerusalem on the Outdoor Terrace Project and the Hydrotherapy Pool, which will benefit seriously disabled children and youth in Israel.”
ALEH Jerusalem provides 82 children and young adults with comprehensive professional care, including special education, as well as medical, supportive and therapeutic care.
“I’m honoured, as I know Michelle is, for us to have been recognized and included in this legacy of community leaders and builders, a few of whom I have been privileged to meet, and who have been mentors and role models for myself and others in our community,” said Neil Pollock. “I look forward to having the opportunity to contribute to the cultivation of future leadership in our community in a similar way.”
The Jewish National Fund is important to the family, said Michelle Pollock, because the projects it supports focus on infrastructure in Israel.
“They’re all reflective of Jewish values and helping with the viability and integrity of the Jewish state,” she said.
Michelle Pollock is a lawyer who practised litigation in Vancouver before devoting herself full-time to their family. She is the immediate past president of the board of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and has co-chaired the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign’s women’s division Lion of Judah category for six years. She has been involved with Jewish education and a host of other causes.
Dr. Neil Pollock is chief surgeon and medical director of Pollock Clinics. Over more than 20 years, he has developed minimally invasive techniques for vasectomy, circumcision and frenulectomy procedures. The Pollock Technique has a greater than 99.9% success rate and results in decreased risk of post-vasectomy pain. He has undertaken teaching missions to Rwanda, Congo and Haiti, where he trains local doctors in circumcision, and said the work he has done in Africa and Haiti is among the most meaningful contributions he could make to humanity.
“Our team successfully gave our surgical colleagues in those countries the surgical training, as well as the equipment and supplies, to safely carry out surgical procedures that will save, over the years to come, thousands of lives by reducing HIV transmission,” he said. “Circumcision has been scientifically shown to reduce HIV transmission by 60%. It has been equated to providing protection equivalent to a vaccine against the disease. Sharing my technique provided the mechanism to offer in those countries, for the first time, a safe, quick, painless approach for circumcision that families would happily and readily accept. I continue to search out places around the globe where myself and my team could have similar impact for communities at risk. God willing, there will be more surgical missions in our future.”
Pollock has also developed a unique surgical training program for mohelim, who perform brit milot. He is a mohel himself and, in lieu of accepting fees for his work, advises families to donate to the
Pollock Family Philanthropy Fund at the Vancouver Foundation in honour of the lifecycle event and to support those in need in the community. The philanthropy fund supports the surgical teaching missions to the developing world, as well as organizations including the Arthritis Society, B.C. Cancer Foundation, schools, social service and community agencies.
Pollock’s involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver includes four years as head of the major gifts division and, in 2015, he served as chair of the general campaign, which raised $8.3 million.
“Michelle and Neil Pollock are among the most committed volunteers in our community,” said Karen James, chair of the board of Jewish Federation. “When asked to help, they step up. The Pollocks have been involved with countless initiatives we’ve undertaken at Jewish Federation to address vital community needs…. In response to his work, Neil has been recognized by Jewish Federation’s board with the Woogman Award, for his consistent and conscientious leadership by example. The Pollocks truly help to make our community stronger.”
In addition to their shared involvement with Jewish Federation, the Pollocks support Jewish Family Services. Neil Pollock has served as a board and executive member and is a Friend for Life, a category of donors with lifetime giving of $100,000 or more. The couple also provide an annual matching gift for the Innovators Lunch to inspire philanthropy; these funds are dedicated to the Jewish Food Bank.
They additionally support the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel, where Neil Pollock is a member of the board of governors and of the fundraising and building committee. He described the Kollel as one of the “less visible but most critical, vibrant and productive organizations in our community today, providing inspirational and educational programming through lectures, social events connecting Jewish youth, hosting Shabbat and Jewish holiday celebrations, all in a safe and accepting environment where everyone can feel comfortable – from Reform to Orthodox.
“I personally am deeply grateful to the founder of the Kollel, Rabbi [Avraham] Feigelstock, for the many hours of teaching, counseling and support that he has quietly provided for me and so many others I know,” said Pollock. “He has sought to help us develop the leadership skills and sound judgment, through both his core Jewish teachings and by cultivating menshlichkeit values, that he hopes we can be guided by in our personal, business and community work, in turn, helping us to be better equipped to meaningfully give back to our community for the years to come.”
Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu, director of the Kollel, said Michelle and Neil Pollock have truly embraced the concept of tikkun olam.
“They both contribute meaningfully; not only financially, but also give time, expertise and insight,” said Yeshayahu. “Their personal involvement in the Jewish community is priceless. We so appreciate their community involvement and care, vision and leadership, and wish them continued success in all that they undertake.”
“It was through the JNF, in my elementary school years, that I was given my earliest opportunities to participate in and contribute directly to the growth and well-being of the state of Israel,” said Neil Pollock. “This helped me to appreciate the importance for Jews to be interested in and responsible for doing our part for our homeland, which has remained with me to this day. And now, again through the JNF, we have been given this very gratifying opportunity to personally identify and support a phenomenal project – ALEH Jerusalem – to again help the state and its people in need, in a very meaningful way.”
Michelle Pollock’s connection to JNF and Israel stem from her family’s history. Her mother’s father was sent from Poland to Canada, alone, at the age of 14, to make enough money to send for the rest of the family.
“It took him too long,” she said, “and his family was wiped out.”
Pollock’s mother, as a result, was raised in a home clouded by survivor’s guilt and where the past was not discussed. But Zionism was at its core.
“Support and survival of the Jewish state was a complete, tangible imperative because of her father’s experience,” said Pollock. “I see this now, reflecting back.”
The lessons of Jewish statelessness are embedded in her family.
“I can’t separate my Jewish sense of self from my support of Israel,” she said. “It’s all tied together. It’s one and the same.”
Neil Pollock’s philanthropic vision is both local and global.
“I have seen firsthand through my many years of volunteering with Federation, culminating in chairing the 2015 annual campaign, how critical the JFGV is for our community,” he said. “It is so important to have an organization to canvass so effectively the support of our community while carefully researching and assessing the needs of our community and its constituent organizations and thoughtfully allocating our resources in a balanced way, ensuring all facets of our diverse community needs are supported.”
Supporting JFS, and specifically the Jewish Food Bank, he added, “aligns with our core values regarding our responsibility to support those less fortunate and in need of the essentials, like food, shelter, medical care…. There is so much affluence in our community that, in our minds, there cannot and will never be, any justification for leaving anyone, any vulnerable individuals, behind.”
Most of the honourees at the Negev Dinner over the years have been older than the Pollocks, who have three children in high school. Far from approaching the end of their philanthropic endeavours, both talk enthusiastically about future plans.
Michelle Pollock has been very committed to Jewish education, originally when her kids were at Vancouver Talmud Torah and, more recently, supporting King David High School.
“The kids that go there and come out of there are so proud of their cultural heritage,” she said. “It’s an interesting thing to see in teenagers. It moves me greatly.”
Now she is turning more of her focus to Holocaust education and Israel advocacy, which her family history has taught her are closely interrelated. She plans to deepen her involvement with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
“I think Holocaust education is important. But, at this critical point, where we still have survivors, it’s imperative. Every single non-Jew that you touch with the story of a survivor, that is an invaluable experience. I think we all have a duty to do whatever we can to support Holocaust education.”
“The VHEC … all I can say is wow. For the past few years, I’ve been going to their symposium at UBC. It’s really unbelievable … being at UBC and being in this very secular place and looking at all these kids that have traveled by bus all day from all over the Lower Mainland, and watching them hear the stories of survivors and ask their questions. I think Holocaust education is important,” she said. “But, at this critical point, where we still have survivors, it’s imperative. Every single non-Jew that you touch with the story of a survivor, that is an invaluable experience. I think we all have a duty to do whatever we can to support Holocaust education. And I’m a huge fan of the [Holocaust] centre.”
She also recently joined the Israel and overseas affairs committee of Federation and hopes to advocate for Israel through that and other avenues.
“I see my focus for the next long while in those two areas because I really see them tied together,” she said. “Holocaust education and Israel advocacy. I think it will grow and change. I’ll just keep finding ways to contribute.”
As immediate past president of the JCC, she is continuing a commitment that began 14 years ago, when she first joined the board. Part of her motivation is that, coming originally from Montreal, she finds it can be more difficult to stay Jewishly connected in places like Vancouver, where the community is not as deeply rooted.
“I definitely think it’s easier in some of the older, more established Jewish communities and I think my personal passion is to do whatever we can to make it easier to be Jewish and live Jewish,” she said. “I think the JCC has all the programming and all the events that help you touch on Judaism in your daily life. But, even more than that, just walking in that building makes you smile in a uniquely Jewish way.”
Also from away, in his case, Winnipeg, Neil Pollock said he is grateful for being “so graciously welcomed and accepted in this community, and for the wonderful network of friends that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by.”
He is philosophical about his plans, hoping, he said with a laugh, to get better with age, “like the great wines in my cellar.”
“Every day we wake up, we are slightly different people, remolded and growing with all-new experiences,” he said. “Hopefully, we capture and deploy the insights we gain to allow us to be more mature and effective leaders.”
He continued: “While my kids are young and at home, they will continue to be my top priority. My business has now moved to a global level, so … I am more engaged, involved and excited now about future potential than ever.
“Often, I feel over-committed with my career, family and other things that happen in my life, but, at these moments, I try to remember that I also have a greater purpose and a greater responsibility and that is the one to my community,” he said. “I believe we all have an obligation to care for others and help those who are in need. We also must ensure that our Jewish traditions and values are maintained for generations that will follow, through our support of Jewish education and local Jewish institutions.”
He wants his experience to demonstrate that anyone can have an impact on the community.
“I hope that the great diversity of backgrounds amongst our community leaders serves as an example and inspiration to the many truly talented members of our community who may have ever questioned their ability to get involved and make a difference.”
“Some community members may believe that, in order to be an influential leader and have a meaningful impact, one must come from a family with a strong history of leadership and/or affluence,” he said. “This is not the case in our community. And I hope that the great diversity of backgrounds amongst our community leaders serves as an example and inspiration to the many truly talented members of our community who may have ever questioned their ability to get involved and make a difference.”
He added: “I want to thank all the community organizations that have welcomed us and provided us with the opportunity to become involved and give back.”
Asked about how he would like people to think of him in future, Pollock said, “I would like to be thought of and remembered in a similar way, I’m sure, to [how] most people would: as an individual concerned with things other than those that are immediately self-gratifying, and who is interested and active in doing his small part to ensure that opportunities to help others were not missed, and that meaningful efforts were undertaken to ensure the Jewish community and broader community in which we lived thrived.”
The JNF’s Negev Dinner takes place June 3. Honourary chairs of the event are Alex and Jodi Cristall and Harvey and Jody Dales. For tickets and more information, visit jnf.ca/index.php/vancouver.
Left to right: Shannon Gorski, Gary Averbach, JNF Pacific Region president David Goldman, Michael Averbach and JNF shaliach Ilan Pilo. (photo by Robert Albanese)
The soldout Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner on June 4 at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver honoured Gary Averbach and his two children who live locally, Michael Averbach and Shannon Gorski, for their service to the community. Proceeds from the gala will fund infrastructure improvements to the Israeli Scouts (Tzofei Tzamid) facilities in Raanana and Dimona, in order to make them more accessible for children and youth with disabilities. The Israeli Scouts, which runs programming for youth aged 9-21, has more than 80,000 members, including more than 2,500 children and youth with disabilities.
Left to right, Negev Dinner 2017 honourees Michael Averbach, Gary Averbach and Shannon Gorski (née Averbach). (photo from Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region)
“The important thing that I want to say is that I’ve accepted this honour because I’m sharing it with my kids,” Gary Averbach told the Independent about this year’s Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region, Negev Dinner, which will pay tribute to Averbach, his son Michael Averbach and daughter Shannon Gorski.
“Ultimately, it came down to my father being recognized,” said Michael Averbach. “He was apprehensive. Initially, he didn’t want to do this. He’s a very humble man and doesn’t like to be in the spotlight; in fact, he’s quite the opposite. But, he also understands it’s for a greater good and it will help build JNF, help fundraise and go towards a need in Israel.”
Even though the dinner on June 4 is sold out, community members can still support the Averbachs’ chosen project: the Tzofei Tzamid, the Israeli Scouts.
The Israeli Scouts run programs for kids 9 to 21. Their 80,000-plus members include more than 2,500 children and youth with disabilities.
Gorski and her father visited Israel in late February. She described the Scouts as “a rite of passage for Israelis.” In the program, she said, children with severe Down syndrome, kids with visual or hearing impairments or who are on the autism spectrum, “all of these children are being able to work side-by-side with their Israel Scouts’ peers and fully participate in the programs the Israeli Scouts offer. And that is what my family, alongside the JNF Vancouver community of supporters, are funding – the ability of the Israeli Scouts program in Raanana, to ensure that they have the proper resources and equipment when they take the Israeli scouts into the wilderness, as well as their own facility, to make it accessible for all.”
She said the organization’s mission “really resonated with my own philosophy, and that is one of inclusion … providing opportunities so that kids can develop skills, and leadership opportunities and life-preparedness. I see Israel already as such a leader in a lot of innovative ideas … and, when I got to see what they were doing in the area of youth services, they also are [excelling in that]…. When my father and I were there – to be able to see firsthand how happy these children were and how they were included, and listening to the testimonies of the parents, who are so appreciative and happy themselves, because what makes a parent happy is to see their child happy.”
Gorski, Gary and Diane Averbach’s eldest child, and Michael, their youngest, live in Vancouver, while their middle son, Blake, splits his time between Israel and Quebec City. The three Negev honourees are being celebrated for their many local community contributions.
Born in Vancouver to Louis and Betty Averbach, Gary Averbach – who is chief operating officer of Belmont Properties – has been involved in various capacities with JNF, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCCGV), the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver (JCF), Congregation Beth Israel and the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, among others.
Shannon Gorski, managing director of the Betty Averbach Foundation, has worked with marginalized people and at-risk youth for most of her life. In the Jewish community, she has served on the boards of JCCGV, Hillel BC and Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS); chaired galas and events, such as JCCGV’s Israel at 60, Beth Tikvah’s 40th anniversary and RJDS’s 18th gala; and sat on committees of JCF, King David High School and the Bayit.
Michael Averbach, who owns Averbach Mortgages and also works with Belmont Properties, has chaired the JCC Sports Dinner for many years (he co-chaired it this year with James Dayson), has co-chaired a Vancouver Talmud Torah Gentleman’s Dinner, is on the executive board of the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel and is active with Federation.
“We had a reception last night,” Gary Averbach told the Independent the morning after a Negev Dinner-related cocktail party at his home, “and I heard it enough times, that people understand, it’s so great your kids are carrying on your tradition. That’s the message I want to go out: how lucky I am to have kids that have carried forward what I believe in.”
The first Jewish organization Averbach got involved with was JNF, he said, and it is the only Israeli organization with which he has been heavily involved. “The local community, and especially things involving Jewish youth, means the most to me,” he said.
“I think it’s great what the JNF is doing now,” he added. Funding groups such as the Israeli Scouts, he said, “is a great step and it really makes the JNF more relevant to a lot more people all over, but certainly in Vancouver.”
Gorski said she has spoken to Israelis now living here about how integral the Israeli Scouts were to them. “In fact,” she said, “one individual in the community, who’s very active with youth in the community, said to me, ‘The Israeli Scouts saved my life.’ I was so, so moved by that.”
After she and her father visited the Israeli Scouts, Gorski joined JCCGV’s Bagel Club in Israel as a chaperone on their Birthright-style mission – “for many of these Jewish persons with different abilities and challenges,” she said, it was their first trip to Israel.
While she’s never been formally connected to the Bagel Club, Gorski said she has a step-uncle who is a participant and she was on the hiring committee for the current leader of the program, Leamore Cohen.
Worried about being away from her two children for so long, she asked them if they were OK with her leaving. She said her older son said, “What are your talking about? I’m excited for you. You’re going to Israel, and you’re going to do something that’s so important.
“That’s another reason why I get connected,” she said. “My father has been such a mentor to me and has instilled in me the importance of modeling behaviours of tikkun olam and just giving generously of your time. He used to say, when I was first asked to be on different boards, which he had been on, i.e. the JCC and involved with Federation, I basically said to him, ‘My biggest concern, Dad, is that I don’t have the capacity, the deep pockets that perhaps they think I do because of yourself,’ and he said, ‘You know what, the community, when they look at people to sit on their board and to participate and to volunteer … they look for the three Ws: wealth, wisdom and work. It’s not all three, it can be one…. They don’t just want the wealthy people.’ And he used to say it’s easy for somebody to write a cheque.
“He’s so humble,” she continued. “Every time that they would ask him to speak, he would always put the credit to those who were the worker bees, the people who were behind the scenes, who were doing the work, they were the ones who deserved the accolades…. For me, that’s been a lot of why I have focused on the Jewish community, but not just the Jewish community…. The fear among the older generation, which I’m entering into, is that, will the next generation be able to carry on and give with the three Ws … is Vancouver in good hands, is the Jewish community in good hands, is Israel in good hands?”
For his part, Michael Averbach – who has four children – has focused his attention mostly on the Jewish community. He was inspired, in his early 20s, by his father’s work on the campaign for JCCGV’s redevelopment. Achieving the goal, Averbach said his father “was so elated, so excited. He screamed out, ‘Yabadabadoo!’ It was the first thing that came to his mind, he was so happy.” Witnessing this reaction, he said, “I caught the bug. I got involved.”
Calling the JNF tribute “a huge honour,” he added, “If we can encourage other young philanthropists and people in the community who are thinking about getting involved to get off the fence and push forward, find something that resonates with them, then this is all very much worthwhile.”
Gorski echoed these sentiments. She said many of her peers “thought the JNF was restricted to selling trees … and, if you go to the Negev Dinner, you see a large demographic of the older generation and not a lot of young people.” With her brother and her joining their father in being honoured, she said, they have managed to share with their peers more about what JNF does – in Israel and around the world – and many “are coming to the Negev Dinner for the first time.”
While in Israel, Gorski organized a get-together for the Bagel Club with madrichim (counselors) from the Israeli Scouts. “They made friendship bracelets, they made pita over an outdoor fire, they were all conversing. It was a really fun evening,” she said. And, as it turns out, some of the Israeli Scouts will be in Vancouver around the time of the Negev Dinner, and some of them will be joining the festivities.
She also shared that it is JCCGV head Eldad Goldfarb’s hope that, along with Cohen of the Bagel Club, which is for adults, and Shirly Goldstein, who is the centre’s youth director, they will be able “to create a program of the two different groups – youth, and adults with special needs – working together with the same sort of philosophy that the Israeli Scouts follow, doing similar types of activities.”
The June 4 Negev Dinner at Four Seasons Hotel will also see Richmond Jewish Day School head of school Abba Brodt presented with JNF’s Education Award. For more information or to donate, contact JNF Pacific Region at 604-257-5155 or [email protected].
Left to right: Gary Segal, 2014 Jewish National Fund Negev Dinner honoree, 2016 honoree Shirley Barnett and Ilan Pilo, Jerusalem emissary and executive director of JNF Pacific Region. (photo by Robert Albanese)
The tally is in. On April 10, the Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region’s soldout Negev Dinner raised a record-breaking $1 million to rebuild a shelter in Rishon LeZion. To be called the Vancouver Shelter, it will be a safe haven for families of all religions and backgrounds while providing them with the time and space to forge new independent lives. It will be run and operated by the Israeli nonprofit No to Violence Against Women, which works with women and children fleeing domestic abuse. The shelter project was selected by dinner honoree Shirley Barnett.
Josh Cooper, chief executive officer of JNF of Canada, praised Barnett for her community leadership and Frank Sirlin, JNF-PR president, lauded her dedication to the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Addressing the dinner guests, Sirlin said about Barnett’s philanthropic work, “Shirley knows what she wants and she makes it happen.” He also thanked the JNF-PR’s board and donors for making the event a great success.
Ilan Pilo, JNF Jerusalem emissary and Pacific Region executive director, spoke about the importance of the shelter and the funds raised from the dinner for it. He thanked the community at large, as well as the volunteers, lay leaders, dinner chairs and committee and all JNF supporters for supporting the project and for making it a record-breaking year.
Attending the dinner, which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel, were several dignitaries, including Consul-General of Israel to Toronto and Western Canada D.J. Schneeweiss, Premier Christy Clark, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Linda Reid, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Suzanne Anton, Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP House Leader and Official Opposition Solicitor General Critic Mike Farnworth, former member of Parliament Stockwell Day, former member of the Legislative Assembly Grace McCarthy, and founder of No to Violence Against Women, Ruth Rasnic.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by Arik Davidov, an Israeli trumpet player, who also impressed the audience with his shofar playing. Arnold and Anita Silber were this year’s honorary chairs for the Negev Dinner and television and radio broadcaster Shane Foxman was master of ceremonies. Lorne and Melita Segal hosted a reception at their home the night before the dinner.
Since its inception in 1901, JNF has been the sole agency responsible for the development and infrastructure of land in Israel. Its many programs include land reclamation, reforestation and road-building.
Donations go directly to fulfilling the needs of one of the many development areas such as water, forestry and environment, education, community development, security, tourism and recreation, and research and development. For more information, contact Pilo at [email protected] or 604-257-5155, ext. 821.
Shirley Barnett, a longtime community activist and philanthropist, is to be honored by the Jewish National Fund at its annual Negev Dinner April 10.
“The Jewish National Fund is a strong organization that is entering a new stage of many joint ventures and many new directions and worthy of support,” said Barnett, who selected as the recipient project of the event a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, is collaborating with No to Violence Against Women, which was established in 1978 by Israel Prize laureate Ruth Rasnic, who is scheduled to be in Vancouver for the event.
The goal is to raise $1.5 million for the project, which will shelter 10 to 12 families at a time and provide victims of domestic violence with a safe environment from which they can start over. Staff and volunteers of the organization work with families to access therapy, secure income and new housing.
As many as 65% to 70% of women and children fleeing domestic abuse in Israel cannot access shelters due to lack of availability. Moreover, the shelters run by No to Violence Against Women are the only ones open to people of all religions and denominations, said Barnett.
The shelter, in Rishon Le Zion near Tel Aviv, will be named the Vancouver Shelter.
The cause is in line with Barnett’s lifetime work.
“I was involved in the women’s movement going way back to the ’60s,” she told the Independent. “I was on the board of directors of the Vancouver Status of Women in the ‘60s. I’ve always been aware of the lack of empowerment in women and the lack of women seeing their potential to be strong. And, when you’re abused, you need to develop the strength to be more resilient.”
Barnett said she knew she wanted to be a social worker from age 12. While at the University of British Columbia, she had the opportunity to work as a women’s matron at Oakalla prison in Burnaby.
“I was always interested in institutional work, I don’t know why,” she said. “I worked there for about half a year and then I did my fieldwork in juvenile probation.” She worked in other prison settings, as well as with people with addictions.
“More recently, I was on the board of the Odd Squad Society,” she said. “It’s a group of police officers who do gang prevention work in their off-hours.”
She also helped found Food Runners, now part of the Vancouver Food Bank. It is a program in which a refrigerated truck picks up surplus food from hotels and restaurants and delivers it to organizations that feed people.
After graduating with a bachelor of social work degree, Barnett worked for a federal agency setting up affirmative action projects for women and resettlement projects for Ugandan refugees.
As a volunteer, she served on the board of directors of the Jewish Family Service Agency for 12 years, including four as president. She also spent two years as the agency’s acting executive director. During that time, she founded the Hebrew Free Loan Association, which now holds more than $1 million in assets and has provided thousands of loans to people in need.
Barnett has also co-chaired campaigns for the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCCGV) and the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia (JMABC). She was the first president of Shalva, a facility in Israel for special needs children. She established a garden in Fir Square at B.C. Women’s Hospital and a unit for addicted mothers and their infants, a peer-to-peer coaching program at the UBC Counseling Centre, a pilot project at Vancouver Hospital for early intervention for depression in women, and led the restoration of the old Jewish Cemetery at Mountain View. She has advised the Aboriginal Mother Centre and currently serves on the faculty of arts advisory committee to the dean of arts at UBC, on the board of directors of the JMABC and on the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery board, and she is an honorary director of the Hebrew Free Loan Association.
With her brother, Philip Dayson, she administers the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation, which provides philanthropic funds to local Jewish and other community causes, particularly in the area of non-market housing and rental subsidies for members of the Jewish community.
Barnett said that the shelter project in Israel is especially meaningful because it is supported by the JNF, a charity that her family has always supported.
“We grew up with the JNF in our house,” she said.
In addition to the latest honor from the JNF, Barnett’s contributions to the community have been recognized by the JCCGV, N’Shei Chabad and Jewish Women International, and she received the Gemilut Chasadim award from the International Association of Hebrew Free Loans.
The sold-out Negev Dinner takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Canada is not a referee in the game of geopolitics, said John Baird, Canada’s former foreign minister, it’s a player.
Baird, who will be honored at the Jewish National Fund’s Negev Dinner in Vancouver on June 7, spoke of his admiration for Israel and Canada’s close connections with that country in an interview with the Independent Sunday.
Responding to criticism that Canada has lost its place as a middle power or neutral broker, Baird insisted that is not Canada’s role in the world.
“We are a player,” he said. “We are on the liberal democratic team. We make no apologies for that.”
He cited the Conservative government’s role opposing Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional dominance. The impact this has had in the Arab world is misunderstood by many Canadians, he said.
“Our standing in the Arab world today is stronger than it has ever been,” said Baird, speaking from Ottawa. “When I was foreign minister, we built good relations with the new government of Egypt, with the government in Iraq, with the UAE, the Saudis, the Bahrainis. We are widely respected among the political leadership. Yes, we have an honest difference of opinion with respect to our position on Israel. But when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood, when it comes to Hamas, when it comes to Hezbollah, when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s material support for terrorism, when it comes to the Iranian-backed advance in Yemen … Saudi Arabia, Israel, Canada: we all share the same view. That’s not understood very well in this country.”
Baird said Canada is a world leader on child and maternal health, opposing forced marriages of girls, and supporting the rights of sexual minorities. Opponents of the government may have difficulty squaring their ideas of how a Conservative administration should behave with the record of the current Canadian government on issues of gender and sexual equality, but Baird says, “Look at the facts.”
“Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper personally has championed child and maternal health,” he said. “We’ve seen record investments not just in Canada but around the world because of his leadership. If you look at the leadership that I undertook with respect to young girls being forced into marriage, we became a leader in that. Canada followed the United Kingdom’s lead on sexual violence in conflict, not just on policy but on programming. When you look at [United Nations’ projects supporting] women, peace and security, we’ve taken a big role in North Africa. So, if you look at the facts, it’s undeniable, particularly on the issue of women and girls. The Day of the Girl resolution was championed by Canada at the UN.”
Advancing the rights of women worldwide is both a human rights matter and a determinant of societal health, Baird said.
“It’s in our own interest to do so,” he said. “It’s not just about human rights. The stronger role that women can play in government, in parliament, in civil society, the more we can combat extremism and promote pluralism.”
Reminded of a comment he made several years ago that, were he to leave politics he would probably go work on a kibbutz in Israel, Baird explained his respect for the Jewish state.
“I just have a passion for Israel, for its people, its culture, its history,” Baird said. “For everything the Jewish people have accomplished in the last 67 years. It’s really remarkable.”
What the Jewish people have built from the ashes of the Holocaust, he said, is admirable.
“The strength and ingenuity of the Jewish people, what they’ve accomplished in science, technology, agriculture, the huge history, it’s a remarkable accomplishment. What they’ve accomplished politically – a liberal democratic state in a pretty dangerous part of the world. The values that underpin the state of Israel, it’s just a remarkable, remarkable achievement.”
While Canada’s foreign policy, particularly under Baird, has turned Canada into what is frequently called Israel’s best friend in the world, the global attitude toward Israel remains highly negative, Baird acknowledged.
“We see far too much moral relativism,” he said. “It has stunned me the amount of criticism that Israel gets in so many international arenas, whether it’s the UN in New York or in Geneva … the UN Human Rights Council … others. On occasion it can be disappointing. It can be difficult to stand up against the rest of the crowd but it’s important to do what’s right. Canadians can be very proud that their government’s taken the path less traveled. We’ve never been afraid to stand up and support our liberal democratic friends.”
The former minister, who left politics earlier this year, speculated on where the animosity toward Israel comes from.
“I don’t think everyone who is against Israel is an antisemite,” he said. “But all antisemites are against Israel. I have great concern that we’ve seen, instead of people targeting the individual Jew, they’re targeting the collective Jew, the Jewish state. These things cause us great concern.”
Although he is moving into the private sector – he is working as a member of Barrick Gold’s advisory board and last week was elected to the board of Canadian Pacific – Baird promises to continue to be an outspoken supporter of Israel and a critic of Iran’s nuclear program and its support for terrorism.
Asked if he might return to public life as a candidate for the Conservative leadership when Harper retires, Baird deflected the idea with a flat “no” and refused, with a laugh, to elaborate.
Ilan Pilo, shaliach and executive director of Jewish National Fund, Pacific region, called Baird “a man of integrity and a true friend to Israel.”
“JNF is grateful to honor him for his leadership on the world stage, for years of devoted service to the citizens of Canada, his dedication to the Jews of Canada and to the state of Israel,” said Pilo. “Thanks to Baird’s outstanding leadership, Canada has become Israel’s most unwavering ally.”
Baird returned the compliment.
“Canadian supporters of JNF can be very proud of the work they’ve done over the years,” said Baird.
This year’s Negev Dinner, which takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel, supports a project in the city of Sderot, adjacent the Gaza Strip. The city has been under bombardment by Hamas missiles for the last several years. The park and fitness facility will enhance life for the citizens and provide a “green lung” for the city.
שר החוץ הקנדי לשעבר ג’ון בירד, עת ביקר את ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו, בירושלים ב-20 בינואר השנה. בירד הוא אורח כבוד ‘בנגב דינר’ של קק”ל בוונקובר ב-7 ביוני. (צילום: Kobi Gideon-GPO via Ashernet)
מחלוקת בין ידידים: הרפר שוב תומך בהקמת מדינה פלסטינית בניגוד לנתניהו
ראש ממשלת קנדה, סטיבן הרפר, שנחשב לידיד הקרוב ביותר של ראש ממשלת ישראל, בנימין נתניהו, מקרב מנהיגי העולם, חלוק עימו בסוגיה מאוד משמעותית. בשיחה שהתקיימה בין השניים ביום ראשון שעבר, חזר והדגיש הרפר בפני נתניהו, כי הוא תומך בפתרון שתי המדינות והקמת מדינה פלסטינית לצידה של ישראל. הדברים נאמרו לאור הכרזת נתניהו ערב הבחירות בישראל, כי הוא מתנגד להקמת מדינה הפלסטינית וכי ימשיך את הבנייה בשטחים.
הרפר שוחח עם נתניהו לראשונה בטלפון לאחר ניצחונו בבחירות שהתקיימו לפני שבועיים, בזמן שהוא נערך להקמת הממשלה החדשה. מייד עם פרסום תוצאות הבחירות, שלח ראש ממשלת קנדה ברכות חמות לראש ממשלת ישראל היוצא והנכנס, והוסיף שהוא מצפה לעבוד ביחד עם הממשלה החדשה בישראל, וכי לישראל אין ידידה קרובה יותר מאשר קנדה. בשיחת הטלפון שוב בירך הרפר את נתניהו, וכן הבטיח כי קנדה תמשיך לעמוד במחוייבותה לדאוג לביטחונה של ישראל. וציין כאמור שהוא תומך בפתרון שתי המדינות.
אפשר לסכם את הפרק הזה ביחסי קנדה וישראל באמירה, כי הרפר מאז נבחר לרשות ממשלת קנדה (2006), ממשיך לעמוד לצידה של ישראל ומדיניותה בכל עניין. למעט שתי סוגיות עקרוניות משמעותיות: תמיכה בהקמת המדינה הפלסטינית והתנגדות להמשך בניית ההתנחלויות בשטחים.
הערכה לידיד: אורח הכבוד בערב הגאלה של קק”ל הוא שר החוץ לשעבר בירד
סניף ונקובר של אגודת ידידי קרן קיימת לישראל (קק”ל) בקנדה בראשות אילן פילו, יקיים ערב גאלה מיוחד, בהשתתפות אורח הכבוד שר החוץ של קנדה לשעבר, ג’ון בירד. האירוע מתקיים לכבודו של בירד שנחשב לידיד קרוב מאוד של ישראל, וכמו ראש הממשלה סטיבן הרפר, עמד לצידה לכל אורך הדרך. בירד ביקר בישראל מספר פעמים וזכה לאירוח לבבי. האירוע במסגרת ‘נגב דינר 2015’ יערך ב-7 ביוני (יום ראשון) במלון ארבע עונות בדאון טאון ונקובר, ומחיר כרטיס 270 דולר.
קק”ל ונקובר תגייס תרומות לטובת הקמת פרוייקט בישראל שיקרא על שמו של בירד, ובשלב זה אין פרטים נוספים. כדי לקבל הכרה בפרויקט ע”י בירד יש לתרום לפחות 6,000 דולר.
קק”ל בקנדה יסדה את ‘נגב דינר’ עם הקמת מדינת ישראל ב-1948. האירוע מתקיים בכל רחבי קנדה מדי שנה להבליט את העשייה החשובה של קק”ל, לגייס כספים לטובת פרוייקטים בישראל, ולהעניק אות כבוד למי שעוזר ותומך בישראל.
בירד (45) פרש בראשית פברואר מתפקידו כשר החוץ בממשלת הרפר. בימים אלה הוא הצטרף לקואורפוריישן ‘בריק גולד’ (חברת כריית הזהב הגדולה בעולם), בתפקיד יועץ בינלאומי. הוא עבד בשירות הציבורי במשך כעשרים שנים, ושימש שר החוץ מאז 2011. קודם לכן החזיק בתפקידים בכירים שונים (בהם שר התחבורה ושר האנרגיה) בממשלות הרפר. ברד הוזכר לא פעם כמועמד להחליף את הרפר ביחד עם השר ההגנה, ג’ייסון קני, שגם הוא תומך גדול בישראל.
קק”ל שחוגגת השנה 114 שנים להיווסדה מקיימת שורה של אירועים בישראל. במסגרת זו אגודות ידידי קק”ל בעולם מארגנות מסע לישראל בן שמונה ימים, בחודש מאי (12-20). המשתתפים ישהו במלון מצודת דוד בירושלים. המסע יכלול מפגשים עם מספר אישים ובהם: נשיא המדינה, ראובן ריבלין וראש עיריית ירושלים, ניר ברקת. הסיורים יכללו בין היתר: ביקור בבסיס חיל האוויר, השתתפות באירועי יום ירושלים (ב-17 במאי), ביקור בתחנת הטלוויזיה של ערוץ החדשות באנגלית ’24 ניוז’, סיור ביקב, ביקור בשוק של יפו העתיקה, ביקור בבאר שבע ובנגב.
Gary and Nanci Segal learn about bees at the Hebrew U Rehovot campus, home of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
This year, for the first time in Vancouver, Jewish National Fund and Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are together hosting the Negev Dinner.
The dinner will pay tribute to businessman and philanthropist Gary Segal, whose “remarkable heritage” is “led first and foremost by a love of humanity, a love of the land of Israel and a deep social commitment and yearning for tikkun olam,” said JNF Pacific Region shaliach Ilan Pilo. The event will raise funds for an educational outreach program led by JNF at Hebrew U’s Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre.
“Gary and [his wife] Nanci wanted to support the JNF and HU and, when this project came up, they simply realized the importance of doing it,” Dina Wachtel, executive director of CFHU Western Region, told the Independent. In the program, she explained, “They are taking mainly at-risk youth from the periphery of the country, both geographically and socially, many of whom are kids of immigrants and hard-working citizens, and are offering them a lifetime opportunity … interaction with PhD and graduate students who teach them science and ecological sciences. Basically, these kids are exposed to a world that, for the most part, they are not familiar with and, by exposing them to hands-on lessons in science and allowing them to learn presentation and leadership skills, we are literally transforming their sense of pride and ability to believe in themselves that, yes, they can reach university and that it is not beyond their reach.
“Both Gary and Nanci know that Israel’s number one capital is its human resources and, by investing in these kids, they are literally investing in Israel’s most precious capital.”
Vice-president of Kingswood Capital Corp., Gary Segal’s philanthropic endeavors are numerous. Locally, they include – but are not limited to – Ronald McDonald House, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, Jewish Community Foundation, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, Kollel, Vancouver Talmud Torah Foundation and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. Among the work Gary and Nanci Segal (and their family) support is that of Dr. Rick Hodes, medical director of Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
“It was important to me to support a project that would have a direct impact on underprivileged youth, including the Ethiopian community that I have become involved with over the years; at the same time, it would have to be one that fits the mandates of both organizations,” explained Gary Segal about the choice of the JNF-HU project for the proceeds of this year’s Negev Dinner.
Seeing the JNF and CFHU projects firsthand
The Segals were in Israel earlier this month on a trip with Pilo and Wachtel. “The two days I just spent in Israel witnessing firsthand the outreach activities of the Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre at Hebrew U affirmed the absolute merits of this project and how it aligns perfectly with my stated goal for this dinner,” said Segal.
“I witnessed the enthusiastic way in which these young students embraced the wide range of activities, and heard from them directly how much they love being part of it,” he added. “These children would not have the opportunity to be exposed to such things through their homes and resource-challenged schools alone. A clearly devoted and emotionally invested teacher that I spoke with recounted how she overcame her own disadvantaged background to become a teacher, and how important it is to her to give these children the understanding and belief that they can aspire to a better life through advanced education. Most of the participating children have parents either in low-level jobs or else unemployed, and many of them come to school hungry so, on her own account, she brings food to school to be able to feed them. In addition to stimulating an interest in science and the environment through this youth centre program, the children go back and do research and make a presentation to the student body and parents, as well. The teacher explained how this develops public speaking and leadership skills and instils in them a new sense of self-confidence. At the same time, for the parents, it leads to a sense of pride in their children.”
The trip to Israel “was a mixture of viewing projects, gaining perspectives on Israel from a variety of people, experiencing the specific science outreach program we are supporting through the upcoming dinner, and having some fun,” Segal said.
In Jerusalem, the couple visited Mahane Yehuda, Teddy Park, the Old City and the Western Wall. On erev Shabbat, they had dinner at the home of Rabbi Ehud Bandel, the first Israeli native ordained in the Masorti (Conservative) movement. One evening, they took in a musical comedy show by the Voca People and, another night, Gary Segal dined with two Knesset members from the Yesh Atid party, Ronen Hoffman and Karine Elharrar. “Ronen is head of the Israel/Canada relations committee and has prior experience in various Israeli peace efforts; Karine is involved in disabilities awareness and accessibility,” explained Segal.
Sunday was spent touring JNF projects, he continued. They visited a new water bio-filteration pilot system in Kfar Saba, the Biriya Forest (“which sadly suffered a lot of tree-branch destruction from the winter snowstorm”) and the Hula Valley bird sanctuary park. “We saw everything in a somewhat different light,” he said, “as it was an extremely hazy day due to dust from Africa having spread all the way to Israel.”
On Monday, the Segals met with HU president Menahem Ben-Sasson on the Mount Scopus campus before heading to HU’s Safra Givat Ram campus to meet with Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre administrators and get an overview of the program they are sponsoring.
“Interacting with these lively and outgoing youth over the course of these two days was most definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me and Nanci, and my ability to converse directly with the kids in Hebrew made it particularly fun and personal for me,” said Segal. “In the spirit of my own quest for new experiences as an adult, I did something I never thought I would do – in one of the Monday morning labs, the instructor was talking about the West African python snake wrapped around his neck and, when he went to pass it to me, I actually took it from him and held it while encircled by some curious yet wary girls in the class – my first close-up, hands-on interaction with a snake.”
On the way to Tel Aviv, Segal said they stopped at the JNF Canada Park so that he and Nanci could “plant an olive tree and see the commemorative plaque for the grove we planted in 2000 in honor of our daughter Stephanie’s bat mitzvah.”
Before checking into their hotel, they met with the new Israeli health minister, Yael German, who, Segal noted, “before national office … was the very successful mayor of Herzliya for 15 years.” She gave them over an hour of her time, he said, discussing with them some of the many issues with which the ministry is dealing.
“Tuesday involved a visit to the Hebrew U Rehovot campus, home of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment,” said Segal. “We first were introduced to some of their international activities to assist countries to alleviate problems of hunger, disease and poverty through technical training and technology transfer. We heard about some fascinating research projects being undertaken in this regard, and had the opportunity to hear from a half-dozen post-graduate international scholarship students from Africa and Asia who are there to gain knowledge that can be implemented back home.”
For the rest of the morning, the Segals tagged along with children visiting from the periphery community of Kiryat Malachi. They saw the mechanical milking process and, said Segal, “another first for me, tasting fresh (sterilized) goat milk. We then moved on to a session learning about live bees and the workings of the hive and honey making. Before leaving the campus, we had lunch in the cafeteria with the children…. It gave me the opportunity to have a very moving and enlightening talk about the outreach program with one of their obviously very dedicated teachers.
“We then departed campus for the last element of our outreach experience – a visit to the periphery community of Kiryat Ekron. The mayor of this community of 11,500 people was very happy to take the time to greet and accompany us at the school, and the proud principal of the school explained to us how she had a vision to bring such a science-outreach program to her school and had searched far and wide and negotiated for about a year to make her vision a reality. We sat in on an entertaining chemistry class being led by the same Hebrew U graduate student we first met the day before in Jerusalem while leading a class there on trees and the environment. As we were leaving the school, I saw the presence of JNF here, too, in an outdoor classroom structure that had been funded by them. Another fond memory from this visit was successfully coaxing a number of young girls to serenade me with one of their favorite Israeli pop songs in Moroccan Arabic.”
The next day and a half comprised visits to more JNF activities, “including the Be’er Sheva River Park, the older settlements and newer pioneer settlements near the Gaza borders, and the impressive Sderot high school.” The region’s mayor explained the “programs available to the students, as well as the challenges of being in such a dangerously exposed area.”
Rounding out their 10-day trip, the Segals met JNF world chairman Efi Stenzler, spent time with friends and took a helicopter ride over the country with Wachtel.
A longtime involvement
Segal’s connection to JNF and HU extend much further back than this recent visit, of course. “From my Talmud Torah and Camp Hatikvah days,” he said, “I grew up with a strong feeling of connection to Israel and an understanding of its importance to the Jewish people. In terms of JNF specifically, though I felt I was already very familiar with the general nature of JNF’s activities in Israel through the blue pushke box, Tu b’Shevat, attending Negev dinners and my many discussions over the years with different Vancouver JNF emissaries, I must say that I was very impressed on this trip seeing the breadth and depth of JNF’s projects from before statehood through today, and the vast impact they have on the quality of life, security and future prospects of the Israeli people. They touch upon these areas in so many different ways.
“Regarding Hebrew U,” he continued, “I can honestly say that my decision to attend Hebrew U in 1971/72 for my second year of university studies played a pivotal role in developing many of my life interests and activities…. That was a very exciting and stimulating year and a half, from the first few months on kibbutz through the end of the school year in Israel, then followed by three months of adventure travel with my good buddy Ben Goldberg in East Africa, including being in Uganda during Idi Amin’s reign of terror. This opened up a whole new desire to learn about the developing world, leading to my post-BA year of travel across Asia and the Middle East in 1974/75. You could say, in a way, this all sowed the seeds for my current philanthropic work in Ethiopia and my interest in the Ethiopian community in Israel.”
The 2014 Negev Dinner takes place on Sunday, April 6, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, starting at 5:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 604-257-5155 or e-mail [email protected].