Ben-Gurion University Canada chief executive officer Mark Mendelson passed away in Montreal without warning on Nov. 14 at the age of 73.
Over the years, Mendelson’s imprint has been felt throughout BGU Canada. Helping create new purpose and hard results, connecting communities with Ben-Gurion University and Israel, his life, experience and leadership were transformative: the organizations he touched, the chapters he helped grow and the voices he helped raise, were the product of a life dedicated to the singular purpose of protecting and nurturing, manifested in boundless energy and enormous reach, helping BGU Canada grow.
“He took what was a small but respected organization to a national powerhouse,” said Montreal and Ottawa executive director Simon Bensimon.
A leader who gave people around him the space to excel while daring them to wow him, Mendelson’s energy, enthusiasm and resilience were infectious, and served his gift for reaching out and making valuable connections between donors, volunteers and stakeholders. “A character who had character,” said B.C. and Alberta Region president Adam Korbin. “He was a blessing in my life, a mentor, confidant and friend.”
As much of Canada’s nonprofit sector slowed and then scrambled for relevance and community engagement during the pandemic, Mendelson helped steward BGU Canada through and maintain the interest, enthusiasm and commitment towards the cause.
His legacy for BGU is omnipresent in the organization and on the ground in Israel. For the national organization, this is embodied in the new archives building in Sde Boker, for which Mendelson marshaled his best efforts and drive to realize and, ultimately, stood before as great affirmation of one of the crowning achievements of his BGU Canada career.
Mendelson understood the importance of each national chapter. “From the outset, he was committed to putting Vancouver on the map and was determined that we should hold a gala,” recalled David Berson, executive director, B.C. and Alberta region. “His love for BGU and Israel were first and foremost – alongside fishing and food!”
The Montreal-born-and-raised son of Dr. Hyman and Audrey Lynne Mendelson, Mark spent a lifetime dedicated to Israel and Jewry – as a kibbutznik, as an IDF paratrooper, as a social worker, an entrepreneur and then as a leading advocate. He held fast in his belief in Israel, securing her future through grit, diplomacy, and the Jewish people’s greatest currency: knowledge.
“Much of my success as president, and much of what BGU is today, is because of Mark’s complete dedication to the task of building Ben-Gurion University,” said BGU president Prof. Daniel Chamovitz.
At Mendelson’s funeral in Montreal, Chamovitz recalled this “large man wearing a loud plaid sport jacket, bearing a gift of fresh salmon whose smell permeated the air, and having one of the most endearing smiles anywhere.” It was their first meeting. “I had been president for only three weeks and, somehow or another, no one had prepared me for Mark Mendelson.”
Mendelson had a keen understanding of the ongoing relationship between the Diaspora and Israel, and he followed through on his promise to Chamovitz that, despite Canada’s modest Jewish population, BGU Canada was poised to make a major jump in its philanthropy: “We punch way over our weight.”
“The university, the Negev, Israel and dare I say the world,” said Chamovitz, “is a better place because of him.”
– Courtesy Ben-Gurion University Canada