At the therapeutic horse farm in Meir Shfeya Youth Village are, left to right, Yuval Perry, Moran Nir, Rachel David and Orly Sivan. Perry is a horse groomer at the farm, and David and Sivan are two of its four founders. Nir is manager of campaign and operations for JNF Pacific. (photo from JNF Pacific)
Noa Tishby, the Hollywood-transplanted Israeli actor and activist who was just stripped of her special envoy position for weighing in on the political crisis there, is headed to Vancouver.
Tishby, author of the 2021 book Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, had been Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel. Appointed a year ago by then-prime minister Yair Lapid, Tishby was summarily ejected from the role this month after she criticized the proposed judicial reforms of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government. She will be the keynote speaker at the 2023 Negev event of the Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, June 29.
“We are sad to hear the news that Noa is now the former special envoy against antisemitism and the delegitimization [of Israel] as she has been an important voice for Israel and Jewish communities around the world in the face of antisemitism/anti-Israel sentiment,” Michael Sachs, executive director of JNF Pacific, told the Independent. “Her years of service, both officially and non-officially, have only benefited world Jewry and we are ecstatic to welcome her with open arms on June 29th.”
Sachs explained that this year’s Negev event is a break with decades of tradition, following the pandemic shutdown of community gatherings. The annual tradition had generally featured a gala dinner with an honouree.
The centrepoint of this year’s event, which will take place at Beth Israel, is a theatre-format presentation with no meal, and tickets at an accessible price, which, Sachs said, is intended to allow the largest number of community members to hear Tishby’s message. A reception for larger donors will generate the revenue to realize the project that this year’s Negev is sponsoring.
That initiative is a therapeutic horse farm in Meir Shfeya Youth Village, located south of Haifa near Zikhron Ya’akov. Moran Nir, manager of campaign and operations for JNF Pacific, was at the facility several weeks ago.
“It’s a beautiful farm,” she said. “I met with two of the [four] founding mothers and it’s just incredible to see how they dedicate their lives and they give their heart and soul to this farm.”
The horse farm has two riding areas, one uncovered and the other only partly covered. Completing the facility to protect riders from sometimes intense Israeli weather is part of the JNF initiative.
“We want projects that are going to be impactful to the people in Israel but that are also taking a grassroots project and helping get it to the next level,” said Sachs. There is also a crucial local connection to this project, he added.
“There is no shortage of people in our community that understand the importance of equestrian therapy for kids with special needs, but also adults with stress and anxiety and PTSD,” he said. In a relatively new twist on the organization’s commitment to Israel, 10% of this year’s Negev revenues will be held back for a local partnership with STaRS, Southlands Therapeutic Riding Society. Leaders from the Southlands group will mentor those at the Israeli facility, “creating a lifelong connection between these like-minded organizations,” said Sachs.
The Meir Shfeya farm currently has six horses and six horse groomers. Groomers are hired from among youth and young adults who benefited from the equestrian therapy as kids, said Sachs. Therapeutic riding has been demonstrated effective for a range of cognitive conditions, including autism, attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
About 90 kids per week come to the farm from all over the area and demand is growing. Allowing them to meet the demand is the reason for the support from JNF Pacific.
The fundraising goal for the June 29 event – which is co-chaired by Michael and Lisa Averbach – is $350,000, Sachs said, emphasizing the dual objective of generating funds to support the equestrian programs and of drawing the largest number of people possible to hear Tishby’s message.
“If you want to buy a ticket, buy four,” he said. “Buy four tickets, find three friends and bring them. We want more people hearing her. And, if you buy four tickets and can’t find three friends, let us know because we want to bring students. We want kids from the community to be able to hear her.”
Tishby will be in conversation with Danielle Ames Spivak, executive director of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, a born-and-raised Vancouverite who is a friend of Tishby’s.
The event will also feature the bestowing of the Bernard M. Bloomfield Medal for Meritorious Service on Harvey Dales.
“Harvey’s been a member of our board, he’s on the national board, he is the past president,” said Sachs. “For us, the opportunity to honour Harvey for his dedication and everything he’s given to JNF and Israel, we are really excited about that.”
The JNF Educator Award will also be presented. It will be given to teachers from the four Vancouver-area Jewish day schools.
“We’re coming out of the worst pandemic in 100 years,” said Sachs. “Teachers were frontline … so each school is going to be choosing a teacher-representative to accept an award on behalf of the teaching body in their school.”
Reflecting on her visit to the Israeli horse farm and meeting some of the mothers who launched it, Nir is inspired to share what she witnessed.
“It’s always nice to see the impact of JNF in Israel,” she said, “to actually be there and see the impact. Every parent wants their kids to be healthy and happy. We will keep doing this job and build Israel together for the people of Israel.”