JNF Negev galas raise $1.4M out West

JNF Negev galas raise $1.4M out West
The Canadian Jewish News - June 30, 2005
By MYRON LOVE - Prairies Correspondent

WINNIPEG — This year’s 2005 Jewish National Fund Negev Gala, held June 15, was about vision and leadership, partnership and community – all of which were exemplified by the late Israel Asper and this year’s Negev Gala honoree, the Asper Foundation, which Asper and his family created.

In accepting the honour, Asper’s widow Babs recalled that her husband’s philosophy was to lead by example. His daughter, Gail, who has carried on his philanthropy, noted that her father, who died in September 2003, lived life to the fullest and left the world a better place.

Asper founded the Asper Foundation in 1983. Over the past few years, it has funded many Jewish and general community initiatives in Winnipeg, such as the Asper Jewish Community Campus, the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba and a research wing at St. Boniface Hospital.

In addition, it has funded a program that takes junior high school students from across the country to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and it has backed the proposed Canadian Human Rights Museum to be built in Winnipeg.

The foundation has also supported educational and social initiatives in Israel, particularly in recent years a network of community action centres in partnership with JNF. There are currently three such centres – in Be’er Sheva and the development towns of Ofaqim and Mikdal Ha’emek.

They provide learning opportunities and serve as drop-in centres for disadvantaged Israeli youth. Funds raised at this year’s gala and earlier ones in Edmonton on June 6 (where community leader Phyllis Adler was honoured) and Calgary on June 8 (where Lyle Oberg, Alberta’s minister for infrastructure and transportation, presented JNF with a cheque for $1 million, Alberta’s share of the new joint agreement on water management and irrigation research signed last month between JNF and his province) are earmarked for construction of five new community action centres in Israel.

Between the three evenings, the JNF raised a record $1.4 million, well above the original goal of $1 million.

The festivities for the 2005 Winnipeg Negev Gala began earlier in the day with a luncheon for major contributors, volunteers and out-of-town attendees. Among the latter were Sharon Marcovitz Hart, president of JNF Canada; Joe Rabinovitch, JNF Canada’s national director; Esther Weinstein representing Keren Kayemet in Israel; Oberg from Alberta; a group of Black Hebrews from Dimona in Israel; and two Ethiopian Israeli youths from the Winnipeg Community Action Centre in Be’er Sheva.

At the luncheon, Hart spoke of the JNF’s work in resource management and water conservation and desalination. She also commented on the Asper Foundation’s “trailblazing” initiatives in human rights, social justice and social action.

Alan Baker, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, spoke briefly about Israel’s pending withdrawal from Gaza, the difficulties in bridging the gap between Palestinians and Israelis, and the relationship and shared values between Israel and Canada.

In thanking organizers, Gail Asper was particularly effusive in her praise for Rami Kleinmann, the JNF’s shaliach for the prairie provinces.

“Rami has changed the way we view the JNF here,” she said. “He has built bridges with other communities. And he seems to have more energy than my father ever had.”

The gala evening attracted more than 1,700 people, a record for the community’s largest fundraising event. Speakers include Marcovitz Hart, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, Kleinmann and Len Podheiser, JNF’s president for Manitoba/Saskatchewan.

After the speeches and presentation, the audience heard a concert by Duet, made up of Russian-born Israeli opera singer Yevgeni Shapovalov and Shlomit Aharon, one of Israel’s top singers. They were accompanied by Habibi, Aharon’s backup band.