JNF Montreal Launches $1M Prize to Make Israel a Climate Change Leader

Nov. 16, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Montreal is aiming high in its Negev campaign this year. The goal is nothing less than to solve the global climate crisis.

A planned $1 million (U.S.) prize to encourage Israel to take the lead in combating climate change was announced at JNF Montreal’s virtual Negev gala on Nov. 11.

The campaign, chaired by Jonathan Goodman, founder and CEO of Knight Therapeutics Inc., aims to enable the prize to be awarded annually.

The Climate Solutions Prize will go to the Israeli researcher or not-for-profit organization which proposes an innovation that promises to have the greatest impact in the world, as judged by an expert panel.

Israel, it is believed, is well placed to make such a breakthrough given its strength in technological development and entrepreneurial spirit. However, most investment has been going into the information, medical and financial fields, Goodman points out, and less into green technology.

“Climate change was not a primary concern for me until my (teenaged) son Noah told me it is his priority,” Goodman said. A JNF youth group is playing a strong role in this project.

JNF Montreal Negev 2020-2021 honoree Jeff Hart, president of Victoria Park Medispa, said the prize “will leverage Israel’s special ability to solve seemingly impossible challenges in order to bring literal tikun olam – healing of the world.”

Given its 119-year history of making the desert bloom and more recent environmental leadership, JNF is considered to be in a position to oversee this initiative. Israel is experiencing the harmful effects of climate change, evidenced by record-breaking temperatures and, in Tel Aviv, unprecedented flooding, for example, Hart said.

The campaign will continue through to late spring, and it is hoped the first prize can be awarded next fall, in a live ceremony to be broadcast worldwide, said Hart.

A related $100,000 prize to recognize a Quebec organization making an outstanding contribution to mitigate climate change, which might lead to a partnership with Israel, is also planned.

Despite the gravity of the subject, the Zoom gala was filled with humour. The emcee was Andy Nulman, co-founder of the Just for Laughs festival, who alternately could be seen in a parka and tuque against a frozen background and in a tank top in a room on fire.

Hart got into the lightheartedness by wearing a T-shirt with the logo, “There is No Planet B.”

The biggest laughs were generated by the guest speaker Yossi Abramowitz, aka “Captain Sunshine,” who was live from Israel even though it was the wee hours of the morning there.

That didn’t dampen his exuberance for his mission to power Israel – and the rest of the world – by renewable energy, in particular the power coming from the sun.

A Boston native, the activist and entrepreneur made aliyah in 2006 with his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), and immediately co-founded the Arava Power Company in the Negev Desert, which set up Israel’s first grid-connected solar field, proving many doubters wrong.

His aim is 100 percent daytime reliance on solar energy from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Since 2013, Abramowitz has been president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, which supports affordable solar power projects outside Israel, especially in developing countries, including Rwanda and Burundi.

He would like to see Israel become “the energy superpower of goodness in the world…the renewable light unto the nations.”

Abramowitz thinks the JNF prize will leverage more investment from the government and private sector in sustainability, as was the case in Arava.

Abramowitz recalled how the then California Senator Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff privately visited Arava in 2017 and were highly impressed with the development of solar energy.

He likes to think the “seeds were planted” for the Joe Biden-Harris platform, which emphasizes renewable energy, “or at least was nurtured around our Shabbat table.”

“It’s time the Jewish people steps up, not just for ourselves, but everyone,” Abramowitz said. “We’re a global people that has always strived to be ethical. And this [the climate crisis] is the big one.”

More information is available at climatesolutionsprize.com.

Annual JNF Negev Dinner Goes Virtual

Nov. 3, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and its need for social distancing, the organizers of Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF) had a challenge: How to host the 72nd annual Negev Dinner without gathering the expected 1,500 guests in downtown Toronto.

Since Israel’s inception in 1948, the Negev Dinner has honoured outstanding communal leaders and significant events in Jewish Canadian life. Proceeds from these evenings are vital not only to developing the sizable Negev region, but to support other major projects across Israel.

“We originally talked about having 100 hosts host 10 or more people,” said Jeff Springer, Executive Director of JNF Toronto. “At that time, it was still okay.”

But as government restrictions tightened, social bubbles collapsed and the dinner program was modified.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, the community is invited to JNF Negev 2020: A Night of 100 Dinners, honouring front-line workers in Toronto and Israel who have dedicated their time and efforts in the fight against COVID.

Guests will be able to relax in their own homes and enjoy a virtual broadcast, with the option of purchasing a catered three-course plated dinner with wine and dessert delivered directly to their front porch. Other packages include dessert and wine, broadcast-only tickets, and cheaper rates for “JNF Future” guests aged 40 and under.

People are encouraged to go to the JNF website to nominate anyone they feel has put forth heroic efforts during the COVID pandemic.

Proceeds will be dedicated to the following front-line workers in support of three Negev projects in Israel:

– The Aleh Rehabilitation Hospital, servicing severely vulnerable citizens with complex disabilities near Be’er Sheva;

– An oral coronavirus vaccine being developed at Migal Research Institute in Northern Galilee;

Migal Research Institute in Northern Galilee

– Eitanim Hospital Gardens, a therapeutic hilltop space for patients to enjoy the outdoors.

“These projects spoke to us,” said Springer. “Eitanim is a psychiatric hospital. The stress on the mental health system in Israel – and in most countries because of COVID – has been significant and the amount of rehabilitation that is necessary for survivors is actually much bigger than people think.”

The Negev 2020 dinner program will kick off at 6:30 p.m. with an optional pre-dinner Zoom gathering.

“It will be as if you were schmoozing at a live reception,” said Springer. “People can chat with friends and family or even strangers before the actual broadcast starts.”

The broadcast will begin at 7 p.m. with opening remarks and a special presentation about the launch of the Builder’s Circle, a JNF initiative designed to create opportunities to build Israel through various projects.

“It fits in with our new tag line, ‘Building Israel Together,’ and our new logo,” said Springer. “The logo has three basic elements. The leaf, which is an oath to our legacy of planting trees; the image of the old blue box, the pishka box; and the pillars themselves are a building growing bigger. The logo is a reflection and an ode to our past but really looks forward to our present and our future.”

The lineup of dinner entertainers feature the award-winning Yiddish comedy duo YidLife Crisis, comedians Colin Mochrie, Martin Short and Howie Mandel, actress Gal Gadot, and singers David Brosa and David D’or.

As is customary every year, there will be a Tribute Book.

“This year’s Tribute Book will be distributed with delivered meals or by mail,” said Springer. “We really tried our best to make this evening as similar to a regular Negev Dinner as we could, despite COVID limitations.”

Anyone wishing to purchase a meal must do so before Nov. 5 at:

Theodor Herzl: Gentleman Leader

Oct. 8, 2020

BY DAVID MATLOW

I own the world’s largest private collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia. It reflects my fascination with the birth of the State of Israel. On May 13, 1948, Israel did not exist. On May 14, 1948, it did. How did this happen?

Ad for a penknife and the knife

It is an amazing story. Although the Jewish people have prayed to return to our ancestral homeland since we were expelled from it 2,000 years ago (thus the holiday-time plea of “Next Year in Jerusalem”), it was only in the 1800s that tangible steps were taken to make this happen. Herzl did not come up with the idea of Zionism, although he thought he did. However, unlike his predecessors who had a similar idea, he set out to actually make it happen.

In 1896, he wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). The next year, he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, at which the World Zionist Organization was created. In 1899, he formed the Jewish Colonial Trust. In 1901, he inspired the creation of the Jewish National Fund. In 1902, he wrote Altneuland (Old New Land). In 1903, he received an offer from the British government for a Jewish territory in Africa. And in 1904, he died at age 44, having dedicated the last eight years of his life to the cause of the Jewish people.

Herzl understood that he had to rally the Jewish people around a new idea: that we could live in our own country, make decisions for ourselves, and keep each other safe. He needed a symbol to represent that dream. He became that symbol, and after he died, his successors maintained him as that symbol to keep his dream alive.

Cufflink celebrating the 1917 Balfour Declaration

This is why there are so many Herzl related items to collect. I own more than 5,000 of them, items ranging from ice tongs to medals, pen knives to portraits, postcards, pencils, busts, handkerchiefs, and much more.

It’s all been assembled piece by piece through auctions, hunting at flea markets, and the purchase of entire collections from veteran collectors who wanted to entrust their life’s passion to someone who would cherish it.  As well, at least once a month, I receive in the mail a Herzl item that someone found and for which they want a good home.

My collection is a national treasure of the Jewish people, and in case anyone wonders what it might be worth, I believe it’s priceless.

Portrait of Herzl for the 19th Zionist Congress in Prague, 1933

I have chosen to use my collection as a tool to help people learn about Herzl and be inspired by his work. I am hopeful that by learning about Herzl, people will know a little more about where Israel came from, why it was needed as a safeguard against antisemitism, and why it continues to be needed.

Herzl’s motto was, “if you will it, it is no dream,” and I believe that by learning how Herzl pursued his impossible dream (which, as we all know, came true), we can be inspired to make our own dreams come true.

“The Herzl Project” is my initiative to achieve these goals. To that end, I have created a website with resources about Herzl and my collection (www.herzlcollection.com) and published a book, Collecting the Dream, available free of charge as a PDF on the website, or as an ebook on Amazon.

During the pandemic, I have done over 25 videos, webinars and other online presentations on the subject of Herzl. This is not only because for many months I was sheltering at home with my entire collection. It is also because Herzl provides us with an important lesson for this time. He teaches us that the situation in which we find ourselves today can change and improve, and that tomorrow will be better.

Herzl also taught us by example how to be a leader in difficult times. He used his skills and talents as a lawyer, playwright and journalist to create something that would benefit others. Knowing that he was very sick, he focused on the future of the Jewish people, understanding that he was not likely to live to witness the birth of the state he envisioned.

Herzl pencil and pencil stand

Herzl also believed that we cannot do things that benefit only ourselves, and that because of our history, Jews are uniquely able to have a broader perspective. He understood that as citizens of this planet we all share, we must also act to help others. This is best illustrated in this reference from his book Altneuland, in which one of his characters expresses the following:

“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” 

This is remarkable. While dedicating his life to the Jewish people, Herzl also had the goal to help end Black suffering. He understood that issues of prejudice and discrimination are related, and that we are free only if we are all free. He knew that we cannot only look after ourselves; that we must care for the plight of others.

Bulletin announcing Herzl’s death

We have all seen pictures of Herzl in his top hat and tuxedo. He also often wore white gloves to formal events. He was a gentleman.

But being a gentleman is not limited to how you dress. It is how you behave, what you say, what you think, and what you do. It is also about the care you show for others.

I have come to know Herzl through my collection. He was a gentleman leader. We all benefit from his work, and we should all be proud of the way he did it.


David Matlow
David Matlow

David Matlow is a lawyer and partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He is a member of the board of directors of the iCenter for Israel Education and the Ontario Jewish Archives. He is featured on a six-part series about Herzl called “Herzl Explained,” produced by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

More Peace Deals with Arab Nations in Offing, Israel Envoy Says

Sept. 1, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Israel’s United Nations ambassador said last Thursday that more peace deals with the country’s Arab neighbours are coming soon, but the Palestinian Authority isn’t one of them.

Danny Danon told a webinar organized by the Jewish National Fund and others that only a new Palestinian leader is likely to change that situation.

Danny Danon

“We are hoping to be able to announce more relationships in the next few weeks,” Danon said. “I’m not optimistic about relations with the Palestinians. We will have to wait for a new leader to emerge, someone like [former Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat to leader them to a better future.”

Danon said Sadat, who signed a peace deal with Israel in 1977 and was assassinated four years later, found a road to peace by changing his outlook on Israel, something Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is so far refusing to do.

“Today, they choose to deal only with their hatred of Israel rather than to advance the lives of the Palestinians,” he said. “That is the reality for them today and I pray they will find new leaders soon.”

While waiting for that to happen, Danon said a movement for peace has been quietly building behind the scenes at the UN, as Muslim nations gain respect for their old enemy.

“We get respect from the Muslim nations when we speak about our rights,” he said. “When we do that, our rights become reality.”

Behind that gathering force, he said, is the realization of the benefits Israel and peace can bring to the area, along with improved security for all the countries of the region.

“There is an opportunity here for us to do much with the Arab countries,” he said. “We have a common enemy in Iran.”

Israel’s claim to the right to exist, he said, is supported by three pillars – the Bible, history and international law.

“You don’t have to be religious or even Jewish,” Danon said. “If you read the Bible, then you see we have a right to the land. The Bible is our deed to the land and no one can argue with that.”

Israel’s claims are also supported by a history of Jewish residence in the country and by legal documents, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the 1920 San Remo conference that confirmed support for a Jewish homeland, and even the UN’s own charter.

“If you put all of those together you have made the case for Israel,” he said. “The United Nations charter gives us a legal right to the land. If you respect that, then you have also made the case for Israel.”

The Aug. 27 event was sponsored by Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights, the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, and JNF Canada.

Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.