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:

COVID Vaccine Distribution by Early Next Year: Moderna Chief

Oct. 29, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Moderna Therapeutics’ COVID vaccine should be ready to begin widespread distribution by late winter or next spring, Dr. Tal Zaks, the company’s Chief Medical Officer, said on Oct. 7 in a videoconference hosted by the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Dr. Tal Zaks

Zaks is hopeful that the vaccine will be available in early 2021 for those at high risk, such as front-line workers or the elderly.

“My sense is that by the start of the next school year, things will be back to normal,” Zaks said.

In August, the Canadian government signed a deal with Moderna for 20 million doses to be delivered in 2021. An option for an additional 36 million doses was appended to the agreement last month.

In late July, the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company became the first in the United States to begin Phase 3 clinical trials of its vaccine candidate. Currently, 30,000 adults are enrolled in the late-stage investigation, conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.

Zaks, an Israeli oncologist, earned his medical degree and a PhD at Ben-Gurion. Israel has placed orders for the Moderna vaccine, among other countries.

The company expects to produce between 500 million and a billion doses next year, he said, noting that two inoculations would be administered, with a booster shot about a month after the first one.

Zaks said this vaccine has been shown to produce even more antibodies in a person infected with the coronavirus. Some in the trial have experienced mild flu-like symptoms that last a day or two, he said, but no serious side effects have been recorded.

How long immunity will last is not known, he acknowledged, but it should be at least a few years.

New vaccines are developed each year for the seasonal flu because different strains arise, he explained. Mutations have occurred in COVID, but that will not diminish the Moderna vaccine’s effectiveness, he said.

Moderna is currently expanding its trials to ensure the vaccine’s efficacy among children, pregnant women and those who are immune-compromised.

Mark Mendelson, chief executive officer of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University, said there were nearly 220 registrants for the Zoom webinar, an indication of the high level of interest in the subject – and the pride of the university’s supporters.

In response to questions, Zaks assured that no corners are being cut to rush the vaccine to market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is “working in lockstep” with Moderna, he said, and has been, in fact, “overly conservative by some measures.” The company published the success of its findings in the New England Journal of Medicine on Sept. 29.

He warned that demand for a vaccine will likely outstrip supply, and countries that are less rich may have trouble meeting their citizens’ needs, at least in the first year. It’s also unclear how the several billion doses he expects to be needed by the end of next year will be deployed around the world, he said.

The Moderna vaccine will cost between US $20-$37 per dose, depending on the volume of purchase, he said.

Asked what keeps him awake at night, Zaks replied, “Our ability to explain our science to a public that is highly fractured in how it gets its information, where venues are polarized. That worries me.

“We are on the cusp of one of the greatest achievements in modern medicine and we find ourselves getting the very strange response of either we are not moving fast enough or ‘I do not believe you.’”