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;
– 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: