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:

YidLife Crisis to Lighten That Other Crisis

Oct. 20, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Jewish community institutions are hoping a little comedy will lift pandemic-weary spirits and bring the socially distanced together, at least virtually.

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is presenting A Call to Montreal, an original video show created by and starring the irreverent YidLife Crisis duo of Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion this Thursday (Oct. 22) at 7:30 p.m.

Jamie Elman, left, and Eli Batalion make A Call to Montreal outside the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. (Thomas Leblanc-Murray photo)

They promise to “lightly roast and toast” the city and its Jewish community with their trademark smart and sassy humour.

The 45-minute “one-time only” presentation was largely shot this summer on the Jewish Community Campus, with the enthusiastic participation of its key institutions: the Segal, the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, the Jewish Public Library, and the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, which all ceased normal operations in March.

Elman and Batalion have been together since they launched YidLife Crisis as a web series in 2014 casting themselves as the youngish Yiddish-speaking odd couple, Chaimie (Elman) and Leizer (Batalion), who literally chew over the big questions of modern Jewish identity in the mama loshen they learned at Bialik High School.

A Call to Montreal follows on their first film love letter to their hometown, the 2018 documentary Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal, which was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards and played Jewish film festivals throughout the United States and elsewhere.

A Call to Montreal is in English with only a smattering of Yiddish, and eating is not on the menu, say the two boychiks, who have already packed on the “quarantine 15” over the past months.

The show is a mix of skits, musical performances, and surprise guests, shot respecting all health protocols on site, as well as remotely.

The Segal and its partner institutions see the event as a way of reaching out to the community and reminding it of “its vitality in the face of adversity.”

The show, which will be live-streamed, will be followed by a real live question-and-answer session between the audience, Batalion and Elman, who lives in Los Angeles but thinks of himself as an honorary Montrealer. He hopes the great Montreal diaspora – Jewish and not – will also be watching.

Tickets are $18 per person or $36 per household, with part of the proceeds going to the institutions involved.

A recording of the show will be available on-demand for up to 48 hours afterward for ticket holders.

The duo will be up against another comedy act scheduled for that night – the second U.S. presidential debate – but that starts at 9 p.m. and will have less Yiddish, they point out.

The idea is to make A Call to Montreal as inclusive as possible, so anyone who cannot afford a ticket should enter their plea at info@yidlifecrisis.com.

For those who want an authentic experience, YidLife Crisis has arranged with the Snowdon Deli a special menu of traditional fare that can be picked up before the show.

“After ‘exporting’ Jewish Montreal to the U.S. and beyond, it gives us great pleasure to ‘return’ to our resilient community and remind them of what they already know: that while we may be down, we’re still alive and – gently – kicking,” says the duo.

As Batalion exhorts in the promotional trailer: “Don’t be a shmendrick, buy your ticket now.” To which Elman adds tongue in cheek: “May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for 5781 – in a Sharpie.”