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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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JNF brings Negev Dinner to SW Ontario

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Larry and Jacki Levin

Hamilton’s Jewish National Fund is celebrating 60 years of Negev Dinners on Sunday at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

The Negev Dinners, which are held in 10 Jewish communities across the country each year, raise funds for JNF projects in Israel, while honouring both Jewish and non-Jewish inspirational community leaders.

This year, the Hamilton community will honour Larry and Jacki Levin, who have immersed themselves in the organized Jewish community in Hamilton for the past 30 years.

“They are very committed and involved people,” said JNF Canada director Franklin Simkevitz.

But Larry Levin, who carved out a successful career as a dentist, and currently sits on the board of the Canadian Dental Association, said getting involved in the Jewish community came naturally to him and his wife Jacki.

“We didn’t set out to make our involvement in Jewish life a priority. We moved into the community from Toronto. Our kids got involved with the Hebrew Academy School and I had an opportunity to sit on the board… That was one of our first entrees into the Hamilton Jewish communal life,” Larry said.

Around the same time, his wife became president of the parent-teacher association.

“That was about 30 years ago. From there we continued to be involved at different levels. I was asked to be involved with the [UJA Federation of Hamilton]… I was on the board of federation and later became president.”

Larry still sits on the federation board with Jacki, who served as the Hamilton federation’s treasurer for two years.

In the late 1990s, Jacki joined the board of Shalom Village, a Jewish long-term care facility, and later served as president for three years. While she continues to sit on the board, Larry has taken over as the Shalom Village president.

“We both always felt we wanted to make a contribution, we wanted to set an example for others and we got so much out of our involvement,” Larry said.

“We always wanted to try to improve things and that’s the way in which you can. You can get involved rather than being critical… roll up your sleeves and make the difference.”

The June 10 event, which is expected to attract more than 500 people, will include a keynote speech by Rex Murphy, a Canadian commentator, author and journalist, who appears on CBC’s The National, host’s CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup, and has a regular column in the National Post.

Simkevitz said dinner guests will also be treated to a special video in honour of the 60th anniversary of Negev Dinners in Hamilton, which will highlight past honorees, as well as the projects that the dinners have helped fund in Israel such as water reservoirs, forests, research and development projects, and Zionist educational projects.

Simkevitz added that attracting 500 guests in a small Jewish community like Hamilton, which has less than 5,000 Jews, is quite a feat.

“Windsor is another city that attracts hundreds to the dinner from a much smaller pool of only about 1,200 Jews.”

The Windsor event on June 20 will honour Frances and Jerry Goldberg, JNF Windsor board and executive members. Jonathan Tepperman, journalist and managing editor of Foreign Affairs, and former deputy editor of Newsweek, will deliver the keynote address.

Simkevitz added that about half of the dinner guests are non-Jews who resonate with JNF projects.

“It’s got a cachet in each of these communities. It attracts people from the general community, people who are supportive of Israel and supportive of the Jewish community.”

The JNF dinners also often celebrate non-Jews who benefit the lives of Canadian minorities.

For example, on June 24, London’s JNF will honour the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney.

“Jason Kenney is being recognized in part for his outspoken support for the Jewish community and Israel,” Simkevitz said.

“Recently, he’s been first off the mark to condemn antisemitism… and he’s also been outspoken in his support for Holocaust education.”

The dinner, which will be held at the London Convention Centre, will also feature a musical performance by singer Aviva Chernick and her band Jaffa Road.

The Levins agreed that supporting JNF is a worthy cause on many levels.

“We support what JNF stands for, the opportunities it creates for people in Israel to improve the environment in Israel, and the wonderful message it sends to people around the world about green and environmental issues that JNF is always working towards.”

But the main message, Larry said, is that volunteerism is vital to maintaining thriving communities.

For information, contact Simkevitz at 905-527-5516 or fdsimkevitz@jnf.ca.

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