Hockey legend Jean Béliveau, left, with Maccabi Canada’s fundraising chair, Gary Ulrich [Ryan Blau, PBL Photography]
MONTREAL — As national fundraising chair of Maccabi Canada, Gary Ulrich wears the title just about as comfortably as he might a pair of favourite loafers or an old cardigan. Maybe because he’s worn it before.
Back in 1981, when gasoline was much cheaper, so, too, was the cost of sending the Canadian team to Israel – maybe a few thousand dollars per athlete. It was Ulrich who was then in charge of raising those dollars to send a couple of hundred athletes to Israel. And in those days, unlike their counterparts across the border, Maccabi Canada (MC) paid the whole way.
With mushrooming costs over the years, that changed a long time ago. For the next, 18th “Chai” Maccabiah Games – July 12 to 23, 2009 – athletes will be expected to raise half the cost of going, now pegged at $7,000 per athlete.
“We’re expecting 450 athletes and support staff, for a total cost of $3.3 million,” Ulrich said.
“But remember, we have never left a quality athlete behind because of money,” stressed Ulrich, a retired businessman who returned to MC activities after a hiatus of some 25 years – and who looks as fit and trim now as ever.
It was the importance of raising funds that brought together Ulrich and about a dozen other Maccabi and community leaders and supporters last month for a get-together at the Montefiore Club for some fund-raising brainstorming.
One of the magnets who attended was Jean Béliveau, Montreal Canadiens’ hockey icon nonpareil.
Béliveau, Le Gros Bill, has already been to two Maccabiah Games – the first in 1985 when Ulrich was MC president – and according to Ulrich, Béliveau might consider going a third time if his health – he is 76 – and always hectic schedule permit.
At the get-together, Ulrich related how Béliveau’s memoirs describe the thrill of entering Ramat Gan Stadium for the opening ceremonies with the Canadian team as one of the great moments of his life.
In terms of the fundraising, there are several plans in the works, Ulrich said.
Besides the regular, open events for the main athletes and the junior component, there will be a particular emphasis on an expanded masters competition in ’09, Ulrich said, in which competitors pay the entire cost themselves – $10,000.
Also underway, he said, is an effort to seek captains who would help ensure that team sports are properly financed through approaches to “corporate citizens.”
“The cost of sending a team with, say, 15 players, is $105,000,” Ulrich said, citing a couple of well-known but still not publicly official supporters’ names.
A major clothing manufacturer, he said, is also being sought to dress the Canadian team. “We’re looking for the complete package,” he said.
Ulrich said although most of the Maccabi regions finance their own athletes, Ontario will, because of its demography, be “more in the forefront,” with the organization’s major national fundraising event planned for Toronto in 2008.
In Montreal, events include the annual Mike Yuval Tennis Classic on Nun’s Island and a golf tournament next fall on behalf of the Maccabi golf team.
Ulrich stressed that the Maccabiah Games continue to be a starting point for the younger generation to identify with their heritage, Israel, and the community they live in.
Ulrich, a former chair of the Combined Jewish Appeal, is among a number of Maccabi Canada stalwarts, such as Roy Salomon and the late Gordie Schwartz, who got their start in community involvement through MC activities.
Ulrich is pleased to see a younger generation of Jews assuming leadership positions within MC, among them president Allen Gerskup of Toronto, Quebec chair Teddy Miller and National Athletic Committee chair Leon Elfassy of Montreal.
“The most exciting aspect of this organization is that the torch is being passed on to the younger generation,” said Ulrich, who competed on the men’s basketball teams in 1961 and 1965.