TORONTO — Seattle periodontist Michael Spektor traces his involvement with the 105-year-old Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity to a convention in Montreal in the early 1970s.
“They had me at hello,” the 2012 international president said in an interview at the University of Toronto dental school.
He was in town to meet with local Alpha Omega (AO) members and speak at AO Toronto’s Fraternity Night dinner at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation Sept. 10.
Recalling his first convention as a dental student, he described himself as a “pisher from Chicago, and I knew everything.” But witnessing an award presentation by a father to his son, and hearing Hatikvah as part of the program, made a deep impression on Spektor, a son of Holocaust survivors who was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the war.
Alpha Omega, which represents about 6,000 dentists and dental students in 23 countries, was started in Baltimore to combat antisemitism in dental schools. However, the organization has also been involved in other types of projects from its inception, said Spektor, whose wife, Wendy, is also a dentist and an Alpha Omegan. The couple, who have two grown sons, are a team professionally as well as personally.
Among AO’s current projects is its Global Oral Health Initiative, with outreach in places including Guatemala, Rwanda and Latvia.
In Israel, Alpha Omega built the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dentistry and the dental school at Tel Aviv University, Spektor said. In the past year, the AO Foundation disbursed almost $250,000 for projects in Israel and worldwide.
Although antisemitism is not the focus it once was, the organization still addresses it, taking a stand against divestment from Israel campaigns, for example.
Locally, Alpha Omega Toronto has contacted U of T dean David Naylor to express concerns about Israeli Apartheid Week, said Alan Vinegar, president of AO Toronto.
Earlier this summer, Spektor visited AO’s chapter in Toulouse, France, where Muslim radical Mohamed Merah killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in March, triggering more than 90 antisemitic attacks in the next 10 days. “It really struck close to home,” Spektor said, after meeting relatives of one of the victims.
One of the projects that Spektor finds particularly meaningful is the Alliance for Oral Health Across Borders, to which AO was a signatory. He took part in the first training session for Israeli and Palestinian dental students.
The idea, he explained, is that regardless of political beliefs, healers can transcend areas of conflict. “We don’t have to agree, but we can move forward.”
Outside of AO, Spektor channels his passion for Israel and tzedakah into other Jewish organizations. A former president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, he is currently on the national council for AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and has also been involved in Holocaust education.
AO’s Toronto chapter, the largest in the world with more than 600 members, offers dental care to nursing home residents and Holocaust survivors, Spektor noted. Montreal – home to Spektor’s predecessor, Michael Tenenbaum – has the second-largest chapter, with 250 members.
In fact, Spektor is somewhat of an anomaly in AO at the moment – his successor will be Marcy Schwartzman of Vancouver, and in 2014, Avi Wurman, who practises in Oshawa, Ont., will take the reins of the international organization.
“I’m the one North American that’s not Canadian,” Spektor quipped.