MONTREAL — It began as a simple request last fall, and it ended with an already famous artwork having an immortal signature that adds to its stature.
The request came from Montrealer Aldo Bensadoun, the founder of the Aldo Group, the Canadian corporation with a worldwide chain of shoe stores (Bensadoun is also a very recent inductee to the Order of Canada).
Bensadoun, a fencing aficionado, huge hockey fan and one of Maccabi Canada’s most diligent and generous supporters, asked former Maccabi president Gary Ulrich whether a close friend of his, Montreal Canadiens great Jean Béliveau, would consider autographing a very large portrait he had in his office of Béliveau’s immortal number 4 sweater rendered by the late Quebec artist Serge Lemoyne. Logically, the work is called Number Four.
(An even more famous work by Lemoyne is his simple portrait of Hab goaltender Ken Dryden’s mask).
Being ever the gentleman, Béliveau, who is 80 and continues to recuperate from 2011 surgery, obliged, even though he and Bensoudan had not met previously.
“You can’t imagine what it was like,” Ulrich said in a phone call from Florida. “There we were in [Bensoudan’s] office in St. Laurent – the painting was too large to bring over to Béliveau’s residence to sign – and there must have been 150 staff people there just to see him. But he was as gracious and friendly as he always is, chatting and signing autographs.”
After Béliveau signed the painting, Bensadoun handed the Habs legend a cheque for the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation as a gesture of appreciation.
Ulrich said Bensadoun was one of 10 major supporters who met with Eyal Tiberger, director general of the Maccabi World Union, when Tiberger visited Montreal last fall to meet with local Maccabi Canada officials and supporters.
Bensadoun supplied the entire 550-member Canadian team with their uniforms for the last Maccabiah Games in 2009.
“We’ve been very good friends for over 25 years,” Ulrich said of Bensadoun.
During his visit, Tiberger also sought financial support for about 180 Jewish athletes from “lost communities” in 14 countries – such as Cuba – who can’t afford to pay their own ways to Israel. “They needed about $5,500 for each athlete,” Ulrich said.