TORONTO — Former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader and current talk-radio host John Tory is being honoured this weekend as the Jewish National Fund of Toronto’s 2011 Negev Dinner honoree.
Tory, who ran for premier in 2007 on a platform that would have included allocating funds to Jewish and other faith-based schools, said he was “very flattered” by the JNF’s request that he be this year’s honoree.
“I’ve been very fortunate as a community servant, business leader and as a politician to establish wonderful friendships with a whole lot of communities across Ontario, including the Jewish community,” he told The CJN in a phone interview last week.
The JNF’s annual dinner raises funds for various ongoing projects in Israel that it asks honorees to choose from.
Tory chose to direct funds from this year’s dinner toward ALUT, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children, which has built 16 residential homes in Israel for autistic children and young adults.
Specifically, Tory will dedicate the money to the creation of the John A. Tory Memorial Autism Therapy Garden, in memory of his father, John A. Tory, who passed away earlier this year.
The garden, to be situated in ALUT’s soon-to-be-built “home for life” in the Iris Village in Be’er Sheva, will help create “a restorative green environment” for the home’s many residents, according to the organization.
“I have had a particular interest in autism since becoming a politician,” Tory said.
He always read about the condition, but never realized how autism affected families. However, once he was elected to Queen’s Park as the leader of the official opposition, he heard a fellow MPP – NDPer Shelley Martel – speak passionately about the need to help young people with autism in Ontrio.
As a result, Tory said, he started visiting autism treatment centres and families of children with autism, and became convinced the province needed to “do more” to help them.
“So when [JNF] presented this project as an option to me, I was very impressed that in Israel they have these residential facilities [via ALUT]. We don’t have the equivalent here to any significant extent,” he said.
Tory said the garden allowed him to pay tribute to his father, who he said led “an exemplary life helping others.”
He said he’s promised the JNF that he will go see the project in Israel in the near future.
JNF Toronto said it chose to honour Tory this year because of all the work he’s done with the Jewish community in the province, and because of his interest in Israel.
Josh Cooper, executive director of JNF Toronto, said Tory has been “an outstanding and outspoken” friend of the Jewish community for many years.
“He’s always supported the community personally, professionally, emotionally and financially. He’s someone who we all felt was worthy of receiving this honour,” Cooper said.
He noted that Tory has attended numerous JNF events over the years and has supported the organization for a long time. He added that Tory also made a “very generous” donation toward this year’s dinner.
The 2011 JNF Toronto Negev Dinner takes place this Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Fairmount Royal York Hotel.
For more information, visit www.jnftoronto.ca or call 416-638-7200.