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JNF event stresses solidarity amid terror wave in Israel

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JNF gala event in Toronto on Nov. 22 JONATHAN DICK PHOTO
JNF gala event in Toronto on Nov. 22 JONATHAN DICK PHOTO

The themes of coexistence and solidarity were underscored by good vibrations from Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson at the Jewish National Fund of Toronto’s annual Negev Dinner.

The Nov. 22 event honoured Joseph Frieberg and Kevin Green for their contribution to their local community and the State of Israel. Frieberg and Green’s late father, Harold Green, founded Israel Tennis Centers (ITC) in Canada, and they have “stay[ed] with the organization since its inception 40 years ago,” said JNF CEO Josh Cooper.

The event, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, hosted 1,600 guests, who were treated a special musical performance by the legendary Wilson.

He was accompanied by former bandmates Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. They played many of their most famous songs, including California Girls, I Get Around and Good Vibrations. As Cooper put it when asked why Wilson was tapped to play at the event, “Everyone loves the Beach Boys!”

Under Cooper’s leadership, the JNF’s Negev Dinner has continually beaten its own fundraising records. “We are very fortunate that from coast to coast, attendance and fundraising at all of our Negev Dinners has increased over the years,” said Cooper, CEO since 2012. “People realize that if you want to help support and build Israel, JNF is the natural organization to help fulfil your charitable objectives.”

Proceeds from this year’s dinner will fund two major building projects in Israel. The first is a new multi-purpose facility at the Samson Israel Tennis Center in Be’er Sheva, and the second is an Israel Tennis Center in Sderot, the town adjacent to Gaza that has been targeted by rocket fire from the territory in recent years. Both facilities will feature programs that promote coexistence between Jews and Arabs, as well as Ethiopian integration, and programs for the physically and developmentally disabled and youth at risk.

“Be’er Sheva, the capital of the Negev, is one of the fastest growing cities in Israel. JNF has established many projects helping all of the citizens of Be’er Sheva, Druze, Bedouin, Arab, Jewish, etc. The Israel Tennis Centers, which is the hub of outstanding coexistence programming, needs to be expanded. Therefore, the ITC and JNF felt this was the best centre to expand,” Cooper said.

“On a summer fact-finding trip between JNF and ITC, the tour went to Sderot to highlight some of JNF’s work. Upon meeting with the mayor of Sderot, and its residents, Mr. Frieberg and Mr. Green fell in love with the city. They were adamant that we help the people of Sderot, and so in partnership with the city of Sderot, a 15th Israel Tennis Center will be built,” Cooper added.

Israel Tennis Centers is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1976 to improve the quality of life for Israeli children.

“With your support, more children will be able to play, have fun, and just be children,” Green said as he received a standing ovation.

Cooper stressed the importance of Jewish and Arab coexistence and communal solidarity being aspects of this year’s projects.

“While we are best known for our work in forestry and water management, much of our work in Israel over the past few decades has been coexistence programs. We want to ensure that no Israeli citizen is left behind,” Cooper said.

“We feel strongly that we need to continue to build relationships between all citizens of Israel. The recent wave of terror attacks in Israel has impacted Israelis of all backgrounds, specifically over the past few months. This particular project will address the increased need for coexistence programs in Israel’s south.”

In Frieberg’s acceptance speech, he stated, “We at ITC have always believed in rackets, not rockets.”