TORONTO — The new national executive vice-president of the Jewish National Fund Canada is starting off his tenure with a major announcement: Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be the 2013 Negev Dinner honoree in Toronto.
It’s believed to be the first time a sitting prime minister has been honoured at a Negev Dinner. The galas are held annually in cities around the country and recognize Canadians who have shown support for Israel.
“We anticipate that being the largest dinner event the community’s ever seen,” Josh Cooper said. “The prime minister has agreed to do it. He deserves the honour.”
The event will be held at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre. More details will be released as the date draws closer.
A spokesperson for Harper said his office has no comment on the event.
Cooper, JNF Canada’s current executive director for Toronto, will replace outgoing national vice-president Joe Rabinovitch, 71, as of August.
In an interview with The CJN last week at his Toronto office, Cooper, 42, said he and the Montreal-based Rabinovitch, whom he called “a terrific mentor,” have been speaking daily to help ensure a smooth transition.
Cooper plans to revitalize the JNF brand and help Canada’s pro-Israel community understand that the JNF is about “so much more” than planting trees – although that remains important.
With 11 offices across Canada and a head office in Montreal, Cooper, who will be based in Toronto, said he plans to visit with all JNF Canada staff and board members to get to know them and gather ideas about how to better promote the organization within the community.
He said marketing strategies and “other national items” would be high on his initial agenda once he takes over as national vice-president.
Another pressing issue is maintaining his organization’s existing donor base and “building upon it.”
“I feel excited, honoured and fortunate to be able to represent the ultimate Zionist organization,” Cooper said. “We’re now 111 years young. Many people don’t perceive us as the same organization that bought the land to create Israel.”
He said JNF Canada is the only Jewish community organization that sends 100 per cent of donations to projects in Israel.
“We’ve literally impacted 100 per cent of Israel. No other organization has done that,” Cooper said, noting that JNF Canada has been or is currently involved in a myriad of infrastructure and environmental projects in the Jewish state.
Many people still associate the JNF name with tree-planting and the traditional blue donation boxes, or pushkes as they’re known in Yiddish, but the organization is also a major contributor to Israel’s environmental science sector and is a benefactor to numerous schools, synagogues and burgeoning communities.
“People across Canada who want to support Israel should look to JNF,” Cooper said.
While there are many other great Jewish organizations in Canada that do “terrific” things domestically, his organization offered the “best value for dollar” for projects in Israel, he said.
The JNF is also focusing on more unique programming to help fundraise for Israeli causes, he said.
As an example, Cooper noted that in 2011 his organization partnered with Ontario’s correctional officers to start a motorcycle ride that helps the families of Israeli correctional officers who perished in the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire while travelling through the forest as part of a convoy that was moving prisoners out of the fire zone.
This year’s ride is scheduled for Aug. 12 and has been endorsed by the Ministry of Community Safety. Funds raised will help establish scholarships for the children of the Israeli officers.
For more information on that event and others, visit www.jnf.ca.
“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world doing this [job]. Every day is more exciting than the last. It makes me proud as a Jew to see the work being done in Israel,” Cooper said.