WINNIPEG — After several years of showcasing Israeli musicians and singers, Winnipeg’s Jewish National Fund Negev Gala has selected a North American entertainer for the 2013 event.
Jason Alexander has been on stage, in movies, on TV and behind the scenes as a writer, producer and director, but most people know him as George Costanza on the long-running hit sitcom Seinfeld.
“Jason has tremendous name recognition. With his presence, we hope to make more people aware of and interested in the amazing work the JNF is doing in Israel,” said Karla Berbayer, president of JNF’s Manitoba/Saskatchewan region.
“Tickets started flying out the door as soon as we announced he was coming.”
Previous American performers at the gala have included Joel Grey, Gabe Kaplan and the late Alan King.
Berbrayer said Alexander is an apt choice for this year’s event, scheduled for June 4, because of his role as spokesperson for One Voice, a grassroots group of Israelis and Palestinians who favour a two-state solution for peace.
One Voice is pursuing the same goals as the Arab-Jewish Dialogue (AJD), a local group that’s this year’s Negev honoree.
JNF usually honours individuals, but that previous honorees have included the Asper Foundation and Winnipeg Holocaust survivors.
“The Arab Jewish Dialogue’s commitment to promote trust through education benefits us all,” Berbrayer said, adding that “we applaud the AJD’s commitment to bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to discuss current issues.”
AJD co-founder Ab Freig said it’s “a great honour to be recognized by the JNF for the work that we are doing… We are delighted.”
The AJD began as a friendship between Freig, an Egyptian-born Winnipeg businessman, and longtime Winnipeg Jewish community leader Harold Buchwald, who died in April 2008 at age 80.
“Harold and I were both on the board of the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice,” Freig said. “We were talking one day and decided that it might be a good idea to establish a group where Jews and Arabs could get together and begin a dialogue with each other.”
The aim of the AJD, which was officially launched in 2010, is to foster better relations between Canadian Arabs and Jews.
“Our vision is of a Canada inspired by the relations between its Arabs and Jews,” said Howard Morry, a past president of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and current AJD co-chair with Freig.
Morry said similar dialogues have taken place between Muslims and Jews, but the AJD is the first to bring together Jews and Arabs.
“We believe that the ultimate solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a sovereign, contiguous, democratic Palestinian state living side by side with a sovereign, secure, democratic Jewish state,” the AJD said in a statement. “We believe that no religion has a monopoly on the truth, and we abhor any group using religion to justify the use of violence.
“We believe that while Canadian Arabs and Jews may disagree from time to time over events in the Middle East, they can and should work together to resolve those differences peacefully.
“We believe that one of the ways to build trust between Arabs and Jews is to meet on a regular basis to educate each other and to discuss subjects of mutual interest.”
Freig said AJD members are working on projects in Israel that bring Arab and Jewish Israelis together.
“We are supporting, for example, a school in Israel that brings together Arab and Jewish children,” he said. “We are looking to work with other organizations like that that foster understanding between Arabs and Jews both in Israel and here in Canada.”
He said that AJD members are “are passionate about peace and conflict resolution. We believe that most conflicts can be resolved if people dialogue and understand the narratives of the other person.”
Morry said there’s been interest in the group from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
“We have been developing this dialogue long enough that we have formed a template,” he said. “We are looking to establish similar Arab Jewish dialogues in Canada’s major cities, starting with Toronto.”
The project to be funded by this year’s gala will involve Arab-Jewish co-operation in Israel, but the specific project has yet to be announced.