Julia and Henry Koschitzky are about to join a distinguished group. They will be the honourees at this year’s Jewish National Fund (JNF) Toronto Negev Dinner on Nov. 18, which also marks the event’s 70th anniversary.
The Negev Dinner is JNF Toronto’s annual fundraiser. Each year, it raises money for an Israeli cause and honours a member of the community. Past honourees include a number of philanthropists and politicians, such as former prime minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
JNF was founded in 1901, to buy and develop land in what was then Palestine, for the purpose of re-establishing a Jewish homeland. That kind of physical development is still a part of JNF’s mandate, said Jeff Springer, executive director of JNF Toronto, but that’s not all the organization does.
“Today, the traditional JNF role of forestry, environment, research and development, community development and infrastructure is still alive … but in Canada, we’re very much involved in building the social infrastructure of Israel,” said Springer.
This year, that means the Negev Dinner is being held in support of Leket Israel, the largest food bank in the Jewish state. Leket, which means “collection,” gathers healthy surplus food to redistribute among approximately 175,000 Israelis in need.
As of this writing, JNF Toronto has raised almost $3.5 million for the dinner, with more coming in all the time. Springer said it’s shaping up to be an especially successful year, because of the combination of honouring the Koschitzkys and raising money for Leket Israel.
He also said there will be some special surprises at the dinner, in honour of Israel’s 70th birthday, including a mysterious special guest – a world-renowned magician, illusionist and endurance artist.
“It’s going to be awesome, it’s going to be great. We’re really excited about it,” Springer said about the upcoming dinner. “The honourees are excited about it. People that come are going to have a wonderful time with great food, great entertainment and really a celebration of both our honourees, of Leket and of Israel.”
“There’s just already so much buzz,” added Rafi Yablonsky, JNF Toronto’s campaign director. “There’s a lot of electricity in the atmosphere for this year’s dinner, being the 70th anniversary and honouring Julia and Henry.”
The Koschitzkys, who have been attending Negev Dinners since the early 1960s, agreed to be honoured this year, in part because their son-in-law, Joseph Gitler, is the founder of Leket Israel, which is celebrating its 13th year in operation.
“This is the best community in the world. Everybody knows what Toronto is,” said Julia Koschitzky. “Our life wouldn’t be the same without this community. We have always seen it as an extension of our own family.”
Springer was effusive in his praise for what the Koschitzkys have done for Toronto’s Jewish community.
“Henry and Julia Koschitzky are philanthropic leaders and also business leaders and also volunteer leaders. They have engaged intimately in aspects of the community and we are thrilled that they agreed to be honoured this year,” he said.
But Koschitzky downplayed the individual honour, instead focusing on the bigger picture.
“This is not just a tribute to us, but to every Jewish cause under the sun,” she said. “This is the success story of Israel and we’re happy to be part of it.”