2017 Negev Dinner
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Jewish National Fund Negev Dinners recognize community leaders & those who have given outstanding personal effort on behalf of their community & Israel, and this year is no exception. The JNF of Calgary honours philanthropist Al Osten with its prestigious 2017 Negev Award. The 2017 JNF Negev Dinner project that will be named in Osten’s honour and will support the Israel Tennis Centre (ITC) in Beer Sheva, Israel. This project will help address the needs of children, teens and young adults in the rapidly expanding and economically-challenged Negev area through their impressive social services programming while extending the work of the ITC in Beer Sheva.
Alex Allen Osten
Alex Allen Osten was born in Saskatoon on January 9,1931, the seventh child of Aron and Bessie Ostrovsky. Aron Ostrovsky and his brother, orphaned at an early age, made their way to Liverpool from Russia to stay with relatives. The brothers immigrated to Canada when Aron was 19 and settled in Winnipeg. Aron met Bessie Polsky when she was 15, they married and raised a family living in Saskatchewan and later Alberta.
Al attended Talmud Torah until grade five. Al was famous for bolting out the window of Sam Shtabsky’s taxi cab-he didn’t want to go to school! From grade six Al attended Oliver Public School, then Strathcona High School (Scona). Al had his Bar Mitzvah in the Beth Israel Synagogue on 95th street in Edmonton in 1944. After high school, Al did not attend university, although he went to Alberta College for a short time. He caught the “show biz” bug in high school and appeared in musicals at the school and later in community musicals directed by Dasha Goody and others. Cast members included Robert Goulet and Muggsy Forbes.
In 1952, Al moved to Toronto to pursue a musical career where he briefly appeared on an amateur radio show. Tenors Larry Amato and Doug Wells heard Al and invited him to form a vocal trio, with Al lending a baritone voice. For their first gig, they were booked into McVann’s Nightclub in Buffalo. On the way to Buffalo they heard on the radio that they were booked into McVann’s as “The Rover Boys”. Thus the name was born! They relocated to New York and recorded their first record with Decca, Show Me, with Al as lead. They then moved to the ABC – Paramount label and Billy Albert joined the group as lead singer, so they were now a quartet. In 1956 they finally hit with their single. Graduation Day (with flip side / Hear Music) a US Top 20 placing. Other records followed: Whoop Doodly Whoop, Come to Me, and Love Me Again. They toured nightclubs in the United States and Canada, including the Rainbow Ballroom in Manhattan, and appeared on the Alan Freed Rock and Roll show at the Brooklyn Paramount with their song. Come to Me.
Billy Albert decided to go out on his own and in 1957 Buddy Victor replaced him as lead singer. The Rover Boys were opening in Detroit in two days when Buddy was hired and he learned all the songs while driving to Detroit. They continued touring all over North America and recorded From a School Ring to a Wedding Ring, Little Did I Know, Soft Sands, Julia, and Sweet Violets, among others. They also appeared in Las Vegas in a show written by Michel Legrand, La Parisienne.
Turbulent times of protest and the US draft of soldiers for the Vietnam War persuaded Al to return to Canada. He worked at the Embers Night Club, opened in 1963 by friends Tommy Banks and Phil Shragge. Later on Al and Buddy made the decision to buy the Weight Watchers’ franchise for Alberta, later adding Saskatchewan. The first Weight Watchers meeting was held in rented space in the Edmonton Masonic Temple, in the summer of 1967. In the early 1980’s, Mildred Oppenheimer, a Weight Watcher friend, enticed them to invest in some Broadway shows. They caught the “Broadway Bug” and for 17 years they rode the waves of Broadway openings: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982); Hairspray (2002); Little Shop of Horrors (2003); Sweeney Todd (2005), Company (2006); and Young Frankenstein (2009). Another venture, Flashdance toured but did not make it to Broadway.
Al became involved with Weight Watchers at the International Board level, attending meetings across North America. Through this network of franchisees, Al made a great many lifelong friends. In 2013, Al and Buddy sold their franchise to Weight Watchers of Canada.
Over the years Al and Buddy realized how good both Edmonton and Calgary had been to them. They sponsored numerous charities, community organizations and services, arts and music organizations through Weight Watchers. Many personal donations were given anonymously. They established two foundations: the Al Osten and Buddy Victor Foundation in Calgary and the Buddy Victor and Al Osten Foundation in Edmonton. Through these foundations, they have donated to health, social service, charitable community and arts foundations based on identified or urgent needs (eg: palliative care beds; the Fort McMurray fire relief, etc.)
Their first major public endowment was to the Capital Campaign for the Art Gallery of Alberta. The third floor of the gallery bears their names: Buddy Victor and Alex Osten. The opportunity to give back to the entire community, through a permanent legacy, was fitting and consistent with their love of art. It is also a model for others to consider in terms of gifting to the community.
Al is one of the early supporters of Temple Bnai Tikvah, now celebrating its 37th year. He continues to support the Temple and on December 6, 2014, Al was called to the Torah for his second Bar Mitzvah, 70 years after his first Bar Mitzvah. In the spirit of inclusiveness and respect, the service was followed by a lunch for the Bnai Tikvah congregation. Al followed in his father’s footsteps. His father Aron was called to the Torah for his second Bar Mitzvah in December 1965 at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton.
For many years Al has supported Theatre Calgary, serving on the Board for 10 years and now as an honourary member. He donates one of the big prizes for the yearly fund-raising drive as well as sponsoring various productions and activities.
Other cultural institutions which have received Al’s generous support include Calgary Opera and the Calgary Jewish Film Festival.
Throughout his life, whether in show business or in his business career, Al has always been unassuming, kind and generous, and is a loyal and steadfast friend. His smile lights up a room. Everyone adores him for his engaging personality, his terrific sense of humour, his love of a good joke and his genuine interest in others. Al’s philanthropy has touched the lives of countless people; the JNF is proud to honour Alex Osten, whose legacy in Israel will continue to positiv
Tickets & Sponsorship Opportunities
Tickets (JNF Future, Single & Couples):
For ticket information or to make a donation to the JNF Calgary Negev Gala please contact the Calgary JNF office email@example.com or 403-255-0295.
For Sponsorship and advertising opportunities, please contact Sandra Fayerman, Executive Director 403.255.0297
When & Where
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Beth Tzedek Synagogue
1325 Glenmore Trail SW
Cocktail Reception: 5:30pm
Program & Dinner: 6:30pm
AB Kosher Dietary Law Observed
For further information:
Tel: (403) 255-0295
Fax: (403) 255-3506
1607-90th Ave. S.W.