Thursday, May 14, 2015
“We are honoured to support a project located in the spiritual center of Jerusalem, our capital city, which is the heart of the Jewish people. We want to share this magnificent site with everyone who will visit here.”
The JNF Canada delegation to the KKL-JNF World Solidarity Mission launched its tour in Israel with a festive opening dinner on Wednesday May 13 at a restored Crusader hall located in the Western Wall Tunnels complex. Honoured guests included Canadian government officials and senior KKL-JNF representatives.
“We are honoured to support a project located in the spiritual center of Jerusalem, our capital city, which is the heart of the Jewish people. We want to share this magnificent site with everyone who will visit here.” CEO of JNF Canada, Josh Cooper was speaking at a dinner party that took place on Wednesday, May 13, for the Canadian delegation to the KKL-JNF World Solidarity mission. The dinner took place in an extraordinary setting – a 700 year old restored Crusader hall located in the Western Wall Tunnels complex. Canadian government officials and KKL-JNF senior representatives were also in attendance.
Over 400 delegates from 35 countries are participating in the KKL-JNF World Solidarity Mission, which is taking place from May 14- May 20. Mr. Cooper noted that the Canadian delegation is here as part of the mission, “and also for the annual general meeting of the JNF Canada board. Like the other delegations, we’ll be visiting the projects JNF Canada supports throughout the country.”
The Western Wall Tunnels were chosen as the venue for the opening dinner in recognition of JNF Canada’s support of the creation of a new central hall facing the famous 600-ton stone embedded in the Western Wall, the largest of its kind. The hall will serve as an educational focus for groups visiting the tunnels, where they will learn what this complex was about in the past and what it is today.
Josh Cooper introduced one of the special guests at the dinner, the Honourable Tim S. Uppal, Canadian Minister of State (Multiculturalism), who was in Israel to participate in the Fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. Mr. Cooper noted that two years ago, the minister asked to meet Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas in Gaza and eventually released. “It is thanks to friends like you that we can accomplish our goals,” Mr. Cooper said. “It is a great honour to have dinner here in Jerusalem with you and our other distinguished guests.”
“I am of the Sikh faith, and my parents emigrated to Canada from India,” the minister began. “My unique connection with the Jewish people and Israel began a few years ago, when I met a Holocaust survivor and heard her story, which was tragic but also inspiring. My wife was the first non-Jewish person to participate in the March of the Living in Poland, and when I was a member of parliament, I submitted a bill to create a national holocaust museum, which is currently being built in Ottawa.”
“I visited Israel for the first time in 2009, in order to see the country firsthand, and I realized not only how amazing Israel is, but also how complex. Two years ago, I participated at the JNF Toronto Negev Dinner at which Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the guest of honour. I am flying back to Canada this evening, and am already looking forward to my next visit to Israel.”
Mr. Jerry Werger, who is in the second year of his term as President of JNF Canada, said that he was extremely pleased that nine members of the JNF Canada executive committee were on the mission. “My vision has always been the same – I want people in Canada to understand that KKL-JNF is about infrastructure and doing whatever is necessary for the people of Israel. We feel that we’ve had tremendous success with our projects, whether it’s supporting hospitals, building water reservoirs or planting trees. In terms of scope, we’re branching out more and more, and our supporters are very enthusiastic about what we’re doing.”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, greeted the guests and noted that when King Solomon dedicated the first Temple, “he had one request of God – that He accept the prayers of anyone praying here, whether Jew or non-Jew. When someone prays in Toronto, it is as if they are praying here, as all prayers ascend from this holy site. Jerusalem is the place where people listen to one another, just as you will be doing over the next few days. Israel is the home not only of its citizens, but of the entire Jewish people, wherever they may be. Enjoy your trip and your mission, and I want you to know that by being partners to the important project we will be building here, you are part of the Western Wall family.”
The Honourable Senator Linda Frum from Ontario was part of Minister Uppal’s delegation to the conference on combating anti-Semitism. “Two years ago, my husband Howard Sokolowski and I co-chaired the largest KKL-JNF dinner ever, at which we honored Prime Minister Stephan Harper and raised funds for the Hula Lake Visitors Center,” the Senator said. “I was also a member of Prime Minister Harper’s entourage when he visited Israel in January 2014. The prime minister promised that when the visitors’ center is completed, he will come back to Israel to see it, and I look forward to accompanying him when he does so.”
Avi Dickstein, Executive Director of the KKL-JNF Resources and Development Division, noted that tonight’s event “is the official opening of the KKL-JNF World Solidarity Mission, during which our friends from all over the world express their support of KKL-JNF and Israel. Over the past year alone, we dedicated 175 diverse projects that were funded by many different countries. We have prepared a fascinating and comprehensive itinerary, and I am certain that mission participants will learn a great deal and also very much enjoy their stay.”