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MOE LEVY'S SPEECH ON RECEIVING SCOPUS AWARD FROM HEBREW UNIVERSITY AT CMHR -MAY 2014

June 21, 2014

THANK YOU GAIL FOR THAT WONDERFUL INTRODUCTION – NOW I HAD BETTER DELIVER ON THIS SPEECH!  WOW WHAT A NIGHT!  IT’S A VERY SPECIAL DAY FOR ME TODAY.

 

THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING TO MY SCOPUS PARTY.  ISN’T THIS THE MOST MAGNIFICENT PLACE TO HOLD AN EVENT – WHO WOULD HAVE IMAGINED THIS LAND ONLY A FEW YEARS AGO, WHICH WAS A PARKING LOT DESTINED FOR WHO KNOWS, MORE CONDOS OR A WATERPARK?  BUT 7500 CANADIANS AND IN PARTICULAR, YOU FROM THIS CITY OF WINNIPEG, CONTRIBUTED 73% OF ALL PRIVATE FUNDS RAISED OR OVER $100 MILLION TO CHANGE OUR LANDSCAPE. 

 

TO ALL OF YOU HERE TONIGHT, YOU HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO A GREAT CAUSE, THE INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH ISRAEL/CANADA, WHICH HAS A DIRECT LINK AND BENEFIT TO OUR COMMUNITY; FETAL ALCHOL SYNDROME DISORDER – AND AS WELL, YOU SUPPORT A GREAT UNIVERSITY IN ISRAEL. 

 

LET ME BEGIN BY SAYING THANK YOU TO MY FAMILY BARBARA, ADAM, SAMUEL, SARAH AND NOW TANYA AND MY CANINE COMPANION MAC FOR ALL YOUR LOVE AND SUPPORT OVER THE YEARS.  SPEAKING OF SARAH, IT’S HER 21ST BIRTHDAY TODAY – PLEASE JOIN ME IN WISHING HER A HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 

 

I ALSO WISH TO THANK THE HONORARY CHAIRS, CO-CHAIRS, ARRANGEMENTS COMMITTEE, ORGANIZING COMMITTEE, OUR EMCEES, MURRAY PALAY, MARGARET SHUCKETT AND SHARON ZALIK FOR ALL YOUR EFFORTS TO MAKE THIS SUCH AN UNFORGETTABLE EVENT.  RICHARD LEIPSIC, JEFF MORRY, TRACY PASCAL, LOUISE NEBBS AND THE SMALL TEAM IN OUR OFFICE, I TRULY APPRECIATE YOUR SUPPORT OVER THE YEARS.

 

LASTLY BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, I WANT TO REMEMBER MY PARENTS, SARAH AND BENJAMIN, A BROTHER RAPHAEL, AND IZZY AND BABS ASPER, WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN SO PROUD TO HAVE SHARED THIS EVENING WITH ME.   

 

 

WE ARE IN THIS MUSEUM BECAUSE OF THE VISION OF IZZY ASPER TO CREATE A BETTER WORLD.  DAVID, GAIL AND LEONARD, THANK YOU FOR BEING THE STEWARDS OF THIS VISION.  ONLY I UNDERSTAND THE EXTENT OF YOUR COURAGE AND THE FINANCIAL RISK THAT YOU TOOK TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN, SO I SPEAK FOR ALL CANADIANS WHEN I SAY THANK YOU. 

 

IT WAS PRIME MINISTER HARPER’S VISION TO MAKE THIS A NATIONAL MUSEUM, THE STORY OF WHICH IS THE SUBJECT OF A BOOK BY PETER C NEWMAN AND ALLAN LEVINE CALLED ‘MIRACLE AT THE FORKS.’   BUT TO GET TO PRIME MINISTER HARPER, WE NEEDED ANOTHER MIRACLE AND THIS WAS DELIVERED BY DAVID ASPER IN MARCH 2006. THIS WAS THE PIVOTAL MEETING TO MAKE THIS THE FIRST NATIONAL MUSEUM OUTSIDE OTTAWA AND THE FIRST IN 47 YEARS.  AND LEONARD, IT WAS YOUR CONSTANT ENCOURAGEMENT THAT WE NEEDED AND YOUR SUPPORT AS LONG AS WE MOVED AHEAD WAS SO APPRECIATED, ESPECIALLY IN THOSE DARK DAYS.

 

ALL TOLD THIS PLACE IS PROBABLY THE LARGEST NEW CULTURAL PROJECT IN CANADA AND PERHAPS NORTH AMERICA TODAY AND IS ALREADY BEING RECOGNIZED.  YOUR MUSEUM HAS JUST WON THE ENGINEERING NEWS RECORD AWARD FOR THE BEST GLOBAL PROJECT OF 2013 IN THE CULTURAL CATEGORY.

 

LITTLE DID FORMER MAYOR GLEN MURRAY KNOW, WHEN HE GAVE US THIS $5 BILL AS A DOWN PAYMENT, THAT IT WOULD TAKE $70 MILLION OF THESE, AND WHEN OPERATING COSTS ARE INCLUDED, ANOTHER 130 MILLION OF THESE FOR A TOTAL OF $200M OF THESE TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN – OR IF YOU ARE KEEPING UP, ALMOST $1 BILLION.

 

GETTING THE SCOPUS AWARD ALSO MAKES YOU RETROSPECTIVE.  ITS BEEN A SOMEWHAT OF AN AWKWARD EXPERIENCE GOING FROM BEHIND THE SCENES TO HAVING MY IMAGE PLASTERED ALL OVER THE CITY TO TWO WOMEN HONKING AT A RED LIGHT POINTING TO THE BILLBOARD (PETER HERNDORF CALLS THIS MY COMING OUT PARTY).  WHEN I LOOK BACK ON MY LIFE, THERE ARE THE TWO PEOPLE WHO INFLUENCED ME THE MOST; MY MOTHER AND IZZY ASPER, AND I AM GRATEFUL FOR THE WISDOM THEY SHARED. BUT ULTIMATELY WE ARE ALL PRODUCTS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT.

 

 

GROWING UP IN BOMBAY SHAPED MY OUTLOOK ON HUMANITY IN A BIG WAY.  I COULD NEVER GET USED TO THE EXTREME POVERTY AND THE DISPARITY BETWEEN RICH AND POOR. I’D LIKE TO SHARE A SHORT STORY WITH YOU; I HAD JUST CHANGED TO A NEW HIGH SCHOOL WHICH WAS A FAIR DISTANCE FROM MY HOME.  MY PARENTS HIRED THIS MAN WHERE HIS SOLE JOB (FOR WHICH HE WAS GRATEFUL)  WAS TO BRING ME A HOT LUNCH EACH DAY,  WHICH HE WENT TO MY HOME AND PICKED UP, WAITED FOR ME TO FINISH AND THEN TAKE THE EMPTY CANISTERS BACK TO MY HOME. EVEN TODAY I CAN STILL SEE HIS WEARY, MELANCHOLY FACE. HIS NAME WAS MOHAMED.

 

A FEW DAYS AFTER HE BEGAN, I STARTED TO GET COMPLIMENTS FROM MY HOUSEKEEPER ABOUT HOW MUCH I LIKED HER COOKING BECAUSE NORMALLY I ATE VERY LITTLE OF HER COOKING.  SHE IN TURN TOLD MY MOM, WHO WAS SO PLEASED THAT I WAS EATING ALL OF MY LUNCH.  WELL AS YOU CAN SURMISE, MOHAMMED WAS EATING ALL OF MY LEFTOVERS.  SO FROM THAT TIME ON I WOULD ASK FOR LARGER PORTIONS AND SEPARATE IT INTO HIS AND MINE. 

I WOULD EAT VERY LITTLE, IF AT ALL AND ANYTIME I HAD ANY MONEY, I LEFT IT IN THE LUNCH CANISTER.  THIS WENT ON FOR FOUR YEARS UNTIL I FINISHED HIGH SCHOOL AND HE HAD TO FIND ANOTHER JOB. 

 

BUT IN ALL OF THOSE FOUR YEARS, I DID NOT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT TO ANYONE NOR DID HE HAVE TO SAY ANYTHING.  THERE SIMPLY WAS REALLY A GRACIOUS HANDSHAKE AT THE END.

 

I DEBATED ON WHETHER TO TELL THIS STORY HERE TONIGHT, BUT MY FAMILY AND GAIL URGED ME TO. WE ARE TRULY PRIVELEDGED TO LIVE IN A TIME AND PLACE THAT EMBRACES EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY ALONG WITH THE OTHER TENETS OF HUMAN RIGHTS; AND WE MUST NEVER FORGET OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO THE LESS FORTUNATE.

 

THIS LEADS ME TO WHY I AM SO DEEPLY HONOURED TO GET THIS AWARD.

 

 I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH HEBREW UNIVERSITY FOR OVER A DECADE, BEING COMMITTED TO THE ASPER CENTRE CREATING INNOVATIVE PROGRAMS SUCH AS THE MICRO FINANCE FOR ARAB WOMEN IN EAST JERUSLAEM.  THE SCOPUS AWARD IS BEING GIVEN FOR MY WORK BOTH IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP EDUCATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS. 

 

WHAT MY EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT ME IS SOMETIMES ALL YOU NEED IS A SPARK – FROM TEACHING THAT VERY FIRST COURSE ON SMALL BUSINESS AT THE ASPER SCHOOL, IT HAS GROWN TO ONE OF THE MAJOR STREAMS OF THE ASPER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS.

 

ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SIDE, WE GO BACK TO A DISCUSSION ONE EVENING ON JULY 18, 2000 WITH IZZY ASPER.  THIS IS A STORY WORTH RECOUNTING.  WE DISCUSSED DOING SOMETHING TRULY EXTRAORDINARY AND BOLD FOR HIS BELOVED WINNIPEG AND WE LANDED ON A MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE. 

 

GAIL AND I HAD JUST RETURNED FROM OUR HUMAN RIGHTS AND HOLOCAUST STUDIES TRIP AND SHE HAD SPOKEN TO IZZY THAT AN EXPERIENCE SIMILAR TO WASHINGTON WAS NEEDED, BUT THAT IT DID NOT EXIST IN CANADA.  SO IN TRUE ENTREPRENEUR STYLE, AFTER OUR DISCUSSION TO DO A MAJOR PROJECT ON THAT BALMY JULY EVENING, IZZY CALLS ME AT AROUND 11PM AND SAYS ‘MOE, THAT IDEA WE SPOKE ABOUT THIS EVENING, I REALLY LIKE IT’. 

 

I SAY ‘YES, I GATHERED THAT’  BUT HE SAYS  ‘AFTER WE SPOKE, I CASED ALL THE SITES DOWNTOWN AND I FOUND IT’  I FOUND THE LAND IT’S AT THE FORKS.  THIS IS TUESDAY, I WANT YOU TO TIE UP THE LAND BY FRIDAY’. 

 

ME – ‘BUT IZZY IT BELONGS TO 3 LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT’.  ‘I KNOW’ HE SAYS, ‘I KNOW THEM ALL’.

 

MY LAST FEW REMARKS ARE ABOUT GAIL. 

 

WE HAVE LAUGHED, CRIED, HAD THE MOST INCREDIBLE HIGHS AND LOWS.  THERE ARE SO MANY STORIES THAT I CAN SHARE, FOURTEEN YEARS IS HARD TO COVER.  BUT HERE ARE TWO STORIES – OUR FIRST FORAY IN TORONTO AND WE LINED UP FOUR BANKS IN ONE DAY.  THIS MUST GO DOWN IN FUNDRAISING HISTORY AS THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE DAY.  FIRST, CIBC –$1 MILLION.  NEXT RBC - $1MILLION, LUNCH TO A KOSHER DELI  FOR CORN BEEF AND SALAMI – GAIL DO I HAVE ANY STUFF STUCK ON MY TEETH?  DO I?  NO – LETS GO – NEXT SCOTIA BANK - $1 MILLION, NEXT BMO - DAMN ONLY $750K.  THEIR LIMIT!  WHAT A DAY CAPPED WITH THE BEST SHIRAZ AT THE FOUR SEASONS.

 

BUT THEN THERE IS THIS INCREDIBLE STORY AND I HOPE THAT I CAN TELL IT WITHOUT BREAKING OUT INTO LAUGHTER.  WE HAD SECURED A MEETING WITH A MAJOR DONOR – AN ARCHITECTURAL MAVEN DEEPLY STEEPED IN THE HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE.  AT THE MEETING WAS GAIL, OUR LOBBYIST AND ME. 

 

 

SO GAIL STARTS “ICONIC ARCHITECTURE” – SORRY I DON’T BELIEVE IN ICONIC ARCHITECTURE YOU JUST LOST POINTS, THEN I STEP IN ABOUT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.  SORRY – ARCHITECTURE IS NOT AN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TOOL.  GAIL WANTS TO INTERRUPT WITH HER CHART ON FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DISCREPANCY – GAIL YOU JUST LOST POINTS FOR INTERRUPTING MOE.  ME – WHAT ABOUT THE BILBOA EFFECT – THAT IS AN OVERBLOWN PROPOSITION – YOU JUST LOST POINTS. 

 

THIS WENT ON FOR AN HOUR.  BY THE TIME WE LEFT WE WERE A NEGATIVE 235.  NEEDLESS TO SAY WE NEVER GOT A GIFT.  ALL THAT WE REMEMBER IS WE HAVE NEVER LAUGHED SO HARD IN HER SCULPTURE GARDEN.  SO FROM THEN ON EVERY TIME WE DON’T AGREE WITH ONE ANOTHER “YOU JUST LOST POINTS WITH ME”.  OUR LOBBYIST WONDERED HOW WE EVER RAISED $75 MILLION TO THAT POINT. 

 

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WHERE YOU STAND TODAY IS ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING INSTITUTIONS IN THE WORLD – AND I HAVE BEEN TO OVER 100 MUSEUMS – THIS PLACE OF HUMAN RIGHTS WILL CHANGE THE DIALOGUE ON THE SUBJECT NOW AND FOREVER. AND AS YOU STAND TO CELEBRATE TODAY, THE MOST IMPORTANT OUTCOME WILL BE IF WE CAN GIVE PEOPLE LIKE MY CHILDHOOD FOOD DELIVERY PERSON, MOHAMED, A SLIGHTLY BETTER LIFE;  YOUNG GIRLS IN AFRICA THE FREEDOM TO BE EDUCATED;  

 

AS QUEEN ELIZABETH SAID AS SHE LAID THE CORNERSTONE IN 2010MAY THIS MUSEUM SERVE AS A BEACON OF PEACE AND HOPE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD

 

AND IZZY, YOU SAID YOU WANTED AN ARCHITECHTURAL MARVEL, A SYMBOL OF CANADA, YOU WANTED TO REACH FOR THE STARS.   

 

AND WE HAVE INDEED REACHED FOR THE STARS!

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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