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(L) Steven Kanee, presenter (son of award’s namesake) and (R) Richard Kroft, C.M., 2011 recipient of the Sol Kanee Distinguished Community Service Medal

READ Richard Kroft's Speech for receiving Sol Kanee Distinguished Community Service Medal

by RIchard Kroft, May 25, 2011




[Editor's note: Richard Kroft, a senator, received the Sol Kanee Distinguished  Service Medal at the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Kavod Evening, a program to honour and celebrate outstanding community volunteers and leadership, that took place on  May 25th, 2011 at  Etz Chayim Synagogue.  The award was presented to him by Steven Kanee, the son of the late Sol Kanee.

The Winnipeg Jewish Review is pleased to reprint Senator Kroft's speech in full below. Congratulations to Senator Kroft and his family.]



To begin, I want to express my deep appreciation to the Winnipeg Jewish Community, and particularly to those responsible for my being here this evening. To find myself amongst those who have received the Kanee medal is an honor indeed. The fact that we are all friends of many years, and all colleagues in building this community, adds richness to the moment.  One of those is my brother Guy, which gives it special meaning for me. That Gerry Gray, Harold Buchwald, Izzy Asper, and Larry Hurtig are no longer with us adds a note of sadness and a sense of loss for us all. 


The Kanee Medal has very personal meaning for me. Although a generation my senior, Sol was one of my closest friends and a model and mentor to me for all of my adult life. For younger members of this audience it is impossible to appreciate just what a force he was. Throughout his long life he dedicated his formidable energies, intellect, talent and charm to strengthening Winnipeg’s Jewish and general communities, and to enhancing the lives of Jews across Canada, and around the world. He provided an example for all who would seek to serve.

One of the few benefits I have of being  a bit older is the enhanced perspective it provides. I would like to take a moment or two to share some of that perspective with you.

I have tremendous admiration for the current leadership of our community. It is truly exciting what is being accomplished, even if it is sometimes difficult to imagine how we can meet the challenges that life continues to throw at us. But meeting challenges is what Winnipeg is all about, and what our Jewish community is all about.  Let me briefly recall how the Jewish community has met challenges in the years that I have been actively involved, or at least aware of what was happening around me.

The Winnipeg Jewish community that emerged from World War II was already mature and stable, with long established institutions. What it lacked to meet the needs and aspirations of modern times was physical facilities. Synagogues were old and inadequate, and recreational facilities were almost non existent. Our leaders and contributors rose to this challenge, and between 1948 and 1952, they built the Rosh Pina Synagogue, the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, and the YMHA Community Centre. And for a young and active community that sought a place that society of the day denied them, the Glendale Golf and Country Club was created. Imagine !! All of that in little more than four years! 

These were not just physical things. They were the indices of a modern and vibrant community that was growing, proud of itself, and confident in its future. In these facilities, and elsewhere, other pieces were being added. Most important of these was the school system. It grew in various places around the city, trying to keep up with growth and changing Jewish geography. And there were new entities, including the Jewish Foundation, designed to provide a structure for long term, planned Jewish philanthropy.

While meeting local needs, we remained an integral part of Canadian Jewish life, and world Jewry. This involved more than regular giving. In 1967 and again in 1973 Winnipeg Jews joined communities around the world, with enormous generosity, to support an Israel in crisis. And it was not only financial support. In 1973, here in Winnipeg, techniques were developed that, within weeks, set in motion a program that revolutionized Jewish advocacy for Israel in Canada. The Canada -Israel Committee had been formally created not long before under the leadership of Ray Wolf of Toronto, and our Sol Kanee. It was in hastily called meetings in our homes here in Winnipeg that plans were made and actions taken that began to make the CIC a working reality. One weekend a few of us met in Toronto with fellow Jews from across Canada, and later visited cities across Canada. We described how we had taken advocacy for Israel into the living rooms of the opinion leaders of Winnipeg, the meeting halls of service clubs, and the editorial offices of newspapers. This model came to be known as the Winnipeg experience.

Through the 60’s and 70’s our community grew quickly, and before long we had outrun our financial resources. Every one of our community institutions, other than Synagogues, was heavily indebted to banks. As the then Treasurer of the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council I was asked to analyze the situation, and prepare a consolidated community balance sheet. Many of you here know of that balance sheet.  Roughly speaking, the combined debt of all our schools and the YMHA Community Centre was approximately $ 2,000,000. Aside from Synagogues, the only positive asset was the still young Jewish Foundation, with about $2,000,000 on its balance sheet. In short, the organized Jewish community had no net assets….and extraordinary responsibilities.

The community went to work. Arrangements were made with national funding institutions, and we began to build again.

Fast forward to today. We have assets of amazing scale and quality. I know you have all  experienced what Hillaine and I did, when friends from Chicago and Florida visited Winnipeg last summer. When they toured our Campus, and realized not only the magnificence of the facility, but also the strength and unity of our community it represents, they were blown away. And we were filled with pride in what we have.

So where we have come, in my memory…from very few facilities, in 1948, when I was ten, to having some facilities and no working assets in 1985, to today? Since ‘85 we have built on all fronts. The current value of our assets probably exceeds one hundred million dollars, and we are rich in people and programs. This was achieved through years when our community was nominally shrinking, but in reality was growing in strength and determination.

Ours is an amazing story, but we all know we are at yet another moment of challenge. Jewish statistics are intimidating and future needs seem greater than ever. But it will always be so. Every generation faces challenges that are different and greater than what their parents faced. If there is a message in what I have described tonight, it is that we will not only succeed, but will reach places, better in every way, than what we leave behind..

Thank you again.


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