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Mel Lazareck, Omri Boneh and Manitoba minister of Water Stewardship Christine Melnick
Photo by Keith Levit

Premier Greg Selinger
Photo by Keith Levit

Israel's Ambassador to Canada,Miriam Ziv
Photo by Keith Levit

Christine Melnick, Minister of Water Stewardship waves after speech
Photo by Keith Levit


by Rhonda Spivak, June 16, 2011

The Jewish National Fund’s Negev Gala  on May 31 was a great celebration of  Manitoba’s special relationship with Israel, pioneered by  Negev Gala honouree Minister of Water Stewardship Christine Melnick. The diverse audience in attendance was a testament to the fact that Melnick’s support of the State of Israel had reached out to a multi-cultural mosaic of people across Manitoba.

Prior to the event, Melnick told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that as a child, she learned of Israel through the 6.00 p.m. newscast. She was aware of the “importance of the 6:00 p.m. news cast”, which provided a “general rundown” of world events. 

“Although no one was allowed to talk during a news broadcast,  I remember my father at times prefacing the news with the phrase 'Let’s hear what Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel]has to say today.' It was largely through these broadcasts that I became aware of a country called Israel, that was halfway around the world and in which there was seemingly continual conflict.  It was also a democratic country, where elections were held frequently, often electing the Labour Party, and with a people who were not afraid of strong women, having elected Golda Meir Prime Minister.”


From these broadcasts, Melnick learned that “perhaps the Jews were a people and Israel was a country with which a young girl, born to a Christian home, in a largely rural community, on the Canadian prairies shared some important values.”

In her early thirties, Melnick found herself ‘living in a largely Orthodox neighbourhood, just off Lawrence and Bathurst in what is now north Toronto.”  Her fond memories of this time “ includes the children of the area becoming very friendly toward my two beagle-cross dogs, Sparkey and Tasha. It was during this time that, as a backpacker, Melnicks made her first trip to Israel a back backer, a country where she has returned another  four times.

At the Negev Gala, which was  emceed by JNF President for Manitoba-Saskatchewan, Mel Lazareck, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, Honourary chair of the event spoke about the importance of Manitoba’s ongoing relationship with Israel, and Melnick’s unceasing contributions to that relationship. He mentioned last October’s trip to Israel, organized by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. The Premier spoke about how proud he was to have been a part of a mission “which saw  the Royal Winnipeg Ballet perform in Israel,” He believes Manitoba’s relationship with Israel, through its partnership with  JNF and others “will flourish” and “deepen” and  will include areas of “business innovation.”

Israel's Ambassador to Canada, Miriam Ziv, who was in town especially for the event, noted that when she first met Melnick she was “struck by how deep her affection was for Israel,” and that this had ultimately paved the way for Manitoba-Israel co-operation in areas of water-technology, agriculture, ecotourism, birding and the Twinning of Oak Hammock Marsh with the Hula Valley Nature Reserve. Ziv said that Melnick “rightfully acknowledges that in the world [to solve problems] co-operation is necessary."

Ziv noted that this was embodied by the fact that Melnick had chosen to direct  the funds form the gala to joint research collaboration between Manitoba and Israeli Scientists which is directed “at ultimately improving the water quality in both areas.”

The joint  research project will be conducted at Oak Hammock Marsh and the Hula Valley Marsh. This collaborative research project will be the first one implemented through the October 2010 agreement that was signed in Israel by Minister of Water Stewardship, and Efi Stenzler, Chairman of JNF/KKL.
These two marshes became “sister marshes” or “twin marshes” pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the Province of Manitoba and JNF/KKL in October 2010 for the Joint Advancement of Wetland Science, Education and Management.
As Erez Rotem, the JNF-KKL Emissrary for The Prairie Region told the Winnipeg Jewish Review prior to the event, “This research project will help us better understand the role of wetlands in purifying water, our most precious resource. Wetlands are important for both Manitoba and Israel as they act as a filter for lakes, and the vegetation in wetlands removes phosphates, nitrogen and other pollutants.”

The scientists will study the role of the marshes in cycling and retaining nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), as well as the resulting benefits on downstream waters, specifically Lake Winnipeg (here in Manitoba) and Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in Israel.

Dr Omri Boneh, who is one of the Israeli scientists involved in the research was in town to attend the Negev Gala with his colleagues. Baruch, who was in charge of supervising relief efforts to overcome the devastating fire that broke out in the Carmel  as Northern Regional Director  on behalf of the JNF brought greetings from  Stenzler. Boneh said Stenzler “sends his deep gratitude to you [Minister Melnick] for your leadership role.” Boneh also injected a little humour into his speech by noting that Stenzler had told Melnick that “In Israel there is so much water we need several ministries to deal with the issue."

Melnick delivered a moving speech at the event, saying that “Israel is an incredible country because the Jewish people are an incredible people.”

She spoke of her friendship with JNF President for Manitoba-Saskatchewan, Mel Lazareck, and the “the great treck of learning from each other” that “we started out on” which has led to many partnerships between the government of Manitoba and Israel.

Melnick, who completed her formal studies with a Masters in Library and Information Sciences, noted that in the early part of last century, members of the Jewish community started a lending library “which wasn’t just for the Jewish people but was for all of the community.”

“That library formed the basis of [what was to become] the public library,” she said. 

She added, “I am inspired by the contributions that the Jewish people have made to every community they have ever settled in.”


She spoke of Israel and Manitoba as having shared values, such as “freedom of speech, democracy, literacy, public health and entrepreneurial spirit.”

She said that Israel, a small but incredibly diverse country was “the height Jewish intellect.”


Following the speeches, the Israeli group Selah Adom gave a terrific concert, [which will be reviewed in a separate article].

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