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Photo by Keith Levitt

Photo by Keith Levitt

Photo by Keith Levitt


by Rhonda Spivak, July 20, 2014

At the successful JNF Negev Gala on May 27,2014 held at the Concert Hall in support of Israel, JNF Honouree Joseph Wilder, who is currently President of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba spoke about his recent trip to Israel and the project in Sderot he chose to which the proceeds of the Gala are to be directed.

 [Editor's note from Israel: In light of the recent Hamas -Israel war the project Wilder chose seems all the more valuable as the citizens of Sderot are literally on the front line and for the past two weeks all of this country has in effect turned into Sderot.]
As Wilder said, "While in Israel I witnessed the amazing progress the State has made and its transformation into a modern, thriving, successful democracy that can take its place proudly beside those nations that espouse like values.  This is the Israel that the JNF has helped build and continues to build and is why I am proud to associate myself with the JNF.  I witnessed the amazing work of the JNF, but particularly meaningful to me was its work in water conservation.  It was for this reason I decided to pick the water conservation project at Sderot as my special project the one to which the proceeds of this function are to be directed. Israel is desperately short of water. Desalinization alone cannot yet fulfill all of its needs. The project at Sderot salvages waste water, purifies it and stores it in vast reservoirs to be used as needed for the irrigation of crops.  This permits them to save their potable water for personal use and at the same time provides a useful and necessary solution for waste. Amazing!  Sderot is located right on the Gaza Border. It has endured and continues to endure rocket attack on a weekly sometimes daily basis. No one is leaving. Everyone is building air raid shelters attached to their homes – even high rises.  The bus stops have become air raid shelters – gaily painted and inviting for the children. They have 15 seconds after sirens go off to take shelter. I felt what better way to help these beleaguered people than to contribute to its waste water solution."
Wilder, " the child of hard working immigrant parents who came here from Eastern Europe to escape oppression and to make a new life for their family" recalled that  "One of my earliest memories as a child was of the iconic blue box in our home – the famous pischke which received all of our spare change and went to the JNF to plant trees in Israel."


Wilder also injected some humour into his speech saying that "I said to the love of my life, Phyllis (Pollock); "Phyllis in your wildest dreams did you ever think that I would be the Jewish National Fund honouree?" Phyllis said to me "Joe, you're never in my wildest dream." 
In his speech Wilder spoke of being born on Dufferin Avenue, on what is now the site of R. B. Russell School. Wilder, who was a school trustee when the school opened, officiated and said "I was born under that exit sign.” From Dufferin, Wilder's family moved across the Salter Bridge "to the high rent district on Isabel and Alexander where my parents ran a small grocery store and we lived in the back."
He continued, " When things got a bit rough in the neighborhood we moved to Lenore Street and another grocery store and we lived in the back .– And ultimately to the North End where for the first time I lived in a detached house and not in the back of a store. Although I still had to endure the indignity of sleeping in the same bed as my little brother Sam and from time to time my grandmother."

Wilder also spoke about anti-Semitism and noted that  in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s  he was elected to a variety of national executive positions "where I became heavily involved in the battle against anti-Semitism." Wilder was the Chairman of the Community Relations Committee during the time "when the community reaction to the infamous Keegstra and Zundel trials came under our purview."  
He remembers that "the trials and appeals were becoming prolonged and wearisome” and that "significant numbers of our national leadership were reluctant to support the ongoing battles for fear of a backlash in the wider community."
As Wilder recalled, "Sha Shtill (don’t make waves) was in part the attitude of some leaders. It took years before we were able to overcome this attitude within our own ranks and until our own leadership came to the realization that to pursue these people was the right thing to do.  And the Canadian public supported us in this. These cases constituted a watershed in the reaction of the organized Jewish Community – after which the community spoke out without fear.

“It was fascinating to be present and to participate in the evolution and changes in these attitudes over the years"
 However as Wilder noted, "Anti-Semitism and its symbiotic colleague anti-Zionism unfortunately continue to flourish. We are so fortunate to be living in Canada but even here there are BDS campaigns and students are being intimidated on all of our campuses. Dark clouds are on the horizon. We must be mindful of the huge and growing problem elsewhere in the world. Jews in France and Belgium are living in fear. Jews in Malmo, Sweden are scared to identify themselves publicly as Jews.   Austria, Hungary and Romania are rife with these twin evils."
As Wilder added, " Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks former Chief Rabbi of London and member of the British House of Lords made this interesting observation in a recent interview:  “I came to the realization that Jews alone cannot defeat anti-Semitism – The victim cannot heal the crime. The war against anti-Semitism must be led by non-Jews and this is happening in Britain.”

Wilder also pointed out the excellent work in Canada by friends such as Tony Comper (the Fast Campaign), the “Good work of Bridges for Peace, ICEJ and our own Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism."
Wilder also spoke of his long ongoing involvement with the organized Jewish Community, which all began when he was elected to be youth delegate  at the Canadian Jewish Congress  Plenary Assembly in Montreal in 1953 . "The
 CJC was truly the Parliament of Canadian Jewry," Wilder noted, recalling that "They forgot to get us meal tickets and we were hungry for two days – until the wind up party at Mr. Sam Bronfman’s home. Don’t remember much about the Congress, but I sure remember that evening. "


JNF Board President, Karla Berbrayer and Vice President, Jessica Cogan emceed the Negev Gala evening which started with an introduction from the emcees, followed by the Canadian and Israeli national anthems performed by Yona Choir led by Lina Streltsov. Greetings were brought by Josh Cooper, CEO of JNF Canada, Premier Greg Selinger and Executive Director of the Manitoba/Saskatchewan Branch, Rob Berkowits.  Negev Gala Co-Chairs were Joe's brother Sam Wilder and wife, Wendy Wilder, as well as Joe's long-time partner, Phyllis Pollock. 

After the formal part of the evening, jazz and pop singer, Nikki Yanofsky took to the stage with the members of her band who accompanied her. She entertained the audience with mostly material from her new album entitled, Little Secret. To close the show, Nikki sang her iconic song from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, I Believe, and perhaps one of the best parts of the night was when she brought Yona Choir onstage with her to sing backup on that song.

Following the performance, guests filed into the lobby to enjoy desserts prepared by Desserts Plus and before the Gala there was a VIP reception with appetizers and sandwiches. 

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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