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Pelican in Hula nature Reserve, Israel.

Geese at Oak Hammock Marsh, Manitoba.



By Rhonda Spivak, October 20, 2010

The Jewish National Fund announced on  October 18, 2010 in the Hula Valley in Israel that  Christine Melnick is the  JNF Honouree for the 2011  Negev Gala.

This was announced at the same time that the Province of Manitoba signed a partnership agreement with the  JNF-KKL which will link environmental experts working to preserve and enhance Israel's Hula Valley in the Upper Galilee and Oak Hammock Marsh in Manitoba

The partnership between these two wetlands was signed by Melnick, Manitoba's  Minister of  Water Stewardship, and  Efi Stenzler, World Chairman of JNF-KKL. Members of  the delegation from the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, who are on a mission to Israel, were present for the ceremony as were JNF-KKL representatives, and Canadian Ambassador to Israel Paul Hunt .

"Thanks to strong partners such as the Jewish National Fund and Ducks Unlimited, we have reached a Sister Marshes agreement that will allow both countries to share their expertise on protecting precious wetlands," Melnick said in a statement after the signing ceremony.
In addition to sharing expertise on wetland science, the agreement will also promote environmental stewardship and ecotourism, provide the opportunity for the development of educational materials and promote both wetlands.

'We hope that this collaboration between the two countries will enable Lake Hula and Oak Hammock Marsh nature reserve to reach their full potential both as tourist attractions possessed of a rich and varied ecological system that feeds significant freshwater sources and as major way stations for migrating birds,'  Melnick added in a statement.

In a telephone interview   JNF Emissary for Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta,  Erez Rotem, who is currently in Israel, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review  that to  kick off the partnership JNF is 'looking into  to inviting staff personnel from Oak Hammock March to Israel in the  winter and then Israelis from Hula Valley will visit Oak Hammock Marsh during the  summer.”

Mel Lazareck, President of the JNF Prairie Region, who was also recently named by Premier Selinger as Manitoba’s Special Representative to Israel for Economic Affairs and Cultural Relations  told the Winnipeg Jewish Review from Israel that “we are in the discussion stage”  about this possible exchange.

Rotem also said that Lazareck first asked Melnick to be the upcoming JNF honouree for 2011 while in Jerusalem.

“Christine Melnick has been the pioneer of the special relationship between Israel and Manitoba.   After all of the many things that she has done to continuously strengthen  Manitoba’s relationship with Israel, including her founding of the  Manitoba-Israel Shared Values Roundtable, we think it is most fitting to name her the Negev Gala 2011 honouree. Israel doesn’t have any more stalwart friends than her,’ said Rotem.

He added, “We are very happy that she accepted.”

Lazarek  praised Melnick “for all of the extra-ordinary work she has done in promoting the relationship between  Manitoba and Israel” and said that “There is no one more deserving of this honour than her.”

Lazareck added that the signing ceremony for the partnering of the Hula Valley and Oak Hammock marsh was “excellent.”Lazareck added, “We got a tour of the sight and saw all of the [thousands] of pelicans and cranes in the Hula nature reserve. It was fabulous.”

Rotem noted " Wetlands are important for both jurisdictions as they  act as a filter for lakes. The vegitation in wetlands removes phoshates and other pollutants and improves the water we drink and air we breathe."

Israel’s Hula Valley was once an important resting and “refueling” place for migrating birds on their annual trip from Europe to Africa and back. Shortly after the establishment of the State, it was decided to drain the Hula swamp and lake to turn it into arable land, but part of the Hula waterscape was preserved with a 3,200-dunam lake kept as a nature reserve.

Tens of thousands of birds of over 200 species, including cranes, storks, pelicans, cormorants and egrets, stay in the reserve, knowing they can find an abundance of food. The reserve also shelters rare aquatic plants, such as yellow flag, paper reed and white water-lily.

Manitoba’s Oak Hammock Marsh is an important staging area for hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese and for many other species. It is a safe protected area for the birds to stop and eat, building up fat reserves before starting the next leg of their journey.  Approximately 90% of the birds at Oak Hammock marsh,  do not spend the winter here. They migrate farther south, anywhere from the southern United States to the south tip of South America.

The Hula nature reserve and Oak Hammock marsh, which are both bird-conservation sites,  have significant features in common. Both have been restored after being damaged by human activity, and each is located on one of the world’s two foremost bird migration routes: from Europe to Africa and from North America to South America. A great deal of effort has been invested in educational activities at both sites, and both serve as centers for scientific research. 

  “This  [partnership agreement]... proves that we share the same values – scientific progress, education for nature conservation and an awareness of the sacred duty incumbent upon us: to protect the world’s natural resources for the sake of future generations,” Stenzler said in a statment.


The JNF Honouree for 2011,Christine Melnick was elected as the New Democtic Party's MLA for Riel in June of 2003.  That year she was appointed by Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Doer  as Minister of Family Services and Housing with additional responsibility for Persons with Disabilities. In 2006 Premier Doer appointed Christine Minister of Water Stewardship.

Melnick was born, raised, and educated in the heart of the Riel constituency, where she currently resides.  After earning a BA Hons from the University of Manitoba , she obtained a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Dalhousie University.

Her professional work has given her extensive experience with profit and non-profit organizations in both the public and private sectors, including education, law, offshore oil and advertising. She has worked as a librarian with the Hibernia Offshore Oil Project, the Donald Marshall Jr. Commission of Inquiry, and the Toronto Harbour Commission.

Prior to her election in 2003, she served as regionalization co-ordinator, librarian and researcher for the Canada/Manitoba Business Service Centre.  She has long been active in women’s health, human rights, literacy and environmental issues. Prior to her election, she was a trustee for Riel School Division and sat on the province’s Council on Post-Secondary Education.

Melnick has been to Israel five times, and was an instrumental figure in  bringing about the  first ever Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium hosted by  Manitoba in August 2008 and the Second Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium hosted by JNF-KKL in January 2010. For more on this, click here.

As the founder and leader of the Manitoba-Israel Shared Values Roundtable [MISVR], she was also instrumental in the Playground for Peace project which fosters peaceful coexistence between  Arab and Jewish children in  Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood , in partnership with the  JNF and the Tel-Aviv Foundation and Jaqueline Simkin. For more on this, click here and here.

With Melnick at the healm, the MISVR put on two successful Multi-Cultural Celebrations for Israel at the Pantages Theatre in Winnipeg. For more on this, click here.

In 2008, as Minister of Water Stewardship Melnick instituted a Water Stewardship scholarship program for studying in Israel. The $250,000 scholarship fund is awarded in $25,000 increments to one Manitoba post-secondary student per year over the next decade in order for them to pursue water-related studies at a post-secondary institution in Israel of their choice. For more on this,  click here.

Melnick has also been involved in the historic unprecedented agreement signed last week in Jerusalem between Manitoba and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel relating to birding, eco-tourism, and environmental issues. For more on this, click here.

As well she has been involved in the partnership agreements signed last week between Manitoba and Israel in the areas of water technology, water stewardship, and agriculture research. For more on this, click here. 



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.