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Gail Asper, O.C., O.M., LL.D. and Dr Michael Paterson

Gail Asper O.C., O.M., LL.D and Dr. Michael Paterson receiving their citation from the JNF L-R: Nola Lazar, David Greaves, Dr Michael Paterson, Gail Asper, Anita Wortzman, and Larry Vickar

Mariam Bernstein (centre) during finale of the Gala with musical performance

Gail and Mike at their wedding

JNF Negev Gala honouring Gail Asper, O.C., O.M., LL.D. and Dr Michael Paterson Was a Splendid Success

by Rhonda Spivak, June 3, 2022

This year’s virtual JNF Negev Gala honouring Gail Asper, O.C., O.M., LL.D. and Dr Michael Paterson was a splendid success, raising a very substantial amount of  funds towards the Climate Solutions Prize which  aims to curb the climate crisis by channeling the creative ingenuity of Israel, with a $1-million annual prize to go to the winning researchers for the best and most impactful climate solutions. (Some of the funds  raised at the Negev Gala will also go towards the World's Jewish Museum and the Jewish Child and Family Service to help subsidize kids going to BB Camp and Camp Massad )


It was the first time ever that this dynamic duo (Asper and Paterson) who met in 1979 when they both worked part-time at the Elizabeth Dafoe university library,  was honoured together. There were many highlights of the evening  including video tributes from Gail and Michael's two sons, Stephen and Jonathan, as well as from the Gala co-chairs (Larry Vickar, Moe Levy and Anita Wortzman). There was a terrific array of local Manitoba grown talented entertainers that feted the couple, who were seated together for the Gala in the otherwise empty Centennial Concert Hall, and who had not actually seen any of the the entertainment prior to the Gala.  One of the definite highlights of the evening was the joint speech given by Asper and Paterson, which was not only heartfelt but showed the synergy between them.


Gail opened by noting “We hope  that you are enjoying the Gala as much as we are, from the comfort of your homes, in your shorts and t-shirts or with the effects of climate change – possibly in your parkas.” 


Mike indicated that he agreed to be honoured because “ the causes of climate change, the environment and the Jewish community are very important to me, so I felt it would be wrong not to take this opportunity to try and raise awareness about them.”


Gail stated, “I’m so glad Mike is getting the recognition he deserves.  I am in awe of all that he has done, especially with his efforts to save the Experimental Lakes Area.  He is such a mensch and I feel so blessed to have found my bashert.”


Mike then continued by saying that “ Gail is the one who taught me that it is not enough to just talk about the causes that move you but that you must ACT to make the world a better place. No one works harder and with more effect than Gail.  I have many things in this life to be thankful for but none greater than the fates that brought us together.  I pinch myself every day.”


Gail pointed out that in 2005 The Asper Foundation  was honoured by JNF, and that her parents Babs and Israel  Asper were “ incredible “ examples,  and if not for them “we would not be up here tonight receiving this recognition." She added "They had a profound impact on all of us and led by example, inspiring us to try to leave that would a better place than the way we found it."

Gail then indicated that her  family "was a family of very strong Zionists so it makes sense that we would have a great fondness for JNF whose sole purpose is to strengthen Eretz Israel. " She recalled that her first trip to Israel was in 1974, right after the Yom Kippur War, " when our family crisscrossed the country together with another former JNF Gala honouree, Guy Kroft and his wonderful family.  Since that first trip 48 years ago, I’ve had the good fortune to travel to Israel many, many times and see the incredible progress of that country in general and the great work of JNF in particular.


Mike and I recreated that original 1974 trip when we took our two sons, Stephen and Jonathan, to Israel when they were 12 and 14.  We know they too will make it their goal to visit and support Israel during their lifetimes." 


Gail added that The Asper Foundation was grateful to be able to partner with JNF back in 2002 to create the Winnipeg Community Action Centre in Be’er Sheva, which serves the at-risk youth of Be’er Sheva with programming that strengthens computer and academic skills as well as fostering a love for Israel.  Gail also noted that " JNF has also been a wonderful partner in our efforts to create the World’s Jewish Museum " in Tel-Aviv.


Mike, a freshwater ecologist, said that "In my 40 years working in this field, I have come to appreciate how the environment and water are connected to everything we do and that our future – the economy, our quality of life, our health and even our very survival depend on protecting the environment.  I care about the environment because I care about people – this is why I am so passionate about the Experimental Lakes Area, the Nature Conservancy, and Jewish Child and Family Service.  All of these organizations are working to make the world a better place both today and in the future."


Mike then spoke about the fact that in 2010, he  was honoured to be a part of a JNF-sponsored trip to meet with some of the top water researchers in Israel.  "Of course, scientists in Israel have developed important advances to protect freshwater such as new methods of desalination and drip irrigation. It was an amazing experience to meet with these amazing individuals and I can’t thank JNF enough for the opportunity."


Mike continued, "In my field I have become acutely aware that one of the greatest threats to the environment is climate change. What’s exciting about the Climate Solutions Prize is that it will help the brilliant researchers in Israel to come up with innovative ways to address this critical problem.  I know well that science and innovation need money to succeed, especially in the early research stages. This prize will help to provide that all-important kick-start."


He then indicated that "Along with Gail, my kids are the most important thing in my life and I know you all feel the same way about your own children. While climate change is affecting us right now, the ones who will really be affected are our children and grandchildren. This is why this project needs our support and we salute the leadership at JNF for returning to its environmental roots and inspiring Israel’s best and brightest minds to address climate change."

Mike added that he was " also excited that some of the proceeds from tonight’s event will help subsidize overnight camps so more kids can have encounters with the outdoors I love so much."

Mike then thanked everyone who  worked so hard to make this Gala such a success "from the people who purchased tickets to the main sponsors.  He indicated that the couple wished  to thank everyone who took time to prepare the video tributes,"  as well as "the hard-working team at the JNF including David Greaves, Zehava Yehuda, Vanessa Harari, Eliana Trepman and the entire Board of Directors so ably led by Nola Lazar."


Mike said that  "...we’re very grateful for the support of the Honorary Co-Chairs, Gail’s brother David and his wife Ruth and her other brother Leonard and his wife Sue as well as community leader extraordinare Marjorie Blankstein.  There’s also a very energetic team of co-Chairs and committee members led by three fantastic people - Moe Levy, Larry Vickar and Anita Wortzman, all of whom are incredible supporters of the causes I care about as well.  And we would like to give a special shout out to Sharon Zalik who has also been working very hard to make the evening a success."  

Mike then noted that "Of course we are also delighted to have our sons, Stephen and Jonathan, working on the Gala Committee as well.  WE are so proud of everything you both are doing to improve the world. "


Gail  said, "I think it’s also safe to say that the evening wouldn’t be so entertaining were it not for the fabulous emceeing and contributions of my hugely talented cousin Mariam Bernstein – Mariam you have done a magnificent job and we really, really appreciate the time that you’ve spent making this such a special evening for us. "

Gail then thanked  show producer Jennifer Howe and her team as well as Brenda Gorlick and Kayla Gordon "who we know have been working tirelessly to come up with something very special and personal that will be very meaningful to us and they certainly have. " 


Gail concluded by saying, "The only thing that would make this evening more perfect would be if we could all be together in person and I am really eager for that to happen.  I have to say I have always loved going to the Negev Galas every spring.  For me, it’s always been one of the best events of the year because of the great people and the phenomenal entertainment.  So - to paraphrase the end of our Seders – let us all say next year at the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall! Gail said the couple can’t wait to see the results and the winners of the first Israel Climate Solutions Prize,powered by JNF Canada."


Larry Vickar told the Winnipeg Jewish Reviews that Gail and Mike were "a perfect couple to honour". He noted that Gail is "a leader not only in our community but throughout Canada and the Jewish world with her sweat equity as well as her financial equity." He then added that since Mike was a freshwater ecologist at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) , who has done research on the effects of climate change on fresh water, it is especially fitting that most of the proceeds form the Gala will go to the Climate Solutions Prize. Vickar, a Milk and Honey sponsor of the Gala, also stated that he "had the pleasure of spending two days at the ELA  to observe what they do there," and was enthused by Gail and Mike as honourees and by the Climate Solutions Prize.


David Greaves, Executive director of  the JNF Manitoba and Saskatchewan region told the Winnipeg Jewish Review “I’d like to share what local community means to JNF and highlight our commitment: The opportunity for honourees to now select a local organization to support with a portion of the proceeds from their Negev Gala enables JNF to enhance our commitment to local community. Most people are unaware of the local component and investments made by JNF, annually - It is actually quite significant.


Greaves added "We are proud to serve the constituents of Manitoba and Saskatchewan as their link to Eretz Yisrael – we believe that for JNF to be successful, we need to ensure the community in which we live is successful and cared for, too.”




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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.