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JNF leadership with Stephen Harper

Elaine and Ian Goldstine

Christian Zionist friends honoured at the JNF Negev Dinner


by Rhonda Spivak, May 29, 2023

There were many highlights at The Jewish National Fund’s sold out 2023 Negev Dinner on May 11, 2023 at the RBC Convention Centre which was attended by close to 950 people.


There was the humorous dynamic between Negev Dinner honouree, Elaine Goldstine, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg who is retiring in August, and her husband Ian. Ian introduced Elaine, noting that they had met each other when they were 15 years old, and he had said to her then, “I am going to marry you.” Ian proceeded to discuss their courtship, and life together, and how Elaine was his basheret. Ian continued, that Elaine was a Raber, and “anyone who knows anything about Rabers, knows that there are thousands of them.” Implying it would take years to meet the whole family which Ian felt was necessary before he proposed.


Elaine mentioned her parents Ben and Saidie Raber, “who were amazing role models” in giving to the community, both financially and as volunteers. “The JNF Blue Box was always in my home,” she said. Elaine spoke about going to Israel in 2014  in a solidarity mission and meeting  Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi who briefed  the group in a bomb shelter in Sderot. (Davidi was scheduled to have attended the Negev Dinner but due to the fact rockets were being fired at Sderot from Gaza he stayed in Israel). Elaine said that it was “a no brainer” for her to support through the proceeds of the Negev Dinner the Hadar School for children with special needs in Sderot, adding that her sister Marilyn has “intellectual and physical challenges”. Elaine also chose to give some of the proceeds from the Negev Dinner to support Shalom Residences locally, which provides homes to Winnipeg adults with cognitive disabilities and special needs. The local contribution from Negev Dinner proceeds is a new initiative implemented by Executive Director, David Greaves. “JNF has long supported the local community in a number of ways but it just feels right to offer our honourees the option to support to a local organization  that has meaning to them. This is the third year now and it’s a win, win, win”.


Elaine emphasized that “we are a small community” and “we need to stand together.” She added that it is important to “listen and respect what people say.” She also stated that you should “never close the door on anyone…one day they may remember you and will give back.”  She referred to her husband Ian, as “my rock,” adding that “we’ve been on this journey since we were 15,” and ended her speech by saying “Am Israel Chai”.


In a video message, Gail Asper spoke glowingly about Elaine’s outstanding contributions to the community and Larry Vickar stated that Elaine was “part of the fabric of who we are” as a community, and that  the honour bestowed upon her is something she “had earned.” Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Rabbi Mathew Leibl who lightheartedly referred to Elaine as he knew her best as “Jason’s mom,” saying she preferred to be behind the scenes and not in the spotlight.


Prior to Elaine receiving her honour, another highlight was that the JNF also honoured with deep appreciation and respect friend from the Christian community-, Bridges for Peace, Rev Rudy and Gina Fidel, Grant and Roberta Kurian, and Roger and Marge Armbruster. They have all exhibited unwavering support for the State of Israel, and have stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel.


The JNF also recognized Dick Rothberg, who has been on the JNF Board for 40 years. David Greaves emphasized that Dick and Joanne Rothberg’s family and friends had come together to raise the funds needed such that a room in the Hadar School will be named in honour of Dick and Joanne.

Greaves also made special mention of senior Jewish community leader “Marjorie” referring to Marjorie Blankstein, whose philanthropy is legendary. 

Greaves then introduced former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper, the featured speaker for the evening, which was another highlight of the evening. “He stood alongside Israel when no other nation would do so,” Greaves said of Harper. Harper spoke with Jewish community leader Steve Kroft. Harper began by joking that he wanted to thank David Greaves "because I don’t want him to cut off my microphone.”


Harper also referred to the Hula Valley Visitor and Education Centre in Israel which is named after him, noting that in Canada something is named after you only when you are dead, such that people who hear about this think Harper is deceased.


Kroft asked Harper where his unwavering support of Israel came from. He answered his father and grandmother were “extremely supportive of Israel.”


‘He then said categorically that “Israel is a friend and an ally”, and is “part of a family of Western democratic nations.” He added that singling out Israel for criticism is “short-sighted”, and  “Supporting Israel is unequivocally in the interests of this country.” Harper also noted that “any politician is a friend of Israel when speaking to a Jewish audience…But when Israel is under attack, that’s when standing up for it matters.”


Harper said that in 75 years, the Jewish people have created one of the “most advanced countries on the planet”, and they had done so “in a difficult neighborhood.”


When Canada goes along with anti-Israel UN resolutions, we should get upset, according to Harper, who indicated that if you can’t stand up for what is right, “why are you in public life anyway.”


Kroft asked Harper about the Abraham Accords, and whether Saudi Arabia could conceivably join them in the future. Harper advised he did not expect this to happen soon, not during the life of the current King. He referred to the mistake  made by many Western nations of distancing themselves from Saudis Arabia, at a time when that country has been “liberalizing”  and “enacting reforms.”  He referred to this as selling out your friends and buying off your enemies, such as Iran.


Harper emphasized he did not think that the Abraham Accords “will unwind in any way.” He explained that there is a “new generation of Arab leaders “who believe that rather than hating Israel, they would like to become “more like Israel.” These leaders want to reform and modernize their countries, so that they become religiously tolerant.


Harper indicated he is worried about Iran., “because for the first time in human history, they want to possess nuclear weapons for the purpose of using them.”


On the subject of judicial reforms in Israel, Harper stated “regardless of what you think of the debate you should support Israel.” And said that “Israel is a vigorous democracy.”


‘’Harper told a joke about an Israeli Prime Minister who said “I am the Prime Minister of 8 million other Prime Ministers”, since everyone in Israel thinks they know best.

The debate has become polarized over two issues, the appointment of judges, and the relative power of the Knesset vis-a-vis the judiciary.” Harper stated that the judiciary in Israel has taken on increased authority on discretionary issues, and there are certainly democracies where the elected  can choose judges-who are not elected. However Harper thought that the proposed override clause which would give the Knesset the ability to overrule judicial decisions with a bare majority was going too far.(Editor’s note:  Netanyahu has told American media that he does not see this clause as being enacted).

Harper added that the good news was that Israel was united in defending the country against attacks emanating from Gaza.


Kroft asked Harper about the increase in antisemitism, and he responded that what worries him the most is not antisemitism emanating from the far right,  or from radical Islam, but from the antisemitism of the left, in academia, around the BDS movement. “The BDS movement attempts to make antisemitism respectable,” he indicated, adding that “Singling out Israel, out of all the countries in the world, is ludicrous on its face.” Harper referred to the protesters outside the JNF event, (who referred to Israel as an apartheid state,) not “as protesters” but “as haters.”


Harper was also asked to give his thoughts about Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine. In his view the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine would “go on for a long time….The Ukrainians will resist to the last man because they know from their history, the moment they give up, they get slaughtered. The war is a genocidal war,” Harper emphasized.


Harper referred to Putin as “an evil man”,  with whom he had a very bad relationship. ‘I wouldn’t accept a drink from him.”


Harper added that in 2008, “we made a real push to bring the Ukraine in NATO.” Had this happened, Putin could have been deterred.


Following Harper's talk, there was a live auction and a special live performance by Daniel Greaves of the Watchmen. There was also a community celebration after party.


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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.