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JNF GALABy BERNIE BELLAN
Over 1300 people were at the Centennial Concert Hall Monday, May 25, for the Jewish National Fund’s 65th Annual Gala. In the photo at left, Rabbi Alan Green receives a commemoration certificate on the occasion of his being this year’s Negev Gala honouree. Left-right: Lance Davis, CEO, JNF Canada; Lorne Weiss, Rudy Fidel, Gala Co-Chairs: Rabbi Alan and Chaya Green; Ted Lyons, Gail Asper, Gala Co-Chairs; Ariel Karabelnicoff, JNF MB & SASK Executive Director; Gerald Labossiere, Gala Co-Chair; Jessica Cogan, JNF Regional President.     Keith Levit photo

This year’s honouree was Rabbi Alan Green, Senior Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, who is now in his final year in that position. By all accounts, this was one of the most successful galas of all time – in terms of how smoothly it ran from beginning to end, and how well received the entertainment was.
While it would come as no surprise to anyone that Rabbi Green’s speech in which he thanked the JNF for naming him this year’s honouree was eloquent – and relatively short – coming in at just a shade more than five minutes, it was the combination of having two highly talented Israeli singers, along with an Israeli conductor conducting the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra that will be a hard act to beat in future years.
Prior to Rabbi Green being called up onstage to receive his honour, various dignitaries paid tribute to him. Lance Davis, who is the newly appointed CEO of JNF Canada, noted that Winnipeg’s Negev Gala is the largest that has been held this year in Canada.
Following are some excerpts from Rabbi Green’s speech:
“In the words of Dr. Ted Lyons, ‘Show me your friends and I’ll show you you!’ When I see all your wonderful faces, I love how ‘we’ look tonight.
“It’s a huge honour being the Negev Gala honouree tonight. I can remember doing the invocation 25 years ago when the honouree was Izzy Asper. I sat down next to Izzy himself - at that time I had no idea who Izzy was. So the late Harold Buchwald got up to speak…I got some idea of who Izzy was and how much he had accomplished. And so, in succeeding years, I always took note of who the community honourees were, how they were the pillars of the Jewish community and the community at large. I have to say that I never imagined I’d be numbered among them.”
Turning to the project to which Rabbi Green had attached his name for this year’s gala, the proposed “World’s Jewish Museum”, to be built in Tel Aviv, Rabbi Green had this to say: “We don’t know what the future holds for the Jewish people, but to change our focus from what’s challenging about Jewish existence to the great contributions that Jewish people have made throughout time. This is what the Asper Foundation’s Jewish museum is all about.
“Many Jewish museums highlight our tragic history; however, awareness of suffering can never be the whole of Jewish identity. All too often we forget how the Jewish people created the world order of Western civilization…and how our modern judicial system stems from principles laid out in the Torah and rabbinic law.
“We forget that the three most significant figures of the 20th century, Freud, Marx, and Einstein, were all products of Jewish culture. We forget that 22 percent of all Nobel Prize winners spring from a tiny two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population.
However, not only are most people ignorant of this huge influence, Jews themselves suffer from the same malady…We are in fact a light unto nations.”

ShlomitFollowing is a review of the musical portion of the JNF Gala:

By HOLLY HARRIS
A lady and a tenor wowed a large crowd Monday, May 29th when the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Manitoba/Saskatchewan’s 2017 Negev Gala showcased Israeli vocalist Shlomit Aharon and opera star Yevgeni Shapovalov at the Centennial Concert Hall.
This year’s celebration also notably featured the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for the first time, led by multi-talented Israeli conductor/composer/arranger/music director Rony Weiss with a rhythm section comprised of guest Israeli musicians, including Aharon’s own son on drums.
Hailed as one of one of Israel’s best-loved singers, Aharon has garnered multiple awards and performed concerts in Israel and throughout Europe, South America, Australia and the US, as well as on television and radio. Shapovalov immigrated to Israel in 1991 from his native Russia, and has also toured Europe, Israel and throughout the States. In addition to performing with the New Israel Opera and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, among others, he also marked his auspicious Metropolitan Opera debut in 2004.
The eclectic program offered something for everyone, including Israeli and Russian folksongs, Broadway hits, opera arias, and lighter pop tunes, that ranged from explosive rhythms that is the hallmark of Israeli music, to more poignant fare. One of my favourite moments came as Aharon sang a Yiddish lullaby (a.k.a. “Jewish blues”), “Oyf’n veg shteyt a boym” - or “A Tree stands by the Road”  - to this year’s honoree, Rabbi Alan Green. The respected clergy leader who retires this winter after 18 years as Shaarey Zedek Synagogue’s Senior Rabbi could be seen beaming from the first row with his wife Chaya, and other distinguished guests, including Manitoba’s Lieutenant-Governor Janice Filmon, and the six Gala co-chairs: Gail Asper, Neil Duboff, Rudy Fidel, Gerald (Gerry) Laboissiere, Edward (Ted) Lyons, and Lorne Weiss.  
The 15-song set opened with an arrangement of “Adagio in G minor” attributed to the 18th-century Venetian master Tomaso Albinoni, with the duo’s entwined vocals steadily growing in intensity as the sinous melodic lines rose and fell. We immediately knew twe were in for a treat, and even my companion remarked how Shapovalov seemed to be channeling a young Pavarotti – and I happened to agree.
Needless to say, two of the evening’s most popular highlights that tugged at the heartstrings were “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” as well as the opening “Hatikvah”that followed “O Canada,” performed at the beginning of the program by the Yona Children’s Choir led by Lina Streltsov. The singers wisely invited the audience to join in – and warble along they did. In fact, plenty of audience participation “opportunities” greatly added to the relaxed, interactive atmosphere that saw the audience fully engaged all night.  
The two artists sang of love, peace, hopes and dreams, and even let their hair down with Verdi’s famous “Brindisi” a.k.a. “‘The Drinking Song” from his iconic opera La Traviata capped by their gaily waltzing together. Both brought their own strengths to the stage, whether it was Aharon’s soulful interpretation of Israeli folk songs including: “Shir haemek,” “Al kol ele,” or “Haoreach,” or Shapovalov’s enthralling delivery of a later opera medley performed with complete ease.
But they are also consummate entertainers, with a palpable rapport. Good-natured kibitzing, and gentle sparring as they “fought” to sing their favourite songs added levity. One of the well-paced night’s arguably more surreal moments came when Shapovalov egged on the crowd to join in during one of his lighter Italian numbers – and so they did, joyfully belting out its “Santa Lucia” chorus for all they’re worth.
Another highlight proved to be “Kalinka.” It’s always a pleasure hearing Russians – or anyone, for that matter - performing music from their homeland, and Shapovalov sang this iconic solo with gusto.
The pair also shared memories of performing together in the Israeli production of “Les Miserables” – the Hebrew edition - with Shapovalov reprising his lead role as Jean Valjean to sing “Bring Him Home,” while Aharon performed Eponine’s always touching “On My Own.”
I’ve been fortunate to have attended several JNF Negev Galas over the past several years, and felt this latest offering is one of its strongest productions to date, with these two compelling performers’ 90-minute set (without intermission) flying by in the blink of an eye.  
As expected, The Lady and The Tenor received a standing ovation which led to several encores, including an inspiring final “Hatikvah,” where Aharon and Shapovalov’s voices - as did the audience’s - seemed to grow in power and might by the minute.
Bravo and todah rabah to the JNF for bringing these wonderful artists to Winnipeg, and let’s hope they grace one of our stages again - and soon.  
Holly Harris has been the classical music/opera/dance critic for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2004. She also proudly calls this year’s distinguished honouree her rabbi.