By BERNIE BELLAN
Solly Dreman is an individual about whom we’ve written many times in this newspaper.
A former Winnipeger, Solly made Aliyah in 1964 and has lived in Israel ever since – although he did spend time in the United States when he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco in 1977-78. Now retired from his long-held post as a full professor of psychology at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Solly now works and lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Orly.
Since his retirement, Solly has actively engaged in extensive volunteer work with the elderly, with ultra orthodox youth who have become secular and are at high risk for mental disorders and suicide, has served on a mental health hot line (Eran), and has been helping youth with severe learning disorders (ADD and ADHD).
In September 2016 Solly returned to Winnipeg where he gave a lecture on “Immigrants, Refugees and Terrorism: Is There Hope?”, sponsored by the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Friends of Israel, the Canadian Associates of Ben Gurion University and this newspaper. At that time he and Orly also hosted 60 friends and family members at a reunion luncheon. Don Barnard, a professional photographer and individual of Aboriginal background was recommended by Yolanda Papini-Pollock, executive director of the grass roots organization, “Winnipeg Friends of Israel”, to video both his lecture and the reunion.
Don explains that he met Yolanda “while working with her and Rogers Ofime (international award winning director and producer from Nigeria, Africa) on the film ‘Never again a broken promise’, a documentary on genocides.” He adds that he is “still working with Yolanda on a series of videos on the Holocaust.”
Though Don is multi-talented - being a videographer, filmmaker and actor, he has not had an easy time of it during his 49 years. He is on the autistic spectrum, affected by Asperger Syndrome, which has caused him considerable hardship during his lifetime. Also contributing to his plight was the fact that he was born into a Métis family; his father was a residential school survivor who has experienced considerable discrimination over his lifetime. Coming from a disadvantaged background, Don, at the age of 12, was placed in foster care, where he was exposed to considerable physical and psychological abuse. On top of that he was held back in his schooling, even though he had an IQ at the genius level of 157 - which was only recognized in his later youth when he was subsequently advanced several grades.
With difficulty finding steady employment, he has been living in a Manitoba Housing Unit in Fannystelle, which is a 45-minute drive southwest of Winnipeg. As well, his not owning a car made accessing employment for professional and personal purposes very difficult . For example, while he was relying on a charitable food bank located in the city for subsistence purposes, he had to hitchhike to the city in order to save money to purchase a camera.
But, here’s another very interesting aspect of Don’s life: He’s a staunch supporter of Israel.
“I used to go online and post in favour of Israel,” he notes. “I came to my own conclusions about that country” – ones , he is quick to admit, that are often at odds with the prevailing views in the Aboriginal community. Don says that he views the Jewish people in Israel as an indigenous, displaced people – much as he perceives himself as a member of a displaced first nation. As you will see, his recent trip to Israel has had a profound effect upon his views of that country.
As for Solly Dreman – and why he came forth with such a generous offer to someone he barely knew – well – he’s always been a very kind and outgoing individual. (Those are my words, by the way – not Solly’s. I’ve had the good fortune to meet him several times and you’re not going to find a warmer person.)
By the way Solly told me that his Masters and Doctoral theses were on the subject of “Altruism” - which only makes sense given his own penchant for giving.
When Solly heard Don’s sad story at the time of his lecture and reunion in September 2016 he told me, “My heart went out to him”. What Solly also learned about Don – and that was one of the keys to what transpired after that September meeting, is that he was a staunch supporter of Israel.
On the spot, Solly told Don he planned to invite him to come to Israel, all expenses paid. This year the offer came to fruition with Don’s trip to Israel . “The prospect of seeing that part of the world was a pipe dream for me’” Don says. “I was disadvantaged - and needed someone to give me some hope. Solly did that for me.”
And, so it came to be, with Don flying to Israel last month. Solly and Orly hosted Don in their Jerusalem home for one week and along with their son (Solly’s stepson), Oren Cytto, a licensed tour guide, travelled extensively in Israel. Don is planning to make a documentary movie about his trip which, he says, he will share with the Aboriginal community as well as the Winnipeg community at large.
“My take on Israel,” says Don during a video interview he shot with Solly at the tail end of his trip, “is that it is the most beautiful place I’ve seen in my life. It’s multicultural, but it’s uniquely Jewish. It’s multiple distinct societies pushed together…I can’t think of another place in the world where in such a short distance you’re walking from one world into another.”
As for the kindness and hospitality that were shown to Don by Solly and Orly, here’s what he had to say in the video interview with Solly: “What I find about you, Solly, is that you have a wonderful mix of charm and personality – absent mindedness too, but a fire within you that makes for an absolutely enjoyable experience. But, when it comes to the planning, Orly is the brains and backbone of this entire operation.”
There was one more magnanimous gesture toward the very end of the trip that really floored Don. “The other bombshell that happened in Israel is that Solly bought me a professional level video camera!” he says. Not only that, but upon Don’s return to Canada in February, Solly contacted Larry Vickar and other prominent members of the Winnipeg Jewish community to try and obtain some more help for Don. Don tells me that Larry arranged for him to get a car on very reasonable terms, including the provision of photographic services to Larry’s car dealership enterprise.
Don now says that, with his new car and camera, “I am also working on several other projects currently and looking to build my business and my life.”
But, is there anything expected of Don in return? Not anything more than perhaps helping to spread the message about Israel as he has already been doing for years prior to his trip. “I’d like to counter the message that Aboriginal youth are getting in the prisons and the mixed martial arts clubs” where they typically hear a completely slanted pro-Palestinian point of view, Don explains. “If the opportunity ever came for me to speak with Aboriginal youth or to the community at large I would gladly share my message with them about Israel,” he adds.
For one man, at least, a gesture of supreme generosity – and a totally unexpected one at that, just might make all the difference in the world in turning his life around. For Don Barnard, having someone like Solly Dreman enter his life is something he would never have dreamed possible. It will be interesting to see where life now takes him.