B’nai Brith Lodge dinner honours Hillel Neuer, and Dan Balaban

by Maxine Fischbein

(AJNews) – The leaders and volunteers of B’nai Brith Calgary Lodge #816 know a thing or two about putting together meaningful, entertaining and lucrative testimonial and fundraising dinners. They plan to knock that record out of the park at their rapidly-approaching 71st Annual Dinner on Tuesday, April 9 at Beth Tzedec Synagogue.

Headline 2024 honourees are UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer, who will be the evening’s keynote speaker, and local businessman, community volunteer and philanthropist Dan Balaban.

“Bringing Hillel in is very topical right now,” said dinner committee volunteer Harold Lipton at the end of February, around the time Neuer was delivering passionate addresses in Geneva at the International Summit for a Future beyond UNRWA. There, human rights activists and legislators from around the world, including Liberal MP Anthony Housefather and Deputy Conservative Party Leader Melissa Lantsman – both of whom addressed conference attendees online – stood shoulder to shoulder in pressing the United Nations to scrap UNRWA in favour of a more reliable and effective humanitarian aid model.

UNRWA, which has a long track record of corruption, has employees who regularly teach hatred and antisemitism to Gazan children. At least 12 UNRWA employees – though some estimates are much higher – were complicit in the savage October 7 tortures, murders, rapes and hostage takings of Israelis, most of whom were civilians, in southern Israel.

Those familiar with Neuer’s advocacy on behalf of Israel and oppressed peoples around the globe will no doubt snap up tickets for the dinner, which Lipton expects will be SRO.

For those unfamiliar with Neuer’s work, a good entry point is his passionate 2017 UN address during which he decried the accusation of Israel as an apartheid state and asked Arab countries a simple question:  Where are your Jews?

Howard Silver – who is co-chairing the dinner committee together with fellow BB veteran Joel Grotsky – told AJNews that the enthusiastic and generous response is due to the respect garnered by both Neuer and Balaban.

That will be music to the ears of BB’s beneficiaries, including featured charitable organization UN Watch Canada – an arm of the NGO that is dedicated to holding the United Nations to account for breaches of its own charter.

Additional charitable organizations within and beyond the Calgary Jewish community will once again have the opportunity to apply for grants made possible by the proceeds of the dinner, including sponsorships, program advertisements, a live auction and a 50-50 draw.

The pre-dinner cocktail hour will once again feature an astonishing array of nosh so that everyone can keep their strength up for silent auction bidding. Kosher hors d’oeuvres and the dinner, featuring beef short ribs, will be served up by Meraki Cuisine in their BB Dinner debut.

The evening will include honours for Rochel and Rabbi Menachem Matusof – Chabad Lubavitch emissaries whose three plus decades of service within the local Jewish community will be recognized as they receive the 2024 Ben Docktor Award of Excellence.

The late Ben Docktor, in whose name the award is annually presented, will be posthumously honoured as will former B’nai Brith stalwarts Rudy Berger, Emanuel (Manny) Cohen, Sucher (Sidney) Cyngiser and Jacques Mydlarski, each of blessed memory (see sidebar article on page ? in this issue).

Lipton, is justifiably proud of B’nai Brith’s stellar record in having attracted impressive honourees over the years, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Alberta premiers, Calgary mayors, the Canadian Armed Forces, diplomats, philanthropists . . . and the list goes on.

The dinners typically focus on two main honourees, one who is prominent locally, nationally or internationally, and one who has strengthened local Jewish life.

“We see both Hillel Neuer and Dan Balaban as contributors in terms of their community work,” said Harold Lipton. “We don’t always have two Jewish honourees. This is a special privilege for us.”

Neuer is no stranger to accolades. His alma mater, McGill University, recognized him as “an innovator in creating global platforms for courageous dissidents and champions of human rights from around the world” and bestowed upon him an honourary doctorate of laws in 2018.

Prior to that, in 2016, the City of Chicago declared Hillel Neuer Day in recognition of his trailblazing human rights efforts. Neuer was credited by the Journal de Montreal as a force that “makes the UN tremble” and made the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv’s Top 100 Most Influential Jewish People in the World.

Like Neuer, Dan Balaban – co-founder, executive chair and CEO of Greengate Power Corporation – is a man of action whose work reflects the zeitgeist of our times.

A leader in the field of renewable energy, Greengate has developed Canada’s largest wind energy and solar energy projects. Balaban has frequently represented his industry in the media, and has lately been in the news again following the UCP government’s recent announcement of policies limiting renewable power projects.

Balaban, who graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Science in computer science, serves on the boards of Calgary Economic Development and HEMPALTA, having previously spent nine years on the board of the Pembina Institute.

Following in the footsteps of his late father Jack Balaban, of blessed memory, Dan has given generously of his time and resources within the Calgary Jewish community. He chaired the Calgary JCC, served on the board of Calgary Jewish Federation and, together with his brothers, co-chaired the 2013 JNF Negev Dinner honouring their father. More recently, Dan Balaban has worked to strengthen entrepreneurial ties between Calgary and Israel, personally leading a business mission to the Holy Land.

Two generations of Balabans have brought the joy of basketball to Jewish youth in Calgary and in Israel. Dan currently coaches the Hawks senior boys basketball team at The Calgary Jewish Academy, a labour of love once carried out by his father and at various times by brothers Mike and Jordan.

Through his family fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of Calgary, Balaban supports a range of local and international causes, among them The Calgary Jewish Academy, Congregation House of Jacob-Mikveh Israel, Magen David Adom, United Hatzalah, Save A Child’s Heart, Jewish Family Service Calgary, Camp BB Riback, and My One Hundred Percent in Nepal.

Balaban was one of Canada’s Clean50, a 2022 Resource Leader of the Year by the Alberta Chamber of Resources, and one of Alberta Venture Magazine’s 50 Most Influential People in 2010 and 2013.

In the lead-up to the dinner, B’nai Brith is once again reaching out to its members and Jewish Calgary to help them continue their generous support of charitable organizations and causes with emphasis on those most in need.

According to the Calgary B’nai Brith website, proceeds from BB dinners have, over the years, added up to four million dollars allocated to a wide range of charitable organizations.

Lipton estimates that 75 per cent of funds raised under the banner of the Calgary Lodge Menorah Foundation stay in Calgary and have previously been earmarked for a plethora of worthwhile projects including support for Jewish schools, synagogues, youth programs including student groups and Camp BB Riback, and seniors programs, to name a few. Notably, B’nai Brith threw its generous support behind the Little Synagogue at Heritage Park.

B’nai Brith also has a proud history of support for a range of causes beyond the Jewish community, including local health initiatives. They have previously given to the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, Prostate Cancer, and Kids Cancer Care and contributed toward the building of accessible playgrounds.

“We particularly have a soft spot for youth initiatives,” noted Harold Lipton, who added that the teens of BBYO – beneficiaries of B’nai Brith grants over many decades – will once again be volunteering at the dinner, joined this year by peers who will represent Team Alberta at the 2024 JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit this summer.

“Aside from UJA, we are probably the largest funders of initiatives within the local Jewish community,” Lipton said, adding, “The more support we get, the more we can give back to the community.”

So be generous, Calgary!

The 2024 B’nai Brith Dinner takes place April 9 at Beth Tzedec Synagogue. Tickets ($350.00) per person can be purchased and donations made at https://bnaibrithcalgary.org/buy-a-ticket/ or by calling the B’nai Brith Calgary office at (403) 255-6554.

Maxine Fischbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.


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