by Hannah Silver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(AJNews) – In celebration of Israel’s 75th birthday, on May 18th, Jewish National Fund (JNF) Calgary’s 2023 Negev Gala explored much of what there is to love about our incredible homeland, with the theme “The Magic, Mystery, and Chaos of Israel.” Host, comedian and author Joel Chasnoff had Mount Royal University’s Bella Concert Hall echoing with laughter. The Chicago-raised, now Israeli citizen shared jokes that hit home and a monologue about being Jewish in the Diaspora, life as an Oleh (immigrant who made Aliyah) and lone soldier in Israel, and interesting insight into the Hebrew language. He shared about the value and strength of kehillah (community) in Israel, in both the good and challenging times, and how strangers show up for and take care of each other.
The magic of Hebrew was highlighted with renditions of classic and hit Israeli songs by the talented New York-based cover band New Aviv City, including songs by Arik Einstein, Omer Adam, and various Israeli Eurovision winners and finalists. New Aviv City, who performed alongside local musicians, is part of Israeli Artists Project, an organization which brings together Israeli and North American Jewish communities through Israeli music, theatre, and culture.
The annual Negev Gala returned in-person for the first time since 2019, continuing a tradition that has been held in Calgary since 1955. JNF Canada’s National President, our very own Beth Price, brought warm greetings, and JNF Calgary’s Co-Presidents, Cheryl Cameron and Cheryl Gurevitch, emphasized the necessity of the State of Israel being a haven for immigrants and refugees since its re-establishment, and the importance of helping newcomers transition to life in a new country. They shared about the fundraising project of this year’s Negev Gala: the Or Yehuda Family Care Centre. Or Yehuda is a small city just outside Tel Aviv, with a large population of families who have made Aliyah, who come from different backgrounds and are challenged with learning a new language, finding work, and adjusting to a new life in Israel. Donations assist in the full renovation of a building, donated by the Or Yehuda municipality, in which volunteers provide support, care, and community programs, including a club for at-risk youth, and the “Chesed Yavneh” project assisting families with professional “emotional support, financial management, education, and training” (JNF Canada).
The band’s final songs were accompanied by a projected compilation of landscapes and scenery from across our beautiful homeland, curated by JNF Calgary’s Executive Director Elliott Steinberg. This was followed by his closing remarks, recognizing the efforts of JNF’s volunteers and generous donors, and then a delicious dessert reception.