JNF Edmonton Negev Event: So captivating you could hear a pin drop

JNF Edmonton Negev Gala keynote speaker Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Conricus, with Tu B'shevat award recipient Solly Singer.

by Deborah Shatz

(AJNews) – The JNF Edmonton 2024 Negev Gala in support of rebuilding Kibbutz Kissufim took place on June 6, 2024. It was a social event with a daunting message from keynote speaker Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Conricus, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and former IDF International Spokesperson.

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Conricus with recipient Tal Toubiana. Photo by JNF Edmonton.

The event was sold out. Community members across the spectrum of age and religious and political affiliation attended to get an update on the situation in Israel and to assist Kibbutz Kissufim and its residents in Southern Israel to rebuild, recover and ensure its future vibrancy after the brutal attack and destruction that took place on October 7.

Since 1954, the Edmonton community has gathered for JNF Negev Gala with the aim of supporting worthwhile projects in Israel.

This year, more than any other in recent memory, the need to gather in solidarity with the people of Israel is urgent. The heinous attack on October 7, 2023, reminds us that Israel’s very existence continues to be threatened. To this day 120 people who were brutally kidnapped during that attack, including women and children, are still held hostage in what is believed to be dangerous and deplorable conditions in Gaza. Up to 40 of these people are known to have died but their bodies are still being held hostage.

In raising funds to rebuild Kibbutz Kissufim – damaged on October 7, JNF Edmonton hosted a simplified event in order to ensure as many dollars as possible went to the project. Featured guest, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Conricus had a sobering message for the community about the terrible threat that is facing Israel and the free world. His words were so captivating that there was complete silence throughout the ballroom – you could hear a pin drop.

He said that as bad as it is in Gaza, he believes the worst is yet to come, with real threats from the Hezbollah terror group who is currently firing rockets and drones on Northern Israel as well as military activity from other Iranian proxies.  Some 60,000 Israeli civilians have been evacuated from their homes in the north as a result of these attacks. It is unprecedented in Israel’s history that Israelis have been forced to leave their homes due to war. He said that although Israel is hoping for a deescalation, where Hezbollah would take a step back and stop firing, that has not happened. Instead the war is escalating. He cautioned that if tensions continue with Lebanon, Israel will be forced to retaliate and the result could be worse devastation than is seen in Gaza. Israel will protect its infrastructure – it’s airport, its ports, its electric grids etc. He said that the war in the north will only be over when Hezbollah stops firing rockets and drones and when it is safe for Israelis to return to their homes in the north.

He said that if members of the audience came to hear an optimistic message about how peace is right around corner, they should have a bit of dessert and leave now because his message is that these are dire times and it is important that we stand united.

JNF Executive Director Jay Cairns with Top Canvasser Solly Singer. Photo JNF Edmonton.

He said that the war has been made worse because Israel has been put in a position where it has to negotiate with its allies, even when its adversaries would not negotiate. As a result, “Israel has been fighting this war with one hand tied behind its back and the other with a velvet glove.”

The retired Lt. Col. said that progress can be made two ways – through diplomacy and through military intervention, and that both strategies are important. While they wait for the diplomacy to be successful they must continue with the military strategy. He said that civilian casualties are tragic and that the IDF has put forth stringent measures to reduce casualties – made more difficult because of the density of the urban population and because Hamas uses civilians as human shields.

He warned the community not to be fooled, that the real enemy is Iran, that they are the source and the financier of all of Israel’s enemies —  and they are moving forward with their nuclear program at a worrisome pace. He said that Iran’s strategy is to keep Israel in a constant state of war on several fronts and that so far Iran is succeeding.

At the close of his remarks he said that his one positive and uplifting message is in thanking the community for its solidarity with Israel. Israeli’s don’t easily show appreciation, he explained, but they truly appreciate the love and support of the Canadian Jewish community – and everyone at the JNF Edmonton event. His remarks were received with a standing ovation from the crowd.

Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel participated as emcee for the evening. His heartfelt words touched an emotional chord throughout the room as he paid tribute to those people who lost their lives on October 7 and in the ensuing war in Gaza. He also honoured the brave Canadians who fought in World II. June 6 marked the 80th anniversary of D Day when  Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy (France) to open the way to Germany from the West. Victory in the Normandy campaign would come at a terrible cost and many Canadian lives were lost. It was however, instrumental in beginning the liberation of Western Europe.

Two special presentations were also made during the course of the evening. The Bloomfield Medal was presented to former Chief of Security for the Jewish Federation of Edmonton and former Security Advisor for UJA in Ottawa, Tal Toubiana. JNF Edmonton Executive Director Jason Cairns made the presentation to Toubiana with this message.

“JNF Edmonton would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for your unwavering commitment to Israel and dedication to defending and protecting the Jewish people. Your profound love for Israel inspires us all, demonstrating through your actions the reality of existential threats. You embody the living bridge between Jewish communities in Canada and Israel, exemplifying the strong bond that unites us. Your leadership in keeping Jewish communities safe and your invaluable contributions to Jewish Edmonton, both locally and globally, fill us with immense pride. Thank you for your expertise, love for Israel, and the incredible example you set.”

JNF Edmonton co-president Laurie Mozeson with Osi Goldsand winner of the Zach Hyman Oilers jersey. Photo JNF Edmonton.

A recognition award was also present to Solly Singer, Top Youth Canvasser for the 2024 Talmud Torah School Tu Bi’Shevat Campaign. Cairns presented the award to Solly with this message:

“JNF Edmonton would like to commend Solly Singer for your commitment to Israel and JNF through your outstanding tree planting efforts at Talmud Torah. Your initiative and passion are beyond reproach, and we can’t thank you enough for your dedication in helping to keep Israel lush and green, the only country in the world to have a net gain of trees year over year. We wish you all the best, and may you continue to grow from strength to strength, thriving – just like the trees you have planted in Israel!”

A draw was held for a coveted autographed Zach Hyman Oilers jersey with his name in Hebrew. The winner of the draw was Osi Goldsand. Mazal Tov to Osi. Wearing that jersey helped propel the Oilers all the way to the game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

JNF Edmonton Co-Presidents Laurie Mozeson and Sharon Bookhalter closed the evening with the presentation of the jersey to Osi and a beautiful Dene soapstone carving to Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Conricus. They thanked Jason Cairns for all his hard work and dedication. They also thanked all the generous donors, sponsors, advertisers, volunteers and friends for their support and for making the evening a huge success!

Click here to view a photo gallery from the event. 

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