JNF Negev Gala in Edmonton raises the bar for creative virtual celebrations

Honourees Odette and Jacob Masliyah receive a JNF certificate of honour from event co-chairs Sue and Alvin Winestock at the conclusion of a most entertaining and creative virtual Edmonton Negev Gala.

By Deborah Shatz

(AJNews) – The 2020 Edmonton JNF Negev Gala was a thoroughly entertaining virtual event that paid tribute to two exceptional honourees – Odette and Jacob Masliyah.

On August 27, attendees were regaled with the inspirational story of the Masliyahs who separately migrated from Baghdad to Edmonton, met, married and built a life and family together. Over four decades, they committed themselves to family, community, education and heritage, and they were instrumental in building a strong Jewish community in Edmonton.

As the attendees got comfortable in their own homes, the event started at 7 pm at the Fantasyland Hotel where Elaine and Ram Romanovsky were all dressed up and waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive. They started to bicker on air: “Where is everyone? We didn’t get the email that the event was not in person. I’m hungry – is there no meal?” It was light-hearted banter and a very clever way to start the evening which had switched to an online format when the Covid-19 pandemic prevented large indoor gatherings in March 2020.

Jared Paull, president of Reel Mensch Productions emceed the 2020 Edmonton Negev Gala and produced an entertaining and innovative virtual film that really captured the essence of the honourees and the joy of the event.

Jared Paull, president of Reel Mensch Productions emceed and produced the event. Attendees were treated to an engaging, creative short film that moved seamlessly from lighthearted comedy to heartfelt testimonials and from an engaging history lesson, to an affirmation of communal Jewish values. Yasher Koach to the Masliyahs, Event Chairs Sue and Alvin Winestock, JNF Edmonton Director Jay Cairns, Reel Mensch Studios and many others for their creative innovation! The bar for virtual galas has now been raised very high.

Educational components of the event included a fascinating presentation from Sephardi Voices David Langer and Dr. Henry Green, as well as an informative video about JNF Canada. The Beit KKL JNF Canada House of Excellence in Sderot Israel is the beneficiary of the Edmonton Negev Gala and it will provide educational opportunities for students living in the area.

A very clever segment of the JNF Edmonton virtual Negev was “Honurees in Cars getting Coffee.”

Highlights of the ‘gala film’ included two segments of ‘Honourees in Cars Drinking Coffee’ clearly an homage to Seinfeld’s famous vignettes. Odette and Jacob’s casual conversations while driving in a Range Rover were delightful. They offered insights about their early years – some serious and some joking – in a very clever setting.

Another highlight was the relaxed armchair interview of Odette and Jacob by their good friends and event co-chairs Sue and Alvin Winestock. The two couples were casually sitting in the back yard enjoying a sunny Edmonton day and talking about the Masliyah’s lives, their values and achievements. The warmth of the day was matched by the warmth of the conversation and the informal setting allowed their personalities to shine.

“My first class was grade 2,” reminisced Odette, who taught at Talmud Torah School for many years. “They were phenomenal kids; of course, I still remember them. Many of them are parents now with beautiful kids and beautiful careers. When I talk about the kids I taught (over the years) or the families at Talmud Torah – it is just like family to me. In Judaism we always say you build a good community on good education.”

Jacob and Odette Masliyah with Alvin and Sue Winsstock at their backyard armchair interview. A very relaxed way to get to know the honourees.

When asked about the House of Excellence project in Sderot, Jacob, an Officer of the Order of Canada and renowned researcher, author and lecturer said: “The idea is to have an educational centre. Odette and I are both involved in education, so it was a natural thing to go for. For us being immigrants in Canada (and I don’t like that term) we believe in education. And for me personally, I truly believe that the only way to do well anywhere in the world is to have an education because it is yours and it is transportable.”

Drinking cappuccino on the balcony at the end of the event, Jacob recapped, “We were very disappointed initially that we could not have a gala dinner with people because it’s very nice to see people and friends that you haven’t seen in a long time. But now looking at what has been done so far with interviews, with laughing and joking and some pretending here and there – actually it wasn’t so bad really.”

“Not only are we celebrities, but we are professional talk show guests,” joked Odette. “It was a win, win situation. As people say, if you have a lemon, you make a lemon juice.”

Haha, laughed Jacob. “I’ve never heard you say that before.”

The Edmonton Jewish community – and the community at large – has benefitted tremendously from the lemon juice that the Masliyahs have provided for us all over the past four decades. We are extremely appreciative of their warm and dedicated service to our community and to Israel.

“My life-long relationship with the Masliyah family made it very easy to have some fun with them and to create something really enjoyable to watch,” said Jared Paull. “It was important for us to use this new format not as a consolation option, but as a privileged way to learn more about our culture, get to know the honourees… and wear our pajamas while we attend the gala.”

The funds raised at the 2020 Negev Gala will go towards the creation of the KKL/JNF Canada House for Excellence, in Sderot, the Israeli city closest to the Gaza border. The KKL/JNF Canada House will serve as an after-school, informal education, empowerment, and enrichment centre for high school youth from Sderot and its surroundings. The aim is to provide students with the necessary tools and skills for academic and personal success. Given its location in a volatile region, the facility will be built to withstand direct missile attacks.

Karen Kayemet l’Yisroel (KKL) is matching donations dollar for dollar so, for every dollar raised at the Edmonton Gala, KKL will contribute the same. JNF Canada invites you to join in creating a better Israel by supporting this innovative education and community project. For more information, to access the film and the informative program book that accompanied the event, contact edm@jnf.ca or 780-48-7881.

Great reviews followed the event. Here are a few of them:

Of course, your stories were fascinating, touching, harrowing and, dare we say educational. We have to say that we were quite thrilled to see where the funds raised are going, such a great use of money.

Mazel tov on your most deserved honour and an inspiring gala. The gala was what many are looking for as an alternative to the standard Gala format. You were “cutting edge” once again.

Wow! Outstanding! Creative, informative, classy and polished. We enjoyed every minute. Mazel Tov again to you and to all the producers, directors and performers.

Beautifully done, loved the medal scene at the beginning and the chats in the car. Managed to squeeze so much history and facts in so little time.

You shared an important part of Jewish history. Your journeys from Baghdad to Edmonton, as well as those of other Sephardic Jews, were fascinating and courageous.

You are true Canadians …and how lucky we are that you came here as immigrants to enrich our city, this province and indeed this country!




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