Shalom Toronto article: "Paying Tribute to a Genuinely Great Man" Jerry Grafstein
by Dan Verbin
The Honourable Jerry Grafstein is truly one of Canada’s “movers and shapers.”
Perhaps it is fitting then that Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s tribute gala to Grafstein this week opened with the fiery violins of Lenny Solomon and Bowfire.
It might have been nice if they’d played a Stones number (then-Senator Grafstein was instrumental in bringing Mick and Keith to Toronto for 2003’s SARS recovery Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto concert), but it was a fine introduction nonetheless to a fun- filled, entertaining evening that also featured host Steve Paikin (of TVO’s The Agenda) and legendary comedian Jackie Mason, who characteristically held nothing back.
The evening was a roast-style tribute to Grafstein, philanthropist, lawyer, businessman (founder of media empires, including CHUM), recently retired long-time senator, and counsel to numerous Liberal prime ministers.
Grafstein has worked tirelessly throughout his career to combat anti-Semitism and promote democracy, working with a who’s who of prime ministers, presidents and other world leaders. However, the gala’s purpose was to honour Jerry and his wife Carole for the founding of the Honourable Jerry and Carole Grafstein Network for Cancer Research at Hebrew University’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) and the Honourable Jerry and Carole Grafstein Visiting Professor Program at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Jewish Studies.
After openers Bowfire brought the house down with their inimitable and amp upped display of fiddling prowess, Steve Paiken reminisced about his parents who went to university with Jerry Grafstein.
In a testament to Grafstein’s status and influence, Paikin pointed out that the capacity room at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts was filled with the kinds of luminaries who don’t show up for just anybody: Izzy and Rosalie Sharp, George and Susan Cohen, Senator Linda Frum, Howard Sokolowski, Paul Godfrey and his wife, Eddie Greenspan and the Right honourable John Turner and wife Geills (Grafstein was Turner’s chief of staff).
Next up, Consul General Amir Gissin spoke words of wisdom, using his time on stage to enthuse that Canadian media have moved beyond focusing solely on the conflict, to portray the uniqueness and innovation that is today’s Israel.
Grafstein has worked tirelessly throughout his career to combat anti-Semitism and promote democracy, working with a who’s who of prime ministers, presidents and other world leaders
“People start to look at Israel not through lens of conflict but through entrepreneurship,” he said. Gissin added that those in attendance were responsible for that through their generous support of Hebrew University.
“Jerry Grafstein gets that too,” he said. “He has been working very hard with making initiatives and ideas.”
Gissin ended by noting that while Canada and Israel have a strong relationship, it is only the beginning of the connection that the countries are forging together.
One of the evening’s co-chairs, Tracy Wilder, said, “We are a global village and together we can shape the world in a way that will help improve the world for Israel, Canada and the globe.”
Next was a video about the Honourable Jerry and Carole Grafstein Network for Cancer Research, followed by a humorous and anecdote filled speech by Grafstein’s son, Lawrence.
“My father’s lifelong preoccupation has been with ideas and changing the world,” he said. “Few of us have the tenacity of Jerry and Carole Grafstein to help make these ideas happen.”
The junior Grafstein described his dad as having a generosity of spirit. He said that his father loves Canada and what it represents, and he loves the Jewish people and what they represent.
Ronnie Appleby, also a co-chair, presented Grafstein, a long-time friend, with the Scopus Award – the highest award that Hebrew University grants. “The award symbolizes ideas, vision, achievement and leadership,” said Appleby. Previous recipients include Elie Wiesel and Eric de Rothschild, Senator Carl Levin, Artur Rubinstein and Itzhak Perlman.
Grafstein took the stage, humbled, and spoke about honour of being there, quoting Shakespeare (who Jackie Mason ironically later poked fun at during his act as being the world’s most famous writer who no one can understand).
There was no shortage of barbs during Mason’s closing set, including jabs at Obama, Bush, Jewish wives, single versus married men, Ed Sullivan and Henry Kissinger.
“My father’s lifelong preoccupation has been with ideas and changing the world. Few of us have the tenacity of Jerry and Carole Grafstein to help make these ideas happen” - Lawrence Grafstein
“Netanyahu would like to give the whole West Bank back to the Palestinians,” said Mason at one point. “But right now he can’t because it’s in his wife’s name.”
Mason, who first met Grafstein several days earlier over lunch, also took a turn for the serious, saying he was honoured to be at the gala to honour a “genuinely great man.”
“One of my great accomplishments is to come to Toronto to talk about a man I’ve never heard of,” joked Mason.