Dear Friends,

I have just returned from Israel, having participated in Hebrew University’s 87th Board of Governors Meetings.

I would first like to extend my sincere thanks to the Canadian delegation who made the effort to come and support the University, especially during this challenging time. The delegation included: Gail Asper (past Honorary Doctorate recipient and member of the International Board of Governors); Dany Pollack (Honourary Fellowship recipient); Dany’s children Dalia, Aliza and Gideon, and her son-in-law Joseph Lerner; Monette Malewski (Immediate Past National Board Chair); Lorne Persiko, Ira Lindenberg and Marty Bernholtz (National Board Members); Margaret Shuckett (Past National Board Member); and Lanning Kline and his wife Riki (our expat Canadians from Alabama). I would also like to thank the CFHU Team who helped us tremendously on the ground in Israel.

From the welcome reception held at the recently opened National Library of Israel, to the closing ceremony showcasing Israel’s next generation of leaders, our Canadian delegation was witness to the resilience, incredible spirit, strength and innovation of Israel and our people.

Photo gallery from the Opening Reception – June 1st 

On our first day, we traveled to Ofakim in southern Israel, the furthest municipality that was attacked on October 7th.  Here we learned about Hebrew University’s vision to contribute to Israel’s peripheral regions, now helping in the recovery from the attacks and the ensuing war. Given Ofakim’s new agri-tech focus, Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment is contributing to the city’s progress through collaboration around education research and development. We visited the innovative Regavim Agricultural School, meeting the children who will one day lead the way in developing novel approaches to food security and sustainability.

We also bore witness to the atrocities of October 7th with a visit to the Nova Music Festival Memorial, honoring the memory of those brutally taken. Family members come here daily to speak with visitors, heroically helping to keep the memories of their lost loved ones alive. A sombre reminder of why our commitment to Israel is so important. Close by at Kibbutz Alumim, we listened to Esther Marcus, long time kibbutz member, wife, mother, grandmother and resilience counselor, describe the horrific events and courageous story of survival of the men of the kibbutz who fought off the terrorists and saved the lives of all the kibbutz members. We ended our day in Sderot, a town that was greatly impacted by the brutal attack on Israel’s Gaza envelop region.

Photo gallery from Day 1 in the South – June 2nd

Day 2 was an opportunity for us to experience the Canadian Friends’ commitment to the Hebrew University. In the morning, we joined Gail Asper at the Wall of Benefactors Ceremony, as her and her husband Michael Paterson’s names were unveiled, showcasing their long-time personal and philanthropic commitment and continuation of the Asper family’s legacy with Hebrew University.

Photo gallery from Wall of Benefactors ceremony:

Later that day, along with her three children, one son-in-law and one grandchild, we were so proud to witness Dany Pollack receiving an Honourary Fellowship.

Photo gallery from Honourary Fellowship ceremony:

In the evening, we joined with friends, academics, students, faculty and staff from Hebrew University at Modern Restaurant for the Canadian Dinner, a highlight of the BOG. The dinner offers us a chance to recognize our contribution to the outstanding achievements of the university, and the individuals who help the Canadian Friends. While difficult to celebrate during this challenging time, we all understood the importance of coming and being together, preparing for the future and honoring the achievements and sheer perseverance of our students, researchers and faculty.

Photo gallery from the Canadian Dinner:

It was truly a thrill to meet the deserving students who receive our annual scholarships and learn about their research, knowing we helped make it happen. Adin Pellow spoke about his experience as both a medical student and reservist. Adin is a lone soldier from Canada and serves as a combat medic in the Elite Unit 669, the IDF Airborne Rescue and Evacuation Unit. The dinner offered us a reminder of the extraordinary work being carried out at the University and the impactful contributions of our CFHU community. I am immensely proud to be part of such a dedicated and passionate group.

Video Spotlight on CFHU Scholarships at Hebrew University:

Photo gallery from the Asper Prize ceremony:

I am calling the last day of the BOG the Canadian showstopper! After learning about Hebrew University’s academic achievements we joined Professor Amnon Dekel, Executive Director of Asper HUJI Innovate for the Asper Prize 2024, the Hebrew University Rising Startup Competition, hosted in memory of Israel and Babs Asper. This year the competition featured over forty startups, with five making it to the finals. In an exciting turn of events, Gail Asper announced her intention to double the award for a first-time tie for the prize! It was just too difficult for this year’s panel of judges to choose one, so GynTools and HydroX emerged as co-winners, not sharing the prize but each receiving 100,000 ILS to further their startup.

Photo gallery from the Closing Event:

During the closing event we learned about the myriad ways that Hebrew University staff and students mobilized following October 7th – by volunteering in the South and by starting a supply drive for the reservists and implementing initiatives such as The HUBS-Aid project led by Hebrew University Business School (HUBS) which was a response to the war’s impact on small businesses.  

What stood out most for me during our time in Israel was the heartfelt gratitude we received from so many people, particularly during our day in the South. They deeply appreciated our presence and support, yet, in truth, it is us who should be thanking them for standing on the frontlines of this conflict. While life goes on and seems normal, we were conscious every moment of the hostages still in captivity, of the ever-present danger and sombre reality in which we currently live. I left Israel amazed at the resilience and courage of our people. It is our drive to not only survive, but to thrive, that stays with me. And that is what we at CFHU will continue to work towards; a thriving and world class university where truly respectful coexistence and collaboration between communities, and academic excellence are our hope for the future.

Wishing You Shabbat Shalom,

Michael Kraft
Chair, CFHU National Board

P.S. Ofakim is also home to The Israel Asper Community Action Centre, serving thousands of youth in the area.  While we did not have the opportunity to visit in person, I encourage you to watch the video below to learn more about the Centre, and the meaningful partnership that The Asper Foundation has built with Ofakim over the past two decades, providing an entire generation a safe space where they can realize their potential and allow themselves to dream of a life with possibilities.