More than 550 participants were in attendance on Monday evening, October 23, at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount for the Ben Weider Educational Centre 2017 “Feast of the Nations” Gala, honoring retired Citizenship Court Judge and former Hampstead Town Councillor, Barbara Seal, and featuring a post-gala encounter with the star of the Netflix breakout series Fauda, Lior Raz. The reservations were sold out two weeks prior to the Gala event.
The evening, which began with an elegant dinner and lively auction in Shaar Hashomayim’s downstairs social hall, served as the Seminary’s primary fund-raiser for the year, generating vital funds for the Barbara Seal Scholarship Fund which grants tuition subsidies to needy students seeking enrollment in the world-renowned post-high school educational institute.
“The beauty of the Ben Weider Educational Centre is that it ‘educates educators,’ said Barbara Seal in her acceptance speech after being presented with the Seminary’s celebrated ‘Chai Life Award’. “In addition to yielding beautiful fruit that are a testament to the finest in Jewish studies and social enrichment, this seminary produces seeds that yield other fruit, as most of its graduates go on to become teachers, principals, directors, rebbetzins and leaders in communities all over the world – from Monaco to Alaska; the Congo to the Australian Outback.”
Seal’s remarks came on the heels of opening remarks by Gala Committee Chairman, QC attorney-at-law, Nochum Segal, who introduced video greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a long-time friend and acquaintance of the evening’s Honoree. “Barbara, every time time I’ve run into you over these years, you’ve been a voice for young people and a force for inclusion,” said the Prime Minister. He also praised the faculty and supporters of the Ben Weider Educational Centre, saying, “You help your students build confidence to pursue their dreams and change the world.”
The Prime Minister’s remarks served as the perfect lead-in to Rebbetzin Chana Matusof, an alumnus of the Chabad Seminary who, along with her husband, Rabbi Tanchum Matusof, now serves as Co-Director of Chabad educational and outreach activities in the Principality of Monaco. Rebbetzin Matusof’s story of building a new Jewish community from the ground-up gave dramatic voice and illustration to what the Seminary is all about. Although Matusof was born and raised in Montreal, the Seminary’s students come from all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Eastern and Western Europe, Israel and Australia.
While many go on to pursue a diverse range of career opportunities, most of the seminary’s graduates tend to gravitate to positions of leadership in Jewish education.
The Feast of the Nations gala festivities were further punctuated by an address by, Rabbi Abraham Cohen, of the Chaya Mushka Seminary, Chabad Seminary of Canada, who encouraged members of the audience to consider leaving a Jewish legacy by remembering the Ben Weider Educational Centre in their estate planning. “Our lives are not measured in years, but in the lives of people we touch around us,” said Cohen. “By supporting this Centre, you are cultivating the Jewish leaders of tomorrow, and helping build strong and supportive communities across the globe.”
Introducing a lighter note to the evening, Andy Nulman, and professional auctioneer, Eddy Rogo, presided over a spirted and entertaining auction which raised additional funds for the scholarship fund.
For the grand finale of the evening, the 550 dinner guests joined some 250 audience-members in Shaar Hashomayim’s upstairs auditorium where the combined crowd were treated to an uplifting medley of klezmer favorites by the Klez-Kanada group and a memorable encounter with the evening’s star attraction, Lior Raz. Having served as a member of one of the IDF’s most elite units known for its undercover operations in which agents are disguised as Arabs and embedded in societies beyond enemy lines, Raz drew on his real-life experiences to write and star in the critically-acclaimed and widely-watched Fauda series.
“It is now being seen in 192 countries around the world,” Lior Raz told the audience while sharing his fascinating life story and the evolution of Fauda, which means “chaos” in Arabic. In addition to showing scenes from Season One, Raz shared an action-packed trailer for Season Two, which debuts in March. If viewers of the Netflix series have been captivated by the show’s lifelike portrayal of the dangers, risks and sacrifices endured by IDF agents, the audience at Shaar Hoshaomyaim got to experience in an even closer and more personal way.
In the words of the Seminary’s Rabbi Cohen, “The common thread running through all the elements of this evening is Jewish survival, strength and continuity. Or, to sum it up in three words, “‘Am Yisrael Chai!’