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Friends of Israel at "Honour Israel" night

By BERNIE BELLAN
Over 200 people were in attendance at an evening billed as “Honour Israel Night” on Tuesday, September 25, at the Victoria Inn. The event was sponsored by a Christian Zionist group known as “Friends of Israel”.


One of the primary organizers for the evening was Winnipegger John Plantz who, many readers may remember, used to be the librarian at the former Jewish Public Library on Main Street. Although a practicing Christian, Plantz also considers himself Jewish, something he explained to an audience in March 2017 during a Jewish Heritage Centre event that focused on former Jewish farm settlements in Manitoba.
During the portion of the evening that was devoted to the history of the Jewish farm settlement in Camper, Manitoba (where Plantz grew up), he explained to the audience “that he had no idea he was Jewish until he was 30 years old. It was only inadvertently that he discovered that fact, he said, when his mother happened to mention it to him.
“When he asked his father why he had never told him that he was Jewish, Plantz said that his father came up with the rather lame retort: ‘Why didn’t you ask?’”

For years now Plantz has devoted himself to advocating on behalf of Israel, often leading tours there himself. Yet, when Plantz began to spread the word about the event that was planned for September 25th, I have to admit that I was somewhat confused what the purpose of the evening was to be – as were other people with whom I spoke, who asked me if I knew much about this group, “Friends of Israel”. (Also, more than one person with whom I spoke wondered whether this group was the same as “Winnipeg Friends of Israel”. I had to admit I didn’t know much about Friends of Israel, but the poster advertising the event said there would be music, speakers, and kosher refreshments.

But, ten days before the event was to take place I received a phone call from John Plantz asking me whether I might be able to let people know that 100 tickets for the Honour Israel Night were now available free of charge. I told Plantz that, given the short notice – and the fact our Sept. 19 issue had already gone to print, I would post something to our Facebook page (which has over 1,000 likes).
As it turned out though, the audience at the event was predominantly Christian. Plantz told me he received quite a few phone calls as a result of what I posted on Facebook but, just as I was unsure what this was all about, so were many of the individuals who did contact him to inquire about tickets.
That’s really a shame because, as it turned out, Friends of Israel did put on a wonderful evening devoted to providing  support for the State of Israel. (Read my Short take column on page 4 to read my impressions of going from one event where Israel came in for strong criticism – the symposium on Israel, Palestine and International Law, to an event that can be fairly described as a love-in for Israel.)

Musical entertainment was provided by the always wonderful Ron Paley and his band, along with singer Sarah Sommer. Among the speakers were Rob Berkowits of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, Ariel Karabelnicoff of the Jewish National Fund, and Daniel Amzallag of Canadian Magen David Adom.
Several speakers from Friends of Israel spoke about their organization’s long history of support for Israel and the Jewish people. Founded in 1938 in Philadelphia, Friends of Israel began as an organization known as Friends of Israel Refugee Relief Committee, which was devoted to providing assistance to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe in the 1930s. Later, following the end of World War II, the organization changed its focus to providing relief for survivors of the Holocaust and changed its name to Friends of Israel Missionary and Relief Society.
In 1974 the organization changed its name again – this time to Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Also in the same year Friends of Israel began taking tour groups to Israel; currently FOI runs four tours a year to Israel.
Toward the end of the evening John Plantz announced that Friends of Israel was donating $4500 to Canadian Magen David Adom.

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