Terri & Steven Cherniack

By BERNIE BELLAN
The 67th annual Negev Gala this year honoured Steven Schipper, outgoing artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.
Schipper, who is a longtime supporter of the State of Israel, chose as the project for which he wished funds from this year’s gala to support a new physiotherapy and hydrotherapy wing at the soon-to-be-built Beit Halochem in Ashdod, Israel.

 

 

 


Beit Halochem centres throughout Israel offer “an array of exceptional services including” treatments of all sorts for wounded soldiers, as well as “family-oriented programming, creative and cultural activities.”
In acknowledging the great work Beit Halochem does, not only in treating wounded Israeli soldiers – both physically and psychologically, also Israeli civilians who are victims of terror, Schipper wrote in the Gala program: “I’ve been aware of Beit Halochem for a long time because of the miraculous work they do in helping Israeli victims of war and terror resume productive lives. How can anyone ever repay our brave Israeli citizens for making ultimate sacrifices in service of Israel’s security? We can’t. The least we can do, and Beit Halochem does exactly this, expertly, is repair the souls of shattered lives, of soldiers and innocent civilians whose bodies have been torn apart.”


The almost 1000 attendees at this year’s Gala were paying tribute to a man who, in his 30 years as artistic director of what became the Royal MTC during his tenure, not only succeeded in attaining new heights of artistic excellence, he set the theatre on a sound financial footing by helping to create an endowment of over $18 million, which will ensure the theatre’s financial well-being for years to come.
Following a reception held on the very crowded mezzanine floor of the Centennial Concert Hall, audience members took their seats for what turned out to be a very quickly-paced evening of speeches and entertainment, capped by the surprisingly clever humour of a comedian by the name of Elon Gold (who is American, not Israeli, despite what many audience members no doubt thought before he began his act.)


Outgoing JNF Regional President Jessica Cogan and incoming President Nola Lazar acted as co-MC’s – and did a very good job of moving things along – not an easy task when so many dignitaries take to the stage to congratulate the honouree, along with paying recognition to the JNF.
In all honesty, not one of the politicians or dignitaries who spoke rambled on. (Now that’s a surprise!) Sure, some stumbled over the proper pronunciation of the name “Beit Halochem” (no surprise there) but, starting with Lt. Governor Janice Filmon, followed by Manitoba Deputy Premier Heather Stefanson, Mayor Brian Bowman (who spoke completely without notes – what a pro!), Wendy Spatazner (National President, JNF Canada), and ending with Ariel Karabelnicoff (Executive Director, Manitoba-Saskatchewan JNF), each speaker spoke for just a couple of minutes.
Before introducing Steven Schipper, a special presentation was also made to longtime JNF supporter and canvasser Dick Rothberg.


After a short video featuring interviews with individuals who have had close associations with Steven Schipper, Schipper took the floor, accompanied by his wife, Terri Cherniack.
As someone who is so used to touching all the right notes in his own career as an artistic director, Steven Schipper gave a polished and heartfelt speech thanking everyone whose efforts had culminated in this particular evening. He began by referring to his Hebrew name, also the Hebrew names of his parents, Jack and Regina – both of whom are Holocaust survivors, and who were also both in attendance.
There was an especially poignant moment when an Israeli veteran by the name of Chaim Lev Tov, who himself was wounded in combat and subsequently treated at a Beit Halochem centre, took the stage, accompanied by Kinzey Posen and Shayla Fink. It turns out that Lev Tov was discovered to have a beautiful singing voice while he was recuperating at Beit Halochem. The audience was treated to his singing two wonderful songs in Hebrew. It seemed obvious that Lev Tov is not someone used to such a huge spotlight as he looked to Kinzey Posen for guidance how to begin, then how to leave the stage gracefully.


Finally, comedian Elon Gold began what turned out to be quite a good comedy act. (In all honesty, I had never heard of him. I wondered why so much advertising was built around his appearing here. Would anyone have actually bought a ticket to the Gala based on his being the featured performer?)
As it was though, Elon Gold was one of those observational comedians who doesn’t need to refer to today’s headlines to get a good laugh. While he began somewhat awkwardly, (Why did he keep referring to “Minnetoba”? I was wondering) when he finally did say that he was glad to be in “Manitoba”, it made me wonder even more whether he knew the real name of our province and was deliberately mangling it – or did he suddenly realize he had been making a mistake?
Still, his act started to pick up steam when he began good-naturedly poking fun at many Jewish foibles, especially when he took aim at some typical Israeli mannerisms. Employing a bang-on Israeli accent, for instance, he noted that Israelis tend to repeat words – over and over again.
One especially funny routine occurred when Gold mimicked an Israeli speaking to someone, beckoning them to come over” “Bo, bo, bo, bo – come, come, come, come.” (I guess you had to be there to appreciate the flavour.) Still – his act picked up momentum and, by the end, he had the audience won over.