Am Israel has lost a great champion.
Arnie Vered, z”l, lived and breathed Jewish ethics and values, from the acts of loving kindness that defined his personal encounters to the great accomplishments of philanthropy and leadership that inspired countless others to help him repair the world.
And he did it all with remarkable modesty, which doesn’t always go hand in hand with great achievement.
At Arnie’s funeral, Rabbi Reuven Bulka asked the mourners to share their favourite memories of Arnie with the family. Here are some of mine.
Arnie led the 2003 Ottawa community mission that was my first trip to Israel and the start of my love affair with the country and her people.
But it was on the August 2006 solidarity mission to Israel after the Second Lebanon War that I got to spend the most time with him. There were only six of us on that trip and we were the first Canadian group to visit the North after the rocket attacks that had killed 165 Israelis, driven the population into shelters for a month and razed the beautiful landscape.
Our goal was not just to bear witness to the aftermath of the war, but to provide hands-on assistance to our Partnership 2000 (now Partnership 2Gether) communities in the Upper Galilee.
Arnie really got the hands-on part. He cheerfully washed windows with Jack Silverstein and Sam Firestone at the Hanadiv School in Metula (I was on painting detail with Michael Walsh and our guide Karl Walter).
After Steven Kimmel joined us, we collapsed in giggles as we picked giant – OK, phallic – radishes near Rehovot for Table to Table, an Israeli organization that gathers excess food from farmers’ fields, restaurants, hotels and banquet halls for Israel’s neediest families.
There was no job too big or too small for Arnie, and no attitude.
I don’t think cynicism was in Arnie’s nature or vocabulary, either.
Arnie recruited me to join the TELUS Ottawa Community Board, we served together on the Royal Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s campaign cabinet to raise money for depression research and state-of-the-art brain imaging equipment, and were both involved with the Queensway-Carleton Hospital and the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.
I got involved with United Way Ottawa in Arnie’s honour, after his illness sidelined his dream to chair the 2013-2014 community campaign.
Arnie was always the most prepared person at the table, and usually the most passionate. A $2,000 grant from the TELUS community board to a worthy grassroots organization delighted him as much as a philanthropist’s million-dollar gift to a foundation. If he championed a cause or an organization, others followed.
Cancer didn’t slow him down. If anything, his race against the ravages of the disease was a catalyst for more action.
His Chronicles of Arnia, the blog and emails about his cancer journey, inspired us to live better lives and remember to say, “I love you,” “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” to those closest to us.
On the eve of the Ultimate Run for Men’s Cancers in June 2013, Arnie was so ill from chemo that he ended up in intensive care. But he raised more than $30,000 in memory of Greg Hébert, another great cancer champion.
He already had the room in tears with his heartfelt video to launch the Queensway-Carleton’s new fundraising campaign in February. But we were in puddles when he, his wife Liz and some of their six kids braved a snowstorm – not to mention the threats to Arnie’s fragile immune system – so that Arnie could be there in person.
The last time I saw Arnie was after the June tribute to Rabbi Bulka at the Fairmont Château Laurier, which he organized with his remarkable daughter Jordana.
There he was – equal parts exhaustion and elation – surrounded by family and well-wishers. He wore a purple tie and matching gloves – the colours of the fight against pancreatic cancer – and the room could barely contain his smile.
He had passed on the torch.
Greatness and humility. Delight and determination. Generosity and selflessness.
That was “the Full Arnie.”