A capacity crowd of more than 450 was on hand, October 15, at the Fairmont Château Laurier when brothers Barry and Allan Baker were honoured by JNF Ottawa at the 2015 Negev Dinner.
When JNF asked the Baker brothers to be the honourees at the 2015 Negev Dinner, the brothers – described by Rabbi Reuven Bulka, the dinner MC, as “the fabulous Baker brothers” – and longtime Jewish community activists asked that vital autism research being conducted in Tel Aviv by ALUT, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children, be the beneficiary of the dinner’s substantial fundraising efforts.
Autism research is a cause near and dear to the Baker brothers’ hearts. Barry has a grandchild on the autism disorder spectrum while Allan’s daughter, Lauren Baker, is an autism consultant with the Toronto District School Board. The dinner will fund an ALUT study whose “goal is to help parents gain insight into their own influence on ensuring the best possible quality of life for a child who has autism.”
In accepting the honour, both brothers, who have been active leaders of Congregation Beth Shalom for many years, as well as many other Jewish organizations, paid tribute to the examples of Jewish communal service they learned from their parents while growing up in Ottawa, and which they, in turn, have passed on to their own children.
After a welcome from JNF Ottawa President Alan Blostein and Executive Director Lynda Taller-Wakter, those who joined in paying tribute to the Baker brothers included Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, Rabbi Bulka, JNF Canada President Jerry Werger, and John and Sunny Tavel, the dinner co-chairs. The Bakers were introduced by Alex Baker, Barry’s son, and Lauren.
The Negev Dinner keynote speaker was Dennis Prager, a popular conservative radio talk show host whose program is syndicated throughout the United States.
The event was held just four days before the federal election, and Prager began his speech with an enthusiastic tribute to then-prime minister Stephen Harper, describing him as one of the greatest political leaders in the world for the way he stood up for the State of Israel on the world stage during his tenure. Prager said he has often praised Harper on his radio program for his positions on Israel.
Prager, who joked with the crowd about experiences inviting non-Jews to his Shabbat dinners – something he encouraged others to do to foster inter-faith dialogue – spent much of his talk discussing the current state of the Middle East, describing Israel as the one bastion of freedom and democracy in the embattled region.
Prager said his support for Israel was not conditional on any particular prime minister, that he has not wavered in his support whether a left wing or right wing government was in place, and that it was up to Israelis, not Diaspora Jewry, to choose the Jewish state’s government.
Prager was introduced by Barbara Farber and thanked by Barbara Crook.