Davenport honoured by Jewish National Fund

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By Paul Mayne
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Lauded for promoting tolerance and diversity on the campus of The University of Western Ontario, President Paul Davenport was the 2008 honoree at the Jewish National Fund's London Negev Dinner.
 
Western President Paul Davenport was the 2008 honoree Sunday at the Jewish National Fund's London Negev Dinner.
 
 
Davenport was presented with his award at a gala event that drew hundreds of guests to the Best Western Lamplighter Inn Sunday evening. Proceeds from the dinner will be used for environmental purposes, in particular to help restore a spring in Israel.

In accepting the award, Davenport said, while the Negev Award is a personal one, he believes a large part of what was being celebrated at the event was the spirit of tolerance and respect for diversity which characterizes the university campus.

"Those values preceded my arrival at Western in 1994 and I have done my best to steward them," says Davenport.

"All at Western - our faculty, staff, and students - can take pride in those values, and the fact that we can have controversial speakers on campus, involving debates on emotional and divisive issues, in a spirit of peaceful exchange, and respectful acceptance of different beliefs and points of view."

In his prepared text, Davenport noted his acceptance of the award generated debate on campus but "those who disagree with me have done so in a peaceful, measured manner, and have shown through their actions the very values which characterize our university."

Outside, there was a silent protest by close to 100 individuals prior to the event. Most of the debate has been concerning the policies of the JNF which holds large tracts of land in Israel.

Inside the gala, Davenport was warmly received.

"Dr. Paul Davenport is an extraordinary leader," said Sharon Markovitz-Hart, President of the Canadian Jewish National Fund. "He has the ability to identify needs, put together a plan and implement a solution to benefit all at the university, the community and Canada."

Sheldon Aaron, co-chair of the London Negev Dinner, said Davenport is "down to earth" and an individual who cares for others.

"Paul Davenport is someone who lives his values," said Aaron. "He cares about his students, ultimately putting them at ease. He has created an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding at Western that other universities can only envy."
 
Davenport expressed his longstanding support and admiration of the Jewish people and Israel.

"We are all of us in this room committed to an Israel that is secure and lives in harmony with its neighbours, in an environment of peace and justice for all in the region," says Davenport. "My own view is that those conditions require the establishment of a Palestinian state and that without such a state our hopes for peace and justice in the region will prove elusive. Equally, however, our goal of peace requires that Israel’s neighbors accept her right to exist as an independent democracy, and alas that condition is simply not met at this time."

The following is the complete text of Davenport's acceptance speech:

Many months after first being approached about this award, I continue to feel humbled by the great honour granted me tonight. On behalf of my family, and from the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank the Jewish National Fund, its outstanding leaders in Canada and Ontario, and all those who have had a hand in my nomination.  

I pledge to do my best to live up to the high standards of the Negev Award in the years ahead, and my family and I will certainly never forget the wonderful evening we are experiencing tonight.
 
Let me also thank all of you from London and other cities who have come to show your support for the values of the Negev Dinner: for tolerance, diversity, and respect.  And I thank you especially for contributing to the rehabilitation of the En Ro’im Spring in the Galilee, the project which the dinner tonight supports, and which will help all who live in that area.

I am very pleased that a good number of family members are with me tonight.  Here at the head table is Josette, my wife of 39 years, who throughout that time has been an ardent student of Jewish history, a strong supporter of Israel, and a sincere friend of Jewish people.  It is especially fitting that she should share this honor with me tonight.  Also present are our son Eric and his wife Karen; our daughter, Audrey, who has a strong admiration for Israel and has begun the study of Hebrew; my sisters, Kathy Hoover and Liz Harwood; and Liz’s children, Josh and Karen.

I am being honoured tonight for my commitment to tolerance and respect for diversity.  Those were values I grew up with in our home in Summit, New Jersey. My parents, Ted and Charlotte Davenport, believed strongly in equality among people, respect for others, and opposing discrimination wherever it appeared. They taught me those values, in particular, thought their opposition to discrimination against black people and Jews, discrimination which alas was all too common in America during my boyhood. My mother had a special interest in Jews and Israel, read widely in Jewish history, and was a strong supporter of the founding of Israel, which occurred when she was in her mid-thirties.

We attended the Unitarian Church and our minister, Jacob Trapp, was well known for his support of the civil rights movement. He preached his views eloquently in church.   Even as a small boy relegated to Sunday school, I remember listening in fascination as my Dad and my sister Kathy would discuss Dr. Trapp’s sermon at Sunday dinner.

From my earliest years I was also blessed with two very close Jewish friends, Mike Bloomstein and Bob Kamm. Through them and their parents, I learned the commitment of Judaism to the life of the mind, to culture and the arts, and the important role that their religion played in their family life.

Our Unitarian church had a close relationship with Mike’s synagogue, which was just down the street, and we would from time to time attend services at the other house of worship. Mike, Bob, and I still get together every few years; I am hosting them next fall in London. They were both thrilled to hear of the Negev honour.

While the Negev Award is a personal one, I believe that a large part of what we celebrate tonight is the spirit of tolerance and respect for diversity which characterizes  The University of Western Ontario. Those values preceded my arrival at Western in 1994 and I have done my best to steward them.  All at Western - our faculty, staff, and students - can take pride in those values, and the fact that we can have controversial speakers on campus, involving debates on emotional and divisive issues, in a spirit of peaceful exchange, and respectful acceptance of different beliefs and points of view.

I want to pay particular homage to those student leaders who have helped build that environment by their service in such organizations as the University Students’ Council, the Society of Graduate Students, Hillel, and the Muslim Students Association. Without their leadership in building a campus of respect and tolerance, I believe I would not be here tonight.

An example of our ability to engage in respectful debate at Western has been the disagreement of some on campus with my decision to accept the Negev Award. Those who disagree with me have done so in a peaceful, measured manner, and have shown through their actions the very values which characterize our University.

The Jewish National Fund was established a century ago to buy land for the founding of Israel.  Israel has just celebrated its 60th anniversary as an independent democracy, when both its accomplishments and continued challenges are only too clear. We are all of us in this room committed to an Israel that is secure and lives in harmony with its neighbors, in an environment of peace and justice for all in the region.  

My own view is that those conditions require the establishment of a Palestinian state and that without such a state our hopes for peace and justice in the region will prove elusive.  Equally, however, our goal of peace requires that Israel’s neighbors accept her right to exist as an independent democracy, and alas that condition is simply not met at this time.

My understanding of Israel and my admiration for its people were greatly strengthened by the trip which Josette and I took last fall: our first to Israel. As you entered this evening, you may have seen the photos from that trip on the large screens in this hall.  We were overwhelmed with emotion at Yad Vashem by the graphic accounts of the holocaust and the suffering and courage displayed in the personal testimonials on the video screens.  
 
I was quite proud to see the leadership role played by Canadian donors in the construction of the Yad Vashem, including prominent Canadian business leaders such as Ed Sonshine and Fred Waks of Toronto.

As we traveled through Israel, I was enormously impressed by the academic leaders I met, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and Technion University, whose vision for excellence in higher education and belief in the contribution it would make to the future of their country and to humanity was truly inspiring.

Josette and I were honored to have dinner in Tel Aviv with the JNF World Co-Chair, Efi Stenzler, who described to me the important work that the JNF is doing on environmental projects involving rehabilitating springs, treating waste water, and planting trees.  

The following day we toured the Birya Forest outside of Tsfat which had been burned by rockets during the recent Lebanese War, and saw first hand the impact of the JNF in the form of hillsides with newly planted trees. With a JNF guide, we also toured the Hula Valley nature reserve and admired the dazzling variety and number of birds and other wildlife. We left on the flight from Tel Aviv with a profound admiration for what the people of Israel have achieved under extraordinarily difficult conditions.

In conclusion, let me thank all of you in attendance for supporting the values of the Negev Dinner, and allow me to thank again the JNF for an honour and an evening that my family and I will never forget.

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