Family concert supports Israel cancer research

The performing rising stars with alumnus Hallee Burnett: Top row: Dylan Ber, Phoebe Rotman, Lauren Isenberg ; Middle row:Abby Ginsburg, Sarah Ginsburg, Aja Neinstein and Taia Samuel. In front: Halle Burnett

Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) presents its fifth annual concert “Duets” a musical concert for families on Dec. 7 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.

Duets will boast six rising stars ranging in age from 12 to 20: Aja Neinstein, Phoebe Rotman, Abby and Sarah Ginsburg, Dylan Ber, Lauren Isenberg and Taia Samuels.

“These are young people from the Jewish community who take music very seriously, attracting their own fan base with soaring social media and YouTube videos,” said ICRF Toronto president Norman Shiner.

The roster of young talent will be paired with one of the participating professionals from the Canadian music industry: Sean Jones, Ivana Santilli, JRDN, Jully Black, Amy Sky and Ruben Studdard of American Idol.

Each rising star will sing a song, followed by their paired celebrity singer serenading the audience, and then each musical duo will perform a duet.

The evening will also feature a memorial tribute to the late Hillary Firestone, who passed away in February 2009 at age 43 after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer.

Firestone was born into a musical family and was a singing sensation from an early age. She made records at age five with her mother, Esther, a trained opera singer who was the first lay female cantor in Canada at Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Habonim.

“[This] is a perfect event to honour Hillary. It truly encapsulates her love of music and mentoring,” said Robin Shimkovitz, who was Hillary’s roommate at university.


Shimkovitz spoke warmly of her late friend.

“Hillary was a kind and loyal daughter, sister, aunt and friend. She was extremely close to her family and made her friends feel like part of that family. She was known for her sharp wit and sense of humour and also for her beautiful voice. She loved to sing and knew every word to every song.”

Hillary obtained a bachelor of science in biology from the University of Western Ontario and her MBA at York University.

“As a talented marketing professional, Hillary was highly regarded in her field, holding increasingly senior positions at various companies. Throughout her career, Hillary went out of her way to guide and mentor others to achieve their own success,” said Shimkovitz.

Twelve-year-old Halle Burnett, who performed at last year’s concert, will be singing Firestone’s favourite song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Event co-chairs Jeff Bly, Gillian Tessis and Richard Flomen explain why cancer research is vital to them.

“It was bashert that I got involved a few years ago with ICRF,” said Flomen.

Three months after he got involved with the organization, his sister, Mona Sherkin, announced she had cancer.

“I have not one but now two sisters fighting cancer at the same time. Mona has ovarian cancer and my other sister, Joy Flomen Tullock, has multiple myeloma, a blood cancer,” Flomen said.

Flomen says Joy is being kept alive by a drug that was developed by an ICRF-funded scientist.

The ICRF is also personal for Tessis.

“Two years ago I lost my father, Stanley Tessis, to prostate cancer. I know first hand how important it is to fund this kind of research… I know my dad would be incredibly proud to be supporting this type of research,” she said.

“We all know of someone who has been touched by cancer,” added Bly, who has been involved with ICRF for some 16 years.

The ICRF was founded in 1975 by American and Canadian researchers, oncologists, and lay people who were committed to both finding a cure for cancer and supporting the State of Israel. Since its inception, ICRF’s funding has produced nearly 2,300 grants and raised approximately $60 million (US), which goes directly to Israeli cancer researchers in 25 major centres and institutes around Israel.