When Stanley Plotnick, looking out on a garbage-strewn expanse dotted with rundown buildings surrounding a dried-up riverbed in Israel’s Negev desert, said he envisioned a lush park, local officials were skeptical.
But the Montreal businessman and philanthropist insisted that the proceeds from the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Negev Dinner in his honour in 2002 be directed toward the development of a park on that very site in Be’er Sheva, the Negev’s largest city.
The Montreal Oasis Barbara and Stanley Plotnick Family Park was dedicated at the end of 2010, the first phase of the Be’er Sheva River Park project.
This is more than a beautification campaign – the city hopes the redevelopment of a long-neglected area will attract residents and revitalize the entire region.
For his vision and generosity over many years, Plotnick was awarded JNF of Canada’s highest citation, the Bernard Bloomfield Medal for Meritorious Service, at the Montreal division’s annual general meeting on Oct. 20.
When he and his wife visited the park named in their honour a couple of years ago, they were astounded by the transformation. “There were beautiful mature trees, an Ethiopian family was having a picnic, kids were playing in the playground, some of them handicapped – that’s because it was built that way – and other people on bicycles or just sitting in the sun,” Plotnick said in his acceptance remarks.
Not only is the park attractive, it’s spurred the hoped-for blossoming of the area.
A bridge was built across the wadi, connecting Be’er Sheva neighbourhoods and a boardwalk; new condominiums have gone up, and a shopping centre has been opened.
“This is one small example of the impact JNF has in Israel,” Plotnick said.
The Be’er Sheva River Park is one of Israel’s largest green space undertakings and a flagship of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (as JNF is called in Israel), involving the municipal and national governments. It will cover close to 750 acres.
Since Plotnick’s seminal donation, others have contributed to the park through JNF in the United States, Germany and Australia, among others.
Plotnick, a management graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a deep attachment to the Negev and especially Be’er Sheva. Through Federation CJA, the city has been twinned for many years with the Montreal Jewish community. Plotnick is a past president of both the Montreal federation and its umbrella organization, UIA Federations Canada. The goal has been to contribute to the development of the region and make it a desirable place to live.
He has been especially supportive of JNF because it has turned parts of Israel that were thought beyond redemption into land thriving with nature and agriculture over its more than 100-year history.
The medal was presented to Plotnick by Harry Bloomfield, son of the late Bernard Bloomfield, a stalwart of JNF and its national president in the 1970s.
Among the many other accolades Plotnick has received over the years, Bloomfield singled out Keren Hayesod’s Yakir Award in 2012. “Yakir means precious, dear or loved, and Stanley has brought his heart and love into everything he does for Israel and Jewish causes,” Bloomfield said.
An early player in information technology, Plotnick is the CEO and majority shareholder of SelectShops Canada, an operator of six retail websites selling directly to consumers in this country and the United States.
New JNF Montreal president Michael Goodman, who succeeds Barbara Maldoff, stated: “I have always looked up to strong community leaders like Stanley Plotnick. He is a shining example of what may be accomplished when business success aligns perfectly with philanthropic generosity.”
JNF Canada CEO Josh Cooper, who came from Toronto, recalled Be’er Sheva Mayor Rubik Danilovic, upon hearing he was from Canada, asking, “You know Plotnick? I said, of course. And he told me how this park, the first built in the Negev, has brought in people from different communities… That the whole region would not be what it is today, that it has spawned other projects and done so much good for the people.”