Montreal JNF gala supports cutting-edge nanoscience in Israel

From left, Negev Gala co-chair Etty Bienstock, honouree Barbara Seal, honorary chair Denis Coderre, co-chair Emmelle Segal and dinner chair Heleena Wiltzer pose for a photo at the launch of the Negev Gala campaign in Montreal.

The news this spring that Israeli researchers had produced the world’s first 3D-printed functioning artificial human heart could not have come at a better time for organizers of the Montreal Jewish National Fund (JNF) Negev dinner, which will be taking place Sept. 19 at Le Windsor.

The scientists are at Tel Aviv University (TAU), which is the beneficiary of the gala evening, specifically its Abramovich Building for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, which is scheduled to open next year.

This standalone structure will be the home of TAU’s Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, which was established in 2000 as the first of its kind in Israel.

The multidisciplinary centre works in close collaboration with industry and international research institutes. To date, its 90 research teams have published more than 1,700 scientific papers, registered 200 patents and lent their expertise to over 35 industrial affiliates.

JNF of Montreal has undertaken to sponsor the second floor of the modernistic Abramovich Building, which was named for its lead donor, Russian-born businessman Roman Abramovich, who gave US$30 million ($40 million) to the project last year.

Designed by French architect Michel Rémon, the three-storey edifice will have over 75,000 square feet of space, housing research and administrative facilities, as well as a visitors centre that will be open to the public.

Rémon’s arresting design was chosen in an international competition that received close to 130 submissions.

The new hub will bring together some 120 professionals from both academia and industry, representing such disciplines as physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and engineering.

JNF’s contribution will include seven laboratories, including one devoted to personalized nanomedicine, and seven offices on the second floor.


Barbara Seal, a longtime community volunteer and public official, is the honouree of the gala, which is being billed as JNF of Montreal’s 65th Sapphire Jubilee celebration. Seal is the first woman in 22 years to be honoured at the Negev, and a group of veteran female community activists are playing key roles in its organization.

The evening will include special musical performances by artists appearing on the Segal Centre stage. The gala co-chairs are Etty Bienstock and Emelle Segal, Heleena Wiltzer is dinner chair and Monette Malewski is honorary chair, along with former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre.

A former Hampstead, Que., town councillor for 22 years, Seal is the immediate past national president of the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University, a partner in the event.

JNF, which was founded at the turn of the last century, is not only about planting trees and land reclamation, as it it used to be, said David Smajovits, JNF Montreal’s marketing and communications manager.

“JNF today responds to the needs of Israelis on the ground,” he said. “It looks at what society needs. Its mission is to continue to build Israel’s social infrastructure, in collaboration with other institutions.”

This includes both support for scientific and technological innovation, as well as helping the poor, immigrants, children with special needs, at-risk youth and victims of domestic abuse. Another current Canadian-funded JNF project in Sderot is benefitting children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of the intense Hamas missile bombardment of that town, Smajovits noted.

An Order of Canada and Queen’s Jubilee Medal recipient, among many other citations, Seal was vice-president of Canada Day celebrations in Quebec and has been active in promoting intercultural rapprochement.

In 1997, she was appointed as a Canadian citizenship judge, a position she served with enthusiasm for more than a decade. She still enjoys conducting citizenship ceremonies and speaking in schools and elsewhere about her pride in Canada.

She received an honorary doctorate from TAU and its President’s Medal for her devotion to the university, of which she is a governor.

While a Hampstead councillor, she initiated the twinning of the town with the northern Israeli municipality of Kiryat Shmona.

Seal is a past member of the board of directors of Place des Arts, the Arts Council of the Montreal Urban Community and Théâtre Espace Go, among others.

She presently sits on the boards of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, as well as the advisory board at the McGill School of Continuing Studies.

Seal said she agreed to the tribute because she believes the TAU nano centre will benefit all people. “This project is about more than giving back to Israel. Together, we are working for the benefit of all humanity,” she said.

TAU Prof. Tal Dvir is leading research into engineering biomaterials designed to regenerate diseased organs and other body parts.

That tiny artificial heart shown to the world in April was engineered from human cells taken from a single donor’s fat tissue. They were transformed into stem cells that could be differentiated into blood vessels and muscle.

The development of the heart demonstrates the potential of one day “printing” life-sized organs from a patient’s own cells that could be transplanted when a donor heart is unavailable, as is often the case.