Negev Dinner honours Elizabeth, Tony Comper

TORONTO — Elizabeth and Tony Comper, honorees at the 2009 Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) annual Negev Dinner in Toronto, are role models individually and as a couple.

From left:  Tony & Elizabeth Comper and JNF executive director Josh Cooper pictured with students of the Nave school in Dimona, Israel.

The 61st Annual Negev Dinner will take place Nov. 29 at The Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

The Compers have made significant contributions to all segments of the community, especially in their commitment to eliminating discrimination.

In 2005, they founded FAST (Fighting Anti-Semitism Together), a coalition of non-Jewish business leaders who work to make the world a better, safer place for children.

After 38 years of marriage, they are  clearly supportive of each another, as was evident in a recent interview.

They chose to have funds raised by the Negev Dinner campaign go to establish the Tony and Elizabeth Comper MAOF Environmental Experience. MAOF (the Hebrew word for flight and vision) is geared toward young immigrants and youth in underprivileged and peripheral areas of Israel. The educational program will teach about ecology and Zionism.

In an interview with the Compers in Tony’s office in downtown Toronto, Elizabeth Comper said she had never met a Jewish person when she was growing up in Etobicoke.

“When we got married, we moved to Montreal and I worked in a Jewish day school,” she said. They faced anti-Semitism there, she added, noting the burning of a Jewish school and other forms of discrimination and bigotry. “We had to take action. We had to get involved when we saw how frightened the young people were. I couldn’t let it go.”

She was involved in her first major fundraising 22 years ago after she and her husband returned to Toronto, she said. She was approached by Robert Wong, who is active in the Chinese community. He asked her to help them build a home for seniors, “using Baycrest Centre as a model.” The Compers still remain active with the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care.

“I had never done corporate fundraising,” Elizabeth Comper said, “but I thought of the generations of Chinese mothers who work two and three jobs. I needed a human connection.”

Tony Comper joined BMO (Bank of Montreal) in 1967 and worked in virtually all of the bank’s major operating areas. He was appointed CEO of the BMO Financial Group in 1999 and served as chair until May 2004, when the bank moved to a non-executive model. Recently retired, he retains an office at BMO.

He is the director of numerous corporations and organizations including Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, is past chair of the University of Toronto’s governing council, former vice-chair of St. Michael’s Hospital, and on the board of governors of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.

The Compers have received numerous awards. The couple were honoured by Haifa University and received the Scopus Award from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

As a result of the initiatives of FAST, which was developed in partnership with the Canadian Jewish Congress charities committee for students in grades 6, 7 and 8, Elizabeth Comper noted that 500,000 students in public and private schools have been involved in the program and there are plans to expand the program.

“I feel especially fortunate to have Tony and Elizabeth Comper for our honorees at this year’s Negev Dinner,” JNF Toronto presicent Jerry Werger said. “Listening to Elizabeth Comper speak about their chosen project in Israel – MAOF – and to hear her personal feelings for the State of Israel, is in itself an inspiration to all of us.”

Dinner co-chairs are Leslie Dan and Lawrence Tanenbaum. The master of ceremonies is actor Albert Schultz.

For more information, call Josh Cooper or Lil Jacobson, 416 638 7200, or e-mail [email protected].