Weizmann Canada gala raises more than $5 million

Weizmann Canada’s “leading men” honoured at its recent gala are, from left, Jordan Banks, David Cynamon, Rob McEwen, Calin Rovinescu, Tom Beck, Sam Belzberg, Daniel C. Andreae, William Shatner, Ralph Medjuck, Jeremy Freedman GIL TAMIN PHOTOGRAPHY

TORONTO — A gala celebration of Weizmann Canada’s 50th anniversary Nov. 16 raised $5.7 million for the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Some 500 people joined in celebration of 10 Canadian “leading men,” individuals linked by their commitment to philanthropic endeavours and an understanding of the importance of scientific research and the impact it can have on the world.

Held at the Carlu Ballroom, the event highlighted as the honorary leading man Montreal-born, award-winning actor, director, producer, writer, recording artist and philanthropist William Shatner.

 “When I was introduced to the world as Captain James T. Kirk, we had not yet landed on the moon,” Shatner said. “Think about what we have accomplished in our lifetime in science and research. It is because of men such as Prof. Oded Aharonson, a world leader in space research, and Prof. Daniel Zajfman, president of the Weizmann Institute of Science, that we understand the universe in ways we never imagined possible. It is the men and women of the Weizmann Institute, who, every day, attempt to boldly go where no man has gone before.  They are the thinkers, the dreamers – they are the true leading men and women in science,” 

The leading men honoured at the gala were Daniel C. Andrea, academic and philanthropist; Tom Beck, founder of Noma Industries; Jordan Banks, global head of Vertical Strategy and managing director of Facebook Canada; Sam Belzberg, chair and CEO of Gibralt Capital Corporation; David Cynamon, co-founder and executive chair at K2 Pure Solutions; Jeremy Freedman, president and CEO of Gluskin Sheff & Associates; Rob McEwen, chair and chief owner of McEwen Mining and Lexam VG Gold; Halifax developer Ralph Medjuck, chair and CEO of Centennial Group Ltd; and Calin Rovinescu, president and CEO of Air Canada.

The honorees choose projects that resonate with them personally and will bear their names, and they will fund research in neuroscience, complex systems, Alzheimer’s disease, memory, personalized medicine, diabetes, olfaction, cardiac disease and neurological studies.

Medjuck is supporting research into cardiac diseases at Weizmann that bridges the fields of developmental biology and the emerging field of regenerative medicine. The current focus is on new ways to regenerate the heart after birth, which could lead to treatments for muscle disease in unborn fetuses and adult patients.

Banks said he was familiar with Alzheimer’s, having lost five of his grandparents to the degenerative brain condition.

Rovinescu said he has “a personal interest in the way thoughts are formed, the way brain waves are transmitted and the way researchers can identify disease markers. The study of the brain has been called one of the most challenging scientific explorations of the 21st century.”

Freedman will be funding work on diabetes, which, he said, “is fast becoming a 21st-century epidemic. I have been an insulin-dependent diabetic for the majority of my life and am one of the lucky ones because I can manage it quite successfully, but there are 400 million people worldwide with diabetes, many of whom are children.”

In Shatner’s honour, Weizmann Canada has created the William Shatner Master’s Scholarship in Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science for 2014-15. 

The first scholarship recipient is Lior Rubanesko, whose work uses an inherent curiosity about physics. He seeks to correlate the topographic properties of the surfaces of airless planetary bodies with their mean temperature. This, in turn, will advance our understanding of ice (and other volatiles) in the solar system – on the moon, on Mercury and on asteroids.