Presidential Speech by Avi Wurman
December 28, 2013
Erev Tov, Bonsoir, guten Abend.
Before I begin, I would like to thank John Wolfe and his committee of Lee Weisbard for organizing a wonderful evening. Thanks also to convention marshal Sharon Pelmutter and the convention committee of Heidi Weber, Virginie Forestier, Convention Representative Alan Moltz, International Secretary Gary Scharoff, and International Treasurer David Schneider.
I am humbled by this exceptional privilege of being installed as the 2014 International President of Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity. It is truly an honor to stand here before a most distinguished assembly of Deans and past Deans, Achievement Award Recipients, Meritorious Service Award recipients and past International Presidents.
As you know, I live in Toronto, home of the Maple Leafs and other losers, yet Torontonians somehow believe that they live at the centre of the universe and that the whole world revolves around our great city. Just ask our friends from Vancouver and Montreal. And ever since our distinguished mayor, Rob Ford, became the main topic of late night TV monologues, our illusions of grandeur have been reinforced. Who knew that all that is required for a city to make it onto the front pages is a mayor who smokes crack cocaine and then boasts about how much he can eat at home. We are so proud.
But in all seriousness, I would like to thank our friends and members of Toronto Alumni Chapter and PI Chapter, and our fraters and friends from London Ontario for their support and friendship, and for sponsoring the lovely pre-dinner reception in our honour. Sharon and I are truly touched.
Dear fraters, I would like to retell a story that my daughter Ilana told about 4 years ago on her return from the March of the Living. Ilana and other March of the Living participants were asked by our synagogue to reflect on their experience. So here is the abridged version.
It’s a story about a Jewish girl from a small village in Poland. She had a mother, father, twin brothers, two sisters, and she was the youngest. Her father owned a paint wholesale business. Her family was not wealthy, but her parents worked hard, there was ample food on the table, and clothes to wear. She went to school, studied Polish, and at home spoke Yiddish. All in all, her life was good.
The war broke out, and her life and the life of all the Jews in the village became very difficult. There was a sudden increase in Anti-Semitism amongst the local Polish residents and her family business was shut down. Her family moved into a cramped ghetto and life became unbearable. The Gestapo began assembling Jews in the Market Square and transporting them out of the village in trains. In 1942, the girl just 11 years of age, blonde, fair skinned was left by her mother with a Polish family. Her mother said “be a good girl, be brave, and never tell anyone you are a Jew.” The mother left without saying a proper good-bye. For many months the girl lived amongst Polish Christians, went to church, obeyed the rules of the house and silently longed for her family. One day a Polish boy at school exposed her Jewish identity and she was arrested by the Gestapo. She was transported to Czestocochvia and forced to work in a munitions factory.
She was only 12 years old, alone, working as a forced labourer from sunrise to sunset day after day. In early 1945, the Germans liquidated the munitions factory and the Jewish workers were placed on trains. The girl was one of the last to leave Czestocochvia and placed on the last train. She could hardly breathe, packed like a sardine in smouldering heat – but the train failed to move for days. People were collapsing, dropping to the ground from exhaustion. When finally the doors of the train were pushed open, no Germans were to be found. The girl got off the train and stepped onto the fields in disbelief. The Soviet Army was approaching and it was the Soviets that liberated her.
The girl walked for days and somehow managed to get back to her village, but the village was completely void of Jews. She learnt that her entire family perished and that she was the sole survivor. She had no family, no home, no country to call her own – she was a displaced person – she was 14 years old.
Somehow she made her way from Poland to Germany to a DP camp where life became happier – she learned about Zionism and met a boy – who would be her future husband. The Jewish Agency chose her and several other orphaned children to travel by boat to America to live in Jewish foster homes and she was set up with a new family in Philadelphia. She still corresponded with the boy she met in Germany and eventually, in 1949, the girl boarded a boat, this time travelling to Israel with her American family, and married the boy from the DP camp. She was 18 years old.”
My friends, as you may have guessed, the girl in the story is not just any girl, it is Ilana’s Savta, my mother Gloria Wurman, who is here with us tonight for this very special occasion. – And I am so thankful that she is.
I didn’t re-tell my mother’s story just as a way to introduce my mother to you, I also wanted to uncover, or reveal the emotions, the anger, the sadness and the sense of unfairness that you felt as you listened to the story. Because if you felt anything, you also know why it is that you are an Alpha Omegan. You understand bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. And even if you haven’t experienced any of that yourself, then surely your parents or your grandparents have. And it’s not just anti-Semitism, it’s intolerance to any faith or skin-colour.
Yes, we would like to believe that humanity has risen above this ugliness, but unfortunately there is ample evidence to suggest that anti-Semitism in one form or another is prevalent in many areas of the world. There are still Israel Apartheid weeks in North American universities, boycott divestment and sanction movements against Israeli companies and academia. Scientific journals dedicated to producing full issues filled with anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda. Ask our friends in Europe who face immense anti-Semitic challenges from both right-wing extremist and Muslim radicals, the so-called new anti-Semitism.
A nos amis Européens ici presents: Alpha Omega reconnait les obstacles que vous avez a surmonter, et vous supporte entierement dans vos efforts pour assurer votre liberté.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on, but we also know that we have overcome these challenges in the past and we now have a state, a Jewish homeland, a country that will champion the right of freedom and will defend all of us. The Canadian Prime Minister recently described the state of Israel as “a light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness”.
Eretz eretz eretz, eretz tchol en av, vehashmesh la kidvash vechalav. Eretz ba noldnu, eretz ba nichye, venesheve ba yihe ma shyhie.
A land - light blue sky without a cloud
And the sun is like milk and honey.
We need to support a strong State of Israel, with a thriving economy and educational institutions like the Hebrew University – Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, founded by Alpha Omega Fraternity, and the Tel Aviv University School of Dental Medicine founded by Alpha Omega Fraternity. We will continue to support our dental schools as well as other Israeli social and health agencies, and we will work with and encourage all our Foundations and Charitable Trusts to continue their efforts to strengthen these wonderful institutions.
Alpha Omega is “an international Jewish dental organization striving to enrich the lives of its members.”
We welcome and embrace dentists and dental students of all faiths.
Our mission is to enhance the lives of dental professionals through fraternalism, global oral health, and Judaic values. We are philanthropic through our foundations and trusts, and we also have the ability to give back to others and help communities in need. Our members volunteer and provide required dental services locally and internationally. We do it to make the world a better place –Tikun Olam. These are the values we grew up with.
When my family arrived in Toronto in 1967 as immigrants, my mother found the time to volunteer and raise money for an Israeli organization dedicated to promote the quality of life of intellectually disabled children. And several years later she held the position of president of Canadian Friends of Akim. Sharon’s mother volunteered for the National Council of Jewish Women, an organization that supports and advocates for the rights of women, children and families. Those are the Jewish Values that can be found in the preamble to the Alpha Omega oath. Tzdaka and Gmilut Chasadim, acts of kindness. Who could ever have a problem with these values?
But Alpha Omega is much, much more.
Our fraternity provides opportunities for mentoring, networking, continuing education, personal growth and leadership training – like the very successful emerging leaders program that we held last spring and in the fall.
And yes, Alpha Omega provides its members and their families the opportunity to attend a wonderful event we call convention. Here we meet new friends and re-acquaint with our extended family and it is where we feel the warmth and affection for one another. The 1998 convention in Jerusalem gave Sharon and I the opportunity to not only bring our children to Israel for the first time, but also to bring my mother-in-law, Sharon’s mother, who at 78 years of age was able to fulfil her dream of stepping onto Eretz Israel. Eva Sussman passed away this past year and both Sharon and I are grateful that we were able to bring her to Israel and join us at the AO convention.
Last year, many of you heard the story of my first Alpha Omega Convention in 1983, in Palm Springs – I’m not going to retell the story- my mother is here- but just want to share with you another small detail.
Sharon and I were PI Chapter student delegates and were told by members of the Toronto Alumni Chapter that we could not share a room, and we were eventually moved into the Toronto Hospitality suite, with Alan Winnick as a chaperone. Well, one of the Toronto fraters that told me that we had to change our original rooming arrangement had a clever smirk on his face as if to say ‘way to go –I like what you’re trying to do here’. That person was Terry Shapero, who as you know, we lost just a few weeks ago.
Terry was the embodiment of an Alpha Omegan. A profoundly good person, kind and generous; a person with high moral values and a sense of justice, and also a lot of fun to be around. Terry was the one that coined the phrase: “Alpha Omega is tattooed on my heart”. He attended numerous conventions with his family, and I must tell you that I would probably not be standing here tonight, had Terry not asked me to succeed him as the Canadian Regional Director on the Alpha Omega International Board. He was unselfish, and steadfastly believed that others should also be given the opportunities to grow into leadership positions within the fraternity.
We will all miss him.
I am looking forward to working with our talented board of directors, and I congratulate our newly installed officers, President Elect Adam Stabholz, International editor, Steve Spitz, Young alumni director David Dano, US director Bernard Kahn, and International director Philippe Levy. I congratulate our very deserving award winners Dr. Arnold Weisgold, and Marc Rothman. And of course our Executive Director, Heidi Weber, who as much as any member in this room, knows and feels the value of our fraternity. Thanks to my partner and board member Barry Reinblatt for letting me hog the phone and desktop in the private office. We are all grateful and proud of our outgoing President Marcy Schwartzman, and I know that I can count on Marcy for advice and guidance and more than anything for her friendship.
I would like to thank my non-AO family, my sisters and brothers-in-law, Hanna and Joe, Sara and Yoram, my very, very good friends from way, way back, Paul and Janice Feldman, all for making a special effort to be here tonight. I know, my sister-in-law, Mira and her family would have loved to be here and we miss them. G-d willing they will be able join us next year in Tel Aviv.
Finally, I want to thank my children, Cory and Ilana, for their continued encouragement and advice.
And, to my beautiful and supportive wife of almost 28 years – who is a magician and a ventriloquist – we are about 10 feet apart right now – and she is kicking me under the table and telling me to hurry up and stop talking. Sharon, thank you for everything that you have taught me, and for your love. I wouldn’t dream of taking this on without you by my side.
I thank the fraternity for giving me this opportunity to serve – it is a great honor and privilege.
Merci beacoup , todah rabah.
2014 AO International President