They say charity begins at home, but sometimes it begins in the homeland.
Winnipeg dentists who are members of Alpha Omega, a 50-member fraternity made up of Jewish dentists and other dentists and an anonymous benefactor, have rallied together to help build a dental clinic for special-needs children in Israel.
Dentists Allan Finkleman, Jack Lipkin and Gary Hyman are leading the drive to raise funds for the dental clinic for ALEH C.A.R.E.S. (Center for the Advancement, Rehabilitation and Education of Special Needs Children). It is the largest network of care for children living with severe multiple disabilities in Israel.
"I am very positive about this project," Finkleman said.
"Right now, if you take a person with a disability to a clinic, and they can’t even tell they are in pain, and there is no actual dental clinic there, then you have to go elsewhere. That’s why we know they needed a dental clinic."
The clinic is part of a five-storey, $30-million building being constructed at the organization’s new school campus/education complex in B’nai Brak, which is near Tel Aviv.
When built, the dental clinic will feature two treatment rooms, an X-ray room and a recovery room.
More than 250 children and young adults living with special needs at the complex itself will benefit from the clinic, as well as other people living with special needs in the nearby community.
Alpha Omega is the oldest international dental fraternity in the world. The fraternity was founded in 1907, but the first alumni chapter was set up in Philadelphia in 1916.
There are 100 chapters in 10 countries, including the one in Manitoba.
Hyman said the fraternity was looking for a project to support and when the dental clinic was suggested to them by the Jewish National Fund Manitoba and Saskatchewan region, they jumped on board.
"It suited us," he said. "Not only are we interested, but perhaps down the road we could help out.
"It just seemed like a meaningful project that we could help with... we’re not just dentists, we care."
Ariel Karabelnicoff, JNF Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s executive director, said he suggested the dental clinic because he thought it would be a good fit for the local dentists.
"For these guys, dentistry is their passion," Karabelnicoff said.
"They really wanted to help Israel with any project, but they are dentists so we wanted something that would suit them. And for the children and young adults going to this clinic, their lives will change."
To kick-start the fundraising effort, the dentists in the fraternity donated toward it, along with the anonymous donor. They have raised almost 70 per cent of their $500,000 goal. Israel’s health ministry will pay the ongoing costs of equipping the clinic.
Now, the next stage of the fundraising is the annual Negev Gala concert, presented by the Jewish National Fund Manitoba and Saskatchewan region, at the Centennial Concert Hall on May 29.
For more than 60 years the gala has honoured leaders from the local community.
This year’s gala is honouring both the Alpha Omega Dental Fraternity Manitoba chapter and Dr. Gerald Niznick, known as the founder of dental implant procedures. The gala also features entertainment by renowned singer David D’or.
Tickets are being sold for the fundraising event. Funds also will be raised through sponsorships, ranging from $1,000 to $25,000, and donations, ranging from $6,000 to more than $500,000.
Earlier this year Doron Almog, the first Israeli paratrooper to land during the rescue of hijacked passengers in Entebbe in 1976, spoke in Winnipeg about his experience in that action. He also talked about his connection with children and adults living with special needs in Israel and about the planned dental clinic.
Almog helped found another of ALEH’s projects, ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, the Negev-based rehabilitative village of ALEH. The second part of that name is a tribute to Almog’s son, Eran, who was diagnosed with autism and developmental delays and was 23 when he died of Castleman’s disease in 2007.
"We are grateful for you to participate to help the dental clinic," he said. "It is not only a gesture, it is more than that. It is important to do the maximum effort for these people.
Finkleman said he and his wife visited the ALEH facility last October.
"When we arrived, a single smile from a disabled child deeply touched our hearts," Finkleman said.
"It is an absolute necessity to treat the most severely disabled children of all nationalities so these smiles never fade. This is what Manitoba Alpha Omega is striving for."
Lipkin said the local Alpha Omega chapter has been involved in philanthropy for decades.
"Our decades of charitable works and community service were performed in accordance with our fraternity’s three guiding principles: access to oral health and wellness, promoting social justice and Tikkun Olam — repair an ailing world," he said.
Lipkin said Alpha Omega chapters began at a time when there were quotas to limit the number of Jewish students allowed into dental schools.
Lipkin said the local alumni chapter was founded in 1946, with the student chapter following in 1959.
He said the chapter has donated tens of thousands of dollars to both local and international charities, including the Christmas Cheer Board, United Way, Jewish Foundation of Manitoba and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
It has also sponsored an annual AO memorial scientific lecture in honour of deceased fraternity members for the entire dental community.
"The project we have chosen, as Negev Gala honourees, is perfectly aligned with our fraternity’s vision, values and guiding principles," Lipkin said.
"The treatment received at this specialized clinic will enable Israel’s most vulnerable citizens to benefit from the highest quality dental care and hygiene in the most suitable atmosphere in which to support their needs... these children come from all walks of life, including the Jewish, Arab, and Christian communities.
"We are honoured to help."
Read more by Kevin Rollason.