The superpower is eclipsed by the tiny Jewish state, in his view, when it comes to the dynamism of its universities.
When Breton became rector in 2010 he vowed to expand the UdeM’s already extensive ties with hundreds of academic institutions around the world. Three countries were in his sights: China, Brazil – as the economic leader of Latin America – and Israel.
In October, he led an intensive 10-day trip to Israel, the first UdeM mission to the country, visiting all seven major universities. The 10 delegates included vice-rector for international relations Hélène David and professors and researchers from departments as diverse as pharmacy, biology, political science, music and medicine. Breton is a former vice-dean of medicine.
Breton said he received no opposition to making Israel a priority, but plenty of questions as to why. Today, he feels vindicated.
“It was an incredible eye-opener,” he said of the mission. “We have a folkloric image of Israel. If you are not close to it, you do not understand the reality. Much more is going on there than we think.”
Breton makes clear he is not interested in entering into political disputes, and has no patience with boycotts. His first job is to educate people, and he is convinced a greater connection with Israel will help him do that.
“I want students to be better trained. Period. Don’t bother me with politics,” he said.
When he speaks of dynamism, Breton means Israeli academics’ ability to “think outside the box; they try to find a solution to a problem, that not only is good for Israel, but could be exportable, that could help others.
“This is what we should be doing everywhere.”
Breton was impressed with the universities’ technology transfer companies, which seek markets for products and ideas coming out of research.
The delegation, led by UDM President Guy Breton, has also begun discussions on possible collaborations with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Bar-Ilan University.
ICRF and Pink Lady support innovative breast cancer research projects at the Jewish General Hospital and in Israel, as well as the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment.
Event co-chairs this year were Julie Wiener, Maureen Tajfel, Sheryl Rosen Adler and Susan Lavy.
This year’s keynote speaker was Barbara Amiel; her husband, Conrad Black, was on hand as well. Past keynote speakers have included Margaret Trudeau, Marianne Pearl, widow of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, and journalist Jeanette Walls, author of the 2005 memoir The Glass Castle.
This year’s honourees were Kathy Assayag, who has worked in advancement and fundraising for more than 20 years; Julie Greenbaum, co-founder and president of a movement to unite the younger generation against cancer, F*CK CANCER inwykiwyk (It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know); Greenbaum lost her mother to ovarian cancer in 2010; and MNA Kathleen Weil.
Sheila Woodhouse, director of Nazareth House, wrote to The Gazette about a long-standing Christmas tradition at the Shaughnessy village shelter for men. For the past 25 years, a group of women she calls the “Angels of Hudson” have left their own families on Christmas morning – this year it was Dec. 24 – to drive into Montreal with a turkey dinner plus trimmings for 30.
“The Angels also arrive with thoughtful gifts for each and every resident of Nazareth House,” Woodhouse wrote.
“Many of our residents struggle with mental illness and homelessness. Most do not have any contact with their families. These beautiful Angels arrive, laden with … food, gifts, exuberance and the true spirit of Christmas. Each Christmas, they transform the House and the lives of each resident.”
Against enormous odds, Danielle Lepage has spearheaded an annual benefit to raise funds and awareness of sensory neuropathy, Type HSN2, a devastating genetic disease, Anita Kar of the Montreal Neurological Institute wrote to Applause.
“An amazing accomplishment from a woman who suffers from a crippling disease and has had several additional health complications in the year,” she wrote.
The disease, she explained, causes a dangerous lack of sensation, primarily in the hands and feet, and extremely fragile bones. “The combination of a lack of sensation and fragility leads to trauma and infections that often necessitate amputations,” she wrote. “This is how Danielle, in her 50s, has lost several of her fingers and toes.”
“We have to demystify this disease because people are afraid of us; they think it is contagious, but that is not the case,” Lepage said.
Lepage has organized four benefits to raise awareness of the disease: the first, held in 2009, raised just over $6,500. The fourth, held Nov. 17, 2012, raised $30,231.56.
The money will support research led by Bernard Brais at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital; he has dedicated his career to understanding and developing therapeutics for hereditary genetic diseases, including sensory neuropathies, that are more common in Quebec than elsewhere.