The complete text of Dr. Davenport's acceptance speech:
Many months after first being approached about this award, I continue to feel humbled by the great
honour granted me tonight. On behalf of my family, and from the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank the Jewish National Fund,
its outstanding leaders in Canada and Ontario, and all those who have had a hand in my nomination.
I pledge to do my best to live up to the high standards of the Negev Award in the years ahead,
and my family and I will certainly never forget the wonderful evening we are experiencing tonight.
Let me also thank all of you from London and other cities who have come to show your support for
the values of the Negev Dinner: for tolerance, diversity, and respect. And I
thank you especially for contributing to the rehabilitation of the En Ro’im Spring in the Galilee, the project which
the dinner tonight supports, and which will help all who live in that area.
I am very pleased that a good number of family members are with me tonight. Here at the head table is Josette, my wife of 39 years, who throughout that time has been an ardent student
of Jewish history, a strong supporter of Israel, and a sincere friend of Jewish people.
It is especially fitting that she should share this honor with me tonight. Also
present are our son Eric and his wife Karen; our daughter, Audrey, who has a strong admiration for Israel and has begun the
study of Hebrew; my sisters, Kathy Hoover and Liz Harwood; and Liz’s children, Josh and Karen.
I am being honoured tonight for my commitment to tolerance and respect for diversity. Those were values I grew up with in our home in Summit, New Jersey. My parents, Ted and Charlotte Davenport,
believed strongly in equality among people, respect for others, and opposing discrimination wherever it appeared. They taught
me those values, in particular, thought their opposition to discrimination against black people and Jews, discrimination which
alas was all too common in America during my boyhood. My mother had a special interest in Jews and Israel, read widely
in Jewish history, and was a strong supporter of the founding of Israel, which occurred when she was in her mid-thirties.
We attended the Unitarian Church and our minister, Jacob Trapp, was well known for his support
of the civil rights movement. He preached his views eloquently in church. Even
as a small boy relegated to Sunday school, I remember listening in fascination as my Dad and my sister Kathy would discuss
Dr. Trapp’s sermon at Sunday dinner.
From my earliest years I was also blessed with two very close Jewish friends, Mike Bloomstein and
Bob Kamm. Through them and their parents, I learned the commitment of Judaism to the life of the mind, to culture and the
arts, and the important role that their religion played in their family life.
Our Unitarian church had a close relationship with Mike’s synagogue, which was just down
the street, and we would from time to time attend services at the other house of worship. Mike, Bob, and I still get together
every few years; I am hosting them next fall in London. They were both thrilled to hear of the Negev honour.
While the Negev Award is a personal one, I believe that a large part of what we celebrate tonight
is the spirit of tolerance and respect for diversity which characterizes The
University of Western Ontario. Those values preceded my arrival at Western in 1994 and I have done my best
to steward them. All at Western - our faculty, staff, and students - can take
pride in those values, and the fact that we can have controversial speakers on campus, involving debates on emotional and
divisive issues, in a spirit of peaceful exchange, and respectful acceptance of different beliefs and points of view.
I want to pay particular homage to those student leaders who have helped build that environment
by their service in such organizations as the University Students’ Council, the Society of Graduate Students, Hillel,
and the Muslim Students Association. Without their leadership in building a campus of respect and tolerance, I believe I would
not be here tonight.
An example of our ability to engage in respectful debate at Western has been the disagreement of
some on campus with my decision to accept the Negev Award. Those who disagree with me have done so in a peaceful, measured
manner, and have shown through their
actions the very values which characterize our University.
The Jewish National Fund was established a century ago to buy land for the founding of Israel. Israel has just celebrated its 60th anniversary as an independent democracy, when
both its accomplishments and continued challenges are only too clear. We are all of us in this room committed to an Israel
that is secure and lives in harmony with its neighbors, in an environment of peace and justice for all in the region.
My own view is that those conditions require the establishment of a Palestinian state and that
without such a state our hopes for peace and justice in the region will prove elusive.
Equally, however, our goal of peace requires that Israel’s neighbors accept her right to exist as an independent
democracy, and alas that condition is simply not met at this time.
My understanding of Israel and my admiration for its people were greatly strengthened by the trip
which Josette and I took last fall: our first to Israel. As you entered this evening, you may have seen the photos from that
trip on the large screens in this
hall. We were overwhelmed with emotion
at Yad Vashem by the graphic accounts of the holocaust and the suffering and courage displayed in the personal testimonials
on the video screens.
I was quite proud to see the leadership role played by Canadian donors in the construction of the
Yad Vashem, including prominent Canadian business leaders such as Ed Sonshine and Fred Waks of Toronto.
As we traveled through Israel, I was enormously impressed by the academic leaders I met, at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and Technion University, whose vision for excellence in higher education
and belief in the contribution it would make to the future of their country and to humanity was truly inspiring.
Josette and I were honored to have dinner in Tel Aviv with the JNF World Co-Chair, Efi Stenzler,
who described to me the important work that the JNF is doing on environmental projects involving rehabilitating springs, treating
waste water, and planting trees.
The following day we toured the Birya Forest outside of Tsfat which had been burned by rockets
during the recent Lebanese War, and saw first hand the impact of the JNF in the form of hillsides with newly planted trees.
With a JNF guide, we also toured the Hula Valley nature reserve and admired the dazzling variety and number of birds and other
wildlife. We left on the flight from Tel Aviv with a profound admiration for what the people of Israel have achieved under
extraordinarily difficult conditions.
In conclusion, let me thank all of you in attendance for supporting the values of the Negev Dinner,
and allow me to thank again the JNF for an honour and an evening that my family and I will never forget.