If you had to name Ottawa's most famous practicing lawyer, it would probably be Lawrence Greenspon, a criminal defence and civil litigation lawyer with an undeniable soft spot for the underdog.
He's well known, not only for the work he does in the justice system but for what he accomplishes beyond the walls of 161 Elgin St. With his endless energy, he’s chaired fundraising campaigns, sold off live auction prizes at galas galore and has risked making a fool of himself for charity, from ballroom dancing to boxing.
On Monday night, Greenspon was the man of the hour at the Jewish National Fund of Ottawa’s Negev Dinner, held at the Infinity Convention Centre. The annual JNF dinners are organized in cities across Canada to honour individuals who have demonstrated excellence in community leadership as well as dedication to Israel.
The evenings also raises funds for projects in Israel, to be chosen by the honouree. Greenspon, along with his wife Angela Lariviere, selected a cause that helps children with special needs.
The dinner was chaired by Greenspon’s good friend, David Feldberg, from Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network. The dinner campaign cabinet consisted of Jewish community leaders Lawrence Weinstein and Stephen Victor, both of whom are lawyers, David Baker from European Glass & Paint, and some of Greenspon's buddies: veteran lawyer Pat Santini, dentist Nalin Bhargava and bank executive Frank Bilodeau.
Greenspon's community involvement has included co-founding Reach Canada, and being on the boards of the Snowsuit Fund and Youth Services Bureau Foundation, chairing Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa, and volunteering with the Ottawa Children's Treatment Centre.
The interesting thing about Greenspon, said Feldberg, “is that he doesn’t see people by religion, colour or creed. He sees everybody just as people, and he treats everybody very kindly.
"He's the voice for people who might not have a voice."
I’ve seen him in his (law) practice, as well as in life, stand up for people. He’s a great person who’s given so much to so many people. He really deserves this night.”
The sold-out 530-person dinner brought together a wide range of people, from leaders in the Jewish community and broader community to corporate sponsors to professional fundraisers from non-profit organizations.
The kosher dinner was emceed by Rabbi Reuven Bulka, with lawyer Howard Yegendorf performing the hamotzi, or blessing over the bread.
On hand to welcome guests were JNF Ottawa’s executive director, Lynda Taller-Wakter, and its board chair, Dan Mader, vice president at NATIONAL public relations.
Greenspon arrived to the dinner in a tuxedo and new haircut (his wife always cuts his hair), and an eagerness to talk about the cause: Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran. It's a rehabilitation village, located in the Negev desert, that serves as a home for children and adults with complex disabilities.
Greenspon and Lariviere spent some time volunteering at the facility and meeting its young residents during a recent trip to Israel. The Aleh Negev offers such unique features as a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool, safari petting zoo, and a therapeutic horseback riding track and gardens.
This year's keynote speaker was Israeli war hero Doron Almog, who made it his life's mission to establish the Aleh Negev. His son Eran Almog, who was born with severe autism and developmental delays, was Aleh Negev’s first resident. He passed away in February 2007 at age 23.
Greenspon delivered a speech that night that was funny, self-deprecating and, above all, inspiring.
The room heard how Greenspon was very close to his Polish-born stepfather, Paul Orlan, who was taken to the concentration camps at age 14. He was liberated by the Americans at Auschwitz, at age 18. Orlan's parents and his sister, Maja, after whom Greenspon's daughter was named, did not survive the Holocaust. Greenspon grew up hearing the stories and discussions about how the rights and freedoms of Jews had been trampled on by the state during the Nazi oppression.
"Because of the truths my father told me, it should come as no surprise that I do what I do. But, when it comes to the 'How', Dad always said: If you want to make yourself bigger than the next guy, stand up on a chair. Don’t dig a hole for that guy."
"So I ask you, those of you who are standing up on a chair in our community and beyond, keep doing it."
Ottawa is full of people in Ottawa who are vulnerable, poor, homeless, disabled, drug and alcohol addicted, and mentally ill, he pointed out.
"So if, as Elie Wiesel so aptly said, 'The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference', It is within the cauldron of indifference that injustice is born. Then, in order to love and seek justice, we must first see and then care enough to act.
"So, see, experience and care enough to act, and then you will get back far more than you have given. You will meet people from all walks of life and people of different beginnings and backgrounds. As you enter and enjoy a world outside of your comfort zone, you will learn about different cultures, religions and ways of thinking.
"Most of all, the many community leaders that are here tonight will tell you that helping others makes you feel good. The truth is, we rise by lifting others."