In Jewish culture, there’s no greater compliment than to be called a mensch — a Yiddish term used to describe a person who is kind and decent.
It was a word that popped up again and again Tuesday night at the Jewish National Fund Ottawa’s Negev Gala honouring Ron Prehogan for his 40-plus years as an exemplary leader and volunteer for the Jewish and broader community. Held at the Infinity Convention Centre, the evening drew a crowd of roughly 550 and raised $775,000 toward finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common kind of dementia.
Prehogan’s mother-in-law passed away a few years ago from the disease. His mother, nearly 96, has little memory left and suffers from constant bouts of confusion.
While Prehogan wasn’t looking to be in the spotlight, he recognized a greater purpose in serving as 2022 honouree: focusing on a disease that’s becoming more common and yet still has no cure. The research into Alzheimer’s disease is being done through a partnership between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Ottawa’s Brain and Mind Institute.
The community builder also wanted to serve as a role model for his six young grandchildren. By next September, they will all be attending the Ottawa Jewish Community School, of which he’s on the board.
Prehogan is a partner in Ottawa law firm BrazeauSeller.LLP and its affiliated family business consulting firm, Equitas Consultants. He’s volunteered in various leadership roles to help such organizations as Soloway JCC, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation. He also co-chaired with Bram Bregman, president of Newfoundout Family Office, the capital campaign for Congregation Machzikei Hadas.
The evening was co-chaired with impeccable dedication by Prehogan’s “dream team” consisting of Ian Sherman, founder and CEO of Relationship Capital, and Bregman. While Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre dropped into the cocktail reception, attendees included Israeli Ambassador Ronen Hoffman, former prime minister Joe Clark, Paul Hindo, honorary colonel of the Canadian Army, and former cabinet minister and deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt, vice-chair and managing director of global investment banking at CIBC Capital Markets.
Raitt took to the stage later in the evening with her son JC Raitt to have an open and honest dialogue about Alzheimer’s through a fireside chat with professional communicator Catherine Clark. Raitt’s husband, Bruce Wood, was diagnosed at age 56 with early onset in 2016.
The evening marked the first in-person Negev Gala held in Ottawa since the June 2021 passing of local spiritual leader Rabbi Reuven Bulka, affectionately known as “Canada’s Rabbi”.
The rabbi had been one of Prehogan’s great mentors. The other has been Sherman’s uncle, Sol Shinder, at whose former law firm Prehogan joined when he first moved to Ottawa in the mid-1970s, fresh out of McGill law school. Prehogan and his wife, Avalee, who graduated from McGill’s faculty of education, are originally from Montreal. “I was very much drawn to Sol due to his smart and practical approach, moral compass and strong set of values,” he said.
Prehogan met Rabbi Bulka while playing in the Jewish men’s softball league, shortly after moving here. The rabbi was the pitcher. “I knew right away that he had to be someone special, as everyone referred to him as The Rabbi, as if there was the only one.”
Prehogan ultimately developed a deep and cherished friendship with the rabbi that changed and shaped his life. “He had all the time in the world for you,” said Prehogan of Rabbi Bulka, who was also founder of Kind Canada. “All those who were fortunate enough to be in his orbit all rose up and became our better selves as a result.”
Prehogan thanked his loving and supportive wife, his community-minded law partners, and Barbara Crook and Dan Greenberg, who’ve had the greatest influence on him when it comes to philanthropy and civic pride. “It is impossible to imagine where our community would be without your incredibly big hearts and ongoing contributions,” he told them from the podium.
The evening served as a beautiful way for Prehogan’s friends, family and colleagues, along with the greater community, to offer their gratitude. There were also letters of greetings from the prime minister, lieutenant governor and premier. The evening included a musical performance from local musician Tara Shannon.
As Bregman earlier explained in an interview: “I think from the moment Ron came to Ottawa he’s been involved in the community, just giving. I don’t want to say ‘giving back’ because Rabbi Bulka used to always say ‘giving back’ was the wrong term because it implies that you’re getting something, therefore, that’s the only reason that you’re giving.
“I’m going to say that Ron just gives, very much in line with the spirit of Rabbi Bulka. Just gives, gives, gives, gives. I think after so many years of giving, I think it’s time for us to stop and to say ‘Thank you’ for all the contributions and the difference he’s made for the lives of people here in Ottawa.”
Mark Sutcliffe attended as brand new mayor of his hometown, having just been sworn in with the new city council that morning. The ceremony happened “just in the nick of time” for him to be in a position to help honour his friend, he joked. The mayor did a deep dive into the word ‘mensch’ and decided that it fit Prehogan perfectly.
“That’s you, Ron,” he said on stage. “There’s just a fundamental kindness and decency about you. I’ve learned so much by observing it, and I’ve strived to be more like you. Just imagine what our city could be if everyone behaved a little bit more like Ron Prehogan?
“On behalf of all the people of Ottawa, thank you for your unrelenting service, thank you for your commitment to the Jewish community and our entire city, thank you for the example that you’ve set for all of us.
“Thank you for being such a great friend to so many people, Ron. Thank you for being a ‘mensch’.”
Prehogan’s own remarks, which were intelligent, thoughtful, gracious and inspiring, ended with a quote from his dad, the late Jack Prehogan. “He was a very grateful man and always seemed to capture the essence of things with a few usually very funny words,” Prehogan explained.
“When we would celebrate a graduation, wedding or the introduction of a newborn child into the family, he often turned to me and said, ‘Ron, this is a red-letter day in our family. I must be two guys because one guy can’t be this lucky.
“That line perfectly encapsulates how I feel tonight. So, from these two guys to you, thank you very much.”