They had deplaned just hours before, yet the first item on the agenda for the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada on his first official visit to the Middle East was charity.

At a reception at the David Citadel Hotel just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, the group of nearly 200 political and communal leaders learned about the charitable activities of Colel Chabad, Israel's oldest continuously operating charity, which has been caring for the poor in the Israel since 1788.

“It’s a testament to this group’s kindness,” notes Rabbi Zalman Duchman of Colel Chabad. “Even before economic development, they gathered to discuss charity and philanthropy—not just as a side concern, but at the front and center of their agenda.”

Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, the Ottawa-based director of public affairs for the Canadian Federation of Chabad-Lubavitch, emceed the event. In addition to Duchman, the group heard from co-host Mark Adler MP—whose riding of York, Ontario, includes several highly Jewish enclaves north of Toronto, and Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Chabad @ Flamingo, in Thornhill, Ontario. Rabbi Zalman A. Grossbaum, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Community Center in Thornhill, led the group in the saying of Psalms.

A high point of the evening was the performance of 14-year-old child star Daniel Pruzansky, who is being raised by his Russian-born mother. Pruzansky effortlessly climbed the scales as he sang a dazzling repertoire of Yiddish and English classics. Colel Chabad has been instrumental in helping him with his general education, and also arranging the musical training that has allowed him to achieve celebrity status in Israel and beyond.

An exhibit showed the breadth and scope of Colel Chabad's activities in Israel.
An exhibit showed the breadth and scope of Colel Chabad's activities in Israel.

Duchman says his group is deeply honored to be the delegation’s first stop. “Colel Chabad is but one among hundreds of other Chabad organizations here in Israel, and neither are we the only charitable group in Israel, either,” he notes. “I feel the choice reflects our dedication to helping the poor, especially orphans.”

Some of the members of the Canadian delegation who accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his first visit to Israel.
Some of the members of the Canadian delegation who accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his first visit to Israel.

Colel Chabad just opened its 25th soup kitchen earlier this year and will be celebrating a joint bat mitzvah for 35 orphan girls this coming Wednesday.

Some members of the Canadian rabbinic delegation.
Some members of the Canadian rabbinic delegation.
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, left, and Rabbi Zalman A. Grossbaum, center, both of Thornhill, Ontario, addressed the gathering.
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, left, and Rabbi Zalman A. Grossbaum, center, both of Thornhill, Ontario, addressed the gathering.