Ruth Miriam (Babs) and Israel Harold (Izzy) Asper z"l
Israel Harold (Izzy) Asper z"l, O.C., O.M., Q.C., L.L.D. (1932 – 2003) and Ruth Miriam (Babs) Asper z"l (1933 – 2011) believed that philanthropy is a driving force behind positive change in people’s quality of life. It was this belief that led them to establish The Asper Foundation in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1983, in an effort to fulfill their philanthropic objectives.
Over the course of his life, Izzy wore many hats. He was a well-established tax lawyer; founder of the CanWest Global Communications Corp (a million dollar Canadian media company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, now nonoperational); leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party from 1970-1975; member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for Wolseley; and devoted husband to Babs and father to David, Gail and Leonard.
Izzy also took on what he called his “fourth career,” which he launched in 1997, when he resigned as CEO of CanWest to become Executive Chairman so he could focus on doing what gave him the most satisfaction: giving back to his community, or as he put it, “paying his debts.” He always said that in return for society giving him an opportunity to succeed, he felt he owed something back. This is when he most actively threw himself into his philanthropic efforts through his beloved Asper Foundation.
In 1956, Izzy married Babs and throughout their 47-year marriage, they worked side-by-side while growing their family, their business and their philanthropic efforts.
In the early years of their marriage, Babs supported Izzy by working at Phillips Paint Products while Izzy attended Law School. Izzy’s remarkable successes were attributed, in no small measure, to Babs' sense of duty, and her skillful management of the varied demands of a corporate and political wife.
Her own commitment to community was rooted in her childhood. Babs was influenced by her parents and grandparents who were strong Zionists, dating back to when her maternal grandmother worked with Golda Meir to raise funds in North America for the establishment of the State of Israel. The welfare of the Jews and of Israel were always in the forefront of their areas of concern. Already as a teenager, Babs was an active volunteer for many organizations including the Age and Opportunity Centre, Winnipeg Jewish Community Council and others.
Together, through The Asper Foundation, Izzy and Babs lived their philanthropy through their shared desire to help to effect meaningful change in the areas of health, education, culture, human rights and community development in Canada and Israel.
One of their biggest projects was a multimillion-dollar undertaking, in the form of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, promote respect for others and encourage reflection, dialogue and action to protect those rights. After Izzy’s death, Babs continued to push the project to completion, not only as a generous supporter, but also as a fundraiser and member of the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Babs also played a key role in supporting numerous other charitable organizations in Manitoba, Canada and Israel. She was active in promoting and awarding student scholarships for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; was a former member of the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education; and was chosen to receive the prestigious President's Award by the Winnipeg Press Club for her contribution to the community. Her personal support of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and, the Manitoba Opera was pivotal to the creation of new major works of art by these organizations. For many years, she also served on the Board of the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre where, as Fundraising Chair, she worked tirelessly to strengthen the organization.
Along with Izzy, Babs and her family have been one of the foremost contributors to the University of Manitoba. In 2008, she created The Babs Asper Professorship in Jazz Performance in the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music, allowing the University of Manitoba to become one of the first in Canada to offer a Bachelor of Jazz Studies degree. Babs also supported the Winnipeg Jazz Festival and the Asper Jazz series, another passion she shared with Izzy.
Both Izzy and Babs were unequivocally committed to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Under Babs’ leadership, The Asper Foundation dedicated the Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications on June 9, 2007 at Reichman University. The Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy focuses on the study and use of new media technologies in telling Israel’s story to the world. The unique capabilities of these technologies allow innovative depiction of Israel from new and different perspectives. The Asper Institute also provides workshops on creating effective new media advocacy campaigns and works with students in producing video, audio and written content about various aspects of life in Israel for use in new media channels such as the blogosphere, virtual worlds, social networks, computer games, pod casts and more. In 2010, the institute launched www.nocamels.com, now the world’s leading news website on Israeli innovation. It is staffed by Reichman University students trained by professional journalists, who tour the country to interview Israeli innovators. In 2012, the Asper Institute launched Reichman University International Radio, an English-speaking FM and internet radio station that broadcasts to Jewish communities around the world. Reichman University students, who come from over 80 countries, host, produce and edit shows on topics including music, culture, current affairs, sports, humor and Judaism.
In recognition of her outstanding contribution to the State of Israel and the Jewish People, Babs was named an Honorary Fellow of the Reichman University in 2011, just weeks before her death.
The Asper Foundation, now under the leadership of their daughter, Gail, continues the legacy of its founders and within that, their support of Reichman University’s Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy.
The Asper Foundation: www.asperfoundation.com