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In Memoriam: Ralph Halbert (1930 – 2018)

Ralph and Roz Halbert at the opening of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies

Ralph and Roz Halbert at the opening of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies in 2014.

Ralph Halbert, a passionate and tireless advocate of building bridges between Canada and Israel through higher education and culture, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 at the age of 88.

Halbert, who graduated from the University of Toronto in 1954, was a long-term supporter of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the United Jewish Appeal and Beth Tzedec synagogue. At the University of Toronto, he was a generous donor to the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy as well as the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies.

“Ralph Halbert was one of the earliest donors to grasp the importance of building bridges to connect scholars,” says Janice Stein, founding director of the Munk School. “He pioneered the funding of research networks between the School and Hebrew University of Jerusalem and funded mobility of students between the two universities.

“He took enormous pride in the scholarship of those he supported,” says Stein, “and, in this sense, Ralph was a partner to many in both universities. He took great personal pride and interest in the work of the scholars that he funded and many became personal friends of both Ralph and his wife Roz.”

His commitment to Jewish Studies was exemplary and he will be terribly missed by faculty and students alike.

“He cared deeply about academic integrity,” says Anna Shternshis, director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University, “He was been a vocal supporter of graduate students doing research in Jewish studies. His commitment to Jewish Studies was exemplary and he will be terribly missed by faculty and students alike.”

At the Munk School, the Halbert Exchange Program promotes collaborative research between the University of Toronto and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem through the Halbert Network Fellowship for young faculty, the Halbert Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Exchange Program for graduate students. Halbert and his wife also supported scholars through the Roz and Ralph Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School’s Innovation Policy Lab.

Of the professorship, Halbert said in 2013, “We know that countries that lead in innovation become world leaders in every sphere and sector of study from business to the sciences. It is said that creativity is thinking up new things; innovation is doing new things. With a foundation of innovation at U of T, today’s generation will increase Canada’s capacity to be competitive, and realize advances for society across the spectrum.”

Joseph Wong, the Vice Provost and Associate Vice President, International, for the U of T in Simcoe Hall, was awarded the first professorship in 2013.

Ralph told me to think of innovation broadly, that it was far more important that the professorship had an impact, to be a force for change and good.

“When I was named the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation,” says Wong, “Ralph told me to think of innovation broadly, that it was far more important that the professorship had an impact, to be a force for change and good. Ralph, and Roz, encouraged me to consider the Halbert professorship as not just the means to create something new, but to ask why and how that something new can have positive impact.”

In 2012, Ralph Halbert furthered his support of Jewish Studies scholarship by establishing the Ralph & Roslyn Halbert Fund for the Centre for Jewish Studies to support the exchange of ideas in the areas of classical Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy, Jewish history and modern Jewish culture. The fund has brought distinguished scholars such as Moshe Halbertal, Joseph Stern, Yuval Sinai and Martin Kavka to Toronto.

And in 1995, Ralph and Roz Halbert, along with the Government of Canada, were co-sponsors of the Halbert Centre for Canadian Studies established at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Centre’s mission is a testament to Halbert’s vision of fostering understanding and knowledge of Canada among Israeli academics and throughout Israel through research, publications, public lectures, conferences and many other initiatives.

Halbert is survived by Roz, his wife of 65 years, and their loving children, grand-children and great-grand-children.