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  • Mike Flinker

The values my mother taught me

Updated: Nov 6, 2019

My mother was born and raised in Poland. Antisemitism was already rampant by the time she got out, but she managed to escape Europe with half her family before it went up in flames. She lost aunts, uncles, and cousins in the Holocaust.

She met my father, an immigrant to Canada from what was then called Palestine but would go on to become Israel, and they began building a life together in Montreal.

My parents struggled. Money was always tight but remarkably, philanthropy was a big part of her life.

Three moral obligations Friday evenings were sacred family time. Everyone had to be home for dinner, and she always iterated her three ethos: to volunteer at a charity, to donate to a charity, and if possible to do both. These were obligations, and no matter the circumstances our family must always perform at least one of those three values.

She backed up her words with action. Despite the financial stress our family was under, she volunteered. She became Vice President of the Ladies Auxiliary of Mount Sinai Hospital, a position she would keep for 60 years (!!), raising an enormous amount of funds for the hospital during that time.

I can still remember hopping onto a bus to a local church or Synagogue, where the Ladies Auxiliary of Mount Sinai Hospital was selling the clothes that were donated by local dress manufacturers. This was a regular occurrence throughout my youth.

She had no money but she made sure to put in a ton of time volunteering and raising money for charity.

She was an incredible person. What a role model!

Living up to the obligations This message is one that stuck with me. Growing up, I dreamed of emulating her; of delivering on my moral obligation to do something for the community. When I went into business, my goal was to be successful, yet my ulterior motive has always been to give substantially.

And business was tough. Between 2008 and 2013 it was atrocious. I nearly went bankrupt. My company was facing lawsuits and losing money. It was a hurricane. I was a hair away from going out of business but I managed to turn it around and build a tremendous business (FLS Transportation Services Inc) that I sold in 2016.

Navigating through difficult times is when you become a businessman. Getting through it taught me to appreciate every second chance.

I was finally able to live up to my mother's third obligation, volunteering and donating to charity. My wife and I set up an educational fund for the Montreal Torah Centre in addition to a donation to The Family Store, a scholarship fund for needy students at Lower Canada College, and a third fund for prostate cancer research at McGill.

The MTC is my Synagogue, LCC is where my son Eric studied, and I'm a survivor of prostate cancer.

These obligations are for everyone Surviving cancer gives you a tremendous appreciation for life. It teaches you that getting up in the morning is a blessing. That there are no bad days.

When I think of Chabad Lifeline, I think of a place that gives people a second chance. It's different from the second chances I've experienced, but it's a second chance nonetheless.

That was the theme of my speech at their event in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Please read the speech below, and I hope you consider taking my mother's advice to heart. Volunteer at a charity, donate to a charity, and if possible do both.

To donate to Chabad Lifeline, please click here. To volunteer, please click here or call 514-738-7700.

My speech

Good evening, and thank you for coming to this evening's "Au Contraire Film Festival."

My name is Mike Flinker and I'm the Chair of tonight's event. I'm also a member of the Executive Committee which is led by Mr. Eddie Wiltzer, one of Montreal's leading philanthropists.

Chabad Lifeline was founded on one key principle, and that is the following: "everyone in life deserves a second chance."

This is a concept that my wife Marcia and I embrace, and it's a primary reason why we are such ardent supporters. Chabad Lifeline gives everyone affected by addiction a second chance.

I was first introduced to Chabad Lifeline a little over two years ago by my daughter Julie. 

Julie was doing a summer internship there, and she asked me to attend an open meeting where a recovering addict was going to be recounting his story. 

His talk lasted about 30 minutes and he described his journey in detail. He had gone from the depths of despair to go on to become a successful businessman. More importantly though, was his message, and it was the following: "I made it, and so can you."

Everyone in the room was riveted to what he had to say. His message was both motivating and inspirational. 

He had the courage to stand up in front of an audience of about 25 people, to tell them what he had gone through, with the sole purpose of giving them hope.

It was at that point in time that my wife and I made a decision to help the organization in any way we could.

There is a second aspect of what Chabad Lifeline does, and it's equally as important. They deal with the entire family, whether it be a spouse, a brother, a sister, or a child. All are dealt with, with the same care, compassion, devotion, and professionalism.

Furthermore, the organization is non-denominational and no one is ever turned away due to financial circumstances. I repeat, no one is ever turned away.

I'd like to pay tribute to the three people spearheading the organization: Rabbi Bresinger, Rabbi Fine, and Karen Bresinger, the Clinical Director and Family Therapist.

Their passion and desire to care for the needy is unparalleled. These are three of the finest individuals you'll ever meet, and the organization is extremely lucky to have them.

My late mother Florence used to say that everyone has a moral obligation to do the following:

1) Volunteer at a charity

2) Donate to a charity

3) In a perfect world, do both

I'm asking each and every one of you to take it to heart and consider what I just said.

Now, I'd like to introduce one of our special guests, Lamar Odom.

Lamar Odom was a member of the 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers championship teams. Lamar, I have to admit that I am a huge Boston Celtics fan, so needless to say I was extremely disappointed when your Lakers beat them in 2010.

In 2011, Lamar was voted the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year.

Four years ago, Lamar's life started to spiral out of control. He had to be hospitalized. He was suffering from kidney failure. 

He had a heart attack, several strokes, and fell into a coma as a result of his addictive, self-destructive behaviour.

Thankfully, he's completely recovered. He's since written a book called "darkness to light: a memoir," which went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

Lamar's near death experience as a result of his addiction symbolizes what Chabad Lifeline is all about, and that is - that everyone deserves a second chance.

We invited him to speak to you tonight because his honesty, candor, and bravery in discussing sex addiction is something we believe will be highly beneficial and extremely motivating to a lot of people.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Lamar Odom!

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