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Azrieli Foundation makes a visionary gift of $10 million to CIFAR

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CIFAR announced a historic $10 million gift from The Azrieli Foundation at a special event Thursday night, June 9, 2016, at Koerner Hall in Toronto. The gift is the largest CIFAR has received from a philanthropic foundation in its history.

The gift will support the Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness, a cutting-edge research program that brings together leading researchers from around the world to explore the biological basis of human consciousness. The program draws on exceptional thinkers from across multiple disciplines, whose research will have important implications for understanding the brain and its disorders.

The gift also enables the launch of the CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program, which provides funding and support to help early career scholars build their research networks and develop essential skills to become leaders in global research.

“I want to express my sincere thanks for this amazing gift,” said Dr. Alan Bernstein, CIFAR President and CEO, at the reception to announce the gift. “The Azrieli Foundation is one of Canada’s pre-eminent philanthropic institutions. They have a special emphasis on brain science, and they share with CIFAR the visionary philosophy of investing in research areas with the potential for transformative change.”

Dr. Naomi Azrieli, Chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation, joined Dr. Bernstein in making the announcement. In her remarks, she explained, “The Azrieli Foundation seeks opportunities to foster excellence in science, investing in the work of both outstanding senior researchers and early career scholars. CIFAR’s multi-disciplinary and global approach to addressing the world’s most complex issues makes them a perfect home for the collaborative research that can bring about breakthroughs in brain research, the last frontier of science.”

The Azrieli Foundation supports and operates a range of initiatives in various fields, including the promotion of excellence in education and access to education, scientific and medical research, Holocaust education, and the advancement of excellence in architecture and the arts.

“I never met David Azrieli, but I know that he was both an innovative architect and builder,” said Bernstein. “Born in Poland, he fought in Israel’s War of Independence, and immigrated to Canada in 1954. The two companies he created – Canpro Investments in Montreal, and the Azrieli Group in Tel Aviv – became leaders in their fields, and have designed and developed countless projects, including the prestigious Azrieli Centre in Tel Aviv. Today his legacy lives on through his wife Stephanie, his daughters Naomi, Danna and Sharon, and the Azrieli Foundation, one of Canada’s pre-eminent philanthropic institutions.”

The announcement of the Azrieli Foundation’s generous gift was made as part of the evening’s presentation Our Musical Brain, which combined musical performance and presentations to explore what happens in our brains when we engage with music.

The sold-out program featured performances by Canada’s acclaimed chamber ensemble the Gryphon Trio, along with mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah, who also served as host for the evening. Leading neuroscientists and CIFAR senior fellows Laurel Trainor (McMaster University) and Robert Zatorre (McGill University) gave presentations which explored what happens in our brains when we engage with music.

The combination of excellent music, scientific insights and audience participation was intended to illustrate the potential for science to understand the workings of the brain, which Dr. Azrieli emphasized is one of humankind’s last uncharted frontiers.