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Ilana IrwinBy BERNIE BELLAN What happens to some of Winnipeg's “best and brightest” once they finish their schooling?


That question intrigued me when I received an email from somone named Irwin Eydelnant a few weeks back. Irwin asked me whether I'd be interested in doing a story about him and a friend of his, both of whom were from Winnipeg.

Irwin's name rang a bell in my head. I asked him whether he had ever won a scholarship from the Jewish Foundation? He said he had. I searched in our own archives (which are available to anyone to use on this website), and found that Irwin had received a scholarship from the foundation in 2004. I thought it might be interesting to delve a little further and try to find out what happened to some of the other scholarship recipients. I found an ad that appeared in one of our issues in 2004 that listted all the scholarship receipients. Here is that ad:

scholarship winners edited 1I started to try and track down as many of the 45 individuals listed in that ad as I could. The tools that I used were Google, Facebook and Lindekin. I was able to obtain at least some information for all but three of the 45 scholarship winners. Many of those 45 were Russian Israelis and, somewhat to my surprise, it appears that a good many of the Russian Israelis did choose to remain in Winnipeg upon completion of their education.
I did speak with several of the individuals on the list, primarily to see whether they knew what had become of the ones who I wasn’t able to track down. Unfortunately, no one with whom I spoke was able to offer any information about the three – all female, for which I wasn’t able to obtain any information. In addition, it’s quite possible that I’ve made some mistakes, as the information available for some individuals who seemed  to match my criteria didn’t specify whether they had ever lived in Winnipeg.
That being said, here is what I was able to find out:
Of the 45 scholarship winners, at least 22 are living in Winnipeg now. (Some may have lived elsewhere and come back to live here, but I wasn’t able to ascertain that kind of information.)
Of the others who are living elsewhere, eight are in Toronto, one is in Calgary, one is in Montreal, six are in the U.S., and two are in Israel.
Many of the scholarship winners have gone on to careers in the health field. Three are doctors (one is a psychiatrist), one is a naturopath, and one is an acupuncturist.
Three others are dentists; four are nurses.
Three are lawyers, three are engineers, one is an actuary, one is an economist, one is a Russian language school operator; three are university lecturers (although someone who I thought is a university lecturer might be a learning specialist – there were two individuals from Winnipeg with the same name who could have fit the bill); while the rest are involved in business to one degree or another – including software developer, food entrepreneur (Irwin Eydelnant), swimming school owner, goldsmith, employee of a religious store, and a senior executive with Target in the U.S.
I wasn’t able to obtain information for one individual who still lives in Winnipeg. Sadly, it appears that one of the scholarship winners is deceased.
So – what to make of all this? I’m not quite sure. I admit that I was expecting to find that more of the scholarship winners would have left Winnipeg. If at least half of them stayed – and that seems to be the case, then I would find that somewhat reassuring. After all, these were some of the most talented young people here 12 years ago.
I’m going to continue to try following up on the various members of the group to see what further information might be obtained. I did send out emails to some and Facebook messages to others, and have heard back from some of those individuals. It would be nice to think that at some point I’d be able to piece together a complete list of where each of the 45 on the scholarship list ended up and what they’ve done in their lives. Does this really make a difference to anything in the long run ? Who knows – but so far I’ve found it to be quite an interesting endeavour.

But, as I stated at the outset my original purpose was to do a story about Irwin Eydelnant and Ilana Ben Ari. There was one particular line in the first email that Irwin had sent me that really grabbed my interest. Here's part of that email: "We are two close friends from Winnipeg who have built our businesses in education and food during our time in Montreal, Toronto, and NYC, and would love to share our story back home.   
Both 2001 graduates of Joseph Wolinsky and recently reconnected with the city through our professional associations, Ilana (Ben Ari) has been working with high schools in Winnipeg and the Mayor’s office, while I’ve been a part of the Raw:Almond experience that opens up on the river each winter."

I was definitely interested in writing about their successes in their respective fields, what especially intrigued me was the line in Irwin’s email where he wrote that they are “two close friends from Winnipeg”, both having graduated from Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate (which was what our Jewish high school was still called then) in 2001.
Ilana explained that they actually first met when they were in kindergarten, but took different paths once they began elementary school. Ilana, who lived in Garden City, entered the Hebrew bilingual program at Centennial School, while Irwin, who lived in West Kildonan, went to the Peretz School on Jefferson Avenue.
In Grade 7 though, the two met up again, when they both entered what was then Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate on Matheson Avenue. Later, when the Asper Campus opened in 1997, they made the transition to the south end to begin studies at the brand new Gray Academy.
In an October 2014 column in which Myron Love wrote about Ilana, he noted that “after high school here, she enrolled in an industrial design program at Carleton University. It was a five-year program with a year off in fourth year for work experience. During that time, she worked in Winnipeg for a time for Plastic Buddha, an industrial design firm that designed coffee tables for Palliser Furniture.
In 2012, Ilana started a new company called “Twenty One Toys”, whose purpose, she says, was “to invent toys and workshops for teaching 21st Century skills like empathy, failure, and creative collaboration. Our first toy was my thesis project at school, now called ‘The Empathy Toy’”.
Although children love the toys, as Ilana explained, they’re also well suited to adults as well. With both subjects blindfolded, the object is for one person to describe the shape of an object with which they’re working, then try to get the other person to find the same type of object and put it in the same place in a puzzle that’s being constructed.
Ilana adds that “the game has over 52 variations and can played by 2 - 25 players with the basic premise that one or more players are given a built pattern and must explain that pattern to one or more players who have identical loose pieces. The challenge? They’re all blindfolded.”
The purpose, Ilana says, is to teach “empathy” and “creativity”. The toy also fosters patience and perseverance. (Watch the video at www.empathytoy.com to see how the toy works.)

Back in 2014, Myron noted that the empathy toy had been introduced both at the Gray Academy and St. John’s Public School. Since then, Ilana noted when I talked with both her and Irwin, St. John’s has had the toy for two years. “They’ve actually had an 85% reduction in conflict based office referrals,” she said (which is a nice way of saying being sent to the office for fighting)
“We’re in about 1000 schools in 100 countries,” Ilana added. “We’re also in 100 offices.”
Since the initial introduction at St. John’s, that school has started a program called “21 Leaders”, an empathy based leadership program. This past May Ilana was  honoured by the mayor of Winnipeg for the impact her program is having in schools in terms of anti-bullying and anti-racism initiatives.
(Read the full story about the program at St. John’s at http://empathytoy.com/community/stories/ highschool-empathy-leadership-program-reduce-bullying.)

As for Irwin Eydelnant, (who is more commonly known as “Irwin Adam”, he says – Adam being his middle name, with Eydelnant just being too hard for most people either to pronounce or remember), once graduating from Joseph Wolinsky in 2001, he took an academic path that led to his going to McGill where he obtained, in order, a Bachelor of Engineering, and a Masters in Chemical Engineering, followed by a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Toronto.
According to his website, Irwin “is a thinker and maker who creates defining multi-sensorial food experiences including products, new technologies, immersive dining installations, and interactive workshops. As Founder and Creative Scientific Director of Future Food Studio & BEVLAB, Dr. Irwin Adam leads multi-disciplinary teams in re-imagining how we interact with food at every scale.”
As he noted in his initial email to me, one of his projects included helping design the outdoor restaurant on the Red River in the winter known as “Raw Almond” that’s become a popular destination for Winnipeggers looking for a unique food experience.

Irwin describes one of Future Food Studio’s most recent projects: “A museum of ice cream in the middle of Manhattan in the middle of summer. It had about 45,000 people come through it.”
He adds though that “we also do a lot of research and development around food.”
A perusal of his website – www.futurefoodstudio.com, provides tantalizing video images of some of Irwin’s more recent projects, including “speaker soup” – soup that has ripples and patterns which change shape and movement based upon where a drummer, who is located in the room where the soup is being served, hits his drums. (You’ve really got to watch the video to understand what this is all about.) You can do that at www.futurefoodstudio.com

Another project involved creating “the cloud”. Here, again, is how Irwin’s website describes the process: “…we thought to eliminate the most common association with beverage, phase, and developed a process to create table top clouds. We quickly learned that the clouds could be poured into glasses, sipped through straws, layered over one another, or over other beverages.”
While these two phenoms have achieved great success in their respective chosen fields – and have remained close friends, I told them that as much as I was in awe of what they had done, the question that was gnawing at me was: How many of their high school friends had also left Winnipeg to pursue schooling and careers in other cities?
Both Ilana and Irwin said that they thought that a fair number of their friends still remained in Winnipeg, on top of which they both often return to this city (where Ilana’s father and Irwin’s mother still reside). Still – and I know that some readers may find that I’ve been harping on this too much, I’ve got an overriding curiosity to know what’s become of so many others in Ilana’s and Irwin’s age group.
I told Irwin that, when I was searching his name on our website I had actually come across a pdf of an ad that the Jewish Foundation ran in 2004 which listed all the recipients of scholarships that the Foundation gave out that year, and that’s why I recognized his name when he emailed me. (I don’t know why, but Irwin’s name stuck in my head as having been one of those scholarship recipients.)
I said to both Ilana and Irwin that I wanted to try and track down the other recipients of Jewish Foundation scholarships from 2004. I know it’s an arbitrary choice, but I thought it might prove to be very useful in analyzing what’s happened to some of the “best and the brightest” from that particular era. (See the story on the opposite page for the results of my investigation.)
I think it goes without saying that neither Ilana nor Irwin would have achieved anywhere close to the success that they have had they stayed in Winnipeg but, just like Gerry Posner constantly reminds us how well ex-Winnipeggers have done in Toronto (and occasionally other cities as well), we can all take vicarious pleasure in reading and hearing about the accolades other former members of our community continue to reap.
It’s nice to know that Winnipeg can still produce exceptionally gifted individuals – even if so many of them have to leave Winnipeg to maximize their potential.

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