By BERNIE BELLAN Having arrived here in early September, the new Hebrew University of Jerusalem “Com-munity Ambassadors” to Winnipeg, Shai Josopov and Sigal Klaynerman, bring a fresh vitality to their roles.
In so many ways Shai, 29, and Sigal, 26, represent an entirely new approach to representing the Hebrew University in Winnipeg. Until now that role was essentially one as a fundraiser. Now, however, as was noted in our last (September 28) issue, with two young people who themselves are both recent graduates of the Hebrew University themselves, Winnipeggers can look forward to a marked departure in the way Shai and Sigal will be conducting themselves.
Recently, we sat down with the couple at Bermax Café, where we chatted about their backgrounds, and what they hope to achieve here.
Shai noted that the very title they have been given – “Community Ambassadors”, signifies the new approach that they are expected to take. “We want to strengthen the relationship between the Hebrew University and the community,” he suggested.
“We’re not here to replace what was going on before, but to continue it and build upon it. We’re both graduates of the Hebrew University. “(Shai has a B.A. in Political Science and International Relations, and an M.A. in Conflict Management and Resolution, while Sigal has a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science and a Masters in Management of Nonprofit and Community Organizations.)
“The idea,” Shai continued, “is to vivify the Hebrew University, if you will, to the community of Winnipeg.”
Sigal noted the long history of support from within Winnipeg’s Jewish community to the Hebrew University. “It goes back to 1948, I think”, she said (when the Winnipeg branch of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University was formed.)
“We want to meet people – get to know people,” Sigal continued, “in synagogues, in the JCC and any other place we might get to know the community personally.”
But, she admitted, “We’re not going to throw events at people right away, like lectures, until we get to know people in Winnipeg and who our audience is.
“We both have a lot of experience organizing events. For instance, at Rothberg (which is the school for overseas students at the Hebrew University) I was the producer of the Holocaust memorial ceremony, that included students from all over the world, not just Jewish students.”
I asked whether Sharon Zalik (who was executive director of the Winnipeg office of CFHU) is going to continue to play a role.
“I think she’s going to stay on for some bigger projects,” Sigal answered. “We’re not going to work together per se, but she is amazing. She’s been very helpful.”
I asked whether the two of them are here for a set period.
“At least a year,” Sigal said.
One of the main areas in which they hope to make a mark is in being living representatives fresh from the Hebrew University. “You’re going to see and feel the Hebrew University more now that we’re here,” Shai noted.
“We want to connect with young people,” he continued.
“For example,” Sigal explained, “we love hosting Shabbat dinners. We will meet people and ask them to cook together with us.”
“Also,” Shai added, “We’re going to organize events for young adults.” He says though that they won’t be going to the university before they have a chance to become acquainted with organizations such as Hillel (which will soon have a new director here).
I told Shai and Sigal that they should meet with Dr. Haskell Greenfield, who is the head of the Judaic Studies Department at the University of Manitoba. (Interestingly, the next evening they did meet Haskell at an event held at Temple Shalom.)
Before our lunch concluded, I asked Shai and Sigal to tell how they met.
“(In 2013) I was working as a social counselor coordinator in the preparatory program at Rothberg international school,” Sigal began.
“We were actually missing one counselor,” she continued. “We had four counselors. Each one spoke a different language. We were missing one who spoke good English. I did so many interviews; then we found Shai.”
“So you were his boss?” I asked.
“Kind of,” Sigal answered. “I was his supervisor.
“The thing is,” Shai noted, “we realized we liked each other, but we also realized we were working together, so we kept the relationship professional.”
It was at a Thanksgiving dinner in 2013 that the two actually had a chance to get to know one another outside of an office. They realized they had a good chemistry and began dating.
“We kept it a secret for four months and then we told everyone,” Shai explained.
Shai and Siegal were just married in June this year. Before then though, they had known they would be coming to Winnipeg for quite some time. They had responded to an ad looking for young graduates from the university to serve overseas. While there were other cities where Shai and Sigal could have gone, one of which was Washington D.C through a different job offer, they chose to come to Winnipeg.