By BERNIE BELLAN An ongoing theme in this paper of late has been the steady influx of Russian Israelis into Winnipeg.
We’ve been profiling many of the newcomers, as well as attempting to obtain accurate information as to just how many Russian Israelis are living here now. (Verifying information that has been given, such as the suggestion that there are now 4,300 Russian Israelis here – which was a figure we reported in our last issue, is not easy. For instance, even if that many newcomers may have come here in the past few years, is anyone keeping tabs on how many of them may have left Winnipeg since their arrival here?)
Whatever the approximate number of Russian Israelis who are now living in Winnipeg is, there is no doubt that there is a substantial number of them here. But – when I say “here”, that could mean anywhere in the Winnipeg area and even outlying areas, such as Oakbank or Dugald where, we are told, a number of Russian Israelis have bought homes.
In an effort to reach out to some of these newcomers the Rady JCC conducted an outreach program on Thursday, October 13. Several members of the Rady JCC staff, along with incoming Rady JCC Board President Debbie Hoffman, took the trip to Oxford Heights Community Centre in Transcona. In advance of the program, the new Rady JCC outreach coordinator, Julia Kramskoy, had contacted as many Russian Israeli families who now make their homes in the Transcona area as possible, inviting them to attend that evening.
By the time October 13 rolled around, over 80 individuals (including children) had indicated that they would be attending the program. The idea of holding the outreach program was to provide information about the Rady JCC to families that either were not aware of what the Rady JCC has to offer, or who may have been somewhat aware, but found the distance between where they live and the Rady JCC to be prohibitive. At the same time, it was intended as a goodwill gesture to let new families who don’t have much to do with the Jewish community, but who are of Jewish background, know that the organized Jewish community is very much interested in their being connected in some way to the larger Jewish community.
During the course of the evening, along with hot dogs and snacks, the children were engaged in various activities and were later treated to a magic show. Debbie Hoffman also spoke briefly, explaining how much the Rady JCC wanted to welcome these new immigrants to Canada into the fold.
I spoke with a number of individuals who were in attendance. One young woman, whose name was Irina, told me that she and her husband arrived here two years ago. They have three children, the youngest being five. When I asked Irina whether she participated in any Jewish activities put on either by the Jewish Federation or the Rady JCC, Irina said that it’s simply too far to go to the Asper Campus, although she and her family had attended Yom Ha’atsmaut celebrations there. As well, she said, they were not observant, so the idea of attending synagogue services didn’t have any appeal for them.
Another individual, whose name was Vlad, told me that he works for New Flyer Industries, which is located in Transcona. Naturally, living in Transcona makes perfect sense for him, he explained. Vlad was originally from Ashkelon, he said. When I remarked to him that Regina Teplitsky, the new CJA campaign director, was also from Ashkelon, Vlad noted that Regina and his wife had gone to school together in Tel Aviv.
I ended up having a long conversation with Anna Shusterman, who is a real estate agent for Remax. Anna said that she had sold a great many houses to Russian Israelis. I asked her where they had been buying houses. She said that, in addition to Transcona, newcomers had been buying houses in Charleswood, Bridgewater, South Point, and River Park South.
Transcona was the most affordable area, Anna explained, as the average starting price for a home there ranges from $240-260,000. If you wanted to build a house in Transcona, Anna said, you could have a brand new home, complete with attached garage, for only $340,000. By way of comparison, she noted that a brand new home in Bridgewater Trails, without a garage, would run you at least $350,000.
I asked Anna why it is that so many Russian Israelis have been coming to Winnipeg? She suggested that “it’s one of the easiest communities to get into”.
I said to her that I knew another real estate agent by the name of Evgeny Potashnik (whom I profiled in this paper several years ago) and that I was quite familiar with Evgeny’s website, known as “winnipeg.ru”. I asked Anna whether as many Russian Israelis were still referring to that website for information about Winnipeg as had been the case a few years ago, when it was extremely popular with members of that group.
Anna said that nowadays most newcomers to Winnipeg network through Facebook. There are “three or four” Facebook groups that are especially popular among individuals who have either arrived here or are interested in coming here, she noted. Those Facebook groups are in Russian and Hebrew, she added.
I asked Anna how many of the new families tend to leave Winnipeg after having been here a few years? She said that she thought it was approximately 30 percent.
Anna told me that she, herself, is now a member of the Jewish Federation Board, and that having the Rady JCC put on a program in an area like Transcona was particularly significant for those who were in attendance, as it showed that the “Jewish community is finally coming to us”.
Since the program that evening was relatively successful, I asked Anna whether she thought it would be a good idea to hold other similar programs in Transcona, such as a Chanukah party, for instance. Anna thought that was a great idea, so I broached the idea to some of the Rady JCC staff who were present, including Gayle Waxman, Tamar Barr, and Kinzey Posen.
Transcona? It hasn’t had much of a Jewish presence until now, although there still is a Jewish cemetery there.