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JCFS Community of Caring Gala Committee (left-right): Elena Grinshteyn, Randee Pollock, Leslie Wilder, Meytal Lavy, Pam Vine, Heather Leonoff, Harriet Zimmer, Sherry Lercher-Davis, Al Benarroch, Einat Paz-Keynan, Shana Menkis, Rietta Floom, Jill Atnikov, Tara Greenberg, Danita Dubinsky-Aziza (Missing from photo: Joanne Grusko, Carli Rossall, Irina Krassovitski) Photo courtesy of Manuel F. Sousa Photography

By BERNIE BELLAN
Of all the lousy luck – a gala evening that had been long in the planning happened to coincide with what was, to that point, the most important game in Winnipeg Jets’ history.

It was Game 7 of the Jets-Nashville series. Knowing that many of those who would be in attendance would be checking their phones all during the evening, the decision was made by JCFS gala planners to try to accommodate the many hockey fans who were in attendance at the JCFS “Community of Caring” gala on May 10th.
MC Rabbi Matthew Leibl told the almost sold-out Convention Centre crowd that “We have tried to plan this evening so that the main entertainment and the main speeches coincide with intermissions in the hockey game.”

 


Actually, that particular plan worked to perfection – at least for the first period of the game, as attendees who were at that point eating their dinners, were able to see the Jets score two quick goals – culminating in the yanking of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.  The game continued to be shown at various intervals during the evening, but by then it was all anticlimactic, as the Jets had the game well in hand once they scored those two first-period goals.
As if to underscore the importance of the game, Rabbi Leibl unveiled a special Winnipeg Jets tallit,  which he kept on the whole time he served as MC.
But, frivolity aside, the purpose of the evening was a serious one. The gala was intended to help raise money toward funding mental health and addiction programs run by  JCFS. As Rabbi Leibl noted in his introductory remarks, “there is a need to fight against the stigma of mental health and addiction issues and provide supports.”
In his own remarks, JCFS Executive Director Al Benarroch noted that “all Jews are responsible for one another. The idea of collective responsibility is one of the central ideas in Jewish life.”
Yet, Benarroch conceded that there are issues other than mental health and addiction that one might rightfully argue should claim a priority when it comes to JCFS allocating resources, including the needs of seniors, newcomers to the community, and families in crisis, for instance.

Why is it, therefore, that JCFS was seeking to focus on mental health and addictions? Benarroch asked. The reason, he said, is that “mental health and wellness is not just a program at JCFS; it’s the thread that runs through everything we do…Good mental health is helping people become whole again.”

While the demands being placed on JCFS for help in treating mental health and addiction issues have grown considerably over the years, Benarroch said “It’s a good news story actually. People are coming to us for help” whereas before many of those same people would not have had the courage or the motivation to seek help.
“But,” Benarrroch said, “our resources are stretched.”
“Our hope tonight,” he continued, “is not just that we’ve raised money to move forward, but that all of you can start a conversation about mental health issues.”

In fact, several members of the audience were individuals who had benefitted from JCFS programs for people with mental health and addiction issues, Benarroch said. “Some of the clients who have benefitted from JCFS programs are here tonight,” he observed.
Following Benarroch’s remarks, JCFS President Danita Aziza gave her own brief remarks. Most notable in what Aziza

said though is that “almost $300,000 had been raised through the gala” for JCFS.

Following the dinner, a film was shown in which various clients of JCFS offered testimonials as to how JCFS had been instrumental in helping them to repair their lives. (One of those individuals who appeared in the film, Larry Morris, also spoke later in the evening.)

At that point a young woman by the name of Carli Rossall took to the podium. Carli is someone who made quite an impression at last year’s Limmud, when she spoke of her own journey dealing with addiction issues. (I didn’t hear Carli speak at Limmud, but Myron Love wrote a riveting account of hearing her presentation in March 2017 for our paper that left me regretting not having heard her back then.)
As Carli Rossall began to speak, however, I realized immediately why Myron, along with so many others with whom I spoke, was left enthralled by Carli’s talk last year: Her candor, composure – and courage, are remarkable for someone who has gone through what Carli has gone through. (And interestingly, later in the week, when I was able to hear Dr. Brian Goldman deliver a talk on empathy, I was struck by how closely Dr. Goldman’s message coincided with what Carli Rossall also told the audience . At one point Dr. Goldman noted that the best addiction counselors are addicts themselves; they can relate like no one else to their clients.)
Carli said that she “has struggled with drugs and alcohol…At the end of the day all our (addicts’) stories are the same. It always starts off with a trauma. We seek pacification through substances. Eventually, if we’re lucky, we find ourselves seeking help through counseling.”
“What is my story?” Carli said to the audience. She went back to her years in high school at Gray Academy, when one of her teachers was Mrs. (Bonnie) Rafaeli.
“Mrs. Rafaeli was passionate about narrative (in writing stories), Carli explained.
“A good story has a beginning, a climax, and an end,” Carli continued; however, she admitted, “It would be wrong to say my story has a clean end.
“I will always have this disease,” Carli said, although “I didn’t think I could have an addiction because I was Jewish. I thought I was the only Jewish person to end up in the back of a cop car or sleeping on the floor of a crack house.
“One in four Canadians will struggle with substance addiction at some point in their lives,” Carli warned.
But, “if you fall down, get back up,” she insisted.
Finally, in a nod to the success JCFS has had in helping Carli – and others like her, she said: “Hope…that’s what I have because of programs like the ones at JCFS.”

As I noted earlier, one of the speakers this evening had also been part of a film about JCFS that was shown earlier to the audience.
Larry Morris explained that his situation was different from Carli’s. Larry has mental health issues, he said. (He’s bi polar, he explained later.)
“But,” he claimed, “while the stigma surrounding addiction has largely dissipated, it still remains surrounding mental health.”
“Growing up,” Larry said, “I was subjected to anti-Semitism in junior high school. I left for Israel in high school.”
It was while in Israel that Larry said he discovered a “sense of connection with the Jewish community” – something, he said he’s also felt through JCFS.
“People with mental health issues – also addicts,” Larry explained, “need a safe haven.” That’s something that JCFS has been able to provide him and others, he said.
But, the resources available in Manitoba are less sufficient than those that are available in other jurisdictions, according to Larry.
“I was hospitalized a number of times in Vancouver for depression,” he said. But there, “I was prescribed a consultant and a psychiatrist. In Winnipeg,” Larry continued, “it’s very difficult to get adequate treatment. Treatment centres have long wait lists.”
Yet, JCFS has been of great help to him, he said. And, “for JCFS to continue to be successful we have to rally together. If you know someone who is not getting treatment for addiction or mental health issues, call JCFS – that’s what a caring community does.”

By then, it was time to bring on the entertainment: The Maccabeats – a terrific acapella group of young guys hailing from New York, where they all got their start in Yeshiva University’s student vocal group.

One final note: I was talking to gala event organizer Jessica Kraut who, I found out, is married to Miles Kraut. Jessica and her staff did a terrific job organizing this beautiful gala and, in parting, I said to her: “Jessica, I’ve got the perfect slogan for you:  ‘You get more “Miles per gala” when you use Jessica Kraut to plan your gala!’

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