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By MYRON LOVE
“It was strictly a business decision,” says Jonathan Buchwald, the executive director of Congregation Etz Chayim, of the congregation board’s decision to sell the HSBA Gardens, one of three low-rent north end seniors apartment blocks that the synagogue owns.

 

“The decision is recognition that we are in the business of operating a synagogue and not in the business of being property managers.”

The 45-plus year old HSBA Gardens was the first of three such affordable seniors apartments built in the last decades of the last century that were connected with synagogues. The HSBA was built by the former Hebrew Sick Benefit Association, the largest of several mutual aid societies for Jewish immigrants to Winnipeg that were formed in the early 1900s at a time before governments provided social services. The apartment block preceded the construction of the former Beth Israel Synagogue – which was created by a merger of the Hebrew Sick and the Ateres Israel (Mizericher) shul - on the same parcel of land in Garden City.
After the merger of the Beth Israel, Bnay Abraham and Rosh Pina Synagoguesmerged in 2002, Congregation Etz Chayim – the new synagogue that came out of the merger – inherited all three seniors’ blocks as well as the three synagogue buildings. Etz Chayim subsequently sold the Beth Israel to the Aleph Bet Day Care and the Bnay Abraham to a church group.

The purpose of three synagogue-related seniors apartments – the Beit Am was built adjacent to and connected with the former Bnay Abraham Synagogue and the Rosh Pina Co-op just across the road from the current Congregation Etz Chayim (which used to be the Rosh Pina) – was to provide affordable apartments for Jewish seniors who were looking to downsize and, it was hoped, to help boost attendance for Shabbat and daily minyan services at the synagogues.
As things turned out however, with more members of the community choosing to move south – lured in part by newer assisted independent living complexes such as the Shaftesbury, the Portsmouth and the Boulton, the number of Jewish residents of the three apartment blocks are far outnumbered by non-Jewish seniors. The number of Jewish residents currently living at the 40-suite (all bachelor suites) HSBA Gardens, for example, may have dwindled to as few as one.

Buchwald notes that the HSBA Gardens’ new owner has pledged to maintain the status quo.
At the moment, he adds, Etz Chayim has no plans to divest itself of the Beit Am or the Rosh Pina Co-op.

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