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Bernie newBy BERNIE BELLAN

The Annual General Meeting of the Jewish Federation didn’t contain any real surprises; AGMs rarely do. (The surprises within our community seem to come when someone is summarily terminated from a position.)

 

 

At the Federation’s AGM, CEO Elaine Goldstine was recognized for her 25 years of service at the Jewish Federation. Like many others in our community who have risen to executive positions, Elaine began as a volunteer for the Federation. In her own quiet, unassuming way she has managed to oversee what is now a very large bureaucracy that has seen its mandate expanded over the years as the community has undergone some very major changes.
Although its primary role is to administer the allocation of funds to its 12 member agencies, the Federation has also become increasingly active in delivering programs on its own, especially to younger members of the community. The most successful of these would have to be the PJ Library program which, as Laurel Malkin, Federation President, noted during her address at the AGM, now sees 840 children receiving books on a regular basis. That program, however, is largely subsidized by the Harold Greenspoon Foundation, which means the Federation is getting tremendous bang for its buck for the program. (Altogether, PJ Library and another program called Partnership Together, which brings Israeli students together with their counterparts in Winnipeg, cost the Federation only $69,000 last year.)
When Laurel also stated that over 6,000 newcomers have come to Winnipeg in the past 15 years, largely as a result of the GrowWinnipeg initiative, that is truly an amazing number to contemplate. The problem though, as I’ve repeatedly noted in this column, is we don’t have a good handle on how many of those newcomers have remained here. The results of the 2016 census were deeply disappointing for planners within the Winnipeg Jewish community – and would seem to suggest that a good many of those newcomers must have left Winnipeg. Only 7,640 individuals listed Jewish as their ethnic origin on the 2016 census. (The explanation for the drastic drop from 2011, when 12,005 individuals in Winnipeg said their ethnic origin was Jewish, has been attributed to StatsCan’s dropping “Jewish” as one of the 20 choices available for census respondents to tick off; instead respondents had to write in “Jewish”.)
Yet, only 325 individuals in the 2016 census indicated that their ethnic origin was Israeli, so it’s still a bit of a mystery what choices respondents gave if it wasn’t Jewish or Israeli. There was a fairly large increase in the number who answered “Russian”, so that would go part way to explaining the precipitous drop in the number who answered “Jewish”, but the largest single increase in growth of any particular ethnic group was simply “Canadian”. It would seem evident,  therefore, that many  people who might otherwise have identified their ethnic origin as Jewish, instead gave “Canadian” as the answer.

The reality that people, especially young people, who are ethnically Jewish might choose to identify as Canadians much more than they do as Jews was brought home to me at a meeting of the Jewish Business Network on November 27 (about which I write on page 2 of this issue).
When I asked four millennials who are all self-employed businesspeople whether being Jewish makes any difference to how they network with other businesspeople, the answer was “no”. (Actually only one of the four panelists even bothered to respond to the question, suggesting to me that it wasn’t a factor for any of the others.) Sure, newcomers who are here from Israel will network with other Israelis. After all, they speak the same language. But, the only time newcomers would otherwise want to network with other Jews, it was suggested by one of the panelists, was when they wanted a deal.

Our community has changed considerably over the past 15 years. But, as much as the Jewish Federation seems to have pivoted strongly in focusing upon younger members of the community and newcomers in the past few years, one might well ask whether that shift in focus has come at the expense of older members of our community. After all, baby boomers, who are now mostly over 65 years of age, continue to make up the single largest component of the Jewish population here, according to the 2016 census – and many baby boomers still have parents alive, which means that a still very significant portion of our Jewish population can be described as senior.
As I have noted quite often, Gray Academy’s enrolment has continued to decline. (I wish this paper could give accurate figures about how many children are enrolled in each grade, but Gray Academy has decided that it will simply not supply us with any information about enrolment there beyond what exists on its Facebook page, which states that there are 466 students from JK-Grade 12.)
 The main reason for the declining enrolment at Gray Academy, however, has little to do what the school has to offer. It is simply that there are far fewer Jewish children in the school-going age cohort from which to draw upon. Secondarily, by and large, newcomers to the community – whose children make up a sizeable portion of the school-age cohort, have little interest in sending their children to Gray Academy no matter how good a school it may be.

Frankly, what will continue to stand this community in good stead for years to come is the financial legacy that has now been put in place by members of older generations, many of whom have passed on. Without the sizeable endowments that are now managed by the Jewish Foundation and which are beginning to spawn off sizeable interest payments each year, what appears to be a continuing trend of declining contributions to the CJA would lead to real financial predicaments for the Federation and its member agencies had those endowments not been established. Instead, largely as a result of the foresight of many generous individuals who have planted the seeds for others to draw upon, the Federation was able to increase its allocations to member agencies – despite the drop in contributions to the CJA Campaign. I wonder how many other Jewish communities can make that same statement?
Perhaps then, the constantly raised mantra that “youth are the future of the Jewish community”, might be balanced by a renewed focus on older members of our community, by saying “let’s not forget about our seniors”. Not everyone who is over 65 is wealthy and, as we observed in the last issue when we reported that the Simkin Centre spends only $8.40 per day per resident on food, there might be some other needs in our community that have taken a back seat to the all-consuming focus on youth.

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