HomeOpinionOpinionWhat Jim Carr & Gail Asper had in common

What Jim Carr & Gail Asper had in common

By BERNIE BELLAN The juxtaposition of two stories on this website – about the death of Jim Carr and the appointment of Anita Wortzman as the new President of the Asper Foundation was not done by coincidence.
As our Jewish community here has evolved new leaders have emerged to take the places of those who have gone before them. The names Carr and Asper have been synonymous with a kind of community-minded selflessness for many years now.
And, while the Asper Foundation has been led by several very capable individuals, including its soon-to-be retiring Executive Director, Moe Levy, it is undoubtedly true that Gail Asper has been the face of that organization since she stepped in to take over the role that her late father, Israel Asper, had in establishing the Asper Foundation as a pivotal supporter of Jewish causes, not only here in Winnipeg, but around the world.
What I also found interesting about both Jim and Gail was that both grew up in the south end of the city, but neither attended a Jewish school. Yet, they both were deeply supportive of the State of Israel – Gail in ways that are quite apparent and which she has demonstrated throughout her career in her championing of philanthropic initiatives for the Jewish State, but Jim also in his own way by working to enhance dialogue between Jews and Arabs and, in his capacity as a Federal Minister, working to expand trade ties between Canada and Israel.
In so many ways Jim Carr and Gail Asper had the same kind of magnetism that led people to feel so comfortable in their presence. It was always so easy to talk to Jim, as it is to Gail. There was no pretense or putting on airs with those two. Their eternal optimism – in Gail’s case as she fought for years to get the Human Rights Museum built – and in Jim’s case as he fought a horrific battle against cancer, was quite remarkable.
Lesser individuals would have given up hope long before they both continued to persevere in their determination to see things through. In Gail’s case it was more a matter of continuing to rally support for a cause that at times seemed dangerously close to being lost, but in Jim’s case it was an insistence on not letting his own physical deterioration distract from his duty as a representative of Manitoba within the Federal Government.
Now that Gail is stepping down from her role as President of the Asper Foundation – to be succeeded by Anita Wortzman (who will be assuming both the role of President of the Foundation in addition to that of Executive Director), it will be interesting to see how high a profile Gail will continue to maintain.
It’s hard to imagine that a woman of such incredible energy and talent will recede into the shadows. Yet, in Anita Wortzman the Asper Foundation has found a woman of considerable talent who has also played a very important role in many Jewish organizations. I note, for instance, that in August of this year we reported on the successful effort of the “Friends of Town Island” to raise $2.85 million for the purchase from the Town of Kenora of that portion of Town Island (home to BB Camp) which was not already owned by BB Camp. That fundraising campaign was led by Anita Wortzman, along with Leah Leibl.
Our Jewish community has always had leaders who possessed great vision and whose contributions paved the way for future generations to reap the benefits of that vision. Whether it was building the enormous number of synagogues that at one time existed in this community, the schools that have educated tens of thousands of Jewish youngster over the years, the camps that have offered a vibrant Jewish atmosphere for Jewish kids, the community centres that have provided a rich panoply of services, and the institutions, such as Jewish Child and Family Service – which has attended to the psychological and often the financial needs of members of our community who are in need of help, it was men and women who had the foresight to lay the foundations of a community that is often the envy of other Jewish communities across North America who we must always remember.
Yet, at the same time as the foundation for a Jewish community that can exist for years to come has been laid, there are so many cracks that have emerged in that foundation it would be naïve to think that the existence of the Jewish community here has been safeguarded for the indefinite future.
Recently I was informed that a long-surviving institution known as the “North End Jewish Choir” is about to go out of existence. The reasons, as it emerged from within an email which I received, are twofold: There is a lack of members to sustain a viable choir and two, even if there were sufficient members, there is no venue available in which to practice.
Perhaps not a great many readers of this paper will care that another Yiddish institution here is about to fold. I am often asked why this paper still carries a Yiddish column when there may be so many fewer readers who can even read it? I do it because it’s always been an important tradition in this paper and to me, it’s symbolic of what a Jewish newspaper should be: one eye toward the future but still with a healthy respect for what was once an integral part of Jewish life in this city.
At the same time I’m asked why we don’t have a Hebrew column or perhaps a Spanish or Russian column? The answer is not that we don’t have room for any of those; it’s that we don’t have anyone to write them. At one time, if you can believe it, we had a Russian column and a Spanish column, in addition to our usual Yiddish column. And, while we had the occasional Hebrew column as well, it was not a regular feature of this paper simply because we couldn’t find a columnist who was willing to contribute a regular Hebrew column.
Of course, with the advent of social media, members of our community who speak any number of different languages can easily find a Facebook page that caters to their interests in a language with which they are most comfortable, so it would be naïve to think that this paper could attract new readers by offering columns in Hebrew or some other language.
As we are about to enter 2023 there are some momentous changes in the offing for our Jewish community, including the putative move of Etz Chayim Congregation to a new home on Wilkes Avenue, the continued renovation of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, and the uncertain state of the Rady JCC.
Why do I use the expression “uncertain state” with reference to the Rady JCC? The reason, quite simply, is that the Rady JCC has lost so many members ever since Covid first emerged in 2020 that, had it not been for a huge amount of government infusions of cash, I doubt it would still be around today. It might come as a surprise to readers who have been seeing regular advertisements in this paper for Rady JCC programs over the past few months, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: All those ads have been run free of charge.
I can’t think of an institution in this community that is more important to our future than the Rady JCC and I have pledged to do whatever I can to help sustain that institution as it battles back from the terrible effect Covid has had on its bottom line – both in financial terms and in loss of members.
While individuals such as Jim Carr and Gail Asper can never be replaced, there will always be other leaders who will come along and at least try to provide the inimitable leadership that both Jim and Gail have provided, and synagogues may continue to close going forward, but it will never be possible to replace a Rady JCC. Let’s hope that 2023 emerges with some really positive news about the future of our community’s hallmark institution.
In one final nod to the story that continues to haunt Jews, there is no shortage of headlines detailing yet more incidents of brazen antisemitism. We could fill the pages of this paper with stories that are shocking in how much they demonstrate that antisemitism has now become normalized throughout the world. Not only does Myron Love do an excellent job of describing a story that was sent to me by so many different individuals: how a University of Toronto professor of medicine decided to expose the blatant antisemitsm that pervades that institution, at the same time there was another similar story – this time coming from Berkley, California – a hotbed of anti Israel sentiment.
Apparently a pro-Palestinian group in the law faculty there passed a resolution that would prevent invitations being extended to “speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views … in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” Given Berkley’s reputation as a bastion of radical leftist ideology, it’s hardly surprising that a resolution of that sort would be passed there. And, even if you’re critical of Israeli policy toward Palestinians, a resolution of that sort would prevent anyone who might have something favourable to say about Israel from speaking to students at the Berkley law faculty.
That story about Berkley along with the story about the U of T Faculty of Medicine might not be indicative of anything going on elsewhere, but it simply adds to the discomfort Jews on campuses everywhere are feeling when it comes to espousing pro-Israel sentiments.

- Advertisement -