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70 headstones toppled at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery, but Larsen’s Memorials restored all but two the next day

left: some of the 70 headstones toppled
overnight June 29; right: the same headstones
restored June 29 by Larsen’s Memorials

By BERNIE BELLAN Early in the morning of Wednesday, June 29, staff at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery discovered that approximately 70 headstones in an older part of the cemetery (Sections 1 and 2) had been toppled over night.

In a report posted to the CJN website, John Longhurst wrote that “Ron Ukashi, executive director of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, said the cemetery has security cameras and police are collecting evidence.”
However, after we attempted to contact Ran Ukashi on June 30 to ascertain whether there actually are security cameras at the cemetery (which I have never seen), and we were told by an informed source that “There are no security cameras currently in place at the cemetery. My understanding after speaking to Ran is that implementation of surveillance there would be quite costly.”
Ran Ukashi has not responded to a follow-up phone call nor, as of the time or writing, has he responded to an email request for clarification about security cameras.
While we understand that questions surrounding security can be sensitive, it might come as a surprise to family members of deceased relatives that there are no security cameras at the Shaarey Zedek Cemetery.
If Ran Ukashi had simply told John Longhurst that he would not comment on aspects of security relating to the cemetery, we would have understood that, but that is not what he told Longhurst.
On June 30 four workers from Larsen’s Memorials came out to the cemetery with a crane and, over the course of seven hours, set about restoring all but two of the headstones that had been toppled. I spoke with David Bohn of Larsen’s, to ask him whether Larsen’s was paid anything for their work.
He responded that the company did it entirely free of charge. He also said that they were able to restore all but two of the stones to their original state. Those two stones had shattered upon being toppled, David said.
The stones in the older part of the cemetery are generally in a weaker state than newer stones, and it would not have required much effort to topple them, we were told by a memorial expert.

What Larsen’s did is reminiscent of a similar situation in 2014 when the Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery was vandalized and workers from Everlasting Memorials came out to repair the damage – again totally free of charge. Also, in 2009, Eden Memorials (which has since gone out of business) did similar repair work at the same cemetery after an act of vandalism had occurred there.

However, in a message sent to Shaarey Zedek members, thanks were offered to another memorialist company, in addition to Larsen’s. According to information that we have verified, only Larsen’s performed any work. However, we have verified that a representative from another company did come out to the cemetery to look at the damaged headstones, but was unable to offer immediate assistance. That was the extent of that company’s involvement.

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Shaarey Zedek renovation update

Shaarey Zedek renovations are now well underway. Here’s a video posted by Shaarey Zedek about the renovations:

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Winnipeg Council of Rabbis criticizes suggestion that Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals – as well as kosher meals

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

We received the following letter from the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis in response to the suggestion that the Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals (Read story at🙂

Dear Bernie
We read your opinion piece on kashrut at the Simkin Centre with a certain amount of shock, as you advocated that the Simkin Centre not be a kosher facility. After a long discussion we had with food services at Simkin, it is clear that your statements about the quality of food are simply wrong. Residents at Simkin receive meals that are on par with all other similar facilities in Manitoba. The menu includes chicken both dark and white, meats including roast beef, ground meat, and much more. The only item not offered at Simkin that is offered at other similar homes is pork, which we hope you are not advocating for. 

In addition, every major Jewish organization in Winnipeg has a Kashrut policy in place. The reason for this is simple. Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values. How odd is it that Winnipeg’s “Jewish” newspaper would be advocating for treif food, and in your words  will “never give up the fight” to make sure it happens. A Jewish newspaper should be advocating for Jewish values, period. 

Finally, Kashrut allows the Simkin Centre to be an inclusive Jewish institution that accommodates the needs of the entire Jewish community. There are many residents and families that consider kashrut as an integral element in how they express their Judaism. They would have no other place to send their loved ones if the Simkin Centre was not Kosher.

The vast majority of Jews in Winnipeg want to see the Simkin Centre continue to be Kosher, and we hope you will either reconsider your position or not press a minority position onto the majority. We, as the rabbis of the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis, all endorse and fully support this position.

Winnipeg Council of Rabbis

  • Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, Adas Yeshurun Herzlia
  • Rabbi Allan Finkel, Temple Shalom
  • Rabbi Matthew Leibl, Simkin Center
  • Rabbi Anibal Mass, Shaarey Tzedek
  • Rabbi Kliel Rose, Eitz Chayim

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Bernie Bellan asks: If kashrut is so intrinsic to Jewish organizations in Winnipeg, why was the Rady JCC allowed to make its annual sports dinner non-kosher?

Bernie Bellan

Here’s a question for the Council of Rabbis – whose letter tearing a strip off me for daring to question the necessity of serving fully kosher meals to every resident of the Simkin Centre appears on this website: Have you ever considered the total hypocrisy inherent in your insisting that kashrut is vital to the Simkin Centre, while the Rady JCC some years ago abandoned the requisite that its annual sports dinner be kosher?
The sports dinner asks anyone attending whether they’d like a kosher meal (which is what I suggested the Simkin Centre could also do) and, from what I’ve been told, the number of individuals who respond in the affirmative can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
I don’t recall the council of rabbis kicking up a huge fuss over that change. But, to be consistent guys, (and by the way, only one of the five rabbis on that council is actually a subscriber to The Jewish Post, butI’m glad you’re all such vociferous readers), I expect you to demand that the Rady JCC sports dinner revert to being fully kosher.
After all, as Rabbi Benarroch so succinctly puts it in his letter: “Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values.”
I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to publicly demand that the sports dinner revert to being fully kosher. As I recall, the reason that kashrut was abandoned as a prerequisite for the dinner was because of the cost. So, when Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti wrote me in an email,  “I know for this year as of the end of October we are over budget on food by $150,000. We must continue to fund any costs on food from our existing annual budget or through fundraised dollars,” I fully expect the council of rabbis – and anyone else who is adamant that the Simkin Centre remain absolutely kosher to join in a campaign to raise that $150,000 so that Simkin can remain kosher without cutting into other areas of operation. How about it, guys?
My point in advocating for Simkin to modify its kashrut policy was to be as realistic as the people behind the sports dinner were in recognizing that the cost of a full adherence to kashrut can be prohibitively expensive. But, the sports dinner still allows anyone who wants a kosher meal to have one. That’s all that I was advocating for the Simkin Centre. So, tell me rabbis: Where do you draw the line from one Jewish institution to another? Or, does the slippery slope that you’re on also have an off ramp that allows you to abandon principles when it’s expedient to do so?

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