By MYRON LOVE
Limmud Winnipeg celebrated its tenth anniversary on the weekend of February 29/March 1 with quite possibly its best attendance to date. Close to 400 members of our community had more than three dozen sessions to choose from, with presenters from across Canada, New York and Israel joining local speakers and facilitators in providing a smorgasbord of topics both secular and religious, cultural and culinary.
As usual, this writer indulged in a representative sampling of what was on the menu, balancing local and Israeli issues with some religious study as well as delving into Jewish history. And, while each session could make for an entire feature on its own, space considerations leave me to focus on the highlights.
So let us begin the journey.
The first session that I attended was a presentation by former Winnipegger Jack Frohlich, who made a aliyah in 1989 and who, for the past 18 years, has been teaching conversion classes under the auspices of the National Centre for Conversion. He also works closely with the Beta Israel (Ethiopian) community.
Frohlich delivered two presentations – the first discussing the challenges facing Ethiopian Israelis and the second talking about the controversial issue of conversion in Israel. There is much misinformation concerning conversion in Israel, Frohlich pointed out.
My own understanding was that Reform and Conservative conversions are not recognized in Israel and – much to my surprise, there have been Orthodox conversions in North America that also aren’t recognized in Israel. The reality is that the only conversions officially recognized in Israel are those which are approved by the Dayanim (rabbi/judges) associated with the National Centre for Conversion.
As Frohlich noted, even a conversion by a rabbi in solidly Haredi Bnai Brak would not be recognized.
He pointed out that while Reform and Conservative conversions may not be recognized or the converts considered Jewish, they are still welcomed under the Law of Return with all the benefits that come with it.
Then there is the occasional report that converts have to vow to observe all the Mitzvot both during the conversion process and forever after on pain of having the conversion rescinded. Not true, Frohlich said. Once one is accepted into the Jewish community, the individual can life his or her life the same way those who are born Jewish do.
“Becoming a Jew is a two-sided coin,” he said. “It is a two-for-one deal. You are adopting a new religion and you become part of the Jewish People.”
While the original Law of Return applied only to Halachic Jews born of a Jewish mother, he noted, in 1970, the government expanded the Law of Return to include anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent – even though the individual would not be considered Jewish per se.
Of the Russian immigrants who came to Israel in the 1990s, Frohlich pointed out, about 50% were not halachically Jewish.
He reported that Israel registers about 2,500 conversions a year with most of the converts being women. “Weddings often follow,” he said.
Quite a number of Filipinos (Filipinas?) and Arab Moslems are among the converts, he noted.
And the government and the rabbinate continue to make the conversion process easier, he added. In recent years, all fees have been removed and a more flexible approach has been adopted for the learning process.
“Most students are pleasantly surprised by their ulpan/educational experiences,” Frohlich said.
He reported that about 80% of conversion applicants are approved the first time they appear before the Bet Din with the remainder often approved following a few more months of studying.
From Israel, we travel back to Winnipeg to hear the story of Shimon Segal. The 33-year-old criminal lawyer began life with the deck stacked against him. He has succeeded in life through his own inner strength and the love and support of David and Glenda Segal and their sons, Devin and Ryan.
Segal was born into a strictly Orthodox – but dysfunctional family. Over his first few years, he was imbued with Orthodox practice and tradition and a strong Jewish identity. The middle of three children, he recalls a lot of arguing in the home.
He began his schooling in the Hebrew Bilingual program at Centennial School in the North End. After Grade 2, he recalled, the family moved south, where his parents became less and less observant and opened a grow-op in their home. “The house was always moldy and dirty,” he remembered.
While attending Brock Corydon’s Hebrew Bilingual program, he made some friends among his classmates -, in particular, Devin Segal.
The Jewish Child and Family Service first stepped into the family situation when he was seven. He noted that his mother was abusive and his father disinterested.
When he was ten, his parents split and he found himself back in the North End in a group home where he was the only Jewish kid. “I was living a double life,” he recalled. “I was taking the bus to Brock Corydon every day. At the group home, I started smoking cigarettes and marijuana and wearing gang clothes to try to fit in. I would show up at school smelling of cigarettes. I didn’t fit in anywhere. While I remained close to my friends at Brock Corydon, most of their parents didn’t approve of their sons hanging out with me.”
The exception was David Segal. “My dad (David Segal) began to be involved in my life when I was ten,” Shimon said. “He took an interest in me. He would take me fishing sometimes. There was no sense of judgment. I relaxed when I was with him.”
For a short time, Segal was housed with foster parents Barry and the late Marsha Weber, to whom he is also grateful. The Webers took in foster children for short periods of time.)
At the age of 12, he was returned to his birth mother for a time. That didn’t work out. He spent some time in the Manitoba Youth Centre and with a Christian foster family who sent him to a bible camp. “They were only in it for the money,” he said of those foster parents.
“I began spending more and more time with the Segals,” Shimon said.
After several excruciating weeks with the Christian family, he was returned to his birth father who, after a short time, locked him out of the house.
That was when his life really took a turn for the worse. He ended up living on the street in Tuxedo. “I tried Osborne Village, but it felt too dangerous,” he recalled. “In Tuxedo, I felt safer. I slept wherever I could – partially-built buildings, a friend’s mother’s station wagon, even in the Assiniboine Forest for a time.”
It wasn’t long after that David and Glenda Segal invited him to move in with them permanently and become a member of the family. “David and Glenda became my dad and mom and Devin and Ryan my new brothers.”
He added that he has kept in touch with his own birth siblings – a brother and sister- and that the Segal family has included them in family gatherings.
The love and support from his new family, Shimon said, enabled him to rekindle his inner Jewishness and feel part of the Jewish community again.
Over the last ten years, Segal has been able to earn a law degree. He has married and become a father. And he has given back to the community and, through his legal work, other vulnerable people.
“Thanks to the Segal Family, I have been able to live a normal life,” he said.
“What the Segal Family did for Shimon was amazing,” said Randee Pollock, the Jewish Child and Family Service’s Adoption, Fostercare and Rescue Co-ordinator. “Our goal is to keep families together – but that is not always possible where there are mental health or addiction issues or perhaps there has been a death in the family.”
She reports that the JCFS currently has 15 Jewish children in care with nine foster homes and three places of safety available to house them. “We are always in need of more Jewish families who are willing to open their homes to children in our community who are in need of shelter,” she noted.
From Winnipeg, we again pack our bags for our third port of call as we follow Rabbi Mark Glickman, the spiritual leader of Reform Congregation Temple B’nai Tikvah in Calgary, as he travels the world in search of the lost story of the Cairo Genizah.
Glickman is the author of “Sacred Treasure – the Cairo Genizah: The Amazing Discoveries of Forgotten History in an Egyptian Synagogue Attic”. (He also delivered a talk at Limmud in 2016 about his follow-up book, “Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish books”.)
Glickman’s research took him to archives at Cambridge University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York – the world’s two largest repositories of Genizah documents – and, accompanied by his son, Jacob, to the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, which was the original repository of the Genizah.
So, you might be wondering what a “genizah” is? As Glickman pointed out, we are a People of the Book. Under Jewish Law, it is not allowed to throw out sacred books. The proper way to dispose of them is burial in a Jewish cemetery. But they have to be stored somewhere until they can be buried. In my own synagogue, the genizah – or storage space – is a cupboard downstairs. For many centuries in the old Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, it was a space – a hole in the wall in the women’s section upstairs.
The current Ben Ezra Synagogue, Glickman reported, was built in the 11th century on the banks of the Nile, replacing an earlier shul which was destroyed by flooding. In the Middle Ages, he noted, Egypt was home to a large and influential Jewish community one of whose most prominent members was the great Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon (aka Maimonidies aka the Rambam).
There are a number of Western characters associated with the discovery of the treasure trove of documents that were stored in the Ben Ezra genizah. The first outsider to appear on the scene was one Simon Von Geldern, a German Jewish adventurer and Orientalist who moved in Bedouin circles. He visited the Genizah, but took nothing from it.
Then there came a Rabbi Jacob Saphir, a dealer in Jewish documents in Jerusalem, who heard about the Genizah from Van Geldern, dropped in, and brought back about 1,000 documents for sale. Next was Abraham Firkovitch, a member of the breakaway Karaite sect – who came in search of documents of historical interest to the Karaite community.
In the 1880s, Elkan Nathan Adler, a prominent member of England’s Jewish community – and son and brother of Chief Rabbis of England, visited and left with more than 6,000 documents (as possibly a Torah cover).
The scholarly interest in the Genizah, Glickman noted, began in 1996 when Rabbi Solomon Schechter – then teaching at Cambridge University, had an encounter with an unusual colleague. Twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson were Semitic scholars and travellers who had recently returned from an expedition to St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai. Among the documents they brought back was one in a language that the two multi linguists didn’t recognize. They asked Schechter if he could help. He recognized it as a tractate for the book Ben Sira, a book of wisdom that had not been included in the Talmudic canon. The book at that time was only known from a Greek translation.
“The last person to have seen that book in the original Hebrew was Saadia Gaon over 1000 years before,” Glickman noted. “The document was from the Ben Ezra Genizah. Schechter – very excited by this find – quickly arranged to visit the genizah and subsequently transferred close to 200,000 documents to Cambridge for translation and study.”
The documents – 300,000 in total – consisted not only of religious material but also letters, business records, medical prescriptions and the other detritus of every day life. Among the documents that Glickman highlighted was the oldest piece of Jewish sheet music (composed by an Italian Catholic priest who had converted to Judaism), an early Hebrew reading primer and the last letter that Maimonides received from his beloved younger brother, David, before the businessman was lost at sea en route to India.
Over the past 20 years, Glickman reported that advances in computer technology have made translating the documents and connected fragments much easier. He noted that the Freidberg Genizah Project was established in 1999 as a non-profit international humanities venture established by philanthropist Albert Friedberg of Toronto to promote and facilitate research of the material discovered in the Cairo Genizah. Under the aegis of the project, all of the genizah materials are in the process on being inventoried and put online.
Glickman completed his presentation with a video of himself peering into the now empty genizah.
And we conclude with a little Torah study led by Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, spiritual leader of the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation. His question: Does being religious make you a better person?
In contemplating the question, Rabbi Benarroch first turned to the story of creation, noting that while the Lord commented after each of the first five days of creation that work was “good”, He does not say the same about His creation of mankind. Rather, the Torah says that the Lord “created Man in his image”.
So what does that mean? Benarroch quoted Torah and referred to several rabbanim – including Rabbi Akiva, Rambam and the late modern sages, Rabbis Joseph Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel – as well as talmudic commentaries and their interpretations. One suggestion that Benarroch made is that of all G-d’s creations, man is the only one that can also create.
And while G-d doesn’t have an “image” in the way that man does, He does have attributes that can well be emulated – being slow to anger and quick to forgive, compassionate, gracious and merciful – attributes that are part of a prayer shul goers sing on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot before taking out the Torah and at Selichot in the days leading up to the High Holidays.
So, while engaging in regular religious practice itself doesn’t determine good or bad behavior, Rabbi Benarroch concluded, attempting to model your life after the qualities exhibited by the Lord – in His image – will, without a doubt make one a better person.
Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities
By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.
Newly-arrived Health Sciences Centre surgeon Dr. Lev Bubis has deep roots in Winnipeg Jewish community
By MYRON LOVE Dr. Lev Bubis, the Health Sciences Centre’s new hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) surgeon, says that he and his family –wife, Amy, and four-year-old daughter, Ada, – are settling in quite nicely in their new home.
“We are really enjoying being here,” notes Bubis who arrived here in early October. “We have a house in south River Heights and we enjoyed being with the family for the High Holidays and Chanukah.”
Bubis is the grandson of the late Morris and Mae Bubis. And, although the young Bubis grew up in Ottawa – family members here include his aunts, Carol Arenson, Adrienne Katz and Harriet Rodin, and their families.
Bubis’s father, Mordy Bubis, left Winnipeg for Ottawa after university and the nation’s capital is where the young Bubis grew up.
He notes that he was interested in pursuing a career in medicine from an early age – although he first earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Kings College in Halifax. He did his medical training at Columbia University.
“I decided to specialize in liver and pancreatic medicine in third year when I got the opportunity to work with Dr. John Chabot, one of America’s leading pancreatic cancer specialist,” Bubis says.
After Columbia, Bubis relocated (in 2014) to Toronto, where he honed his surgical skills in liver and pancreatic surgery at the University of Toronto and St. Joseph’s Hospital. He did a six-year residency at the university, followed by two years of research and two more years training in surgical oncology.
Bubis (and family) arrived in our community in early October to begin his position at HSC. In an interview on the Health Sciences Centre Foundation website “Tell Your Story” section, which was published on December 21, Bubis noted that there were several factors that led him to come to HSC – in particular, the hospital’s commitment to minimally invasive surgery.
“I was attracted by the exceptional team that’s in place at HSC and by the fact that the hospital is really pushing things forward with minimally invasive surgery,” said Bubis in the HSCF interview. “This is where the HPB field is going and it is a real interest of mine. It’s exciting to me that the HSC Foundation is supporting this direction in surgery with capital investments.”
He explained that minimally invasive surgery is “an approach to surgery that typically relies on smaller incisions and instruments. Very small cameras allow surgeons to see their work on video monitors in high definition. Minimally invasive surgery means less pain for a patient, a quicker recovery, and a shorter hospital stay. Among other benefits, shorter hospital stays free up beds more quickly, which reduces the amount of time patients need to wait in the Emergency Department.”
Bubis has also had extensive training in treating neuroendocrine tumors, which can occur throughout the gastrointestinal tract, as well as elsewhere in the body. One of his specialties is the Whipple procedure, an operation to remove tumors and treat other conditions in the pancreas, small intestine and bile ducts. The complex procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gall bladder and bile duct.
Bubis points out that, at HSC, he is a member of a team that treats patients from throughout Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. He reports that he sees patients at the clinic two days a week, does surgeries one or two days a week and does some endoscopes and teaching.
He is looking forward to a lengthy stay here.
‘Put a Yid on It!’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture!
By SHIRA NEWMAN – Festival Director I am thrilled to announce the inaugural year of ‘Put a Yid on It’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture, running from February 7 to 11th. I have had the great good fortune of being the producer of this event with the guidance and support of the committee which previously brought us the wonderful festival Mamaloshen.
Like a lot of Gen X-ers, I grew up hearing a smattering of Yiddish as a child, mostly in the words of my Baba. I could not speak a word of it, but when I made my first film 10 years ago, I was for some reason drawn to include Yiddish in it and I started to dive into the history of Yiddish Cinema.
A linguist I know, hearing me wondering where this desire came from, explained to me that an ancestral language will remain ‘written in our bones’ (or unconscious memory, or genes, however we may wish to see it). This resonated with me and started me down a voyage of discovery of this 1000-year-old language and culture.
It is hard to imagine that only 80 years ago eleven million people spoke, wrote, sang, and dreamt in Yiddish. It spanned throughout all of Eastern Europe and spread wherever our people travelled. Never the majority language of a nation state but the language of a pan national community of Ashkenazi Jews ‘scattered among the nations’ enriched by and enriching so many other languages and cultures while still carrying its uniqueness with it.
Since the Second World War, Yiddish has become less common but as any Yiddishist will tell you, the idea that it is dying is wrong (if not complete heresy!). And they are very right. It is spoken by many (largely in the Hassidic community) and is continually being reclaimed by more – as can be seen by talented artists of every generation who make beautiful work inspired by the Yiddish language.
Today there is a lively re-emergence of the warm, funny, poetic language – some call it a new Yiddish Renaissance in the arts, cinema, and music. There are popular films, TV shows, successful web-series, and festivals springing up everywhere. In the world of music, you can find an amazing array of bands putting their own modern spin on classical Klezmer, and others using Yiddish in everything from Punk to Metal, to Psychedelic Rock, to Hip-Hop! Put a Yid on It! Is a celebration of this trend!
On February 7th, at 7:30 pm we will be opening with a free book launch, talk, and reception at The Handsome Daughter (61 Sherbrook Street) for a brand-new book called “Yiddish Cinema: The Drama of Troubled Communication,” featuring authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrečar. This book offers a bold new reading of Yiddish cinema by exploring the early diasporic cinema’s fascination with media and communication. Jonah and Monika will discuss their book and the history of Yiddish cinema. (Snacks and drinks will be provided).
We have some amazing bands coming! On February 8th, Canadian Folk Music Award Winners, Beyond the Pale will be here from Toronto and will be playing at the Berney Theatre. They are a tremendous fun and lively Klezmer and Balkan Band who are known for their genius musicianship, experimentation, and playfulness. This is not your traditional Klezmer Band – they bring in a world of musical styles including reggae, jazz, bluegrass. Watching them play is truly a tour of world music. They will be bringing Yiddish classics and so much more!
On February 10th, we are partnering with the West End Cultural Centre to bring the brilliant and one-of-a-kind Yiddish (and English), Montreal Hip-Hop artist Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin. He will be performing with his band, which includes the mesmerizing vocalist Katie Moore, Balkan trumpet ‘God’ Nizo Alimov, and Michale Felber on bass. This is going to be an incredibly special show. His music is as evocative and moving as it is fun (and danceable).
Socalled is the star of an award-winning feature length documentary (NFB) called ‘The Socalled Movie.’ The video for his song ‘You Are Never Alone’ has been viewed more than three million times. He is truly a cultural phenomenon (and his parents are from Winnipeg!).
From February 7th to 11th, we will be presenting a series of some of the greatest Yiddish films of all time – all restored to beautiful quality. I am extremely excited to see these on a big screen for the first time! This series includes films from the 1930s, which is considered The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema such as “Yiddle with His Fiddle” (a joyful romp of a musical comedy) on February 7th, “The Light Ahead” (a poignant social commentary) on February 8th, and “The Dybbuk” (a gorgeous Yiddish ghost story) on February 10th. It will also include “Hester Street,” from 1974, (with a Yiddish speaking Carol Kane) on February 11th. All these screenings take place at 2:00 p.m. in the Berney Theatre.
On Sunday, February 11th, we will have some fun closing events! At 10 am come and join us at the Rady JCC for a bagel breakfast and a ‘Bisl’ Yiddish with Professor Itay Zutra. We will be learning some of the MOST expressive Yiddish sayings. At 3:30 pm there will be a reunion for I.L. Peretz Folk School alumni. There will be snacks and time to reminisce!
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.radyjcc.com or feel free to give me a call at 204.477.7534.
There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love… In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of a frightened and hopeful humanity.
- Issac Bashevis Singer