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Are students and staff at either the University of Manitoba or University of Winnipeg feeling threatened since October 7?

Poster that was put up without authorization opposite the office of the Head of Judaic Studies at the University of Manitoba

By BERNIE BELLAN With tensions heightened to unprecedented levels at some university campuses across the US and Canada as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas, I wondered what it’s been like for students and staff at the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba this past month.
I set about contacting students, professors, and representatives of administrations at both universities.
As a preamble to writing about what I found out, it is important to explain that ten and a half year years ago, as a result of the efforts of Josh Morry, then a Commerce student at the University of Manitoba, a group know as Students Against Israeli Apartheid (or SAIA for short) was banned from the University of Manitoba campus.
Morry was able to use the University of Manitoba Students Union’s own rules to bring about that result. Morry cited something called Policy # 2009: “UMSU does not condone behaviour that is likely to undermine the dignity, self-esteem or productivity of any of its members or employees and prohibits any form of discrimination or harassment whether it occurs on UMSU property or in conjunction with UMSU-related activities. Therefore, UMSU is committed to an inclusive and respectful work and learning environment, free from:

  1. discrimination or harassment as prohibited in the Manitoba Human Rights Code;
  2. sexual harassment; and
  3. personal harassment.”
    Not much more was heard about the decision to ban SAIA from the U of M campus for years – until recently, when another anti-Israel group, this time with a different name but the same agenda as SAIA, organized a demonstration against Israel on October 13. The demonstration was in response to Israel’s moves against Hamas following Hamas’s massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals on October 7, along with the taking of what we now know were 240 individuals as hostages.
    The name of the group this time is Students for Justice in Palestine (or SJP for short).
    What this group has been able to do, however, is take advantage of the fact that it is not a registered group on the University of Manitoba campus and, as a result, both the university administration and UMSU say they are powerless to prevent it from holding demonstrations or from disseminating anti-Israel literature.

In what seems akin to a Catch-22 situation, in an email I received from Vanessa Koldingnes, Vice-President External at the university – in response to a question I posed to her about SJP, Ms. Koldingnes wrote, with reference to SPJ: “this group is not currently recognized as a registered student club by UMSU. This does not prevent this group from assembling peacefully or booking university space for events or displays, in accordance with UM’s Use of Facilities policy.”
Apparently, however, UMSU has refrained from banning SJP because, according to a source within Hillel, the Jewish students’ organization at the U of M, SJP hadn’t completed its application to become a recognized organization on campus. As the source told me, UMSU is taking the position that “oh well, they’re not a club; we’re not taking a position on them. There are fewer restrictions on unofficial groups than there are for official groups – for some reason.” (I attempted to contact UMSU for a response, but did not hear back.)
In other words, because it hasn’t been banned yet from the University of Manitoba – for engaging in exactly the same kind of behaviour as its predecessor organization, SAIA, which led to its being banned by UMSU, SJP will be allowed to conduct protests against Israel on campus – and have a table in the University Centre where its members will be allowed to disseminate anti-Israel and pro-Hamas propaganda.

In order to get a better feel for what’s been happening at both university campuses, I went down to both – to the U of W on November 1 and to the U of M on November 2. I spent considerable time looking around to see whether there were any overt displays, either anti-Israel or pro-Israel, on both campuses.
Since news of the heightened dangers Jewish students at many campuses in the United States – especially at some Ivy League schools, in particular Cornell, along with York University here in Canada, have been facing, I wondered what Jewish university students in Winnipeg – or professors, for that matter, have been experiencing these past four weeks.
When I attended both universities I was quite expecting to see the kinds of fanatically anti-Israel posters that have been commonly displayed at so many American universities. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were no posters of any kind visible at either university – neither anti-Israel nor pro-Israel.
I had heard, however, that students at the University of Manitoba who had been wearing visible Jewish symbols, such as a kippah or Star of David, had been subjected to harassment at that university, including being spat upon.

In order to find out first-hand what it’s been like for Jewish students at the U of M these past four weeks, I made my way to the Hillel office in the University Centre. When I entered the quite small office I was surprised to see so many students – there must have been at least 20, crammed into such a small space. It was lunch hour, however, and many of the students that I saw were eating their lunches. Several of them were wearing kippot or Stars of David.
I was able to speak with one of the students (who asked that I not identify them by name; they were naturally concerned for their safety and when I told them that I was also going to post this article to our website, we both agreed that, for their sake, they should remain anonymous).
During the course of our lengthy conversation, the student told me several things about what life has been like for Jewish students at the U of M. I asked whether there have been any incidents involving Jewish students and members of Students for Justice in Palestine. I was told that whenever Jewish students (who are identifiably Jewish because they’re wearing either a kippah or Star of David) “go up to them” and try to engage in dialogue, “they’re told, ‘No, I don’t walk to talk to you – go away.’ On top of that,” the source said, “they’re putting out documents saying ‘’all Israelis are supremacists, all Israelis are settlers.’ “
Beyond the kinds of literature disseminated by SJP, I was curious to know whether there have been reports of Jewish students or professors being threatened, either verbally, physically, or on line. I was told that one Jewish professor at the University of Manitoba is especially nervous because of threats that professor has received, but was offered no specifics. I was also told about a Zoom call that took place Wednesday evening, November 1, in which a number of different professors from both the U of M and the U of W participated, sharing their recent experiences with antisemitism on campus. The source with whom I was speaking gave me the name of one professor at the University of Winnipeg who, the source suggested, might be able to share their recent experience with antisemitism.

I contacted Haskel Greenfield, Head of Judaic Studies at the University of Manitoba, to ask him whether he’s personally experienced any acts of antisemitism since October 7 or whether he knew of any professors who might have experienced any.
On Friday, November 3, I received an email from Haskel to which he attached a poster that had been put up opposite his office in the Fletcher Argue building at the U of M.
Haskel also sent me a copy of an email that he had just sent to a number of different individuals at the U of M:
“I am making a formal complaint that I am being targeted with hateful messages. Thursday morning, I found this poster posted on the wall opposite my office door in Fletcher Argue 447. As coordinator for Judaic Studies, I am being targeted and not protected by the UofM. It is shameful and frightening at the same time
“This was put up by a group that advocates the destruction of the State of Israel and all Jews, regardless of where they live. It is funded by known terrorist organizations as well. This poster openly advocates for the policies of BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel and Jews) which is named as an example of an antisemitic policies by the government of Canada.
“I think it is time that such groups be banned from being on campus as they are promulgating hate speech, just as UMSU did 10 years ago, and how the entire state of Florida has done because SJP openly supports terrorists (just as they do on this campus as they have put out flyers telling students to take up the call of the military wing of HAMAS). No one else on my floor had such a notice put up opposite their door.
“Maybe it is time to consider beefing up security for Jewish professors and students, and to limit access to the 4th floor of FA, especially after the recent break-ins and homeless people sleeping there. I have to keep my doors locked at all times now given the lack of security and dangerous people prowling the hallways.
“I have removed the offensive poster from the wall. I am attaching a copy for you.”

In response to Haskel’s email, I emailed a question to Vanessa Koldingnes, in which I asked, “I see that the poster has IJV on the bottom as well as CJPME. I wonder what the university’s policy is re allowing either of those groups to put up posters on campus?”
Ms. Koldingnes responded, ”I can confirm these posters were not approved. When security observes a poster without stamped approval, it is removed.”
I also contacted the professor at the University of Winnipeg who, I was told by the Hillel representative, had been part of that Zoom call on Wednesday evening and had mentioned antisemitism at the U of W. That professor did respond (and again, the professor preferred to remain anonymous). They wrote though, that I was misinformed by the Hillel representative; they have not encountered any overt forms of antisemitism at the U of W.
In the email sent to me by that professor, they wrote: “I have not seen any direct or overt forms of antisemitism or anti-Israel propaganda.” Instead, they referred to “the covert or systemic forms of antisemitism that we’ve experienced at the university. Anecdotally, some students have told me they feel unsafe, and one mentioned a professor downplaying antisemitism. But, again, these are anecdotes and I don’t have any evidence to prove this.
“I will say, however, that I see colleagues on social media calling the flag of Israel fascist (which should concern anyone who sends their children to Jewish schools, goes to the Rady JCC, or who attends a synagogue, all of which are places that fly the flag of Israel.) The same colleague also refers to Israel on social media as ‘whiteness,’ but there are issues of academic freedom that come into play here; and, this is something, however, that I have already discussed with the Human Rights and Diversity Office at the university, with whom I have a meeting next week.”

While Jews are experiencing new and unprecedented levels of antisemitism throughout the world, and there has been at least one incident reported by the Winnipeg Police Service about a bullet being shot through the window of a Jewish-owned home, the situation in Winnipeg has not, so far, been shown to be as dangerous for Jews as it is in so many other cities. Granted, the level of vitriol on social media has shot through the roof. So many of us have seen absolutely vile antisemitic posts on social media – some originating in Winnipeg, but aside from that one very scary incident of a bullet being fired through a window, along with other reports of swastikas appearing at certain locations, we haven’t received reports of the kind of threats against Jews here that have become widespread in other parts of the world.
And, while Jewish students and professors at our two major universities may be feeling insecure these days, relatively speaking, Winnipeg students have not seen anywhere the level of overt antisemitism that has reared its ugly head at so many other campuses throughout North America.

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Israeli representative in Canada Sarah Mali talks about October 7 heroes

By MYRON LOVE Conflict often produces acts of heroism – but it is not only warriors who become heroes.  As Sarah Mali noted, heroism can come in many forms.  
 
Mali, the Director General of JFC-UIA Canada in Israel, made a stop in our community on Thursday, May 30, on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, during which she did a presentation at the Berney Theatre providing an update on the situation in the Jewish State from her perspective as  an Israeli – with a  focus on the different faces of heroism..
The British-born Mali made Aliyah in 2000 after earning a degree from the London School of Economics.  She also has degrees from the Hebrew University and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  The mother of four – the older two currently serving in the Israel Defence Forces – was the Director of Israel Engagement for the Jewish Federation of Toronto from 2007 to 2012. She returned to Israel to undertake her current assignment in 2012 and now lives in Jerusalem.
Mali is an accomplished writer and public speaker who was named one of “50 of Our Favorite Women Right Now” by ”Future of Judaism” in 2022.
Mali was introduced by Paula Parks, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s President.  She presented her stories of heroism through a series of photographs. She began by recalling the first time in Israel that she heard sirens going off.  “I was in the car with one of my daughters,” she recounted.  “We weren’t quite sure what to do at first. But we got out of the car and did what all Israelis do.
“These past eight months, sirens have been sounded almost daily. Just recently, there was renewed rocket fire toward Tel Aviv.” 
 
The first group of heroes that Mali highlighted was the group of 14 young female soldiers who were kidnapped from their IDF base near Kibbutz Nahal Oz – near the Gaza border – which was overrun on October 7.
She spoke of the 60,000 residents of Israel’s north who were forced to leave their homes because of the danger from Hezbollah in the north and the heroic way that their fellow Israelis throughout the country have opened their homes and hearts to these internally displaced refugees, along with survivors of the attacks by Hamas in the south.
While Mali noted that she and her family are safe – living in the centre of the country – she described a recurring nightmare of loss. 
She told the story of Avitel Aladjem from Kibbutz Holit.  When the kibbutz was attacked, Aladjem was tasked by her neighbor, Canadian-born Adi Vital Kaploun, with looking after the latter’s two children – a three year old boy and a baby. Kaploun was murdered and Aladjem and the children were put on bicycles and driven to the Gaza border. For some strange and miraculous reason, the terrorist left the threesome at the border.  So Aladjem put the baby in a sling, picked up the three-year-old boy and carried both children back to safety.

Mali further praised the courage of the Magen David Adom medics who unhesitatingly put themselves in danger in those early desperate hours to save lives – and have continued saving lives throughout the war.  She recounted one story about an Israeli soldier who was shot in the neck and pronounced dead.  One medic, however, noticed that he was wearing a wedding band.
The medic noted that meant someone was waiting for the soldier at home and suggested the first responders should check him again  for any vital signs.  They found a pulse and had him evacuated by helicopter right away.  He was able to make a full recovery.
(Mali also noted that more than 15,000 Israeli soldiers have been wounded in the current conflict.)
One of the photos that Mali put on screen was the rescuer visiting the recovering soldier in hospital.
She spoke of the tremendous efforts of Israeli mental health professionals who have been having to deal with tens of thousands of traumatized Israeli of all ages.
She noted the miracle of her own daughter recently giving birth – bringing a new life into a world gone mad.
Another photo she posted was of a letter from a seven-year-old girl in Toronto who wanted to donate $23 to Israel to help with food, clothing and housing.
Mali’s final paean was to all the Jewish communities in the Diaspora – including our own – that have raised tremendous sums of money (over $4 million alone from our community), have staged rallies in support of our Israeli brethren, and many of whom have travelled to Israel, not only to show their support, but also to volunteer to help in many ways. 
“You are all heroes,” Mali told her audience.
Following her presentation, Mali took several questions from the audience.  One question concerned the ongoing conflict with Hezbollah in the north. “My head tells me that the IDF has to end Hezbollah,” Mali responded.  “But, as a mother with children serving in the IDF, I would be terrified.”
In answer to a second question about what some view as Israel’s poor public relations record, Mali pointed out that a major problem is that the Western media see the conflict – and the world –  in terms of victims and oppressors, and the Palestiniand in this worldview are ever the victims – and therefore, can do no wrong – while the Israelis are the oppressors whose every actions are judged as criminal or evil.
In concluding, Mali described the strong sense of determination and solidarity among most Israelis – an attitude exemplified by her own 17-year-old son who is impatient to join the IDF and take up the fight.
She added that “We Israelis want you to come to Israel, hear our stories and share them back in your communities.
 “Israel is a strong country with a strong army,” she observed.  “We are fighting not just for our own people but also for all Jews – and we are fighting against evil. This is our moment.”

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New York-based choreographer Josh Assor returning to hometown and Rainbow Stage for upcoming “Mary Poppins” production

By MYRON LOVE Josh Assor has a lengthy history, both with “Mary Poppins” and Rainbow Stage. So it would seem to be a no-brainer for Canada’s only summer theatre to invite the former Winnipegger-turned New York-based choreographer to return to his home town to choreograph this summer’s Rainbow Stage production of Mary Poppins (August 15-September 1).
Assor’s first experience with the beloved musical came just a short time into his stage career.  In 2011, the son of Hanania and Leslie Assor was cast in a touring production as Neleus, the statue who is brought to life by Mary.  In February 2012, he was elevated to the Broadway production in the same role.  In 2018, having transitioned from acting to choreography, he was tasked with choreographing a production of “Mary Poppins” at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock, Missouri.  (He was invited back to Arrow Rock in 2019 to choreograph “Cinderella”).
“It is always nice to come back to Winnipeg where I started my career,” Assor says.
When it comes to musical theatre, Josh Assor has written a story of great success.  He was attracted to theatre and acting from a very young age. He actually began with some television roles, followed by stage work.  Some of the shows that he appeared in at Rainbow Stage were: “Peter Pan”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat” and “The Little Mermaid”.
Along the way, the young performer began taking dancing lessons.  “I started training rather later in life in dance,” he recalls. “I enrolled in Ken Peter Dance Express when I was 15.  Originally, I was most interested in hip hop.  I then followed with tap and, a couple of years later, I began studying all forms of dance, including jazz, ballet and musical theatre.  By the time I was 17, I had decided to seriously pursue a career in the theatre.”
Assor attended Gray Academy to the end of Grade 9, then moved to Grant Park High School for Grades 10-12 to take the school’s well-known performing arts program. 
The budding performer left Winnipeg after graduation for Los Angeles where he had scored a scholarship to study at the prestigious EDGE Performing Arts Center.  He then moved to Toronto – at age 19 – to begin the next phase of his career.
“I signed with an agent in Toronto,” he said in an earlier interview with the Jewish Post. “Toronto is where most of the auditions take place.  I did some television but mostly worked on the stage.”
His first major role was in a production of “West Side Story” at the Stratford Festival in 2008, he recounts.
While he may have been based in Toronto over a period of three years, he notes, he spent a year in Montreal and the rest of the time in touring productions, which continued after his move to New York in 2010. 
In addition to touring with “Mary Poppins,”  he also toured as a  member of the cast of “The Wizard of Oz” and Disney’s first national tour of “Newsies” (in which he was the assistant dance captain).
After more than two years in ‘”Newsies,” Assor explained in that earlier interview, he was ready for a change of pace.  “From day one, to become a choreographer was always my goal,” he noted.   “I am happiest when I can be at my most creative.  I felt that I had had a good run as a performer.  I accomplished what I had wanted.  It was time to focus on my development as a choreographer.”
Back in New York,  his goal was to become a member of the faculty of the world-renowned Broadway Dance Centre.  He started as a substitute teacher, became a guest instructor and, for the past several years, has been a member of the faculty, focusing on musical theatre.
“People come from all over the world to study with us,” Assor said.
In addition to his teaching, Assor has continued to work professionally as a choreographer. Choreographic credits include: New York Fashion Week, the New York City Knicks, Audi, Celebrity Cruise Lines, Modos Furniture, Hard Rock Hotel, and Soho House, as well as regional productions of “Mary Poppins,” “Anastasia,” “Fiddler On The Roof,” “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” “Cinderella,” “Newsies,” and the world premiere of “Medicine the Musical,” which ran off-Broadway. He also choreographed Cedar Point (Ohio) Amusement Park’s 150th Anniversary Spectacular ,as well as the series ‘DJ Burnt Bannock,’ produced by Eagle Vision. He was the associate choreographer for the “Saturday Night Fever” National Tour as well as the Canadian Premier of “Newsies.”
In March 2020,  due to the pandemic lockdowns, Assor came home to Winnipeg for a while and, once here, he got a job with Eagle Vision, working with them for almost a year behind the scenes on a number of large scale television and film projects, such as “Burden Of Truth” and “Esther”.
Assor is currently choreographing a production of “Fiddler On The Roof” that just opened at a theatre in the Boston Area called North Shore Music Theater. He reports that he will also be choreographing “Fiddler” again in Connecticut in early 2025.
He adds that he has a new show that he choreographed – titled “Retrospect” – that will be mounted in various theme parks across the US.  Also coming up is a  week-long dance retreat at the End of August – which he co-owns with Orielle Marcus – titled “The Reset Dance Retreat”. 

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Penny Jones Square passionate advocate for Israel

By MYRON LOVE Perception is not reality.  While the perception may be that the world is once more against Jews and the State of Israel, we are not reliving the darkest days of the 1930s and early 1940s.  Polls consistently show that in both Canada and the United States, the great majority of the population is on our side.
In our own community, we can see the strong support we receive from such Christian Zionist friends as Reverend Don and Victoria James and their fellow Bridges For Peace members,;Pastor Rudy and Gina Fidel and the members of his Faith Temple; and John Plantz and the Church and Field Ministries.
But there may not be a more ardent supporter of Israel and fighter against antisemitism in our community than Penny Jones Square.  Penny has long had a strong feeling for Israel and the Jewish people but, since the horrendous events of October 7, she has taken it to an entirely new level.
Over the past eight months, Penny has been ubiquitous.  She has been attending pro-Israel rallies and speakers as well as counter-protests against anti-Israel protests.  In May alone, she was at the reading of the Megillat Shoah,  B’nai Brith’s “Unto Every Person There is a Name”, the Yom HaZikaron ceremony at the Rady Centre,  the JNF’s “Warriors’ Journeys” with two IDF reserve soldiers, and the Bridges for Peace event, “It’s about Time”, a ceremony in honour of Jewish Heritage Month at the Manitoba Legislature, the weekly rally in support of the hostages at Kenaston and Grant, and the Jewish Federation evening “Update from the Ground” with Sara Mali, Director General of JFC-UIA Canada in Israel.
Penny has also found time to pop up at one of the anti-Israel protests at City Hall  and the pro-Palestinian student encampment at the University of Manitoba  to take photos and report on them – as well as Ron East’s screening of his Oct. 7 massacre video at the University of  Winnipeg encampment.
I first met Penny seven years ago while on a JNF mission to Israel.  We found that we had similar views on a range of subjects.  On Tuesday, June 4, I was able to meet with Penny at the Asper Campus and gained an understanding of what inspired her devotion to Israel and the Jewish people.
Penny –  who grew up in Riverview and River Heights, attended the University of Manitoba and has an MA in English from there –  recalled that she “was awakened to the horrors of the Holocaust” at the age of 13 after seeing the 1959 movie, “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
“That led me to an ongoing study of antisemitism and the Holocaust and my abiding interest in standing up for Jews and fighting antisemitism,” she said.  “Along the way, I have acquired a profound admiration for Judaism and Jews who are, to my mind, ‘the light unto the nations’ that they were commanded to be.”
At the age of 22, she married David Square (who passed away almost three years ago) and they moved to a plot of land near Tyndall, Manitoba – off the grid, so to speak.  Penny and David spent four years building their own log home, cutting down trees from their property for the logs.
“We pursued our vision of living a self-sufficient lifestyle,” she recounted, “living mortgage-free, cutting our own firewood, growing our own food, and creating a magical sanctuary with flower gardens, two Zen gardens, a vegetable garden and numerous forest trails for walking and cross country skiing.”
She concedes that “it was a difficult life maintaining gardens, lawns and trails and bringing in the winter firewood – as well as working as one-of-a-kind art furniture designers and builders, but it was also a life blessed by the natural beauty surrounding us and by the beauty we created in our home, our art, and our cherished refuge”.
After almost 20 years, the couple closed their custom furniture business. While David pursued a career as a journalist and novelist, Penny worked at the University of Manitoba in the bookstore and as a tutor.
(A few months ago, Penny sold her property in the country and moved into Winnipeg.)
It was in 2007 that Penny really began to immerse herself in the study of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.  It started when she signed up for Dr. Catherine Chatterley’s course on the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust.  (Chatterley specializes in the study of modern European history and the Holocaust and is the founder of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism.)
“I spent some time as a grader for her course and as a copy editor for her journal, “Anti-Semitism Studies,” Penny said.  “David and I promoted her annual lectures.  David took photos and I published articles about them.”
The couple also joined Winnipeg Friends of Israel – founded by Yolanda Papini-Pollock – and Penny helped with some of Papini-Pollock’s initiatives.
Penny notes that her love for Israel and admiration for the Jewish people was greatly strengthened by that 2017 trip to the Jewish State.  “To witness the transformation of a land of malarial swamps and desert to the wonder of Israel’s astonishing natural beauty, its olive and almond groves, forested areas and vibrant and thriving kibbutzim,  moshavim and cities – as well as the joy, resilience and exuberance of the Israeli people was awe-inspiring – while our tour of Yad Vashem was overwhelming and intensely saddening.
“In this present moment, I believe that it is my moral responsibility to denounce the immoral and irrational hatred of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism fiercely, fearlessly and honestly and state my allegiance  with the righteous and ethical example of Israel and the Jewish people.  Moral courage and a commitment to the truth are what is required of us to stop the lies and prevent this radical evil that is Islamic Jihadism from prevailing over the good and the humane, democratic values.”

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