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Camp Massad and BB Camp adjust – again – to Covid restrictions

BB Camp edited 1By BERNIE BELLAN After a summer in 2020 that saw our two Jewish sleepover camps have to cancel all overnight stays for campers, this summer, our community’s camps are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
While some children may be unable to attend camp with their friends – which undoubtedly comes as a huge disappointment once again, this year both camps had prepared contingency plans quite some ago in anticipation of the possibility of not being allowed to have regular overnight camps.

 

In some instances, instead of children attending camp on their own, this summer families are being invited to come out to both camps and spend a few days together either on Town Island (BB Camp) or Sandy Hook (Massad).
Recently I spoke with the directors of both camps to find out what they have planned for the summer and whether there is any possibility that there may be a normal sleepover camp at all this coming summer.

Jacob Brodovsky and Lexie Yurman are Co-Executive Directors of BB Camp, having assumed their official duties on January 1 this year (and, as we noted in an article in our Feb. 3 issue – are the first married couple to be in charge either of BB Camp or Massad).

Jacob and Lexie said that, while they aren’t optimistic that the Ontario government will lift all restrictions that have been imposed as a result of Covid, there are still reasons to be hopeful that they will be able to run some form of Second Session, AC and LTP programs at the camp this summer. When I asked them whether there is any chance the popular day camp program – which sees children brought out to camp each day by boat from Kenora, could be offered, the answer was, “We’re still waiting to see how things will look in June and July.”
As well, I asked what would happen if the Ontario government keeps the border closed to visitors from other provinces – as is currently the case, and while Jacob and Lexie indicated that is a huge concern, the planning process began long ago, long before the border was closed – so naturally the hope is that by July the border will be reopened.
In the meantime though, Jacob and Lexie have developed a program known as “BB Bed & Breakfast”, which has already garnered a terrific response, they said. As of May 5, 140 individuals were on the waitlist for 3-night stays at BB Camp with registration slated to launch at the end of May, hopefully once there is some clarity re the border. On hand to work with families will be almost a full complement of BB Camp staff, Jacob said, which will be from 60-70 in number. “The idea is to get our staff trained, and our island open so if and when the time comes that we can pivot back to our conventional overnight camp programming, we’ll be ready to do so at a moment’s notice”.

Here is material taken from the BB Camp website that describes what BB Bed & Breakfast will offer:
Treat your family to an all inclusive getaway where you will learn new skills, immerse yourself in the outdoors, and grow closer as a family. We’ve taken the best parts of a traditional sleep-away summer camp program to offer a unique and unforgettable family cabin rental experience.
Parents are welcome to join their kids in camp activities, or catch up on remote work while our camp staff buddy up with their children for the day. There will also be adult-only programming offered throughout your stay.
Enhance your stay at camp with a family canoe trip following your family camp session! Choose from a 2 or 4-night canoe trip. Our staff will lead you through the whole process from packing out your own food and equipment, to navigating, cooking, and properly setting up a camp site.

Conquer the climbing tower, learn to stern a canoe, or play on our giant water inflatables, the choice is yours! Families will sign up for activities and be able to customize their stay to their liking. Our friendly staff will be there every step of the way to ensure you leave camp rejuvenated and reconnected to the wilderness!
Take advantage of our beautiful island location by adding a fishing excursion, or enrol your children in Swimming Lessons taught through our partnership with Aqua Essence. Again, the choice is yours to make BB Camp everything your family is looking for in a summer escape!

Available activities will include:
Nature Hikes
Paddle Around the Island
Outdoor Cooking Lessons
Judaic Programming
+
Shabbat
Fishing Excursions*
Aqua Essence SwimmingLessons*
*Additional fees

The all-inclusive package that BB Camp is offering includes:
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Plus 3 Daily Snacks
Daytime Childcare
Access to ‘Work from Camp’ Spaces + WIFI
Adult and Youth Programming
Staff-led Cookout & Bonfires
Traditional Burning of the Bs
Camp Activities:
Ropes Course – Climbing Wall -Water Toys – Canoeing -Kayaking – Swimming – Arts &Crafts – Sports – Tripping –Archery
For more information on BB Bed & Breakfast check out the BB Camp website – www.bbcamp.ca, call 204-477-7512 or email info@bbcamp.ca

Danial Sprintz is Executive Director of Camp Massad (now in his 11th year in that position), while Drew McGillawee is Director of Planning & Programming (in his third year in that position).
While the camp may not have held either of its normal two sessions last year, work at the campsite has continued apace nonetheless to improve facilities, in large part due to a grant from the Jewish Foundation earmarked for infrastructure improvements.

Of course, with the hope that vaccinations would allow some semblance of normal camp activity to resume, Danial Sprintz said that the camp board had been in constant consultation with Manitoba Health and various government officials to see whether there was any way sleepover camp could resume this summer.
The decision was made to cancel normal camp because there just wouldn’t be enough time to allow for proper planning even if Covid restrictions were to be lifted by the summer, Danial says.

I asked him though whether the cancellation of camp applied to Massad’s day camp as well (about which I had written last summer). And, although the day camp did prove successful – and complied with all provincial requirements for maintaining proper social distancing, Danial said it was very expensive to have to adhere to all the regulations that the province required – so the decision was taken not to go ahead with a day camp this summer.

However, just as BB Camp is offering an attractive alternative for families, Massad is also offering its cabins for families to rent – anywhere from a weekend (Friday – Sunday) to a weekday experience (which can vary in length).

According to the Massad website, “Family rentals will include all the activities that Camp Massad has to offer as well as food and a personal family cabin equipped with comfortable amenities.”
Those amenities include: Tennis Courts, Basketball Court, Soccer Field, Volleyball Court, Archery Range, Tetherball, Nature Trails, Canoe and Kayaking on Lake Winnipeg, Fire Pits and Art Studio, as well as swimming in the Heated Outdoor Pool, Daily Adult and Youth Programming, Optional Child Care, Judaic Programming, and Wifi. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and 3 snacks each day will be provided.

But, rather than attempt to offer a second session for regular campers in August – which is still BB Camp’s hope, Danial says that August will be devoted to providing training for camp staff. “We’ll have gone on for two years without staff getting the chance to get any training,” he says. “We want to make sure that they get that training for next year’s camp.”

Both camps have received a great deal of financial support, both from government and from non-governmental organizations.
Danial pointed to two specific programs from which Massad was able to receive funding: The “Green Team” program and the “Canada Summer Jobs” program. Both programs will enable Massad to pay their entire staff complement for at least part of the summer.
As well, both BB and Massad received funding from the Jewish Federation that will help to keep their camps operating this summer.

Danial also pointed out that both camps are able to offer financial help to families that might not be able to afford their family programs this summer. Some money, as it has in the past, is available through the “Sunshine Fund”, while other financial assistance has been made available from other sources as well. Interested parties should contact either camp about subsidies that might be available.

While July has already been heavily booked by families looking to spend some time together at Massad, the camp will actually be available to families beginning June 11.
When I asked whether it’s possible for a family to spend more than five days at Massad at one time, Drew McGillawee said that one family has actually booked two consecutive weeks at the camp.

And, despite all the hardship that Covid has caused both camps, Danial said that the difficult situation in which both Massad and BB Camp have been put has let to what he described as an “unprecedented level of cooperation and planning” between the directors of both camps (which helps to explain why both camps came up with almost identical family camp programs for the coming summer).

As Danial noted, it’s not only the camps that have been working together, “all Jewish community organizations” have been working together closely in ways that they had never done before.
For more information about Camp Massad’s summer rental program for families either call 204-477-7487 or email info@campmassad.ca .
Both camps have detailed information about their upcoming summer family programs on their websites.

 

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Free Press coming under criticism for supposed “anti-Israel” bias

Free Press opinion columnist Jen Zoratti and Free Press faith writer John Longhurst

By BERNIE BELLAN

“The attack on Oct. 7, it was vicious (and) really brutal. But it happened in a certain context of this region of years and years of dehumanizing people from both sides.

Do you know who said that? Not a Free Press columnist. It was Yonatan Zeigen – one of former Winnipegger Vivian Silver’s two sons. Zeigen was quoted in an October 29 Canadian Press article – prior to the discovery that his mother had actually been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri during the October 7 massacre, and was not taken hostage to Gaza – which is what was first suspected.

That same story also said that Zeigen “noted that his perspective has prompted backlash inside Israel, which he chalks up to people rejecting projects his mother helped run that call for a fundamental shift in how Israelis relate to Palestinians.

” ‘I don’t really talk … to the Israeli press because I see a lot of poison being directed at her because of her activities,’ he said.”

Compare that with what Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti wrote in an opinion piece that was published January 26, two days after an event focusing on the brutality that had been inflicted on Israeli (and other non-Israeli women) during the Hamas massacre of October 7: “Everyone who took the mic on Wednesday kept saying, ‘all women matter’ and ‘women everywhere matter,’ but I couldn’t help but wonder — which women? There wasn’t even a cursory pass at solidarity or even an acknowledgment of the gender- based harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women, who also feel abandoned by global feminism.”

Zoratti’s column did describe the horrors that had been unleashed on Israeli women on October 7 and she did refer in some depth to remarks made by Israeli lawyer and women’s rights expert Ayelet Razin Bet Or during that January 24 event at the Human Rights Museum, but she tried to place what happened on October 7 within a larger context of the ongoing degradation of women in war situations.

That one single comment in Zoratti’s column about “harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women” has apparently unleashed a torrent of criticism, which has been leveled not only at Zoratti and the Free Press for having the nerve to print her column, the backlash has even extended to Free Press Faith reporter John Longhurst, who has been caught up totally unsuspectingly in a blistering attack written by the publisher of a Jewish Winnipeg website.

Apparently Longhurst had written just two words on “X” (previously Twitter), with reference to Zoratti’s column: “good column.”

In response, Rhonda Spivak, publisher of Winnipeg Jewish Review, wrote:

“Did he not understand that in raving (emphasis ours) about Zoratti’s column that painted a picture of Israel as an apartheid state, accusing the Israeli speaker of spouting propaganda (emphasis ours), and calling for a ceasefire without even mentioning the necessary release of Israeli women, children and men held hostage in Gaza, he would not be bridge building but damaging his relationship with the Jewish community.

With his little tweet, Longhurst has set back interfaith relations .What makes things worse, is that Longhurst actually interviewed the Israeli speaker, sex crimes prosecutor Ayelet Razin Bet Or and the program’s moderator Gail Asper for the Winnipeg Free Press and also for the Canadian Jewish News in advance of the program held at the CMHR. If Longhurst harbored these views, would it not have been fair to present his views, and give Razin Bet Or the opportunity to respond?

 “Longhurst is a freelance writer who writes regularly in the Canadian Jewish News, but I do wonder what the latter’s readership would think of his insensitivity displayed towards the Jewish/Zionist community (emphasis ours).


”How does Longhurst propose to repair that which he has damaged (emphasis ours)?”

In defense of Longhurst, it should be pointed out that he written extensively about the local Jewish community. He was also the only local reporter to attend the major conference on anti-Semitism held in Ottawa in October. He also interviewed both Ayelet Razin Bet Or and Gail Asper for a story that was published prior to the event at the Human Rights Museum on January 24.

However, reaction to Zoratti’s column has been heated and calls have grown on social media to organize campaigns against the Free Press. We have been made aware of pressure being exerted on Free Press co-owner Bob Silver to influence the editorial position of the paper. We have also been told (although admittedly anecdotally, without being able to verify to what extent it has happened) of individuals cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their subscriptions to the Free Press.

But, it’s not only Zoratti’s column that has raised the ire of many individuals toward the Free Press. As with any large daily newspaper, the Free Press receives many letters to the editor. In recent weeks the paper has printed letters from Jeff Lieberman (CEO of the Jewish Federation) and Paula Parks (President of the Federation), along with an opinion piece by Gustavo Zentner (the newly appointed CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan), all of which made the case for Israel in various respects.

Yet, the Free Press has also printed many letters highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, February 6, while there was one letter written in defense of Israel, there were also three letters highly critical of Israel. We have been contacted by individuals complaining that their own letters written in defense of Israel have not been printed.

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In defense of the Jen Zoratti column that set off a firestorm of criticism of the Free Press – and a letter explaining why that column so upset so many people

By BERNIE BELLAN As an editor myself I know what it’s like to be accused of bias. As such, I would argue that the anger at the Winnipeg Free Press for what many in our community perceive as an anti-Israel bias is totally unjustified. If any of the paper’s critics actually takes a close look at that paper they will see a vast amount of coverage devoted to local Jewish events. Not only does John Longhurst do a great job covering many events (and he is a far better reporter than I could ever hope to be), the paper also features Sharon Chisvin writing about local Jewish happenings on a regular basis.

One would think that, based on the amount of ink that the Free Press devotes to news of interest specifically to the Jewish community that there was a vast number of Jews in this city. That’s why, when I asked Free Press editor Paul Samyn, when he was speaking to the Remis group at the Gwen Secter Centre last year, just how many Jews he thought there were in Winnipeg, and he guessed “45,000,” he was quite astounded to hear from me that, at best, there were only 12,500 Jews in Winnipeg. (I also said to Paul that there were over 72,000 Filipinos in Winnipeg, but you don’t see nearly as many stories about that community in the paper as you do of the Jewish community.)

So, Jen Zoratti wrote a column that had one particular paragraph that inflamed the minds of many Jews (a lot of whom don’t even read the Free Press, based on what I’ve seen on social media). Not only are many individuals furious at Zoratti – and the Free Press, for even daring to publish what she wrote, even as fair minded and professional a writer as John Longhurst has had his name dragged through the mud. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/free-press-coming-under-criticism-for-supposed-anti-israel-bias/

For a community that’s long railed against the idea of boycotts being used against Israel (as in the BDS movement – Boycott, Divest, Sanctions), isn’t it a bit much to be calling for individuals to cancel their subscriptions to the Free Press over one column? And as someone who, until this week, had been a newspaper publisher for almost 40 years, I know what it’s like to have pressure put on your to slant coverage in a newspaper. While some newspaper publishers like to get involved in dictating editorial policy, from what I know Bob Silver has been steadfast in remaining apart from that. I personally sent notes offering encouragement to Jen Zoratti, John Longhurst, and Paul Samyn. I didn’t weigh in on whether I thought what Jen wrote was out of line or not (which, by the way, I didn’t). I simply wanted to affirm the importance of freedom of the press –and of columnists, to write without fear of monetary retribution. Heck, Israel has been on the receiving end of that kind of campaign for years. Are Jews going to begin to emulate the tactics of the BDS movement?

In response to the above we received a letter from Cathy Moser, in which she explains the anger that many in the Jewish community are feeling toward the Free Press:

Dear Bernie;

     I respect your humane approach to reporting on the war in the Middle East – I don’t think that you will find too many people in the Winnipeg Jewish community that would revel in knowing that thousands of innocent women and children in Gaza were killed in the effort to eliminate Hamas Terrorists.  If Jen Zoratti had written a column on the Palestinian women and children whose voices have been deadened – what she said may have been relevant.  However – she wrote an OpEd on a talk called HEAR OUR VOICES, with the Voices referring to the women and children who were raped, tortured and killed in Israel on October 7th.  It was as inappropriate to talk about the Gazan women in this article as it would have been to talk about the Israeli women and children if she was reviewing a talk given by the Palestinian community on Palestinian women and children.  Or if, when newspapers in the 40’s described bombing Nazi headquarters and strongholds, had included in their OpEds the fact that thousands of innocent German civilians were killed by the Allied Forces and they are inhumane.

     The problem with Jen Zoratti’s article was well summarized by Mike Federer in his article in the Free Press, January 7th, 2024 – it takes a very special skill to attend an educational event bringing attention to Hamas’ misogynistic and murderous sexual assault of Israeli women during its genocidal October 7 massacre in southern Israel, and turn it into an anti-Israel hit piece. However, that’s exactly what Jen Zoratti managed to accomplish in her January 26 opinion column in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled: “The battlefield between feminism and rapes of war.”.

     By the way, there would have been no need to appeal to Bob Silver had the Editor published any one of my letters providing an alternate understanding of some of the issues.  Prior to the deluge that was received after the Jen Zoratti article, the Winnipeg Free Press had very one-sidedly published letters to the Editor that were anti-Israel and misleading in facts. I will send a few for your perusal if you are interested.  Since the Zoratti ‘affair’, there have been many more letters published that elucidate both sides of the story, as well as articles to the point (e.g., Saturday, Feb 18, 2025 article by Dr. Ruth Ashrafi).

     It seems that the volume of letters to the Editor and Owner after the Zoratti article has served its purpose. Perhaps there was a critical look at the past month’s content to determine whether the letter writers’ claims were valid. Freedom of speech is critical to a healthy democracy; however, if those that publish the speeches are biased, there is no freedom. 

Sincerely,

Cathy Moser 

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBJ6FZYPeHQ

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