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Canadian Associates of Ben Gurion University hand baton in Winnipeg to next generation of leaders

Diandra Etkin/Aaron Migie

By BERNIE BELLAN
In late November we reported that the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Associates of Ben Gurion University had made a major transition in its local leadership when longtime Winnipeg chair Sheldon Zamick handed over responsibilities to two thirty-something members of our community: Diandra Etkin and Aaron Migie.

The notion that local leadership of a major Jewish organization would be passed on to two individuals who would be considered part of the next generation of leaders is significant in that it marks the first time that has happened here.
We spoke with both Diandra and Aaron – to find out more about their respective backgrounds and to discuss with them what they hoped to achieve as co-chairs of CABGU.

Diandra Etkin teaching at Brock Corydon
in Hebrew Bilingual program
Diandra Etkin is presently a teacher in the Hebrew Bilingual program at Brock Corydon School, where she has been teaching for the past three years.
Two summers ago, Diandra explains, she went to Israel for the summer where she enrolled in an Ulpan program. With that under her belt she was now equipped to begin teaching Hebrew at Brock Corydon which, she says, she loves doing.
When Diandra first began teaching at Brock Corydon, she says, it was in the English program. But, having been a student in the Hebrew Bilingual program herself when she was an elementary school student (at Margaret Park School), Diandra always had an interest in moving over to teaching in the Hebrew side of the program.
Her first year in the Hebrew Bilingual program (last year) Diandra taught both Hebrew and English subjects. This year, she says, she is teaching only English subjects in the program.
Diandra says that her first visit to Israel followed what has by now become a well-worn pattern for many young members of our community: She participated in the March of the Living in 2006 when she was a student at University of Winnipeg Collegiate and, the next year, she was part of the Birthright program in Israel.
“I fell in love with Israel,” Diandra says. “Everything I had heard about Israel was coming true.” Diandra notes that she actually spent her 18th birthday in Israel during March of the Living. In that vein, Diandra has also served as Adult Ambassador for Shalom Square.
It was when she returned from her summer Ulpan experience in 2019, however, that Zach Ostrove, Executive Director of CABGU sought Diandra out to serve on the CABGU board here.
“Zach and I were in the Hebrew Bilingual program together,” Diandra explains. When Zach approached her, one of the things he mentioned about Ben Gurion University that held a particular interest for Diandra, she says, was the very innovative research being conducted at that university in the areas of autism and neurodegenerative disease.”
“I’ve taught many students with autism,” Diandra explains. (Brock Corydon, like most schools, has students with special needs who are integrated into the regular school program. Diandra also had experience teaching autistic students the two years she spent teaching prior to her coming to Brock Corydon, she notes.)
When asked what she hopes to achieve as co-chair of CABGU here, Diandra says, “For me the reason in taking on this role is to connect Canadians with Ben Gurion University. We will try to bring awareness to all the emerging areas in which BGU is a world leader.”
As far as her and Aaron’s being considerably younger than any other chairs of local Jewish organizations, Diandra observes that “Being a little bit younger – we can use social media platforms to show everyone in the community how to help fundraising and innovative projects.”

Aaron Migie has always had a strong connection to Israel
Aaron Migie’s connection to Ben Gurion University follows a somewhat different path than Diandra’s. Aaron’s mother, Sonora, who was born in India and moved to Israel with her family as a young girl, grew up in Dimona, which is only a short 40 minute car ride away from Beer Sheva, where Ben Gurion University is located.

Aaron explains that he still has many relatives in Israel and has visited there quite often – most recently in 2018, when he also happened to visit Ben Gurion University. (He was already on the board of CABGU by that time, he notes.)
He adds that he has cousins who have themselves attended – and graduated from Ben Gurion University, so he has a long familiarity with that institution.
Like Diandra, Aaron was enrolled in the Hebrew Bilingual program (at Brock Corydon School). Following Brock Corydon, Aaron attended Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate when it was still in the north end. (Even though Aaron is only 38, he would have been among the last students to have attended Joseph Wolinsky when it was still on Matheson Avenue.)
Aaron also attended Kelvin High School, following which he obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Manitoba in economics and business.
At the age of 22 Aaron began what has now become quite a successful career in the financial industry, starting as a financial representative for Investors Group, then moving on to Assante Wealth Management – with which he has now been associated for 14 years. In recent years he has started his own group at Assante known as Migie Wealth Group.
Aaron says that his involvement with the Jewish community as a young adult began with the Jewish Federation’s Young Adult Division (YAD). Like Diandra, Aaron was approached by Sheldon Zamick and Zach Ostrove with an invitation to join the CABGU board here a few years ago.
When Sheldon Zamick decided to step down as board chair, Aaron says that he “was very humbled and honoured to be asked to become co-chair” with Diandra.
“I wouldn’t have taken on the role unless I had great people in my corner,” he adds, citing Sheldon Zamick, Zach Ostrove, and Mark Mendelson, CEO of Canadian Associates of Ben Gurion University.
What’s impressed Aaron about the local board of CABGU, he says, is “how many talented people are on it. There’s a tremendous diversity of people – with a huge amount of experience in so many different areas – engineers, accountants, teachers, and so on.”
And, when it comes to mounting successful fund raising drives, Aaron observes that “little Winnipeg has done quite well.” He points to such successful programs as the events held in recent years honouring Marjorie and (the late) Morley Blankstein; and Hope and Howard Morry.
As well, the contribution of the Vickar family to Ben Gurion University is something that Aaron says has played a significant role in the growth of the university.
As Diandra and Aaron assume their co-chairmanship of what has become quite a dynamic Winnipeg organization, they both say they’re looking forward to meeting with other board members every second month in the new year – on Zoom.

And, as unlikely as it seems that there will be an in-person Board of Governors meeting at Ben Gurion University this coming April (much like the one that was scheduled to have taken place this past April and which was also forced to be held online), at some point in the not too distant future, the Winnipeg branch of CABGU is going to be represented in Beer Sheva by two of the youngest board co-chairs I’m sure have ever sat in on a board meeting there.

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Valedictory speech delivered to graduating medical students sets off storm of controversy

Dr. Gem Newman, valedictorian, class of 2024 Max Rady College of Medicine

By BERNIE BELLAN A valedictory speech delivered to the 2024 class of medical school students graduating from the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba on Thursday, May 16, has set off a storm of controversy.

During his 10-minute speech, Dr. Gem Newman, who described himself as a “pasty-faced white man,” veered into a strongly worded criticism of Israel toward the end of his approximate 10-minute speech.
Here are the comments he made with respect to Israel’s war in Gaza:
“I call on my fellow graduates to oppose injustice -and violence – individual and systemic. I call upon you to oppose settler colonialism, both at home and abroad. I call upon you to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people everywhere, here in Treaty One Territory, where an Indigenous man can expect a life ten years shorter than mine – and in Palestine (ed. note: loud cheers erupted at that point from among the students), where Israel’s deliberate targeting of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure has led to more than 35,000 deaths and widespread famine and disease.
“Many medical organizations, including the W.H.O. and Medecins sans Frontiere, and countless unions, including the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union, have repeatedly called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while there has been deafening silence from the Canadian Medical Association, Doctors Manitoba and PARIM (Professional Association of Interns and Residents of Manitoba), and so I call upon you to join me in calling for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza. Join me in calling for unrestricted humanitarian and medical aid in Gaza. Join me in calling for an end to the targeting of medical facilities, medical staff, and journalists.
“I’m sure that some of you here today are worried that you may face censure for speaking out against the genocidal war that Israel is waging upon the people of Palestine, that it could jeopardize your career before it’s even begun. I understand that fear…”
Dr. Newman’s speech was greeted with a standing ovation from his fellow graduating doctors.

Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean of the Max Rady College of Medicine

The next day, the dean of the Rady College of Medicine, Dr. Peter Nickerson, issued a strongly worded criticism of Dr. Newman’s remarks:

Yesterday, we celebrated the convocation of 106 new physicians. We came together with our friends and family to celebrate a diverse group of individuals who are beginning their career as doctors.
Part of our convocation tradition in the Max Rady College of Medicine is to hear an address from the class valedictorian. This has historically been an encouraging, congratulatory message and not a political platform. The speech is an honour and is meant to highlight, showcase and celebrate the academic excellence, resiliency and determination of every student, no matter their background.
I have heard from individuals who were present yesterday and who were disappointed and alarmed by the political message in the valedictorian’s address. I share these concerns. I, too, am disappointed that the address was delivered in a way that didn’t represent all students and that was disrespectful to some audience members who were there to celebrate and be celebrated. This isn’t the purpose of a valedictorian address and the speech should have better reflected shared experiences, successes and a commitment to serve all communities.
The valedictorian was expressing his own views, and this was not a message vetted or endorsed in any way by the College.
The University of Manitoba is steadfast in its commitment to freedom of expression; both speech and counter-speech are equally protected. However, freedom of expression has limits and comes with responsibilities. It is my view as Dean that a convocation address is different than a classroom setting, different than an opinion piece in a newspaper – it is an academic celebration for a diverse community. Statements made in this address were divisive and inflammatory. They should be taken as the views of one student, and do not reflect the views of the College nor the diverse perspectives of its students.
As we continue our convocation events, may we be mindful of the diversity of our community, our common humanity, and the purpose of these celebrations.
Dr. Peter Nickerson
Vice-Provost (Health Sciences)
Dean, Max Rady College of Medicine
Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Manitoba 

Ernest Rady, who donated $30 million to the University of Manitoba in 2016


On Monday, May 20, Ernest Rady, who made a donation of $30 million to the University of Manitoba in 2016 – the largest single donation to the university in its history, and whose father, Max Rady, now has his name on the “Rady Faculty of Health Sciences” and the “Max Rady College of Medicine,” sent the following email in response to Dr. Newman’s remarks:

Via Email
University of Manitoba
Dr. Michael Benarroch, President and Vice-Chancellor
Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
Re: Max Rady College of Medicine Convocation Speech by Valedictorian
Michael and Peter:
I write to you today because I was both hurt and appalled by the remarks the valedictorian, Gem Newman, gave at last week’s Max Rady College of Medicine convocation, and I was extremely disappointed in the University’s inadequate response. I have been fortunate in my life to be able to support the causes close to my heart, including the University of Manitoba. As you know, when Evelyn and I donated $30 million to the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 2016, that gift was in honor of my parents, and in particular, the gift to the College of Medicine was in honor of my father, Maxwell Rady. Newman’s speech not only dishonored the memory of my father, but also disrespected and disparaged Jewish people as a whole, including the Jewish students who were in attendance at that convocation – some of whom I’ve heard from.
My father, born Avraham (Hebrew for Abraham) Radiskevich, immigrated to Manitoba from Russia in 1893. He, like so many other Jews, fled religious persecution, seeking a better life in Canada. He was lucky. Millions of others – whether during the Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, or the countless other purges of my people throughout history – were not so fortunate. Those horrors were made possible because of a set of beliefs (stereotypes and tropes) so entrenched and pervasive as to be taken as fact.
That same set of beliefs allowed the University of Manitoba to justify its decision to impose admissions quotas to keep Jews out. Despite those quotas, my father was one of the very few of his faith to be admitted to the University’s medical school, which is now named in his honor.
And yet, the University allowed the Max Rady College of Medicine’s valedictorian to spew these hateful lies to a captive audience, and now posts that antisemitic rhetoric on its website for all to see. And the University’s only response is a lukewarm message posted elsewhere on its website about differing opinions and appropriateness of setting for expressing such “opinions.”
Having seen where this kind of speech (and the excuses made for it) have led in the past, I cannot be silent. When I make a gift to an institution, I do it because I believe in that institution and I trust its governing body to do important, significant, and good work with that money. I therefore make it a point not to intervene or tell an institution what it should or should not do. But in this instance, by remaining silent, I would be complicit. So I am speaking out now because I must. Because so many like Gem Newman and the students cheering in the audience and the University itself, whose response to what is happening on its campus has been inadequate, may not even realize all the realities of the situation. The issues are far too complex for a mere letter, and I should not have to be the one to point this out; nonetheless, apparently it bears emphasizing. It is very easy for individuals like Mr. Newman to spout slogans and quips like “settler colonialism” and “genocidal war,” but if they do not take the time to understand the very long, complex, and nuanced history behind what is happening in the world today, then not only are they intellectually dishonest, but they are perpetuating the same harms that have existed for centuries. Those words are not political opinion. They are hate speech and they are lies. They espouse the same age-old prejudices about Jewish omnipotence and thirst for domination that have been used for centuries to justify the atrocities committed against this religious group, which makes up less than 0.2% of the world’s population and 1.4% of Canada’s.
By failing to call out Gem Newton’s words for what they are, the University is no better.
Having failed to vet the valedictorian’s speech in advance (despite the patent risk that something like this would likely occur, given what has happened at other universities), I beg that the University of Manitoba step up and finally do the right thing. Take down the convocation video and do not repost it unless the valedictorian’s entire speech is removed. Post a revised letter from the dean, not only on UM News, but on the same page as the edited video. Condemn, in no uncertain terms, Gem Newman’s remarks. Acknowledge that they were not only inaccurate, but flat-out lies, that they were hurtful to the University’s Jewish students and all people of the Jewish faith, and that the remarks do not have a place in any setting at the University. Denounce antisemitism in all forms it takes, even in its latest iteration as espoused by your valedictorian.
Advocating for the protection of one group of people, while in the same breath calling for the destruction and elimination of another, is not advocacy. It is hate. It is the very opposite of the words that your graduates spoke last week when they recited the Physician’s Pledge, vowing not to permit considerations of creed and ethnic origin to intervene between their duty and their patient.
Be as bold as you tell your students to be. Do the right thing: Speak out unequivocally. Take action. Do not be like all of those who came before you, acquiescing to prejudice and hatred because you do not want to ruffle feathers, or worse, because you believe it is justified.
Ernest Rady
Cc: Anne Mahon, Chancellor

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Inaugural Magen David Adom fundraising gala evening  recognizes generous donors Ida and the late Saul Alpern

Ida Alpern

By MYRON LOVE On Tuesday, May 7, the Winnipeg chapter of Canadian Magen David Adom (CMDA) hosted its first ever fundraising gala – billed as “A Night of Appreciation – honouring generous supporters Ida and the late Saul Alpern, as well as recognizing several other individuals who have contributed to the success of the local chapter.
The event helped to raise the profile of MDA in Winnipeg.  In addition to funds raised – going towards the purchase by the Winnipeg chapter of CMDA of an ambulance to be stationed in the northern IsraeI community of  Kiryat Shemona where a MDA ambulance was recently destroyed by a Hezbollah missile, the event also honoured the memory of  the late Yoram (Hamizrachi) East.
Ami Bakerman, the Winnipeg chapter president, reported that, to date, the local group has raised slightly more than $100,000 toward the $140,000 cost of the ambulance.
Over 200 members of the Jewish and Christian communities and other supporters of Israel came out for the evening at Caboto Centre to show their appreciation for the work of the Magen David Adom.
For readers who may be unfamiliar with MDA, the organization doubles as both Israel’s Red Cross and the country’s blood services organization. MC for the evening Kinzey Posen noted that MDA was founded on June 7, 1930 and acquired its first ambulance a year later.  The MDA has over 4,000 staff and has on its roster 26,000 volunteers.  The organization operates over 2,000 ambulances, first responder scooters, helicopters and life-saving boats. 
“It takes 8.2 seconds from the time a MDA dispatcher receives an emergency call to the time that the ambulance reaches the caller,” Posen noted.
The really remarkable fact is that the MDA operates without any financial support from the government of Israel. That is why it is so important that donors such as the Alperns have to step up.
Saul, who passed away in October, 2022, had a particularly strong connection to Israel.  His younger brother, Avrum, also the last surviving family member (the others died in the Holocaust) died fighting for the Jewish homeland in the War of Liberation in 1948.
Alpern published his autobiography – “No One Waiting For me” – in 1961.  Although most Romanian Jews living in Rumania proper were left in place, in 1941 the members of the Alpern family were among the thousands of Jews living in the northern  regions of Bessarabia and northern Bukavina – which had been recently annexed by Rumania – who were deported to neighbouring Transnistria. They were expelled from their homes and forced to walk all the way to Transnistria.   Saul Alpern’s parents and older sister died shortly after their arrival as a result of the hardships of the walk – leaving 12-year-old Saul and younger brother Avrum to fend for themselves.
“No One Waiting for Me” is largely an account of the two brothers’ struggle to survive in a hostile environment and desperate circumstances.\
After the war, while Avrum went to Palestine while Saul found his way to Winnipeg –  where he eventually  met and married Ida (Reiss) and built a successful business as a cattle buyer.
Ida was born in the Jewish farm colony at Edenbridge, Saskatchewan. She was youngest of four children and the own daughter of Ira and Raizel Reiss.  The family moved to Winnipeg around 1950.
In October 2020, Ida and Saul donated $160,000 to the MDA to buy a mobile intensive care unit.  At the time, Saul told The Jewish Post & News that the couple made the donation in memory of his parents and siblings ,who died in the Holocaust.
Saul added that the gift was “an expression of my love for my family and my love for Israel”.
The couple had been donating small amounts to the MDA for years before that.  And, just a few months before Saul’s passing, the couple donated another $170,000 toward the purchase of a second mobile intensive care unit with off-road capabilities.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Ida’s nephew, Cary Reiss, recounted how Sail and Ida met in 1963 and were engaged after just a three-week courtship.  “They were married for almost 60 years,” he noted. “They were a great couple.  They were always there for each other through good times and bad.”
Reiss further noted that he was in Israel last year with his Aunt Ida for the delivery of the second mobile intensive care unit.  He praised the MDA for the great work the organization does in Israel.
He also reminisced about the other focus of the evening, the late Israeli-born Winnipegger, Yoram East, who was a prominent social activist in the wider community.
In Ron East’s description of his father he painted a picture of man who was larger than life – and an individual who overcame early adversity.
Yoram was born in 1932 in Jerusalem to Jewish immigrants from Germany.  He struggled in school due to being dyslexic.  At 16. he dropped out of school and was accepted into the Israel Defense Forces based on false documents.
“In the IDF, he found a home and a purpose,” Ron East recounted. 
He rose through the ranks.  After taking a break from the military to  study art and build a career as a journalist, Yoram rejoined the IDF in the 1970s.  From 1976-82, Colonel Hamizrachi was the IDF liaison with the Christian communities  in southern Lebanon.
“My dad quit the IDF in 1982, when Israel went to war with Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Ron East recalled. “He strongly opposed the war.”
Hamizrachi moved his family to Winnipeg where he continued to work as a journalist – with regular columns on Israel in The Jewish Post.  He also became a social activist and did a lot of work with Indigenous communities.
“Two First Nations communities made him honorary chiefs,” Ron noted. 
In Winnipeg, he helped found the Manitoba Intercultural Alliance and became the co-director of the Winnipeg-based Counter-Terrorism Centre.
In addition to honouring Ida and Saul Alpert, CMDA also recognized several other individuals who have contributed to the growth of the CMDA chapter in Winnipeg – among them:Ami Ba kerman,  Ron East, donors Bill and Judy Mahon, Barbara Reiss (for organizing the event) and John  Plantz who, along with colleague Roy Hiebert – presented a cheque to the CMDA for $10,000 from the Christian Friends of Israel Ministry.
There was much more to the evening.  Sharon Fraiman, CMDA’s director for Western Canada, called for a moment of silence in memory of the MDA personnel who were murdered in the terrorist attack on Israel on October 7.  She also screened several short videos of the actions of heroic MDA staff and their actions on that horrific day in fighting back as well as rescuing those tthey could.
There were also remarks by Sidney Benizri, CMDA national executive  director, and Wayne Ewasko, PC MLA for Lac du Bonnet and interim Opposition leader.
The evening concluded with a half hour show by New York-based stand-up comic Talia Reiss – who happens to be married to the aforementioned Cary Reiss – riffing on Jewish themes contrasting Reform and Orthodox and Sephardi and Ashkenazi differences, reflecting the different backgrounds that she and her husband have brought to their relationship, as well as commentary on parenthood and schooling.  For good measure, she also threw in  some Winnipeg in-jokes.

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New JCFS program aims to help community members feeling fearful and hurt by the increase in antisemitism.

JCFS clinical supervisor Denise Rubin

By MYRON LOVE The Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 and ensuing exponential increase in open-antisemitism in what had been, prior to that fateful date, our generally peaceful Jewish communities, has created a great deal of anxiety in Jewish communities throughout the United States and Canada – and our community is no different.
“There is a lot of fear out there,” reports Denise Rubin, a clinical supervisor at Jewish Child and Family Service.  “People are fearful of the future. They are concerned for their safety.  They are hurt that some of their non-Jewish friends don’t understand their feelings of concern, that they are not receiving much support in their schools or workplaces, and in many ways have lost their sense of belonging.”
In order to help traumatized Jewish Winnipeggers, the Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS) has created a new program that is open to people of all ages.
“We began getting calls to the office almost immediately after the attack” recalls Rubin, who had been in private practice offering psychotherapy counselling for a few years prior to joining the JCFS just over a year ago.  “We created a War Response Committee very soon after.”
Rubin notes that JCFS offers a variety of services for the community, including one-on-one counselling, workshops and even group events to bring the community together.
JCFS brought on a new counsellor, Brooke Zelcer, to take on the role of meeting with individuals for one-on-one counselling sessions to address, work through, and find support during this difficult time. For those who are feeling the effects of this war and the rise in antisemitism, JCFS offers 5 free one-on-one sessions with Brooke and Denise.
“In our one-on-one counselling, we focus on managing clients’ fears and worries, but also address some very real-life issues that many people in our community are facing ” Zelcer points out. As well, she adds, many members of our community have a more direct connection to the horrific events of October 7 in that they knew one or more of those who were murdered or taken hostage.
“If the client and I see that there is a need for further counselling services after the 5 free sessions, we will address that proactively with our counselling department.”
Support, events and workshops are intended to encourage clients to talk through their emotional issues and share their feelings to foster healing safety.
The next Unity in Community event is being held on May 29th, 2024 from 7-8:30PM at the Asper  Jewish Community campus
 To register for this event or if you have been impacted by the conflict in Israel and/or the rise in antisemitism and are in need of a safe space to talk, call 204-560-6736 or email bzelcer@jcfswinnipeg.org

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