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.
Beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation have received $210,000 less this year than last year as of September 1
By BERNIE BELLAN
For the first time in at least 10 years the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg has reduced the amount distributed to its 12 beneficiary agencies from what had been distributed the previous year. The funds were distributed September 1 for 2023-24.
The total amount distributed this year was $210,000 less than what was distributed in both 2022 and 2021 and is actually $500,000 less than the total that was requested by the beneficiary agencies. (The amount distributed last year was $216,000 less than what the beneficiary agencies had requested.)
In explaining why allocations are being reduced this year, the Federation reported that “Over the past few years, the Federation and community have collectively faced significant challenges, placing a strain on our financial resources. In response to these challenges, the Federation stepped in during our community’s time of need, dedicating over $200,000 from our reserves to sustain our beneficiary agencies.” (In a later explanation it was clarified that $100,000 was taken from Federation reserves in each of 2022 and 2021.)
It was further noted that the decrease in funds to be allocated to agencies represents a 7% decrease over the previous year. Dipping into reserves was described as an “unsustainable practice.” It was also noted that the Federation “notified our beneficiaries of a probable reduction in the amount of funding available well ahead of the allocation request deadline.
In describing the pressures that the Federation’s Allocations Committee faced this year in coming up with its allocations, committee chair Brent Schacter said that “We knew after the budget process last year we were going to be in a bind.” Schacter further elaborated that the two whammies that hit this year were the ongoing repercussions of Covid along with the rapid increase in inflation.
In discussing the pressures that the Allocations committee faced this year, it should also be noted that although the amount raised by the Combined Jewish Appeal – while not much more than the previous year ($6.3 million as opposed to $6.25 million), the negative effects of the drop in allocations are somewhat mitigated by two things:. A good portion of the amount raised by the CJA is in the form of “designated funds,” given by large donors and, while those funds are not available to the B & A committee to distribute, many of the beneficiary agencies did receive large distributions from those “designated funds.”
As well, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba increased its total distributions this year by $1.3 million over the previous year. While the Foundation’s gifts were spread among a very wide number of recipients, a number of the Federation’s beneficiary agencies did benefit from the increase in Foundation distributions.
Still, the challenges facing the Federation in meeting the needs of the community are leading to a major reassessment of how Federation planners are implementing budgetary planning.
A number of new innovations have now been adopted by the B & A committee, including:
- New application forms – one for agencies requesting more than $250,000 and one for agencies requesting less
- Beneficiaries were asked to state the anticipated outcomes of projects/programs that receive Federation funding, and to develop indicators so that they can measure those outcomes.
- Site visits took place along with periodic meetings with agencies as a whole throughout the year to ensure that the committee gets a more complete picture of beneficiaries’ activities, challenges, and plans.
In describing the process that the Federation undertook to “streamline” the budget allocation process, Federation President Gustavo Zentner said “Lay leadership and management had a responsibility to look at the business model.”
It was determined that the Federation needed “a more effective way of managing the allocations process,” Zentner stated, including “more meaningful communication with the agencies to bring to light their projects.”
Not only does the Federation want to improve its own fundraising process, Zentner continued, “We also want to help agencies to raise funds on their own.”
Despite the reductions in allocations available to agencies this year, Zentner stressed that “we wanted to address the needs of those members of the community who are most in need.”
Brent Schacter added: “We want to see people dig a little bit deeper” when it comes to giving. The Combined Jewish Appeal is now into its fundraising campaign for the 2023-24 fiscal year.
Six members of the community receive King’s Counsel appointments
A total of 17 lawyers were appointed King’s Counsel by Order in Council on August 29. Six members of our Jewish community were among those appointed. Although appointments as King’s Counsel are usually accompanied by biographical information about those appointed, there was no press release issued by the Manitoba Government announcing the appointments. When we contacted the Manitoba Government news room to ask why there was no biographical information available, the response we received referred to KC appointments announced in February (no surprise there – these are bureaucrats we’re dealing with). When we asked again why there was no biographical information available about the most recent batch of KC appointments we were told “the Province of Manitoba is in the middle of an election blackout and department communications are limited as a result. News Room has nothing further to add.”
As a result, we present here photos of Jewish recipients of KC appointments, but without any further information.
Kayla Gordon inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame
Myron Love It was in the summer of 1984 when Kayla Gordon was appearing in the Rainbow Stage production of “Kismet,” that the long time actor/director/producer/photographer found herself doing her make-up sitting next to Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame, who was also appearing in the production.
“We both were playing opposite each other in the comic roles as the Ayahs to the Wazir (the main lead), and we began talking about our plans for the future,” Gordon recalls. “Nia was talking about moving to Toronto and joining the Second City company. As for me, I was in a comedy troupe in Winnipeg and just found out I was pregnant with my first child. My plan was to stay in Winnipeg, even though I was a bit jealous that she was going off to pursue her dream and I was staying put. That was my ‘Kismet’ and I never looked back.”
Rainbow Stage is where Gordon began her career in musical theatre at the age of 17 in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” After a career of more than 40 years, both on stage and behind the scenes – it is fitting that one of the leading lights of community theatre in our city has been recognized for her contributions by Winnipeg’s longest-running theatre company. On Wednesday, August 17, Gordon was one of the five inductees to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame under the “Builder” category. The award is given to someone who has been part of nurturing and building our theatre community.
“It was a wonderful surprise,” says the honoree. “It brings my career full circle.” Previous honours for Gordon include the Leadership Award from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Theatre Educator’s Award from the Winnipeg Theatre Awards for her long-time leadership within the arts community.
Gordon reports that the induction ceremony, attended by about 100 friends and family members of the inductees and Rainbow Stage staff, was held just prior to the opening night performance of “The Little Mermaid,”,the second of three shows the company is putting on this summer and early fall.
“It was also special to have one of my grandchildren, my husband Art Maister, my mom Ethel, and my aunt Evelyn Hecht at the induction ceremony,” she adds. (Evelyn also performed at Rainbow Stage in the 1950s.)
Gordon notes that while she appeared onstage in seven Rainbow Stage productions – from 1977 to 1993, she was honoured not for her acting, but for her role as a nurturer of talent through teaching acting and musical theatre at the University of Winnipeg for 18 years, as well as teaching at the University of Manitoba, Prairie Theatre Exchange and The Manitoba Theatre for Young People – also, later as the Artistic Director of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre for over 10 years and Winnipeg Studio Theatre, which she founded in 2006.
“I get a lot of satisfaction watching actors I’ve directed and students I have taught and nurtured performing at Rainbow Stage and other venues in the city,” Gordon notes. Many of them have gone on to work professionally and have appeared across Canada, as well as in Broadway productions. Some of them include: Alexandra Frohlinger (Soul Doctor/Broadway), Samantha Hill (Phantom of the Opera/Broadway), Jaz Sealey (Aladdin/Broadway), Andrea Macasaet (Six/Broadway), and Nyk Bielak (Book of Mormon/Broadway).
Gordon was an actor and high school drama teacher at West Kildonan Collegiate for the first 15 years of her career. By the mid-1990s she found herself becoming more interested in working behind the scenes as a director/producer. In 1994, she became the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s second artistic director – succeeding WJT founder Bev Aronovitch – a role she played until 2006. Following her time at WJT Gordon observed that local theatres were not hiring many female theatre directors.
“I realized that if I wanted to work as a director, I would have to create my own projects,” she recalls. So, she started Winnipeg Studio Theatre (WST) in 2006. Soon after forming the company, she invited her longtime theatre associate Brenda Gorlick to run the StudioWorks Academy, a program for emerging artists.
In 2021 she stepped down from her position at WST. “I am still interested in directing – but without the added pressures of being a producer or the full-time responsibility of running a professional theatre company,” she observes. “I like having the freedom to pick and choose the projects I want to work on.” I still plan to work on independent contracts directing theatre and creating entertainment for special events or fundraising activities in the community.”.Last year she produced and directed the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Negev Gala tribute honouring Gail Asper and Michael Paterson. As well, stepping down from her responsibilities with WST has also allowed Gordon to devote more time to her other passion – photography. “I have been interested in photography since I was 15,” she recounts. “My father Ralph had a dark room in our basement.”
Over the past couple of years, she has achieved accreditation with the Professional Photographers of Canada in four different areas of photography: street photography (her favourite), portraiture, performing artists, and figure study. And, last year, she co-authored a coffee table book – “The Murals of Winnipeg,” with fellow photographer Keith Levit as a fundraiser for Take Pride Winnipeg, with 80 pages of photos, which sold out in two weeks and the funds will go to emerging mural artists. (That story can be found on the jewishpostandnews.ca website.)
Kayla is grateful to have stayed in Winnipeg and she sums up her career, and how and why she managed to work in theatre all these years with a quote from Henry Winkler (aka ‘The Fonz’) “I live by tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity gets you where you want to be, and gratitude allows you not to be frustrated along the way”.