Posted Sept. 16, 2022 By MYRON LOVE It would seem that it is finally happening. After “at least a decade” – in the words of Congregation Etz Chayim board member and spokesperson Avrom Charach – of talking about it and considering different options, north Winnipeg’s largest synagogue has taken a concrete step forward in relocating to the south end.
The “for sale” sign outside the 70-year-old building went up last weekend.
Congregation Etz Chayim was formed 20 years ago from the merger of the Rosh Pina, Bnay Abraham and Beth Israel congregations – at the time the three largest congregations in the North End. With the Jewish population in our city rapidly declining in the West Kildonan/Garden City neighbourhoods and increasing at the same pace in River Heights, Tuxedo and related areas south, the leaders of the three congregations felt that merger was the practical way to ensure one strong Conservative congregation in the North End.
The new congregation carried on services at the former Rosh Pina building. The Rosh Pina, founded in 1893, was our community’s second oldest and second largest congregation (after the Shaarey Zedek) and had been at the current location since 1952.
Even with the merger, membership has been declining slowly but steadily over the past 20 years as older members have passed away and the shift south has grown apace.
Charach reports that 80% of Etz Chayim’s membership now lives south. For young families who belong to the congregation, the number is approaching 90%.
It is not only the fact that the majority of the congregation now lives south that is driving the decision to relocate to that area, Charach points out. “After 70 years, our building needs a lot of work,” he notes. ”We think it makes more sense to spend the money where most of our members are living instead of where we are now.”
(Contrary to rumour, Charach adds, Etz Chayim is still “financially viable”.)
The plan, he says, is to purchase and renovate an existing building – or rent temporarily if need be until a suitable building can be found. “All options are on the table,” Charach says.
The goal is to find a location within a 10-minute drive of most of the shul members. That would be a location accessible to River Heights, Tuxedo, Lindenwoods and Charleswood.
“Our Relocation Committee has an idea of what we would like to spend on a new building,” Charach notes. “We also have a fair idea as to how much money we may be able to raise from among our members. We hope that what we receive from the sale of our building will cover most of the cost of buying and renovating our new building.
“We would like to be in our new home by next summer – in time for next Yom Tov.”
Charach, who works in property management, estimates that the current building should sell for up to $10 million. “Our committee is considering all possible scenarios, including the possibility that we can’t get the price we want,” he says. “We have contingency plans should that be the case.”
He adds that the size of the projected new synagogue building is not as important as may have been the case in the past. “We learned during the pandemic that the actual physical space isn’t as important as it used to be,” he points out. “Over the last two years of Covid-related restrictions, we carried on with the minimum ten we needed for a minyan while livestreaming our services. It looks like, in future, a growing number of shul members will choose to watch services from the comfort of their homes – with fewer actually attending in person.”
There is one additional factor that has to be considered in the sale of Etz Chayim’s building and property. That is the presence of the Rosh Pina Co-op on the property. The co-op – which was completed in 1991 – was the last of four low-cost seniors’ apartment blocks that were built adjacent to synagogues – the others being the HSBA Hebrew Sick Gardens (beside the former Beth Israel Synagogue) built in 1971, the Beit Am (beside the former Bnay Abraham Synagogue) which opened in 1972, and Shalom Gardens, next to Temple Shalom, which was completed in 1987.
(The goal originally was to provide low cost housing for Jewish tenants who would hopefully take advantage of living close to the sponsoring synagogue and attend services regularly. However, as the Jewish population in the North End has steadily declined, the number of Jewish tenants in the Hebrew Sick Gardens, Beit Am and Rosh Pina Co-op has dwindled to very few.)
As Charach points out, under the terms of the arrangement with the Rosh Pina Co-op, while the congregation retained ownership of the land, it doesn’t own the co-op.
“We would be able to sell the land,” he says, “but the co-op’s lease doesn’t expire until 2030. The co-op ownership would be a separate negotiation between the co-op management and whoever buys our building and land.”
He reports that while a few members may be unhappy to see Etz Chayim leaving the North End, almost everyone has responded positively to the decision.
Focus group Oct. 11 at Simkin Centre for people concerned about personal care homes
As Manitobans have gone to the polls and with a new legislative assembly about to begin a new four-year term, the challenges of long-term and continuing care homes need to be communicated.
MARCHE, the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly will be holding a focus group on Wednesday, October 11 that is intended to provide the community at large a forum to express thoughts and provide ideas and recommendations for the future.
Please join us on Wednesday, October 11th at the Saul & Claribel Simkin Centre. We look forward to hearing from you.
See poster below for more information and how to register to attend.
Gray Academy Visiting International School program attracts first student from Australia
By MYRON LOVE Gray Academy, our community’s only junior kindergarten–12 Jewish day school, holds a unique place among Jewish schools in Western Canada.
The school has a higher per capita enrollment than any other Jewish day school in Western Canada related to the number of potential Jewish students in the community. As well, it is the only Jewish high school in North America – other than yeshivot – that offers an international student experience.
“We generally enrol one or two students a year from international communities,” says Gray Academy Head of School and CEO Lori Binder. “Our International Student program has always been a niche program,” “We want to be able to make sure that the international students are well integrated into our student body.”
For the most part, she reports, the visiting students have come from Brazil and Mexico. “We have agents in Brazil and Mexico,” she notes. “In the past, we have participated in recruitment trips – and we might again one day – depending on available resources. Most of our international students hear about our program through word of mouth.”
This school year, Gray Academy has two international students enrolled. Natalie Rozenberg is from Rio de Janiero This is the Grade 12 student’s second year at the school. She is following in the footsteps of her older sister, Dafne, who graduated from Gray Academy in 2020 and is currently enrolled in third year Data Science at the University of Manitoba.
The newest international student at Gray Academy is Tara Foster, who has come all the way from Australia to sample a different kind of educational experience. “Tara is the first Australian student to participate in our program,” Binder says. “In fact, she reached out to us after finding information about our program online.”
The Grade 10 student was born and raised in Sydney. Her father, she notes, was also originally from Sydney, but her parents met and married in London. They moved to Sydney 18 year ago. Up to now, Tara has been a student at Masada College, a K-12 Jewish school in Sydney, where she will be returning next fall.
I wanted to experience a school somewhere else – preferably in an English-speaking country,” she says. “I searched online and Gray Academy was the only school offering this program.”
While her mother, she notes, had some concerns about her 15-year-old daughter traveling so far from home for school, her father was fine with the idea. He is involved in an accounting software business which brings him frequently to Toronto. Her mother, Tara says, is planning to come to visit in January.
Tara has been here for just over a month. She reports that Winnipeg so far is sort of what she expected. “It is very flat,” she muses. “It is easier to get around here than in Sydney.”
She says that she has already made some friends in her new school and is starting to get involved in extracurricular activites
Natalie began the school year by joining her Grade 12 classmates on their Human Rights and Holocaust Education trip to Washington, DC. She is looking forward to continuing to work out regularly at the Rady JCC.
”I am still working on improving my English,” she says.
She notes that her parents are happy that their two daughters are living in a safe community such as Winnipeg.
As is the standard practice with Gray Academy’s International Student program, both girls are living with host families. “Over the past 15 years or so, our visiting International Student Program has hosted more than 30 students,” Lori Binder reports. “Not only do the visiting students benefit from the experience of going to school here, but our own students get the opportunity to welcome fellow students from different places and learn more about the larger world.”
She adds that the visiting students form long-lasting bonds with their host families, with the guests often becoming part of the host family’s extended family.
Rabbi Michael Skobac, international leader in Jewish outreach, to speak at Adas Yeshurun Herzlia on October 20
By MYRON LOVE It has been many years since I have had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Michael Skobac. I am happy to report that the long time Education Director of Jews for Judaism has been invited back to Winnipeg by the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation to do a presentation – on Friday, October 20, after Kabbalat Shabbat services – on the subject of the ongoing missionary threat to the Jews.
The subtext for “The Battle for the Jewish Soul,” the title of his lecture, he points out, is an exploration of why so many Jews are susceptible to the siren song of missionaries – not just Christian missionaries, but also Asian religious movements – an issue that also falls under the aegis of Jews for Judaism.
“It is not just a matter of a lack of education or knowledge,” he explained in a wide ranging interview with the JP&N last Friday morning. “Many of those who have left Judaism grew up in Jewish homes, had their bar/bat mitzvahs, went to Hebrew school and visited Israel. What they are missing is a sense of spirituality.
“Too many Jews have grown up in a spiritual vacuum,” he continued. “They have holes in their soul that cry out to be filled and they are not finding it in Judaism. Therefore, they are turning to Bhuddism, Hinduism and the Church.”
To further illustrate his point, he cited a story about a conference on Jewish meditation a year ago in New York City. “There were about 1,000 people registered,” he recounted. “They were asked to raise their hands if they had participated in Eastern mediation practices. Everyone raised their hands. When subsequently asked how many of them had had any experience with Jewish meditation, no hands went up.”
That anecdote speaks to one of the several ways that Jews for Judaism’s mission has evolved and expanded. The organization was founded in 1989 in Toronto by Julius Ciss, himself a former “Jew for Jesus” who had returned to Judaism some years before and had begun doing counter missionary work.
Rabbi Skobac joined Jews for Judaism full time in 1992. A graduate of Yeshiva University, the former New Yorker received his smicha in 1980. After teaching for a short time, he was drawn into outreach work within the Jewish community prior to joining the staff of Jews for Judaism.
Initially, Jews for Judaism’s primary mission was working to bring back to Judaism susceptible Jews who were enticed into joining messianic congregations operating under the guise of following Jewish ritual practices within a context of worshipping Yesha (Jesus).
Skobac notes that Jews for Judaism’s focus has never been criticizing Christian beliefs, but rather on educating lost Jews as to the joys of Judaism. “We operate under the idea that the missionary activity of Jews for Jesus is not the problem,” he explains. “It is a symptom. The problem is that a growing number of Jews are disconnected from Judaism. Our communities are dealing with a lot of assimilation and apathy. The other thing we realized is that it is not just Christ who is calling to Jews. Twenty five percent of North American Bhuddists are Jewish and Jews are similarly overrepresented in other Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Bahai.”
Skobac noted that Jews for Judaism has become a 911 service forJewish communities – responding to many family members concerned about siblings or children who have strayed into other religious faiths.
There have been some interesting phenomena developing in more recent years that Skobac commented on. One is related to the growth of the messianic movements themselves.
“We are not dealing with just one or two messianic congregations in North America now,” he observed. “There are currently more than 500 – and they have become organized. They have camps and day schools and “rabbinical schools” to fill the growing demand for “rabbis”. The result is more of the messianic Jews are actually studying Judaism and some are – as a result- coming back to the Jewish community.”
Another difference that Skobac points out is that you no longer see these missionaries preaching on street corners. As with everything else in our modern world, virtually all the missionary work today is happening online. And the outreach efforts of Jews for Judaism has also moved to some degree online.
“Twelve years ago, we started our own YouTube channel,” he reported. “We have had between 8 and 9 million views. Obviously not all of our viewers re Jewish.”
He pointed out that over the past 40 years, a growing number of non-Jews have become interested in learning about Judaism and begun practising the “Noahide” laws as ordained in the Torah. These laws were required by God of Noah’s descendants and include prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, adultery, theft, murder and cruelty to animals.
And some of these Noahides convert to Judaism. Skobac reported, for example, that he was recently in Alberta to help a family living outside of Edmonton that was converting to Judaism.
The bottom line, Skobac noted, is that a growing number of Jews are not finding meaning in Judaism. “People need a sense of the spiritual in their lives to give their lives meaning,” he observed. “If they can’t find it in Judaism, they will look somewhere else. What we try to do is bring out the beauty and spirituality in Judaism.”
Readers who may be interested in attending rabbi Skobac’s presentation (which includes supper) can contact the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia office at 204 489-6262.