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Congregation Shir Tikvah officially dissolves

SHIR TIKVAH logoBy BERNIE BELLAN In our July 24, 2019 issue we broke the news that Congregation Shir Tikvah was ceasing operations. In that issue we reported that “A Winnipeg congregation that had been holding High Holy Day services for the past 16 years is ceasing operations. In that article we wrote that, in a letter sent to congregation members dated July 12, Congregation Shir Tikvah President Sharon Bronstone stated:


Dear Members of Congregation Shir Tikvah,
On behalf of the Board of Directors and myself, it is with great sadness that we inform you of our decision not to hold High Holy Days Services this coming year.
After sixteen years in operation we can only see the writing on the wall that our numbers have been declining and at this time we don’t see a viable option to move forward.
When we started out no one thought our “little congregation” would ever amount to anything nor did anyone think Shir Tikvah would become a household name to hold Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for sixteen years.
While closing our doors is not what we had in mind, we do want you to know how important your presence, contributions and commitment has been to all of us. To be a part of an amazing group of people devoted to helping us thrive over the years has been incredibly heartwarming to everyone who has served on the Congregation Shir Tikvah Board as well as those behind the scenes. We applaud you for sticking by us!

As a follow-up to that story we were recently contacted by Sharon Bronstone to inform us that Congregation Shir Tikvah is now officially dissolved.
Among the several artifacts that the congregation had accumulated over the years were two Torah scrolls which had been donated to the congregation by Leonard Kahane in 2015. In a story I wrote that year I gave the explanation as to how those two Torah scrolls had ended up with Shir Tikvah. That story also told how the congregation had first come about:

It’s not often that a Jewish congregation in Winnipeg is able to commemorate something as momentous as the acquisition of a new Torah scroll. If memory serves correct, the last time any congregation here was able to mark such an occasion was in May 2012, when Temple Shalom celebrated the completion of the “Penn Torah scroll”, which was the crowning achievement of scribe Irma Penn shortly before her passing that same year.
Now, a congregation about whom we don’t hear very much is also about to unveil two new recently-acquired Torah scrolls. Congregation Shir Tikvah, which is in its 13th year, will be unveiling the two Torahs at its Rosh Hashanah service on Monday, September 15.
The Torah scrolls are the gifts of Dr. Leonard Kahane, in memory of his late wife, Hope Renee, who passed away in 2006.

Recently I sat down with three individuals who were instrumental in creating Shir Tikvah congregation and who have played vital roles in keeping that congregation alive every high holiday since 2003: Sid Ritter (the former executive director of Bnay Abraham Synagogue prior to the merger of that synagogue with the Beth Israel and Rosh Pina synagogues in 2002), his wife Hinda , and Sharon Bronstone (a past president of the Beth Israel congregation).
As much as I was interested in hearing the story of the Torah scrolls, I was even more interested in knowing what has led the various individuals who have gathered together each year at the Viscount Gort Hotel (save for two years at the old Blue and Gold room in the former Winnipeg Stadium) for high holiday services to stay together.

The story, for those not familiar with it, is that at the time that three north-end Winnipeg congregations – the Beth Israel, Bnay Abraham, and Rosh Pina, decided to merge into one in 2002, not all members of those congregations were enthused with the idea of the merger. According to Bronstone, “Some of us were not happy the way it (the merger) turned out…and Sid, David (Bloomfield, also one of the original movers behind the creation of Shir Tikvah and a past president of the Beth Israel), and I started getting phone calls from others, asking ‘What are you going to do?’ “
“Nobody really wanted to start anything,” says Bronstone, “but the phone calls kept coming in and we did start something – it was a one-shot deal, in 2003” (high holidays services in the basement of the Viscount Gort Hotel on Portage Avenue).
“The first year we had 83 people – which surprised us,” she notes. “It came around that we met a second year, also at the Viscount Gort.” Since then the number of people attending Shir Tikvah’s services has continued to grow, to the point where there are anywhere from 150-180 individuals now attending annually (although one year there were over 200 people in attendance, Bronstone notes.)

(Ed. note: In my conversation with Sharon Bronstone on March 10, 2021 Sharon offered the following observations about the original formation of Congregation Shir Tikvah:
“Some of us were younger people who weren’t comfortable going to a larger synagogue.
Rabbi Green (who was the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel at one time) had suggested, when Shir Tikvah was first formed that (to paraphrase) “You’re doing something for people who do not want to belong to a synagogue, but wanted somewhere to go for High Holiday services.”)

Arky Berkal has served as cantor from day one, while Sharon’s son Adam has served as “lay rabbi”, also from the very beginning. (Every year Adam Bronstone has come back to Winnipeg for two weeks during the high holidays, no matter where he may have been living anywhere in the world.) In recent years, Jared Trotman has also been contributing as “Ba’al Shacharit”, this year to be joined on the bimah by Avrom Charach.
As far as Torah scrolls have gone though, the congregation had been in the practice of borrowing two scrolls belonging to the Gray Academy each year. Later, when those Torahs were sent for refurbishing, Shir Tikvah was able to borrow two more Torah scrolls from the Talmud Torah-Beth Jacob congregation on Main Street. Most recently it had been borrowing two Torahs from the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.

Bronstone notes that, even though there “were 48 Torahs” in the Etz Chayim as a result of the merger of the three congregations and that the Simkin Centre also had a surplus of Torahs, “no one wanted to give any to us.”
But, last year, explains Bronstone, while they “were breaking fast, Dr. (Leonard) Kahane said to me ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ I didn’t understand what he meant, so I said ‘I don’t think so.’”
“No, no, what I meant is ‘What are you short?’ “, Dr. Kahane continued, according to Bronstone. “Well, after Yom Tov, I called him,” she continues, and mentioned that they were short Torahs of their own, so “he made us a fantastic offer of two Torahs”.
At that point Hinda Ritter explains how Sid and Leonard Kahane went down to Florida to visit a store known as “Tradition”, whose owner specialized in the sale of Torahs “that have been reclaimed from the Holocaust”.
“The Torahs go to Israel,” Hinda adds, “where they’re vetted and fixed, and he (the owner of Tradition) gets them.” (The Torahs are kept near the Kotel, where authorized scribes are allowed to work on them, Sid Ritter explains later in the conversation.)

Sid Ritter adds: “There are two locations in the world where Holocaust Torahs are kept. One is in Jerusalem and the other location is London, England. My opinion is we ought to be getting Torahs from Jerusalem. Those Torahs are checked by an authorized scribe to make sure they are all kosher.”
(At this point I interjected, asking whether it was permissible to repair a Torah that had been severely damaged. According to Sid Ritter, it depends on the degree of damage.)
“I asked our contact in Florida whether it would be possible to obtain one Torah that came from Poland and one from Romania,” Sid continues, “because our donor’s family came from Romania.”
“After some back and forth, eventually two Torahs were found – one from Poland, and one from Romania – and that’s what we ended up with,” he says.

There was an added element to the purchase of the Torahs that entered into the equation, Sid adds: The weight of the Torahs. Theirs is an “egalitarian congregation”, he explains, and they didn’t want to acquire Torahs that would be too heavy for women to carry.
So, what are the components that go into adding to the weight of a particular Torah? Sid wondered. One obvious factor would be the weight of the scroller, or the “Etz Chayim,” as it is referred to. “It depends on whether it’s made of hardwood or softwood,” Sid explains. But, another added element is the type of ink used in creating a particular Torah. “The heavier the ink, the more massive the Torah – not so much the parchments – they’re largely the same,” he adds.

But, how do you know a Torah comes from Poland, for instance, while another comes from Romania? “It turns out that there are actually distinct styles,” Sid says, that can indicate where a Torah comes from.
I ask: “How much does a Torah go for anyway?”
Both Sharon and Sid chime in: “Lots!”
In addition to the actual scrolls, Dr. Kahane also paid for the Torah covers, which were made in Israel.
Since Congregation Shir Tikvah meets only for high holiday services, I ask where the Torahs will be kept during the rest of the year. It turns out that Sid Ritter will keep them in his own home – under conditions “that are reasonably temperature controlled”, he notes.
The ark and the podium used by Shir Tikvah were designed and built by Zvi Gitter, Sharon Bronstone says, and they’re meant to be easily disassembled. As a matter of fact, she notes, “ we have given them out when people have bar or bat mitzvahs in hotels.”
“We are, in my estimation, a real synagogue,” she adds, “because the only things we were lacking were our own Torahs”.

According to Sharon Bronstone, now that Shir Tikvah Congregation is officially dissolved, the two Torah scrolls that the congregation acquired in 2015 are to be given to the Chevra Mishnayes Congregation (about which we have a story on page 34.)

As well, Sharon adds, the ark and the podium mentioned in that 2015 story will be donated to Congregation Temple Shalom, along with the white gowns worked by the lay rabbi and cantor.

As far as the High Holiday books that had been accumulated by Shir Tikvah over the years, Sharon says, of the 160 books in the congregation’s possession, 60 have been able to find new homes in other congregations, but there are still 100 remaining to be donated. If anyone is interested in acquiring these books they are asked to contact Sharon at 204-338-5064.

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RBC freezes client’s bank account by mistake – and keeps it frozen without explanation

By BERNIE BELLAN (June 14, 2024) What would you do if, one day, you tried to use your debit card to pay for something or to take a cash withdrawal – and the card didn’t work? But then, after contacting your bank to try and find out why that’s happening, you’re simply told your account is frozen – without any further explanation? And, only after deducing that the bank froze the account of the wrong individual, does the bank finally admit its error.
Such was the case recently with an RBC client who happened to be a relative of mine and who enlisted my help in trying to figure out why their account had been frozen by RBC.

On May 1 I was contacted by my relative asking for my help. They couldn’t understand why their debit card wasn’t working. They told me that their card had stopped working five days prior. (It should be explained this individual does not have sophisticated knowledge how to deal with a problem of this sort and they simply thought there was a glitch in using their card that would be corrected in short order by the bank.)

After several days of not being able to use their card, my relative explained, they had phoned RBC on April 30, but were not offered any explanation as to why their account had been frozen. They were told, however, that the matter was in the hands of a Vancouver branch of RBC. My relative was even further puzzled. They lived in Winnipeg and had never even been to Vancouver. What did their account being frozen have to do with a Vancouver branch of RBC, they wondered?

The day my relative contacted me, I told them to come over to my house and that I would try and get an RBC customer service representative on the phone to obtain some sort of explanation as to why their account had been frozen. After getting an RBC customer service representative on the phone and explaining who I was, I asked permission to listen in on the conversation between my relative and the RBC customer service representative. The customer service representative agreed to allow that, but during the course of the conversation they said they were not able to offer any information as to why the RBC client’s card had been frozen.
Both my relative and I were totally puzzled. RBC had frozen their account but would offer no explanation for why that had happened.

Later that day, however, my relative contacted me again to say that they wondered whether it was possible their account had been frozen by mistake because they had the same name as another relative? That other individual does live in Vancouver, so it began to make sense to me. I don’t know that individual well, but was able to contact them after getting their phone number from someone who knew them.
I phoned that person but just got their voice messaging, so I left a message asking them to call me. In a few minutes that individual did call me back and did say, not only that they had an RBC account, but that they had some legal issues related to debts (without going into specifics).

Immediately it occurred to me that my Winnipeg relative’s account had been frozen by mistake and that it was this Vancouver relative whose account was the one RBC had intended to freeze.

I phoned RBC back again and said that it was apparent RBC had frozen the account of the wrong individual. When I gave a detailed explanation of what evidently had happened, this time the RBC customer service representative told us to go down to the branch where my relative does their banking, where we would be met by a banking representative.

At the branch we met with a very nice RBC representative who said they had been brought up to speed as to what had happened. The bank representative explained that my relative’s account had been frozen as the result of a court order that had been issued in Vancouver to freeze the account of someone with the same name. The representative said that my relative could still not use their debit card to access cash, but the representative would be able to give them cash that they could use until their account was unfrozen.

At that time I suggested that what RBC had done was an outrageous mistake and that RBC ought to offer compensation to my relative. The branch representative said RBC was willing to waive bank fees for my relative for six months – apparently worth something in the order of $80 altogether.
The representative also gave me the name of the law firm that had applied for the court order that had led to the wrong account being frozen.

I contacted that law firm the same day and explained what had happened to a lawyer from the firm. The lawyer told me that the court order that had been applied for and had been issued by a court specifically gave the number of the bank account that was to be frozen. The lawyer sent me a copy of the bank order.

It was apparent that someone at RBC had made a huge mistake. They had ignored the order to freeze a specific account belonging to a specific RBC client and instead had frozen the account of a totally different RBC client who happened to have the same name!
When I discovered how egregious a mistake RBC had made – after reading the court order, I contacted the same RBC branch representative who had offered to freeze the fees on my relative’s account and said that my relative expected a lot more in compensation for such an outrageous mistake than simply having bank fees waived for six months.

On May 22, the RBC branch representative wrote in an email to me:
“Your request for compensation has also been escalated to our RBC client care department. They will reach out directly.”

On June 11 we contacted the branch representative to say that my relative had not heard anything from the client care department. On June 12 the branch rep wrote to me to say that an RBC client care representative had indeed attempted to contact my relative – both via phone and email. The phone number that was given in the email though was no longer in service and when we checked with our relative they said they hadn’t received an email.

On June 12 we emailed the RBC client care representative to ask them to attempt to contact our relative again. We did not hear back from that representative. To date our relative says they have not heard anything from the client care representative.

The upshot is RBC made a huge mistake and froze an account of the wrong individual – causing them distress and frustration, and only after we were able to figure out what had led to the wrong account being frozen, did RBC unfreeze the account. And, even though we asked for compensation over a month ago, no response has been received from RBC.

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Record crowd of 50,000 turns out for pro-Israel Toronto event

By DAVE GORDON (June 11, 2024 / JNS) More than 50,000 pro-Israel people turned out for the UJA Walk with Israel in Toronto on Sunday, a record turnout for the event which is in its 55th year.
Adam Hummel, a lawyer in Toronto, told JNS that it was “remarkable and uplifting to see so many Jews come together” this year for the 5K walk (about 3 miles.)
“I was dumbstruck how many people were gathered and feeling the energy and community, especially when we have been struck by so much sorrow,” Hummel said.
Although it seemed in prior years that people attended out of inertia, this year was different, according to Hummel.
“It felt like people needed to be there,” he said. “Because of everything we have gone through as a community, and what Israelis went through, people needed to show up to stand with Israel.”
The event, a project of the UJA Federation of Toronto, moved from the heavily-Jewish neighborhood at the Bathurst Street corridor at Lawrence Avenue to the Federation’s Sherman Campus, which was rebuilt several years ago. 
Guidy Mamann also told JNS that this year’s event felt different.
“I’ve been to many, many walks for Israel since I was a kid,” the Toronto lawyer said. “Normally, people go because they want to have fun and see old faces, but I think this year it was driven by a need to go.”
“There was a sense of needing to go to this walk-a-thon because of the trauma we’ve been through together,” he said. “We needed to feel each other and see each other in large numbers. I think the community really needed that.”
Brendan Shanahan, president of the Maple Leafs, the Toronto hockey team, and the singer Montana Tucker, who sang the Israeli national anthem, were among the celebrities present.
“We are thrilled by the overwhelming support for the walk this year from our community and our friends and neighbors across Greater Toronto,” stated Jeff Rosenthal, chair of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “To see a record-breaking turnout this year speaks volumes about our community’s pride, resilience and determination to show our city who we are and what we stand for.”
Exceptions for Jews
Michael Kerzner, the solicitor general of Ontario, and Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, attended the event. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Olivia Chow, Toronto’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor, reportedly were not present.
Chow, who had skipped what she called a “divisive” annual Israeli flag raising at City Hall the prior month, said in an interview with a popular Toronto radio station on Monday morning that she had a prior commitment and couldn’t attend Sunday’s event.
“She wasn’t missed,” said David Burstein, a Toronto dentist.
“It was one of the most outstanding communal Jewish experiences of my life, and I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life. The energy was fantastic,” Burstein told JNS. “The fact that they got the four hostages out the day before, really helped morale and added to the joy of the day.”
Kevin Vuong, a federal politician of Chinese descent, told JNS that he was disappointed that Chow skipped the pro-Israel event, which she attended previously as a federal politician.
Vuong noted that Chow told the Jewish community that “you’re never alone” after a shooting at the Jewish girls’ elementary school Bais Chaya Mushka in Toronto in late May.
Chow’s statement implied that “she stood with Toronto’s Jewish community,” Vuong said. “She lied.”
“It’s clear that if it was any other community, she’d have been there. No mayor, nor prime minister for that matter, would skip an event attended by 50,000 Canadians,” Vuong added. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Oct. 7, these so-called leaders make exceptions when it comes to Jews.”
Vuong and his wife attended the event “to show our support for Jews both here at home in Canada and abroad, and that meant walking the talk and walking the walk.”
‘I was shocked at the depravity’
The politician had harsh words for the hundreds of pro-Hamas demonstrators, who used bullhorns and loudspeakers to broadcast anti-Israel chants and Islamic prayers and who reportedly sought to enter a place where the event was taking place and had to be barred by law enforcement.
“One thing I couldn’t believe was that pro-Hamas supporters brought in speakers and blared the rocket sirens that go off when Israel is under attack,” Vuong told JNS. “I was shocked at the depravity that someone would think to do that in the hopes of triggering participants.”
“Sadly, I was not surprised when other counter-protesters gave up all pretenses and started cheering outright for Hamas,” he added.
Hummel, the Toronto lawyer, called the protesters “pathetic, paltry and sinister.”
“We celebrate life and they clearly do not. We were there in blue and white with our children, singing songs about life. There was a world of difference,” he told JNS. “They were wearing black and had their faces covered.”
“They stood with swastika signs. Repulsive and pathetic,” he added. “The visuals could not have been starker of what we’re fighting for, and what we are fighting against.”
Mamann, the other Toronto lawyer, told JNS that some of the protesters tailed Jewish community members after the event in a harassing way.
“These people come clear across town and out of town to disrupt us. The police were on our side. But at the end of the day, the protection doesn’t finish when the walk finishes,” he said. “There are thousands of people trying to make it home, and there is still work to do.”
Ali Siadatan was among the non-Jewish Canadians of Iranian descent who participated in the event to voice their support for the Jewish state.
“I stand with Israel because I wish to live in a free world. Israel is at the epicenter of a global ideological war,” Siadatan told JNS. “Israel’s victory will push back the forces of Islam and Marxism. Israel’s defeat would encourage these very forces to explode in the West and in Canada.”
“Even the future of Iran very much depends on the victory or defeat of Israel against the regional forces of Islamic militancy,” Siadatan added.
At the end of the walk, JNS caught up with the rapper Nissim Black, who performed at the festival, which also had kid-friendly activities and musical performances.
“Incredible energy,” Black told JNS. “It was so special seeing all those people together celebrating Eretz Hakodesh,” the Holy Land.

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Women Wage Peace to hold Zoom meeting in June

The late Viivan Silver z"l

We received the following email about a group that will be holding a formative meeting via Zoom this month:

Dear Friends,
Many of you may have heard of the Israel-based group called Women Wage Peace
(WWP) – Nashim Osot Shalom, which Vivian Silver (z”l) helped found ten years ago.
Some may have read the recent article about the group by Sharon Chisvin in the
Winnipeg Free Press. The group now has over 50,000 members, many all over the
world, for example, in Germany, Australia, the UK. The group is non-political and nonsectarian.
There are Jewish, Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Muslim, Christian and secular
women (and some men) across the political spectrum. It has partnered with a
Palestinian Women’s Group called Women of the Sun, and the heads of the two groups
made Time Magazine’s list of women of the Year – ‘extraordinary leaders who fight for a
more equitable future”. We just learned that Vivian has been posthumously awarded
the Hessian Peace Prize in Germany for her efforts.
WWP believes in the active participation of women through all stages of negotiations
and that we all have common interests, desires and needs for a peaceful resolution of
the conflict. WWP recognizes the need for diverse voices; the more partners there are
in the process, the greater the chances of achieving a long-lasting peace.
We are writing to you now, as we are setting up a group in Winnipeg, to support and
amplify the work of this remarkable organization. Please let us know whether you
would like to be involved with a Winnipeg/prairie group. We welcome input from all of

There will be an initial Zoom meeting on June 18 at 7 pm to give everyone a chance to get to know one another and to brainstorm. Even if you are too busy to be an active participant, your support, both moral and financial, will help. And, if you know others who would be interested, please let them know about this initiative.
A major goal of WWP is to implement activities aimed at promoting the vision of a
shared society and co-existence.
Esther Blum and Chana Thau
Please RSVP to as to whether you would like your name to be added to our mailing list as a potential member or to follow WWP events, also to obtain the link to the Zoom meeting.
For more info on WWP, go to

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