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Covid situation presents synagogues with opportunities as well as challenges

Synagogue spokespersons
(clockwise from top left):
Rabbi Allan Finkel, Temple Shalom
Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, Adas Yeshurun Herzlia
Ian Staniloff, Shaarey Zedek
Jonathan Buchwald, Etz Chayim

These are trying times that we are living through.  And certainly, our communal religious institutions – having been prevented from convening services for these past few months – have faced their share of challenges. But, as rabbis and synagogue spokespeople have pointed out in a series of interviews, there have also been new opportunities that have presented themselves that may never have occurred without the challenges.

“We have been trying to reach out to our community in different ways,” says Rabbi Allan Finkel, Temple Shalom’s spiritual leader.  “For example, people can tune in to our live stream free of charge. We are streaming services three or four times a week and are attracting many more people than would be coming for services.  People – some of whom may have disabilities or be reluctant to go out in wintry weather – can join in from the comfort of their homes.
“We are finding that we are attracting many people who are former members of our congregation or who are unaffiliated.”
He adds that his online “Introduction to Judaism” class has more students than his previous in-person classes. Among those signing on are a couple from Moose Jaw who aren’t Jewish but who are interested in learning about our religion.
Finkel points out how well the rabbis who are members of the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis are working together.
He also notes that he has initiated – for the first time – discussions with the other Reform Congregations in western Canada toward some joint programming.  The idea came out of a Chanukah program online that brought together cantors from Reform congregations across the country.  (“It was an incredible musical production,” he says.)
“The restrictions arising from Covid have encouraged us to think out of the box,” he says of the discussions with his colleagues in western Canada.  “It opens up many new possibilities that we not have recognized before.”

He also expresses his appreciation to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the federal government for providing grants which have helped make up to some degree the shortfall in funding due to Covid restrictions.
“While we miss coming together and meeting up with each other, we have to count our blessings,” Finkel observes.

“The really sad part is that no one is coming into our building,” notes Ian Staniloff, executive director of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, our community’s leading synagogue.  “Still, we are coping as well as we can and membership has been very supportive.”
The Shaarey Zedek had a head start on our community’s other shuls in developing an online presence.  Services have been simultaneously streamed for people at home for several years now.
“Our presence online is outstanding,” Staniloff reports.  “We continue to offer Shabbat services as well as weekday services and educational programming online.”
And although the Covid lockdown has meant that there are no life cycle events for the catering department to prepare, Staniloff notes that the kitchen staff has been preparing take-out meals for any and all occasions or no occasion.  “We organized a pre-Christmas Chinese supper, as an example,” Staniloff points out.  “We filled 270 orders. We had cars lining up to pick up their orders.
“We have a Shabbat supper coming up. We are expecting as many as 70 families to be participating. For anybody who wants to order from our kitchen, you just have to give us a little notice.
“We are looking forward though to the day when we can get back to normal.”

Congregation Etz Chayim, our community’s second largest synagogue, is also providing some takeout catering for yom tovim and Shabbat, as well as  offering online services and classes. Our next class is scheduled to begin near the end of January,” reports Jonathan  Buchwald, Etz Chayim’s executive director.
He notes while it has been “tough” these past ten months, the membership has been supportive.  “People are paying their dues and still making donations,” he says.
He adds that a group of member volunteers has been put together to reach out and help more vulnerable members of the congregation in buying groceries, for example, or picking up medication or making friendly phone calls.
South Winnipeg’s two Orthodox congregations – while they cannot provide Shabbat services electronically –  are also reaching out online as much as they can. The Lubavitch Centre continues to offer catering out of its kitchen as well as classes via Zoom.
“We have continued to operate our daycare and school throughout,” says Rabbi Avroham Altein.
The Adas Yeshurun Herzlia is offering classes online as well as weekday services.  “It’s not the same on Zoom  as praying together in person,” says Rabbi Yossi Benarroch.  “We don’t say kaddish or repeat the kidushe.  But we are still praying together.”
For Chanukah, Benarroch and the congregational leaders arranged a Zoom Chanukah party featuring the rabbi with his family in Israel.  “We had maybe 130-140 people participating.  It was 8:00 P.M. Israel time, noon in Winnipeg.  My family lit the Chanukah candles and one of my daughters led a workshop on how to bake a Moroccan donut. (The Benarroch  family is originally from Morocco.)  Then, we had Zoom breakout sessions including some kids activities.
“We are planning to do something similar for Tu B’Shvat.
“It has been difficult, but our members understand.”
Because of Covid restrictions, the Chevra Mishnayes Congregation in Garden City is trying something different for its AGM at the end of the month.  “We are going to have our AGM online this year,” notes congregation president Marshall Kneller.
While the congregation cancelled all services after the latest lockdown was imposed,  Kneller suggest that if the lockdown continues for much longer, the membership may want o reconsider the possibility of having services online.
There are three small Orthodox shuls in the North End: the Chavurat Tefila, Talmud Torah/Beth Jacob  and  House of Ashkenazi.  With few members, no office staff and lacking online capability, the congregants who attend the shuls can only hope that the lockdown doesn’t continue too much longer.

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Schmoozer’s now under management of Shaarey Zedek Catering

Jennifer Middleton of Shaarey Zedek Catering is the new manager of Schmoozer's

By BERNIE BELLAN Schmoozer’s restaurant at the Asper Campus is now under the management of the Shaarey Zedek catering department.
Apparently, according to Curtis Martin, Executive Director of the Asper Jewish Community Campus, the Shaarey Zedek has actually been operating Schmoozer’s since December 1, except for the time it was closed over the winter break.
The Shaarey Zedek officially took over Schmoozer’s as of Monday, January 8. Shaarey Zedek Catering has actually been located in the Schmoozer’s kitchen for some time now – since the Shaarey Zedek closed for renovations in the summer of 2022.
While Shaarey Zedek Executive Chef Joel Lafond is continuing to work at the Asper Campus location, the day to day management of Schmoozer’s is in the hands of Sous Chef Jennifer Middleton. Once the Shaarey Zedek’s renovations are complete, Lafond will move back there, while Middleton will remain at the campus. In addition to managing Schmoozer’s, Curtis Martin says that Middleton will also to continue to provide catering services for “on-site Campus agencies and events.”
One of the main differences now that Shaarey Zedek is operating Schmoozer’s is the expanded hours. Rather than opening at 10 am, which was when Schmoozer’s opened under its previous management, Schmoozer’s will now be open at 8 am, Monday – Friday. It will also be open until 6 pm Monday- Thursday, and until 3 pm on Fridays.
According to Joel Lafond, plans are to have Schmoozer’s open on Sundays as well, beginning in February.
As for the menu, it now features a number of breakfast items, such as bagels and breakfast platters, in addition to the usual lunch items, such as tuna salad, egg salad, grilled cheese, quinoa bowl, pizza, a variety of salads, soup, fries, pasta, and “Beyond Burgers.”
Lafond said that plans are also in the works to expand the menu. He mentioned falafel as an example of something new that will be available at Schmoozer’s in the not too distant future.

While it’s nice to see Schmoozer’s the fact that there have been so many different managers of that particular facility speaks to the difficulty inherent in trying to offer kosher food without running into huge financial problems.
I’m not privy to the financial exigencies that Schmoozer’s has faced over the years – ever since it first opened under the operation of Omnitsky’s – then run by Eppy Rappaport, in 1997. At first, just like everything else associated with the Campus in its early years, Schmoozer’s was teeming with customers. Eventually though, Eppy Rappaport moved to Vancouver. I don’t recall every single manager of Schmoozer’s since, but I know that Barb and Lisa Reiss managed it for quite some time, as did Maxine Shuster – for a very long time, until it was placed under the management of Beth Jacob in 2021.
I certainly wish Joel Lafond and Jennifer Middleton of Shaarey Zedek Catering well, but I’m sure they’re aware how difficult a challenge operating Schmoozer’s in the black presents.
At the same time we haven’t had a really good kosher restaurant in Winnipeg for years, not since the closing of Desserts Plus, maybe Bermax Caffé as well.
You can still eat kosher food at the Gwen Secter Centre, also the Garden Café in the Simkin Centre, but neither of them is the kind of place where you can simply drop in and enjoy a kosher meal (although the Garden Café is open for lunch Monday to Friday).

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Is the high cost of kosher food affecting the quality of food served at the Simkin Centre?

By BERNIE BELLAN From time to time I lead a discussion group at the Simkin Centre with residents there. It was when I was doing that recently that I was told something by one of the residents that quite shocked me. We were talking about the food at the Simkin Centre and I asked the residents how they liked it?
I asked residents how often they get served chicken and I was told “We get chicken, but only dark meat.” According to that resident all that the Simkin Centre serves residents are thighs and drumsticks.
I asked Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti about that and she said she’d have to get back to me after checking with the food services manager. I also asked Laurie what the daily allowance is on a per capita basis for all meals? (By way of comparison, when I did a story about kosher food in 2018 I reported that daily allowance for Simkin Centre residents – for 3 meals, snacks, and special dietary needs, was only $8.75 per day per resident.)
Here’s what Laurie wrote back to me, in response to my question: : “The last official number I have for food is from the 21/22 fiscal year and it was $9.64 per day. I know for this year as of the end of October we are over budget on food by $150,000. We must continue to fund any costs on food from our existing annual budget or through fundraised dollars. We have not had any increases from government for any operational expenses in 15 years.”
Insofar as the issue of residents being served only dark meat from chickens was concerned, in a subsequent email I received from Laurie she wrote that white chicken meat is used in chicken schnitzel served to residents.
I know I’m beating my head against the wall when I suggest that the Simkin Centre ought to allow nonkosher food to be served. When I last checked with Laurie Cerqueti, 60% of the residents at Simkin weren’t even Jewish. As for the Jewish residents, for those who would want kosher food, it could be brought in from the Gwen Secter Centre. (By the way, that idea isn’t mine. It comes from a former CEO of the Simkin Centre who also thought it was ridiculous enforcing kashrut rules at Simkin when it mattered to only a tiny fraction of its total residents.)
For that matter, residents are already allowed to bring nonkosher food into the facility, but it has to be eaten either in their rooms or in the family visiting room, so the precedent is there – it’s only a matter of taking it to the next logical level.
But I know: Kashrut is a sacrosanct element of the Simkin Centre, isn’t it? So, even if the Simkin Centre is running a huge budget deficit on food –and that money must be taken out of other operations, it’s absolutely fundamental to the Simkin Centre that it continue to serve only kosher food – even if that means residents only get white chicken meat when it’s served in schnitzel.

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Winnipegger Shayna Wiwierski building up large following as beauty and lifestyle influencer

By MYRON LOVE “Growing up [in River Heights], I was always a girlie girl,” recalls social influencer Shayna Wiwierski. “I loved dressing up and doing my hair, and reading lifestyle and glamour magazines.”
In my experience, childhood interests are a good indicator of adult careers. In Wiwierski’s case, she has parlayed that passion for style and beauty into a position as a social influencer through her online blog, “A Pop of Colour.”
The daughter of Susan Engel-Wiwierski and the late David Wiwierski established A Pop of Colour in 201. Currently she has approximately 30,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram, and another 4,000 on TikTok.
Scrolling through Wiwierski’s Instagram, you will find photos and videos from her most recent vacations, her bridal shower (she is getting married in the summer of 2024), and regular daily leisure activities accompanied by beautiful photography and partnerships with various companies.
“When I started my blog, I was only offering beauty tips,” she recalls. “I have since added content focusing on lifestyle, travel, and fitness.”

In an interview she did with CTV five years ago, Wiwierski noted that, in the beginning, the costs for the beauty products that she promoted through her blog she paid for herself. Over the years though, she, as with sister social influencers, have established working relationships with companies which send her products to promote on her various social accounts.
Wiwierski points out that to be a successful social influencer requires a lot of time for setting up photo shoots, editing and posting of content, as well as monitoring the likes, comments, and overall feedback on the posts.

“I know a lot of people think social media is a super easy job to do, but it really does take a lot of time,” says Wiwierski. “From creating the content, planning the posts, and then seeing what does well and what doesn’t, there is a lot of time and effort involved if you want to be successful at it.”
Content creation isn’t Wiwierski’s full-time job. She says it’s her “5 to 9 after her 9 to 5”, as she is also the editorial director at DEL Communications Inc., a Winnipeg-based trade publication company. The company is a publisher of mostly annual industry and association magazines covering topics in a variety of niche industries.
“Although in high school [Grant Park High School], I originally wanted to be on TV, after I graduated from university in 2010, I had the opportunity to join DEL and I’ve been there ever since,” she says, adding that she has a Bachelor of Communications and Rhetoric from the University of Winnipeg and a diploma in Creative Communications from Red River Polytechnic (formerly Red River College).

For the past few years, Wiwierski has been dividing her time between Winnipeg and Montreal. She met her fiancée – who is originally from Ontario – when he was doing his residency in Winnipeg.
“Montreal is a great city,” she says. “People always ask me which one I love living in more, but I really do love both; they’re so different.”

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