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Danielle Tabacznik is the Senior Concierge for the Winnipeg Jewish Community



Danielle Tabacznik

When we last checked in with Danielle Tabacznik, she had just recently moved to Winnipeg in late 2016 to begin working as the program director at the Gwen Secter Centre.
At the time we reported that Danielle told us that the she had “a background in social work – in health…specifically working with older adults.” (Danielle noted at that time that she had a Bachelors in Social Work.)

“I used to work in ‘Circle of Care’, which is part of the Sinai Health System in Toronto,” Danielle added, “and when I worked there I worked specifically with Holocaust survivors. I’ve also worked with seniors – not necessarily Jewish seniors, as program facilitator in a personal care home.”
Although Danielle stayed in her position at Gwen Secter for only a little more than a year (to be succeeded by current program director Dan Saidman), while she was there, working in conjunction with the new executive director, Becky Chisick, the two women managed to create an expanded variety of programming for seniors that had seen the centre’s weekly program schedule packed with something for just about anyone every weekday.

In October 2018, however, Danielle returned to university to take her Masters degree in Social Work, which, she now tells us, she has completed, and would hope to receive in person (although that doesn’t look very likely) at this fall’s University of Manitoba convocation.
With such an impressive resumé – and especially with her extensive experience working with Jewish seniors, it seemed a natural fit for Danielle to become the first “Senior Concierge” for the Winnipeg Jewish community. Created by the Jewish Federation’s sub-committee on aging and jointly implemented by Jewish Federation and Jewish Child & Family Service, it is a position she has been in since the end of April.
While the term “concierge” is most commonly associated with someone working in a hotel who can arrange things such as making restaurant reservations, booking transportation, arranging porter services, and so on, the duties of a concierge don’t have to be limited to someone working in a hotel.
Thus, with the situation in which so many seniors now find themselves: more isolated than ever – and dependent upon others to provide services, such as grocery shopping, transportation to doctors’ appointments, and other such activities that they might have been able to arrange themselves pre-pandemic, JCFS saw the need for a person who could serve as a facilitator for those types of things on a regular basis – and Danielle was in a perfect position to fill that role, now that she had completed her Masters work.

Recently, Danielle and I had a phone conversation, during which I asked her to describe how she would describe her role as Senior Concierge at JCFS.
Danielle said: “I’ll be reaching out to seniors in the Jewish community who may or may not be isolated and who may not be connected to services. I’ll be checking in with them to make sure they’re doing okay…to see whether they do need referrals to services. I’ll also be asking them whether they’re feeling isolated, what programs or services might help them.”
As well, Danielle continued, she’s started some programs on her own since taking on the role of Concierge, which are specifically designed to lessen the isolation in which so many seniors find themselves as a result of the pandemic.
“Right now I’ve got the ‘Coffee Talk’ program, which is meant for people who are feeling disconnected from other people,” she gave as an example. “It’s just a chance for people to get together – over the phone” (and not through something like Zoom on a computer, which Danielle noted, is not something that every senior is comfortable in using).
Up to five people at a time are brought together for conversation over the phone, Danielle explained.
“I intentionally keep it small so that people can really have a chance to have a good conversation – to really get to know each other.
“I modeled it after how people used to get together at a shopping centre or a Tim Horton’s – over coffee. This is an alternative to that.”
I asked whether she repeats this type of “party line” with the same five people each time.
“Yes,” she said, “we do it every Friday morning. People can join in if they want. If they’re not able to, we say to them: ‘Okay, we’ll see you next week.’ ”
Danielle added that she’ll likely be expanding the “Coffee Talk” program to more than once a week because “it has proved quite popular” and, as the weather gets colder, there is going to be an even greater need for this kind of connection among isolated individuals.

I asked whether the individuals whom Danielle is contacting in her role as Concierge are JCFS clients already?
“Some are, but not necessarily,” she answered. “I’m reaching out to seniors in the Jewish community regardless how connected they might be. They might be synagogue members, for instance, but they might also be individuals who don’t have any affiliation to the Jewish community at all.
“I’m just making sure that their needs are being met, that they have what they need – and if they don’t, I can help refer them to services.”
Danielle admitted that the task can be daunting – trying to keep tabs on so many different people.
“I’m busy; I won’t deny that,” she said, “but it’s a good busy.”

I mentioned to Danielle that several months ago – when we were really just in the beginning stages of what, it’s now apparent, is a pandemic that shows no signs of abating, I had written an article about how JCFS was proving to be of great help to so many different individuals – not all of whom were seniors. (Among the individuals I contacted at that time were several individuals under the age 60 who had specific health concerns that prevented them from getting out to do shopping, although ordinarily they would have been able to do that.)
What I also noted though, was that several of the individuals with whom I spoke did not consider themselves to be part of the Jewish community in any way other than that they had Jewish blood, yet they were all deeply appreciative of what JCFS was able to do for them.
I asked Danielle whether she has had the same experience during the course of her duties thus far.
“Yes,” she said, “and I’ve also had people who have said, ‘I’m too young for that’ (in response to Danielle’s asking them whether they required any help from JCFS).
“I try to work around that,” she suggested. “I just try to make people feel included as part of the community – even if they don’t necessarily identify that way.”

I wondered then, if many of the individuals with whom she’s in touch aren’t involved with the Jewish community and are not JCFS clients, where does she get the names to call?
“I get them from a variety of sources,” Danielle responded. “I get referrals all the time from the community, so I’ll get someone’s daughter, for example, who might say, ‘Can you please check in on my mom?’
“I also get a lot of referrals from workers at JCFS, from the Jewish Federation, from Gwen Secter, from the synagogues…it really comes from everywhere.”

I asked Danielle whether she’s at all involved in the JCFS program that sees volunteers from the community keeping in touch on a regular basis with JCFS clients?
“No,” she answered, “my focus is more on people who are not already connected or who may need connection in terms of group socialization.”
If someone with whom Danielle is in touch does request help in a specific area, such as getting groceries or arranging handi-transit, then she says she will connect them with JCFS for their grocery delivery program or Gwen Secter’s medical transportation program.

If you would like to speak to Danielle, the number where she can be reached is 204-298-6677. She added that people “can call me with any questions or concerns and I will do my best to help them or to connect them to someone who can help them.”

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Beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation have received $210,000 less this year than last year as of September 1



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.
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Local News

Six members of the community receive King’s Counsel appointments



New KIng's Counsel appointments clockwise from top left: Laurelle Harris, Fay-Lynn Katz, Sandra Kliman, Bryan Schwartz, Frank Lavitt, Steve Kohn

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.

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Local News

Kayla Gordon inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame



Kayla Gordon (centre) holding an award she received from Rainbow Stage after having been inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame in the Builders’ category. Chris Reid (standing beside Kayla) presented the award. Also with Kayla was Brenda Gorlick, Kayla’s long- time collaborator in muscial theatre, who introduced Kayla.

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 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”.

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