By BERNIE BELLAN
It was just over a little more than a year ago that the Chesed Shel Emes (the Winnipeg Jewish community’s burial society) launched a capital campaign, with the intent to build “a new facility to meet the needs of the Jewish community for many years to come,” an announcement in the May 10, 2019 issue of this paper said.
That announcement went on to say that “Chesed Shel Emes’s south building is 114-years-old. It was built in 1905 as a private residence, and was purchased by the newly established Chesed Shel Emes in 1930. The building has met the needs of thousands of families over the years, and is showing its age. The attached chapel, built in 1947, is in good repair and will be a beautiful complement to the new building.
“The new building will provide a better and more comfortable experience for mourners and other visitors,” says Rena Boroditsky, Executive Director of the Chesed Shel Emes. “And for our volunteers, we are designing this new space with safety top of mind.”
“Having an effective and dignified infrastructure to prepare the deceased for burial and to support mourners is something a strong community does for itself.
“The funds raised will be used to: demolish the existing south building; build the new structure; protect the north building during demolition and construction; and furnish the new building with new equipment. The vision is of a building that is handsome, durable, and comforting and that includes state-of-the-art equipment for the care of the deceased. “The new 4,000-square-foot building will include the following features:
“A new, larger tahara room with stainless steel counters and more room for volunteers to perform their work safely (“tahara” is the ritual washing and dressing of a Jewish person in preparation for burial);
“new, state-of-the-art refrigeration units;
“new mechanical lifts for transferring bodies more safely;
“enhanced safety features to improve the experience of volunteers and ensure the dignity of the deceased;
“expanded storage space for caskets, shrouds, and supplies;
“an elevator for guests and volunteers with mobility issues;
“wheelchair access to the building;
“private meeting spaces for mourners, extended family, and friends to gather (currently, mourners use the boardroom);
“more comfortable accommodations for shomrim (“shomrim” are guards who watch over the deceased, so that they are never alone);
“a safer, more accessible back staircase and entrance way;
“enhanced washroom facilities;
“refurbished office space;
“state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems; and other features to create better conditions for mourners, staff, and volunteers, and to ensure the dignity of the deceased.”
The capital campaign is still ongoing – although it has taken a pause during this unprecedented time of global emergency. This past week I spoke with Rena Boroditsky and with Bob Freedman, former CEO of the Jewish Federation, and now a fundraising consultant to Jewish organizations.
During our phone conversation we talked about how the capital campaign has gone. As well, we talked about the history of the Chesed Shel Emes. Following are some excerpts from our conversation:
Bob began the conversation by noting that the “Chesed didn’t come into existence as an organization until 1930 when they bought the house. Up until 1930 when someone passed away they would be prepared in the Jewish tradition – in someone’s home.
“Come 1930 they had a building where the bodies of the deceased would be prepared – up until a few months ago when that operation was moved over to Chapel Lawn” Funeral Home.
As far as the move to Chapel Lawn goes, Rena had this to say: “They have a new 25,000 square foot funeral home that they built on their property, so we have a dedicated room; we are not sharing their prep room. That’s where we are doing tahara; our supplies are kept there.
“We have a dedicated office space, where the shomer sits.”
I asked how the capital campaign has gone to date?
Bob said: “The capital campaign has raised $2.8 million – that’s pretty darn good. Remember, in a capital campaign donors may honour their pledges over a number of years; this campaign has had about half the pledges paid in full, so we have the money to begin the project now.
“By the way, we’ve successfully connected with about 400 donors that have already concluded pledges and there are hundreds more that we haven’t even connected with. This is very much a community organization that serves every aspect of the community and we want everyone in the community to participate at whatever level they’re able to. We’re probably going to extend the campaign because of different circumstances, including COVID-19. We probably would have been more active in the past month or two, but for obvious reasons, took a pause – and so, ending the campaign around the end of May or June, it’s more realistic now to end it around the end of 2020.”
I asked how many individual donors there have been?
Rena answered: “I’d say about 400 (including families).”
I said: “That means the average donation works out to about $7,000.”
Bob noted though that “But, we’ve had donations of $18 and we’ve had a donation of $500,000 – so it varies. Unlike other capital campaigns we’ve had (like the Campus), there are no dedication opportunities.”
Rena added: “Donors will be recognized on a donor wall in the new building.”
Bob: “By the way, Bernie, do you know when was the last time the Chesed ran a dedicated campaign in the community? 1945. That was to raise money for the chapel, which opened in November 1947.
“The Chesed does have charitable status and people have given money, but has the Chesed gone out and raised money? No.
“When we got started on the project we had to develop a donor database because, except for those people who have given money from time to time, the donor base primarily consists of people who are now deceased.”
I asked whether, once the building is done, people “are going to be able to walk through and see where the money has gone?”
Rena: “We will still have a shomer space for families. I’ve been giving tours of the house for the past 20 years – and I’ll still be doing that.
“It’s going to be a two-storey building. It’s going to be a little narrower than what we currently have but a little bit longer from the front to the back…We expect to have it done in about a year.”
Bob: “With COVID-19 there’s certainly been a slowdown in construction activity in the city. We retained Akman Construction as a general contractor. We’re pretty satisfied that the numbers (from the various sub trades) that came in are pretty good.”
I noted the Chesed has to keep going – no matter what the situation.
Rena said: “The Chesed Shel Emes never closes. We had 17 people pass away in April.”
I asked: “How has it been going to Chapel Lawn? Has it been a fairly smooth transition?”
Rena: “We haven’t been down even one day. We had a tahara the day after we moved. It’s been a bit of a learning curve. Their staff is amazing; they are so accommodating. It’s spotless there. They’ve been wonderful.
“That being said, we are not in our own space; there’s some accommodation that needs to be made – just in the way we do things, so we will be happy to get back to our own space – but it’s been a very smooth transition.”
We talked about the effect that COVID-19 has had on synagogues here when it comes to arranging funerals. Rena observed that funerals are limited to the pallbearers and the grave diggers now. As well, there are no meals of consolation, she pointed out.
Still, I wondered whether the relatively large number of funerals in April might have led to a fairly significant infusion of money into the synagogues.
Rena pointed out that the likelihood was that many of those funerals had been prepaid, so that wouldn’t have added to the synagogue’s cash flows. “They may be busy but that doesn’t mean they have any cash flow,” she observed.
Bob said: “We’d like to raise between $400-500,000 more. We’re confident we’ll do it, although we’re quite aware the current situation is not the best of times for many donors. In May and June we’re going to reconnect with people that have already been spoken to and, if we can conclude some of those pledges earlier rather than later, we’ll try to conclude everything by the end of the year. Because of the Federation’s emergency campaign we’re not going to connect with people who have not been spoken to yet.”
Rena: “Anything we might collect over and above what we need for the building will go into our endowment fund, which we established at the Jewish Foundation.”
At this point Bob Freedman interjected an interesting bit of history:
Bob: “Bernie, have you seen the safe? It must weigh 500 pounds.”
“So, what’s in the safe?” I asked.
“Not cash, unfortunately. When I first opened the doors, I opened a bunch of little books. People who passed away were recorded – by pencil or pen, by name – their Hebrew name, the date they died. So I looked up my mum, I looked up my dad. It’s really a history of the Jewish community. There was a big picture of the machers from the 1930s – all men, of course. There was a big picture of the ladies’ auxiliary – all looking very stern.
“By the way, if those men knew that the place was being run by a woman, they’d all be spinning in their graves.
“When you ask someone how do you define a Jewish community, as opposed to a community with Jews living in it, there are three things: A shul, a school, and a chevra kadisha – a burial society.
“Burial is one of the first things people thought about when they came from the old country. They looked for a place to bury people.”
Rena: “Chesed Shel Emes Inc. was formalized in 1930, when they purchased the house. Before that they may have called it chevra kadisha. My information came from Mr. (Ike) Permut, of blessed memory (who was President of the Chesed board in the 70s, 80s, and half the 90s).
Bob “And the original bylaws were written in Yiddish”
One final note: If you would like to make a contribution to the Chesed Shel Emes capital campaign, go to www.ourtradition.ca
Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities
By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.
Newly-arrived Health Sciences Centre surgeon Dr. Lev Bubis has deep roots in Winnipeg Jewish community
By MYRON LOVE Dr. Lev Bubis, the Health Sciences Centre’s new hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) surgeon, says that he and his family –wife, Amy, and four-year-old daughter, Ada, – are settling in quite nicely in their new home.
“We are really enjoying being here,” notes Bubis who arrived here in early October. “We have a house in south River Heights and we enjoyed being with the family for the High Holidays and Chanukah.”
Bubis is the grandson of the late Morris and Mae Bubis. And, although the young Bubis grew up in Ottawa – family members here include his aunts, Carol Arenson, Adrienne Katz and Harriet Rodin, and their families.
Bubis’s father, Mordy Bubis, left Winnipeg for Ottawa after university and the nation’s capital is where the young Bubis grew up.
He notes that he was interested in pursuing a career in medicine from an early age – although he first earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Kings College in Halifax. He did his medical training at Columbia University.
“I decided to specialize in liver and pancreatic medicine in third year when I got the opportunity to work with Dr. John Chabot, one of America’s leading pancreatic cancer specialist,” Bubis says.
After Columbia, Bubis relocated (in 2014) to Toronto, where he honed his surgical skills in liver and pancreatic surgery at the University of Toronto and St. Joseph’s Hospital. He did a six-year residency at the university, followed by two years of research and two more years training in surgical oncology.
Bubis (and family) arrived in our community in early October to begin his position at HSC. In an interview on the Health Sciences Centre Foundation website “Tell Your Story” section, which was published on December 21, Bubis noted that there were several factors that led him to come to HSC – in particular, the hospital’s commitment to minimally invasive surgery.
“I was attracted by the exceptional team that’s in place at HSC and by the fact that the hospital is really pushing things forward with minimally invasive surgery,” said Bubis in the HSCF interview. “This is where the HPB field is going and it is a real interest of mine. It’s exciting to me that the HSC Foundation is supporting this direction in surgery with capital investments.”
He explained that minimally invasive surgery is “an approach to surgery that typically relies on smaller incisions and instruments. Very small cameras allow surgeons to see their work on video monitors in high definition. Minimally invasive surgery means less pain for a patient, a quicker recovery, and a shorter hospital stay. Among other benefits, shorter hospital stays free up beds more quickly, which reduces the amount of time patients need to wait in the Emergency Department.”
Bubis has also had extensive training in treating neuroendocrine tumors, which can occur throughout the gastrointestinal tract, as well as elsewhere in the body. One of his specialties is the Whipple procedure, an operation to remove tumors and treat other conditions in the pancreas, small intestine and bile ducts. The complex procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gall bladder and bile duct.
Bubis points out that, at HSC, he is a member of a team that treats patients from throughout Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. He reports that he sees patients at the clinic two days a week, does surgeries one or two days a week and does some endoscopes and teaching.
He is looking forward to a lengthy stay here.
‘Put a Yid on It!’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture!
By SHIRA NEWMAN – Festival Director I am thrilled to announce the inaugural year of ‘Put a Yid on It’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture, running from February 7 to 11th. I have had the great good fortune of being the producer of this event with the guidance and support of the committee which previously brought us the wonderful festival Mamaloshen.
Like a lot of Gen X-ers, I grew up hearing a smattering of Yiddish as a child, mostly in the words of my Baba. I could not speak a word of it, but when I made my first film 10 years ago, I was for some reason drawn to include Yiddish in it and I started to dive into the history of Yiddish Cinema.
A linguist I know, hearing me wondering where this desire came from, explained to me that an ancestral language will remain ‘written in our bones’ (or unconscious memory, or genes, however we may wish to see it). This resonated with me and started me down a voyage of discovery of this 1000-year-old language and culture.
It is hard to imagine that only 80 years ago eleven million people spoke, wrote, sang, and dreamt in Yiddish. It spanned throughout all of Eastern Europe and spread wherever our people travelled. Never the majority language of a nation state but the language of a pan national community of Ashkenazi Jews ‘scattered among the nations’ enriched by and enriching so many other languages and cultures while still carrying its uniqueness with it.
Since the Second World War, Yiddish has become less common but as any Yiddishist will tell you, the idea that it is dying is wrong (if not complete heresy!). And they are very right. It is spoken by many (largely in the Hassidic community) and is continually being reclaimed by more – as can be seen by talented artists of every generation who make beautiful work inspired by the Yiddish language.
Today there is a lively re-emergence of the warm, funny, poetic language – some call it a new Yiddish Renaissance in the arts, cinema, and music. There are popular films, TV shows, successful web-series, and festivals springing up everywhere. In the world of music, you can find an amazing array of bands putting their own modern spin on classical Klezmer, and others using Yiddish in everything from Punk to Metal, to Psychedelic Rock, to Hip-Hop! Put a Yid on It! Is a celebration of this trend!
On February 7th, at 7:30 pm we will be opening with a free book launch, talk, and reception at The Handsome Daughter (61 Sherbrook Street) for a brand-new book called “Yiddish Cinema: The Drama of Troubled Communication,” featuring authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrečar. This book offers a bold new reading of Yiddish cinema by exploring the early diasporic cinema’s fascination with media and communication. Jonah and Monika will discuss their book and the history of Yiddish cinema. (Snacks and drinks will be provided).
We have some amazing bands coming! On February 8th, Canadian Folk Music Award Winners, Beyond the Pale will be here from Toronto and will be playing at the Berney Theatre. They are a tremendous fun and lively Klezmer and Balkan Band who are known for their genius musicianship, experimentation, and playfulness. This is not your traditional Klezmer Band – they bring in a world of musical styles including reggae, jazz, bluegrass. Watching them play is truly a tour of world music. They will be bringing Yiddish classics and so much more!
On February 10th, we are partnering with the West End Cultural Centre to bring the brilliant and one-of-a-kind Yiddish (and English), Montreal Hip-Hop artist Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin. He will be performing with his band, which includes the mesmerizing vocalist Katie Moore, Balkan trumpet ‘God’ Nizo Alimov, and Michale Felber on bass. This is going to be an incredibly special show. His music is as evocative and moving as it is fun (and danceable).
Socalled is the star of an award-winning feature length documentary (NFB) called ‘The Socalled Movie.’ The video for his song ‘You Are Never Alone’ has been viewed more than three million times. He is truly a cultural phenomenon (and his parents are from Winnipeg!).
From February 7th to 11th, we will be presenting a series of some of the greatest Yiddish films of all time – all restored to beautiful quality. I am extremely excited to see these on a big screen for the first time! This series includes films from the 1930s, which is considered The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema such as “Yiddle with His Fiddle” (a joyful romp of a musical comedy) on February 7th, “The Light Ahead” (a poignant social commentary) on February 8th, and “The Dybbuk” (a gorgeous Yiddish ghost story) on February 10th. It will also include “Hester Street,” from 1974, (with a Yiddish speaking Carol Kane) on February 11th. All these screenings take place at 2:00 p.m. in the Berney Theatre.
On Sunday, February 11th, we will have some fun closing events! At 10 am come and join us at the Rady JCC for a bagel breakfast and a ‘Bisl’ Yiddish with Professor Itay Zutra. We will be learning some of the MOST expressive Yiddish sayings. At 3:30 pm there will be a reunion for I.L. Peretz Folk School alumni. There will be snacks and time to reminisce!
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.radyjcc.com or feel free to give me a call at 204.477.7534.
There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love… In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of a frightened and hopeful humanity.
- Issac Bashevis Singer