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Did Israel make a mistake by invading Gaza?

By BERNIE BELLAN While the war in Gaza remains top of mind for almost everyone within the Jewish community, there is a disconnect between what is happening in Israel and how many in our community are reacting.
The impression I have is that much of the established Jewish community is in a constant defensive posture – continually reacting to what is perceived to be an unfair piling-on on Israel. Thus, when the House of Commons debated a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza several weeks ago and a restoration of funding to UNWRA (along with a call to recognize a Palestinian state – which was removed from the resolution), voices from within the usual Jewish establishment circles, including CIJA and B’nai Brith, along with Jewish federations across the country, were quick to react negatively toward that resolution (which, by the way, had no practical effect).
And then, there has been the continued exchange of letters to the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, with individuals ostensibly representing our community writing in response to other letters that are deemed to constitute unfair criticism of Israel. (My advice is not to react to letters to the editor by writing letters in response to something with which you disagree. It just leads to more letters from the other side.)
This past week, however, we witnessed what, to this point, is the worst blow to Israel’s image that has happened during what are now the five months of war in Gaza, when an Israeli missile (or a projective fired from a drone – it’s not clear what happened) killed seven workers who had been delivering food aid to Palestinians.
Is that the tipping point in this war? It might be too soon to know, but President Biden has to be wondering what can he possibly do to force Israel into accepting a cease fire? I know that many would argue that a cease fire will only give Hamas a victory, but the alternative is for Israel to be engaged in a prolonged and ever more dangerous war, not only with Hamas, but Hezbollah as well.
As I scour media around the world for insights into what is likely to happen in the coming days, the consensus is that Bibi Netanyahu wants the war to continue for his own selfish reasons: It will allow him to remain in power in Israel. A major part of his strategy is to point to his defiance of the US and say to Israelis that “we won’t be bullied by anyone.”
I had written shortly after October 7 that Israel was entering into a prolonged war similar to what the Iraqis, along with their Kurdish and American allies, had entered into during a nine-month campaign to remove ISIS from Mosul in 2017. I quoted from various military experts at the time who warned of the dangers of a total ground invasion of Gaza – how it would bog Israel down and inevitably lead to Israel having to reoccupy Gaza, but without achieving its ultimate goal of eradicating Hamas.
Those warnings have proven true. What Israel should do is withdraw from Gaza, yet continue to target Hamas’s leadership. It’s quite interesting that, in any talk of a ceasefire Hamas has apparently backed down on demands for the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners held within Israeli prisons, but has held firm on its demand that Israel promise not to target its leaders. That, more than anything, says what Hamas is really all about.
In the meantime, back here in Winnipeg, there isn’t any sort of open discussion within the organized Jewish community about how badly Israel’s image has suffered. Instead we’re called upon to show full support for Israel. Yet, as much as we might want to distinguish between support for the people of Israel, which most of us want to give, and support for what Israel is doing in Gaza, many of us are torn.
If only there were some way for our established Jewish organizations, especially the Jewish Federation, to allow for an open airing of the critical views of Israel that many of us hold – which may not be palatable to many others to hear. The alternative is to pretend that our Jewish community is unified (which it isn’t) and alienate even further, members of the community who feel disaffected by the entrenched preoccupation within established Jewish circles to defend Israel against what is perceived to be unfair criticism.

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Valedictory speech delivered to graduating medical students sets off storm of controversy

Dr. Gem Newman, valedictorian, class of 2024 Max Rady College of Medicine

By BERNIE BELLAN A valedictory speech delivered to the 2024 class of medical school students graduating from the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba on Thursday, May 16, has set off a storm of controversy.

During his 10-minute speech, Dr. Gem Newman, who described himself as a “pasty-faced white man,” veered into a strongly worded criticism of Israel toward the end of his approximate 10-minute speech.
Here are the comments he made with respect to Israel’s war in Gaza:
“I call on my fellow graduates to oppose injustice -and violence – individual and systemic. I call upon you to oppose settler colonialism, both at home and abroad. I call upon you to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people everywhere, here in Treaty One Territory, where an Indigenous man can expect a life ten years shorter than mine – and in Palestine (ed. note: loud cheers erupted at that point from among the students), where Israel’s deliberate targeting of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure has led to more than 35,000 deaths and widespread famine and disease.
“Many medical organizations, including the W.H.O. and Medecins sans Frontiere, and countless unions, including the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union, have repeatedly called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while there has been deafening silence from the Canadian Medical Association, Doctors Manitoba and PARIM (Professional Association of Interns and Residents of Manitoba), and so I call upon you to join me in calling for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza. Join me in calling for unrestricted humanitarian and medical aid in Gaza. Join me in calling for an end to the targeting of medical facilities, medical staff, and journalists.
“I’m sure that some of you here today are worried that you may face censure for speaking out against the genocidal war that Israel is waging upon the people of Palestine, that it could jeopardize your career before it’s even begun. I understand that fear…”
Dr. Newman’s speech was greeted with a standing ovation from his fellow graduating doctors.

Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean of the Max Rady College of Medicine

The next day, the dean of the Rady College of Medicine, Dr. Peter Nickerson, issued a strongly worded criticism of Dr. Newman’s remarks:

Yesterday, we celebrated the convocation of 106 new physicians. We came together with our friends and family to celebrate a diverse group of individuals who are beginning their career as doctors.
Part of our convocation tradition in the Max Rady College of Medicine is to hear an address from the class valedictorian. This has historically been an encouraging, congratulatory message and not a political platform. The speech is an honour and is meant to highlight, showcase and celebrate the academic excellence, resiliency and determination of every student, no matter their background.
I have heard from individuals who were present yesterday and who were disappointed and alarmed by the political message in the valedictorian’s address. I share these concerns. I, too, am disappointed that the address was delivered in a way that didn’t represent all students and that was disrespectful to some audience members who were there to celebrate and be celebrated. This isn’t the purpose of a valedictorian address and the speech should have better reflected shared experiences, successes and a commitment to serve all communities.
The valedictorian was expressing his own views, and this was not a message vetted or endorsed in any way by the College.
The University of Manitoba is steadfast in its commitment to freedom of expression; both speech and counter-speech are equally protected. However, freedom of expression has limits and comes with responsibilities. It is my view as Dean that a convocation address is different than a classroom setting, different than an opinion piece in a newspaper – it is an academic celebration for a diverse community. Statements made in this address were divisive and inflammatory. They should be taken as the views of one student, and do not reflect the views of the College nor the diverse perspectives of its students.
As we continue our convocation events, may we be mindful of the diversity of our community, our common humanity, and the purpose of these celebrations.
Dr. Peter Nickerson
Vice-Provost (Health Sciences)
Dean, Max Rady College of Medicine
Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Manitoba 

Ernest Rady, who donated $30 million to the University of Manitoba in 2016


On Monday, May 20, Ernest Rady, who made a donation of $30 million to the University of Manitoba in 2016 – the largest single donation to the university in its history, and whose father, Max Rady, now has his name on the “Rady Faculty of Health Sciences” and the “Max Rady College of Medicine,” sent the following email in response to Dr. Newman’s remarks:

Via Email
University of Manitoba
Dr. Michael Benarroch, President and Vice-Chancellor
Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
Re: Max Rady College of Medicine Convocation Speech by Valedictorian
Michael and Peter:
I write to you today because I was both hurt and appalled by the remarks the valedictorian, Gem Newman, gave at last week’s Max Rady College of Medicine convocation, and I was extremely disappointed in the University’s inadequate response. I have been fortunate in my life to be able to support the causes close to my heart, including the University of Manitoba. As you know, when Evelyn and I donated $30 million to the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 2016, that gift was in honor of my parents, and in particular, the gift to the College of Medicine was in honor of my father, Maxwell Rady. Newman’s speech not only dishonored the memory of my father, but also disrespected and disparaged Jewish people as a whole, including the Jewish students who were in attendance at that convocation – some of whom I’ve heard from.
My father, born Avraham (Hebrew for Abraham) Radiskevich, immigrated to Manitoba from Russia in 1893. He, like so many other Jews, fled religious persecution, seeking a better life in Canada. He was lucky. Millions of others – whether during the Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, or the countless other purges of my people throughout history – were not so fortunate. Those horrors were made possible because of a set of beliefs (stereotypes and tropes) so entrenched and pervasive as to be taken as fact.
That same set of beliefs allowed the University of Manitoba to justify its decision to impose admissions quotas to keep Jews out. Despite those quotas, my father was one of the very few of his faith to be admitted to the University’s medical school, which is now named in his honor.
And yet, the University allowed the Max Rady College of Medicine’s valedictorian to spew these hateful lies to a captive audience, and now posts that antisemitic rhetoric on its website for all to see. And the University’s only response is a lukewarm message posted elsewhere on its website about differing opinions and appropriateness of setting for expressing such “opinions.”
Having seen where this kind of speech (and the excuses made for it) have led in the past, I cannot be silent. When I make a gift to an institution, I do it because I believe in that institution and I trust its governing body to do important, significant, and good work with that money. I therefore make it a point not to intervene or tell an institution what it should or should not do. But in this instance, by remaining silent, I would be complicit. So I am speaking out now because I must. Because so many like Gem Newman and the students cheering in the audience and the University itself, whose response to what is happening on its campus has been inadequate, may not even realize all the realities of the situation. The issues are far too complex for a mere letter, and I should not have to be the one to point this out; nonetheless, apparently it bears emphasizing. It is very easy for individuals like Mr. Newman to spout slogans and quips like “settler colonialism” and “genocidal war,” but if they do not take the time to understand the very long, complex, and nuanced history behind what is happening in the world today, then not only are they intellectually dishonest, but they are perpetuating the same harms that have existed for centuries. Those words are not political opinion. They are hate speech and they are lies. They espouse the same age-old prejudices about Jewish omnipotence and thirst for domination that have been used for centuries to justify the atrocities committed against this religious group, which makes up less than 0.2% of the world’s population and 1.4% of Canada’s.
By failing to call out Gem Newton’s words for what they are, the University is no better.
Having failed to vet the valedictorian’s speech in advance (despite the patent risk that something like this would likely occur, given what has happened at other universities), I beg that the University of Manitoba step up and finally do the right thing. Take down the convocation video and do not repost it unless the valedictorian’s entire speech is removed. Post a revised letter from the dean, not only on UM News, but on the same page as the edited video. Condemn, in no uncertain terms, Gem Newman’s remarks. Acknowledge that they were not only inaccurate, but flat-out lies, that they were hurtful to the University’s Jewish students and all people of the Jewish faith, and that the remarks do not have a place in any setting at the University. Denounce antisemitism in all forms it takes, even in its latest iteration as espoused by your valedictorian.
Advocating for the protection of one group of people, while in the same breath calling for the destruction and elimination of another, is not advocacy. It is hate. It is the very opposite of the words that your graduates spoke last week when they recited the Physician’s Pledge, vowing not to permit considerations of creed and ethnic origin to intervene between their duty and their patient.
Be as bold as you tell your students to be. Do the right thing: Speak out unequivocally. Take action. Do not be like all of those who came before you, acquiescing to prejudice and hatred because you do not want to ruffle feathers, or worse, because you believe it is justified.
Ernest Rady
Cc: Anne Mahon, Chancellor

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Inaugural Magen David Adom fundraising gala evening  recognizes generous donors Ida and the late Saul Alpern

Ida Alpern

By MYRON LOVE On Tuesday, May 7, the Winnipeg chapter of Canadian Magen David Adom (CMDA) hosted its first ever fundraising gala – billed as “A Night of Appreciation – honouring generous supporters Ida and the late Saul Alpern, as well as recognizing several other individuals who have contributed to the success of the local chapter.
The event helped to raise the profile of MDA in Winnipeg.  In addition to funds raised – going towards the purchase by the Winnipeg chapter of CMDA of an ambulance to be stationed in the northern IsraeI community of  Kiryat Shemona where a MDA ambulance was recently destroyed by a Hezbollah missile, the event also honoured the memory of  the late Yoram (Hamizrachi) East.
Ami Bakerman, the Winnipeg chapter president, reported that, to date, the local group has raised slightly more than $100,000 toward the $140,000 cost of the ambulance.
Over 200 members of the Jewish and Christian communities and other supporters of Israel came out for the evening at Caboto Centre to show their appreciation for the work of the Magen David Adom.
For readers who may be unfamiliar with MDA, the organization doubles as both Israel’s Red Cross and the country’s blood services organization. MC for the evening Kinzey Posen noted that MDA was founded on June 7, 1930 and acquired its first ambulance a year later.  The MDA has over 4,000 staff and has on its roster 26,000 volunteers.  The organization operates over 2,000 ambulances, first responder scooters, helicopters and life-saving boats. 
“It takes 8.2 seconds from the time a MDA dispatcher receives an emergency call to the time that the ambulance reaches the caller,” Posen noted.
The really remarkable fact is that the MDA operates without any financial support from the government of Israel. That is why it is so important that donors such as the Alperns have to step up.
Saul, who passed away in October, 2022, had a particularly strong connection to Israel.  His younger brother, Avrum, also the last surviving family member (the others died in the Holocaust) died fighting for the Jewish homeland in the War of Liberation in 1948.
Alpern published his autobiography – “No One Waiting For me” – in 1961.  Although most Romanian Jews living in Rumania proper were left in place, in 1941 the members of the Alpern family were among the thousands of Jews living in the northern  regions of Bessarabia and northern Bukavina – which had been recently annexed by Rumania – who were deported to neighbouring Transnistria. They were expelled from their homes and forced to walk all the way to Transnistria.   Saul Alpern’s parents and older sister died shortly after their arrival as a result of the hardships of the walk – leaving 12-year-old Saul and younger brother Avrum to fend for themselves.
“No One Waiting for Me” is largely an account of the two brothers’ struggle to survive in a hostile environment and desperate circumstances.\
After the war, while Avrum went to Palestine while Saul found his way to Winnipeg –  where he eventually  met and married Ida (Reiss) and built a successful business as a cattle buyer.
Ida was born in the Jewish farm colony at Edenbridge, Saskatchewan. She was youngest of four children and the own daughter of Ira and Raizel Reiss.  The family moved to Winnipeg around 1950.
In October 2020, Ida and Saul donated $160,000 to the MDA to buy a mobile intensive care unit.  At the time, Saul told The Jewish Post & News that the couple made the donation in memory of his parents and siblings ,who died in the Holocaust.
Saul added that the gift was “an expression of my love for my family and my love for Israel”.
The couple had been donating small amounts to the MDA for years before that.  And, just a few months before Saul’s passing, the couple donated another $170,000 toward the purchase of a second mobile intensive care unit with off-road capabilities.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Ida’s nephew, Cary Reiss, recounted how Sail and Ida met in 1963 and were engaged after just a three-week courtship.  “They were married for almost 60 years,” he noted. “They were a great couple.  They were always there for each other through good times and bad.”
Reiss further noted that he was in Israel last year with his Aunt Ida for the delivery of the second mobile intensive care unit.  He praised the MDA for the great work the organization does in Israel.
He also reminisced about the other focus of the evening, the late Israeli-born Winnipegger, Yoram East, who was a prominent social activist in the wider community.
In Ron East’s description of his father he painted a picture of man who was larger than life – and an individual who overcame early adversity.
Yoram was born in 1932 in Jerusalem to Jewish immigrants from Germany.  He struggled in school due to being dyslexic.  At 16. he dropped out of school and was accepted into the Israel Defense Forces based on false documents.
“In the IDF, he found a home and a purpose,” Ron East recounted. 
He rose through the ranks.  After taking a break from the military to  study art and build a career as a journalist, Yoram rejoined the IDF in the 1970s.  From 1976-82, Colonel Hamizrachi was the IDF liaison with the Christian communities  in southern Lebanon.
“My dad quit the IDF in 1982, when Israel went to war with Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Ron East recalled. “He strongly opposed the war.”
Hamizrachi moved his family to Winnipeg where he continued to work as a journalist – with regular columns on Israel in The Jewish Post.  He also became a social activist and did a lot of work with Indigenous communities.
“Two First Nations communities made him honorary chiefs,” Ron noted. 
In Winnipeg, he helped found the Manitoba Intercultural Alliance and became the co-director of the Winnipeg-based Counter-Terrorism Centre.
In addition to honouring Ida and Saul Alpert, CMDA also recognized several other individuals who have contributed to the growth of the CMDA chapter in Winnipeg – among them:Ami Ba kerman,  Ron East, donors Bill and Judy Mahon, Barbara Reiss (for organizing the event) and John  Plantz who, along with colleague Roy Hiebert – presented a cheque to the CMDA for $10,000 from the Christian Friends of Israel Ministry.
There was much more to the evening.  Sharon Fraiman, CMDA’s director for Western Canada, called for a moment of silence in memory of the MDA personnel who were murdered in the terrorist attack on Israel on October 7.  She also screened several short videos of the actions of heroic MDA staff and their actions on that horrific day in fighting back as well as rescuing those tthey could.
There were also remarks by Sidney Benizri, CMDA national executive  director, and Wayne Ewasko, PC MLA for Lac du Bonnet and interim Opposition leader.
The evening concluded with a half hour show by New York-based stand-up comic Talia Reiss – who happens to be married to the aforementioned Cary Reiss – riffing on Jewish themes contrasting Reform and Orthodox and Sephardi and Ashkenazi differences, reflecting the different backgrounds that she and her husband have brought to their relationship, as well as commentary on parenthood and schooling.  For good measure, she also threw in  some Winnipeg in-jokes.

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New JCFS program aims to help community members feeling fearful and hurt by the increase in antisemitism.

JCFS clinical supervisor Denise Rubin

By MYRON LOVE The Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 and ensuing exponential increase in open-antisemitism in what had been, prior to that fateful date, our generally peaceful Jewish communities, has created a great deal of anxiety in Jewish communities throughout the United States and Canada – and our community is no different.
“There is a lot of fear out there,” reports Denise Rubin, a clinical supervisor at Jewish Child and Family Service.  “People are fearful of the future. They are concerned for their safety.  They are hurt that some of their non-Jewish friends don’t understand their feelings of concern, that they are not receiving much support in their schools or workplaces, and in many ways have lost their sense of belonging.”
In order to help traumatized Jewish Winnipeggers, the Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS) has created a new program that is open to people of all ages.
“We began getting calls to the office almost immediately after the attack” recalls Rubin, who had been in private practice offering psychotherapy counselling for a few years prior to joining the JCFS just over a year ago.  “We created a War Response Committee very soon after.”
Rubin notes that JCFS offers a variety of services for the community, including one-on-one counselling, workshops and even group events to bring the community together.
JCFS brought on a new counsellor, Brooke Zelcer, to take on the role of meeting with individuals for one-on-one counselling sessions to address, work through, and find support during this difficult time. For those who are feeling the effects of this war and the rise in antisemitism, JCFS offers 5 free one-on-one sessions with Brooke and Denise.
“In our one-on-one counselling, we focus on managing clients’ fears and worries, but also address some very real-life issues that many people in our community are facing ” Zelcer points out. As well, she adds, many members of our community have a more direct connection to the horrific events of October 7 in that they knew one or more of those who were murdered or taken hostage.
“If the client and I see that there is a need for further counselling services after the 5 free sessions, we will address that proactively with our counselling department.”
Support, events and workshops are intended to encourage clients to talk through their emotional issues and share their feelings to foster healing safety.
The next Unity in Community event is being held on May 29th, 2024 from 7-8:30PM at the Asper  Jewish Community campus
 To register for this event or if you have been impacted by the conflict in Israel and/or the rise in antisemitism and are in need of a safe space to talk, call 204-560-6736 or email bzelcer@jcfswinnipeg.org

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