By BERNIE BELLAN It had been over 20 years since the Jewish National Fund had actually held a Negev Dinner in Winnipeg. After having used the Concert Hall as the venue for the annual JNF Gala for many years it was a little strange to be entering into the Convention Centre for this year’s affair instead.
But, it was the Convention Centre that was the setting for this year’s JNF Negev Gala on Thursday, May 11, when outgoing CEO of the Jewish Federation Elaine Goldstine was honoured. The fact that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was also present – and engaged in a lively dialogue with interviewer Steven Kroft, added to the interest level for the some 900 audience members who were present. (By the way, although JNF Executive Director David Greaves referred to the sit down between Harper and Kroft as a session between“the two Steves”, I told Greaves that Harper dislikes being called “Steve.” I had read that years ago when he was first introduced to former US President George W. Bush. Bush liked to give everyone a nickname when he met them. Naturally, Stephen Harper became “Steve,” but our former Prime Minister was not tickled by that.)
In speaking about her being chosen this year’s Negev Gala honouree, Elaine Goldstine noted she had “chosen to allocate some of the funds raised tonight locally and I have chosen Shalom Residences” to receive a portion of the funds.
Anyone who knows Elaine would understand how true it was when she said her credo as CEO has been “Never close the door on anyone.”
And, following a lengthy speech from her husband Ian, who went on at some length describing how he and Elaine first met, along with quite a few stories about their lives together, Elaine demonstrated her wit when, in addressing Ian, she said: “We have been on this journey since I was 15 – as you told my entire life story.”
David Greaves introduced former PM Stephen Harper, saying to him: “It takes courage just being a mentsch to stand with those who stand alone. There has not been a friend to Israel like you ever.”
At that point “the two Steves” took their seats on the podium for what became a 35-minute back and forth during which Stephen Harper was at turns eloquent in describing his passion for Israel, insightful when discussing current situations in the world, and occasionally very funny as he related anecdotes from his past.
Steven Kroft began by asking Harper about the time he became the first Canadian Prime Minister to address Israel’s Knesset, in 2014. Kroft suggested “that speech is widely considered to be one of the strongest speeches in support of Israel by a non-head of state. He asked Harper to talk about his strong support for the State of Israel.
Harper responded that “one of the great honours of my life was to see the creation” of the Hula Valley Stephen and Laureen Harper Bird Sanctuary.
Then, Harper added this: “In Canada we don’t name things after living people so many people who visit the bird sanctuary assume I’ve passed away.”
Harper expounded upon how he came to develop such a strong affinity for the State of Israel, explaining that he “grew up in a household that supported Israel.”
But there was more to it than that, he explained: “I had another reason (to support Israel). Israel is a friend and an ally and is a part of the family of democratic nations. Israel faces the same threats as other democratic nations face, but Israel is much closer to those threats.
“Supporting Israel is unequivocally in the interests of this country and should be in the interests of all politicians,” Harper said.
“But I found that just about every politician is a friend of Israel when they’re speaking to a Jewish audience,” he observed.
Steven Kroft asked Harper whether “we should get worked up when Canada supports one of the resolutions at the UN that are critical of Israel?”
Harper answered that “those resolutions are pro forma and they’re not really indicative of what’s going on around the world. In that sense they’re not something to worry about… But what do you do when Western leaders go along with those resolutions? So what. I’m the only one who expressed an honest opinion.”
Kroft asked Harper what he thinks the impact of the Abraham Accords has been?
Harper suggested that the US and other Western countries have distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia – leading to Saudi Arabia broadening relations with China. He observed that “it’s tough for Saudi Arabia to be an ally of the Western world because we do nothing but criticize them.”
Harper noted a comment that had been made to him by an Arab diplomat, with reference to the behaviour of Western governments: “You sell off your friends and buy off your enemies.”
As far as the Abraham Accords are concerned though, Harper suggested that the leaders of the Arab countries that signed on to those accords (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco) are interested in bringing their countries “into the modern world.” (Sudan seems to be going through a reversion to civil war, however, something that plagued that country for years. It will be interesting to see whether whoever emerges on top is going to want to remain in the Abraham Accords.)
Harper added this observation about the role that China is now playing in the Middle East: “The Chinese have been a real brake on Iran. They (the Chinese) want them (the Iranians) to live up to the accords they recently signed with Saudi Arabia.”
Yet, at the same time, Harper had this to say about Iran: “I worry more about Iran than any other country in the world because they believe in developing nuclear weapons so that can use them and Allah will come to their aid.”
Kroft asked Harper about “judicial reform” in Israel and whether what’s been happening with moves to weaken the judiciary have affected Israel’s credibility ? He also asked what advice Harper might have for Canadian Jews who want to express their opinions on Israeli government policy?
Harper responded: “Regardless what one thinks of what is going on in Israel today, one should be supportive of Israel…Only in Israel could you give a 100% pro-Israel speech (as Harper did when he addressed the Knesset in 2014) and be heckled by both the right and the left (in the Knesset).”
At that point Harper told a story that was very funny – and was based on a true experience that he had in 2017, after he was no longer Prime Minister.
He was in Australia and one evening he went to a bar with another former prime minister, John Howard, who had been PM of Australia. Who should walk in but another former prime minister, this time Bibi Netanyahu?
That led Harper to tell this joke, based on the conversation he had with Howard and Netanyahu that evening. (He explained that he was changing the story somewhat, substituting the Prime Minister of Great Britain for the Prime Minister of Australia):
Three former prime ministers gather together at a bar.
The former PM of Canada says: “I was prime minister of a country that had 30 million people.”
The former PM of Great Britain says: “I was prime minister of a country that had 60 million people.”
The former PM of Israel says: “I was prime minister of a country that had 8 million prime ministers!”
Kroft turned to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He asked Harper “What is Putin like?”
Harper said that he had called for Russia’s expulsion from the G8 in 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea.
He continued: “I’ve met many leaders, many businesspeople, many celebrities, but the one person – of all the people I’ve met, who I’m asked to say what he’s like, is Putin.
“It’s because he’s a real life Bond villain…But whenever he came to a meeting and walked into the room he was always extremely well prepared. In many ways he’s very impressive, but he’s also a very evil person.”
Harper went on to say that he hates “when people compare democratically elected leaders with dictators.” He said that, back in 2008, when George W. Bush was President of the US, he and Bush were “prepared to bring Ukraine into NATO, but others weren’t…The failure to do that,” he suggested, “led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“There is strength through deterrence,” he added.
“How is it (the war in Ukraine) going to end?” Kroft asked.
“What enough people don’t understand,” Harper responded, “is that Ukrainians are prepared to fight to the last man. They know that the moment they give up they’re going to get slaughtered.”
He also noted that the Government of Canada “should be very proud” of the support it’s given Ukraine. “We did a large amount of the training of their army,” Harper noted.
However, Harper predicted that the war “will go on for a very long time. Putin understands that if he’s not the strongest man in Russia, then he’s a dead man.”
Kroft turned to the subject of anti-Semitism, asking “How is it different today?”
Harper suggested that anti-Semitism was increasing even as far back as when he was Prime Minister. “The fragmentation, the polarization” in society have been contributing factors, he observed, along with the spread of hate on social media.
Nonetheless, he said that he was “optimistic about it (a decline in anti-Semitism) in the long term, but it’s exposed to us the complexity of public opinion. Social media has unleashed a voice that was always out there…What worries me more,” he suggested though, “is the rise of global jihadism.”
Further, Harper said that what “worries me the most is the anti-Semitism that has come out of the left – out of academia, that had led to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement.
“The difference is that it (anti-Semitism on the left) tends to make anti-Semitism intellectually respectable. Let’s be under no illusion what it really is…
“By any standard of freedom, of democracy, and of justice, Israel is one of the freest countries in the world.”
And then, with a reference to the protesters who were outside the Convention Centre protesting against the Jewish National Fund, Harper said: “The people outside are not protesters, they’re haters.”
That’s about as unbiased a report that I could write about what Stephen Harper had to say at the Negev Gala. Did I agree with everything he said? No, but the audience sure loved it.
Beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation have received $210,000 less this year than last year as of September 1
By BERNIE BELLAN
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.
Six members of the community receive King’s Counsel appointments
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.
Kayla Gordon inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame
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 jewishpostandnews.ca 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”.