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Freda Steel pays homage to her parents’ role in leading her to law career

Madam Justice Freda Steel


Perhaps one of the most remarkable stories about a child of Holocaust survivors who began with humble origins and then rose to a level even she could never have dreamed, is that of Freda Steel, or more properly Madam Justice Freda Steel.

This is not a rags to riches story, but it is a true account of a family that came to Canada with so little and then created a life for themselves, enriched by a daughter who now sits as a Justice on the Court of Appeal for the Province of Manitoba.
The parents, Morris and Sonia Steel, arrived in Canada after managing to survive the Holocaust (a whole other story) and landed in Stonewall, Manitoba, where Morris’ older brother, Sam Steele, father to none other than former Senator Mira Spivak, had settled. (There must be some explanation for the extra “e” for one family and not the other). But, it was not long before the Steel family, then consisting of the parents and their young son Sam, moved into the north end of Winnipeg on Flora Avenue, where Freda was born.
After a few years, Morris and Sonia were able to buy a grocery store at Redwood and Andrews. The fact that Morris could speak seven languages was a key factor in the success of the store. Freda attended Talmud Torah followed by Garden City Collegiate. (By then the family lived on Forest Park Drive). It was her late brother Sam who instilled in Freda the ambition to enter into law and we all ought to be grateful to him for that advice. That advice, taken together with the lesson learned from her parents that the rule of law could easily be destroyed, took Freda to law school at the University of Manitoba and indeed, may have propelled her later to a Masters of Law from Harvard. How many Harvard alumni are sitting judges on the Courts of Appeal across Canada? Maybe Freda knows that answer.
Freda did practice for a few years in Winnipeg but after her Harvard time, she became a professor of law at the University of Ottawa in the Common Law section – and she loved it. In fact, her teaching career added up to a total of 18 years between Ottawa and the law school at the University of Manitoba, where she became Associate Dean. As well, Freda worked for the Law Society of Manitoba as the Director of Legal Education, also did some legal arbitration work in human rights and labour law.
In 1995, Freda was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba and that must have been quite a moment for her and indeed her whole family (which, by then, included her husband, David Gisser, QC, and her children, Jason and Meira) when she put on her judicial robes. Move forward five more years and in 2000, Freda Steel was appointed to the Manitoba Court of Appeal, becoming just the second woman appointed to that court, following Madame Justice Bonnie Helper.
Freda offers an interesting perspective of her role on the bench: “I have had many years of legal education and practice time, but for my work on the Bench, the most important part of my education were the years growing up in the back of a grocery store in the north end. The stories of the people who came in daily to buy their milk and bread and chat with my father left an indelible impression.”
Since her appointment, Freda has been very involved in legal and judicial education through the Law Society, the Canadian Bar Association and the National Judicial Institute. Her resumé goes long and deep, but what stands out is that, in 2012, Freda Steel received the prestigious Cecilia I. Johnstone Award acknowledging her professional excellence in her field and her influence on other women in their quest to pursue a legal career.
Now, with all that said, surely one of Freda’s greatest joys would be the fact that both her children, Jason and Meira, have followed her path and indeed the path of their father into the legal profession with Jason working as counsel to the University of Manitoba Faculty Association and Meira for the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. I wonder what the conversation is about when the four of them get together for dinner?
It has been quite a trail that Freda Steel has created for herself and the trail keeps on going and in many directions. What is certain is that the Jewish community of Winnipeg, the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba have much to be proud of in Freda Steel.


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Shaarey Zedek renovation update

Shaarey Zedek renovations are now well underway. Here’s a video posted by Shaarey Zedek about the renovations:

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Winnipeg Council of Rabbis criticizes suggestion that Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals – as well as kosher meals

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

We received the following letter from the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis in response to the suggestion that the Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals (Read story at🙂

Dear Bernie
We read your opinion piece on kashrut at the Simkin Centre with a certain amount of shock, as you advocated that the Simkin Centre not be a kosher facility. After a long discussion we had with food services at Simkin, it is clear that your statements about the quality of food are simply wrong. Residents at Simkin receive meals that are on par with all other similar facilities in Manitoba. The menu includes chicken both dark and white, meats including roast beef, ground meat, and much more. The only item not offered at Simkin that is offered at other similar homes is pork, which we hope you are not advocating for. 

In addition, every major Jewish organization in Winnipeg has a Kashrut policy in place. The reason for this is simple. Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values. How odd is it that Winnipeg’s “Jewish” newspaper would be advocating for treif food, and in your words  will “never give up the fight” to make sure it happens. A Jewish newspaper should be advocating for Jewish values, period. 

Finally, Kashrut allows the Simkin Centre to be an inclusive Jewish institution that accommodates the needs of the entire Jewish community. There are many residents and families that consider kashrut as an integral element in how they express their Judaism. They would have no other place to send their loved ones if the Simkin Centre was not Kosher.

The vast majority of Jews in Winnipeg want to see the Simkin Centre continue to be Kosher, and we hope you will either reconsider your position or not press a minority position onto the majority. We, as the rabbis of the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis, all endorse and fully support this position.

Winnipeg Council of Rabbis

  • Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, Adas Yeshurun Herzlia
  • Rabbi Allan Finkel, Temple Shalom
  • Rabbi Matthew Leibl, Simkin Center
  • Rabbi Anibal Mass, Shaarey Tzedek
  • Rabbi Kliel Rose, Eitz Chayim

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Bernie Bellan asks: If kashrut is so intrinsic to Jewish organizations in Winnipeg, why was the Rady JCC allowed to make its annual sports dinner non-kosher?

Bernie Bellan

Here’s a question for the Council of Rabbis – whose letter tearing a strip off me for daring to question the necessity of serving fully kosher meals to every resident of the Simkin Centre appears on this website: Have you ever considered the total hypocrisy inherent in your insisting that kashrut is vital to the Simkin Centre, while the Rady JCC some years ago abandoned the requisite that its annual sports dinner be kosher?
The sports dinner asks anyone attending whether they’d like a kosher meal (which is what I suggested the Simkin Centre could also do) and, from what I’ve been told, the number of individuals who respond in the affirmative can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
I don’t recall the council of rabbis kicking up a huge fuss over that change. But, to be consistent guys, (and by the way, only one of the five rabbis on that council is actually a subscriber to The Jewish Post, butI’m glad you’re all such vociferous readers), I expect you to demand that the Rady JCC sports dinner revert to being fully kosher.
After all, as Rabbi Benarroch so succinctly puts it in his letter: “Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values.”
I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to publicly demand that the sports dinner revert to being fully kosher. As I recall, the reason that kashrut was abandoned as a prerequisite for the dinner was because of the cost. So, when Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti wrote me in an email,  “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,” I fully expect the council of rabbis – and anyone else who is adamant that the Simkin Centre remain absolutely kosher to join in a campaign to raise that $150,000 so that Simkin can remain kosher without cutting into other areas of operation. How about it, guys?
My point in advocating for Simkin to modify its kashrut policy was to be as realistic as the people behind the sports dinner were in recognizing that the cost of a full adherence to kashrut can be prohibitively expensive. But, the sports dinner still allows anyone who wants a kosher meal to have one. That’s all that I was advocating for the Simkin Centre. So, tell me rabbis: Where do you draw the line from one Jewish institution to another? Or, does the slippery slope that you’re on also have an off ramp that allows you to abandon principles when it’s expedient to do so?

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