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Grade 12 graduate Lauren Cogan creates virtual grad video with student participation from around the world

Lauren Cogan 
Lauren Cogan

By MYRON LOVE
Like other students who expected to graduate high school anywhere in the world, 2020 Oak Park High School graduate Lauren Cogan was disappointed that there will be no formal graduation ceremonies this year to mark this momentous occasion in one’s life.

Undeterred, the daughter of Joel and Jessica Cogan has come up with a creative alternative. She has put together a video – which can be seen on Instagram and YouTube, in which the 2020 grad, clad in graduation gown and mortarboard, stands in front of her school and delivers a valedictorian address for the ages.
While Cogan introduces the usual themes about gratitude, positive memories and lessons learned, she shares her screen time with 80 other students from 17 different countries who volunteered to share their thoughts and sentiments as part of a “global Valedictorian speech.” .
The young filmmaker says she was inspired to create this video by other – localized – virtual grads and parties she had heard about or seen online. In order to create her global valedictorian speech, she reached out to fellow and sister 2020 grads – via Instagram – all over the world.
She was helped in her efforts to make the video, she notes, by close friend Reis Best and a grant from a Federal Government program called “Rising Youth”.
She reports that, as of the end of May, the video had received 12,000 views on her Instagram account and 1,000 more on YouTube. “I have received a lot of positive comments from viewers thanking me for trying to bring grads together,” she says. “It has been a great way to spread a powerful message of unity.”
That Lauren Cogan should undertake such an initiative comes as no surprise. Rather, she has shown herself to be a doer. She has an extensive volunteer resumé both in and out of school, locally and nationally.
This past year, for example, she served as co-President of the Oak Park Student Council. She has served as a peer tutor, and a Conservation Committee member. She has also been one of Manitoba’s leading athletes (for which she was awarded the Bert Knazan youth athletic award last year).
In the community, she started a youth-led initiative that collects sanitary products for people in our community who can’t afford them. (The initiative has provided over 500 boxes of products to date.)
She has served as President and Vice-President of a student led company through Junior Achievement and – last summer – she was selected to attend the JA National Summit in Calgary, where she was selected as one of the top eight leaders at the summit. In May, she received an Entrepreneurial Excellence scholarship from JA.
She has also served on the National Youth Advisory Committee for a non-profit, called Experiences Canada. As well, last summer, she, along with 64 other youth from across Canada, was invited to attend the Experiences Canada forum on Diversity and Inclusion.
Currently, she is the Meal Delivery Coordinator for the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre.

This past spring, she was supposed to go to Germany with BBYO as one of their ambassadors in March, but that was cancelled due to Covid-19. She was also scheduled to go on the March of the Living. And, as a Maimonides Scholar, she was supposed to be going to Yale University this summer for two weeks, along with other Jewish teen, to learn with some top Jewish thinkers. However, because of Covid-19, the courses this year are being conducted via Zoom.

“Maimonides hopes to have us come to Yale to learn in person sometime in the future,” she adds.
For the fall, she has been accepted to Western University and its Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario. The five-year program would give her dual degrees in Economics and Business.

But, as she concludes in the Global Valedictorian film: “Life is not about the final destination, it’s about the journey”.

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President of University of Manitoba Michael Benarroch responds to criticisms levelled at university over controversial valedictorian speech

UM President Michael Benarroch

UM president Michael Benarroch issued the following statement on May 24, 2024:
Last week, UM celebrated the convocation of 106 new physicians from the Max Rady College of Medicine. What should have been a joyous occasion for all graduating students was tarnished by the valedictorian’s address. Valedictory addresses should celebrate the accomplishments of the students in the class and provide inspiration to help motivate the graduates in their future careers.  The address should speak to all the students in the class.  Valedictory addresses are not political platforms for one student or a group of students to express their views, no matter how important or relevant the issue.  Universities, including the University of Manitoba, provide many platforms of expression and I believe this is why we have seen so much political activism on our campuses in the past few months.
 
As President, I have felt it important that our university maintains neutrality about the complex geopolitical situation in Israel and Gaza.  Universities are not monolithic institutions made up of groups of people sharing homogeneous perspectives and experiences.  This neutrality however should not be interpreted as inattention, nor should it be mistaken for an acceptance of antisemitism, or any other form of racism.  I have been carefully watching and listening to what has been happening on our campuses – and I am distressed by the escalation in both activity and rhetoric that is causing pain and harm in our community and not moving the world closer to peace in the middle east. 
 
Many universities, including UM, have long and painful histories of systemic antisemitism. You don’t have to look much further than our medical college’s notorious quota system – something our college’s very namesake, Max Rady, had to overcome to gain entry – to find an example. I am saddened to acknowledge that antisemitism continues to exist on our campuses today. I hear far too often from students and colleagues who do not feel UM’s campuses are safe for them.
 
I am and always have been a fierce defender of free speech. As the president of a university, I am keenly aware of my – our – obligation to protect this fundamental freedom.  But with that freedom comes responsibility, and it is critically important for free speech to coexist with the protection of human rights. I fear that the way one perspective is being expressed is resulting in another group experiencing hate.
 
Simply put, UM needs to do better.
 
What I have found shocking in the communications directed at UM in the aftermath of the valedictory speech, is how unaware people are of the systemic antisemitism that exists in the world. Israel is not above criticism, but the insidious nature of antisemitism is such that many cannot even recognize it for what it is.  As a university, we can and will bring our resources to bear to offer much-needed education to our students, faculty and staff.  I commit UM to develop additional anti-racism education resources including antisemitism training for our students, faculty and staff – an effort that is already underway. This training will be made mandatory for students in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.
 
I wish I could guarantee you that this type of occurrence will not happen again at our university Unfortunately, I fear that there will continue to be hard times ahead. 
 
I have heard from many people that they are questioning their association with UM in light of recent events.  While I fully understand why you might feel this way, now, more than ever, UM needs you. As President, I rely on UM alumni and friends to add to the rich diversity of thought and perspective that help us navigate challenging times as an institution. I realize there are many organizations and individuals who are hurt and angry, asking you to back off from your support for universities right now.  I’m asking you to lean in. With your voice at the table, we can be stronger, more inclusive, and more responsive. Your voice and the benefit of your wisdom and experience can help us effectively confront antisemitism and grow understanding.  
 
If you would like to discuss this, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I would welcome hearing from you.
  
Sincerely,
Michael
 
 Michael Benarroch, Ph.D.
President and Vice-Chancellor
202 Administration Building
66 Chancellors Circle
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2
Phone:  204-474-9345
Email:  m.benarroch@umanitoba.ca

To read the remarks by the valedictorian for this year’s graduating class of the UM medical school, along with subsequent reactions from the medical school’s dean, and Ernest Rady, who donated $30 to the UM in 2016, go to https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/valedictory-speech-delivered-to-graduating-medical-students-sets-off-storm-of-controversy/

To read letters from a graduate of this year’s medical school class along with an alumnus of that school, go to https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/reaction-to-the-valedictory-address-at-the-medical-school-convocation-ceremony/

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Jewish physicians in Manitoba form association in response to antisemitism

Doctors Manitoba President Dr. Michael Boroditsky speaking to the Remis Lecture group at the Gwen Secter Centre Thursday, May 23

By BERNIE BELLAN (May 24, 2024) Jewish physicians in Manitoba have been in the process of organizing as an official organization since October 7 and its aftermath, stemming from the huge upsurge in antisemitism.
According to Doctors Manitoba President Dr. Michael Boroditsky, who has also been actively involved in organizing Jewish physicians here into a group, The Jewish Physicians of Manitoba “will be passing bylaws and electing an executive this weekend” (May 25-26).
Dr. Boroditsky spoke about the Jewish Physicians’ Association at the tail end of a question and answer session following a talk he had given to member of the Remis Lecture group at the Gwen Secter Centre on Thursday, May 23.
In response to a question about the controversy surrounding the convocation ceremony at the U of M medical school on Thursday, May 16, Dr. Boroditsky noted that Jewish physicians in cities across Canada and the U.S. have been forming formal associations in response to heightened antisemitism following the Hamas massacre of October 7.

With reference to the policy adopted by so many institutions of higher learning across Canada and the U.S. to promote EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion), Dr. Boroditsky said: “Our belief is that EDI at the University of Manitoba applies to everybody but Jews.”


In an article in the Montreal Gazette on April 1 this year, that paper referred to the formation of “the Association des médecins juifs du Québec” this past November. According to the Gazette article, “Founded in November, the association counts some 400 members across Quebec.”


British Columbia has also seen the recent formation of a Jewish physicians association. According to information on the internet, “The Jewish Medical Association of British Columbia was started by family physician Dr. Larry Barzelai in November 2023 as an attempt to get Jewish physicians together to support one another, especially in the current situation of increased antisemitism. The group has almost 300 members.”

Toronto, in contrast, had had a long history of Jewish physicians forming an association. There has been a Toronto Jewish Medical Association since 1925.

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Reaction to the valedictory address at the medical school convocation ceremony

Ed. note: We have received a number of inquiries, both from students in this year’s graduating U of M medical school class, and from former students (now practising physicians), asking whether we would print responses to what occurred during the convocation ceremony on May 16. In addition to their being published here, they will also be published in the June 5 issue of The Jewish Post.

We will continue to print whatever responses we receive as (and if) we receive them. In the meantime, here’ are the first two responses we received, on May 23:

May 23rd, 2024
Hello,
My name is Gregory Jackson. I am a member of the 2024 graduating class from the
Max Rady College of Medicine.
Our convocation has garnered more publicity than I would have ever thought. The
valedictorian’s address and subsequent aftermath compels me to act beyond my
traditional comfort zone.
A classmate of mine, Dr. Irvine, stated in an interview with the CBC that “from my
perspective, there wasn’t any students that were graduating that were upset with what was
being said”. I happened to be seated beside Dr. Irvine during convocation. Since Thursday, I
have been truly shocked, disheartened and embarrassed by what unfolded and its impacts
on our community. I regret not walking out during the valedictorian’s speech.
Boisterous cheers from emboldened supporters drown out the gasps and stunned
silence during the valedictorian’s address, turning a day that should have been shared joy
into a day of shared embarrassment. While I know that I cannot convince my classmates
on our disagreements in geopolitics, I am dismayed that our convocation was hijacked to
espouse reckless personal and aggressive political views.
I am writing this letter to show support and patience for the Dean, Dr. Nickerson, as
he navigates an appropriate and firm response. Furthermore, I am writing to formally
dissent and dispute the notion that the Class of 2024 is unified when sophistry
masquerades as advocacy. In the current climate of fear and violence, I respect those who
wish to remain anonymous to maintain their safety. Most importantly, I wish to vocalize my
support to my classmates, faculty members, and people living in our community who are
threatened and alienated by such rhetoric; I hope that our community can heal and that we
can re-aYirm an environment in which our Jewish members are safe, respected and loved.
Faithfully yours,

Gregory Jackson

Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean and Vice-provost, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
Michael Benarroch, President, University of Manitoba president@umanitoba.ca
Mr. Ernest Rady,  3420 Carmel Mountain Road, Suite 100, San Diego, California, 92121
CBC News, talkback@cbc.ca
Joe Hutchison at Dailymail.com
Roberta Lexier, Associate Professor, Mount Royal University rlexier@mtroyal.ca
Winnipeg Free Press 
letters@freepress.mb.ca

I recall vividly that early morning September 1985 when I sat in my first class of Medical School at the University of Manitoba. The very first words spoken by the professor were ‘Primum non nocere’, which means ‘first do no harm’.

As physicians, we must use every means possible to gather an accurate history, using listening skills in a nonjudgmental fashion, and more often than not, creatively gathering collateral history from many sources. Dr. Gem Newman, to his credit, seems to be a passionate individual who cares about people. Unfortunately, the last few minutes of his speech made it clear that he cares only for some, on the basis of an incorrect history, leading to a disastrously incorrect diagnosis. He failed to take his own advice with respect to acknowledging one’s limitations rather than questioning if his opinion reflects fact. Nor does it seem that he consulted with those with more knowledge of the situation. His valedictorian address last week has caused harm: To the Jewish graduates, their families, as well as the Jewish community in the audience and abroad. To those who choose to believe the distortions of reality pertaining to the history of the region and current conflict. To those of us who know differently. To the truth. 

Sadly, the response by the University and the media did not address specifically why Newman’s speech was so offensive. For that reason I feel compelled to provide the counter arguments, even if the damage has been done by the hundreds of thousands of views of his speech. After all, he’s a doctor. He should know what he’s talking about. Right?

Newman stated: “ I call on you to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people everywhere.” He either does not know or chooses to ignore the undeniable fact that the Jewish people are indigenous to that region of the Middle East for over 3700 years. He insinuated that the Jews are settler-colonizers, ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. Let me be perfectly clear. There have always been Jews living in that area since Abraham moved his family from Mesopotamia. Over the centuries the population had diminished due to invasions of the land resulting in massacres and exile. However, some always remained. Biblical reference, Jewish writings throughout the ages, numerous archaeological findings and even the Qu’ ran support the historical claim of the land of the ‘Israelites’, meaning the Jewish people. Never mind the fact that the term ‘Jew’ comes from ‘Judea’, just as ‘Arab’ from ‘Arabia’. His remark echoes the libelous accusation that the Jewish people are recent ‘colonizers’ who took over land belonging to others.

Prior to control by the British after WWI, the Ottoman Empire had conquered what is now Israel in the 1500’s. By the mid 1800’s the land was desolate and sparsely populated, as numerous published reports of the time have documented. I will provide two examples: In 1881, English cartographer Arthur Penrhyn Stanley wrote: “In Judea it is hardly an exaggeration to say that for miles and miles there was no appearance of life or habitation.” Mark Twain, in the mid 1800’s, wrote that one could walk from one end of Jerusalem to the other in an hour, At this time Jewish people and organizations started buying back the land from absentee Arab landlords at significantly inflated prices. By 1864, the majority population of Jerusalem, where our first and second temples were built dating back over 3,000 years, was Jewish. Following return of the Jews, with the economic, industrial and technological advances brought with them, Arabs began immigrating to the area as well. THAT is how the population increased; both Jews and Arabs began to repopulate the land. Again, written references from that era along with deeds to the land purchased by individuals and the JNF confirm this. 

In 1948, the day after Sovereignty was granted to Israel, five Arab armies invaded Israel with the intent to exterminate all of the Jews and take over the new State. Arabs living there fled of their own volition or left by order of the Arab armies, with assurance that they could return to their homes after the Jews were gone. Lo and behold, Israel won the war against all odds. The 156,000 Arabs that remained became Israeli citizens, whose descendants are now 2 million, with equal rights as the Jews, Christians, Druze and every other citizen. Meanwhile 850,000 Jews were killed or forced to flee from many Arab countries across the Middle East, leaving their property and belongings behind. 

Newman also claims that Israel is waging a genocidal war against Palestinians. The only genocidal attack was perpetrated by Hamas and associated Palestinian terror groups on October 7, 2023. I am not making a false claim. Ghazi Hamad in an interview October 23, 2023, as well as other Hamas leaders have been very clear about their intentions to ‘repeat October 7 again and again and again’. I have collected many interviews and videos from across the globe with calls to Islamist extremists to kill every Jew they encounter, as a religious duty. These calls for ‘Jihad’ and ‘Intifada’ coming from extremist Muslim religious leaders has now spread across the globe, and is even chanted by those who don’t know which River to Sea they want to clear the Jewish people from. Despite these threats of global annihilation of the Jewish people, Israel has sent out 7 million leaflets in Arabic with maps of safe zones, supplementing this with millions of phone calls, text messages and voice mails. The IDF ‘roof knocks’, which is sending a dud bomb as a warning to evacuate the area. Unfortunately, Hamas and UNRWA not only told civilians to ignore these warnings, they stole car keys and even shot civilians trying to leave for safe areas as reported by Palestinians and captured on voice recordings and video. No other military past or present goes to the lengths that Israel does to minimize civilian casualties. 

This war is being fought in an unprecedented extremely complex war zone intentionally designed as such over the past 18 years.  There are over 700 km of tunnels exclusively for Hamas’ use and protection.  These terrorists fight in civilian clothes from hospitals, mosques, schools and civilian infrastructure, all of which lose protective immunity by law if used for such purposes. The referenced doctors, health care workers and journalists Newman insists Israel targets are not all altruistic innocents; many including hospital directors captured are longstanding members of Hamas. Rather than protecting their citizens, Hamas fight from beneath, beside and behind their men, women and children. The billions of dollars in aid funneled into Palestine over the years did not get spent on one single civilian bomb shelter. Despite this, Israel has still managed to achieve the lowest civilian:combatant death toll of ANY urban war hovering at about 1:1. This is even using the original Gaza MoH numbers prior to the exposure of manipulation of data at best, fabrication more likely, which led to the U.N. quietly backtracking and halving the number of women and children casualties. For seven months, those numbers had been broadcast to every news outlet and media source with impunity, and are still being quoted to this day. Not only are the numbers provided by Hamas grossly inflated, there are several analyses of the casualty data churned out by those terrorists that prove the patterns are statistically impossible.

You may also wish to verify the way the IDF conducts military operations with the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies of West Point, Major John W. Spencer. 
Another resource is Colonel Richard Kemp of the British Army. Their opinions regarding whether a genocide is being waged on the Palestinians carry significantly more weight than Dr. Newman’s, I would think. The IDF is not called the ‘most moral army in the world’ for nothing.

On to the ‘famine” in Gaza. As of this writing, Israel has allowed entry of 427,981 tons of food, 59,930 tons of shelter equipment, 541 tanks of cooking gas, 23,260 tons of medical supplies, 34,940 tons of water. COGAT provides daily updates on humanitarian aid that has crossed into Gaza. Plenty of video evidence is available of Hamas confiscating the aid, shooting and killing civilians trying to get aid, and charging up to ten times the value of the aid (intended as donations, not to sell) which many cannot afford. There are estimates that Hamas has made close to $500,000 profit from this despicable abuse. The pier that the US provided has been targeted by Hamas rockets during and after construction. Videos are also posted daily of bustling markets full of produce in Gaza.

Apart from the poor taste the valedictorian displayed by using the last few minutes of his speech to grandstand, the greatest issue I have is that his claims do not contain fact. This is exactly the way the blood libels began, were spread, and continue to be spread. We witnessed the result of this less than a century ago and vowed ‘never again’. Yet here we are on our way to repeating history that apparently was not learned, with the help of people like Dr. Newman. We lost over 1/3 of the world Jewish population in the Holocaust, and 85 years later our census is still lower than it was in 1939; a mere 16 million, whose voice cannot come close to the volume of our adversaries.

I agree with free speech, but there must be accountability. There must be truth.

Annilea Gunn, MD, CCFP, FCFP
University of Manitoba Class of 1989


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