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Gray Academy sets the pace for all other schools in Manitoba by instituting vaccine requirement for all students 12 and up

Lori Binder
Head of School, Gray Academy

By BERNIE BELLAN I had intended to speak with Lori Binder, Head of School at Gray Academy at a pre-arranged time on Wednesday, August 25 when, on Tuesday afternoon I received an email from Lori informing me that she wanted to share with me a communication that had just gone out to all parents.
Following are excerpts from that communication:

n keeping with Gray Academy’s mission, vision and values as a Jewish day school and with the health and safety of the entire school community as our top priority, the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education (WBJE) has implemented a mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Policy for Students. This new policy for students is consistent with and complementary to the WBJE Vaccine Policy for Employees, Third-party Providers, Volunteers and Visitors.”

”COVID-19 Vaccine Policy for Students

”This policy requires that all students turning 12 by December 31, 2021, must be fully vaccinated to attend Gray Academy for the 2021-2022 school year. 
This policy is not applicable to students aged 11 and younger, as a vaccine has not yet been approved in Canada for this age group. Once vaccine eligibility for this age group is approved, the WBJE will re-evaluate the specific requirements of its COVID-19 Vaccine Policy for Students.
“Students turning 12 within the 2021-2022 school year will be required to be vaccinated once they become eligible.
Submitting proof of vaccination 
Families will be required to submit proof of vaccination by 5 p.m. September 2 to  for all eligible children attending Gray Academy this year to This is a secure address that will be monitored on a strictly private and confidential basis. Once proof of vaccination has been confirmed, this information will not be retained by Gray Academy, and proof of vaccination will not be kept on file.

Good for Gray Academy, I thought – taking the lead on an issue that absolutely needs to be addressed, and not in the hesitant way that our provincial government has shirked its responsibility to impose vaccination requirements much more widely than it has.
Of course, with a directive such as the one just issued by Gray Academy on August 24, it was bound to dominate what I had thought would be a much wider discussion about how the coming school year was shaping up at Gray Academy.

Given the somewhat controversial stance that Gray Academy was taking however, I began our conversation by asking Lori whether she had heard about a letter that had just been issued by Winnipeg’s Council of Rabbis that also dealt head on with the issue of vaccination. (You can read the full text of that letter on page 6.)
Lori said she had not heard of that letter, so I told her that the letter gave a reasoned explanation why, in keeping with Jewish law, it is fundamentally important for individuals to be vaccinated.
I told her that I had asked Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation, who forwarded me the letter, what prompted the issuing of such a letter?

Without naming names, Rabbi Benarroch told me there are certain elements within the Jewish community who are decidedly opposed to vaccinations against Covid. As Rabbi Benarroch put it: “We were approached by members of the community telling us that there is a segment of the Jewish community that is anti vax.”
Further, Rabbi Benarroch wrote, “Apparently lots of friction at the school as a result.” He also wanted to make clear, however, that the letter issued by the Council of Rabbis was in no way related to anything happening at Gray Academy. (It turns out that it was entirely coincidental that Rabbi Benarroch emailed me the letter from the Council of Rabbis shortly after Lori Binder had emailed me Gray Academy’s new directives to parents re vaccinations. As it happened, I was the conduit for both Rabbi Benarroch and Lori Binder finding out about the communications that had been issued by the respective parties.)

But, when I asked Lori whether there was anything to the suggestion that there was “friction” at Gray Academy over the issue of vaccination, she dismissed that notion, saying “we have had a handful of queries coming my way since the communication went out. We have had a lot of notes of gratitude,” she continued.
Yet, Lori added that “We are certainly aware there might be a demographic out there that may have hesitation for vaccines…We will continue to have conversations. These are unprecedented times. We are only looking to protect the children in our care in what will potentially be a fourth wave.”

“But you must have had an inkling there was going to be some push back on this policy, didn’t you?” I asked.
“The board made this decision with great care,” Lori responded. “There comes the notion that there may be challenges. What we learned all through the summer about the Delta variant was not known to us in June. It is a courageous decision by the board.”
“More than 50 percent of the kids in our school are under the age of 12,” she pointed out. “They’re the most vulnerable.”
I asked though whether “anyone had specifically said they would not send their kids to the school as a result of this directive?”
“Not yet,” was Lori’s answer, “but that could still happen.”

I suggested that the opposite of parents refusing to send their kids to Gray Academy because of the vaccine requirement would be that some parents who were leaning toward sending their kids there would now be motivated to do so specifically because of Gray Academy’s very pro-active approach toward vaccinations.
“I could can say we have had that,” Lori responded. “We came in this morning and we have had at least a few inquiries so far.”
What also might ease any pressure that Gray Academy will be facing as a result of the very forceful approach that the school has taken with regard to requiring all students 12 and up to be vaccinated would be for the province to follow suit in ordering all schools to adopt the same policy, I suggested.
“It would make life easier,” Lori agreed, with Gray Academy not having to serve as the pacesetter in requiring vaccinations in all senior high students.

In the last school year, there was only one case of Covid reported at Gray Academy, which is rather remarkable given the track record of almost every other school in the city, where some schools had to shut down entirely while others had to have entire classes put into quarantine.
“And that one case was a very minor case,” Lori noted. No classes were required to quarantine.
“There were just a handful of close contacts who had to isolate,” she added. “They were all healthy.”

Turning to other aspects of how Gray Academy will be dealing with Covid this coming school year, Lori explained that “We’ll be masked from kindergarten on up. That’s a bit of a change” from what the province required last year, which was that all students in Grades 4 and up be masked. “We still have the two-meter physical distance in elementary. In high school we have a two-meter distance available at all times, but we are now able to bring our students into a classroom where we have one and a half meters to the greatest extent possible,” Lori said.

“What about the cohorts? Are you still maintaining them?” I asked.
“We’re maintaining cohorts for elementary and for high school. Our digital health screening will also continue. That was very effective last year for staff and students. Recess will have students in masks and cohorted,” Lori said.
“It’s easier to get those routines set and maybe if things ease up (on the Covid front), then maybe we can ease up” on all the quite stringent rules that will be in place regarding mask wearing and social distancing, Lori explained.

I wondered whether there was going to be any further continuation of the online education program which, you may recall, Gray Academy first entered into in the spring of 2020 with its very successful “Gray Away” program, when all high school students were forced to take classes online.
“We will have that if a child is forced to quarantine or isolate,” was Lori’s response, “if they’re a close contact or if someone in their home has Covid.”

I wanted to pivot to something more positive to report, so I asked: “Are there any new teachers in the school this year?”
“We’ll have a number of new staff members – in elementary and high school, in both general studies and Judaic studies,” Lori answered. “We’ll be sharing that with our school community on Monday (August 30).”
“Have you had any staff either retire or switch careers because they just can’t deal with all the pressure that comes with all the restrictions as a result of Covid?” I asked.
“No,” was the short answer.

On another positive note, moreover, Lori noted the fact that students in the high school will now all be vaccinated may allow more flexibility in terms of allowing those students to leave campus during lunch hour – get some fresh air, go for a walk to the store – of course all while still wearing masks, but that would have been something that would not have been allowed last school year.
I suggested it’s a good thing Gray Academy is located in Winnipeg, not in Winkler. “You might have a tougher time with parents there,” I remarked. Lori did not comment.

I asked whether there was anything else Lori wanted to add.
“I’m glad some of our kids had a chance to be at summer camp this year,” Lori said.
Between the kids who were able to go to day camp, BB Camp as campers or to Massad for its leadership training program, a good number of high school students were able to experience camp this past summer, Lori pointed out.
“It makes a huge difference being able to come back to school after a summer where there was some purpose,” she said in conclusion.

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Local News

Ida and the late Saul Alpern have donated 2 ambulances and a scooter to Magen David Adom in past 4 years

Saul z"l and Ida Alpern

By BERNIE BELLAN Saul Alpern passed away in 2022, but before he died he and his wife Ida had decided to make Magen David Adom a major recipient of their generosity.

As Myron Love noted in an October 2020 article the Alperns had been contributing small amounts to the Canadian Magen David Adom for some time, but it was in that year they decided to donate $160,000 for the purchase of a Mobile Intensive Care Unit for Israel’s Magen David Adom.

As Myron wrote in that 2020 article, an MICUA (which is larger than an ambulance, is staffed by paramedics, and responds only to the most medically serious cases) was donated “to the people of Israel in memory of Saul Alpern’s parents and siblings who perished in the Holocaust.

“It is an expression of my love for my family and my love of Israel,” Saul Alpern said at the time.

In early 2022 the Alperns donated yet another $170,000 for the purchase of a second MICU for Magen David Adom.

The scooter recently donated by Ida Alpern in memory of her late husband and parents/plaque imprinted on the front of the scooter carrier box

Saul Alpern passed away in November 2022, but Ida Alpern has now continued the legacy of giving to Canadian Magen David Adom that she and Saul had begun several years before. Just recently Ida contributed $39,000 toward the purchase of an emergency medical scooter. According to the CMDA website, “the scooter, which is driven by a paramedic, can get through traffic faster than the Standard Ambulance or MICU and provide pre-hospital care. It contains life-saving equipment, including a defibrillator, an oxygen tank, and other essential medical equipment.”

I asked Ida whether she wanted to say anything about the motivation for her and her late husband’s support for CMDA. She wrote, “Having survived the Holocaust, and being a Zionist, Saul felt that supporting Israel was of the utmost importance.”

On May 7, CMDA will be honouring Ida and Saul z”l Alpern at a dinner and show at the Centro Caboto Centre. Another highlight that evening will be the announcement of the purchase of an ambulance for CMDA by another Winnipegger, Ruth Ann Borenstein. That ambulance will be in honour of Ruth’s late parents, Gertrude and Harry Mitchell. The evening will also commemorate the late Yoram East (aka Hamizrachi), who was a well-known figure both in Israel and here in Winnipeg.

For more information about the May 7 event or to purchase tickets phone 587-435-5808 or email

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Local News

Simkin Centre looking for volunteers

A scene from last year's Simkin Stroll

We received the following email from Heather Blackman, Simkin Centre Director of Volunteers & Resident Experience:

Happy Spring Everyone! Hope you all are well. We have a number of upcoming volunteer opportunities that I wanted to share with you. Please take a look at what we have listed here and let me know if you are available for any of the following. I can be reached at or 204-589-9008.
Save the date! The Simkin Stroll is on June 25th this year and we need tons of volunteers to assist. This is our annual fundraiser and there is something for everyone to help with from walking with Residents in the Stroll to manning booths and tables, event set up and take down and much more. Volunteers will be needed from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on this day. Come and help for the full event or for any period within that timeframe that works for you.
Resident Store – This tuck shop style cart will be up for business shortly. Residents will be assisting to stock and run the store for 2 hours 2- 3 times per week in the afternoons. Volunteer support is needed to assist residents with restocking items and monetary transactions.
Passover Volunteers
Volunteers are needed to assist with plating Seder plates for Residents (date to be determined for plating)
Volunteers are needed to assist Residents to and from Passover Services and Come and Go Teas.
Times volunteers are needed for services/teas:
April 22cnd – First Seder 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 23rd – Passover Service Day 1 – 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 23rd – Second Seder – 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 24th – Passover Service – Day 2 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 29th – Passover Service – 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 29th- Passover Tea – 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 30th – Passover Service – 9:30 -11:30 a.m.
April 30th – Passover Tea – 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Admin/Paperwork Volunteers – Volunteers are needed to assist with filing and other administrative duties. A monthly volunteering job is also available to input information on programming into Recreation activity calendars. Support would be provided for this.
Adult Day Program – A volunteer is needed to assist with the Mondays Adult Day Program Group. A regular ongoing weekly commitment on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Assist with Recreation programming and lunch supervision for our Adult Day Program participants that come in from the community for the day.
Biking Volunteers – Take our residents out for a spin on one of our specialty mobility bicycles. Training is provided and volunteers will be needed throughout the Spring, Summer and early Fall.

With summer coming there is also opportunity to assist with outings and other outdoor programming! Please let me know if you are interested!

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Local News

From Argentina to Winnipeg – creating opportunities in the IT sector for marginalized groups

By BERNIE BELLAN The following article about Pablo Listingart borrows heavily from articles written by Rebeca Kuropatwa in 2019 and 2021 for The Jewish Post & News. It is also based on a recent phone interview I conducted with Pablo, as well as material we received from a publicist.
Back in 2012, husband and wife, Pablo Listingart and Solange Flomin began seriously thinking about leaving Argentina.
This, explained Listingart, was “because of the political situation and other aspects [that] were degrading. We also wanted to have the experience of living in another country.”
So, the couple began traveling to explore other countries. They went to the U.S., but did not feel it was a good fit. Then, they went to several countries in Europe, but with a similar result.
Next up was Canada. “My wife had a cousin living in Vancouver and she spoke really highly about Canada,” said Listingart. “We started doing our research and sent emails to several Jewish communities. A couple answered, but communication with Winnipeg was more responsive.”
In October 2013 Listingart visited Winnipeg (while Flomin was pregnant with their first child). “After only two days, I fell in love with the city, the brown of the trees, how quiet it was,” said Listingart. “So, I called Sol and told her that this was the place.”
When Listingart returned to Argentina, he and Flomin started working on their application. The process took 10 months, as their son was born in the middle of the process.
The family made their move to Winnipeg in early March 2015.
Flomin and Listingart feel at home in Winnipeg. “We feel more Canadian than Argentinean, with cultures, values, and everything,” said Listingart. “That is the reason we are here, actually. We did not come for economic reasons. We didn’t feel that comfortable in terms of values and principles back there. Once I came here, I fell in love with the Canadian culture and values.”

Listingart had started up a charity in Argentina in 2011 that taught participants how to do software development. In Winnipeg, Flomin urged him to create the same kind of start up.
Today, Listingart’s charities, called Comunidad IT & ComIT, have operations in Latin America and Canada.
As an immigrant himself, Pablo explains that he started ComIT after immigrating from Argentina to Manitoba and seeing a gap in Canada’s education system. He noticed many individuals working survival jobs to help support their families, unable to get the training they wanted to better their positions.

In response, he developed a market-driven curriculum that he initially delivered to students by covering expenses himself. In 2016, Pablo Listingart became the founder and executive director of ComIT, a Canadian non-profit organization that offers free technology and professional skills training to unemployed and underemployed Canadians, with a focus on Indigenous, immigrants, visible minorities, and underserved communities. The charity aims to develop a community that links people struggling to overcome employment barriers with companies looking for skilled workers.
Women take up the majority of his enrolment. Many of them feel they can’t enter into a traditional program to enhance their educational skills due to barriers like limited access to funding, training locations, professional requirements, also family obligations, and lack of childcare. ComIT’s curriculum is designed to appeal to people who fall into that category by being free of charge, available online, and taught for only parts of the day.

Listingart and Flomin began running the charity together around raising their two kids.
“I had worked for several companies, like Microsoft, IBM, and others,” said Listingart. “Back in 2011, I thought about giving back to the community and society, and so I decided to start this charity. Those years back in Argentina were kind of busy and, with all the political issues over there, we decided to migrate here to Winnipeg.”
With the perpetually expanding operation of their growing charity, Listingart, as the charity’s executive director, was kept busy, and for the first few years of operating ComIT he even found time to build mobile applications and websites, but these days Listingart says that running ComIT takes up his full time.

ComIT in Canada began by running pilot programs in Winnipeg and in Kitchener-Waterloo. In Winnipeg, Listingart ran the classes with the support of ICTAM (now TechMB), and, in Kitchener-Waterloo, two of the main Canadian sponsors were Communitech and Google.
“That went really well, in terms of people getting jobs, so I kept doing it,” said Listingart. ComIT jumped from offering two courses to 22 courses per year – covering all the Canadian territory.
By 2023 Comunidad IT and ComIT had helped 4500 people find jobs (1200 in Canada). “Unfortunately,” Listingart explained, “people drop out for different reasons through the process, so we are not able to help everyone who joins the courses.” During our phone interview Listingart said that his charities have now trained over 6,500 students altogether.
“About 70 percent get jobs within six months of the training,” said Listingart. “We follow up with them, help them with their resumés…We have a free platform companies can access and see the resumés.”
Training is conducted in classrooms and online. “The impact is always bigger in person”, said Listingart. “We started developing content to be delivered online prior to the pandemic, mostly for Latin America, as a way to reach people we couldn’t physically reach, not having the funds to go to 15 countries, and then during the pandemic we developed even more content to continue running our training.”
While Listingart would love to be able to operate everywhere around the world, financially, that is not yet viable, but he was able to expand what he offers to all of Latin America and across Canada.

Listingart is no longer teaching in the program, due to a lack of time, though he does visit the classes when he is able. While only two years ago, ComIT was training 300 people a year in its courses in Canada, it has now grown to the point where 600 people a year are taking courses from ComIT.
As Listingart told me, “We actually doubled the number of students we had when I talked to Rebecca (in 2021). What happened, he explained, was “we were in the middle of the pandemic and we moved all the training online due to COVID. We are still running courses online, and that has allowed us to reach out to more people.”
“So nowadays we have students from Prince Edward Island to the Yukon,” Listingart added.
I asked Listingart where the funding for ComIT comes from?
He answered that most of it comes from the private sector, but a portion comes from a federal government agency known as PrairiesCan.
So, how exactly does ComIT conduct classes? I wondered.
Training is conducted by instructors in classrooms or online, where they reach their students via Zoom.
At ComIT, all training is provided free of charge. Trainees can hold a full-time job, while training in the evenings or mornings for only a couple of hours a day for three months.
While right now ComIT is conducting eight different classes, Listingart explained,\ – “with eight different instructors,” because “we run different topics along the year, it’s usually between 12 to 15 people that get involved in teaching courses.”
And what do students learn in those courses?
The program consists of three months of intensive instruction in various fields related to software programming.
“Most of the people that we train go on to be programmers,” Listingart said, adding that the majority of our graduates become software developers or website designers,” adding that “some are working in cybersecurity or other hardware related fields.”
The minimum age to register for a ComIT program is only 18 and there is no prerequisite level of education required.
While a good many of ComIT students are immigrants who may lack the kind of English language skills necessary to be hired by many employers, ComIT also has many Indigenous students as well as non-indigenous Canadians who are struggling.
Still, as Listingart says, students in the program have to be able to communicate. They “don’t need perfect English,” he adds, “they don’t even need a mid-level English,” but they do need “some basic communication skills.”
But it’s not simply a matter of someone applying to take ComIT courses and being automatically accepted, Listingart explained.
“We ask them (prospective students) a lot of questions,” he said. “We ask them what their goals are, like, if they are pursuing a career in IT or if they are interested in that… many things to gauge their interest. Those conversations help us understand whether these people can communicate with others.”
When it comes to finding jobs for graduates of the ComIT program, Listingart says that he and other members of his team meet with local employers who are looking for IT talent and discuss their exact needs within the industry.”
“We train them in what companies need right now,” said Listingart. “So, let’s say I go to Saskatoon and I talk to 10 or 15 companies over there…about 70 percent get jobs within six months of the training,” he noted. “We follow up with them, help them with their resumés…We have a free platform companies can access and see the resumés.”
Skip the Dishes, for instance, was on the fence for a very short time. They hired five out of seven ComIT trainees almost on the spot after they were interviewed – and soon after, the company became one of the charity’s local sponsors. To date, Skip the Dishes has hired 55 ComIT-trained students.
“My goal, so to speak…is to give opportunity to people who can’t afford other types of training and give them a first chance,” said Listingart. “We mention this at the beginning of every course. They only have one chance with us. We don’t give second chances. If they drop out for any reason, regret it, and want to come back, they can’t. I have hundreds of people on the waiting list to take courses. For me, this is a way to teach the value of work and, while doing it, you have the chance to work a job that pays well, that you can grow and learn…And, it’s not just for nerds, it’s creative work.
“My goal also has been to make the biggest impact that I can and …I’m happy with the results.”
If you are an employer interested in finding out more about ComIT or you know someone who might benefit by taking the program, visit

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