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Gwen Secter Centre and Jewish Child and Family Service working together to provide much needed help for seniors in our community



Beginning two months ago, I’ve been reporting on the incredible job that the Gwen Secter Centre has been doing in providing meals for seniors in our Jewish community since the Province imposed a lockdown on March 13.

As I noted in our May 27 issue, Gwen Secter has gone from producing 60 meals the week of March 30-April 3 to 286 meals for 73 different individuals in late May. This past week, according to Becky Chisick, Executive Director of the Gwen Secter Centre, 340 meals went out to seniors.

I had asked Becky whether there is anyone in particular who deserves a shout-out for what Gwen Secter has been doing?
She wrote:  “The shout-out really needs to be going to our volunteer drivers.  The routes are increasing and get larger in size.  A number of people have come forward to volunteer their time and we are still looking for more. I also have a part-time volunteer meal coordinator, Lauren Cogan.  Lauren is helping with on boarding new seniors, coordinating volunteers and making calls to everyone on delivery days. “ (We have a full story about Lauren Cogan in this issue and the extremely active life she leads on page 7.(

Working hand in hand with the Gwen Secter Centre has been Jewish Child and Family Service, which has a large number of senior clients. (The JCFS typically serves between 500-600 seniors a year, according to JCFS Executive Director Al Benarroch.)
Here’s how the JCFS Annual Report described its older adult services: “Older Adult Services is a program designed to support the needs of Jewish elderly living independently in the community. Services ensure an optimal level of psychological, social, cultural, emotional and physical functioning in clients, thereby maximizing their quality of life and allowing them to remain at home and age in place.
“Aging Mental Health is a focused program that addresses the needs of our aging clients who also are living with mental illness and/or other chronic emotional problems. This area provides highly specialized, crossprogram services to clients requiring unique supports for a variety of issues, including those arising from psychiatric illness, memory loss and isolation.”
In addition, JCFS also provides services for Holocaust survivors.

I asked both Becky Chisick and Cheryl Hirsh Katz, Manager, Adult Services at JCFS, whether they could provide me with some names of seniors who might be willing to talk about what Gwen Secter and JCFS have been doing for them during a time when seniors, in particular, are isolated and experiencing much higher levels of anxiety.
In response, I was given the names of six different individuals who, I was told, were willing to speak with me about their experiences. For the purposes of this article, I am using different names for the individuals with whom I spoke, in order to preserve their anonymity. Each of the individuals with whom I spoke lives alone.

“Lisa” told me that (like the 70 other seniors who have been receiving meals from Gwen Secter), she’s been getting four meals a week – two on Tuesdays and two on Fridays.
I asked Lisa how she was put in touch with Gwen Secter to start receiving meals.
“My worker at JCFS is Heather Mandel Kraut,” Lisa explained. “Heather had asked me whether I could use the service (Gwen Secter’s food deliveries)” when the Province imposed the lockdown.
In Lisa’s particular case, while she is able to get out on her own, because of a physical condition, “it’s hard for me to stand – even for the five minutes it usually takes to put together a meal”, she noted. Also, because it’s hard for her to remain on her feet, she does have someone doing shopping for her.

I asked Lisa what she does to supplement the meals she’s been getting from Gwen Secter.
“I’ll buy a chicken and roast it,” she said. She also prepares salads and side dishes but, like the others seniors with whom I spoke, Lisa doesn’t eat a huge amount, so she’s been able to stretch the four meals that she’s been getting from Gwen Secter.
Lisa told me that each time there’s a delivery from Gwen Secter, one meal is meat and one is milk. The meat meals which, she said can be anything from chicken to sweet and sour meatballs, to turkey sausage, to brisket (occasionally), are all accompanied by “a carbohydrate and some kind of vegetable”, Lisa noted.
But, because Lisa is also diabetic, the kitchen staff at Gwen Secter have been careful not to include any items containing sugar in her particular meals so that, in a dairy meal with blintzes, for instance, the strawberries that come with the meal have no sugar.
Something else that Lisa mentioned is that, while she did grow up in a Jewish home where she loved her “baba and aunt’s cooking”, it’s been a long time since she had tasted many of the foods that were so familiar to her as a child. Having lived away from Winnipeg for years, it’s only been since she started receiving meals from Gwen Secter of late that she’s been able to conjure up memories of her baba’s and aunt’s meals.

“I was incredibly lucky in my life to have a baba and aunt who made fabulous meals and the Gwen Secter meals have comparable taste,” Lisa said. “The meals have the traditional edge to them” that she so fondly recalls from her childhood years; eating those meals “brings it all back,” she added.
And – as a sign how thoughtful the Gwen Secter staff has been in arranging those meals, Lisa observed that there “have been extras as well – like boxes of matzah during Passover” and, more recently, challahs on Thursdays.
(I asked Becky Chisick when challahs started to be included with the Thursday deliveries and who’s been providing them? She responded: “We’ve been including Challah for the past few weeks on our Friday deliveries. This was something I really wanted to do for the seniors who are isolated. I felt it was important to bring a little Shabbat into their homes. The challah is not donated, but City Bread is helping us out with a much appreciated deep discount to help stretch our funding dollars.  I’m happy to hear everyone is enjoying.”)

“Norman” returned to Winnipeg last year after having lived elsewhere most of his life. In his case though, as a result of an injury, he hasn’t been able to get out, but he is rehabilitating his injury and hopes to be fully functional sometime soon.
In the meantime, his worker at JCFS also told Norman about Gwen Secter’s food delivery program, and he’s most appreciative.
“I do get around with a walker,” he added, but “getting the meals is very helpful”.
I asked him whether the portions in the meals provided by Gwen Secter are sufficient?
“I’ve lost a lot of weight” (since his injury and subsequent operation), Norman answered, “so my eating habits are different – and the portions are sufficient”.
But then Norman mentioned that there are some items in the meals delivered by Gwen Secter that he doesn’t eat, such as potatoes or perogies. I said to him that he should simply let the Gwen Secter staff know that there are certain foods he won’t eat, and I was sure substitutes could be arranged. (I told him about Lisa’s diabetes and how Gwen Secter made sure there was no sugar in any of the foods in her meals.)

Something else that Norman said – and which is probably typical of many of the seniors who have found themselves availing themselves of Gwen Secter’s assistance, is that “I would like to not use it (the food deliveries) so that someone else could use it.”
By the way, Norman had not even heard of JCFS when he returned to Winnipeg last year, so being able to receive assistance from that organization came as a most pleasant surprise.
“JCFS has been very helpful to me,” he noted – “and very supportive – by phone or by email – on an as-needed basis.”
As for the Gwen Secter Centre, again – like JCFS, Norman had never heard of that organization either, and he is deeply appreciative of what the Gwen Secter Centre has been able to do for him.

“Bonnie” has been a client of JCFS in the past but, like Norman, she had been living away from Winnipeg for years.
Unlike Lisa and Norman, however, Bonnie hasn’t had to avail herself of the Gwen Secter food delivery program. She is able to get out and do her own shopping.
In Bonnie’s case, however, it wasn’t a physical condition that led to her contacting JCFS. She has a psychological condition, “but I couldn’t afford to pay a psychologist or a therapist,” she explained.
Yet, Bonnie was not aware that JCFS provides services for individuals such as her. Once she was told though about JCFS’s services for seniors and other individuals with psychological conditions, she did get in touch with JCFS and has maintained weekly contact with a social worker assigned to her case ever since – most recently via ZOOM.
Ever since the provincial lockdown was imposed, Bonnie said she’s been in weekly contact with her social worker. (It used to be only once every two weeks, she noted.)
“The social worker has been really wonderful,” Bonnie said.


The final senior with whom I spoke was “Anne”.
In Anne’s case, she explained, “I have arthritis, so I’ve been stuck using frozen meals.”
“I usually shop at Walmart” (online), Anne said, but “I couldn’t get online” because Walmart’s system was so inundated with users.
“I also tried Cantor’s (early on during the lockdown), “but they were rationing groceries, – things like sweet potatoes,” Anne noted.
“So, I started using Save on Foods for deliveries,” she said, “but they’re quite expensive.
“Then Dan (Saidman, Program & Volunteer Coordinator at the Gwen Secter Centre) phoned me. He knew I’d be in trouble, so he asked me whether I wanted to start getting meals from them – which I did, right from the start” (in late March).
For Anne, just like Lisa and Norman, the meals from Gwen Secter have been a Godsend.


Finally, I spoke with Cheryl Hirsh Katz of JCFS to ask whether there has been an increase in the agency’s caseload of seniors.
Cheryl indicated that has indeed been the case – primarily as a result of the Jewish Federation’s having enlisted volunteers to call seniors (and other individuals in the community who find themselves in particularly unfortunate circumstances as a result of the pandemic). Many seniors have been referred to JCFS as a result of those phone calls, Cheryl noted.

“We’ve identified those of our clients who are most in need,” Cheryl said, and have been keeping close tabs on them, including “sending out 50 care packages to some of the most isolated seniors with plans to send an additional 50 to another group of isolated seniors. Our plan is to do this once or twice per month while this pandemic lasts.”
“We have capacity to take on more clients,” Cheryl noted – and 20 more clients have now been added to JCFS’s caseload to this point.

While JCFS does maintain an “emergency food pantry” to help individuals or families in urgent need of groceries, “there hasn’t, as yet, been an increase in demand”, she said.
What there has been though, is “an increase in demand for emotional support,” Cheryl observed.
“Individuals who have had illnesses” have found themselves isolated and, one other agonizing aspect of the isolation we’ve been enduring is that, for those among us who have lost loved ones during the past three months, it’s been an especially difficult grieving period.
“We have our friendly volunteer phone callers; also our own workers are regularly calling clients”, Cheryl said, but for those seniors who could use some emotional support or would like to be added to Gwen Secter’s food delivery program, the JCFS welcomes your calls.
The JCFS phone number is 204-477-7430. The Gwen Secter Centre’s phone number is 204-339-1701.


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Local News

Beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation have received $210,000 less this year than last year as of September 1



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.
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Local News

Six members of the community receive King’s Counsel appointments



New KIng's Counsel appointments clockwise from top left: Laurelle Harris, Fay-Lynn Katz, Sandra Kliman, Bryan Schwartz, Frank Lavitt, Steve Kohn

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.

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Local News

Kayla Gordon inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame



Kayla Gordon (centre) holding an award she received from Rainbow Stage after having been inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame in the Builders’ category. Chris Reid (standing beside Kayla) presented the award. Also with Kayla was Brenda Gorlick, Kayla’s long- time collaborator in muscial theatre, who introduced Kayla.

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 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”.

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