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Higher costs for burial for non-synagogue members continue to be the norm in western Canada

Shaarey Zedek cemetery

By MYRON LOVE  A few weeks ago, I contacted the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on behalf of a friend to inquire as to the cost of his funeral when the time comes (which hopefully is still quite a ways off). The quote I received was $16,000. That would include the plot, the Chevra Kadishe fees (for proper Halachic preparation of the body), transportation, digging the grave and perpetual care.

Now while this would appear to be a rather large chunk of change, the numbers are similar to those of Congregation Etz Chayim (which manages our community’s other three cemeteries – the Hebrew Sick, Rosh Pina and Bnay Abraham) and Beth Tzedec Congregation, which operates one of Calgary’s two Jewish cemeteries. (The rabbi’s or cantor’s fee there is an extra $500.)
I would point out that those numbers are not a great deal higher than were reported in this paper ten years ago, when this writer last surveyed the cost of Jewish funerals across Canada. At that time, the top figure at Etz Chayim was just over $13,000.
What hasn’t changed is that the top line numbers apply to non-members of the synagogues – and that goes for most of the congregational-run cemeteries in the Prairie provinces. At Etz Chayim, for example, members pay $11,000 (as compared to about $8,500 in 2011). Shaarey Zedek members pay $12,000.
(We asked Rena Boroditsky, Executive Director of the Chesed Shel Emes, what happens in cases of an indigent individual. She responded: “SZ, Etz Chayim & Chesed absorb the cost of those without means , there’s a wide range of circumstances. The last several years Chesed has waived all or part of about 5 funerals per year. I’m sure the cemeteries have subsidized far more than that.”

At Calgary’s Beth Tzedec, members pay about $3,000 less. As well, the Calgary congregation has a “plot plan” whereby members in good standing who have been dues-paying members since the 1980s have the price of their plot waived – saving another $3,000.
Now, there is a considerably less expensive alternative in Calgary for members of the Jewish community who are either members of the city’s other four synagogues or are unaffiliated. That would be the 37th Street communal cemetery, which is operated by the city’s century-old Chevra Kadisha.
Former Winnipegger Rick Pollick is the executive director of the Calgary Chevra Kadisha. He reports that the 37 Street cemetery was opened about a dozen years ago. Each of the four congregations has a designated section.
“We have one price ($5,000) – all-inclusive – for everyone,” he says.
Winnipeg also has a less expensive alternative for Jewish burial. That would be Temple Shalom’s Beth Chaim Mikdash Shalom – which is located in a designated area in the midst of Chapel Lawn Cemetery in Headingly – although – as with Etz Chayim and Temple Shalom – there is also separate pricing for members and non-members. Members pay about $3,600, which includes the plot, the funeral shroud, the social hall rental and administrative fee. For a Temple member’s immediate family (parents or children) who are not members, the total maximum price is about $5,500. Non-members pay an additional $1,000.
Perhaps not surprisingly, smaller Jewish communities on the Prairies have lower burial fees. In Edmonton, for example, the Chervra Kadisha operates the one century-old cemetery and charges an all-inclusive $10,000 fee (plus GST) for all burials.
According to a report in the Alberta Jewish News last December, the current six-acre cemetery is running short of space. As a result, the Chevra Kadisha has plans to open a new cemetery – on 30 acres – next spring.

Chevra Kadisha President Rhoda Friedman says that at that time, “we may have to reassess our fee structure”.
Regina’s Jewish burial fees are $8,000 for members of the community’s main synagogue – Congregation Beth Jacob and $12,000 for non-members.
“We haven’t raised our rates in the last five years,” reports Miriam Freedman, Beth Jacob’s executive director.
While the executive director of Saskatoon’s Agudas Israel congregation refused comment, ten years ago, the burial fee for members was $7,250 –with non-members paying $11,250. Most likely, current charges are on a par with Regina’s figures.
Now, to be presented with such a large bill at a time of mourning may be disconcerting for your surviving family members. My advice – buy a plot (or double for couples) now and reduce the future financial burden on your family members.

Editor’s note:
The situation in Toronto is quite different than in any of the Western Canadian cities that have been cited in this article. There are two private funeral homes serving the Jewish community: Benjamin’s and Steeles Memorial Chapel. The cemeteries, however, are run completely on their own. We contacted Steeles to get an idea how funeral costs in Toronto compare with Winnipeg. At the current time all funerals are being conducted graveside.
We were told that a plot at Pardes Chaim Cemetery, for instance, is $3276 plus HST. There is an additional opening and closing fee payable at the time of the funeral, which is currently $1902.06.
As far as the services provided by Steeles, they have a lengthy list of services, including the professional services of staff ($2815); preparation and sheltering of the deceased ($725); automobiles (hearse – $425, general duties vehicle – $295); transfer of the deceased ($375); burial shroud ($395). The total for all these services comes to $5505.
In addition, the costs of caskets range form $1095 for a “classic casket” to $5795 for something called the “Shalom Hardwood”.
Altogether though, the costs for a Jewish funeral in Toronto, going by Steeles’ price list and including the cost of a plot, are somewhere in the $12,000 range.
We were also interested in the typical cost of a non-Jewish funeral. According to one website, the average cost for a funeral in Manitoba in 2020 was $12,094.

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Free Press coming under criticism for supposed “anti-Israel” bias

Free Press opinion columnist Jen Zoratti and Free Press faith writer John Longhurst

By BERNIE BELLAN

“The attack on Oct. 7, it was vicious (and) really brutal. But it happened in a certain context of this region of years and years of dehumanizing people from both sides.

Do you know who said that? Not a Free Press columnist. It was Yonatan Zeigen – one of former Winnipegger Vivian Silver’s two sons. Zeigen was quoted in an October 29 Canadian Press article – prior to the discovery that his mother had actually been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri during the October 7 massacre, and was not taken hostage to Gaza – which is what was first suspected.

That same story also said that Zeigen “noted that his perspective has prompted backlash inside Israel, which he chalks up to people rejecting projects his mother helped run that call for a fundamental shift in how Israelis relate to Palestinians.

” ‘I don’t really talk … to the Israeli press because I see a lot of poison being directed at her because of her activities,’ he said.”

Compare that with what Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti wrote in an opinion piece that was published January 26, two days after an event focusing on the brutality that had been inflicted on Israeli (and other non-Israeli women) during the Hamas massacre of October 7: “Everyone who took the mic on Wednesday kept saying, ‘all women matter’ and ‘women everywhere matter,’ but I couldn’t help but wonder — which women? There wasn’t even a cursory pass at solidarity or even an acknowledgment of the gender- based harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women, who also feel abandoned by global feminism.”

Zoratti’s column did describe the horrors that had been unleashed on Israeli women on October 7 and she did refer in some depth to remarks made by Israeli lawyer and women’s rights expert Ayelet Razin Bet Or during that January 24 event at the Human Rights Museum, but she tried to place what happened on October 7 within a larger context of the ongoing degradation of women in war situations.

That one single comment in Zoratti’s column about “harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women” has apparently unleashed a torrent of criticism, which has been leveled not only at Zoratti and the Free Press for having the nerve to print her column, the backlash has even extended to Free Press Faith reporter John Longhurst, who has been caught up totally unsuspectingly in a blistering attack written by the publisher of a Jewish Winnipeg website.

Apparently Longhurst had written just two words on “X” (previously Twitter), with reference to Zoratti’s column: “good column.”

In response, Rhonda Spivak, publisher of Winnipeg Jewish Review, wrote:

“Did he not understand that in raving (emphasis ours) about Zoratti’s column that painted a picture of Israel as an apartheid state, accusing the Israeli speaker of spouting propaganda (emphasis ours), and calling for a ceasefire without even mentioning the necessary release of Israeli women, children and men held hostage in Gaza, he would not be bridge building but damaging his relationship with the Jewish community.

With his little tweet, Longhurst has set back interfaith relations .What makes things worse, is that Longhurst actually interviewed the Israeli speaker, sex crimes prosecutor Ayelet Razin Bet Or and the program’s moderator Gail Asper for the Winnipeg Free Press and also for the Canadian Jewish News in advance of the program held at the CMHR. If Longhurst harbored these views, would it not have been fair to present his views, and give Razin Bet Or the opportunity to respond?

 “Longhurst is a freelance writer who writes regularly in the Canadian Jewish News, but I do wonder what the latter’s readership would think of his insensitivity displayed towards the Jewish/Zionist community (emphasis ours).


”How does Longhurst propose to repair that which he has damaged (emphasis ours)?”

In defense of Longhurst, it should be pointed out that he written extensively about the local Jewish community. He was also the only local reporter to attend the major conference on anti-Semitism held in Ottawa in October. He also interviewed both Ayelet Razin Bet Or and Gail Asper for a story that was published prior to the event at the Human Rights Museum on January 24.

However, reaction to Zoratti’s column has been heated and calls have grown on social media to organize campaigns against the Free Press. We have been made aware of pressure being exerted on Free Press co-owner Bob Silver to influence the editorial position of the paper. We have also been told (although admittedly anecdotally, without being able to verify to what extent it has happened) of individuals cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their subscriptions to the Free Press.

But, it’s not only Zoratti’s column that has raised the ire of many individuals toward the Free Press. As with any large daily newspaper, the Free Press receives many letters to the editor. In recent weeks the paper has printed letters from Jeff Lieberman (CEO of the Jewish Federation) and Paula Parks (President of the Federation), along with an opinion piece by Gustavo Zentner (the newly appointed CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan), all of which made the case for Israel in various respects.

Yet, the Free Press has also printed many letters highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, February 6, while there was one letter written in defense of Israel, there were also three letters highly critical of Israel. We have been contacted by individuals complaining that their own letters written in defense of Israel have not been printed.

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In defense of the Jen Zoratti column that set off a firestorm of criticism of the Free Press – and a letter explaining why that column so upset so many people

By BERNIE BELLAN As an editor myself I know what it’s like to be accused of bias. As such, I would argue that the anger at the Winnipeg Free Press for what many in our community perceive as an anti-Israel bias is totally unjustified. If any of the paper’s critics actually takes a close look at that paper they will see a vast amount of coverage devoted to local Jewish events. Not only does John Longhurst do a great job covering many events (and he is a far better reporter than I could ever hope to be), the paper also features Sharon Chisvin writing about local Jewish happenings on a regular basis.

One would think that, based on the amount of ink that the Free Press devotes to news of interest specifically to the Jewish community that there was a vast number of Jews in this city. That’s why, when I asked Free Press editor Paul Samyn, when he was speaking to the Remis group at the Gwen Secter Centre last year, just how many Jews he thought there were in Winnipeg, and he guessed “45,000,” he was quite astounded to hear from me that, at best, there were only 12,500 Jews in Winnipeg. (I also said to Paul that there were over 72,000 Filipinos in Winnipeg, but you don’t see nearly as many stories about that community in the paper as you do of the Jewish community.)

So, Jen Zoratti wrote a column that had one particular paragraph that inflamed the minds of many Jews (a lot of whom don’t even read the Free Press, based on what I’ve seen on social media). Not only are many individuals furious at Zoratti – and the Free Press, for even daring to publish what she wrote, even as fair minded and professional a writer as John Longhurst has had his name dragged through the mud. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/free-press-coming-under-criticism-for-supposed-anti-israel-bias/

For a community that’s long railed against the idea of boycotts being used against Israel (as in the BDS movement – Boycott, Divest, Sanctions), isn’t it a bit much to be calling for individuals to cancel their subscriptions to the Free Press over one column? And as someone who, until this week, had been a newspaper publisher for almost 40 years, I know what it’s like to have pressure put on your to slant coverage in a newspaper. While some newspaper publishers like to get involved in dictating editorial policy, from what I know Bob Silver has been steadfast in remaining apart from that. I personally sent notes offering encouragement to Jen Zoratti, John Longhurst, and Paul Samyn. I didn’t weigh in on whether I thought what Jen wrote was out of line or not (which, by the way, I didn’t). I simply wanted to affirm the importance of freedom of the press –and of columnists, to write without fear of monetary retribution. Heck, Israel has been on the receiving end of that kind of campaign for years. Are Jews going to begin to emulate the tactics of the BDS movement?

In response to the above we received a letter from Cathy Moser, in which she explains the anger that many in the Jewish community are feeling toward the Free Press:

Dear Bernie;

     I respect your humane approach to reporting on the war in the Middle East – I don’t think that you will find too many people in the Winnipeg Jewish community that would revel in knowing that thousands of innocent women and children in Gaza were killed in the effort to eliminate Hamas Terrorists.  If Jen Zoratti had written a column on the Palestinian women and children whose voices have been deadened – what she said may have been relevant.  However – she wrote an OpEd on a talk called HEAR OUR VOICES, with the Voices referring to the women and children who were raped, tortured and killed in Israel on October 7th.  It was as inappropriate to talk about the Gazan women in this article as it would have been to talk about the Israeli women and children if she was reviewing a talk given by the Palestinian community on Palestinian women and children.  Or if, when newspapers in the 40’s described bombing Nazi headquarters and strongholds, had included in their OpEds the fact that thousands of innocent German civilians were killed by the Allied Forces and they are inhumane.

     The problem with Jen Zoratti’s article was well summarized by Mike Federer in his article in the Free Press, January 7th, 2024 – it takes a very special skill to attend an educational event bringing attention to Hamas’ misogynistic and murderous sexual assault of Israeli women during its genocidal October 7 massacre in southern Israel, and turn it into an anti-Israel hit piece. However, that’s exactly what Jen Zoratti managed to accomplish in her January 26 opinion column in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled: “The battlefield between feminism and rapes of war.”.

     By the way, there would have been no need to appeal to Bob Silver had the Editor published any one of my letters providing an alternate understanding of some of the issues.  Prior to the deluge that was received after the Jen Zoratti article, the Winnipeg Free Press had very one-sidedly published letters to the Editor that were anti-Israel and misleading in facts. I will send a few for your perusal if you are interested.  Since the Zoratti ‘affair’, there have been many more letters published that elucidate both sides of the story, as well as articles to the point (e.g., Saturday, Feb 18, 2025 article by Dr. Ruth Ashrafi).

     It seems that the volume of letters to the Editor and Owner after the Zoratti article has served its purpose. Perhaps there was a critical look at the past month’s content to determine whether the letter writers’ claims were valid. Freedom of speech is critical to a healthy democracy; however, if those that publish the speeches are biased, there is no freedom. 

Sincerely,

Cathy Moser 

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBJ6FZYPeHQ

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