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In tribute to the late Roz Usiskin

By HARRIET ZAIDMAN  The Jewish community lost a valuable member when Roz Usiskin died on November 2nd at the age of 94. Roz spent her life working to make the world a better place through her activism for progressive causes, her research, writing, teaching and mentoring. Some of those contributions are highlighted here. 

Much of Roz’s work developed through her involvement in UJPO (United Jewish People’s Order), which she joined as a teen in 1945. Dora Rosenbaum also joined UJPO that year, and the two developed a lifelong friendship. In conversation, she shared that Roz was always concerned about imbuing the positive values of Yiddishkeit in the younger generations. As the director of the children’s program at Camp Husavick, Roz created the programming.  “Each week-end our youth division would invite different ethnic youth groups out to the camp to build friendships between them,” she said. “Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and, in particular, Nigerian university students. Roz played a leading role in that activity.” 

Mark Etkin remembered how Roz’s support helped establish the secular humanist group, the Sholem Aleichem Community. “We got a phone call from Roz.  She told us that members of the United Jewish People’s Order were very interested in supporting our initiative.  She attended our initial meeting, along with Dora Rosenbaum and Abe Arnold.  Together they offered to be “advisors” to our young group. They offered start up money, to host meetings and provide food. Over those first few years they were instrumental in helping us to set up a Jewish Sunday School, to solidify our organization, and to plan Jewish holiday celebrations, in which they took on very significant roles.  Roz also suggested a name, one with personal and historical significance for her and for UJPO, as there had been an earlier secular Jewish day school in Winnipeg with the same name.  Within a short period, the Sholem Alechiem Community was up and running.”

Roz loved to discuss and debate, applying critical thinking to the many UJPO forums she helped organize about topical issues. She had an unequivocal sense of fairness and held to her principles – those same values that her forebears fought for – opposing all forms of anti-semitism, all forms of oppression and exploitation. Politically, that translated into advancing human rights for all – which meant that as a Jew she could not be blind to the needs of the Palestinian people for recognition and nationhood. Roz was a principal organizer of a UJPO tour of the Palestinian Territories, where participants saw for themselves the human rights abuses and injustices meted out to the Palestinian people. Mark Etkin said that following the tour, there was much discussion about the need for a Canadian Peace Organization that would champion the Palestinian cause from within Canada. Roz encouraged discussions that became the basis, finally, for the development of Independent Jewish Voices – Canada. 

Roz’s interest in the radical Jewish left stemmed from her upbringing in a family of activists and writers. For her Honour’s thesis she wrote: “The Winnipeg Jewish Community: its Radical Elements, 1905-1918. and a few years later for her Masters, wrote Winnipeg Jewish Radical Community, both which became the basis for two books. Ester Reiter, who is now Professor Emerita in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at York University says Roz’s writings “remain unparalleled for anyone exploring the riches of Winnipeg’s history.” Her writings formed part of a hallmark symposium on the Jewish left, of which UJPO was one sponsor, organized in the early 2000s.

Roz, along with labour leaders and others formed the Joe Zuken Memorial Association to honour the late city councillor’s commitment to the broader social good, funding programs such as Rossbrook House.  “As a trade union leader, I valued Roz as an ally and a mentor,”  Paul Moist, National President Emeritus of CUPE, said. “Most importantly, I valued her clarity of thought, her progressive values and her friendship.”

“UJPO was the  backbone of Outlook magazine,” said Carl Rosenberg, who edited the independent, secular periodical from 1998 – 2016. “Roz was Outlook’s Winnipeg Associate Editor from the late nineties until she stepped down in the early aughts. She played a valuable role whenever we consulted on editorials, articles and many other aspects of the running of the magazine. Roz’s comments and criticisms were always cogent and constructive. Her approach was gentle and supportive, but also no-nonsense and well thought-out.” Not surprisingly, Roz wrote many articles and reviews for Outlook. “She exemplified a progressive and secular humanist vision of society. She believed in the full potential of the human condition.”

UJPO members were active in the anti-nuclear movement from the 1950s on, despite surveillance and intimidation by the RCMP. Every Mother’s Day, Roz was among the women who stood in a silent 24-hour vigil at Portage and Main to protest nuclear proliferation. That movement merged with the anti-Vietnam War movement, and Roz marched under the UJPO banner with like-minded protesters.  “Roz was my friend almost since I first stepped foot in Winnipeg in 1968 and joined Voice of Women in the struggle against the war in Vietnam,” Reiter said. 

On a personal level, Roz’s warmth and friendliness are legendary. Jeanette Block, another member of the UJPO community, a co-choir and Yiddish Reading Circle member with Roz wrote, “My dear friend Roz has left us, but memories of her will stay with us. She was unique. A matriarch, a progressive feminist, a (Yiddish) translator, a leader who had many followers. Why? She was like a magnet. People were drawn to her because she cared about them. She fed them, not only with food but with ideas for making the world a better place. She left us, but memories of Roz will stay with us.”

“Roz was an amazing woman. I loved being in her company,” Ellen Karlinsky, Acting Chair of UJPO Winnipeg said. “She was so clear headed and intelligent and always got to the heart of the matter. She also got to our hearts, with her warmth and hospitality. She took an interest in people and made us all feel valued. This is how she encouraged each of us, one by one, to join UJPO, to get on the Board, to reach out to others, to make a difference and to also do more….always do more.”

With all that she undertook, Roz was still able to put her family first. Her late husband Larry, her siblings, her sons and daughters-in-law, her grandchildren and great grandchildren brought her great joy. Our condolences go out to her family, whose loss is profound.

Many people sent their sympathies, wishing Roz peace, But Roz never rested.  We can hear her asking, “What’s next? We have to start planning!” At the time of her death, she had just secured a grant for UJPO Winnipeg to produce a video about the radical left, she was part of the UJPO play-reading group, the Committee for Yiddish and several other initiatives. 

Over the next few months, UJPO Winnipeg will plan a suitable way to honour her legacy. Our goodbye to her will be to continue the work to make the world a better place. Max Wallace of Toronto said it best: “Rest in power, Roz.” 

We love you.

Harriet Zaidman met Roz when they sang together in the North End Jewish Folk Choir. She joined UJPO at Roz’s nudging and is now secretary. In 2019, Roz acted as a Yiddish consultant when Harriet wrote “City on Strike,” a novel set in the Winnipeg General Strike. She will always be grateful for Roz’s example and friendship. 

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Shabbat Unplugged returns for seventh year with increased participation

115 students from four different provinces participated in this year's Shabbaton January 26-28

By MYRON LOVE This year’s second annual – post Covid lockdown – Shabbat Unplugged on the weekend of January 26-28 – had a different feel to it in the shadow of the dark events of October 7 in Israel (events that are being felt by, Jews worldwide), notes Shabbat unplugged co-ordinator and Winnipeg Hillel  Director Raya Margulets.

“My sense is that there was a much stronger feeling among our participants of shared community,” she comments.

She reports that this year’s Shabbaton attracted 115 students,including participants from Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Toronto.

Among the participants this year were a number of non-Jewish university students – StandWithUs Emerson Fellows from across Canada – who spoke about how they have come to develop a sense of solidarity with Israel.  As Shabbat Unplugged co-founder Dr. Sheppy Coodin observed, these non-Jewish students were disturbed by the anti-Israel and antisemitic actions on many university campuses.  They were angered by what they viewed as a double standard where Israel was concerned and have chosen to make common cause with their Jewish contemporaries.

As usual, the weekend began with a candle lighting, Kiddush, and a traditional Shabbat dinner.  Following the Shabbat service led by Coodin, a long time Gray Academy science teacher,  and some of the students, there were presentations (in addition to the non-Jewish students) from representatives of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) and StandWithUs Canada and a presentation by Emily Kalo, immediate past president of the Winnipeg chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), outlining measures which are being taken to  counter anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on university campuses.

As noted earlier, Shabbat Unplugged was started in 2016   by Coodin, a science teaher at Gray Academy, and fellow Gray Academy teacher Avi Posen (who made aliyah in 2019) – building on the Shabbatons that Gray Academy had been organizing for the school’s high school students for many years. 

The inaugural Shabbat Unplugged was so successful that Coodin and Posen did it again in 2017 and took things one step further by combining their Shabbat Unplugged with Hillel’s annual Shabbat Shabang Shabbaton, which brings together Jewish university students from Winnipeg and other Jewish university students from Western Canada.

“It was a pleasure working with Raya again,” Coodin said, noting that Margulets is also  a former student of his who took part in the 2017 Shabbat unplugged as a student.  “Raya worked incredibly hard to make the weekend a success,” he noted.  “There were a lot of details to be worked out for 100-plus students as well as the presenters. She is just fantastic.”

Margulets observed that the weekend was funded in part by grants from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, CJPAC. the JNF, and StandWithUs Canada, along with a generous gift from the Asper Foundation.,

“We are looking forward to having even more students joining us for Shabbat Unplugged next year,” she says.     

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“Festival of New Yiddish Culture opens to rave reviews

Beyond the Pale performed in front of a large crowd at the Berney Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 8

By SHARON LOVE The Festival of New Yiddish Culture ‘Put A Yid On It’ is on from February 7th to the 11th, 2024. As stated in the program, movies, music and more is what it’s all about.

As of Friday morning (Feb. 9) we are at the halfway point of the festival. Two Yiddish films ‘Yiddle With His Fiddle’ and ‘The Light Ahead’ have both played at the Berney Theatre.

On Wednesday evening at the Handsome Daughter Cafe, a standing room only crowd took in the book launch of ‘Yiddish Cinema:The Drama of Troubled Communication’. Co-authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrecar along with moderator Simone Mahrenholz provided an interesting discussion about the thoughts, philosophy and research that led the authors to write this text. Of special note is that Corne, Vrecar and Mahrenholz are all on staff at the University of Manitoba.

What would a Yiddish festival be without music? And lively musical as well! The opening concert was held at the Berney Theatre on Thursday evening and featured ‘Beyond The Pale’. This Toronto based acoustic ensemble which has been around from the late ‘90s started out playing classic Klezmer music. Over the years they have broadened their scope to include Balkan, Reggae, Romanian music and much more, in their repertoire. This award winning group has travelled the world while performing at music festivals and concerts. Members of the ensemble are leader Eric Stein on mandolin and vocals (Yiddish and English), Bret Higgins on base, Martin Van De Ven on clarinet, Milos Popovic on accordion, and Brigette Dajczer on violin. These musicians had smiles on their faces all evening. They seemed to enjoy making music together as much as the audience of about 150 people enjoyed being at the concert. It was pointed out that this was Brigette’s first gig with this band. No one in their wildest dreams would have suspected this. She played with energy and enthusiasm all evening and never missed a beat!

Eric Stein, who is presently the Artistic Director of Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival, introduced the numbers on the program and had a delightful rapport with the audience. During the concert he paid tribute to Winnipeg’s own ‘Finjan’ who are definitely pioneers in the revival of klezmer music and Yiddish culture.

The program was eclectic and included both material from years back as well as numbers from their newest CD. The playful tune ‘Turkish Delight’ is their original piece, in tribute to the late Irving Fields (Yitzhak Schwartz) who was a well known pianist and lounge artist. Another number, a combination of a Hora and Bulgarian music was very melodic. ‘Ruckus in Ralia’ with its strong beat was written in memory of the group’s trip to Serbia. Chazan-ja is a mix of klezmer and reggae music and traces of the Yiddish song ‘Dei Muzinke Oysgegebn’ could be heard.

Speaking of Yiddish numbers, the first song was early in the program. It was a comical love song written by Aaron Lebedeff, a Yiddish song writer and actor. ‘A Glezela Yash’ a cute drinking song and an old favourite ‘Az Der Rebbe Zingt’ had people humming along. A song about Shabbes in remembrance of Yiddish theatre star and singer Mina Berne was also on the program. With Stein on vocals these numbers added to the versatility of this group and their emphasis on reclaiming the Yiddish language through music.

As the program was coming to an end the music kept getting livelier. If, after close to two hours on stage, with a short intermission, you would have thought that these performers would be toning down, you were definitely wrong. The final number, a medley of Bulgar music, featured Van De Ven on clarinet who thrilled the crowd with a very very long held note.

After the standing ovation the encore number was a high energy series of Jewish wedding tunes. You could feel the excitement in the air! This is the third time in almost twenty years that Beyond The Pale has performed here and judging by the reaction from the audience, they will be welcomed back anytime!
The second half of this festival is also jam packed. Two more films will be shown, and the second concert features Montreal based Socalled(Josh Dolgin) in performance at the West End Cultural Centre. Bagels and a Bisl Yiddish with Prof. Itay Zutra is on tap for Sunday morning. An I.L.Peretz Folk School Alumni mini reunion will wrap up the festival late Sunday afternoon.

Kudos to Shira Newman, the Festival Producer as well as the Coordinator of Arts and Older Adult Programming at the Rady J.C.C. Shira had a vision to mount a Yiddish festival and it has now come to fruition. Thanks go out to the Rady staff and volunteers and to Lionel Steiman, Rochelle Zucker, Itay Zutra and Sharon Love of the organizing committee. The support from sponsors the Asper Foundation, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the I.L.Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust and the Rady J.C.C is very much appreciated. This festival has provided an opportunity for Winnipeg audiences to celebrate the richness of the Yiddish culture and language.

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Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities

Tom Traves

By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.

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