By BERNIE BELLAN Two years ago we ran a press release from Bridges for Peace, in which the organization announced that an interview that I had been planning on doing with BFP International President and CEO Rebecca Brimmer when she was slated to arrive in Winnipeg that April had to be postponed because of – you guessed it: the onset of Covid.
That seems like eons ago, but when I was invited to attend a luncheon at the Asper Campus to hear from Becky (which is what everyone who knows her calls her), along with other representatives of BFP, I was only too glad to do so (although, as I explained to the person who contacted me from BFP: I wanted to be absolutely sure that proper protocols were in place, including safe distancing, also that I would be wearing a mask. I said that I’m still not comfortable being in public places where there are large groups of people, when not everyone is masked.)
As it was, it was only a very small group of invited guests, representing various Jewish organizations, who were on hand to hear from Becky, also from Peter Fast, Executive Director of BFP Canada (and soon to be CEO of BFP International, taking over from Becky next year). We were also told that we were going to be hearing from one more speaker: Tom Brimmer (Becky’s husband), whom I had the pleasure of meeting – along with Becky, in 2011, when they were both here to attend a function at the Shaarey Zedek honouring then-Executive Director of BFP Canada John Howson, upon his retirement from that position.
Tom Brimmer, by the way, is a licensed tour guide in Israel. I told him that I recalled meeting him back in 2011 when he was wearing a plaid shirt and heavy boots. I told him that he looked like a lumberjack back then. If you take a look at his picture here, I think you’ll agree that he is still not likely to make the cover of GQ.
For those of you not familiar with Bridges for Peace, it’s a Christian organization whose purpose is to foster good relations between Christians and Jews and to provide a range of services for Israeli citizens (of all denominations) who are in need of assistance. Through food banks which it operates in two Israeli cities (Jerusalem and Karmiel), BFP provides over three tons of food a day to over 24,000 Israelis. Now, with the influx of refugees from Ukraine, BFP has stepped up its food donations to meet the needs of many of those refugees, also refugees who have arrived from Ethiopia, Becky explained during her talk. In addition to food banks, BFP volunteers also do home repairs, and help Israelis with medical and dental needs.
During Becky’s talk, she told of her own experiences with BFP in Israel, where she has lived since 1993 (although she and Tom have now moved to Missouri, she told me during lunch, but they both travel back and forth from there to Israel on a regular basis).
Explaining what it is that BFP is attempting to achieve, Becky said the primary purpose is “having a future when Christians and Jews are good friends. There are so many things we share in common.”
While Peter Fast’s role in Canada has been to promote good relations between Jews and Christians, primarily by reaching to members of over 500 churches across Canada, Becky noted, her role in Israel has been “on the other side of the bridge” – reaching out to Jews to demonstrate how supportive so many Christians are of the State of Israel.
By doing so, she continued, “We are doing everything we can to educate the Christian world to undo the damage done in the past. We want to show a different face (to Jews) by acts of kindness.”
While one may have thought that, with the advent of Covid in 2020, donations to BFP and subsequently, support for Israel, might have dried up, just the opposite has happened, Becky observed.
“Christians saw the need to give more,” she stated. In 2022 already, “we’ve raised 50% more than we had budgeted” as a result of the generosity of donors. Becky gave the specific example of BFP in Japan, which has only a very small Christian community. Since the war in Ukraine began, however, and thousands of Ukrainian Jewish refugees have arrived in Israel, over $500,000 has been donated to BFP Japan, she said.
Referring to the Holocaust and how few Christians intervened to help save Jewish lives, Becky noted that many people like to say: “If I had been alive then I would have helped.”
“Well, this is my time to help now,” Becky said. Bridges for Peace “will help as many Jews from Ukraine as we can, also Jews from Ethiopia.”
Since Bridges for Peace officially began (in 1976), it has helped over 100,000 individuals make aliyah to Israel, Becky noted.
Following Becky’s remarks, her husband Tom took the podium. Tom explained that he wanted to talk about tourism – and how much of a hit Israel has taken to its tourism industry since Covid first emerged worldwide in 2020.
For Tom Brimmer, tourism has given him the opportunity to show Christian tourists what Israel is all about, he said. “Tourism changes people,” he observed.
“Christians come to Israel with every kind of attitude you can imagine,” he said, “but they leave with a changed attitude.”
“The tourism industry,” in Israel, he added however, “has suffered a terrible blow the last two years.”
Yet, while it now appears that tourism is set to make a huge rebound in Israel, as Covid restrictions have been lifted, there is one huge problem, Tom suggested: Almost all the tour guides who lost their jobs as a result of Covid have found other jobs in the meantime. Will they want to leave those new jobs and return to being tour guides? he wondered.
Further, “90 percent of the restaurants that depended on tourists closed,” he added.
Something else Tom noted: Seven hotels were transformed into Covid hotels exclusively. Are they going to revert to normal hotel operations now?
Still, he was optimistic. “We’re going to make a comeback. It’s going to be okay,” he predicted.
As of this moment, “it’s hard to book a tour – they’re in such great demand,” Tom said. On top of that, he said, “we’re training a whole new crop of tour guides, but it does take two years to train a tour guide.”
At that point Tom switched gears and began talking about a Bridges for Peace program with which he’s been heavily involved since it first began in 2006, something called the “Zealous Israel Project.”
How that project began, Tom explained, was with his idea of taking a leaf out of the very successful Birthright program, and bring groups of from 18-30 young Christian adults to Israel for 10-12 days at a time.
In time the project morphed into something quite a bit more comprehensive when it was transformed into an 11-month internship program, based in Jerusalem, with ten different young adults participating at a time. (The mix is usually five males and five females, Tom noted, although it doesn’t always work out that way.)
“We want participants to see the land and experience training sessions with Israelis,” he added. “We teach young Christian adults why Israel is important.”
One of the first graduates of the program was none other than Peter Fast, who has gone on to become Executive Director of Bridges for Peace Canada and, as noted, is about to step into the role of International CEO of BFP.
In his own remarks, Peter Fast paid tribute to two of his predecessors who served as Executive Director of BFP Canada: John Howson, who was Executive Director from 1997-2011 (and who hardly looks much older than when I first met him over 15 years ago) and Eric Malloy, who served in that role until 2019.
Peter said that he and his young family will be moving to Israel in January next year and that he hoped to visit Winnipeg often once he moves into his new position in Israel.
Schmoozer’s now under management of Shaarey Zedek Catering
By BERNIE BELLAN Schmoozer’s restaurant at the Asper Campus is now under the management of the Shaarey Zedek catering department.
Apparently, according to Curtis Martin, Executive Director of the Asper Jewish Community Campus, the Shaarey Zedek has actually been operating Schmoozer’s since December 1, except for the time it was closed over the winter break.
The Shaarey Zedek officially took over Schmoozer’s as of Monday, January 8. Shaarey Zedek Catering has actually been located in the Schmoozer’s kitchen for some time now – since the Shaarey Zedek closed for renovations in the summer of 2022.
While Shaarey Zedek Executive Chef Joel Lafond is continuing to work at the Asper Campus location, the day to day management of Schmoozer’s is in the hands of Sous Chef Jennifer Middleton. Once the Shaarey Zedek’s renovations are complete, Lafond will move back there, while Middleton will remain at the campus. In addition to managing Schmoozer’s, Curtis Martin says that Middleton will also to continue to provide catering services for “on-site Campus agencies and events.”
One of the main differences now that Shaarey Zedek is operating Schmoozer’s is the expanded hours. Rather than opening at 10 am, which was when Schmoozer’s opened under its previous management, Schmoozer’s will now be open at 8 am, Monday – Friday. It will also be open until 6 pm Monday- Thursday, and until 3 pm on Fridays.
According to Joel Lafond, plans are to have Schmoozer’s open on Sundays as well, beginning in February.
As for the menu, it now features a number of breakfast items, such as bagels and breakfast platters, in addition to the usual lunch items, such as tuna salad, egg salad, grilled cheese, quinoa bowl, pizza, a variety of salads, soup, fries, pasta, and “Beyond Burgers.”
Lafond said that plans are also in the works to expand the menu. He mentioned falafel as an example of something new that will be available at Schmoozer’s in the not too distant future.
While it’s nice to see Schmoozer’s the fact that there have been so many different managers of that particular facility speaks to the difficulty inherent in trying to offer kosher food without running into huge financial problems.
I’m not privy to the financial exigencies that Schmoozer’s has faced over the years – ever since it first opened under the operation of Omnitsky’s – then run by Eppy Rappaport, in 1997. At first, just like everything else associated with the Campus in its early years, Schmoozer’s was teeming with customers. Eventually though, Eppy Rappaport moved to Vancouver. I don’t recall every single manager of Schmoozer’s since, but I know that Barb and Lisa Reiss managed it for quite some time, as did Maxine Shuster – for a very long time, until it was placed under the management of Beth Jacob in 2021.
I certainly wish Joel Lafond and Jennifer Middleton of Shaarey Zedek Catering well, but I’m sure they’re aware how difficult a challenge operating Schmoozer’s in the black presents.
At the same time we haven’t had a really good kosher restaurant in Winnipeg for years, not since the closing of Desserts Plus, maybe Bermax Caffé as well.
You can still eat kosher food at the Gwen Secter Centre, also the Garden Café in the Simkin Centre, but neither of them is the kind of place where you can simply drop in and enjoy a kosher meal (although the Garden Café is open for lunch Monday to Friday).
Is the high cost of kosher food affecting the quality of food served at the Simkin Centre?
By BERNIE BELLAN From time to time I lead a discussion group at the Simkin Centre with residents there. It was when I was doing that recently that I was told something by one of the residents that quite shocked me. We were talking about the food at the Simkin Centre and I asked the residents how they liked it?
I asked residents how often they get served chicken and I was told “We get chicken, but only dark meat.” According to that resident all that the Simkin Centre serves residents are thighs and drumsticks.
I asked Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti about that and she said she’d have to get back to me after checking with the food services manager. I also asked Laurie what the daily allowance is on a per capita basis for all meals? (By way of comparison, when I did a story about kosher food in 2018 I reported that daily allowance for Simkin Centre residents – for 3 meals, snacks, and special dietary needs, was only $8.75 per day per resident.)
Here’s what Laurie wrote back to me, in response to my question: : “The last official number I have for food is from the 21/22 fiscal year and it was $9.64 per day. I know for this year as of the end of October we are over budget on food by $150,000. We must continue to fund any costs on food from our existing annual budget or through fundraised dollars. We have not had any increases from government for any operational expenses in 15 years.”
Insofar as the issue of residents being served only dark meat from chickens was concerned, in a subsequent email I received from Laurie she wrote that white chicken meat is used in chicken schnitzel served to residents.
I know I’m beating my head against the wall when I suggest that the Simkin Centre ought to allow nonkosher food to be served. When I last checked with Laurie Cerqueti, 60% of the residents at Simkin weren’t even Jewish. As for the Jewish residents, for those who would want kosher food, it could be brought in from the Gwen Secter Centre. (By the way, that idea isn’t mine. It comes from a former CEO of the Simkin Centre who also thought it was ridiculous enforcing kashrut rules at Simkin when it mattered to only a tiny fraction of its total residents.)
For that matter, residents are already allowed to bring nonkosher food into the facility, but it has to be eaten either in their rooms or in the family visiting room, so the precedent is there – it’s only a matter of taking it to the next logical level.
But I know: Kashrut is a sacrosanct element of the Simkin Centre, isn’t it? So, even if the Simkin Centre is running a huge budget deficit on food –and that money must be taken out of other operations, it’s absolutely fundamental to the Simkin Centre that it continue to serve only kosher food – even if that means residents only get white chicken meat when it’s served in schnitzel.
Winnipegger Shayna Wiwierski building up large following as beauty and lifestyle influencer
By MYRON LOVE “Growing up [in River Heights], I was always a girlie girl,” recalls social influencer Shayna Wiwierski. “I loved dressing up and doing my hair, and reading lifestyle and glamour magazines.”
In my experience, childhood interests are a good indicator of adult careers. In Wiwierski’s case, she has parlayed that passion for style and beauty into a position as a social influencer through her online blog, “A Pop of Colour.”
The daughter of Susan Engel-Wiwierski and the late David Wiwierski established A Pop of Colour in 201. Currently she has approximately 30,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram, and another 4,000 on TikTok.
Scrolling through Wiwierski’s Instagram, you will find photos and videos from her most recent vacations, her bridal shower (she is getting married in the summer of 2024), and regular daily leisure activities accompanied by beautiful photography and partnerships with various companies.
“When I started my blog, I was only offering beauty tips,” she recalls. “I have since added content focusing on lifestyle, travel, and fitness.”
In an interview she did with CTV five years ago, Wiwierski noted that, in the beginning, the costs for the beauty products that she promoted through her blog she paid for herself. Over the years though, she, as with sister social influencers, have established working relationships with companies which send her products to promote on her various social accounts.
Wiwierski points out that to be a successful social influencer requires a lot of time for setting up photo shoots, editing and posting of content, as well as monitoring the likes, comments, and overall feedback on the posts.
“I know a lot of people think social media is a super easy job to do, but it really does take a lot of time,” says Wiwierski. “From creating the content, planning the posts, and then seeing what does well and what doesn’t, there is a lot of time and effort involved if you want to be successful at it.”
Content creation isn’t Wiwierski’s full-time job. She says it’s her “5 to 9 after her 9 to 5”, as she is also the editorial director at DEL Communications Inc., a Winnipeg-based trade publication company. The company is a publisher of mostly annual industry and association magazines covering topics in a variety of niche industries.
“Although in high school [Grant Park High School], I originally wanted to be on TV, after I graduated from university in 2010, I had the opportunity to join DEL and I’ve been there ever since,” she says, adding that she has a Bachelor of Communications and Rhetoric from the University of Winnipeg and a diploma in Creative Communications from Red River Polytechnic (formerly Red River College).
For the past few years, Wiwierski has been dividing her time between Winnipeg and Montreal. She met her fiancée – who is originally from Ontario – when he was doing his residency in Winnipeg.
“Montreal is a great city,” she says. “People always ask me which one I love living in more, but I really do love both; they’re so different.”