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Israeli-born Winnipeg teen wins gold at national pairs figure skater competition

YOHNATAN ELIZAROV with his
skating partner AVA KEMP

By MYRON LOVE Yohnatan Elizarov may well be on the threshold of a dream career. Fresh from winning his first Canadian national pairs figure skating competition – with partner Ava Kemp – in Calgary – in the novice division, the Israeli-born, Winnipeg-raised 18-year-old figure skater says that he would love to have the opportunity to skate with The Ice Capades or Disney On Ice – or emulate Garrett Gosselin, one of the choreographers he has worked with, and appear in a skating show on cruise ships.

But while those may be potential career options, he adds that at this early stage he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
Elizarov, who lives with his parents. Elena and German, and younger brothers, Sean, 11, and Jamie, six, has been skating almost since the family arrived in Winnipeg from Haifa when he was five years old. He notes that his mother was passionate about skating – having skated in her native Russia when she was a kid. Her family moved to Israel when she was 14 – bringing an end to her skating dreams.
(There was only one ice rink in Israel at that time.)
“My mom wanted me to learn to skate,” Elizarov recalls, “and I quickly came to enjoy it.”
For the first while, the skating lessons were just about skating. Elena Elizarov notes that most boys – after they learn to skate – gravitate to hockey. One of the coaches in the CanSkate program, howeve,r approached her about enrolling Yohnatan in figure skating instead.
You could say that the kid took to the art like a duck to water. Four years ago, he qualified for the first time for a national competition in his age group – the first Manitoban to have done so in quite some time.
To qualify for the Nationals, he points out, skaters have to first excel at provincial sectional competition and then at a Skate Canada Challenge where they need to place in the top 18 in Novice/Junior/Senior level to qualify for the Nationals. Skate Canada Challenge locations usually change every year (although the competition hasn’t been held in Manitoba in recent years). Yohnatan competed in Skate Canada Challenge competitions in Montreal, Edmonton and, most recently, in Regina. In the most recent national competition, held earlier this year in Ottawa, Elizarov finished ninth out of a field of 18 in the Junior Men discipline.
Last summer, the young skater opted to try pairs skating. He says that he had been considering the idea for a while. Before connecting with Ava Kemp, Elizarov had tried partnering with another girl, but she had a different coach and trained in Virden, which made practices together rather difficult. In Ava Kemp, Elizarov has a partner who lives in the same part of the city and now shares the same coach.

The challenge, Elena Elizarov adds, is to find the right partner in terms of relative size, location and skills level.
“I was at first hesitant about working with another person in my space,” Elizarov admits. “I am more comfortable with that now.”
He notes that he and his partner balance each other emotionally as well. “I alleviate the stress of competing by calming myself whereas Ava gets more excited,” he explains. “We communicate very well.”
Elizarov reports that he puts in about 20 hours a week in training – which includes about 15 hours of on-ice practice. (That is in addition to his university classes in computer science.) “Upper body strength is very important in pairs for the male skater,” he says. “My upper body strength is now three to four times stronger than when I was skating solo.”
In addition to training here at home, Yohnatan and Ava will be spending the summer training at the Canadian Ice Academy in Mississauga. As Elena points out, in Manitoba there is not a lot of competition for pairs skaters.
“If you want to be able to compete with the best, you have to train with the best,” she says, ‘and the best pairs skaters are in Ontario and Quebec.”
As fans of figure skating are no doubt aware, what skaters do on ice becomes a major production. Not only does the coach prepare the skaters for the actual physical skating, but he or she also chooses the choreographer, music and costumes.
Elizarov notes that in his single skating career, he was partial to Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good”. His new singles short program is “Movement” by the musician, Hozier. His and Ava’s new pairs short program will be choreographed by Asher Hill and the music is “Anything You can do” from the musical “Annie Get your Gun”. Their pairs free program was choreographed last year by Garrett Gosselin to “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman”.
Elizarov reports that his favourite moves are the lift and the twist. In the latter, he throws his partner into the air as high as he can, where she does a compete double twist before he catches her. In the lift, he holds her over his head while he is skating and she is stretched out in various positions.
“Both the moves are cool,” he says.
As to the judging, he points out that judges have a system in which they award or subtract points based on such skills as the distance between the skaters, how high the male skater throws the female, difficulty of the elements, and how effortless and easy the dance appears.
Having won the novice division in pairs, the Winnipeg skating pair are hoping to be selected to join SkateCanada’s NextGen team with the potential for international competitions.
Having found success in pairs skating, Elizarov says that he is considering cutting back on his singles efforts and focusing more on pairs. “I want to see where it goes,” he says. “I am thinking maybe I will skate for a few more years, then transition into coaching.”
In fact, he is already doing some coaching of younger skaters – one of whom is his little brother, Jamie.
Or maybe he will get that call from Stars On Ice.

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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!
festiv
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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