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JCFS report: Older adult, addictions cases continue to add heavily to JCFS workload

Al Benarroch
Executive Director, JCFS

By BERNIE BELLAN Since the first lockdown as a result of Covid was imposed on Manitobans in March 2020 I’ve been reporting on how various organizations within our community have been adjusting to the new demands placed upon them both by clients and governmental authorities that monitor their activities.

Of the two organizations that have had to adjust the most – Gray Academy and Jewish Child and Family Service, while Gray Academy has certainly had to make wholesale changes in how it delivers services, it’s been JCFS that’s seen the most marked increase in demand for its services.

In July 2020 I reported that JCFS had received an allocation from the Jewish Federation for the 2021-22 fiscal year of $880,600, which represents an increase of $65,300 over the 2020-21 fiscal year.
In addition, JCFS had received a one-time increase in allocations of $185,000 as a result of an initiative taken by Jewish Federations of North America to provide increased funding to Jewish family service agencies.
Other information that I noted in my July report included mentioning that JCFS saw an increase of 66 older adult cases during the 2020-21 fiscal year (which ended March 31, 2021), along with a 40% increase in cases where addictions played a role.

With that information in mind, I spoke recently with JCFS Executive Director Al Benarroch, to talk about how JCFS has been coping with its increased workload and to ask whether he’s seen anything particularly new developing in terms of who is most in need of help from JCFS within our community.
Al began by noting that “We’ve been one of the more consistent agencies in the city. We’ve been well funded so that we could continue to provide a seamless service to clients.”
I asked Al whether there are any plans to have JCFS workers see more clients in person now that the provincial government has eased the restrictions on face to face contact among individuals who are double vaccinated?
“Now that the government” is modifying its rules for person to person contact, Al said, “we’re looking at a reopening plan. Over 90% of our work since April 2020 has been done remotely.”
The exceptions to that pattern have been child and family service care cases and some senior and Holocaust survivor cases – where it has been necessary to have some in person contact, Al explained.
I asked Al whether JCFS staff have been surveyed to see who’s been vaccinated?
He said that has not been the case (at the time of this interview), but that it will be a government requirement – for both staff and clients, if they are going to be coming into JCFS offices at some point.
As far as staff go, Al did note that the consensus among staff is that, while there “are aspects of their job they want to do from home, there are other things they prefer or need to do in the office.”
As a result, JCFS is looking at having staff come into the office on a rotating basis in the near future.

With reference to the allocations that JCFS received from the Jewish Federation for the fiscal year that ended, along with the special allocation from Jewish Federations of North America, Al noted that the funds received from both sources “made us the top receiving agency” of all the Federation’s 12 beneficiary agencies. (In my July 2021 report I noted that total revenues for JCFS in 2020-21 were $3,490,076, which included revenues received from sources other than the Jewish Federation.)
Also in my July report I noted that JCFS had taken on 66 new older adult cases during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Since the end of March, 2021 JCFS has taken on another 24 older adult cases.
As a result, JCFS has hired a new social worker on a one-year term who is working with older adults. That brings the total complement of social workers working on older adult cases to six, Al said, not including the Manager of Older Adult Services, Cheryl Hirsch-Katz, who supervises that program.
Many of the individuals who are now clients of JCFS are what Al described as “younger” seniors. “What we found is that the general age of these individuals was younger as a result of isolation,” Al explained, with many of the individuals having shown “a real decline” within the past year and a half.
Since the hiring of Danielle Tabacznik as JCFS “Senior Cconcierge” in April 2020 (a 2-year pilot program of the Jewish Federation), Danielle has been in contact with “over 230 seniors who are not connected to any programs in the Jewish community,” Al explained, many of whom have been suffering greatly from being isolated. As a result, half of JCFS’s new older adult clients have been referred through Danielle.

As far as other aspects of JCFS services go, Al made the following observations:
“Our caseload for children in foster care has declined.” This is in keeping with the “new approach” taken with family service agencies, which are “trying to engage families collaboratively”.
“The general trend within the province”, he added, is that while “the number of children in foster care is down”, “the number of families we’re working with is up…The system is much more proactive in reunifying children with their families…When we do have kids come into care, it’s a result of more dire indicators.”
In addition, a number of families from outside the Jewish community are referred to JCFS where there’s a “conflict of interest situation” where, for instance, one of the parents might be employed by another family services agency so that agency would not be able to become involved.

The headline for this article also refers to an increase in addictions cases for JCFS. Since the end of March 2021, six new addictions cases have been added to JCFS’s caseload, Al noted.
“Addiction is a disease of isolation and disconnection. The inability to non-communicate with others creates unbearable pressures for addicts,” he said.
The JCFS addictions program, however, which is now 10 years old, will be losing its coordinator, Ivy Kopstein, who has been coordinating the program since its inception, when she retires in October.
“She’s done so much to develop our program and raise awareness in our community” (of addictions), Al added.

In the area of mental health, Al said that “We pride ourselves that our mental health program has increased” – with the addition of eight new cases since the beginning of April. It means that people are reaching out for help.
One particular area of focus has been “in getting seniors to medical appointments and vaccinations.” Many seniors and clients with mental health concerns have been averse to taking public transit, but can’t really afford to take taxis. With a special grant from the Jewish Foundation, JCFS has been able to ensure that those senior clients are able to be transported safely to their medical appointments.
“There’s less stigma attached to mental health issues” now, Al observed, since Covid has raised awareness of just how much mental health has been adversely affected for so many individuals.

Finally, I asked Al whether there’s anything new to report about a new addictions facility – which has been talked about for years.
He responded that JCFS is awaiting the results of a consultant’s feasibility report on the business aspects of creating a sober-living facility “for Jewish people coming out of (drug) rehab” so that they can learn more recovery skills, and don’t have to re-enter society immediately.
“What we’ve found to be effective is that when people coming out of rehab can practice real world skills for an extended time, their chances for success are much better,” Al observed.
What is envisioned is “a Jewish milieu – not unlike a kid entering Gray Academywhere clinical services will be supplemented by Jewish cultural and spiritual supports,” he said, in closing.

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RBC freezes client’s bank account by mistake – and keeps it frozen without explanation

By BERNIE BELLAN (June 14, 2024) What would you do if, one day, you tried to use your debit card to pay for something or to take a cash withdrawal – and the card didn’t work? But then, after contacting your bank to try and find out why that’s happening, you’re simply told your account is frozen – without any further explanation? And, only after deducing that the bank froze the account of the wrong individual, does the bank finally admit its error.
Such was the case recently with an RBC client who happened to be a relative of mine and who enlisted my help in trying to figure out why their account had been frozen by RBC.

On May 1 I was contacted by my relative asking for my help. They couldn’t understand why their debit card wasn’t working. They told me that their card had stopped working five days prior. (It should be explained this individual does not have sophisticated knowledge how to deal with a problem of this sort and they simply thought there was a glitch in using their card that would be corrected in short order by the bank.)

After several days of not being able to use their card, my relative explained, they had phoned RBC on April 30, but were not offered any explanation as to why their account had been frozen. They were told, however, that the matter was in the hands of a Vancouver branch of RBC. My relative was even further puzzled. They lived in Winnipeg and had never even been to Vancouver. What did their account being frozen have to do with a Vancouver branch of RBC, they wondered?

The day my relative contacted me, I told them to come over to my house and that I would try and get an RBC customer service representative on the phone to obtain some sort of explanation as to why their account had been frozen. After getting an RBC customer service representative on the phone and explaining who I was, I asked permission to listen in on the conversation between my relative and the RBC customer service representative. The customer service representative agreed to allow that, but during the course of the conversation they said they were not able to offer any information as to why the RBC client’s card had been frozen.
Both my relative and I were totally puzzled. RBC had frozen their account but would offer no explanation for why that had happened.

Later that day, however, my relative contacted me again to say that they wondered whether it was possible their account had been frozen by mistake because they had the same name as another relative? That other individual does live in Vancouver, so it began to make sense to me. I don’t know that individual well, but was able to contact them after getting their phone number from someone who knew them.
I phoned that person but just got their voice messaging, so I left a message asking them to call me. In a few minutes that individual did call me back and did say, not only that they had an RBC account, but that they had some legal issues related to debts (without going into specifics).

Immediately it occurred to me that my Winnipeg relative’s account had been frozen by mistake and that it was this Vancouver relative whose account was the one RBC had intended to freeze.

I phoned RBC back again and said that it was apparent RBC had frozen the account of the wrong individual. When I gave a detailed explanation of what evidently had happened, this time the RBC customer service representative told us to go down to the branch where my relative does their banking, where we would be met by a banking representative.

At the branch we met with a very nice RBC representative who said they had been brought up to speed as to what had happened. The bank representative explained that my relative’s account had been frozen as the result of a court order that had been issued in Vancouver to freeze the account of someone with the same name. The representative said that my relative could still not use their debit card to access cash, but the representative would be able to give them cash that they could use until their account was unfrozen.

At that time I suggested that what RBC had done was an outrageous mistake and that RBC ought to offer compensation to my relative. The branch representative said RBC was willing to waive bank fees for my relative for six months – apparently worth something in the order of $80 altogether.
The representative also gave me the name of the law firm that had applied for the court order that had led to the wrong account being frozen.

I contacted that law firm the same day and explained what had happened to a lawyer from the firm. The lawyer told me that the court order that had been applied for and had been issued by a court specifically gave the number of the bank account that was to be frozen. The lawyer sent me a copy of the bank order.

It was apparent that someone at RBC had made a huge mistake. They had ignored the order to freeze a specific account belonging to a specific RBC client and instead had frozen the account of a totally different RBC client who happened to have the same name!
When I discovered how egregious a mistake RBC had made – after reading the court order, I contacted the same RBC branch representative who had offered to freeze the fees on my relative’s account and said that my relative expected a lot more in compensation for such an outrageous mistake than simply having bank fees waived for six months.

On May 22, the RBC branch representative wrote in an email to me:
“Your request for compensation has also been escalated to our RBC client care department. They will reach out directly.”

On June 11 we contacted the branch representative to say that my relative had not heard anything from the client care department. On June 12 the branch rep wrote to me to say that an RBC client care representative had indeed attempted to contact my relative – both via phone and email. The phone number that was given in the email though was no longer in service and when we checked with our relative they said they hadn’t received an email.

On June 12 we emailed the RBC client care representative to ask them to attempt to contact our relative again. We did not hear back from that representative. To date our relative says they have not heard anything from the client care representative.

The upshot is RBC made a huge mistake and froze an account of the wrong individual – causing them distress and frustration, and only after we were able to figure out what had led to the wrong account being frozen, did RBC unfreeze the account. And, even though we asked for compensation over a month ago, no response has been received from RBC.

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Record crowd of 50,000 turns out for pro-Israel Toronto event

By DAVE GORDON (June 11, 2024 / JNS) More than 50,000 pro-Israel people turned out for the UJA Walk with Israel in Toronto on Sunday, a record turnout for the event which is in its 55th year.
Adam Hummel, a lawyer in Toronto, told JNS that it was “remarkable and uplifting to see so many Jews come together” this year for the 5K walk (about 3 miles.)
“I was dumbstruck how many people were gathered and feeling the energy and community, especially when we have been struck by so much sorrow,” Hummel said.
Although it seemed in prior years that people attended out of inertia, this year was different, according to Hummel.
“It felt like people needed to be there,” he said. “Because of everything we have gone through as a community, and what Israelis went through, people needed to show up to stand with Israel.”
The event, a project of the UJA Federation of Toronto, moved from the heavily-Jewish neighborhood at the Bathurst Street corridor at Lawrence Avenue to the Federation’s Sherman Campus, which was rebuilt several years ago. 
Guidy Mamann also told JNS that this year’s event felt different.
“I’ve been to many, many walks for Israel since I was a kid,” the Toronto lawyer said. “Normally, people go because they want to have fun and see old faces, but I think this year it was driven by a need to go.”
“There was a sense of needing to go to this walk-a-thon because of the trauma we’ve been through together,” he said. “We needed to feel each other and see each other in large numbers. I think the community really needed that.”
Brendan Shanahan, president of the Maple Leafs, the Toronto hockey team, and the singer Montana Tucker, who sang the Israeli national anthem, were among the celebrities present.
“We are thrilled by the overwhelming support for the walk this year from our community and our friends and neighbors across Greater Toronto,” stated Jeff Rosenthal, chair of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “To see a record-breaking turnout this year speaks volumes about our community’s pride, resilience and determination to show our city who we are and what we stand for.”
Exceptions for Jews
Michael Kerzner, the solicitor general of Ontario, and Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, attended the event. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Olivia Chow, Toronto’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor, reportedly were not present.
Chow, who had skipped what she called a “divisive” annual Israeli flag raising at City Hall the prior month, said in an interview with a popular Toronto radio station on Monday morning that she had a prior commitment and couldn’t attend Sunday’s event.
“She wasn’t missed,” said David Burstein, a Toronto dentist.
“It was one of the most outstanding communal Jewish experiences of my life, and I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life. The energy was fantastic,” Burstein told JNS. “The fact that they got the four hostages out the day before, really helped morale and added to the joy of the day.”
Kevin Vuong, a federal politician of Chinese descent, told JNS that he was disappointed that Chow skipped the pro-Israel event, which she attended previously as a federal politician.
Vuong noted that Chow told the Jewish community that “you’re never alone” after a shooting at the Jewish girls’ elementary school Bais Chaya Mushka in Toronto in late May.
Chow’s statement implied that “she stood with Toronto’s Jewish community,” Vuong said. “She lied.”
“It’s clear that if it was any other community, she’d have been there. No mayor, nor prime minister for that matter, would skip an event attended by 50,000 Canadians,” Vuong added. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Oct. 7, these so-called leaders make exceptions when it comes to Jews.”
Vuong and his wife attended the event “to show our support for Jews both here at home in Canada and abroad, and that meant walking the talk and walking the walk.”
‘I was shocked at the depravity’
The politician had harsh words for the hundreds of pro-Hamas demonstrators, who used bullhorns and loudspeakers to broadcast anti-Israel chants and Islamic prayers and who reportedly sought to enter a place where the event was taking place and had to be barred by law enforcement.
“One thing I couldn’t believe was that pro-Hamas supporters brought in speakers and blared the rocket sirens that go off when Israel is under attack,” Vuong told JNS. “I was shocked at the depravity that someone would think to do that in the hopes of triggering participants.”
“Sadly, I was not surprised when other counter-protesters gave up all pretenses and started cheering outright for Hamas,” he added.
Hummel, the Toronto lawyer, called the protesters “pathetic, paltry and sinister.”
“We celebrate life and they clearly do not. We were there in blue and white with our children, singing songs about life. There was a world of difference,” he told JNS. “They were wearing black and had their faces covered.”
“They stood with swastika signs. Repulsive and pathetic,” he added. “The visuals could not have been starker of what we’re fighting for, and what we are fighting against.”
Mamann, the other Toronto lawyer, told JNS that some of the protesters tailed Jewish community members after the event in a harassing way.
“These people come clear across town and out of town to disrupt us. The police were on our side. But at the end of the day, the protection doesn’t finish when the walk finishes,” he said. “There are thousands of people trying to make it home, and there is still work to do.”
Ali Siadatan was among the non-Jewish Canadians of Iranian descent who participated in the event to voice their support for the Jewish state.
“I stand with Israel because I wish to live in a free world. Israel is at the epicenter of a global ideological war,” Siadatan told JNS. “Israel’s victory will push back the forces of Islam and Marxism. Israel’s defeat would encourage these very forces to explode in the West and in Canada.”
“Even the future of Iran very much depends on the victory or defeat of Israel against the regional forces of Islamic militancy,” Siadatan added.
At the end of the walk, JNS caught up with the rapper Nissim Black, who performed at the festival, which also had kid-friendly activities and musical performances.
“Incredible energy,” Black told JNS. “It was so special seeing all those people together celebrating Eretz Hakodesh,” the Holy Land.

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Women Wage Peace to hold Zoom meeting in June

The late Viivan Silver z"l

We received the following email about a group that will be holding a formative meeting via Zoom this month:

Dear Friends,
Many of you may have heard of the Israel-based group called Women Wage Peace
(WWP) – Nashim Osot Shalom, which Vivian Silver (z”l) helped found ten years ago.
Some may have read the recent article about the group by Sharon Chisvin in the
Winnipeg Free Press. The group now has over 50,000 members, many all over the
world, for example, in Germany, Australia, the UK. The group is non-political and nonsectarian.
There are Jewish, Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Muslim, Christian and secular
women (and some men) across the political spectrum. It has partnered with a
Palestinian Women’s Group called Women of the Sun, and the heads of the two groups
made Time Magazine’s list of women of the Year – ‘extraordinary leaders who fight for a
more equitable future”. We just learned that Vivian has been posthumously awarded
the Hessian Peace Prize in Germany for her efforts.
WWP believes in the active participation of women through all stages of negotiations
and that we all have common interests, desires and needs for a peaceful resolution of
the conflict. WWP recognizes the need for diverse voices; the more partners there are
in the process, the greater the chances of achieving a long-lasting peace.
We are writing to you now, as we are setting up a group in Winnipeg, to support and
amplify the work of this remarkable organization. Please let us know whether you
would like to be involved with a Winnipeg/prairie group. We welcome input from all of
you.

There will be an initial Zoom meeting on June 18 at 7 pm to give everyone a chance to get to know one another and to brainstorm. Even if you are too busy to be an active participant, your support, both moral and financial, will help. And, if you know others who would be interested, please let them know about this initiative.
A major goal of WWP is to implement activities aimed at promoting the vision of a
shared society and co-existence.
Shalom/Peace/Salaam-
Esther Blum and Chana Thau
Please RSVP to wwpwinnipeg@gmail.com as to whether you would like your name to be added to our mailing list as a potential member or to follow WWP events, also to obtain the link to the Zoom meeting.
For more info on WWP, go to www.womenwagepeace.org.il

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