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Jewish Child and Family Service stepping up to meet the needs of the neediest members of our community in this extraordinarily difficult time

Al Benarroch, Exec. Director, JCFS

By BERNIE BELLAN
With the Corona virus enveloping the entire world, and with seniors being among the most vulnerable members of our community, the agency whose mandate it is to provide social services to seniors in our community has been thrust into the role as the primary source of contact for many seniors – and others who rely upon social support.
Rather than being able to provide in person counseling and other services to its clientele, however, the Jewish Child and Family Service is front and centre among Jewish organizations in this city that have had to improvise how it provides its normal services.

 

 

 

 

According to Al Benarroch, Executive Director of JCFS, various staff members of JCFS have been working strenuously to try and assist in “reducing the social isolation of seniors” and other clients of JCFS who are finding themselves not only psychologically and physically isolated from the community, but often desperately in need of such things as groceries and prescription drugs.
“We’re checking in by phone for sure,” Benarroch said, “and where possible – electronically”, i.e., by computer.
“All of our staff are set up with Zoom, so they’re able to set up virtual appointments that way…With seniors we want to make sure that we’re reducing their sense of isolation. We want to make sure that they have essential services provided to them – particularly food and medications.”

In terms of how many clients JCFS is actually serving at this excruciatingly difficult time, Benarroch explained: “We’re prioritizing those that are at the highest risk for isolation. That would be our elderly. We deal with about 425-450 households in that category alone. We’re talking about 600-800 people. In that group we include our Holocaust survivors, our newcomer seniors; we have many seniors that are living with mental health issues.”
Benarroch added that “We have a lot of mental health clients who live in isolation; many of them are younger and can get out. However, this whole pandemic is going to impact them emotionally – with their anxiety. We’re checking in on them regularly – with those electronic meetings.”

Asked what JCFS is able to do in particular with respect to providing food for shut-ins, Benarroch elaborated, saying that “What we are able to do is help coordinate, make sure that we have food delivered to them. As an example, we had a client this morning who said: ‘I’m more than capable of getting out. I have some mobility issues. I can get to the grocery store through handi-transit, but I need to get home – and they won’t wait.’
“So we were able to coordinate a taxi for them to get back home. We can do this on a case by case basis. In most cases we want to follow all of the protocols in insuring that people stay socially distant, where possible stay at home.
“We have a driver right now who’s taking orders from clients for groceries. We’re placing them on line. We’re arranging pick-up and we’re dropping them off in a no-contact drop off for them, and we’re working out an invoicing system where clients will be invoiced by the agency for reimbursement.
“Certain pharmacies are still delivering, certain grocery stores have actually added delivery as an option. We’re trying to take every precaution to make sure that everyone stays safe, but everyone has what they need.”

Benarroch also cited the JCFS’s child welfare program as another facet of the agency’s mandate to provide specific services that is receiving priority attention: “It’s interesting because it’s a legally mandated service to make sure children are safe in their homes or where they’re living – that is the one program that often requires direct contact. Again though, there are government protocols how you deal with that.”
I asked Benarroch whether “you’re fielding an increase in requests for help from people who ordinarily wouldn’t be contacting you?”
He replied: “It’s too early right now to tell. We’re preparing for it in terms of whether there are more financial needs for people, whether there are more requests for accessing – for getting vital services to them. That’s why we’re one agency that has not laid people off. It’s actually very interesting to see how much we’re able to do remotely. It’s quite amazing.”

Looking ahead, Benarroch predicted that “the clients who are on our caseload are going to be receiving more check-ins than when we did face to face.
“Once we get our Passover hampers out – which is happening over the next two weeks, we’re also planning to have our volunteer coordinators do more. We’re planning on doing more of a community response to isolated seniors so that (while now) they may get one or two calls a week – “at minimum,” he explained, “one call a week from their social worker – we’re hoping that they may get one or more calls a week from the same volunteer. That will be more of a social call: ‘Hi, how are you? Would you like to have a conversation about something in the newspaper? Tell me about when you were younger…’ – things that will keep people engaged.”

Asked whether JCFS has sufficient volunteers at the present time, Benarroch stated that “We’re fielding lots of requests. We have our core volunteers, but I think we’re a very giving community. I’ve been getting lots of requests: ‘What can I give? What can I do? Is there a way I can help?’
“You know, I’ve been fielding four or five emails a day – that’s just me, from individuals saying: ‘Al, is there anything we can do?’ I just got an email from Temple Shalom saying ‘Our congregation wants to do something. What can we do?’”
“The safest thing we can do is have people make phone calls, so we’re starting to coordinate those efforts.”

(Ed. note: A day after I conducted the interview with Al Bennaroch I was contacted by a representative of the Jewish Federation who informed me that the Federation is also now in the process of organizing volunteers who can call isolated members of the community. visit the Federation website.)

At that point in our conversation I digressed into something a little more esoteric, but given Al Benarroch’s own background as an observant Jew, I thought it would be somewhat interesting for him, which was to discuss how you could say kaddish if you aren’t part of a minyan. (For more on this turn to an article on page 20 .)
Benarroch noted that a recent rabbinical ordination came out from some of “the muckety muck Sephardic rabbis in Jerusalem that said for the purposes of the seder you can bring on your elderly loved one remotely – and use the computer – under certain circumstances, so you can Zoom them into a meeting – or use something like Facetime.”

I also noted that I had been emailing with Becky Chisick (executive director of the Gwen Secter Centre) about Meals on Wheels – but that I had discovered it’s quite a bit of a rigmarole to start getting them (at least a two week wait time).
Benarroch responded that “it’s not our program, but I commend Becky for stepping up some of those opportunities to do that,” adding that “Schmoozers is still providing meals. I have seen some people come in to the building and take out.”

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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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Newly-arrived Health Sciences Centre surgeon Dr. Lev Bubis has deep roots in Winnipeg Jewish community

Dr. Lev Bubis

By MYRON LOVE Dr. Lev Bubis, the Health Sciences Centre’s new hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) surgeon, says that he and his family –wife, Amy, and four-year-old daughter, Ada, – are settling in quite nicely in their new home.
“We are really enjoying being here,” notes Bubis who arrived here in early October. “We have a house in south River Heights and we enjoyed being with the family for the High Holidays and Chanukah.”
Bubis is the grandson of the late Morris and Mae Bubis. And, although the young Bubis grew up in Ottawa – family members here include his aunts, Carol Arenson, Adrienne Katz and Harriet Rodin, and their families.
Bubis’s father, Mordy Bubis, left Winnipeg for Ottawa after university and the nation’s capital is where the young Bubis grew up.
He notes that he was interested in pursuing a career in medicine from an early age – although he first earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Kings College in Halifax. He did his medical training at Columbia University.
“I decided to specialize in liver and pancreatic medicine in third year when I got the opportunity to work with Dr. John Chabot, one of America’s leading pancreatic cancer specialist,” Bubis says.
After Columbia, Bubis relocated (in 2014) to Toronto, where he honed his surgical skills in liver and pancreatic surgery at the University of Toronto and St. Joseph’s Hospital. He did a six-year residency at the university, followed by two years of research and two more years training in surgical oncology.
Bubis (and family) arrived in our community in early October to begin his position at HSC. In an interview on the Health Sciences Centre Foundation website “Tell Your Story” section, which was published on December 21, Bubis noted that there were several factors that led him to come to HSC – in particular, the hospital’s commitment to minimally invasive surgery.
“I was attracted by the exceptional team that’s in place at HSC and by the fact that the hospital is really pushing things forward with minimally invasive surgery,” said Bubis in the HSCF interview. “This is where the HPB field is going and it is a real interest of mine. It’s exciting to me that the HSC Foundation is supporting this direction in surgery with capital investments.”
He explained that minimally invasive surgery is “an approach to surgery that typically relies on smaller incisions and instruments. Very small cameras allow surgeons to see their work on video monitors in high definition. Minimally invasive surgery means less pain for a patient, a quicker recovery, and a shorter hospital stay. Among other benefits, shorter hospital stays free up beds more quickly, which reduces the amount of time patients need to wait in the Emergency Department.”
Bubis has also had extensive training in treating neuroendocrine tumors, which can occur throughout the gastrointestinal tract, as well as elsewhere in the body. One of his specialties is the Whipple procedure, an operation to remove tumors and treat other conditions in the pancreas, small intestine and bile ducts. The complex procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gall bladder and bile duct.
Bubis points out that, at HSC, he is a member of a team that treats patients from throughout Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. He reports that he sees patients at the clinic two days a week, does surgeries one or two days a week and does some endoscopes and teaching.
He is looking forward to a lengthy stay here.

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‘Put a Yid on It!’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture!

Beyond the Pale - Feb. 8 at the Berney Theatre

By SHIRA NEWMAN – Festival Director I am thrilled to announce the inaugural year of ‘Put a Yid on It’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture, running from February 7 to 11th. I have had the great good fortune of being the producer of this event with the guidance and support of the committee which previously brought us the wonderful festival Mamaloshen.
Like a lot of Gen X-ers, I grew up hearing a smattering of Yiddish as a child, mostly in the words of my Baba. I could not speak a word of it, but when I made my first film 10 years ago, I was for some reason drawn to include Yiddish in it and I started to dive into the history of Yiddish Cinema.
A linguist I know, hearing me wondering where this desire came from, explained to me that an ancestral language will remain ‘written in our bones’ (or unconscious memory, or genes, however we may wish to see it). This resonated with me and started me down a voyage of discovery of this 1000-year-old language and culture.
It is hard to imagine that only 80 years ago eleven million people spoke, wrote, sang, and dreamt in Yiddish. It spanned throughout all of Eastern Europe and spread wherever our people travelled. Never the majority language of a nation state but the language of a pan national community of Ashkenazi Jews ‘scattered among the nations’ enriched by and enriching so many other languages and cultures while still carrying its uniqueness with it.
Since the Second World War, Yiddish has become less common but as any Yiddishist will tell you, the idea that it is dying is wrong (if not complete heresy!). And they are very right. It is spoken by many (largely in the Hassidic community) and is continually being reclaimed by more – as can be seen by talented artists of every generation who make beautiful work inspired by the Yiddish language.
Today there is a lively re-emergence of the warm, funny, poetic language – some call it a new Yiddish Renaissance in the arts, cinema, and music. There are popular films, TV shows, successful web-series, and festivals springing up everywhere. In the world of music, you can find an amazing array of bands putting their own modern spin on classical Klezmer, and others using Yiddish in everything from Punk to Metal, to Psychedelic Rock, to Hip-Hop! Put a Yid on It! Is a celebration of this trend!
On February 7th, at 7:30 pm we will be opening with a free book launch, talk, and reception at The Handsome Daughter (61 Sherbrook Street) for a brand-new book called “Yiddish Cinema: The Drama of Troubled Communication,” featuring authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrečar. This book offers a bold new reading of Yiddish cinema by exploring the early diasporic cinema’s fascination with media and communication. Jonah and Monika will discuss their book and the history of Yiddish cinema. (Snacks and drinks will be provided).
We have some amazing bands coming! On February 8th, Canadian Folk Music Award Winners, Beyond the Pale will be here from Toronto and will be playing at the Berney Theatre. They are a tremendous fun and lively Klezmer and Balkan Band who are known for their genius musicianship, experimentation, and playfulness. This is not your traditional Klezmer Band – they bring in a world of musical styles including reggae, jazz, bluegrass. Watching them play is truly a tour of world music. They will be bringing Yiddish classics and so much more!

Socalled – Feb. 10

On February 10th, we are partnering with the West End Cultural Centre to bring the brilliant and one-of-a-kind Yiddish (and English), Montreal Hip-Hop artist Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin. He will be performing with his band, which includes the mesmerizing vocalist Katie Moore, Balkan trumpet ‘God’ Nizo Alimov, and Michale Felber on bass. This is going to be an incredibly special show. His music is as evocative and moving as it is fun (and danceable).
Socalled is the star of an award-winning feature length documentary (NFB) called ‘The Socalled Movie.’ The video for his song ‘You Are Never Alone’ has been viewed more than three million times. He is truly a cultural phenomenon (and his parents are from Winnipeg!).
From February 7th to 11th, we will be presenting a series of some of the greatest Yiddish films of all time – all restored to beautiful quality. I am extremely excited to see these on a big screen for the first time! This series includes films from the 1930s, which is considered The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema such as “Yiddle with His Fiddle” (a joyful romp of a musical comedy) on February 7th, “The Light Ahead” (a poignant social commentary) on February 8th, and “The Dybbuk” (a gorgeous Yiddish ghost story) on February 10th. It will also include “Hester Street,” from 1974, (with a Yiddish speaking Carol Kane) on February 11th. All these screenings take place at 2:00 p.m. in the Berney Theatre.
On Sunday, February 11th, we will have some fun closing events! At 10 am come and join us at the Rady JCC for a bagel breakfast and a ‘Bisl’ Yiddish with Professor Itay Zutra. We will be learning some of the MOST expressive Yiddish sayings. At 3:30 pm there will be a reunion for I.L. Peretz Folk School alumni. There will be snacks and time to reminisce!
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.radyjcc.com or feel free to give me a call at 204.477.7534.

There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love… In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of a frightened and hopeful humanity.

  • Issac Bashevis Singer
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