By BERNIE BELLAN On Monday, October 3 the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg sponsored an election forum in which six of the leading mayoralty candidates were invited to participate.
As was explained by moderator Jason Gisser, the rules were that each candidate would be invited to give an introductory statement, after which he would pose a series of eight questions to the candidates.
Each candidate would be given one and a half minutes to respond to the question. Once all the candidates had responded to the question, Jason would invite two of the six candidates to add a further 20 seconds to what they had said initially.
While the format was conducive to what turned out to be a relatively genteel event, the fact that the candidates were not allowed to enter into any sort of exchanges with each other no doubt removed any opportunity for a livelier debate. Also, five other candidates for mayor were not even invited to participate.
What follows is my impression of the evening. I want to make clear that I do not support any particular candidate and have not made up my mind how I will vote. Reports that I have read to date either tend to focus on individual candidates or, when they do report on a particular election forum, are relatively truncated. Instead, as is my usual style in reporting on a fairly lengthy event, I like to offer the reader snippets of what occurred so as to give more of a flavour of what went on – without intending it to be a comprehensive repetition of what was said.
Looming over the entire evening, it must be noted, however, given the news story that the CBC had recently broken which raised questions about Glen Murray’s behaviour while he was the executive director of the Pembina Institute, was the possibility that one or another of the candidates would want to launch into some sort of attack on Murray, who is the clear front-runner according to the most recent poll.
The fact is that the only reference to that news story came at the very end of the evening when Robert-Falcon Ouellette made an obvious allusion to the story – when he told of his experience having served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 27 years. During that time, he noted, there was a strong emphasis placed on maintaining the utmost respect for moral behaviour within the armed forces.
Ouelllette went on to say that “No matter what you do at the end of the day, you need a moral leader who will stand up for what is right in our city, that there are certain actions which are unacceptable in our city and there are times as a leader you must say the truth and speak that truth.”
“And so I speak it here today and I hope people understand what it is I’m talking about because it’s certainly unacceptable for us to be here on this stage all together.” (Interestingly, the CBC story that quoted Ouellette had the spelling of that last word as “altogether.” I would suggest that would impart quite a different meaning to what he meant.)
But, that remark came late in the evening, when the candidates were invited to give closing remarks for two minutes each, and – after moderator Jason Gisser had finished posing questions to the candidates.
Prior to that time though each of the candidates certainly came across as articulate and passionate. Perhaps the one candidate who decided to try to separate herself from the pack most distinctly was Jennie Motkaluk, who took a more strident approach when, for instance, she referred at different times to “critical race theory” and “woke” attitudes. She also brought a few smiles from the other candidates when she said she really likes “growth and money.”
The first two questions that Jason Gisser posed, however, might have seemed somewhat parochial to any non-Jews in the audience (and probably a good many Jews as well). The first had to do with anti-Semitism and what each of the candidates would do to combat it if they were mayor. Would they be willing to attend a planned mayors’ conference on combating anti-Semitism? they were asked. Not surprisingly, none of the candidates came out with a position defending antisemitism.
The second question – and one that evidently caught some of the candidates off guard, was whether they would want the city to adopt the “IHRA” definition of anti-Semitism. It was clear that not all the candidates were up to speed on what the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is. I’m not quite sure what bringing it up had to do with a mayoralty contest in Winnipeg. It reminded me of the effort some years back – not just in Winnipeg, but throughout the world, to declare cities “nuclear free zones” – an interesting proposal, no doubt, but what relevance does it have to urban issues?
The next question though was very much one that has elicited a huge amount of discussion during this election: What would the candidates propose to do about poverty and homelessness?
Glen Murray said that he had practical experience combating homelessness – even prior to serving as mayor of this city, when he helped to foster a neighbourhood housing project in the Spence neighbourhood where, he said, 300 houses were built.
Shaun Loney demonstrated an especially keen knowledge of this file, citing his own background as what he described as a “social entrepreneur,” placing a strong emphasis on creating jobs. “I would add add 1,000 social enterprise jobs to Winnipeg,” he said.
As far as housing is concerned, Loney said he would create a “$100 million land trust.”
“It’s not a money problem,” he added; “it’s a system problem.”
Robert-Falcon Ouellette was somewhat dismissive of candidates’ promises to alleviate homelessness and poverty, asking whether “any of the politicians here are going to do anything but check off all the right boxes? Politicians are great at discussing things,” Ouellette suggested, but when it comes to actually doing things –well, that’s a different matter.
Later he added this observation: “Seventy-five percent of homeless people are aboriginal. They don’t need a home; they need a friend.”
Kevin Klein related his own experience growing up in poverty. His mother was actually killed by his abusive father when he was a kid, he told the audience and “I’ve lived under the poverty line a good part of my life,” he said.
As for politicians not ever doing anything but discuss things, Klein said that he personally brought forward a motion at City Hall to create “Homes for Heroes” – a project that saw a small number of homes allocated to war veterans in Winnipeg.
Scott Gillingham said that he was proud to have been involved in the effort to create a certain amount of “modular housing” for people living below the poverty line. He also said that City Council is implementing a “poverty reduction plan” that he was involved in crafting.
As for Jenny Motkaluk – she said that “the solution for poverty is a really nice job.”
“I want to bring 16,000 high paying jobs” to Winnipeg, she added.
As for homelessness, Motkaluk said “there are 780 derelict houses in this city. I want to auction them off.”
Shaun Loney added that “we need to realize that governments and not-for-profits need to work together.”
Jason Gisser asked each of the candidates to describe their “bold vision” for the future.
Jenny Motkaluk said that “the single biggest impediment to growth and investment in this city is our political leaders.”
Glen Murray said “We need to spend money on things that will make this city more beautiful.” He noted that when he was mayor three of the projects that were built during his time in office included: Waterfront Drive, the Esplanade Riel, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (He observed as well that the CMHR was a great example of all three levels of government working together.)
In contrast, he noted that the single largest project undertaken by the city since his time in office was “$200 million spent of refurbishing the Post Office.”
Shaun Loney pointed to the deterioration of Winnipeg’s “green canopy”, saying that there are 30 different organizations devoted to protecting and expanding the number of trees in the city. He said he would like to consolidate all those efforts and work hard to protect our imperiled urban canopy.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette proposed the creation of an “urban national park” within Winnipeg to add green space to the city.
Kevin Klein said that his bold vision is to make Winnipeg “safe”, noting that “We can’t attract more people here if they don’t feel safe. People won’t ride the bus if they don’t feel safe.”
The next question was about infrastructure.
Jenny Motkaluk said “We’re going to end the corruption” associated with infrastructure projects.
Glen Murray said “We need more value planning to determine whether a project will return in value what it cost to build.” He cited Waterfront Drive as a project that has paid back many times over what it cost the city to create the infrastructure for that development.
Kevin Klein did comment later though that residents of Waterfront Drive are now having to deal with a huge upsurge in break-ins.
Shaun Loney said that rather than think about expanding infrastructure we ought “to focus on the infrastructure we’ve already built.”
Robert-Falcon Ouellette cited the example of Quebec City and its transit system as something Winnipeg could emulate, saying that in that city “People really enjoy taking the bus.”
In response to that suggestion, Kevin Klein said that currently “Seven thousand people a day in Winnipeg don’t even pay for the bus.”
Scott Gillingham proposed extending the Peguis Trail and widening Kenaston Boulevard.
Jason Gisser asked about public safety and what each of the candidates would do to make Winnipeg safer.
Scott Gillingham said that as mayor he would sit on the police board. He also said that he would split up police calls so that police don’t respond to every call for service, with other personnel used in situations that would be better served by another type of emergency responder.
Shaun Loney called for a return to community based policing – with “more cops walking the beat,” adding that “people are going to continue to commit crimes unless they get the intervention they need.” He also observed that we need to “address homelessness” before we can make inroads in enhancing public safety.
After the final question was answered the candidates were allowed one final opportunity to sum up their platforms. As noted, it was then that Robert-Falcon Ouellette was the only candidate even to obliquely refer to the controversy that had recently surfaced about Glen Murray.
And, while five of the six candidates hung around afterwards to schmooze with audience members, Glen Murray took off immediately after the forum was over. I offer that not as an editorial comment – merely an observation.
Working with late night talk show stars Colbert and Stewart dream job for former Winnipegger
By Myron Love When the Jewish Post last touched base with Raffie Rosenberg in the summer of 2020, she was back in Winnipeg for a few months during the Covid lockdown reconnecting with her father, Lewis Rosenberg (her mother, the late Dr. Fran Steinberg passed away ten years ago) and other relatives while looking forward to returning to New York in the fall to continue her studies at Columbia University.
As far back as she can remember, she noted in that earlier interview, she has had her sights squarely set on a career in the entertainment industry. “I started dancing lessons when I was two years old,” she recalled. “I loved it.”
She added that her interest in the theatre was also stimulated by her parents, both of whom had been involved in the arts. Prior to pursuing a career in medicine, her mother studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. She also taught dancing and further studied dance at York University. Her dad also has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree – Theatre Design and Technology – from the University of Minnesota.
Having graduated previously (in 2016) from Western University’s Ivey School of Business, Rosenberg earned her second degree – an MFA – with a focus on theatre management and producing – from Columbia in 2022.
And she is very happy to report that, over the past two years, she has had the opportunity to work behind the scenes with two of her heroes in the entertainment business – none other than the king of late night television, Stephen Colbert, and his predecessor, Jon Stewart.
She got on with Colbert’s “The Late Show” as a production intern during her final semester at Columbia shortly after graduation from Columbia for a five-month period (January-May, 2022) and followed up on that coup by being hired as a production assistant on Stewart’s return to the air waves via Apple TV with “the Problem with Jon Stewart,” a weekly series featuring hour-long single subject episodes. The show launched in the fall of 2021. Rosenberg joined the production team in the fall of 2022.
(The show was recently cancelled.)
Those were my dream jobs,” Rosenberg notes – “to work with both Stewart and Colbert on televised shows that include elements of live theatre (such as a studio audience and band).”
She points out that entertainment internships are difficult to get – especially in late night. “The team at Colbert is really proactive about interviewing a huge number of candidates and taking a look at people from the online applicant portal,” she reports. “I got lucky and the timing was right for that internship.”
She notes that, being in an entry level role at The Late Show and at The Problem, she didn’t work with either host directly. “The staff of The Late Show is over 100 people and at The Problem there were around 60 of us,” she says, “but both Jon and Stephen are incredible bosses. They’re kind, focused, and great leaders. Even though I never worked with either directly, being able to work on their shows was a huge highlight and definitely a childhood dream come true.”
Her role was different for each of the shows – reflecting the different responsibilities in her job titles and the fact that Colbert is nightly and Stewart’s show was weekly.
“As a production assistant, I was more involved in areas such as research, working on the podcast and deeper dives into current events ,” she points out. “Also, we were working with a longer lead time on Jon’s show – which gave us more room to expand on individual subjects.”
In her independent work as a creative producer, she points out, she is more involved in sourcing funding to help get the project off the ground, crafting the narrative, working with the script writers and hiring lead actors and the director.
For the past two summers, Rosenberg has produced the Arts in Action Festivals for the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. The BAC was founded in 2016 by a group of actors and activists with the goal of using the arts to try to create as a vehicle to help create a more just world. The two-day Arts in Action festivals present workshops, performances, panels and screenings in furtherance of its goals.
With the conclusion of production for the “The Problem With Jon Stewart” last fall, Rosenberg is open to new projects – one of which is a collaboration with a couple of other Jewish artists on a coming-of-age comedy.
It would seem that Raffie Rosenberg has a bright future to look forward to in theatre and film production.
Husband and wife team of Russel and Rori Picker Neiss bringing different aspects of Jewish learning to Limmud Winnipeg
By MYRON LOVE Rori Picker and Rusell Neiss say they are excited about their upcoming first visit to Winnipeg. The couple, Jewish educators – originally from New York, who have been living and working in St. Louis for the past ten years – will be here on the weekend of March 9-10 – as presenters at our community’s 14th annual Limmud Fest.
Russel Neiss is promising Limmud attendees that those attending his presentation will be in the first audience to view the digitized version of “The Story of Purim,” an award winning Jewish educational filmstrip which is part of a recently rediscovered lost cache produced by the NY Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s.
“We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the last 70 year,” notes Russel Neiss.
Russel is a 2005 graduate of City University of New York. The recipient – in 2020, of the prestigious Covenant Award (which recognizes educators who have made a noticeable impact on Jewish lives through innovative educational practices and models), served for several years as vice-principal of a Jewish day school in the New York area.
In 2014, Russel changed careers. He became a software engineer specializing in the development of software programming for Jewish educators for an organization called Sefaria. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to digitizing the entire body of Jewish religious writings in order to make them available so that anyone can engage with the textual treasures of our tradition.
“A couple of years ago,” he reports, “I came across a cache of film strips produced by the New York Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s. These films would have been shown to students in the 1950s and ‘60s. They have not been viewed for more than 60 years.”
At Limmud, he will be showing a film called “The Story of Purim.” “We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the years,” he says.
His second presentation – on Sunday afternoon – will focus on “what the atheist computer scientist Richard Stallman can teach us about how Torah learning can thrive in the world today while delving into the interplay between Hacker Culture, the Free Software Movement and the teachings of great Jewish thinkers like Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.”
Rori Picker Neiss will also be doing two presentations – one of which will be a study of leadership as exhibited by Moshe Rabbenu in the matter of the Golden Calf. For those who may not know or remember the story in the Torah, some days after leaving Egypt, Moshe climbed Mount Sinai to commune with Hashem. After some time had gone by and he didn’t return, the frightened Hebrews, believing that he wasn’t coming back, gathered together everything they had that was made of gold and created a golden calf to worship – an act of blasphemy that resulted in severe divine consequences – including the Israelites having to wander in the desert for 40 years until the last of the offending generation had died out.
“What we can take away from this episode,” Rori observes, “and what Hashem made clear to Moshe- is that leadership is not about the leader and fame and glory. Leadership should be about doing what is in the best interests of the people.”
Her second presentation will be an exploration of what the early rabbis thought about Jesus and Christianity as seen through a censored Rabbinic passage.
Rori Picker Reiss has the distinction of being one of the first half dozen Orthodox women to be ordained – through the Yeshivat Maharat organization – founded in 2009 – to serve as clergy.
“I welcomed the opportunity to study Talmud and our religious texts,” she says of her decision to enroll in the Maharat program. ‘My ordination presented me with a number of different ways to serve our community.”
In St. Louis Maharat Rori served as Director of Programming, Education and Community Engagement at the modern Orthodox Bais Abraham Congregation. She was also Rabbi in Residence at Holy Communion Episcopal Church, chair of the cabinet of Interfaith partnership of Greater St. Louis and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Previously, she worked as acting Executive Director for Religions for Peace-USA, program coordinator for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, assistant director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and secretary for the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.
While there may be some among the Orthodox community who may be uncomfortable with the concept of women serving as clergy, Rori reports that she was generally well-received in St. Louis and was able to build many relationships both within the Orthodox and the wider communities.
Rori and Russel have recently moved back to New York City where Rori has been appointed the Senior Vice-President for Community Relations for the Jewish Council for Public affairs.
Three organization join forces to mount Mission to Israel in May
By BERNIE BELLAN In response to many requests received from members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community to organize a volunteer mission to Israel, for the first time ever three different organizations have joined together to organize just such a mission – from May 20-28.
Titled “HINENI 2024,” the mission is being mounted by the Jewish National Fund, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, and Bridges for Peace.
The mission will include five days of intensive volunteering and visits to various sites in Israel. It will also include three meals a day and ground transportation.
There will be an information night at the Asper Campus on February 28 but, in advance of that information night, we contacted JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan Executive Director David Greaves to ask whether he could provide some details about the planned mission prior to that information meeting and describe how it all came about.
Greaves said that both the JNF and the Federation were thinking of organizing missions in May, so it was only natural that they would combine efforts.
“The Federation has organizational experience, and they’ll be able to handle the registration process,” Greaves explained, while “the JNF will be able to handle the logistics on the ground,” such as arranging accommodation, transportation, and meals.
And Bridges for Peace was able to step up and negotiate some very good pricing for air fares for anyone who would want to fly on specific flights – details for which will be announced in the coming days. (Greaves noted that flights have not been included as part of the package as many individuals indicated that they wanted to make their own arrangements getting to Israel.)
Yet, unlike any other mission that the JNF has mounted in years past, Greaves wanted to make it clear that the May mission will be a “volunteer” mission, during which participants will be expected to “be on their feet four-five hours a day” engaging in tasks whose exact nature is still being formulated – in conjunction with various Israeli organizations.
“We’re looking at volunteering primarily in the south,” Greaves said, including picking fruit and vegetables. As of this moment, he added: “We’re still investigating various volunteer possibilities.”
Included in the mission tentatively, accordiing to Greaves, will be visits to the site of the Nova music festival, where 364 primarily young Israelis were massacred (along with 40 abducted), as well as visits with families of hostages and a visit with the mayor of Sderot.
As far as accommodation is concerned, Greaves wanted to make it clear that mission participants will not be staying in four or five star hotels.”Most likely they will be three star hotels,” he noted. And, when you take into account the cost of providing three meals a day along with bus transportation and other ancillary costs, Greaves suggested that the mission cost, which will be no more than $3,000 (exclusive of air fare), is quite reasonable, especially when you take into account typical costs associated with visiting Israel and the relatively low Canadian dollar. As well, Greaves said that couples travelling together will probably pay somewhat less per person – around $2500 per person, he suggested is likely.
I asked Greaves how many people they were hoping to have participate in the mission. He said that they’re looking at around 40. Although it would be great if there were a larger response, he added, the logistics of having to hire an additional bus would make it difficult to plan a mission with two buses unless the number of participants warranted that.
“If response is overwhelming, we’d get a second bus,” he added though.
I asked Greaves whether there are JNF missions of a similar nature being planned in other Canadian cities and he said there were – “in Toronto and Vancouver,” but he also wanted to emphasize that they are both being planned locally – unlike every other JNF mission, which has always been planned at the national level – until now.
In addition to the combined organizational efforts of the JNF, Jewish Federation, and Bridges for Peace, five Winnipeg congregations are also lending their support to the mission, helping to promote it among their respective congregants.
If you would like to obtain further information about the mission and are unable to attend the February 28 information evening, contact either David Greaves at the JNF at email@example.com or Abby Flackman at the Jewish Federation at firstname.lastname@example.org.