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Jewish population of Winnipeg shows slight increase in past 10 years – but 2021 census does not give definitive answers as to what the size of our Jewish population really is

By BERNIE BELLAN The number of individuals in Winnipeg who report that their ethnic origin is Jewish has declined somewhat from the number reported in the 2011 National Household Survey (which was the last reliable report on the ethnic and religious composition of Canada produced by StatsCan).
However, set against the decline in the number of Winnipeggers who reported their ethnic origin as Jewish was a marked increase in the number that reported their ethnic origin was Israeli.



The number of individuals who reported their religion was Jewish also showed a very slight increase from 2011 to 2021.
Those are some of the most significant findings from the latest release of detailed information from the 2021 census, which came on October 26, when StatsCan released a whole trove of documents about immigration and ethnicity – with statistics about religion at the very end of the document release.

According to the 2021 census, 11,745 individuals in Winnipeg reported their ethnic origin as Jewish. In 2011 the figure was 12,005. However, considering that 1,435 individuals reported their ethnic origin was Israeli (as opposed to a total of 340 in 2011), when you add the two figures together the total comes to 13,180.

As for religion, the number of Winnipeggers who said their religion was Jewish stood at 10,740 in 2011. The 2021 census reported the number as 10,835, an increase of 95.

We have been waiting anxiously for the results of the 2021 census ever since results from the 2016 census were so wildly inconsistent with all previous census results when it came to showing that the number of Jews, not only in Winnipeg, but everywhere in Canada, had declined precipitously.

As we have been reporting repeatedly ever since results of the 2016 census were published, the reason for what were considered aberrant results in the 2016 census was that, for the first time, “Jewish” was not listed among the 20 choices for ethnic ancestry in that census. Instead, one would have had to write in “Jewish” as an answer. As a result, even StatsCan conceded that the low number of individuals who responded that their ethnic origins were Jewish was unrealistically low.
In the 2016 census also, the likelihood is that a number of respondents who might otherwise have responded “Jewish” if it had been given in the list of examples of ethnic origin, instead likely chose “Canadian,” since Canadian was one of the 20 examples listed.

As a report from StatsCan noted, “After the 2016 Census, concerns were raised that changes to the list of examples of ethnic and cultural origins included as part of the question were affecting response patterns. Concerns were also raised about the wordiness of the question, which made it difficult for certain people to read and respond to the question.”
StatsCan went on to explain that “respondents were more likely to report an origin when it was included in the list of examples and, conversely, less likely to report an origin if it was not included in the list.”

As a result, StatsCan made major changes to how ethnic origin was tabulated in the 2021 census. The question that was asked was the same as what had been asked in previous censuses: “What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person’s ancestors?”
That question was followed by a further explanation:
“Ancestors may have Indigenous origins, or origins that refer to different countries, or other origins that may not refer to different countries.

But the 2021 census, which was required to be filled out online, actually gave a link to “a list of over 500 examples of ethnic and cultural origins,” of which both “Jewish” and “Israeli” were among the choices. 
One might well wonder though whether many recent immigrants to Winnipeg who might be considered ostensibly Jewish might also have filled in different ethnic origins, especially individuals with Eastern European roots. (There was only room for one answer to the question about ethnic origins.)

But then we run up against the issue of the relatively low number of individuals who said their religion was “Jewish” in the 2021 census.
The religion question that appeared in the 2021 Census, “What is this person’s religion?” was the same as the one that was asked in the 2011 National Household Survey and in the 2001 and 1991 censuses. It also had the same basic format: there was a write-in box in which respondents could report their religion, as well as a mark-in circle for indicating “No religion.”

Thus, while one might posit that a certain number of immigrants to Winnipeg might have Jewish roots, if they didn’t answer that their ethnic origins were either “Jewish” or “Israeli” and they also didn’t indicate that their religion was “Jewish”, is it fair still to consider them Jewish?
In an interview I conducted in August with Faye Rosenberg-Cohen, who is about to retire as the Jewish Federation’s Chief Planning and Allocations Officer, I asked Faye how many immigrants make up the Jewish population of Winnipeg now?
Faye responded: “I can honestly say when I look at those numbers it’s somewhere around 1/3 of the community.”
JP&N: “So you’d say it’s somewhere between 4-5,000?”
Faye: “I think it’s more than that.”
If what Faye said was true then the Jewish community would number at least 15,000.
I indicated my skepticism at that time, saying “You know that I’ve always been skeptical about the numbers that have been used by the Federation for the population of the Jewish community. I think though that it’s always been more of a case of identification – who identifies as Jewish?”

In the final analysis, there is nothing in what StatsCan has just reported that would back up the notion that our Jewish population here is over 15,000. Yet, there is one more possibility that might allow the Jewish Federation to argue that our population is closer to 15,000. That will require a more detailed analysis comparing the results for respondents who said their religion was “Jewish” but their ethnic origin was not.

Following the 2011 National Household Survey, which was the first census that showed a sizeable drop in the size of our Jewish population, I entered into an email exchange with a statistician from StatsCan as to whether it was possible that our Jewish population was much larger than 12,010, which was how many respondents indicated their ethnic origin was Jewish back in 2011.

That statistician did a much deeper analysis of the data than was available to me. He showed that of the 10,740 individuals who said their religion was Jewish, only 7,885 reported that their ethnic origin was Jewish. That was a difference of 2,885. (Clearly there have been a lot of converts within our community). If you added those respondents who said their religion was Jewish, but not their ethnic origin, to the number of respondents who said their ethnic origin was Jewish, you came up with a figure of 14,885. That figure would have been much closer to what the Federation was saying was the size of our Jewish population in 2011.

Is it important? Well, as I’ve been arguing for years, if our Federation is basing its plans for the future on a notion that our Jewish population is much bigger than what is really the case, then those plans are misguided.
Gray Academy has far fewer students than was the case just ten years ago. Brock Corydon, the only other school that offers any sort of an exposure to a Jewish curriculum, also has fewer Jewish students than used to be the case. The Simkin Centre has a very high proportion of non-Jewish residents. Our synagogues have lost huge numbers of members. None of these changes would be reflective of a growing Jewish population.

However, as I’ve just noted, there is a very real possibility that our Jewish population is closer to the figure of 15,000 – which is the figure commonly cited by spokespersons for the Federation. In order to find out though whether that is the case, we’ll need someone at StatsCan to do a similar analysis of data that was done at my request following the 2011 National Household Survey. I’ve already sent a request to StatsCan for a more comprehensive analysis of the answers to the questions about ethnic origin and religion, similar to what was done for me by a StatsCan analyst following the 2011 National Household Survey. We’re hoping to have further answers to the question of how many Jews there are in Winnipeg in a future issue – if we hear back from someone at StatsCan.

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Allocations to Beneficiary Agencies of Jewish Federation largely unchanged from previous year

By BERNIE BELLAN I’ve been reporting on allocations given to the 12 beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation for over 10 years now. I have also been producing tables each year to show how much allocations have gone up or down over the years, but I’ve simply run out of room to produce a table that would be readable and fit into a reasonable amount of space, so this year I’m providing a table that shows allocations only for this year and each of the three preceding years.


By way of explanation, each year the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg allocates funds to 12 beneficiary agencies, although one of the agencies, The Irma Penn School of Jewish Learning, did not apply for funding this past year (nor either of the two preceding years). As well, as the report of the Allocation Committee notes, “The Jewish Learning Institute resumed their participation in the Allocations process after a hiatus of a few years to enhance their revitalized programming. “

The allocations are to be given to the agencies on September 1.
The total amount allocated to the agencies is slightly higher than the total of last year’s allocations to agencies: $2,856,400 in 2024/25 compared with $2,793,000 in 2023/24. Interestingly, the most ever allocated by the Jewish Federation to its beneficiary agencies was $3,003,000 in 2021/22. In 2014/15 the total allocated was $2,653,800, so when one takes into account the effects of inflation, the allocations that agencies are to receive this year are far less than what those agencies received 10 years ago.
In the report of the Allocations Committee, it was noted that The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg (JFW) raises funds through the Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) Campaign, which are used to sustain the programs and services it offers to the Jewish community, its beneficiary agencies, and global needs. The Allocations Committee has developed a process for beneficiary agencies to request a portion of the funds raised by the CJA Campaign and reviews these requests while considering community priorities. This year, the events of October 7, 2023, and the subsequent war meant that the activities of the Jewish community here and in Israel are more important than ever.
Our committee is aware of the increased financial pressures that are being faced by Jewish community organizations. High inflation, the rising costs of goods and shipping, as well as needed increases in staff wages, means that our community organizations are being challenged. These rising costs are also being met by the JFW. Thank you to the tireless CJA Team, professionals and volunteers, who make the Allocations process possible. The money given by our donors is vital to the continuing growth and success of the Winnipeg Jewish community.
The Allocations Committee is composed of volunteers who sit on the Committee, as well as; the President and Vice President of the JFW Board; the Chair and Vice Chair of the CJA Campaign; the Chair(s) of the Women’s Philanthropy program; the Chair(s) of the Planning Committee; and the Chair of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba. The Asper Foundation’s President participated in the committee this year and was an invaluable resource. Volunteers who serve on beneficiary organizations’ boards are not permitted to sit on the Allocations Committee, as this presents a conflict of interest.
2024 Innovations to the Allocations process
Last year, only those organizations which requested $250,000+ were asked to present to the committee, but many of the smaller beneficiaries told us that they wanted to discuss their organization’s requests in person. After receiving feedback from the beneficiary organizations, the Allocations committee decided to reinstate presentations by all beneficiaries.
2024 was Brent Schacter’s last year as Chair of the Allocations committee. Thanks to Dr. Schacter, the Allocations process was able to become more aligned with granting processes common in non-profit and scientific funding. Vice Chair Jack Hurtig will be assuming the role of Chair for next year’s process.
The committee allocated a slightly larger amount of total dollars than what was recommended by the Board before the process began. The Board approved this slightly larger amount to ensure that our community organizations can continue delivering their high quality of services and programs.


There were no major differences in allocations between the 2023/24 allocations and the 2024/25 allocations.
Gray Academy of Jewish Education did see an increase of $15,000 in its allocation, although the total allocated to Gray Academy is still down $160,000 from what it received in 2021/22. As well, the Rady JCC will see an increase of $20,000 in its funding over the past year’s funding.
Something else of note is that the position of “senior concierge,” which was created in response to the isolation that many seniors experienced during Covid, has received an increase of $10,000 in funding. In an article I wrote in 2023, Danielle Tabacznik, who was the first senior concierge for the Jewish community, explained what the role of senior concierge was: “I’ll be reaching out to seniors in the Jewish community who may or may not be isolated and who may not be connected to services. I’ll be checking in with them to make sure they’re doing okay…to see whether they do need referrals to services. I’ll also be asking them whether they’re feeling isolated, what programs or services might help them.”

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The reawakening of Rochelle Rabinovitz

By GERRY POSNER Many of us undergo transformations of some kind during our lifetimes, but surely one of the most profound changes to occur to anyone was one which took place in the life of Rochelle Rabinovitz, formerly Rochelle Brownstone, daughter of the late Jack and Lorraine Brownstone. Rochelle is a former Winnipegger who has been living for the past 50 years in Calgary, which is where she and her late husband Mervin Rabinovitz settled back in September 1974.

Rochelle was the eldest of three children, raised in a secular Jewish home – with some Jewish education, but quite limited, as it was for many Jewish kids raised in the south end of Winnipeg in the 1950s and 60s. Her life began on Borebank Street, later Waterloo, and still later on to Brock Street, all in River Heights in the south end of Winnipeg. She was friends then and remains friends even to this day with (as they were then known and in part still are) Carla Singer, Anna Mae Silver, Carolyn Lupa, Rhonda Krindle, Brenda Jacobson, and Judy and Joyce Wolinsky, both of blessed memory. Tanya Morgan became a very close friend from Grade 7 through university and an adventure travel partner afterwards.

Rochelle attended the University of Manitoba from 1962-66. Upon graduating from Science, she was off to Montreal where she worked as a computer programmer. Rochelle loved being away from home and was part of the Expo experience in 1967 in Montreal. After a brief stop in Scotland and a temporary job in Winnipeg, Rochelle was off to Europe for 4 months as part of her real education. On her return to Winnipeg, she worked for nearly four years as a programmer/analyst at the University of Manitoba Medical School. She even lived on her own in an apartment at the then Canterbury House Apartments on Roslyn Rd.
In 1970, she received a call from a Mervin Rabinovitz, a teacher at the dental school in Winnipeg and a former South African who had accepted an 18-month teaching contract at the dental school. They discovered that they not only worked in the same building, but coincidentally, he also lived in Canterbury House. One thing led to another and, in February of 1972, they were married at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Mervin and Rochelle soon decided to move to Montreal so that Mervin could get his Master’s degree in Orthodontics. During those two years Rochelle worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital in computer programming and taught programming at a private school.

In September 1974 – some 50 years ago, Rochelle and Merv made the decision to move to Calgary where an opportunity beckoned for Merv and, as they say, the rest is history. The couple bought some acreage outside of Calgary, built a house there, and that became home to their three daughters – born between 1979 and 1983.
It was in 1984 when Rochelle’s kind of awakening began with respect to her Jewish roots. It was a time when Rochelle’s eldest daughter was about to start school. To help Rochelle and Merv decide whether they should send their daughter to public school or the Jewish day school in Calgary, Rochelle began reading a well-known book, “To Be a Jew, “ by Rabbi H. H Donin. The values set out in that book resonated with Rochelle and the couple elected to send their daughter to day school.

Rochelle’s real moment of epiphany began when she attended the Jim Keegstra trial. For those not old enough to remember who Keegstra was, he was a high school teacher who promoted hatred against Jews. After listening to all the hateful things Keegstra had said about Jews, Rochelle began to wonder how comprehensive the Jewish education she had received had been in terms of teaching about antisemitism, but after some deep thinking and conversations, Rochelle came to realize that she had to understand and learn her own history. She also realized she had to be pragmatic and face the reality that we Jews were – and srill are, a very small minority in Canada and indeed in the entire world. She concluded that we, as Jews, should not shrink from expressing our Jewish identity – even in the face of people who hate us. At that point, she was ready to embrace her Jewish roots and embrace it she certainly did.

From becoming a regular attendee with her family at Shabbat services, to organizing a weekly women’s study group as well as a Shabbat Shalom monthly book club, and establishing a meaningful link with Israel, Rochelle gradually came to appreciate and marvel at the wisdom of Sabbath observance.
All of this led to Rochelle pursuing her Jewish education at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary. She began to “ appreciate additional aspects of my Jewish inheritance including mysticism, philosophy, Talmud and history,” she says. Her family called her a “born again” Jew, but she regarded her transformation as a “baal-tesuvah,” one who has returned to Judaism.
Ultimately, Rochelle earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and later began working on a Master’s degree. She became active in Jewish-Christian dialogue and multi-faith organizations. She has been involved extensively in the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, serving as Treasurer, later Vice President, and ultimately, President. Her Judaism gave her the confidence to reach out to others and speak up when confronted by ignorance and bigotry. This awakening changed her life.

Rochelle is now the Past President of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews – Alberta region and a co-founder of the Inter-Faith Network of Calgary. Her Judaism is essential to who she is. In fact, it was only because she was at synagogue on the weekend when I was in Calgary recently attending her synagogue where we bumped into one another at the kiddish table (Where else?), that caused me to realize that the Rochelle Rabinovitz story was one worth telling.

If truth be told, Rochelle looks the same as she did when I knew her as a teenager in Winnipeg, but she is a different person than the girl I knew back in the 1960s. she was always a positive person, but from my conversations with her, I felt as if a light was shining on and through her. Her parents would be amazed.

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After nine months of war and trauma, Israeli kids are finding a respite at Canadian summer camps

Camp Northland B'nai Brith in Ontario appealed for funds to help Israeli kids attend camp. (Credit: Facebook)

By ALEX ROSE (CJN) Camp Northland B’nai Brith has a pretty standard operating procedure for emergencies. When a fire or other urgent situation occurs, a siren rings that triggers a set of emergency protocols.

This year, though, the camp—located in Haliburton, Ont.—is removing the siren from their protocols.

It’s not because they don’t want to be prepared for emergencies. It’s because they want to be prepared for the Israeli campers and staff who are coming this summer. And, as camp director Simon Wolle learned, the sound is unfortunately similar to the air raid sirens used in Israel.

For that reason, Northland decided to ditch the sirens, so none of the Israelis will have to relive the trauma of the last year in the place that is supposed to be an escape from it all.

“We can give these children a home that is safe, that is comfortable, where they’re going to be in an environment full of laughter, full of smiles, full of activities, heavily programmed, being busy, being active. Just being able to be kids means the world,” said Wolle.

“I think the fact that they’re going to come here and be given that experience in contrast to the darkness that they’ve had to live in now, since Oct. 7, is going to be… what will feel like a new life for them. And it’s super exciting to be able to give that to them. They don’t even know yet what they’re about to experience and how positive this is going to be. And they deserve it. These kids deserve it.”

There are five groups of Israeli staff and campers attending Northland this year. The first is Kids of Courage from Beit Halochem, a hospital in Israel for disabled veterans. Since 2016, Northland has been bringing in campers whose parents were severely injured or disabled in the military. This year, for the second time, a former Beit Halochem camper is returning as staff.

The second are the shinshinim, Israeli students who spend a year in Canada between graduating high school and starting their military service. They spend the first 10 months associated with a synagogue or Jewish school, and the last two at camp.

The third are the shlichim from the Jewish Agency for Israel, who spend a summer at camp after completing their service in the Israeli military. Some of this year’s shlichim staff were on a navy warship or in Gaza only two weeks before starting camp.

The fourth are independent campers, not associated with any programs, whose parents heard that Canadian Jewish summer camps could be a good option for their kids this summer.

And the fifth didn’t even exist until just before the camp season started. They are a group of 13 campers and two chaperones from Kfar Szold, a small kibbutz just over five kilometres away from the border with Lebanon. A few weeks ago, a group of Canadian Jewish camps and community members worked together to find a summer home for these 15 Israelis, who have been living under the shadow of rocket fire for months on end.

The exact distance between Kibbutz Kfar Szold and the Lebanese border is important, because all residential areas that are within five kilometres of the border have been evacuated because of the constant rocket fire coming into Israel from Hezbollah.

Kfar Szold is the closest residential area to the border that was not evacuated. And although they don’t meet the criteria for evacuation, their situation is very similar to that of their neighbours who were moved away.

Elinor Gofer is one of those neighbours. She lives in Kibbutz Hagoshrim, 2.5 kilometres from the border with Lebanon, where she works as a real estate agent (although business has of course been put on hold for the time being). Hagoshrim is one of a group of kibbutzim, including Kfar Szold, that are all connected, with their children attending the same schools.

“I can’t believe these people weren’t evacuated. Their kids go with our kids to our school and they’re just located shy of 500 meters from what the government said isn’t safe. And as someone from Kibbutz Hagoshrim, I know what my kids are going through. I have teenagers, I also have small kids,” she said. 

“We get hotels, we get help. And this is a major help, but these people don’t even have the opportunity to go anywhere else. They have to stay in their kibbutz and there’s daily missile attacks. The entire area, there’s not even medical care.”

Back in the winter, Gofer had helped a group of children who had been evacuated secure spots at summer camps in the United States. Eventually, word of that initiative got to Amir Epstein, who runs the Jewish advocacy organization Tafsik, and he offered to help find summer camp spots for the kids in Canada. Although the evacuated children had already been placed, Gofer recognized an opportunity to offer some respite to the kids stuck in Kfar Szold.

“I said, ‘wait a second, there’s someone here that can help. Actually, it’s not a bad idea to see, there’s so many other children that need this.’ And specifically on that Friday (that Epstein reached out), we came home to visit our kibbutz and there were two direct hits on Kfar Szold,” Gofer said.

At that point, Gofer reached out directly to Epstein to see if he would help find spots for kids who hadn’t been officially evacuated by the government. She also offered to help with whatever she could, even though none of her own children would be going, because she is fluent in English and there is no real estate to sell. She also sent Epstein photos that she had taken of the direct hits on Kfar Szold. 

Once Epstein agreed to help, Gofer’s next call was to the kibbutz director at Kfar Szold.

“She almost cried on the phone. She was so, so excited that we even thought about them because those people, they feel like everyone forgot about them. I mean, they’re living in a place of war, and they don’t even have financial aid or any kind of notice from the Israeli government,” Gofer said.

Once Epstein and Kfar Szold signed on, it was only a matter of finding spots for the Kfar Szold campers. A message went out to the Canadian Jewish community, and word quickly got around.

Wolle, director of Northland, soon heard about the plight of the kids at Kfar Szold. “For us, this was a very simple answer,” he said.

“There were people from our family, our extended family in Israel, asking for help. And when that happens, we have a policy of saying, ‘We are here,’ and we were prepared for this.”

Multiple summer camps offered spots to the campers, and all of them worked together to find the best solution, Wolle was quick to point out.

Many other initiatives also bring Israelis to camps across Canada. One of those programs is OneFamily, an organization for those who were injured or lost family in terror attacks, which has been sending children to Camp Timberlane since 2006. Another is Israeli Victims of War, which is sending over 200 Israelis to camps across Canada this summer.

In the end, Northland was chosen for the Kfar Szold campers because it had room for all 15 of them—in part because they had held 40 slots in reserve in case just such a need arose. The 13 campers and two chaperones from Kfar Szold will arrive on July 28, for the camp’s second session.

Wolle, Epstein and Gofer are all grateful for the opportunity to help bring these kids to Northland.

Wolle has always been proud of the efforts Northland and other camps have been making over the years to offer a taste of Canadian summer paradise to deserving Israeli campers. But he recognizes the increased importance of providing a safe and joyful home for Israeli campers and staff after a year filled with fear and trauma, and what it means to be able to make a difference from the other side of the world.

“Whether it’s being a camper in the cabin welcoming them, whether it’s being the staff taking them on this journey, whether it’s the board of directors, who have authorized these initiatives, whether it’s the chaperones that are going to be here to facilitate, I think everybody is going to have the reward and that feeling of we’ve done something to help and to contribute… because that’s what everybody that I’ve interacted with is seeking.”

Gofer, who knows firsthand what Kfar Szold is going through, empathizes most of all with the parents, who are able to do something positive for their kids in such a difficult time.

“It’s so fulfilling for me as a person to do something. I don’t know personally the parents or the children, but just to hear their gratitude,” she said. “It’s not even what we’re doing for the kids. It’s even giving the parents the feeling that they’re doing something positive for their child. They can allow their child to have this kind of experience and adventure… it even gives them some kind of hope that they’re able to give their child something like that.”

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