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Lessons in Fusion” speaks to the fluidity of Jewish identity in the contemporary world

Primrose Mayadag Knazan
cover of “Lessons in Fusion:

Reviewed by BERNIE BELLAN In preparing to write this review I searched our archives to see whether we had ever published anything previously about Primrose Mayadag Knazan; sad to say, we hadn’t.

It’s about time we made up for that oversight, as Primrose had already established herself as a playwright of considerable talent, having had her three plays been awarded “Best of Fest” at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival on each occasion she premiered a new play at the Fringe.

Her plays have also been produced by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, and Sarsavati Productions.
With “Lessons in Fusion”, Primrose enters into the world of fiction writing and, while the book is described as a “Young Adult” novel – not being a young adult myself, I wondered whether I would be as interested in this particular book as much as someone who was in their teens.
It turns out that “Lessons in Fusion” would hardly be limited in its appeal to young readers. As someone who has blended two different cultures in her own life: Filipino and Jewish, Primrose Mayadag Knazan offers readers who might come from a more traditional background tremendous insight into identity, how it is forged over time, and the challenges faced by individuals who, because of the way they look, are stereotyped by others.

The storyline of “Lessons in Fusion” takes place in the pandemic world in which we all now find ourselves, although the action moves back and forth in time as we begin to develop a better understanding of the novel’s protagonist, 16-year-old Sarah Dayan-Abad.
Sarah is a precocious young woman who has developed a keen fascination for “fusion” cooking – blending ingredients from different cultures to create dishes that are an amalgam so totally original they lead to her developing quite a following on a blog she had started when she was 14 years old, titled “fusiononaplate”.

Here is how she describes her blog, when asked to give some information about it by the creators of a new online cooking show in which Sarah would like to participate: “Fusion comfort food, a mash-up of East and West and everything in between. Easy recipes of our classic cravings with a twist.”
Now, given Sarah’s interest in food, one would ordinarily expect that is something she might have inherited from her mother, Grace, who is “Filipinx” (the proper term for someone of Filipino descent, we are told, rather than “Filipino”). Grace, however, has almost no interest at all in cooking, especially Filipino food. The reasons for that become clearer as the story develops.

The reviews that I’ve read of “Lessons in Fusion” to date all make a big fuss over how the author introduces each chapter in the book with a recipe. Apparently Primose Mayadag Knazan is quite the food connoisseur, writing a regular column for the Filipino Journal about food in Winnipeg, as well as maintaining an Instagram account devoted to food,@pegonaplate.

As the story unfolds, Sarah is accepted into a competition known as “Cyber Chef”, in which five young people – all under 20, will compete on a weekly basis until only one is left. By the way, the chapter in which the competition is explained in some detail starts with a recipe for Chanukah latkes, so if this review is just a tad too late to influence your latke recipe, you might want to consider buying the book for next year. Just consider some of the ingredients in Sarah’s latke recipe: “sweet potatoes instead of russets. Instead of traditional sour cream or applesauce…raita made with yogurt, green apple, and mint” – I think you get the idea why the book is titled “Lessons in Fusion”.
Now, I’ll be honest: I barely looked at the recipes in this book, although they seemed tantalizing enough. Yet, for anyone who’s really into cooking, I’m sure the recipes in the book would be reason enough to buy it, as many of them are traditional Jewish recipes turned into something so imaginatively different from what I think most of us have come to accept that we would have a hard time recognizing them.
But, more than the recipes and the fastidious attention to food details that the book incorporates, “Lessons in Fusion” is a coming of age story that is so contemporary in its being set during the pandemic that it offers many real life lessons which can be useful for all of us.

Sarah, for instance, is a good student, yet she’s been forced into online learning as a result of the pandemic. Cooking is a diversion for her – as it had become for so many others once we found ourselves being confined to our homes during the many lockdowns that characterized the first year of the pandemic. While she has two good friends, with whom she communicates online (and you have to appreciate how thoroughly the author is familiar with what is known as “textspeak”), we can still appreciate the extent to which the pandemic has truncated what should have been some of the best parts of young people’s lives.
I don’t want to go into any further detail about the cooking show in which Sarah participates, lest I spoil any surprises for readers.
What I was most interested in reading is how Sarah develops her identity as a Jewish Filipinx. She and her siblings all attend what is described as a “Hebrew Immersion program” in a “private school”, where the students wear uniforms, so I’m assuming it’s based on Gray Academy. Sarah has had a bat mitzvah and is quite proud of her being Jewish.
Yet, beyond her interest in Jewish food, what seems to drive Sarah’s Jewish identity more than anything is her closeness to her baba. At the same time though, the book does describe Sarah’s more tenuous relationship with her Filipinx grandmother, her “lola”, and how cooking also brings the two of them together eventually.

One aspect of the book that might serve as a wake-up call for some readers is how Sarah is stereotyped because of her appearance and, although she can understand how she is regarded by almost anyone she meets (including online) as Filipinx, she herself regards her identity as first and foremost Jewish.
At one point Sarah is asked whether she considers herself “White or Filipino”?
She answers: “Jewish” – to which the questioner responds: “That wasn’t my question.”
So Sarah launches into a more detailed explanation: “But that’s what I am. My parents are Jewish. (Grace had converted when she married Sarah’s father.) I was raised Jewish. It’s not just my religion. It’s my culture. I get all the jokes. I celebrate the holidays. I eat and cook all the food. I even speak some Yiddish. I had family that died in the Holocaust. Go back far enough, I had family that were chased out of Russia. It’s in my blood. I carry it on my shoulders. I. Am . Jewish.”
That exchange goes on, with the questioner insisting on finding out whether Sarah identifies as “White” or not, and with Sarah not sure how to answer the question.

As someone who has been writing extensively about identity in this newspaper, and how much Jewish identity is evolving so rapidly as more and more individuals who have either converted to Judaism or live with someone who is Jewish bring with them backgrounds that are not Jewish, I find it quite fascinating to read a quite authentic description of how confusing it must be for a young person who comes from a blend of ethnic identities when asked to explain their own identity.
For that reason alone I would recommend “Lessons in Fusion” as a real eye opener to so many in our community – and well beyond the Jewish community, in helping to understand how someone might identify strongly as Jewish even when that person’s identity is rooted in a background that is quite different than something with which many of us are familiar.

As for how well written “Lessons in Fusion” is, as a first-time novelist, Primrose Mayadag Knazan shows remarkable talent, although given her success as a playwright to date, it should come as no surprise that she has made the transition to fiction writing so successfully.

“Lessons in Fusion”
By Primrose Mayadag Knazan
Published by Great Plains Publishing , 2021
288 pages

 

More about Primrose Mayadag Knazan

Primrose Madayag Knazan brings an interesting perspective to what it means to become Jewish
By BERNIE BELLAN
As someone who had already established a solid reputation as a successful playwright, Primrose Madayag Knazan knew that she was taking on a challenge of quite a different sort when a publisher proposed that she consider writing a book of fiction aimed at the Young Adult market.
“Writing plays was easier than writing a novel,” Primrose told me during the course of a lengthy phone interview.
“But Great Plains (her publisher) approached me with the idea of writing a book. They said I’ve always been so successful with plays, why don’t I write something – either non fiction or Young Adult?”

 

The timing was right for her to begin thinking about writing a book, she says. It was the fall of 2020, the Covid pandemic had set in, and she actually had more time to write since she was working from home. Her two young boys were both in school and, while she was certainly busy enough – she had begun writing a food blog as well as writing a regular column for the Filipino Journal about food, Primrose says that she didn’t have any plays in the works, so the idea of writing a book at that time appealed to her.
Around the same time, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis happened, Primrose notes. “It opened people’s eyes about diversity and representation.”
So, the idea of tackling those themes, along with her passion for writing about food, jelled into the basis of “Lessons in Fusion”.
As I explain in my review of the book, the story centres around 16-year-old Sarah Dayan-Abad. The fact that Sarah’s name is a blend of Jewish and Filipino names is no coincidence. And yet, while there are distinct parallels in Sarah’s life to Primrose’s, Primrose wanted to make clear that Sarah is largely an imagined character.
Having grown up in Winnipeg herself, Primrose says that, while she was raised Catholic, she didn’t find the Catholic church appealing.
“I grew up at a time when I didn’t fit in with other Filipino kids,” she says.
For instance, she notes that she “always wanted to be a blonde. I knew a part of me always wanted to be White.”
At the same time, she says that “ever since I was a kid, I wanted to write plays, books, poetry.

 

It was while she was in university here – where she was taking a double major in psychology and sociology, that she also had her first immersion in theatre. Primrose says she fell in love with the theatre and, years after she graduated, she became involved in it again, as an actor, as a producer, and as a playwright.
Her first plays were written for Winnipeg’s Fringe Festival (the first one was written in 2000) and each time she entered a new play there (three times altogether), her plays went on to win “Best of Fest”.
It was also while she was in university that she met the man who would eventually become her husband, Josh Knazan.
Yet, while Josh came from a firm Ashkenazie Jewish background, he didn’t insist that Primrose convert to Judaism before they married.
“It was after he proposed to me that I told him I wanted to convert to Judaism – not before,” Primrose explains.
Ever since converting – in 2002, under Rabbi Alan Green’s tutelage, Primrose says that she has become “very comfortable in being a part of the Jewish community.”
“Judaism is such a beautiful religion that I fell in love with it. With Catholicism there are no shades of gray. Everything is black and white. Judaism is so much more nuanced.”
“I’m an outgoing person,” she says. “I’ve been able to be involved in the synagogue (Shaarey Zedek). I have a lot of new friends.”
And, while Primrose says that she has made sure that her two kids will grow up in a Jewish milieu – her older son was just recently Bar Mitzvahed, she says, the notion of “fusing” Filipino and Jewish culture is something that she is keenly interested in doing.

The story in “Lessons in Fusion” centres around food – and not just Filipino or Jewish food.
Raising two boys, especially one who was now a teenager, did give Primrose a certain insight into how young people think – and how they communicate, especially through texting.
Portions of “Lessons in Fusion” have some of the young characters texting with each other. “When I showed it to my son, he told me that I had it all wrong. No one texts in full words,” he said. “I had to learn textspeak from him.”
Something that Primrose wanted to avoid though, in writing a Young Adult novel, was “writing anything dystopian”. She says that she didn’t want to write yet one more book about “the end of the world”.
At the same time that she wanted to tackle issues of “diversity and representation” in her book, Primrose says that her older son was an “inspiration” for her when he told her he “didn’t want to read ‘issue books’ or books about ‘racism’.”
And, while Primrose and Josh are determined to give their two boys a solid Jewish upbringing, they both want them to be exposed to Filipino culture as well, Primrose says.
“They were both in the Hebrew Bilingual program at Brock Corydon” – the older boy has now graduated and is at Grant Park, but they’re both also involved in “Filipino dance”.
Unlike the character Sarah in “Lessons in Fusion”, moreover, who does not have a close relationship with her Filipino relatives – save one aunt, Primrose and Josh’s boys have close relationships with both their Jewish and Filipino relatives.
Sarah, however, identifies entirely as Jewish. The idea of creating a character who, even though she looks Filipino, doesn’t think of herself as Filipino at all, came to Primrose when she herself wondered what she would have been like had she been “raised exclusively Jewish”?

As noted, Primrose has a real passion for food – experimenting with it, writing about it and, as she explained to me, helping to promote local Filipino restaurants and stores.
“My head is focused on food blogging and promoting Filipino food,” she says.
“But when the pandemic happened,” so many restaurants had to close down, including many Filipino ones, she observes. So, her blog and column in the Filipino Journal became even more important to Primrose. She says that “in the past two years I’ve taken the food blogging seriously. I’ve always wanted to feature Manitoba products” as a way of helping local producers.
And, while “Lessons in Fusion” is largely a coming of age novel, as Sarah participates in an extremely demanding competition where she is required to come up with entirely original recipes for a TV show on a weekly basis, Primrose observes that “the growth in Sarah’s recipes parallels the growth in Sarah as a person to the point where she blends her two cultures” – and feels wholly comfortable in both.
That’s also the story of Primrose Madayag Knazan’s life: Someone who feels totally comfortable in her own skin as she blends Filipino and Jewish cultures into a unique amalgam. And, for someone who is as interested in identity as I am – and how fluid it is, having Primrose as part of the Jewish community offers one more reason why other members of our community should feel warm in the knowledge that the Jewish community is a blend of cultures and one in which people of quite different backgrounds can feel totally accepted.

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Inaugural Magen David Adom fundraising gala evening  recognizes generous donors Ida and the late Saul Alpern

Ida Alpern

By MYRON LOVE On Tuesday, May 7, the Winnipeg chapter of Canadian Magen David Adom (CMDA) hosted its first ever fundraising gala – billed as “A Night of Appreciation – honouring generous supporters Ida and the late Saul Alpern, as well as recognizing several other individuals who have contributed to the success of the local chapter.
The event helped to raise the profile of MDA in Winnipeg.  In addition to funds raised – going towards the purchase by the Winnipeg chapter of CMDA of an ambulance to be stationed in the northern IsraeI community of  Kiryat Shemona where a MDA ambulance was recently destroyed by a Hezbollah missile, the event also honoured the memory of  the late Yoram (Hamizrachi) East.
Ami Bakerman, the Winnipeg chapter president, reported that, to date, the local group has raised slightly more than $100,000 toward the $140,000 cost of the ambulance.
Over 200 members of the Jewish and Christian communities and other supporters of Israel came out for the evening at Caboto Centre to show their appreciation for the work of the Magen David Adom.
For readers who may be unfamiliar with MDA, the organization doubles as both Israel’s Red Cross and the country’s blood services organization. MC for the evening Kinzey Posen noted that MDA was founded on June 7, 1930 and acquired its first ambulance a year later.  The MDA has over 4,000 staff and has on its roster 26,000 volunteers.  The organization operates over 2,000 ambulances, first responder scooters, helicopters and life-saving boats. 
“It takes 8.2 seconds from the time a MDA dispatcher receives an emergency call to the time that the ambulance reaches the caller,” Posen noted.
The really remarkable fact is that the MDA operates without any financial support from the government of Israel. That is why it is so important that donors such as the Alperns have to step up.
Saul, who passed away in October, 2022, had a particularly strong connection to Israel.  His younger brother, Avrum, also the last surviving family member (the others died in the Holocaust) died fighting for the Jewish homeland in the War of Liberation in 1948.
Alpern published his autobiography – “No One Waiting For me” – in 1961.  Although most Romanian Jews living in Rumania proper were left in place, in 1941 the members of the Alpern family were among the thousands of Jews living in the northern  regions of Bessarabia and northern Bukavina – which had been recently annexed by Rumania – who were deported to neighbouring Transnistria. They were expelled from their homes and forced to walk all the way to Transnistria.   Saul Alpern’s parents and older sister died shortly after their arrival as a result of the hardships of the walk – leaving 12-year-old Saul and younger brother Avrum to fend for themselves.
“No One Waiting for Me” is largely an account of the two brothers’ struggle to survive in a hostile environment and desperate circumstances.\
After the war, while Avrum went to Palestine while Saul found his way to Winnipeg –  where he eventually  met and married Ida (Reiss) and built a successful business as a cattle buyer.
Ida was born in the Jewish farm colony at Edenbridge, Saskatchewan. She was youngest of four children and the own daughter of Ira and Raizel Reiss.  The family moved to Winnipeg around 1950.
In October 2020, Ida and Saul donated $160,000 to the MDA to buy a mobile intensive care unit.  At the time, Saul told The Jewish Post & News that the couple made the donation in memory of his parents and siblings ,who died in the Holocaust.
Saul added that the gift was “an expression of my love for my family and my love for Israel”.
The couple had been donating small amounts to the MDA for years before that.  And, just a few months before Saul’s passing, the couple donated another $170,000 toward the purchase of a second mobile intensive care unit with off-road capabilities.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Ida’s nephew, Cary Reiss, recounted how Sail and Ida met in 1963 and were engaged after just a three-week courtship.  “They were married for almost 60 years,” he noted. “They were a great couple.  They were always there for each other through good times and bad.”
Reiss further noted that he was in Israel last year with his Aunt Ida for the delivery of the second mobile intensive care unit.  He praised the MDA for the great work the organization does in Israel.
He also reminisced about the other focus of the evening, the late Israeli-born Winnipegger, Yoram East, who was a prominent social activist in the wider community.
In Ron East’s description of his father he painted a picture of man who was larger than life – and an individual who overcame early adversity.
Yoram was born in 1932 in Jerusalem to Jewish immigrants from Germany.  He struggled in school due to being dyslexic.  At 16. he dropped out of school and was accepted into the Israel Defense Forces based on false documents.
“In the IDF, he found a home and a purpose,” Ron East recounted. 
He rose through the ranks.  After taking a break from the military to  study art and build a career as a journalist, Yoram rejoined the IDF in the 1970s.  From 1976-82, Colonel Hamizrachi was the IDF liaison with the Christian communities  in southern Lebanon.
“My dad quit the IDF in 1982, when Israel went to war with Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Ron East recalled. “He strongly opposed the war.”
Hamizrachi moved his family to Winnipeg where he continued to work as a journalist – with regular columns on Israel in The Jewish Post.  He also became a social activist and did a lot of work with Indigenous communities.
“Two First Nations communities made him honorary chiefs,” Ron noted. 
In Winnipeg, he helped found the Manitoba Intercultural Alliance and became the co-director of the Winnipeg-based Counter-Terrorism Centre.
In addition to honouring Ida and Saul Alpert, CMDA also recognized several other individuals who have contributed to the growth of the CMDA chapter in Winnipeg – among them:Ami Ba kerman,  Ron East, donors Bill and Judy Mahon, Barbara Reiss (for organizing the event) and John  Plantz who, along with colleague Roy Hiebert – presented a cheque to the CMDA for $10,000 from the Christian Friends of Israel Ministry.
There was much more to the evening.  Sharon Fraiman, CMDA’s director for Western Canada, called for a moment of silence in memory of the MDA personnel who were murdered in the terrorist attack on Israel on October 7.  She also screened several short videos of the actions of heroic MDA staff and their actions on that horrific day in fighting back as well as rescuing those tthey could.
There were also remarks by Sidney Benizri, CMDA national executive  director, and Wayne Ewasko, PC MLA for Lac du Bonnet and interim Opposition leader.
The evening concluded with a half hour show by New York-based stand-up comic Talia Reiss – who happens to be married to the aforementioned Cary Reiss – riffing on Jewish themes contrasting Reform and Orthodox and Sephardi and Ashkenazi differences, reflecting the different backgrounds that she and her husband have brought to their relationship, as well as commentary on parenthood and schooling.  For good measure, she also threw in  some Winnipeg in-jokes.

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New JCFS program aims to help community members feeling fearful and hurt by the increase in antisemitism.

JCFS clinical supervisor Denise Rubin

By MYRON LOVE The Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 and ensuing exponential increase in open-antisemitism in what had been, prior to that fateful date, our generally peaceful Jewish communities, has created a great deal of anxiety in Jewish communities throughout the United States and Canada – and our community is no different.
“There is a lot of fear out there,” reports Denise Rubin, a clinical supervisor at Jewish Child and Family Service.  “People are fearful of the future. They are concerned for their safety.  They are hurt that some of their non-Jewish friends don’t understand their feelings of concern, that they are not receiving much support in their schools or workplaces, and in many ways have lost their sense of belonging.”
In order to help traumatized Jewish Winnipeggers, the Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS) has created a new program that is open to people of all ages.
“We began getting calls to the office almost immediately after the attack” recalls Rubin, who had been in private practice offering psychotherapy counselling for a few years prior to joining the JCFS just over a year ago.  “We created a War Response Committee very soon after.”
Rubin notes that JCFS offers a variety of services for the community, including one-on-one counselling, workshops and even group events to bring the community together.
JCFS brought on a new counsellor, Brooke Zelcer, to take on the role of meeting with individuals for one-on-one counselling sessions to address, work through, and find support during this difficult time. For those who are feeling the effects of this war and the rise in antisemitism, JCFS offers 5 free one-on-one sessions with Brooke and Denise.
“In our one-on-one counselling, we focus on managing clients’ fears and worries, but also address some very real-life issues that many people in our community are facing ” Zelcer points out. As well, she adds, many members of our community have a more direct connection to the horrific events of October 7 in that they knew one or more of those who were murdered or taken hostage.
“If the client and I see that there is a need for further counselling services after the 5 free sessions, we will address that proactively with our counselling department.”
Support, events and workshops are intended to encourage clients to talk through their emotional issues and share their feelings to foster healing safety.
The next Unity in Community event is being held on May 29th, 2024 from 7-8:30PM at the Asper  Jewish Community campus
 To register for this event or if you have been impacted by the conflict in Israel and/or the rise in antisemitism and are in need of a safe space to talk, call 204-560-6736 or email bzelcer@jcfswinnipeg.org

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The Ashkenazie Synagogue is the last of the old North End synagogues still remaining – can it be saved? An imaginary proposal to do just that

artist's rendering of the existing Ashkenazie synagogue with new museum building to be built alongside it

By BERNIE BELLAN Two and a half years ago, in our Dec. 4, 2021 issue, we wrote about a proposal that was developed by the board of the Ashkenazie Synaogogue, Winnipeg’s oldest still-in-use synagogue building, and the last of what once were 18 synagogues dotting Winnipeg’s North End.
In that story we explained that Ashkenazie members were faced with some stark – and very difficult choices. As we wrote back then: “Unable to sustain a regular minyan and with a membership that is a mere fraction of what it once had, the few remaining members of the Ashkenazie are faced with a difficult choice: Either find a new use for the building or close it as a house of worship.”
We also noted that, under the leadership of Dr. Yosel Minuk, the Ashkenazie board had “come up with an imaginative proposal that would see the Ashkenazie retain a core area for services, while reconfiguring the rest of the building into a ‘living’ museum of Winnipeg’s Jewish North End.”
As Dr. Minuk wrote in a letter to us at that time,”the idea has been developed to reconfigure the Ashkenazie into a museum that commemorates all the previous (17) synagogues and at the same time, continue to offer services to its regular attendees, museum visitors and staff.
“Essentially, our ‘vision’ entails the following: the main body of the synagogue would remain intact for daily and/or holiday services. However, the flanking pews would be converted into cubicles that contain narratives, photos and 3 dimensional items recovered from previous synagogues in the area, largely drawing upon collections and exhibits previously displayed by the Jewish Heritage Centre. If the memorabilia exceeds the space available, the flanking pews of the upstairs ladies gallery could be utilized for the same purpose.
“Certain cubicles would also feature former North-Enders who went on to national or international acclaim (ex. Monty Hall, David Steinberg, Sydney Halter, etc.) and computer stations that would enable visitors to look up old relatives and friends who were amongst the first immigrants to the North-End. Similar information would be offered for Jewish owned North-End businesses that helped contribute to the area’s economy.

Proposed kosher café to be built in the new synagogue/museum


“In addition, the Chedar-shaynee (anteroom to the main synagogue) would be repurposed as a small café, gift shop and washrooms. Depending on public feedback, the kosher kitchen and undeveloped downstairs area would be renovated and used for either hosting exhibits/seminars/events/dinners.”

In that article, we also advised readers who were interested in commenting upon the proposal that they could do so by responding to an online survey. (We offered a link to the 8-question survey.)
In our Dec. 18, 2021 issue, Dr. Minuk noted that there had been 20 responses received as a result of the article we had published in the previous issue. He wrote the following:
“I’m pleased that our initiative to reconfigure the Ashkenazie synagogue into both a museum and synagogue has generated so much reader interest as it underscores the importance of what we hope to create: a site that offers visitors a historical account and pays tribute to these synagogues and the individuals who built and supported them.
“We were also very pleased with the feedback we received from readers who completed our on-line questionnaire Of the 20 respondents, 17 rated the initiative 10/10 in terms of being worth pursuing. There was one response in particular that we considered rather compelling: ‘Please do this before we lose our tradition.’ Some also offered memorabilia they had stored while others pledged financial donations, which we are not accepting – at this time. Overall, we were quite encouraged by the responses.”

Now, two and a half years later, that proposal still remains simply that: a proposal.
Dr. Minuk advises that a request to the Jewish Foundation for a grant to conduct a feasibility study of the proposal was turned down, although upon speaking with a member of the Board of the Jewish Foundation, we were told that the Foundation would certainly consider the request again if it were to be submitted a second time, but this time for less money.
In the meantime, upon speaking with Dr. Minuk via a Zoom meeting, we were able to see a very effective PowerPoint presentation he had prepared which fulyl outlined what the proposed reconfiguration of the Ashkenazie Synagogue would look like.
Yet, within that same PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Minuk also addressed head-on the many challenges that would accompany any plan to redevelop the Ashkenazie, including:

  • Engineering
  • Architectural Design
  • Curator
  • Safety
  • Parking
  • Appeal to youth
  • Inclusiveness (appeal to other communities that have strong roots in the North End, including First Nations, Filipino, Ukrainian, and others)
  • Business model (capital and operating costs)

  • I asked Dr. Minuk how much he sees this total project as costing?
    He answered that he thought it would be from $3-5 million.
    I said to him that the proposal reminded me of a story Bob Freedman, former CEO of the Jewish Federation, had told me years ago about how the federal government came to provide $3 million toward the construction of the Asper Campus.
    The very powerful federal minister from Manitoba in what was then the federal Liberal government under Prime Minister Jean Chretien was Lloyd Axworthy. When Freedman (accompanied by Marjorie Blankstein and Sheldon Berney) finally managed to corral Axworthy for a meeting (and in Freedman’s recounting of the story, it was when Axworthy was in a room at the Westin Hotel, getting ready to speak at some particular function there – and he met with the trio while he was stripped down to his underwear, putting his tux on – much to Marjorie Blankstein’s chagrin, Freedman said.)
    According to Freedman, Axworthy asked the three of them: “Are you going to have a museum there?”
    “Museum?” replied Freedman. “No, we don’t have plans for a museum.”
    “Well, put a museum in there and we’ll give you $3 million,” said Axworthy.
    And that’s how the federal government came to contribute $3 million toward the building of the Asper Campus.
    Unfortunately, as many readers are now probably aware, once the campus was built, the decision was taken to substantially reduce the amount of space that was to be given to the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada and, rather than build a museum, those glass panels that house some permanent and some temporary exhibits along the corridor between the Berney Theatre and offices in the campus are what we have instead of a full-fledged museum.
    Many of the artifacts that were intended to be part of the JHCWC museum at the campus and which could be put on display in this new Ashkenazie “Musynagogue” (as Dr. Minuk puts it), are being held in storage in the basement of the Asper Campus.
    The point of my writing this is to illustrate how difficult it would be for the Ashkenazie proposal to get off the ground – unless there is federal government funding. (Despite the federal government continuing to run massive deficits, there is nothing governments like more than “shovel-in-the-ground” projects which can prominently display the federal government logo on a sign in front of the project. Also, think of the number of jobs a project like this can generate. It would be a lot cheaper than the billions the federal government has shelled out in recent years for pipelines, auto plants, and lithium battery plants.)
    Also, by including a variety of other ethnic groups in the project, especially First Nations – who have a long and storied connection to the North End, this proposal might just have a chance of succeeding.
    And, with a federal election required to be held no later than 2025, the timing is right to approach federal representatives for support.
    As for those naysayers who would dismiss the proposal outright on the grounds that the Ashkenazie is located in an unsafe area, can you imagine how an idea of this sort might help to revitalize that part of the North End?
    The fact is, however, that right now, it’s Dr. Yosel Minuk who’s carrying the ball on this one pretty much by himself. If he is able at least to obtain the funds to do a feasibility study then he can pursue the idea of the project more fully, but first he has to get past first base.

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