By BERNIE BELLAN
For 94-year-old Isaac Gotfried. telling the story how he survived three years in various slave labour and concentration camps during World War II has been his mission in life for over 26 years now.
In 2018 I recorded a talk Isaac gave to 32 Muslim students from a school in St. Boniface. A video of that session can be seen on our website at http://jewishpostandnews.ca/ categories-media/78-shoah/227-isaac-gotfried. During that talk Isaac noted that, at that point in his life, he estimated that he had spoken at over 100 schools to over 20,000 students.
This past Wednesday, March 11, an audience in the Berney Theatre had the opportunity to watch a brand new film which also showed Isaac interacting with students from a different school, this time J.H. Bruns Collegiate, which is also in St. Boniface.
The occasion was the world premiere of a new film titled “Tikkun Olam”. The film was produced by Yolanda Papini-Pollock, who is not only the founder of Winnipeg Friends of Israel, she is a documentary film maker of some renown who, four years ago, produced an excellent documentary about four survivors of different genocides titled “Never Again: A Broken Promise”.
This time though, Yolanda took a more sophisticated approach to her film about Isaac Gotfried, inter splicing footage and stills from World War II with scenes of Isaac meeting students from J.H. Bruns last spring and this past fall.
The film is partly narrated by a student by the name of Kaitlin Medeiros, who graduated from J.H. Bruns last year. It also focuses on the efforts of a teacher by the name of Tim Beyak to introduce teaching about the Holocaust to students whose understanding of what went on in World War II was somewhat limited. According to Beyak, after he was introduced to Yolanda Papini-Pollock over two years ago, the idea for making this particular film took root. To give the students in the film quite a bit of credit, however, many of the students whom we see during the course of the film were well aware of what the Holocaust was prior to meeting Isaac. As one might expect though, the details that Isaac Gotfried shared with them about his own personal experiences came as a total shock to the vast majority of them. One scene in particular – when Isaac describes the depravity of Ilsa Koch, who was the commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp, and who was known as the “Bitch of Buchenwald”, the students’ mouths were left agape.
In my 2018 story about Isaac Gotfried, I referred to Isaac’s having seen Koch in person and his description of her own particular brand of sadism: “…Isaac came face to face with the ‘Bitch of Buchenwald’ – Ilse Koch, a woman who was so sadistic that she would choose men to sleep with during the night, then have them shot the next morning.” In the film Koch’s penchant for taking the skins of those men and turning them into lampshades is shown in graphic detail.
Isaac Gotfried has written his autobiography, “Lucky to Survive”, which was published in 2017. In introducing her film to the Berney Theatre audience, filmmaker Yolanda Papini-Pollock told the audience that “Isaac was a young boy (living in Poland) when the Nazis invaded.” (He would have been 13.)
“Despite everything that happened to him though,” Yolanda continued, “Isaac considers himself lucky. He has dedicated his life to sharing his story with students of all ages.”
The film doesn’t recount too much of the detail of what happened to Isaac during the war, although he does tell one harrowing story to the students at J.H. Bruns that he has told to thousands of students before, and about which I wrote in my 2018 article about Isaac:
“Toward the end of his captivity, Isaac said, one night, when he was sleeping in his bunk – and there were eight men assigned to bunks designed to hold only two, he had a pain on his side and he wanted to turn over to the other side. He tried to move the man next to him so that he could turn over, but the man didn’t move. He was dead. So Isaac said he turned back to the man on his other side; he, too, was dead.
“ ‘I was sleeping between two corpses,’ Isaac said to the students.”
Within the documentary, “Tikkun Olam”, we learn that there is a subtext to the story of Isaac meeting with students at J.H. Bruns, and that is the hugely diverse backgrounds of the students themselves. There are students from all over the globe represented in the film – including one transsexual student who relates their own particular experience of having been bullied at school. Later, when asked what their takeaway is after having met Isaac, many of the students say that they have a newfound appreciation of what it means to be discriminated against.
Later, after the movie was shown, Isaac Gotfried sat on the stage with Tim Beyak and Kaitlin Medeiros, and the three of them fielded questions from the audience.
One of the questions related to the point of what was the impression left with the students at J.H. Bruns after having met Isaac: “Did you see a change in attitude toward bullying after Isaac spoke at your school?” the questioner asked
Kaitlin Medeiros responded: “For sure – I think seeing something as traumatic as the Holocaust makes you realize how trivial your own problems seem.”
Following the showing of the film and the question and answer session audience members gathered in the Berney Theatre foyer for refreshments – and a chance to meet Isaac and buy his book. I asked Yolanda Papini-Pollock whether she has plans to show the film at other venues.
Yolanda explained that, due to the COBID-19 virus, 27 residents of the Shaftesbury Retirement Residence who had planned on attending the Berney Theatre for the premiere of the film were unfortunately kept from boarding their bus. As a result plans are being made to show the film at the Shaftesbury itself.
As well, Yolanda said, she will be sending the film to various film festivals around the county and it will be one of the films shown at the upcoming Rady JCC Jewish Film Festival. Yolanda added that she is hoping to find an educational distributor who will show the film at more schools.
Beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation have received $210,000 less this year than last year as of September 1
By BERNIE BELLAN
For the first time in at least 10 years the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg has reduced the amount distributed to its 12 beneficiary agencies from what had been distributed the previous year. The funds were distributed September 1 for 2023-24.
The total amount distributed this year was $210,000 less than what was distributed in both 2022 and 2021 and is actually $500,000 less than the total that was requested by the beneficiary agencies. (The amount distributed last year was $216,000 less than what the beneficiary agencies had requested.)
In explaining why allocations are being reduced this year, the Federation reported that “Over the past few years, the Federation and community have collectively faced significant challenges, placing a strain on our financial resources. In response to these challenges, the Federation stepped in during our community’s time of need, dedicating over $200,000 from our reserves to sustain our beneficiary agencies.” (In a later explanation it was clarified that $100,000 was taken from Federation reserves in each of 2022 and 2021.)
It was further noted that the decrease in funds to be allocated to agencies represents a 7% decrease over the previous year. Dipping into reserves was described as an “unsustainable practice.” It was also noted that the Federation “notified our beneficiaries of a probable reduction in the amount of funding available well ahead of the allocation request deadline.
In describing the pressures that the Federation’s Allocations Committee faced this year in coming up with its allocations, committee chair Brent Schacter said that “We knew after the budget process last year we were going to be in a bind.” Schacter further elaborated that the two whammies that hit this year were the ongoing repercussions of Covid along with the rapid increase in inflation.
In discussing the pressures that the Allocations committee faced this year, it should also be noted that although the amount raised by the Combined Jewish Appeal – while not much more than the previous year ($6.3 million as opposed to $6.25 million), the negative effects of the drop in allocations are somewhat mitigated by two things:. A good portion of the amount raised by the CJA is in the form of “designated funds,” given by large donors and, while those funds are not available to the B & A committee to distribute, many of the beneficiary agencies did receive large distributions from those “designated funds.”
As well, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba increased its total distributions this year by $1.3 million over the previous year. While the Foundation’s gifts were spread among a very wide number of recipients, a number of the Federation’s beneficiary agencies did benefit from the increase in Foundation distributions.
Still, the challenges facing the Federation in meeting the needs of the community are leading to a major reassessment of how Federation planners are implementing budgetary planning.
A number of new innovations have now been adopted by the B & A committee, including:
- New application forms – one for agencies requesting more than $250,000 and one for agencies requesting less
- Beneficiaries were asked to state the anticipated outcomes of projects/programs that receive Federation funding, and to develop indicators so that they can measure those outcomes.
- Site visits took place along with periodic meetings with agencies as a whole throughout the year to ensure that the committee gets a more complete picture of beneficiaries’ activities, challenges, and plans.
In describing the process that the Federation undertook to “streamline” the budget allocation process, Federation President Gustavo Zentner said “Lay leadership and management had a responsibility to look at the business model.”
It was determined that the Federation needed “a more effective way of managing the allocations process,” Zentner stated, including “more meaningful communication with the agencies to bring to light their projects.”
Not only does the Federation want to improve its own fundraising process, Zentner continued, “We also want to help agencies to raise funds on their own.”
Despite the reductions in allocations available to agencies this year, Zentner stressed that “we wanted to address the needs of those members of the community who are most in need.”
Brent Schacter added: “We want to see people dig a little bit deeper” when it comes to giving. The Combined Jewish Appeal is now into its fundraising campaign for the 2023-24 fiscal year.
Six members of the community receive King’s Counsel appointments
A total of 17 lawyers were appointed King’s Counsel by Order in Council on August 29. Six members of our Jewish community were among those appointed. Although appointments as King’s Counsel are usually accompanied by biographical information about those appointed, there was no press release issued by the Manitoba Government announcing the appointments. When we contacted the Manitoba Government news room to ask why there was no biographical information available, the response we received referred to KC appointments announced in February (no surprise there – these are bureaucrats we’re dealing with). When we asked again why there was no biographical information available about the most recent batch of KC appointments we were told “the Province of Manitoba is in the middle of an election blackout and department communications are limited as a result. News Room has nothing further to add.”
As a result, we present here photos of Jewish recipients of KC appointments, but without any further information.
Kayla Gordon inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame
Myron Love It was in the summer of 1984 when Kayla Gordon was appearing in the Rainbow Stage production of “Kismet,” that the long time actor/director/producer/photographer found herself doing her make-up sitting next to Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame, who was also appearing in the production.
“We both were playing opposite each other in the comic roles as the Ayahs to the Wazir (the main lead), and we began talking about our plans for the future,” Gordon recalls. “Nia was talking about moving to Toronto and joining the Second City company. As for me, I was in a comedy troupe in Winnipeg and just found out I was pregnant with my first child. My plan was to stay in Winnipeg, even though I was a bit jealous that she was going off to pursue her dream and I was staying put. That was my ‘Kismet’ and I never looked back.”
Rainbow Stage is where Gordon began her career in musical theatre at the age of 17 in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” After a career of more than 40 years, both on stage and behind the scenes – it is fitting that one of the leading lights of community theatre in our city has been recognized for her contributions by Winnipeg’s longest-running theatre company. On Wednesday, August 17, Gordon was one of the five inductees to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame under the “Builder” category. The award is given to someone who has been part of nurturing and building our theatre community.
“It was a wonderful surprise,” says the honoree. “It brings my career full circle.” Previous honours for Gordon include the Leadership Award from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Theatre Educator’s Award from the Winnipeg Theatre Awards for her long-time leadership within the arts community.
Gordon reports that the induction ceremony, attended by about 100 friends and family members of the inductees and Rainbow Stage staff, was held just prior to the opening night performance of “The Little Mermaid,”,the second of three shows the company is putting on this summer and early fall.
“It was also special to have one of my grandchildren, my husband Art Maister, my mom Ethel, and my aunt Evelyn Hecht at the induction ceremony,” she adds. (Evelyn also performed at Rainbow Stage in the 1950s.)
Gordon notes that while she appeared onstage in seven Rainbow Stage productions – from 1977 to 1993, she was honoured not for her acting, but for her role as a nurturer of talent through teaching acting and musical theatre at the University of Winnipeg for 18 years, as well as teaching at the University of Manitoba, Prairie Theatre Exchange and The Manitoba Theatre for Young People – also, later as the Artistic Director of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre for over 10 years and Winnipeg Studio Theatre, which she founded in 2006.
“I get a lot of satisfaction watching actors I’ve directed and students I have taught and nurtured performing at Rainbow Stage and other venues in the city,” Gordon notes. Many of them have gone on to work professionally and have appeared across Canada, as well as in Broadway productions. Some of them include: Alexandra Frohlinger (Soul Doctor/Broadway), Samantha Hill (Phantom of the Opera/Broadway), Jaz Sealey (Aladdin/Broadway), Andrea Macasaet (Six/Broadway), and Nyk Bielak (Book of Mormon/Broadway).
Gordon was an actor and high school drama teacher at West Kildonan Collegiate for the first 15 years of her career. By the mid-1990s she found herself becoming more interested in working behind the scenes as a director/producer. In 1994, she became the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s second artistic director – succeeding WJT founder Bev Aronovitch – a role she played until 2006. Following her time at WJT Gordon observed that local theatres were not hiring many female theatre directors.
“I realized that if I wanted to work as a director, I would have to create my own projects,” she recalls. So, she started Winnipeg Studio Theatre (WST) in 2006. Soon after forming the company, she invited her longtime theatre associate Brenda Gorlick to run the StudioWorks Academy, a program for emerging artists.
In 2021 she stepped down from her position at WST. “I am still interested in directing – but without the added pressures of being a producer or the full-time responsibility of running a professional theatre company,” she observes. “I like having the freedom to pick and choose the projects I want to work on.” I still plan to work on independent contracts directing theatre and creating entertainment for special events or fundraising activities in the community.”.Last year she produced and directed the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Negev Gala tribute honouring Gail Asper and Michael Paterson. As well, stepping down from her responsibilities with WST has also allowed Gordon to devote more time to her other passion – photography. “I have been interested in photography since I was 15,” she recounts. “My father Ralph had a dark room in our basement.”
Over the past couple of years, she has achieved accreditation with the Professional Photographers of Canada in four different areas of photography: street photography (her favourite), portraiture, performing artists, and figure study. And, last year, she co-authored a coffee table book – “The Murals of Winnipeg,” with fellow photographer Keith Levit as a fundraiser for Take Pride Winnipeg, with 80 pages of photos, which sold out in two weeks and the funds will go to emerging mural artists. (That story can be found on the jewishpostandnews.ca website.)
Kayla is grateful to have stayed in Winnipeg and she sums up her career, and how and why she managed to work in theatre all these years with a quote from Henry Winkler (aka ‘The Fonz’) “I live by tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity gets you where you want to be, and gratitude allows you not to be frustrated along the way”.