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Rady JCC Executive Director Rob Berkowits on what the future holds for the Rady JCC

Rob Berkowits

By BERNIE BELLAN It’s been 17 months since most Rady JCC members have actually set foot in what had become the centre of Jewish life in Winnipeg. From time to time we’ve written about how Rady JCC Executive Director Rob Berkowits has been forced to pivot, then pivot again and again, as first, stringent lockdown measures were imposed in March 2020, then eased in June 2020, then reimposed again in the fall, and only recently eased again in July.

We noted in January this year that all Rady JCC employees had been laid off in the fall, save Rob himself, Zac Minuk, Director of Development, Partnerships & Communications, and two members of the finance department, Barry Miller and Victoria Morton. As well, no one in the Early Learning Centres has been laid off.
And, while expenses were drastically reduced as a result, the fact that memberships were frozen took a very heavy toll on the Rady JCC’s revenues: By the end of September 2020 it had $700,000 less in revenues than it had anticipated.
While a $700,000 grant from the federal government filled that particular hole, the Rady JCC was still faced with having to pay the Asper Campus monthly fees. On top of that the cancellation of the annual sports dinner for what has now been two consecutive years has only added to the pain of losing membership revenue.
Still, despite the challenges facing the Rady JCC, it did begin to offer programming online, starting with the ever popular Music ‘n Mavens series in January, as well as a Jewish Film Festival, and a program produced jointly with the Gwen Secter Centre titled “Familiar Faces”.

The summer period is generally a quiet one for the Rady JCC – except for the sounds of hundreds of kids enjoying day camp at the Asper Campus. When we read the farewell message announcing Assistant Executive Tamar Barr’s departure, however, we wondered whether the Rady JCC could ever return to being the beehive of activity it had been since the doors to the Asper Campus first opened in 1997. So, we contacted Rob Berkowits to ask him for an update as to what the future holds in store for the Rady JCC. We also wanted to know who, if anyone, could fill the very large shoes that Tamar Barr had filled for so many years.

We began by asking Rob: “When was it Tamar was let go? Was it in October?”
Rob: “She was placed on lay off. She was never ‘let go’. All our staff were also laid off.”
JP&N: “I asked you this before, but since Tamar was so heavily involved with the cultural component of the Rady JCC, why didn’t you try to emulate what other JCCs had done – for instance the Vancouver JCC?”
Rob: “Remind me again what they did in Vancouver.”
JP&N: “It was all online. They had a lot of game playing– Bridge, Mah Jong, exercise classes. They also had something called “Dinner and a Movie”. They had a monthly concert series, a musical trivia program, yoga, morning stretch. I remember talking to you about that back in January, but you pointed out that the Vancouver JCC was still charging members for memberships without having frozen any.”
Rob: “We didn’t have a platform to offer that kind of programming in the fall, but in December we brokered a partnership with the Asper Foundation and began offering programs like Music ‘n Mavens, the Jewish Film Festival, the Asper Jazz Performance series – and the program you participated in (‘Familiar Faces’), which we did together with the Gwen Secter Centre. We also began delivering at that time some online workouts, like yoga.
“All tallied, our virtual programming reached over 10,000 community members. Many people told us that it was our programming that allowed them to continue to feel connected to the Jewish community when so many of us were isolated at home. We offered all of our programming free of charge so no one felt left out.”

JP&N: “Gwen Secter has begun filling the void that I would have thought you might have wanted to fill – with their summer concert series. But they’re doing that in their parking lot – it’s a pretty small venue – can only hold 25 max. Did you ever consider doing something like that – say, a concert series outdoors at the Campus?”
Rob: “Not in the summertime. Traditionally the Rady respects the fact that Winnipeggers go to their cottages in the summer and the reason we offer members the opportunity to freeze their memberships in the summer is there are very few who wish to participate in summer programming.
“We are about to launch a drive-in event which will take place in August. Most of our programming in the summer time is directly related to the day camp program.
“We’re going to announce a roll out program for the fall, which will include Tarbut, the Jewish Business Network, weekly programming that will include parent and baby, fun zone, birthday parties. Of course, this will all be based on the guidelines about what we’re allowed to have.
“We do believe there will be a virtual element in what we have planned because there are seniors who will not be comfortable in coming in person to the centre. We also want to be respectful of the fact that this virtual age is here to stay and as borders reopen, many snowbirds will head south and the virtual content that we’ll be able to produce and deliver will be relevant to them.”

JP&N: “Talking about Tarbut – that would involve people sitting in close proximity in the Berney Theatre. I wonder how comfortable people are going to be doing that, especially when we’re being told to expect a fourth wave (of Covid) in the fall.
“But, you’re talking about programming. Who is designing the programs? This would have been something that would have fallen under Tamar’s rubric.”
Rob: “Laura Marjovsky’s a longtime program manager. We recalled Laura and she agreed to come back. Now she’s in the process of recalling other staff that would take on a variety of roles. The department will not be as large and as robust as it was previously, but it will still provide us with our ability to provide arts and cultural programming, as well as programming for seniors, for teens, tweens, families, newcomers, and individuals with various levels of physical and cognitive disabilities.”

JP&N: “Speaking bluntly, if Tamar were to say that she was willing to work – even on a limited basis, is that something you would consider?”
Rob: “I think that’s something more for Tamar to decide. Tamar made the decision that she wanted to pursue other things.”

JP&N: “I did have a conversation with her. I got the impression that Tamar, under the right circumstances, would be interested in coming back in some capacity. But the message you sent to members seemed to be pretty much a final good bye – effectively closing the door to her returning. Are you saying now that it (Tamar Barr returning to the Rady JCC) is something that you would not rule out?”
Rob: “Nothing is out of the question, I guess, but it’s not a focal point moving forward. Tamar has moved on permanently from the Rady. We are moving forward into this next era of a sustainable hybrid of virtual and in-person arts and cultural programming without her. We have no plans or intentions to work with her on any of this going forward and thank her for everything she did while she was here.”

JP&N: “I don’t want to make this the focal point of what I’m going to be writing, but I just got the impression from reading that farewell message to Tamar that it was “good bye Tamar”, but Tamar is still relatively young – and, quite frankly, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for cultural programmers. I think that, if Tamar had her ‘druthers’, she’d rather be back at the Rady JCC.”
Rob: “I talked to Tamar about doing something to honour her years of service, and she seemed amicable to do that. But when do you do it so that you can do it justice?”

JP&N: “Switching gears – let’s talk about the exercise facility. You’re up to 50% capacity now – right? So what’s the response been?”
Rob: “The traffic is still slow upstairs, but to be honest I attribute that to it being summertime. Normally we see a significant number of people freeze their memberships for July and August, and we see increased traffic in the facility after the Labour Day long weekend – and we anticipate that’ll be the same.
“The traffic hasn’t been bad; I don’t want to give you that impression. It’s just not at a very high level right now.”

JP&N: “We were in a similar situation last summer, when attendance was way down – and you were expecting a healthy return of members in the fall – and then we got hit with a second wave in the fall – and that kiboshed everything again. I don’t want to be a purveyor of doom and gloom but you must be in such a terrible predicament. How do you plan when you don’t know what’s around the bend? Also, have you done any polling of members to ask how many are actually planning on coming back?”
Rob: “We’re in the process of doing that right now. There are many members whose memberships have lapsed, but we don’t think it’s an issue of their having left the Rady and they’re going somewhere else. Remember, we closed three different times – and reopened three different times. I think we’ll get a real sense of where we’re at (in terms of membership) after the Labour Day long weekend, but keep in mind the Jewish holidays are early this year.”

JP&N: “What about outreach to the community – with the newcomers to the community? Is that just too difficult to plan under these conditions?”
Rob: “We’re looking at various partnerships with Jewish Child and Family Service. I’ve already set up several meetings with Al (Benarroch, Executive Director of JCFS).
For youth, we’re going to bring back ‘Strictly Tweens’, ‘Kids at the J’, we’re going to do BBYO chapter programming again – which has continued on in a virtual manner. We’re going to bring back seniors’ programming – like Bridge and Mah Jong, the Stay Young Club, Active Living classes. We’re going to bring back the lecture lunch series – which is very popular with seniors.
“We’ll obviously offer a hybrid combination of in-person and virtual options for all these things. For inclusion, we’re going to offer ‘Fun and Fitness with Friends’. We’ll do another version of the Israel Asper Jazz series, the Israel International Film Festival.”
At the end of our conversation Rob told me that he would send me a more complete list of programs that the Rady JCC is planning to roll out for the fall. It turns out that he covered them all during our conversation at one point or another – except for birthday parties and Rosh Hashanah Outdoor Challah Bake (Sept. 2).

 

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Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities

Tom Traves

By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.

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

Dr. Lev Bubis

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

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

Beyond the Pale - Feb. 8 at the Berney Theatre

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

Socalled – Feb. 10

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

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

  • Issac Bashevis Singer
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