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Rady JCC to restart cultural programming after long hiatus

Rob Berkowits
Executive Director,
Rady JCC

Of all the Jewish organizations that have been hit hardest by the lockdown under which we have all been living to one extent or another since March 2020, none was more adversely affected than the Rady JCC.


While fitness programs continued to be offered, although on a much reduced scale and under careful monitoring provisions, all cultural programming was eliminated from the Rady JCC’s schedule quite early on.

Then, when the provincial government ordered increased lockdown measures for fitness facilities, first under Code Orange, then even more stringently under Code Red – when all fitness facilities were ordered to close completely, the Rady JCC found itself having to pare its staff to the bone, with the exception of its child care operations, which the provincial government ordered to remain open – even under Code Red.

However, other JCCs across North America had responded to the pandemic in a variety of ways, including a host of different online programs, so we were somewhat puzzled by the Rady JCC’s not offering any programs at all, beyond some online fitness programs.

Recently, the Rady JCC announced though that it will be returning with an enhanced series of online cultural program beginning this month, including a brand new Music ‘n Mavens series, a jazz series, some sort of collaboration with the Gwen Secter Centre on a speakers series, and an international Jewish film festival.

Although dates have not been established yet for all programs, according to Rob Berkowits, executive director of the Rady JCC, details are about to be announced imminently (perhaps even by the time you read this).

We spoke with Rob about some of the challenges with which he’s had to deal – especially financial ones. He noted that the Asper Foundation has now played a crucial role in helping to restart cultural programming – something that until quite recently, Rob said, he wasn’t sure could be offered at all for the foreseeable future.

“We operate like a business,” Rob explained. When pressure started to be put on the Rady JCC to begin offering some sort of online programming, “it wasn’t as simple as simply setting up a camera” and begin filming various cultural events.

The financing had to be in place first, he noted. And, while other JCCs, such as Vancouver’s, have continued to offer a wide range of online programming, throughout the pandemic, “Vancouver kept charging members” without any freeze on memberships – unlike Winnipeg, where all memberships have been frozen since the end of August,” Rob explained. (Members at the Rady JCC have been asked instead to consider donating their membership fees to the Rady JCC, for which they would receive charitable tax receipts and Rob did note that many members have done exactly that.)

While the Rady JCC did find that, as a result of the pandemic, it had $700,000 less in revenue by the end of September than it had budgeted, Rob did acknowledge that financial assistance from the federal government in the form of a $700,000 grant did manage to offset that financial hole. In fact, the year end financial report of the Rady JCC did show a surplus of $40,000 in revenues over expenditures, but it was clear that some major cutbacks were needed in order to be avoid going severely into debt – with no prospect of digging out of that hole.

As a result, in the fall there were major layoffs across the board, including every staff member except for childcare staff, and only four other staff: Rob himself, Zach Minuk, Director of Development, Partnerships & Communications, and two members of the finance department, Barry Miller and Victoria Morton.

One of the major challenges the Rady JCC has had to deal with has simply been being able to continue paying its monthly rent to the Asper Campus. As one can well imagine, just keeping the Rady JCC open incurs major operating costs.

And, while the Rady JCC has received financial assistance from the Jewish Foundation (in the form of $92,000 in emergency allocations, which were part of the three-phased rollout of emergency funding the Foundation has provided to a huge number of local Jewish organizations), the loss of revenue from such sources as the annual sports dinner has had a huge negative impact, in addition to the loss of membership revenue.

Rob, though, did acknowledge help that’s been given by individuals within the community, saying “We have been receiving some very kind donations”.

In his email to members announcing the new cultural programs that are about to begin starting with Music ‘n Mavens (Tuesdays and Thursday) this month, Rob wrote:

“Finally, to our members, our partners, and our community: please know your ongoing love, outpouring of support, and constant generosity allows us to continue to push forward and work tirelessly, ensuring that when we can reopen our doors, we will be ready to welcome you home.”


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Shaarey Zedek renovation update

Shaarey Zedek renovations are now well underway. Here’s a video posted by Shaarey Zedek about the renovations:

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Winnipeg Council of Rabbis criticizes suggestion that Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals – as well as kosher meals

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

We received the following letter from the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis in response to the suggestion that the Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals (Read story at🙂

Dear Bernie
We read your opinion piece on kashrut at the Simkin Centre with a certain amount of shock, as you advocated that the Simkin Centre not be a kosher facility. After a long discussion we had with food services at Simkin, it is clear that your statements about the quality of food are simply wrong. Residents at Simkin receive meals that are on par with all other similar facilities in Manitoba. The menu includes chicken both dark and white, meats including roast beef, ground meat, and much more. The only item not offered at Simkin that is offered at other similar homes is pork, which we hope you are not advocating for. 

In addition, every major Jewish organization in Winnipeg has a Kashrut policy in place. The reason for this is simple. Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values. How odd is it that Winnipeg’s “Jewish” newspaper would be advocating for treif food, and in your words  will “never give up the fight” to make sure it happens. A Jewish newspaper should be advocating for Jewish values, period. 

Finally, Kashrut allows the Simkin Centre to be an inclusive Jewish institution that accommodates the needs of the entire Jewish community. There are many residents and families that consider kashrut as an integral element in how they express their Judaism. They would have no other place to send their loved ones if the Simkin Centre was not Kosher.

The vast majority of Jews in Winnipeg want to see the Simkin Centre continue to be Kosher, and we hope you will either reconsider your position or not press a minority position onto the majority. We, as the rabbis of the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis, all endorse and fully support this position.

Winnipeg Council of Rabbis

  • Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, Adas Yeshurun Herzlia
  • Rabbi Allan Finkel, Temple Shalom
  • Rabbi Matthew Leibl, Simkin Center
  • Rabbi Anibal Mass, Shaarey Tzedek
  • Rabbi Kliel Rose, Eitz Chayim

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Bernie Bellan asks: If kashrut is so intrinsic to Jewish organizations in Winnipeg, why was the Rady JCC allowed to make its annual sports dinner non-kosher?

Bernie Bellan

Here’s a question for the Council of Rabbis – whose letter tearing a strip off me for daring to question the necessity of serving fully kosher meals to every resident of the Simkin Centre appears on this website: Have you ever considered the total hypocrisy inherent in your insisting that kashrut is vital to the Simkin Centre, while the Rady JCC some years ago abandoned the requisite that its annual sports dinner be kosher?
The sports dinner asks anyone attending whether they’d like a kosher meal (which is what I suggested the Simkin Centre could also do) and, from what I’ve been told, the number of individuals who respond in the affirmative can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
I don’t recall the council of rabbis kicking up a huge fuss over that change. But, to be consistent guys, (and by the way, only one of the five rabbis on that council is actually a subscriber to The Jewish Post, butI’m glad you’re all such vociferous readers), I expect you to demand that the Rady JCC sports dinner revert to being fully kosher.
After all, as Rabbi Benarroch so succinctly puts it in his letter: “Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values.”
I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to publicly demand that the sports dinner revert to being fully kosher. As I recall, the reason that kashrut was abandoned as a prerequisite for the dinner was because of the cost. So, when Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti wrote me in an email,  “I know for this year as of the end of October we are over budget on food by $150,000. We must continue to fund any costs on food from our existing annual budget or through fundraised dollars,” I fully expect the council of rabbis – and anyone else who is adamant that the Simkin Centre remain absolutely kosher to join in a campaign to raise that $150,000 so that Simkin can remain kosher without cutting into other areas of operation. How about it, guys?
My point in advocating for Simkin to modify its kashrut policy was to be as realistic as the people behind the sports dinner were in recognizing that the cost of a full adherence to kashrut can be prohibitively expensive. But, the sports dinner still allows anyone who wants a kosher meal to have one. That’s all that I was advocating for the Simkin Centre. So, tell me rabbis: Where do you draw the line from one Jewish institution to another? Or, does the slippery slope that you’re on also have an off ramp that allows you to abandon principles when it’s expedient to do so?

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