By BERNIE BELLAN This year’s Jewish National Fund Negev Gala, on Monday, May 31, will be special for many reasons:
It will be the first Negev Gala here conducted entirely online.
It will be the first Negev Gala in Winnipeg in two years. (Last year’s had to be postponed because of Covid.)
It will be the first Negev Gala held in Winnipeg at which a medical physician will be honoured. (In 2018 the Alpha Omega Dental Fraternity was honoured as a collectivity.)
With all that in mind, it’s a special pleasure for me to be able to write about this year’s Negev Gala honouree, Dr. Ted Lyons – especially considering that he was supposed to have been honoured last year, but was unfortunately put in the position of having to wait an entire extra year to be honoured.
Ted Lyons is one of those rare individuals who has had a role in so many different areas of life, including many different aspects of medicine, to prominent leadership roles within our own Jewish community.
But, for anyone who has met Ted Lyons, despite his many accomplishments, his modesty and self-effacing manner come through immediately. As a matter of fact, in reading a short bio that he sent me I was often left laughing at the degree to which he was willing to admit his own rather extensive lack of success as a student before – and even while he was in university, until that is, he made it into medicine (on his second try).
It was when he was admitted into medical school here that Ted began to display a tremendous talent for being able to understand aspects of human anatomy that led him to be a pacesetter in the field of radiology with a worldwide reputation in the area of advanced ultrasound imagery.
But, just to give a taste of how much Ted Lyons hasn’t led success give him a swelled head, just read this excerpt from his bio when he discusses how close he was to being thrown out of Kelvin High School in Grade 12:
“I was in Miss Margaret Jean Thompson’s class for grade 12 and again was a very average student. I did not participate in any school activities but was active in AZA. I remember Reading Gullivers’ Travels and saying to a classmate as I walked into the classroom, that this was a child’s book. Miss Thompson began the class saying that this could either be taken as a child’s book or as a commentary on England in the 1800s. I felt stupid.
“At Christmas time Miss Thompson called me in into her office and said that I would never amount to anything and that I should leave school and go to get a job. I was flabbergasted as I had been a very average student but had never been a problem. I went home and told my parents what had happened. They came with me down to the school to meet with Mr. Fyles and with Miss Thompson. Mr. Fyles’ son was the dean of the medical school and my father knew him. The three of us sat across the desk with me in the corner. Part of the discussion, I remember, was me saying, “Why not let me come back? No one else will be using my seat.” They agreed to let me return after Christmas break. This must of had a profound effect on me but I still remained an average student for the end of grade 12.”
I told Ted that there was really so much rich material in his life story that it would be difficult to know what to include in this article. For the sake of brevity I’m leaving out other equally entertaining stories about Ted’s childhood. Suffice to say that it was a happy one – especially his many summers spent at the family cottage in Gimli, where Ted became an expert swimmer – and eventually a swimming instructor himself.
Moving on to Ted’s university years, once again he failed to demonstrate any apparent ability that might have suggested he was going to become a fabulously successful physician. Here’s what he has to say about his first attempt to get into medicine:
“I took three years of university in Science and got a BSc Bachelor of Science degree. I applied to Medicine, but my marks were not high enough, so I was not accepted. The average needed to be over 68.
“My dad suggested that I speak to the head of Medicine, Dr. John Gemmel, for his advice. He suggested I take Physiological Psych, a difficult course that would help me once I got into Med school. I decided to do a pre-masters in Zoology and apply again next year. One of my professors was Dr. Harvey Wiseman. I asked him the same question: ‘What should I take in order to get into Medicine?’ His answer was if you take physiologic psych you’ll never get in but rather you should take a bunch of half courses – which I did. They were amongst the best courses I had in university and served me well when I was in Medicine. One course was the History of Music where the professor said, ‘Don’t take any notes, just listen to the music and listen through my lectures. The exam will be the same as it was over the last three years. Get old exam questions and study them and you’ll pass.’ “
As events transpired, Ted did apply himself fully in Medicine. It was also during his time in medical school that he married Harriet Jacob, who went on to fashion her own career as a teacher and more recently, as a successful potter. Ted notes that Harriet “hand made all of the Mezzuzot for the Simkin Centre rooms and for the Gray Academy.”
Now, while reading about a doctor’s career is something that might not always make for the most scintillating reading, in Ted’s case he was at the forefront of so many breakthroughs in ultrasound technology that I would be remiss not to mention some of his achievements.
Again, here’s an excerpt from Ted’s bio: “In 1969 I entered radiology as a first-year resident and as a section head of Diagnostic Ultrasound. I continued in that role for 25 years. I introduced ultrasound in all Manitoba hospitals. I was the consultant to Manitoba Health on the orderly expansion of ultrasound. In other provinces there was less of a structured rollout of ultrasound services. There was also a rapid expansion of private practice ultrasound in other provinces but none in Manitoba. This made for a higher quality ultrasound service in Manitoba. I introduced all aspects of ultrasound examinations of the head, chest, heart, abdomen, pelvis and limbs.”
In 1996 Ted also began working with General Electric on the development of a new ultrasound machine that GE’s CEO at the time, Jack Welch, wanted to market – with the aim of making GE a world leader in the production of ultrasound machines. Ted was already a leading member of the RSNA (Radiology Society of North America), so when he decided to work with GE on the development of its ultrasound machines, he was able to convince the RSNA to have all its images come through the ultrasound department at the Health Sciences Centre, which had recently acquired 13 brand new ultrasound machines altogether for only $1 million.
(In 1996 the HSC purchased 13 of the new GE ultrasound scanners for only $1 million. Ted worked with GE to help improve and market their equipment, explaining that “They put a specialist in our department for 6 weeks and at the RSNA convention for the next 5 years all of the GE images came from our dept. Each year the GE Ultrasound CEO, myself and one other physician travelled around the world lecturing in at least a dozen cities.”)
Eventually, as is usually the case with any individual who has had an outstanding career in a rarefied field, the honours started to flow in for Ted Lyons.
In 2008, for instance, he was given the Order of Canada for Health Care while, in 2012, he was given the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal.
In 2014 he was given the Saul Kanee Distinguished Community Service award by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
In 2016 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the University of Manitoba.
It was with his assuming the presidency of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in 1999 though, that Ted began a period of very active involvement in the Jewish community here that has continued unabated ever since.
At various times within the past 30 years Ted has served on the boards of: Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg (including a stint as president, from 2005-2007), United Israel Appeal Federations Canada, Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, Asper Jewish Community Campus, the Conservative Yeshiva Rabbinical School of Canada and, most recently, the board of the Simkin Centre.
It was during his period of involvement at the Simkin Centre, in particular, that Ted Lyons’ administrative skills were brought into play at a crucial time during what was a very troubling period for the Simkin Centre. Together with Jonathan Kroft, Ted was able to initiate a thorough review of every aspect of how the Simkin Centre was run, which led to a complete overhaul of systems management in every respect. In speaking of that period Ted pays great tribute to the contribution made by Elaine (Meller) Todres in coming up with the recommendations that paved the way for the management system that is now in place at the Simkin Centre.
When I spoke with Ted though, what I wanted to hear from him in particular was his affinity for Israel and the reason that the project for which funds from this year’s Negev Gala will go is of such special significance to both him and Harriet.
The project is titled “The Bervin JNF Canada House of Excellence”. To be built in Sderot, which is the community that has always been the most immediate target of missiles launched over the years from the Gaza Strip, this particular facility is intended to “serve as an after-school education, empowerment, and enrichment centre for high school students from Sderot and its surroundings, who will be provided with the necessary tools and skills for personal and scholastic success.”
Ted mentioned to me that this year, all JNF Galas across Canada are combining to allocate funds to this particular project. Of the overall cost of $4 million to build the Bervin House, over half will be coming from JNF Canada. And – of that amount, over $1.3 million has already been raised from Winnipeg donors.
In an email to me, JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan Executive Director David Greaves, offered that the naming of the project “Bervin” is in honour of the late Berdie and Irvin Cohen, for which someone has donated $1 million (but who wishes to remain anonymous).
As to how Ted and Harriet became acquainted first hand with the Sderot project, Ted explains that, in the fall of 2019 he and Harriet were on a visit to Israel for their granddaughter’s bat mitzvah when they were taken by JNF on a visit to a similar project in Nof Hagalil. They were so impressed with what they saw going on at that project, Ted says, they decided that a similar project would be something with which they wanted to be involved.
I asked David Greaves whether the JNF is involved in similar projects around Israel? He responded: “Yes, Beit KKL as they are known generically. Ted and Harriet visited the first one at Nof HaGalil in 2019. The success of that one prompted KKL to commit to building a number of them in the periphery of Israel. The next one slated is the one that JNF Canada committed to partner with and which is now named Bervin JNF Canada House of Excellence.”
What excited Ted about the Bervin House project was that it will offer “kids in Sderot the extra schooling that will help them get into a better unit in the army or to get into university” – opportunities that are normally available only to kids in large urban centres in Israel.
Apparently it was when Russian immigrants to Israel began arriving en masse during the 1990s that the idea of setting up after school programs to offer students extra training, especially in subjects like math and science, and the idea of these special after-schools programs took hold.
Toward the end of my conversation with Ted Lyons I remarked upon the close friendships he has maintained over the years with a group of boys with whom he grew up, of whom some were: Michael Nozick, Elliot Rodin, Gerry Posner, Sheldon Gillman, Larry Booke, Arnold Popeski and Irv Tessler. (Ted also mentioned quite a few other names at various times as we talked. He said that he still maintains close friendships with almost everyone whom he was friends with when they were youngsters and that what he values most are the friendships he made while he was in AZA Toppers.)
“It was a small Jewish community – and our mothers were all friends,” Ted notes. “So we grew up together, we played together, we went to clubs together. In fact, six of us go together to Palm Springs in March (not last year or this year, he points out). We’ve all stayed friends over the years. We grew up in a special time – when you developed friends, and you stayed friends.”
As much as Ted Lyons has achieved well-deserved recognition for his many accomplishments, his attachment to Winnipeg and the friends with whom he grew up have kept him totally level-headed. He says that he had the opportunity to move to Toronto (as well as other cities in Canada and the US) and assume a very important position there, but in the end, he and Harriet realized that “family was important to us. I could do all the things I wanted to do career-wise here – and also get involved with the Jewish community here.”
“We are fortunate to have our children (Mara (Sheldon) and Sami (Rose)) and our five grandchildren in Winnipeg with us,” he adds.
As I came to the end of our conversation, I said to Ted that his story is such an interesting one – and he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself in telling it, that he ought to consider writing a memoir. I’m betting there would be a huge interest in reading the story of someone who has contributed so much to our community – all the while being able to look back with amusement at how unlikely a prospect that would have been when he was younger. If you’re younger – and thinking that there’s no hope for you to amount to anything of substance, take heart from Ted Lyons’ story. All that it took was avoiding taking a course in Physiological Psych in favour of some easy half courses – where the professor told you not to bother taking notes. If only I had known!
Gray Academy Visiting International School program attracts first student from Australia
By MYRON LOVE Gray Academy, our community’s only junior kindergarten–12 Jewish day school, holds a unique place among Jewish schools in Western Canada.
The school has a higher per capita enrollment than any other Jewish day school in Western Canada related to the number of potential Jewish students in the community. As well, it is the only Jewish high school in North America – other than yeshivot – that offers an international student experience.
“We generally enrol one or two students a year from international communities,” says Gray Academy Head of School and CEO Lori Binder. “Our International Student program has always been a niche program,” “We want to be able to make sure that the international students are well integrated into our student body.”
For the most part, she reports, the visiting students have come from Brazil and Mexico. “We have agents in Brazil and Mexico,” she notes. “In the past, we have participated in recruitment trips – and we might again one day – depending on available resources. Most of our international students hear about our program through word of mouth.”
This school year, Gray Academy has two international students enrolled. Natalie Rozenberg is from Rio de Janiero This is the Grade 12 student’s second year at the school. She is following in the footsteps of her older sister, Dafne, who graduated from Gray Academy in 2020 and is currently enrolled in third year Data Science at the University of Manitoba.
The newest international student at Gray Academy is Tara Foster, who has come all the way from Australia to sample a different kind of educational experience. “Tara is the first Australian student to participate in our program,” Binder says. “In fact, she reached out to us after finding information about our program online.”
The Grade 10 student was born and raised in Sydney. Her father, she notes, was also originally from Sydney, but her parents met and married in London. They moved to Sydney 18 year ago. Up to now, Tara has been a student at Masada College, a K-12 Jewish school in Sydney, where she will be returning next fall.
I wanted to experience a school somewhere else – preferably in an English-speaking country,” she says. “I searched online and Gray Academy was the only school offering this program.”
While her mother, she notes, had some concerns about her 15-year-old daughter traveling so far from home for school, her father was fine with the idea. He is involved in an accounting software business which brings him frequently to Toronto. Her mother, Tara says, is planning to come to visit in January.
Tara has been here for just over a month. She reports that Winnipeg so far is sort of what she expected. “It is very flat,” she muses. “It is easier to get around here than in Sydney.”
She says that she has already made some friends in her new school and is starting to get involved in extracurricular activites
Natalie began the school year by joining her Grade 12 classmates on their Human Rights and Holocaust Education trip to Washington, DC. She is looking forward to continuing to work out regularly at the Rady JCC.
”I am still working on improving my English,” she says.
She notes that her parents are happy that their two daughters are living in a safe community such as Winnipeg.
As is the standard practice with Gray Academy’s International Student program, both girls are living with host families. “Over the past 15 years or so, our visiting International Student Program has hosted more than 30 students,” Lori Binder reports. “Not only do the visiting students benefit from the experience of going to school here, but our own students get the opportunity to welcome fellow students from different places and learn more about the larger world.”
She adds that the visiting students form long-lasting bonds with their host families, with the guests often becoming part of the host family’s extended family.
Rabbi Michael Skobac, international leader in Jewish outreach, to speak at Adas Yeshurun Herzlia on October 20
By MYRON LOVE It has been many years since I have had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Michael Skobac. I am happy to report that the long time Education Director of Jews for Judaism has been invited back to Winnipeg by the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation to do a presentation – on Friday, October 20, after Kabbalat Shabbat services – on the subject of the ongoing missionary threat to the Jews.
The subtext for “The Battle for the Jewish Soul,” the title of his lecture, he points out, is an exploration of why so many Jews are susceptible to the siren song of missionaries – not just Christian missionaries, but also Asian religious movements – an issue that also falls under the aegis of Jews for Judaism.
“It is not just a matter of a lack of education or knowledge,” he explained in a wide ranging interview with the JP&N last Friday morning. “Many of those who have left Judaism grew up in Jewish homes, had their bar/bat mitzvahs, went to Hebrew school and visited Israel. What they are missing is a sense of spirituality.
“Too many Jews have grown up in a spiritual vacuum,” he continued. “They have holes in their soul that cry out to be filled and they are not finding it in Judaism. Therefore, they are turning to Bhuddism, Hinduism and the Church.”
To further illustrate his point, he cited a story about a conference on Jewish meditation a year ago in New York City. “There were about 1,000 people registered,” he recounted. “They were asked to raise their hands if they had participated in Eastern mediation practices. Everyone raised their hands. When subsequently asked how many of them had had any experience with Jewish meditation, no hands went up.”
That anecdote speaks to one of the several ways that Jews for Judaism’s mission has evolved and expanded. The organization was founded in 1989 in Toronto by Julius Ciss, himself a former “Jew for Jesus” who had returned to Judaism some years before and had begun doing counter missionary work.
Rabbi Skobac joined Jews for Judaism full time in 1992. A graduate of Yeshiva University, the former New Yorker received his smicha in 1980. After teaching for a short time, he was drawn into outreach work within the Jewish community prior to joining the staff of Jews for Judaism.
Initially, Jews for Judaism’s primary mission was working to bring back to Judaism susceptible Jews who were enticed into joining messianic congregations operating under the guise of following Jewish ritual practices within a context of worshipping Yesha (Jesus).
Skobac notes that Jews for Judaism’s focus has never been criticizing Christian beliefs, but rather on educating lost Jews as to the joys of Judaism. “We operate under the idea that the missionary activity of Jews for Jesus is not the problem,” he explains. “It is a symptom. The problem is that a growing number of Jews are disconnected from Judaism. Our communities are dealing with a lot of assimilation and apathy. The other thing we realized is that it is not just Christ who is calling to Jews. Twenty five percent of North American Bhuddists are Jewish and Jews are similarly overrepresented in other Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Bahai.”
Skobac noted that Jews for Judaism has become a 911 service forJewish communities – responding to many family members concerned about siblings or children who have strayed into other religious faiths.
There have been some interesting phenomena developing in more recent years that Skobac commented on. One is related to the growth of the messianic movements themselves.
“We are not dealing with just one or two messianic congregations in North America now,” he observed. “There are currently more than 500 – and they have become organized. They have camps and day schools and “rabbinical schools” to fill the growing demand for “rabbis”. The result is more of the messianic Jews are actually studying Judaism and some are – as a result- coming back to the Jewish community.”
Another difference that Skobac points out is that you no longer see these missionaries preaching on street corners. As with everything else in our modern world, virtually all the missionary work today is happening online. And the outreach efforts of Jews for Judaism has also moved to some degree online.
“Twelve years ago, we started our own YouTube channel,” he reported. “We have had between 8 and 9 million views. Obviously not all of our viewers re Jewish.”
He pointed out that over the past 40 years, a growing number of non-Jews have become interested in learning about Judaism and begun practising the “Noahide” laws as ordained in the Torah. These laws were required by God of Noah’s descendants and include prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, adultery, theft, murder and cruelty to animals.
And some of these Noahides convert to Judaism. Skobac reported, for example, that he was recently in Alberta to help a family living outside of Edmonton that was converting to Judaism.
The bottom line, Skobac noted, is that a growing number of Jews are not finding meaning in Judaism. “People need a sense of the spiritual in their lives to give their lives meaning,” he observed. “If they can’t find it in Judaism, they will look somewhere else. What we try to do is bring out the beauty and spirituality in Judaism.”
Readers who may be interested in attending rabbi Skobac’s presentation (which includes supper) can contact the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia office at 204 489-6262.
Three Jewish candidates in running for upcoming provincial election
By MYRON LOVE For those of us who still remember the 1969 provincial election that vaulted Ed Schreyer and the NDP into office for the first time, one of the aspects of that turning point in our province’s political history that stood out was the large number of Jewish MLAs who were elected to office that year.
That number included four for the NDP (Sid Green, Saul Miller, Saul Cherniack, and Cy Gonick) as well as two for the Progressive Conservatives (Maitland Steinkopf and Sidney Spivak). Spivak later went on to become leader of the recently defeated Progressive Conservatives and Leader of the Opposition.
It has now been more than 30 years since a Jewish MLA has sat in the Legislature. That would be the late Jim Carr, who was first elected as part of the Liberal resurgence in 1988, was returned to the Legislature in 1990 as part of a much reduced Liberal caucus, and resigned in 1992.
While there are three Jewish candidates in the running in the election next week, it is very unlikely that the dearth of Jewish MLAs will be coming to an end any time soon.
For Nathan Zahn, representing the Green Party in River Heights, this will be his third try and second in River Heights. As the Green Party has never won a seat n the province and he is running against the long-serving and popular former Liberal party leader Dr. Jon Gerrard, to describe Zahn’s campaign as an uphill battle is an understatement.
The annual Electronic Music Exhibtion organizer (which is held in June in the Exchange district) and founder and executive director of the non-profit Science First (that promotes science literacy and ecological conservation policies) is a long time Green Party member.
“My goal in running,” Zahn says, “is to raise awareness of several issues.”
Some of those issues, according to the Green Party platform, are fighting climate change, electoral reform, instituting a guaranteed basic income and improving access to healthcare.
In Wolseley, Phil Spevack is the Liberal standard-bearer. The candidate is best –known in our Jewish community as the long time organizer of the Saturday evening Grant and Wilton Coffee House concert which are held in the basement of Temple Shalom (where Spevack also serves as the
shamas. He has also volunteered over the years for Habitat for Humanity and has a program wherein he speaks to church groups, using a combination of music and humour to educate his audiences about Judaism.
The Liberal caucus in the Legislature currently consists of only three MLAs and Spevack is fully aware of the long odds he is facing. “The Liberals needed a candidate to stand for the party in Wolseley,” Spevack says/ “Jon Gerrard asked me to run and I thinki very highly of Jon.”
While the candidate did have a couple of campaign events planned, he points out that working around all the yom tovim has limited the amount of time he actually has to go knocking on doors in the riding.
Running for the Progressive Conservative Party in the north Winnipeg riding of St. John’s is first time candidate Teddy Rubinstein. Although new to politics, the University of Winnipeg student in the Faculty of Education does have a role model in his baba, Sheila Billinghurst, who served two terms as a school trustee in Pembina Trails school Division.
(Teddy’s parents are Steven Rubinstein and Marla Billinghurst. Bernie and Sheila Rubenstein are also his grandparents.)
While Rubenstein had not responded to efforts to contact him by press time, his blurb on the PC election website notes that “he is running because he wants to make a difference in the St. John’s community, be a positive voice for youth, and give back to Manitoba, where Teddy has lived his whole life.
Teddy believes that it’s important that the younger generation, the future of Manitoba, gets involved in decision-making in order to make a difference in, and be a representative of, their communities. He wants to work to help fight for Manitobans, including addressing the issues of crime that we are seeing in Winnipeg, and to make life more affordable for all Manitobans.”
The St. John’s riding has to be considered a lock for Nahanni Fontaine, the current sitting MLA and Deputy Leader of the Party.
Election day is next Tuesday. Please go out and cast your vote.