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Shaarey Zedek temporarily discontinues planting flowers on graves

SZ cemeteryAs a result of much higher costs than normal due to new regulations imposed upon cemeteries by provincial regulations, the Shaarey Zedek board has informed members and others who had Perpetual Care agreements with the synagogue that flowers will not be planted by the synagogue this year at the Shaarey Zedek Cemetery.


In an email that was sent in May to Shaarey Zedek members, along with individuals who had entered into Perpetual Care Agreements with the Shaarey Zedek in previous years, the synagogue’s board explained its decision not to plant flowers on graves this year.

It was noted that The Perpetual Care Agreement does include the planting of flowers, but the email explained that there would be a need to hire an additional 14 temporary workers to plant flowers if the synagogue were to adhere to provincial regulations on social distancing. The email reviewed the normal requirements pertaining to the maintenance of the cemetery and what the typical annual costs of maintaining the cemetery are:
• “The Perpetual Care shall include the planting of flowers, cutting of grass, changing the soil and sod, renovating of concrete (if same surrounds the plot), as determined necessary by the Cemetery Committee in its sole discretion.”
• The cost to purchase flowers to meet our current needs is approximately $33,000.
• The cost of labour to plant the flowers is over $215,000 (based on 2019 expense).
• The cost (Maintenance & Administration only) to operate our cemeteries in 2019 was $773,000 (This does not include funerals)
• As we had not yet committed to the purchase of flowers this year, the question of availability is a potential factor.

The email raised the issue of the extraordinary increase in costs as a result of what would have been having to hire 14 additional employees this summer:
• Can we hire an additional temporary 14 employees as flower planters only, in addition to the already hired seasonal employees (grass cutters, maintenance, etc.) and stay within government guidelines as to maximum numbers allowed in close proximity in our workshop (current guidelines are 10 people)? 
• Our Perpetual Care Fund allows for the Cemetery to draw only the Interest generated annually to offset Perpetual Care expense. This year’s revenue is projected to be approximately $245,000.

The email went on to note that all the other usual operations of the cemetery will be maintained:
 As the Cemetery operations are now a part of the overall Synagogue operations, determination of revenues and expenses based on current conditions are a significant consideration.
As one can see there were many points to consider. After a lengthy discussion and in consideration of the unique situation this year due to the Coronavirus, the Cemetery Committee agreed unanimously to suspend the purchase and planting of flowers for this year. However, the Cemetery Committee wanted to ensure that except for the flower planting for this year, the remainder of our obligations related to Perpetual Care be maintained. This includes grass cutting, replacing soil and sod, and renovations and repairs of concrete strips and borders, as well as other ongoing maintenance of the Cemetery to include, tree trimming, fence and road repairs, and general maintenance of all equipment and property related to the cemetery.
In addition, the Cemetery Committee agreed that any friends or families of those buried at our cemeteries be permitted to plant and maintain their own flowers, if they wish to do so. This recommendation was forwarded to the Board of Directors.
In a subsequent email the synagogue outlined steps individuals wishing to plant flowers on their own would need to take:
• You will need to bring your own gardening tools including a watering can to the cemetery.

• Water is available from the Cemetery Maintenance Building on Armstrong from Monday to Friday between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

• Water taps within the cemetery grounds will be turned on by the City of Winnipeg, the afternoon of Tuesday, June 9th. Faucets are located along most sidewalks. The water is turned on Monday to Friday between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM, excluding Canadian holidays and non-working Jewish holidays. If you come to the cemetery outside of these hours, please bring your own water.

• Cemetery staff will not be doing specific watering at individual grave sites. Cemetery staff will not be maintaining individually planted flowers, including weeding or the removal of dead flowers during the summer. To ensure the best possible result, we ask that you please check on the flowers you have planted, on a regular basis.
If you need to discard any leftover plastic containers, soil, or plants, a garbage bin is located in the northwest corner of the cemetery property.

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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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