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Synagogues’ leadership report positive outcomes for Yom Tov this year

By MYRON LOVE  After three long years, Jewish Winnipeggers were able to return to synagogue for Yom Tov in reasonable numbers. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen this year,” says Ruth Livingston, the president of Temple Shalom, our community’s only Reform Congregation. “But we were delighted with the turnout. It felt to me like we were a community again.”

Livingston’s sentiments were generally shared by all active synagogue leaders. (The Chavurat Tefila and Talmud Torah shuls in north Winnipeg were unable to offer Yom Tov services this year.) Despite some continuing hesitation, these same leaders were pleased with the number of people who showed up for High Holiday services this year.

“We were cautiously optimistic,” notes Rob Waldman, the president of the egalitarian Chevra Mishnayes congregation in Garden City. “But we were quite pleased with our attendance. Despite some of our members still being uncomfortable with in-person services, we sold 90 seats – exceeding our expectations.”

Still with the North End, the venerable House of Ashkenazie, the last of our community’s older-style Orthodox coaggregations, enjoyed its largest Yom Tov turnout in several years. Congregation President Gary Minuk reports that about 50 were in attendance for the first day of Rosh Hashonah and over 40 for Kol Nidre. “We even had visitors from Toronto and New York davening with us,” he says. (The Ashkenazie is 100 years old this year. Minuk reports that a shul dinner to commemorate the occasion has been discussed, but the details at this point haven’t been finalized.)

South Winnipeg’s Orthodox Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation also had reason to be pleased with Yom Tov numbers this year. “We have fully re-opened our synagogue to our regular members,” says Jack Craven, the president of the congregation. Yom Tov turned out well for us. Our numbers were as we expected. It was good to see most people coming back. We hope to see even more members returning as the year progresses.” As most readers of this newspaper already are aware, there is big news happening with both of our community’s largest synagogues.

For Congregation Etz Chayim, this past Yom Tov was most likely the last to be celebrated at its current location. After nearly 70 years in North Winnipeg, our community’s second oldest and largest congregation is following the flow and planning to move south in early summer. Due in part to the growing trend of people staying home to watch services online and a continued exercise of caution – including distancing – Etz Chayim’s High Holiday attendance remained far short of pre-Covid lockdown times. In an earlier interview, Jonathan Buchwald, Etz Chayim’s executive director, reported that the synagogue executive was planning to cap attendance at between 350 and 375 in-person worshippers – about one-third of capacity. This compares with 50 worshippers allowed into the building for each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah and 100 for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur last year. The final numbers, Buchwald says, were about 350 for the first day of Rosh Hashonah and 320 for Kol Nidre. For the other days – the second day of Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur day – the number in attendance were between 250 and 300. “This year, too,” Buchwald adds, “our junior congregation and family services were back – as well as the in-person choir. “It was really nice to have a live congregation again.”

Shaarey Zedek’s attendance was constrained this year not so much by lingering Covid concerns but more so by the capacity of the Berney Theatre’s 200 seat auditorium where Winnipeg’s largest and oldest congregation was forced to hold High Holiday services while the Shaarey Zedek building itself is undergoing a major expansion and upgrade, which will be ongoing for the next two years. Ran Ukashi, the congregation’s executive director, reports that while over 100 people bought tickets for the in-person services, there were 350 screens – with 570 viewers watching online. Last year, Ukashi points out, Shaarey Zedek’s High Holiday services were entirely online. “It is a different feeling not being in our own building for Yom Tov,” he comments, “but, in general, people were positive about being able to attend High Holiday services in person.”

And, after two years absence, Camp Massad resumed its innovative and frailich Rosh Hashonah service. Daniel Sprintz, the camp’s executive director, reports that, as was the norm before Covid, Massad hosted its Rosh Hashonah program on the second day. “We offered a creative and interactive service that combines some traditional prayers with contemporary readings, folk music and our usual Camp Massad shtick,” Sprintz says. “Our services were our usual shtick, followed by an outstanding Kiddush lunch and tashlich by the water.” Sprintz notes that past Rosh Hashonahs at Massad have attracted as many as 150 participants.

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