Connect with us

Local News

The Ashkenazie Synagogue is the last of the old North End synagogues still remaining – can it be saved? An imaginary proposal to do just that

artist's rendering of the existing Ashkenazie synagogue with new museum building to be built alongside it

By BERNIE BELLAN Two and a half years ago, in our Dec. 4, 2021 issue, we wrote about a proposal that was developed by the board of the Ashkenazie Synaogogue, Winnipeg’s oldest still-in-use synagogue building, and the last of what once were 18 synagogues dotting Winnipeg’s North End.
In that story we explained that Ashkenazie members were faced with some stark – and very difficult choices. As we wrote back then: “Unable to sustain a regular minyan and with a membership that is a mere fraction of what it once had, the few remaining members of the Ashkenazie are faced with a difficult choice: Either find a new use for the building or close it as a house of worship.”
We also noted that, under the leadership of Dr. Yosel Minuk, the Ashkenazie board had “come up with an imaginative proposal that would see the Ashkenazie retain a core area for services, while reconfiguring the rest of the building into a ‘living’ museum of Winnipeg’s Jewish North End.”
As Dr. Minuk wrote in a letter to us at that time,”the idea has been developed to reconfigure the Ashkenazie into a museum that commemorates all the previous (17) synagogues and at the same time, continue to offer services to its regular attendees, museum visitors and staff.
“Essentially, our ‘vision’ entails the following: the main body of the synagogue would remain intact for daily and/or holiday services. However, the flanking pews would be converted into cubicles that contain narratives, photos and 3 dimensional items recovered from previous synagogues in the area, largely drawing upon collections and exhibits previously displayed by the Jewish Heritage Centre. If the memorabilia exceeds the space available, the flanking pews of the upstairs ladies gallery could be utilized for the same purpose.
“Certain cubicles would also feature former North-Enders who went on to national or international acclaim (ex. Monty Hall, David Steinberg, Sydney Halter, etc.) and computer stations that would enable visitors to look up old relatives and friends who were amongst the first immigrants to the North-End. Similar information would be offered for Jewish owned North-End businesses that helped contribute to the area’s economy.

Proposed kosher café to be built in the new synagogue/museum


“In addition, the Chedar-shaynee (anteroom to the main synagogue) would be repurposed as a small café, gift shop and washrooms. Depending on public feedback, the kosher kitchen and undeveloped downstairs area would be renovated and used for either hosting exhibits/seminars/events/dinners.”

In that article, we also advised readers who were interested in commenting upon the proposal that they could do so by responding to an online survey. (We offered a link to the 8-question survey.)
In our Dec. 18, 2021 issue, Dr. Minuk noted that there had been 20 responses received as a result of the article we had published in the previous issue. He wrote the following:
“I’m pleased that our initiative to reconfigure the Ashkenazie synagogue into both a museum and synagogue has generated so much reader interest as it underscores the importance of what we hope to create: a site that offers visitors a historical account and pays tribute to these synagogues and the individuals who built and supported them.
“We were also very pleased with the feedback we received from readers who completed our on-line questionnaire Of the 20 respondents, 17 rated the initiative 10/10 in terms of being worth pursuing. There was one response in particular that we considered rather compelling: ‘Please do this before we lose our tradition.’ Some also offered memorabilia they had stored while others pledged financial donations, which we are not accepting – at this time. Overall, we were quite encouraged by the responses.”

Now, two and a half years later, that proposal still remains simply that: a proposal.
Dr. Minuk advises that a request to the Jewish Foundation for a grant to conduct a feasibility study of the proposal was turned down, although upon speaking with a member of the Board of the Jewish Foundation, we were told that the Foundation would certainly consider the request again if it were to be submitted a second time, but this time for less money.
In the meantime, upon speaking with Dr. Minuk via a Zoom meeting, we were able to see a very effective PowerPoint presentation he had prepared which fulyl outlined what the proposed reconfiguration of the Ashkenazie Synagogue would look like.
Yet, within that same PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Minuk also addressed head-on the many challenges that would accompany any plan to redevelop the Ashkenazie, including:

  • Engineering
  • Architectural Design
  • Curator
  • Safety
  • Parking
  • Appeal to youth
  • Inclusiveness (appeal to other communities that have strong roots in the North End, including First Nations, Filipino, Ukrainian, and others)
  • Business model (capital and operating costs)

  • I asked Dr. Minuk how much he sees this total project as costing?
    He answered that he thought it would be from $3-5 million.
    I said to him that the proposal reminded me of a story Bob Freedman, former CEO of the Jewish Federation, had told me years ago about how the federal government came to provide $3 million toward the construction of the Asper Campus.
    The very powerful federal minister from Manitoba in what was then the federal Liberal government under Prime Minister Jean Chretien was Lloyd Axworthy. When Freedman (accompanied by Marjorie Blankstein and Sheldon Berney) finally managed to corral Axworthy for a meeting (and in Freedman’s recounting of the story, it was when Axworthy was in a room at the Westin Hotel, getting ready to speak at some particular function there – and he met with the trio while he was stripped down to his underwear, putting his tux on – much to Marjorie Blankstein’s chagrin, Freedman said.)
    According to Freedman, Axworthy asked the three of them: “Are you going to have a museum there?”
    “Museum?” replied Freedman. “No, we don’t have plans for a museum.”
    “Well, put a museum in there and we’ll give you $3 million,” said Axworthy.
    And that’s how the federal government came to contribute $3 million toward the building of the Asper Campus.
    Unfortunately, as many readers are now probably aware, once the campus was built, the decision was taken to substantially reduce the amount of space that was to be given to the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada and, rather than build a museum, those glass panels that house some permanent and some temporary exhibits along the corridor between the Berney Theatre and offices in the campus are what we have instead of a full-fledged museum.
    Many of the artifacts that were intended to be part of the JHCWC museum at the campus and which could be put on display in this new Ashkenazie “Musynagogue” (as Dr. Minuk puts it), are being held in storage in the basement of the Asper Campus.
    The point of my writing this is to illustrate how difficult it would be for the Ashkenazie proposal to get off the ground – unless there is federal government funding. (Despite the federal government continuing to run massive deficits, there is nothing governments like more than “shovel-in-the-ground” projects which can prominently display the federal government logo on a sign in front of the project. Also, think of the number of jobs a project like this can generate. It would be a lot cheaper than the billions the federal government has shelled out in recent years for pipelines, auto plants, and lithium battery plants.)
    Also, by including a variety of other ethnic groups in the project, especially First Nations – who have a long and storied connection to the North End, this proposal might just have a chance of succeeding.
    And, with a federal election required to be held no later than 2025, the timing is right to approach federal representatives for support.
    As for those naysayers who would dismiss the proposal outright on the grounds that the Ashkenazie is located in an unsafe area, can you imagine how an idea of this sort might help to revitalize that part of the North End?
    The fact is, however, that right now, it’s Dr. Yosel Minuk who’s carrying the ball on this one pretty much by himself. If he is able at least to obtain the funds to do a feasibility study then he can pursue the idea of the project more fully, but first he has to get past first base.

Local News

RBC freezes client’s bank account by mistake – and keeps it frozen without explanation

By BERNIE BELLAN (June 14, 2024) What would you do if, one day, you tried to use your debit card to pay for something or to take a cash withdrawal – and the card didn’t work? But then, after contacting your bank to try and find out why that’s happening, you’re simply told your account is frozen – without any further explanation? And, only after deducing that the bank froze the account of the wrong individual, does the bank finally admit its error.
Such was the case recently with an RBC client who happened to be a relative of mine and who enlisted my help in trying to figure out why their account had been frozen by RBC.

On May 1 I was contacted by my relative asking for my help. They couldn’t understand why their debit card wasn’t working. They told me that their card had stopped working five days prior. (It should be explained this individual does not have sophisticated knowledge how to deal with a problem of this sort and they simply thought there was a glitch in using their card that would be corrected in short order by the bank.)

After several days of not being able to use their card, my relative explained, they had phoned RBC on April 30, but were not offered any explanation as to why their account had been frozen. They were told, however, that the matter was in the hands of a Vancouver branch of RBC. My relative was even further puzzled. They lived in Winnipeg and had never even been to Vancouver. What did their account being frozen have to do with a Vancouver branch of RBC, they wondered?

The day my relative contacted me, I told them to come over to my house and that I would try and get an RBC customer service representative on the phone to obtain some sort of explanation as to why their account had been frozen. After getting an RBC customer service representative on the phone and explaining who I was, I asked permission to listen in on the conversation between my relative and the RBC customer service representative. The customer service representative agreed to allow that, but during the course of the conversation they said they were not able to offer any information as to why the RBC client’s card had been frozen.
Both my relative and I were totally puzzled. RBC had frozen their account but would offer no explanation for why that had happened.

Later that day, however, my relative contacted me again to say that they wondered whether it was possible their account had been frozen by mistake because they had the same name as another relative? That other individual does live in Vancouver, so it began to make sense to me. I don’t know that individual well, but was able to contact them after getting their phone number from someone who knew them.
I phoned that person but just got their voice messaging, so I left a message asking them to call me. In a few minutes that individual did call me back and did say, not only that they had an RBC account, but that they had some legal issues related to debts (without going into specifics).

Immediately it occurred to me that my Winnipeg relative’s account had been frozen by mistake and that it was this Vancouver relative whose account was the one RBC had intended to freeze.

I phoned RBC back again and said that it was apparent RBC had frozen the account of the wrong individual. When I gave a detailed explanation of what evidently had happened, this time the RBC customer service representative told us to go down to the branch where my relative does their banking, where we would be met by a banking representative.

At the branch we met with a very nice RBC representative who said they had been brought up to speed as to what had happened. The bank representative explained that my relative’s account had been frozen as the result of a court order that had been issued in Vancouver to freeze the account of someone with the same name. The representative said that my relative could still not use their debit card to access cash, but the representative would be able to give them cash that they could use until their account was unfrozen.

At that time I suggested that what RBC had done was an outrageous mistake and that RBC ought to offer compensation to my relative. The branch representative said RBC was willing to waive bank fees for my relative for six months – apparently worth something in the order of $80 altogether.
The representative also gave me the name of the law firm that had applied for the court order that had led to the wrong account being frozen.

I contacted that law firm the same day and explained what had happened to a lawyer from the firm. The lawyer told me that the court order that had been applied for and had been issued by a court specifically gave the number of the bank account that was to be frozen. The lawyer sent me a copy of the bank order.

It was apparent that someone at RBC had made a huge mistake. They had ignored the order to freeze a specific account belonging to a specific RBC client and instead had frozen the account of a totally different RBC client who happened to have the same name!
When I discovered how egregious a mistake RBC had made – after reading the court order, I contacted the same RBC branch representative who had offered to freeze the fees on my relative’s account and said that my relative expected a lot more in compensation for such an outrageous mistake than simply having bank fees waived for six months.

On May 22, the RBC branch representative wrote in an email to me:
“Your request for compensation has also been escalated to our RBC client care department. They will reach out directly.”

On June 11 we contacted the branch representative to say that my relative had not heard anything from the client care department. On June 12 the branch rep wrote to me to say that an RBC client care representative had indeed attempted to contact my relative – both via phone and email. The phone number that was given in the email though was no longer in service and when we checked with our relative they said they hadn’t received an email.

On June 12 we emailed the RBC client care representative to ask them to attempt to contact our relative again. We did not hear back from that representative. To date our relative says they have not heard anything from the client care representative.

The upshot is RBC made a huge mistake and froze an account of the wrong individual – causing them distress and frustration, and only after we were able to figure out what had led to the wrong account being frozen, did RBC unfreeze the account. And, even though we asked for compensation over a month ago, no response has been received from RBC.

Continue Reading

Local News

Record crowd of 50,000 turns out for pro-Israel Toronto event

By DAVE GORDON (June 11, 2024 / JNS) More than 50,000 pro-Israel people turned out for the UJA Walk with Israel in Toronto on Sunday, a record turnout for the event which is in its 55th year.
Adam Hummel, a lawyer in Toronto, told JNS that it was “remarkable and uplifting to see so many Jews come together” this year for the 5K walk (about 3 miles.)
“I was dumbstruck how many people were gathered and feeling the energy and community, especially when we have been struck by so much sorrow,” Hummel said.
Although it seemed in prior years that people attended out of inertia, this year was different, according to Hummel.
“It felt like people needed to be there,” he said. “Because of everything we have gone through as a community, and what Israelis went through, people needed to show up to stand with Israel.”
The event, a project of the UJA Federation of Toronto, moved from the heavily-Jewish neighborhood at the Bathurst Street corridor at Lawrence Avenue to the Federation’s Sherman Campus, which was rebuilt several years ago. 
Guidy Mamann also told JNS that this year’s event felt different.
“I’ve been to many, many walks for Israel since I was a kid,” the Toronto lawyer said. “Normally, people go because they want to have fun and see old faces, but I think this year it was driven by a need to go.”
“There was a sense of needing to go to this walk-a-thon because of the trauma we’ve been through together,” he said. “We needed to feel each other and see each other in large numbers. I think the community really needed that.”
Brendan Shanahan, president of the Maple Leafs, the Toronto hockey team, and the singer Montana Tucker, who sang the Israeli national anthem, were among the celebrities present.
“We are thrilled by the overwhelming support for the walk this year from our community and our friends and neighbors across Greater Toronto,” stated Jeff Rosenthal, chair of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “To see a record-breaking turnout this year speaks volumes about our community’s pride, resilience and determination to show our city who we are and what we stand for.”
Exceptions for Jews
Michael Kerzner, the solicitor general of Ontario, and Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, attended the event. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Olivia Chow, Toronto’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor, reportedly were not present.
Chow, who had skipped what she called a “divisive” annual Israeli flag raising at City Hall the prior month, said in an interview with a popular Toronto radio station on Monday morning that she had a prior commitment and couldn’t attend Sunday’s event.
“She wasn’t missed,” said David Burstein, a Toronto dentist.
“It was one of the most outstanding communal Jewish experiences of my life, and I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life. The energy was fantastic,” Burstein told JNS. “The fact that they got the four hostages out the day before, really helped morale and added to the joy of the day.”
Kevin Vuong, a federal politician of Chinese descent, told JNS that he was disappointed that Chow skipped the pro-Israel event, which she attended previously as a federal politician.
Vuong noted that Chow told the Jewish community that “you’re never alone” after a shooting at the Jewish girls’ elementary school Bais Chaya Mushka in Toronto in late May.
Chow’s statement implied that “she stood with Toronto’s Jewish community,” Vuong said. “She lied.”
“It’s clear that if it was any other community, she’d have been there. No mayor, nor prime minister for that matter, would skip an event attended by 50,000 Canadians,” Vuong added. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Oct. 7, these so-called leaders make exceptions when it comes to Jews.”
Vuong and his wife attended the event “to show our support for Jews both here at home in Canada and abroad, and that meant walking the talk and walking the walk.”
‘I was shocked at the depravity’
The politician had harsh words for the hundreds of pro-Hamas demonstrators, who used bullhorns and loudspeakers to broadcast anti-Israel chants and Islamic prayers and who reportedly sought to enter a place where the event was taking place and had to be barred by law enforcement.
“One thing I couldn’t believe was that pro-Hamas supporters brought in speakers and blared the rocket sirens that go off when Israel is under attack,” Vuong told JNS. “I was shocked at the depravity that someone would think to do that in the hopes of triggering participants.”
“Sadly, I was not surprised when other counter-protesters gave up all pretenses and started cheering outright for Hamas,” he added.
Hummel, the Toronto lawyer, called the protesters “pathetic, paltry and sinister.”
“We celebrate life and they clearly do not. We were there in blue and white with our children, singing songs about life. There was a world of difference,” he told JNS. “They were wearing black and had their faces covered.”
“They stood with swastika signs. Repulsive and pathetic,” he added. “The visuals could not have been starker of what we’re fighting for, and what we are fighting against.”
Mamann, the other Toronto lawyer, told JNS that some of the protesters tailed Jewish community members after the event in a harassing way.
“These people come clear across town and out of town to disrupt us. The police were on our side. But at the end of the day, the protection doesn’t finish when the walk finishes,” he said. “There are thousands of people trying to make it home, and there is still work to do.”
Ali Siadatan was among the non-Jewish Canadians of Iranian descent who participated in the event to voice their support for the Jewish state.
“I stand with Israel because I wish to live in a free world. Israel is at the epicenter of a global ideological war,” Siadatan told JNS. “Israel’s victory will push back the forces of Islam and Marxism. Israel’s defeat would encourage these very forces to explode in the West and in Canada.”
“Even the future of Iran very much depends on the victory or defeat of Israel against the regional forces of Islamic militancy,” Siadatan added.
At the end of the walk, JNS caught up with the rapper Nissim Black, who performed at the festival, which also had kid-friendly activities and musical performances.
“Incredible energy,” Black told JNS. “It was so special seeing all those people together celebrating Eretz Hakodesh,” the Holy Land.

Continue Reading

Local News

Women Wage Peace to hold Zoom meeting in June

The late Viivan Silver z"l

We received the following email about a group that will be holding a formative meeting via Zoom this month:

Dear Friends,
Many of you may have heard of the Israel-based group called Women Wage Peace
(WWP) – Nashim Osot Shalom, which Vivian Silver (z”l) helped found ten years ago.
Some may have read the recent article about the group by Sharon Chisvin in the
Winnipeg Free Press. The group now has over 50,000 members, many all over the
world, for example, in Germany, Australia, the UK. The group is non-political and nonsectarian.
There are Jewish, Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Muslim, Christian and secular
women (and some men) across the political spectrum. It has partnered with a
Palestinian Women’s Group called Women of the Sun, and the heads of the two groups
made Time Magazine’s list of women of the Year – ‘extraordinary leaders who fight for a
more equitable future”. We just learned that Vivian has been posthumously awarded
the Hessian Peace Prize in Germany for her efforts.
WWP believes in the active participation of women through all stages of negotiations
and that we all have common interests, desires and needs for a peaceful resolution of
the conflict. WWP recognizes the need for diverse voices; the more partners there are
in the process, the greater the chances of achieving a long-lasting peace.
We are writing to you now, as we are setting up a group in Winnipeg, to support and
amplify the work of this remarkable organization. Please let us know whether you
would like to be involved with a Winnipeg/prairie group. We welcome input from all of
you.

There will be an initial Zoom meeting on June 18 at 7 pm to give everyone a chance to get to know one another and to brainstorm. Even if you are too busy to be an active participant, your support, both moral and financial, will help. And, if you know others who would be interested, please let them know about this initiative.
A major goal of WWP is to implement activities aimed at promoting the vision of a
shared society and co-existence.
Shalom/Peace/Salaam-
Esther Blum and Chana Thau
Please RSVP to wwpwinnipeg@gmail.com as to whether you would like your name to be added to our mailing list as a potential member or to follow WWP events, also to obtain the link to the Zoom meeting.
For more info on WWP, go to www.womenwagepeace.org.il

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News