By BERNIE BELLAN
As reported in various media on October 6, the three members of the Berent family: father Alexander, mother Oxana, and son Maxim, are all now living in Los Angeles, having gone there in January of this year.
Readers may recall the notoriety surrounding the Berent family in relation to the charges of “public mischief” that were laid against them in April 2019 following the sensational report of what appeared to be the worst case of antisemitic vandalism ever having been seen in Winnipeg to that point, when what appeared to be the targeting of the Bermax Caffé on Corydon Avenue for vandalism drew widespread public attention. (It was also alleged that Oxana Berent had been attacked and rendered unconscious by whoever perpetrated the vandalism.)
In an email issued to various media by lawyer Michael Lazar of the Broadway Law Group on October 7, Lazar notes that he is now acting for Oxana Berent – having taken over from Martin Glazer. (Phillip Cramer is acting for Maxim Berent; Cramer is the only one of the three original lawyers retained by members of the Berent family who is still on the case. Brett Gladstone is acting for Alexander Berent, who was originally represented by James Lowry.)
In Lazar’s email he writes: “In the aftermath of the events (which took place in April 2019) there was a great deal of publicity which exposed the Berent family to ostracism in the community. Compounded by financial difficulties, the Berents lost both their business and their family home.”
We searched the title to the Berent home, which is off Highway 8 in the municipality of St. Andrews. The property was listed for sale in July 2019 for $669,000, but remained unsold until the listing expired in July of this year.
There are three different mortgages on the property: one held by the Royal Bank for $249,318; one by the Cambrian Credit Union for $1,000,000; and one by something called Community Futures North Red Inc. for $150,000. In addition, there are various judgments against various Berent-owned companies, including Bermax Design and Bermax Capital, amounting to over $120,000.
There are other claims pending against both Berent-owned companies and Alexander and Oxana Berent personally.
There is also a personal judgment against Maxim Berent from the Royal Bank for $44,000.)
On September 24 of this year the Royal Bank began foreclosing proceedings on the property off Highway 8.
Lazar’s email continues: “They had no community support in Winnipeg, but were offered support by the Chabad movement in Los Angeles. They advised the court of their intention to relocate to California, and were told that they were free to go so long as they maintained contact with their defence lawyers and returned for their trial. They relocated to California in January 2020.
“The subsequent arrival of the COVID pandemic raised difficult procedural issues in the case. Manitoba currently requires people arriving from the United States and elsewhere outside of Western Canada to quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival in Manitoba. This means that the Berents would have to return to Manitoba at least two weeks before the scheduled trial dates and quarantine here for two weeks. They had nowhere to do that, and do not have the means to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks.”
Presumably the Berents entered the United States on what is known as a B2 Visitor Visa, which is normally good only for six months. The Berents entered the United States in January, which means their visa would normally have expired either in June or July. Under certain circumstances visitors can request a further six-month extension of that visa.
Toward the end of his email Lazar also says the following: “The intent here (and this was expressed on the record by the crown attorney and confirmed by the defence lawyers) was that the Berents could return to Winnipeg and report to the police once COVID has receded and the quarantine requirements were removed. They would be released on a new bail and new trial dates would be scheduled. This was a creative and cooperative effort between crown and defence to deal with one of the unique challenges raised by the pandemic situation.”
While we have no way of knowing what is in the minds of the Berents, the option of returning to Israel (where they lived before moving to Canada in 2006) is open to them. While Israel does not necessarily extend the “right of return” to a Jew with a criminal record, (Article 2(b) of the Law of Return asserts that an entry visa will not be granted to a Jewish person if they have a criminal record that suggests they may pose a risk to public safety), none of the Berents have been convicted of a criminal offence.
The following information is taken from an article I wrote about the Berent family in 2013: “Originally from Ukraine, where Maxim’s father, Alex, worked in the design and production of custom-made furniture and cabinets with Maxim’s grandfather and his mother, Oxana, worked first as an engineer – later joining the Berent family business, the family moved to Israel 22 years ago. Of all places to live the Berents ended up in Metulah, Israel’s northern-most location, where they began selling furniture produced for them at nearby Kibbutz Hagoshrim. The family opened a furniture store in Kiryat Shmonah…”
“When the Berent family moved to Manitoba eight years ago (in 2006), settling in the St. Andrews area, it wasn’t long before word of their ‘old world’ craftsmanship spread, and the orders began pouring in. As a matter of fact, Oxana Berent has been nominated for the 2013 ‘Woman Entrepeneur of the Year’ award for her work in developing Bermax into a design and manufacture company of great repute.”
Thus, it would not be difficult to conceive of the Berents re-establishing themselves in Israel – if they should so choose. (Presumably, they could also return to Ukraine if they still hold Ukrainian citizenship.) While Israel does have an extradition treaty with Canada, it hardly seems likely that the Crown in Manitoba would go to the trouble of initiating extradition proceedings with Israel over a charge of public mischief any more than the Crown is likely to do that with American authorities.
Also, given the fact that they have been given help by the Chabad movement in Los Angeles, it is not difficult to conceive of the Chabad movement (or perhaps some other Jewish movement) helping the Berents to move back to Israel – once the COVID epidemic subsides.
Of course, this is all mere speculation on our part. As Michael Lazar makes clear in his email, the Berents say they are quite willing to return to Winnipeg to face trial “once COVID has receded”.
Winnipeg Jewish Theatre to open season with world premiere of “Pals”
By BERNIE BELLAN The opening show of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s 2023-24 season promises to be a clever and poignant take on relationships between men and women, when “Pals” makes its world premiere on November 9 in the Berney Theatre, running until November 19.
“Pals” is the third two-person show created by the team of Diane Flacks and Richard Greenblatt. Interestingly, when I spoke with Flacks and Greenblatt while they took a break from rehearsing the play in Toronto, they told me that their previous two two-person plays also had one word titles – with four letters in both: “Sibs” and “Care.”
“Pals” is the story of two friends, told over a 25-year time period. Their friendship survives many tribulations, including both characters entering and exiting many other relationships. The play uncovers the underlying tensions that permeate all friendships.
“Pals” opens with the two characters meeting for the first time. I asked Diane and Richard whether the notion of their having sex ever enters into the plot, but Richard was quick to exclaim, “We don’t have sex.”
Diane also noted that, in the case of her character, she is married to another woman. (Diane is a lesbian in real life.)
The fact that the characters maintain a friendship though becomes a source of friction within their respective relationships. It raises the question: Can you have an intimate, albeit platonic, relationship, with a member of the opposite sex all the while you’re in a physical relationship with someone else?
I asked whether the characters in “Pals” are Jewish (which both Diane and Richard are), and the answer was “yes.”
Both Diane and Richard have had past associations with the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. Richard’s goes back a very long time – when he directed the critically acclaimed “League of Nathans” in 1995.
Diane Flacks appeared in a one-night performance of a show in 2021 called “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” which was a part of that year’s Tarbut festival. There were no in-person events that year, due to Covid, but “Jewish Mother” was available on Zoom and had a huge audience.
In addition to writing for the stage, Diane Flacks has written for TV, including Working the Engels, Baroness Von Sketch Show, Young Drunk Punk, PR, and The Broad Side.
Richard Greenblatt has performed in theatres across Canada and abroad, as well as in feature films, television and radio. He co-wrote 2 Pianos 4 Hands, which played on five continents and in over 150 cities since it opened in 1996.
Pals is directed by the internationally acclaimed director Jillian Keiley. More information, tickets and 5-show subscriptions can be found at: www.wjt.ca. You can also reach WJT by phone at (204) 477-7478.
To watch a preview video from Pals, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2W0VmHHFbA
Simkin Centre introduces Friday afternoon Shabbat services – open to all
By BERNIE BELLAN (Posted Oct. 31) The Simkin Centre held its first ever Friday afternoon Erev Shabbat service this past Friday (Oct. 27), led by Rabbi Matthew Leibl.
There were more than 30 residents in attendance, along with various other outside guests. The service was approximately 45 minutes long and was filled with stories and songs associated with Friday evening Shabbats – some from Rabbi Leibl’s own childhood and some from more recent years.
The Friday afternoon Erev Shabbat services are now to become a regular features at the Simkin Centre and are open to anyone to attend.
To watch a short clip of Rabbi Leibl introducing his first Friday afternoon service click https://youtu.be/hLSrV18K58o
The complete text of MP Marty Morantz’s speech at the community vigil for Israel on October 10
Tonight we are all Israelis!
Conservatives stand with Israel.
Pierre Poilievre stands with Israel.
On Saturday we woke up to unspeakable images.
We must stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel as it defends itself from these criminal and barbarous acts.
On Shabbat, Hamas brutally invaded Israel, invaded homes, killing hundreds, taking hostage hundreds.
More Jews were killed in Saturday’s attack than in any single day since the Holocaust.
Some 1500 human beings killed in a single day would be like 6000 Canadians being murdered in a single attack.
They were children, babies, men, women.
They were young people just out listening to music at a dance party.
This was an unprecedented brutal attack.
As we speak Hamas is threatening to execute innocent hostages.
This outrage cannot, must not stand.
Don’t let anyone tell you Hamas is the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people. It is not a government.
They are a genocidal murderous and evil death cult and they must be defeated.
But friends, we have seen evil before.
Jews have been persecuted for millennia, but we have survived.
Conservatives unequivocally condemn the invasion of Israel by Hamas terrorists and the sadistic violence that Hamas has carried out against innocent civilians.
Now is the time for moral clarity. There is no moral equivalency between democratic Israel and the butchers of Hamas.
There is no response, no matter how strong, that would be disproportionate to the crimes Hamas has committed.
Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks and respond against the attackers – as any other country would.
Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
In 1948 that dream became a reality – a homeland in Israel, the promised land.
Working together Israelis turned a desert into an oasis.
An island of democracy surrounded by a sea of autocracy.
A Jewish state where Jews could live in peace free from fear and persecution.
Let there be no doubt. Israel is the ancient and indigenous homeland of the Jewish people.
We will not let the butchers of Hamas take that dream, long realized, away from us.
Many politicians will stand with Israel when it is easy.
But listen to what they say when it is hard.
They will talk about “both sides.”
I’m here to tell you that there is only one side.
The side of morality.
The side of democracy.
The side of Israel.
We see too often politicians at the United Nations unfairly singling out Israel for criticism.
I will always stand against the unfair singling out of the Middle East’s only democracy.
Already there are calls for Israel to deescalate.
I ask you.
Would any country deescalate after having its people slaughtered in cold blood?
I wish the people of Israel and its brave soldiers Godspeed on their mission to defend the promised land from pure evil.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:
Through fire and water Canada will stand with you.
Am Yisrael Chai!