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Winnipeg-based researchers receive prestigious awards

researchersBy MYRON LOVE Three members of Dr. Lorrie Kirshenbaum’s Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences (ICS) research team – based at the St. Boniface Hospital campus’ Albrechchtsen Research Centre – were recently recognized for their efforts with prestigious awards.

The Winnipeg Foundation’s Martha Donavan Leadership Development Award for Women’s Health Research, which, this year, was given to Dr. Inna Rabinovich-Nikitin, is intended to provide leadership development opportunities for women in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. Eligible applicants include women who are full-time or part-time academic faculty members or students of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences or students, as well as post-doctoral trainees (including residents), presently enrolled in a program of study within the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.
Rabinovich-Nikitin also holds the prestigious Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Post-Doctoral fellowship award, which is given to top leading Canadian post-doctoral fellows.
“Inna is a terrific young scientist and among the brightest who have worked in my lab over the years,” says Lorrie Kirshenbaum of the Israeli-trained scientist.
And she, in turn, praises Kirshenbaum as a great mentor. “I have learned a lot from working with Lorrie,” she says. “He has been a real inspiration for me.”

Rabinovich-Nikitin came here five years ago with her husband, Sergey, and their two children (a third child was born here) to further her scientific knowledge though working in Kirshenbaum’s lab. The world-renowned Kirshenbaum’s lab studies heart disease and heart function with the goal of researching means to repair damaged heart cells and prevent heart failure – a major problem worldwide.
Rabinovich-Nikitin was born in Kishinev in Moldova but raised on a kibbutz and, later, Ashdod. She is a graduate of Tel Aviv University with a Ph.D in biotechnology.
“I was always interested in science – how things work,” she notes. “I have a particular interest in women’s cardiac health.”
She says that she hopes eventually to be able to open her own lab in Canada.

Also having recently received recognition for their research have been Rabinovich-Nikitin’s colleague at the Kirshenbaum lab, Victoria Margulets, and Rabinovich-Nikitin’s student researcher, Rachel Cogan. Both were recognized for their work at the 22nd Annual Naranjan Dhalla Cardiovascular Awards, which were held virtually on December 17th. Rachel Cogan, a third year science student at the University of Winnipeg, was the recipient of the T. Edward Cuddy Student Research Award. Margulets was recognized with the Kalwant Dhalla Research Technician Award.
The annual event is a joint effort of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at St. Boniface Hospital Research and the University of Manitoba as a way to celebrate excellence in cardiovascular research. The Cuddy award is one of several awards which recognize outstanding recipients for their contributions and success in research, medicine and support services.

“I feel proud and honoured to have been chosen for the Kalwant Dhalla Award,” says Margulets, who has been involved in research at the Kirshenbaum Cardiac Gene Biology Lab since she came from Israel in 2009.
This award recognizes the high quality of dedicated service over time by a technician in any program within St-Boniface Hospital Research. The individual must have been in this technical role for not less than five years.
“Upon joining my laboratory, I was immediately impressed by Vicky’s work ethic,” wrote Lorrie Kirshenbaum in support of Margulets’ nomination. “She is a dedicated, hardworking and committed and has proven that I can always rely on her to complete any given task. Her commitment to my laboratory and constant willingness to help others in the research centre is truly exemplary of who Vicky truly is. I have never met an individual with such high level of loyalty and personal interest for helping others as Vicky Margulets.”
In the laboratory, Kirshenbaum continued, “Vicky is responsible for managing our cell culture facility. Vicky is a superb experimentalist. She is responsible for designing and conducting her own experiments in the laboratory with great care, precision and meticulous attention to detail. She also runs our live-cell imaging facility and is responsible for developing new techniques within the laboratory.”

Margulets is originally from Kiev. She moved to Israel in the early1990s, earning a Master of Science degree (1999) from the Technion Institute’s Faculty of Medicine in Haifa. Prior to coming to Winnipeg, she assisted in stem cell research at the Technion. There she was responsible for managing and maintaining all the cell culture and stem cell activities for the entire research facility.
While at the Technion, she was part of a joint research team which partnered the Technion with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health. She worked as one of the leader instructors of “Human embryonic stem cells: culture techniques” course.
“I had spoken with Lorrie Kirshenbaum about joining his lab before coming to Canada,” she notes. “We arrived in Winnipeg (with her husband, Shlomo, and their three children) at the end of June (in 2009) and started work at the lab on July 1.”

Kirshenbaum adds that in a very short time, she became an indispensable member of the staff and has taught many summer and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and trainees in the lab.
He adds that over the past five years, Margulets’ technical experimental work and results have been written up in many top medical journals.
Margulets adds that she and her family are glad to be part of the growing Jewish community in Winnipeg. “Jewish identity and traditions are very important to my family,” she says. “Two of my children have already graduated from Gray Academy of Jewish Education and are currently enrolled in the Faculties of Architecture and Engineering at the University of Manitoba. The youngest is still at Gray Academy. ”

Rachel Cogan, the recipient of the Cuddy Award, is in her third year of study in Neuroscience at the University of Winnipeg. “It was a real honour to receive the Cuddy Award,” says the daughter of Jessica and Joel Cogan.
The Cuddy Award is based primarily on excellence in research and the track record of the candidate. Cogan notes that she has earned several scholarships and has maintained a consistently high GPA.
A graduate of Oak Park High School (she was a student at Gray Academy to the end of Grade 9), Cogan applied last year – after second year – to the ICS to do her field work as part of her studies.
“I have known of Dr. Kirshenbaum and his work for quite some time,” she says. “I was really excited to be accepted into the program. I am really grateful for the support that I have received from the amazing people I am working with at the lab and the hospital,” she says.
Her career goal, she notes, is to be working in clinical medicine and/or research.

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Local News

Three organization join forces to mount Mission to Israel in May

By BERNIE BELLAN In response to many requests received from members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community to organize a volunteer mission to Israel, for the first time ever three different organizations have joined together to organize just such a mission – from May 20-28.
Titled “HINENI 2024,” the mission is being mounted by the Jewish National Fund, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, and Bridges for Peace.
The mission will include five days of intensive volunteering and visits to various sites in Israel. It will also include three meals a day and ground transportation.

There will be an information night at the Asper Campus on February 28 but, in advance of that information night, we contacted JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan Executive Director David Greaves to ask whether he could provide some details about the planned mission prior to that information meeting and describe how it all came about.
Greaves said that both the JNF and the Federation were thinking of organizing missions in May, so it was only natural that they would combine efforts.
“The Federation has organizational experience, and they’ll be able to handle the registration process,” Greaves explained, while “the JNF will be able to handle the logistics on the ground,” such as arranging accommodation, transportation, and meals.
And Bridges for Peace was able to step up and negotiate some very good pricing for air fares for anyone who would want to fly on specific flights – details for which will be announced in the coming days. (Greaves noted that flights have not been included as part of the package as many individuals indicated that they wanted to make their own arrangements getting to Israel.)

Yet, unlike any other mission that the JNF has mounted in years past, Greaves wanted to make it clear that the May mission will be a “volunteer” mission, during which participants will be expected to “be on their feet four-five hours a day” engaging in tasks whose exact nature is still being formulated – in conjunction with various Israeli organizations.
“We’re looking at volunteering primarily in the south,” Greaves said, including picking fruit and vegetables. As of this moment, he added: “We’re still investigating various volunteer possibilities.”
Included in the mission tentatively, accordiing to Greaves, will be visits to the site of the Nova music festival, where 364 primarily young Israelis were massacred (along with 40 abducted), as well as visits with families of hostages and a visit with the mayor of Sderot.

As far as accommodation is concerned, Greaves wanted to make it clear that mission participants will not be staying in four or five star hotels.”Most likely they will be three star hotels,” he noted. And, when you take into account the cost of providing three meals a day along with bus transportation and other ancillary costs, Greaves suggested that the mission cost, which will be no more than $3,000 (exclusive of air fare), is quite reasonable, especially when you take into account typical costs associated with visiting Israel and the relatively low Canadian dollar. As well, Greaves said that couples travelling together will probably pay somewhat less per person – around $2500 per person, he suggested is likely.

I asked Greaves how many people they were hoping to have participate in the mission. He said that they’re looking at around 40. Although it would be great if there were a larger response, he added, the logistics of having to hire an additional bus would make it difficult to plan a mission with two buses unless the number of participants warranted that.
“If response is overwhelming, we’d get a second bus,” he added though.
I asked Greaves whether there are JNF missions of a similar nature being planned in other Canadian cities and he said there were – “in Toronto and Vancouver,” but he also wanted to emphasize that they are both being planned locally – unlike every other JNF mission, which has always been planned at the national level – until now.
In addition to the combined organizational efforts of the JNF, Jewish Federation, and Bridges for Peace, five Winnipeg congregations are also lending their support to the mission, helping to promote it among their respective congregants.
If you would like to obtain further information about the mission and are unable to attend the February 28 information evening, contact either David Greaves at the JNF at david.greaves@jnf.ca or Abby Flackman at the Jewish Federation at aflackman@jewishwinnipeg.org.

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Free Press coming under criticism for supposed “anti-Israel” bias

Free Press opinion columnist Jen Zoratti and Free Press faith writer John Longhurst

By BERNIE BELLAN

“The attack on Oct. 7, it was vicious (and) really brutal. But it happened in a certain context of this region of years and years of dehumanizing people from both sides.

Do you know who said that? Not a Free Press columnist. It was Yonatan Zeigen – one of former Winnipegger Vivian Silver’s two sons. Zeigen was quoted in an October 29 Canadian Press article – prior to the discovery that his mother had actually been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri during the October 7 massacre, and was not taken hostage to Gaza – which is what was first suspected.

That same story also said that Zeigen “noted that his perspective has prompted backlash inside Israel, which he chalks up to people rejecting projects his mother helped run that call for a fundamental shift in how Israelis relate to Palestinians.

” ‘I don’t really talk … to the Israeli press because I see a lot of poison being directed at her because of her activities,’ he said.”

Compare that with what Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti wrote in an opinion piece that was published January 26, two days after an event focusing on the brutality that had been inflicted on Israeli (and other non-Israeli women) during the Hamas massacre of October 7: “Everyone who took the mic on Wednesday kept saying, ‘all women matter’ and ‘women everywhere matter,’ but I couldn’t help but wonder — which women? There wasn’t even a cursory pass at solidarity or even an acknowledgment of the gender- based harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women, who also feel abandoned by global feminism.”

Zoratti’s column did describe the horrors that had been unleashed on Israeli women on October 7 and she did refer in some depth to remarks made by Israeli lawyer and women’s rights expert Ayelet Razin Bet Or during that January 24 event at the Human Rights Museum, but she tried to place what happened on October 7 within a larger context of the ongoing degradation of women in war situations.

That one single comment in Zoratti’s column about “harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women” has apparently unleashed a torrent of criticism, which has been leveled not only at Zoratti and the Free Press for having the nerve to print her column, the backlash has even extended to Free Press Faith reporter John Longhurst, who has been caught up totally unsuspectingly in a blistering attack written by the publisher of a Jewish Winnipeg website.

Apparently Longhurst had written just two words on “X” (previously Twitter), with reference to Zoratti’s column: “good column.”

In response, Rhonda Spivak, publisher of Winnipeg Jewish Review, wrote:

“Did he not understand that in raving (emphasis ours) about Zoratti’s column that painted a picture of Israel as an apartheid state, accusing the Israeli speaker of spouting propaganda (emphasis ours), and calling for a ceasefire without even mentioning the necessary release of Israeli women, children and men held hostage in Gaza, he would not be bridge building but damaging his relationship with the Jewish community.

With his little tweet, Longhurst has set back interfaith relations .What makes things worse, is that Longhurst actually interviewed the Israeli speaker, sex crimes prosecutor Ayelet Razin Bet Or and the program’s moderator Gail Asper for the Winnipeg Free Press and also for the Canadian Jewish News in advance of the program held at the CMHR. If Longhurst harbored these views, would it not have been fair to present his views, and give Razin Bet Or the opportunity to respond?

 “Longhurst is a freelance writer who writes regularly in the Canadian Jewish News, but I do wonder what the latter’s readership would think of his insensitivity displayed towards the Jewish/Zionist community (emphasis ours).


”How does Longhurst propose to repair that which he has damaged (emphasis ours)?”

In defense of Longhurst, it should be pointed out that he written extensively about the local Jewish community. He was also the only local reporter to attend the major conference on anti-Semitism held in Ottawa in October. He also interviewed both Ayelet Razin Bet Or and Gail Asper for a story that was published prior to the event at the Human Rights Museum on January 24.

However, reaction to Zoratti’s column has been heated and calls have grown on social media to organize campaigns against the Free Press. We have been made aware of pressure being exerted on Free Press co-owner Bob Silver to influence the editorial position of the paper. We have also been told (although admittedly anecdotally, without being able to verify to what extent it has happened) of individuals cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their subscriptions to the Free Press.

But, it’s not only Zoratti’s column that has raised the ire of many individuals toward the Free Press. As with any large daily newspaper, the Free Press receives many letters to the editor. In recent weeks the paper has printed letters from Jeff Lieberman (CEO of the Jewish Federation) and Paula Parks (President of the Federation), along with an opinion piece by Gustavo Zentner (the newly appointed CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan), all of which made the case for Israel in various respects.

Yet, the Free Press has also printed many letters highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, February 6, while there was one letter written in defense of Israel, there were also three letters highly critical of Israel. We have been contacted by individuals complaining that their own letters written in defense of Israel have not been printed.

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In defense of the Jen Zoratti column that set off a firestorm of criticism of the Free Press – and a letter explaining why that column so upset so many people

By BERNIE BELLAN As an editor myself I know what it’s like to be accused of bias. As such, I would argue that the anger at the Winnipeg Free Press for what many in our community perceive as an anti-Israel bias is totally unjustified. If any of the paper’s critics actually takes a close look at that paper they will see a vast amount of coverage devoted to local Jewish events. Not only does John Longhurst do a great job covering many events (and he is a far better reporter than I could ever hope to be), the paper also features Sharon Chisvin writing about local Jewish happenings on a regular basis.

One would think that, based on the amount of ink that the Free Press devotes to news of interest specifically to the Jewish community that there was a vast number of Jews in this city. That’s why, when I asked Free Press editor Paul Samyn, when he was speaking to the Remis group at the Gwen Secter Centre last year, just how many Jews he thought there were in Winnipeg, and he guessed “45,000,” he was quite astounded to hear from me that, at best, there were only 12,500 Jews in Winnipeg. (I also said to Paul that there were over 72,000 Filipinos in Winnipeg, but you don’t see nearly as many stories about that community in the paper as you do of the Jewish community.)

So, Jen Zoratti wrote a column that had one particular paragraph that inflamed the minds of many Jews (a lot of whom don’t even read the Free Press, based on what I’ve seen on social media). Not only are many individuals furious at Zoratti – and the Free Press, for even daring to publish what she wrote, even as fair minded and professional a writer as John Longhurst has had his name dragged through the mud. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/free-press-coming-under-criticism-for-supposed-anti-israel-bias/

For a community that’s long railed against the idea of boycotts being used against Israel (as in the BDS movement – Boycott, Divest, Sanctions), isn’t it a bit much to be calling for individuals to cancel their subscriptions to the Free Press over one column? And as someone who, until this week, had been a newspaper publisher for almost 40 years, I know what it’s like to have pressure put on your to slant coverage in a newspaper. While some newspaper publishers like to get involved in dictating editorial policy, from what I know Bob Silver has been steadfast in remaining apart from that. I personally sent notes offering encouragement to Jen Zoratti, John Longhurst, and Paul Samyn. I didn’t weigh in on whether I thought what Jen wrote was out of line or not (which, by the way, I didn’t). I simply wanted to affirm the importance of freedom of the press –and of columnists, to write without fear of monetary retribution. Heck, Israel has been on the receiving end of that kind of campaign for years. Are Jews going to begin to emulate the tactics of the BDS movement?

In response to the above we received a letter from Cathy Moser, in which she explains the anger that many in the Jewish community are feeling toward the Free Press:

Dear Bernie;

     I respect your humane approach to reporting on the war in the Middle East – I don’t think that you will find too many people in the Winnipeg Jewish community that would revel in knowing that thousands of innocent women and children in Gaza were killed in the effort to eliminate Hamas Terrorists.  If Jen Zoratti had written a column on the Palestinian women and children whose voices have been deadened – what she said may have been relevant.  However – she wrote an OpEd on a talk called HEAR OUR VOICES, with the Voices referring to the women and children who were raped, tortured and killed in Israel on October 7th.  It was as inappropriate to talk about the Gazan women in this article as it would have been to talk about the Israeli women and children if she was reviewing a talk given by the Palestinian community on Palestinian women and children.  Or if, when newspapers in the 40’s described bombing Nazi headquarters and strongholds, had included in their OpEds the fact that thousands of innocent German civilians were killed by the Allied Forces and they are inhumane.

     The problem with Jen Zoratti’s article was well summarized by Mike Federer in his article in the Free Press, January 7th, 2024 – it takes a very special skill to attend an educational event bringing attention to Hamas’ misogynistic and murderous sexual assault of Israeli women during its genocidal October 7 massacre in southern Israel, and turn it into an anti-Israel hit piece. However, that’s exactly what Jen Zoratti managed to accomplish in her January 26 opinion column in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled: “The battlefield between feminism and rapes of war.”.

     By the way, there would have been no need to appeal to Bob Silver had the Editor published any one of my letters providing an alternate understanding of some of the issues.  Prior to the deluge that was received after the Jen Zoratti article, the Winnipeg Free Press had very one-sidedly published letters to the Editor that were anti-Israel and misleading in facts. I will send a few for your perusal if you are interested.  Since the Zoratti ‘affair’, there have been many more letters published that elucidate both sides of the story, as well as articles to the point (e.g., Saturday, Feb 18, 2025 article by Dr. Ruth Ashrafi).

     It seems that the volume of letters to the Editor and Owner after the Zoratti article has served its purpose. Perhaps there was a critical look at the past month’s content to determine whether the letter writers’ claims were valid. Freedom of speech is critical to a healthy democracy; however, if those that publish the speeches are biased, there is no freedom. 

Sincerely,

Cathy Moser 

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