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Winnipeg Conservative/Reform congregations’ virtual Yom Tov services very well received

zoom logo1 edited 1By MYRON LOVE
Due to a combination of government-imposed limitations on numbers and many people’s reticence in attending religious services because of Covid, our community’s congregations were forced to rethink their usual High Holiday services.

For both Congregation Etz Chayim and the Shaarey Zedek, our community’s largest congregations, as well as Reform congregation Temple Shalom, the solution was to live stream services – a continuation and expansion of what they had been doing since the province went into lockdown in late March and, for the Shaarey Zedek, a service that the synagogue has been offering for several years now.
And the response, according to both Etz Chayim’s Executive Director Jonathan Buchwald and Ian Staniloff, Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s executive director, exceeded expectations. “Everything went incredibly well,” Staniloff says, “except for one hiccup when the shul cloud for all of North America went down for a short time.”
Staniloff reports that well over 600 “unique users” tuned in as well as over 400 people listening on audio only. “We assume that there were on average at least 1.5 viewers per household,” he notes. “In many households, people got together as a family to take part. Overall, we estimate that we had as many, if not more people, participating in our services.”
(Last year, the Shaarey Zedek reported an attendance of more than 1,700 for the High Holidays.)
Staniloff further reports that, while the numbers dropped somewhat for the second day of Rosh Hashonah, participation for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur day were very strong.
Congregation Etz Chayim (where High Holiday attendance last year was about 850) offered a virtual service this year – with the exception of ten people to form an in-person minyan.
“We organized a task force, incorporating members with health and safety, technical and communications expertise, to put our High Holiday program together, ” Buchwald notes.
“While services are going to look, sound and feel very different than what we are used to, Rabbi Kliel, Cantor Tracy and our entire Ritual team will offer a most meaningful and memorable ‘Virtual Sanctuary’ for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur”, Buchwald reassured synagogue members in an email sent out to congregation members in the summer. “Our own Virtual Voices choral ensemble under the direction of Sarah Sommer will bring a special depth and beauty to our services. ”
Etz Chayim asked members to buy virtual seats beforehand. People were really supportive, ” Buchwald says.
He reports that 370 households signed on to participate in the services. “That would be the equivalent of about 700 people. We also had people tuning in from other parts of Canada, Mexico City and Australia.”
The virtual service, he adds, also incorporated Etz Chayim’s long-standing “Family of Roses” alternative service, led by Rabbi Neal and Carol Ros,e as well as separate pages for childrens stories and crafts. ”

Temple Shalom’s virtual High Holidays programming also attracted former members from across Canada as well as viewers from New Mexico, France and Romania.
”We had a fabulous response, ” says Judith Huebner, the congregation’s co-president. “For Kol Nidre, we had 100 people on Zoom and 500 more viewed the service on Facebook later.”
Certain parts of the High Holiday service were available online only for Temple Shalom members.

Rounding out our community’s Conservative congregations is the Chevra Mishanyes congregation in Garden City. For Rosh Hashonah, reports the congregation’s long-time president, Marshall Kneller, the plan was to have two services each day with about 50 in attendance for each service. As it turned out, only one service was held each day.
“We had a little under 50 for Rosh Hashonah,” Kneller notes. “As for Yom Kippur, we were going to offer two services but, after Winnipeg was raised to Code Orange, a lot of people were concerned and reluctant to come for services. It was a tough choice but, in the end, we decided to cancel services for Yom Kippur. With all things considered, we wanted everyone to feel safe.
“We did have a service for Sukkot though.”

Our community’s Orthodox synagogues, precluded by halakhah from attempting virtual Yom Tov services, did the best they could under the circumstances. The Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation, the largest of the Orthodox synagogues, held three separate services each day of Rosh Roshanah, with the third service combining mincha (the afternoon service) and maariv (the evening service).
“A lot of our people who had registered to attend chose not to attend our services,” says Jack Craven, the congregation’s president. “We had 40 to 50 people attending each of the two morning services and 25 to 30 in the evenings. For Kol Nidre, our numbers were down considerably. For Yom Kippur day, we davened outside.”
Craven adds that the congregation did have Sukkot services inside which were reasonably well attended and followed the mandated protocols.

For the Lubavitch Centre, it was business almost as usual for the High Holidays. “There were some logistics we had to arrange – and we did ask for reservations,” Notes Rabbi Boruch Heidingsfeld. “Our numbers were down because of social distancing requirements and some people were uncomfortable with coming.
“Our services were much the same as any other year, but we did a lot less singing. It’s harder to do through a mask.”
The two North End Orthodox shuls that had minyans for the High Holiday services – the Ashkenazi and Chavurat Tefila – were able to hold services – with reduced numbers – for Rosh Hashonah but, as with the Chevra Mishnayes, were not able to offer Yom Kippur services.

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Local News

Congregation Etz Chayim says good bye to 123 Matheson Ave.

By BERNIE BELLAN After 71 years of serving as the home for first the Rosh Pina Synagogue, then for the past 21 years as the home for what was the merger of three different congregations – Rosh Pina’s, along with the Bnay Abraham and Beth Israel, the Etz Chayim Congregation held its final service on Wednesday, November 29.
You can read the story by CJN writer John Longhurst elsewhere on this site ( along with our earlier story about the sale of the building to an Eritrean Church (, but here are some pictures from the final service.

(Photos courtesy of Keith Levit)

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Local News

Israel report by former Winnipegger Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown

By BRUCE BROWN (posted Nov. 28/23) Was driving home from work the other day.  Pre-ceasefire.  Left the office early to reduce driving time in the evening hours.  Hamas likes their 6PM missile barrage and I’m honing my missile-avoidance routine.
Was listening to talk-radio… but kind of had enough of the news.  Too much war talk and its getting a bit overwhelming.  So switched to Spotify and up popped Supertramp – the Logical Song.  For sure how ‘wonderful, beautiful, magical’ life once felt.  Before Oct 7th.  Before Hamas. 
Then, as if on cue.  I gaze towards the sky.  And saw missiles flying overhead.  At first it didn’t really click. And then.  Yikes!  I quickly switched back to the news.  Where, in a very calming voice, they were announcing areas under missile attack.  Which is another reason to listen to the radio while driving during war – real-time information.  Lesson learned.
Suddenly my smartphone’s flashlight started flashing.  Which was pretty darn cool!  And there I was, on Star Trek.  Standing on the bridge.  Even recalled the vessel number – NCC-1701. There I was with Captain Kirk.  No!  I was Captain Kirk.  Dr. McCoy by my side.  Sulu and Chekov at the controls.  The Klingons were attacking.  And Mr. Spock -standing to the side- was calmy advising the attack coordinates.  No Wait!  That was the radio announcer.  Seriously.  This all took place within a split second in my over-active imagination.
The flashing continued.  Then I realized my cellphone was communicating with me.  Warning of danger.  I have the Home Front Command application which sounds an amazingly loud alarm during a missile attack in my area.  But changing between the radio and Spotify prevented the siren from going off.  So instead, the phone activated my flashlight.  Sending out an S.O.S.  Now how neat is that!  In a geeky sort of way.  Like for someone who imagines himself on Star Trek during a real-life missile attack.
Then.  Reality set in.  There were Home Front Command instructions to follow.  Momentary-panic set in.  Where was my wife.  To tell me what to do.  Like she always does…but that’s another story.  This time I wanted her there, instructing me. 
All these thoughts racing through my mind in milliseconds.  As I calmly slowed the car and veered to the shoulder.  Like other cars around me.  I put on the blinkers.  More flashing lights but the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise now a distant thought.  Looking both ways I left the car and hopped over the road- barrier.  Moving away from the car.  Although probably not far enough.  Because there was a steep decline just below.  It was getting dark and, suffering from poor night vision, I didn’t want to trip and hurt myself.  I heard my son laughing at me. “Nerd!” he called out.  But that was just my imagination.
I should have laid flat.  Prostrating myself for maximum protection.  But it rained earlier that day, the ground was wet and I didn’t want to get muddy.  ‘”Nerd!”  This time it was my daughter in my mind’s eye.  “Okay,” I said to no one in particular.  “I’ll squat.”  Good enough…but not really.
The family in the car ahead were huddling together but too close to their vehicle.  I shouted for them to move further away.  But they didn’t react.  Probably didn’t understand me, especially given my still heavily accented Canadian Hebrew.  This time I heard both my kids.  Teasing me – thirty years and still talk like an immigrant!  “Hey, they just don’t hear me.”  I said to the darkness.  Otherwise it was very moving seeing the father crouching down on top of his brood, in a protective sort of way.  “Isn’t that touching.” I said to my wife.  “For sure.” She said somewhat sarcastically in the back of my mind, “I know you’d do the same.”  
Then it was over.  The sky went quiet.  People returned to their cars.  The nestled family broke apart and entered theirs.  We should have stayed in place several more minutes.  Ten minutes is the recommended time.  But it was dark.  Getting late.  Also a bit cold.  I just wanted to get home.  Back to the real chiding of my kids and to my wife… somehow longing for her ordering me about.
A few minutes later my wife called.  Making sure I was safe.  And then routine set in.  “Don’t forget to pick up some milk and bread from the corner store.”  She instructed me.
Um Israel Chai
Bruce Brown.  A Canadian. And an Israeli.  Bruce made Aliyah…a long time ago.  He works in Israel’s hi-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night.  Bruce is the winner of the 2019 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award for excellence in writing.  And wrote the 1998 satire, An Israeli is….  Bruce’s reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal.  With lots of biting, contrarian, sardonic and irreverent insight.

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Local News

Jewish community holds solidarity rally November 25

The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg held a rally in support of Israel on Saturday evening, November 25.

A number of speakers addressed the crowd of 800, including Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation; Members of Parliament Ben Carr & Marty Morantz; Yolanda Papini-Pollock of Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Paula McPherson, former Brock Corydon teacher; and Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation.

Ben Carr

Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks:

Marty Morantz

Click here to watch a video of Marty Morantz’s remarks:

Gustavo Zentner

Click here to watch a video of Gustavo Zentner’s remarks:

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