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Winnipeg Jewish community’s newest centenarian gets surprise party at the Shaftesbury

100-year-old Ruth Gutkin

By MYRON LOVE
With her 100th birthday approaching, Ruth Gutkin was resigned to a low key affair due to the Covid situation. However, her younger son, Donald, had other ideas – such that the Shaftesbury Retirement Home resident was more than pleasantly surprised by what actually transpired.

The celebration became in Friday, October 9, the day before her actual birthday with a shout out from CTV’s Morning Show.
Then, looking out from her third floor balcony that morning, she saw below the Shaftesbury management in costume with flowers and streamers and a “happy birthday” sign who commenced to sing the birthday song for her.
Following that, as is traditional at the Shaftesbury, she was given a birthday tea party in the hallway – with the grand piano moved in to the hall for the occasion. “It was beautiful,” she says. “It was outstanding. The Shaftesbury staff outdid themselves.”
On her birthday itself, she was greeted by staff in 1950s and ‘60s attire who sat her in a special chair downstairs surrounded by balloons. Two large tables were set up – one with a huge birthday cake and the other with cards and well wishes from The Queen, the PMO, the Premier, the Mayor and other well wishers.
The celebrations ended with a private dinner for the honoree with her two sons, Terry and Donald and their wives, Carole and Belva, in the multipurpose room and an opportunity to connect with her four grandchildren and six great grandchildren via Zoom.
Of her sons, she says proudly that they helped her realize every Jewish mother’s dream. Terry is a lawyer and Donald a dentist.
At 100 years young – and despite having had a hip replaced about a year ago (when she was the oldest Manitoban to ever undergo that surgery) – Ruth Gutkin still looks 25 to 30 years younger than her chronological age – and her mind is little dimmed by age. The former Ruth Moscovitch was born into a family of eight on Argyle Street. She grew up on Boyd and Anderson in the north end and attended Machray School and St. John’s.
Her earliest memory, she says, was having her tonsils out when she was 6.
Her father, Benjamin, had a candy wholesale on Pacific Avenue, she recalls. “He would take some of us kids out on Saturday when he did his rounds,” she recounts. “WE would go to the grocery stores where he would take the orders. Then, we would go to the manufacturers to pick up the candies and, after we kids helped him sort and fill the order, we would deliver them to the stores.
“It was a real treat helping our dad.”
After Grade 11, the young Ruth set about looking for work. “It was the Depression,” she remembers. “You couldn’t get a job for love or money. I pounded the pavement trying to find work as a sales girl. I finally got a job part time at the Belgian Glove and Hosiery store on Portage near Edmonton. I got paid 25 cents an hour.
“We were worked to the bone. We couldn’t sit for a minute.”
Ruth met her husband-to-be, Jack, in 1940, shortly before he enlisted. Fortunately, he came home from the war early due to a medical discharge. The couple married in 1943.
For their honeymoon, they took the train to Kenora. “Jack had been a salesman before the war and Kenora was part of his territory,” Ruth recounts. “We got off the train. I was farputzed (dressed up) and wearing high heels. Jack said the hotel was just a short walk away. It wasn’t so close.”
She also recalls that the newlyweds visited one of the islands. On their way back, the canoe that they were paddling began to take on water.
“We weren’t wearing life jackets,” she says. “While we made it back to shore, I could see the headlines – Honeymooners Drown in Kenora.”
Back in Winnipeg, the young couple moved into a third floor walkup on Burrows and Salter. And while jack went to work for the late Harry Silverberg, Ruth set about raising a family, looking after the home – or rather, homes, as the Gutkins moved several times from Scotia to River Heights and back to West Kildonan – and throwing herself into volunteer work. Over the years, Ruth Gutkin was involved in Bnai Brith – where she was a chapter president, National Council of Jewish Women, Ort and the Rosh Pina Synagogue – and she and Jack co-chaired an Israel Bonds campaign.
Her real passion, she says, was cooking and baking – as well as decorating and entertaining. “I would get up early in the morning with Jack every morning and start baking,” she recalls.
Jack, she adds, made sure that the family went away for yearly vacations and, after he retired, they began spending winters in the southwest and seeing the world. “We had a wonderful time,” she says. “We went on cruises. We went to Hawaii and Florida, to Europe and Israel (many times).”
After Jack’s passing 16 years ago, Ruth continued to travel – including a tour to China when she was 87.
She moved into the Shaftesbury just four years ago after living at the Tuxedo Estates for 40 years.
Ruth credits her longevity to a lifetime of being physically active. As a teen, she says, she skated, swam, played baseball and tennis. “I have always worked out,” she says. “I joined the Rady centre right after it opened. I swam, took aquacize classes and did Zumba.”
“I never expected to live to 90, never mind 100. I guess the Almighty hasn’t decided that it’s my time yet.”

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The reawakening of Rochelle Rabinovitz

By GERRY POSNER Many of us undergo transformations of some kind during our lifetimes, but surely one of the most profound changes to occur to anyone was one which took place in the life of Rochelle Rabinovitz, formerly Rochelle Brownstone, daughter of the late Jack and Lorraine Brownstone. Rochelle is a former Winnipegger who has been living for the past 50 years in Calgary, which is where she and her late husband Mervin Rabinovitz settled back in September 1974.

Rochelle was the eldest of three children, raised in a secular Jewish home – with some Jewish education, but quite limited, as it was for many Jewish kids raised in the south end of Winnipeg in the 1950s and 60s. Her life began on Borebank Street, later Waterloo, and still later on to Brock Street, all in River Heights in the south end of Winnipeg. She was friends then and remains friends even to this day with (as they were then known and in part still are) Carla Singer, Anna Mae Silver, Carolyn Lupa, Rhonda Krindle, Brenda Jacobson, and Judy and Joyce Wolinsky, both of blessed memory. Tanya Morgan became a very close friend from Grade 7 through university and an adventure travel partner afterwards.

Rochelle attended the University of Manitoba from 1962-66. Upon graduating from Science, she was off to Montreal where she worked as a computer programmer. Rochelle loved being away from home and was part of the Expo experience in 1967 in Montreal. After a brief stop in Scotland and a temporary job in Winnipeg, Rochelle was off to Europe for 4 months as part of her real education. On her return to Winnipeg, she worked for nearly four years as a programmer/analyst at the University of Manitoba Medical School. She even lived on her own in an apartment at the then Canterbury House Apartments on Roslyn Rd.
In 1970, she received a call from a Mervin Rabinovitz, a teacher at the dental school in Winnipeg and a former South African who had accepted an 18-month teaching contract at the dental school. They discovered that they not only worked in the same building, but coincidentally, he also lived in Canterbury House. One thing led to another and, in February of 1972, they were married at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Mervin and Rochelle soon decided to move to Montreal so that Mervin could get his Master’s degree in Orthodontics. During those two years Rochelle worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital in computer programming and taught programming at a private school.

In September 1974 – some 50 years ago, Rochelle and Merv made the decision to move to Calgary where an opportunity beckoned for Merv and, as they say, the rest is history. The couple bought some acreage outside of Calgary, built a house there, and that became home to their three daughters – born between 1979 and 1983.
It was in 1984 when Rochelle’s kind of awakening began with respect to her Jewish roots. It was a time when Rochelle’s eldest daughter was about to start school. To help Rochelle and Merv decide whether they should send their daughter to public school or the Jewish day school in Calgary, Rochelle began reading a well-known book, “To Be a Jew, “ by Rabbi H. H Donin. The values set out in that book resonated with Rochelle and the couple elected to send their daughter to day school.

Rochelle’s real moment of epiphany began when she attended the Jim Keegstra trial. For those not old enough to remember who Keegstra was, he was a high school teacher who promoted hatred against Jews. After listening to all the hateful things Keegstra had said about Jews, Rochelle began to wonder how comprehensive the Jewish education she had received had been in terms of teaching about antisemitism, but after some deep thinking and conversations, Rochelle came to realize that she had to understand and learn her own history. She also realized she had to be pragmatic and face the reality that we Jews were – and srill are, a very small minority in Canada and indeed in the entire world. She concluded that we, as Jews, should not shrink from expressing our Jewish identity – even in the face of people who hate us. At that point, she was ready to embrace her Jewish roots and embrace it she certainly did.

From becoming a regular attendee with her family at Shabbat services, to organizing a weekly women’s study group as well as a Shabbat Shalom monthly book club, and establishing a meaningful link with Israel, Rochelle gradually came to appreciate and marvel at the wisdom of Sabbath observance.
All of this led to Rochelle pursuing her Jewish education at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary. She began to “ appreciate additional aspects of my Jewish inheritance including mysticism, philosophy, Talmud and history,” she says. Her family called her a “born again” Jew, but she regarded her transformation as a “baal-tesuvah,” one who has returned to Judaism.
Ultimately, Rochelle earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and later began working on a Master’s degree. She became active in Jewish-Christian dialogue and multi-faith organizations. She has been involved extensively in the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, serving as Treasurer, later Vice President, and ultimately, President. Her Judaism gave her the confidence to reach out to others and speak up when confronted by ignorance and bigotry. This awakening changed her life.

Rochelle is now the Past President of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews – Alberta region and a co-founder of the Inter-Faith Network of Calgary. Her Judaism is essential to who she is. In fact, it was only because she was at synagogue on the weekend when I was in Calgary recently attending her synagogue where we bumped into one another at the kiddish table (Where else?), that caused me to realize that the Rochelle Rabinovitz story was one worth telling.

If truth be told, Rochelle looks the same as she did when I knew her as a teenager in Winnipeg, but she is a different person than the girl I knew back in the 1960s. she was always a positive person, but from my conversations with her, I felt as if a light was shining on and through her. Her parents would be amazed.

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After nine months of war and trauma, Israeli kids are finding a respite at Canadian summer camps

Camp Northland B'nai Brith in Ontario appealed for funds to help Israeli kids attend camp. (Credit: Facebook)

By ALEX ROSE (CJN) Camp Northland B’nai Brith has a pretty standard operating procedure for emergencies. When a fire or other urgent situation occurs, a siren rings that triggers a set of emergency protocols.

This year, though, the camp—located in Haliburton, Ont.—is removing the siren from their protocols.

It’s not because they don’t want to be prepared for emergencies. It’s because they want to be prepared for the Israeli campers and staff who are coming this summer. And, as camp director Simon Wolle learned, the sound is unfortunately similar to the air raid sirens used in Israel.

For that reason, Northland decided to ditch the sirens, so none of the Israelis will have to relive the trauma of the last year in the place that is supposed to be an escape from it all.

“We can give these children a home that is safe, that is comfortable, where they’re going to be in an environment full of laughter, full of smiles, full of activities, heavily programmed, being busy, being active. Just being able to be kids means the world,” said Wolle.

“I think the fact that they’re going to come here and be given that experience in contrast to the darkness that they’ve had to live in now, since Oct. 7, is going to be… what will feel like a new life for them. And it’s super exciting to be able to give that to them. They don’t even know yet what they’re about to experience and how positive this is going to be. And they deserve it. These kids deserve it.”

There are five groups of Israeli staff and campers attending Northland this year. The first is Kids of Courage from Beit Halochem, a hospital in Israel for disabled veterans. Since 2016, Northland has been bringing in campers whose parents were severely injured or disabled in the military. This year, for the second time, a former Beit Halochem camper is returning as staff.

The second are the shinshinim, Israeli students who spend a year in Canada between graduating high school and starting their military service. They spend the first 10 months associated with a synagogue or Jewish school, and the last two at camp.

The third are the shlichim from the Jewish Agency for Israel, who spend a summer at camp after completing their service in the Israeli military. Some of this year’s shlichim staff were on a navy warship or in Gaza only two weeks before starting camp.

The fourth are independent campers, not associated with any programs, whose parents heard that Canadian Jewish summer camps could be a good option for their kids this summer.

And the fifth didn’t even exist until just before the camp season started. They are a group of 13 campers and two chaperones from Kfar Szold, a small kibbutz just over five kilometres away from the border with Lebanon. A few weeks ago, a group of Canadian Jewish camps and community members worked together to find a summer home for these 15 Israelis, who have been living under the shadow of rocket fire for months on end.

The exact distance between Kibbutz Kfar Szold and the Lebanese border is important, because all residential areas that are within five kilometres of the border have been evacuated because of the constant rocket fire coming into Israel from Hezbollah.

Kfar Szold is the closest residential area to the border that was not evacuated. And although they don’t meet the criteria for evacuation, their situation is very similar to that of their neighbours who were moved away.

Elinor Gofer is one of those neighbours. She lives in Kibbutz Hagoshrim, 2.5 kilometres from the border with Lebanon, where she works as a real estate agent (although business has of course been put on hold for the time being). Hagoshrim is one of a group of kibbutzim, including Kfar Szold, that are all connected, with their children attending the same schools.

“I can’t believe these people weren’t evacuated. Their kids go with our kids to our school and they’re just located shy of 500 meters from what the government said isn’t safe. And as someone from Kibbutz Hagoshrim, I know what my kids are going through. I have teenagers, I also have small kids,” she said. 

“We get hotels, we get help. And this is a major help, but these people don’t even have the opportunity to go anywhere else. They have to stay in their kibbutz and there’s daily missile attacks. The entire area, there’s not even medical care.”

Back in the winter, Gofer had helped a group of children who had been evacuated secure spots at summer camps in the United States. Eventually, word of that initiative got to Amir Epstein, who runs the Jewish advocacy organization Tafsik, and he offered to help find summer camp spots for the kids in Canada. Although the evacuated children had already been placed, Gofer recognized an opportunity to offer some respite to the kids stuck in Kfar Szold.

“I said, ‘wait a second, there’s someone here that can help. Actually, it’s not a bad idea to see, there’s so many other children that need this.’ And specifically on that Friday (that Epstein reached out), we came home to visit our kibbutz and there were two direct hits on Kfar Szold,” Gofer said.

At that point, Gofer reached out directly to Epstein to see if he would help find spots for kids who hadn’t been officially evacuated by the government. She also offered to help with whatever she could, even though none of her own children would be going, because she is fluent in English and there is no real estate to sell. She also sent Epstein photos that she had taken of the direct hits on Kfar Szold. 

Once Epstein agreed to help, Gofer’s next call was to the kibbutz director at Kfar Szold.

“She almost cried on the phone. She was so, so excited that we even thought about them because those people, they feel like everyone forgot about them. I mean, they’re living in a place of war, and they don’t even have financial aid or any kind of notice from the Israeli government,” Gofer said.

Once Epstein and Kfar Szold signed on, it was only a matter of finding spots for the Kfar Szold campers. A message went out to the Canadian Jewish community, and word quickly got around.

Wolle, director of Northland, soon heard about the plight of the kids at Kfar Szold. “For us, this was a very simple answer,” he said.

“There were people from our family, our extended family in Israel, asking for help. And when that happens, we have a policy of saying, ‘We are here,’ and we were prepared for this.”

Multiple summer camps offered spots to the campers, and all of them worked together to find the best solution, Wolle was quick to point out.

Many other initiatives also bring Israelis to camps across Canada. One of those programs is OneFamily, an organization for those who were injured or lost family in terror attacks, which has been sending children to Camp Timberlane since 2006. Another is Israeli Victims of War, which is sending over 200 Israelis to camps across Canada this summer.

In the end, Northland was chosen for the Kfar Szold campers because it had room for all 15 of them—in part because they had held 40 slots in reserve in case just such a need arose. The 13 campers and two chaperones from Kfar Szold will arrive on July 28, for the camp’s second session.

Wolle, Epstein and Gofer are all grateful for the opportunity to help bring these kids to Northland.

Wolle has always been proud of the efforts Northland and other camps have been making over the years to offer a taste of Canadian summer paradise to deserving Israeli campers. But he recognizes the increased importance of providing a safe and joyful home for Israeli campers and staff after a year filled with fear and trauma, and what it means to be able to make a difference from the other side of the world.

“Whether it’s being a camper in the cabin welcoming them, whether it’s being the staff taking them on this journey, whether it’s the board of directors, who have authorized these initiatives, whether it’s the chaperones that are going to be here to facilitate, I think everybody is going to have the reward and that feeling of we’ve done something to help and to contribute… because that’s what everybody that I’ve interacted with is seeking.”

Gofer, who knows firsthand what Kfar Szold is going through, empathizes most of all with the parents, who are able to do something positive for their kids in such a difficult time.

“It’s so fulfilling for me as a person to do something. I don’t know personally the parents or the children, but just to hear their gratitude,” she said. “It’s not even what we’re doing for the kids. It’s even giving the parents the feeling that they’re doing something positive for their child. They can allow their child to have this kind of experience and adventure… it even gives them some kind of hope that they’re able to give their child something like that.”

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Fringe show asks: Was giving the secret to the atomic bomb to the Russians morally justifiable?

left: Jem Rolls; right: Ted Hall

By BERNIE BELLAN When I took a look at at the Fringe Festival shows I was going to be previewing on this website (also in the print edition of the Jewish Post), one show intrigued me in a different way than the others: Jem Rolls’ one-man show: THE KID WAS A SPY.
In his blurb describing the show, Jem wrote:

The true story of Ted Hall.
Brooklyn, October 1944. The youngest physicist in the Manhattan project asks himself a very big question.
Will the world be safer after the war if he gives the bomb to the Russians?
And he does.
• Events take place in the world of OPPENHEIMER

This show takes the audience from the murky world of spies to the idyll of young love. From teenage friendship to stark treason. From big decision to deep consequence. From high idealism to extreme cynicism. And from pure science to Hiroshima and the electric chair.
The show also brings in the stories of Klaus Fuchs, the greatest atomic spy; and Ethel Rosenberg, executed yet innocent.
THE KID WAS A SPY is the third in Jem Rolls’ series of shows about Jewish Nuclear Physicists no-one has ever heard of.
Which is, to put it mildly, the niche of a niche of a niche.
One only realistically enterable in the unique world of Canadian Fringe.
Which most Canadians do not realize is unique.
The first two shows in the series, THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS, about Leo Szilard, and THE WALK IN THE SNOW, about Lise Meitner, have each seen multiple sellouts and five star reviews.

I’m sorry I hadn’t seen the first two shows in what must be one of the strangest series of Fringe shows (which itself extols “strange”), but when Jem Roll happened to contact me prior to this year’s Fringe Festival – which he had never done before, I thought to myself: “Now this is a show I’ve got to see.”
So, on the first night of the Fringe Festival I got on my bike and headed to the Fringe – of course ending up at the wrong venue – something I’ve done quite often before. I raced to the correct venue and, after taking a very creaky elevator to the 4th floor of a building in the Exchange District, arrived just in time to catch the beginning of what turned out be a fascinating 57-minute monologue.
I rather doubt that anyone else in the audience had heard of Ted Hall before this show either – but, after listening to Jem Rolls describe Hall, he certainly seemed a familiar enough character for anyone who knows their history. I had read quite a bit about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – going back to when I was still in high school and I read a book called “The Implosion Conspiracy,” about the Rosenbergs, by lawyer Louis Nizer. I’ve read many articles about Soviet spies, but had never heard of Ted Hall prior to Jem Rolls’ show.
Several years ago I also read a terrific book by Canadian Ben Macintyre, titled “Agent Sonya,” about another Jewish spy for the Russians of whom I had not heard, whose full name was Ursula Kuczynski. (You can read my review of that book here: Agent Sonya)
So, when I read what Jem Rolls’ show was going to be about, I decided I wanted to make it the first Fringe show I would see this year.
Rather than simply telling what in and of itself is a fascinating story, Jem asks members of the audience to keep their minds open when it comes to assessing the morality of what Ted Hall did.
As Rolls explains – in his typically animated style, Hall was a precociously brilliant student who was tapped to be the youngest member of the Manhattan Project – made famous last summer with the release of the film, “Oppenheimer.”
Yet, amazingly – as Rolls goes on to note, Hall was an avowed Communist – something that should have excluded him right from the start from participating in a project that was shrouded in the utmost secrecy. In fact, Hall’s attempts to collaborate with the Russians were met with disbelief by the KGB at first; here was a pimply-faced kid offering to give them (and not sell them) the keys to the deadliest weapon ever devised by man to that point.
Without going into too much detail about how Rolls develops the story, he does say that he himself couldn’t figure out how it was that Hall was never arrested by the FBI, nor later by MI6 in Britain, which is to where he had moved later in his career.
Rolls concludes that Ted Hall’s brother, Ed, who was an even more brilliant scientist than Ted, must have intervened to save his brother’s skin. (In talking to him afterwards though, Rolls conceded that his conclusion is based on surmising; no one has been able to establish conclusively how Ted Hall was never arrested – although he was interrogated by both the FBI and MI6.)
Throughout the show Rolls reminds the audience how views of Soviet Russia changed over time – and how someone young and idealistic – as Ted Hall was, could have thought it was not only justifiable to give the secret to the atomic bomb to the Russians, given everything we know about how abominably the US has behaved in so many ways over the years, perhaps we should be treating him as a hero rather than a villain.
In fact, at the very end of the show, Rolls asks the audience to vote on that very question: Was Hall right to give the secret to the bomb to the Russians? I won’t tell you how the audience voted on opening night, but Rolls did say that the vote conformed with how other audiences have voted.
THE KID WAS A SPY is on at Venue 22, 245 McDermot Avenue, 4th floor, through July 28.

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