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Via logoBy BERNIE BELLAN
My cell phone rang at 12:17 pm Sunday afternoon, July 28. Since I have call forwarding on from our office during the weekends, but I didn’t recognize the number, I assumed it was someone wanting to reach The Jewish Post & News, so I answered: “Good afternoon, The Jewish Post & News, can I help you?” (See, I can be polite when I force myself.)

 

 


The voice at the other end was a woman’s. She said her name was “Vera” and she was calling from “Via Rail”.
“Via Rail?” I wondered. What on earth would someone from Via Rail want from The Jewish Post & News on a Sunday afternoon?
Vera went on to tell me though that she was desperately searching for a kosher restaurant in Winnipeg and, when she found herself stymied in all her efforts, she thought she would try our paper.
I told her that she was likely going to be out of luck since the only locations that might have been able to help her were either out of business (as in Desserts Plus) or were closed for the day (as in Schmoozer’s at the Campus, which is closed weekends during the summer).
I asked her why though she was looking for a kosher restaurant?
“We have five passengers who got on the train in Vancouver who are going all the way to Toronto who would like kosher meals,” Vera explained.
“We weren’t able to get them anything in Edmonton,” she continued, “and now they’re in Saskatoon. They’ll be arriving in Winnipeg at 10 o’clock tonight and they haven’t had a meal since they left Vancouver. I want to be able to get them dinners for tonight and lunches to take with them for tomorrow.”
“They haven’t had anything to eat since they left Vancouver?” I asked. “How long has that been?”
“A day and a half,” Vera answered.
“But did Via know these passengers would be wanting kosher meals?” I wondered.
Vera said she wasn’t sure of the answer, but it’s pretty hard to believe that Via could have know of their special dietary needs and not obtained kosher meals in advance for the trip. (I checked the Via Rail website and sure enough it does say that kosher meals will be provided to passengers who book a sleeping car and who give Via Rail 10 days notice of their needs.)
“But,” I said to Vera, “there are some other possibilities.” I told her that I would try to contact Alla Golinkin, who runs Grandma Alla’s Kitchen at the Jewish Learning Centre and who has a ready stock of frozen meals ready to serve in her freezer at the JLC (which, if you’re not familiar, is run by the Chabad Lubavitch movement).
As well, I said I would try to get a hold of someone in the kitchen at the Simkin Centre, thinking that they might be able to get something together in a pinch once I explained the situation to them.
Finally, I suggested that she ought to try phoning Schmoozer’s. Maybe someone would be there getting food ready for the next day, I said.
I added one more suggestion: Why not send someone down to Sobeys on Taylor? They have a huge assortment of kosher snacks and foods that wouldn’t require much preparation, I said to Vera. It could at least give the passengers something kosher to snack on, if not full meals.
So, I put a call into Alla Golinkin, but just got her voicemail. When I called the Simkin Centre I did get a hold of someone in the kitchen, but he said he wasn’t in a position himself to help me. He said to me though that he would ask his supervisor whether they might be able to do something. I told him to phone me if there was something they could do.
A few minutes later I received a call from Alla Golinkin. She said she was in Vancouver and no one was in the kitchen at the JLC, which was also locked. But, she added that she would try to get a hold of Rebetzin Altein (that would be Rabbi Avrohom Altein’s wife, Bracha) to see whether she could go down to the Jewish Learning Centre. (I never heard back from either Alla or Rebetzin Altein, so I presume Alla wasn’t able to reach her – but good for her for trying to accommodate those poor passengers.)
At around 1:30 I was going to the Asper Campus. On my way in I saw various members of the Simkin clan, who had been holding their family reunion that weekend. I asked Jerry Cohen, who was one of the organizers of the reunion, whether they had eaten something at the Campus. Jerry said “Yes, we just had a brunch served by Schmoozers.”
So maybe someone was still at Schmoozers, I thought to myself. Sure enough, there was someone there, even though the iron grate was pulled over the counter.
I asked her whether someone had phoned Schmoozers from Via Rail.
“Yes,” she said. “And Maxine (Shuster, who is the manager of Schmoozers) told them that we’re able to put together something for them.”
I asked what it was they were getting together?
“Some latkes, kugel, lasagna, and macaroni for the kids,” she answered. (Until that point I didn’t realize there were kids as part of the group of five who wanted kosher meals.)
“Great” I thought. Then, a few minutes later I received a call from whoever it was I had spoken to at the Simkin Centre. He said his supervisor told him they could put something together as well. I said to him that it was no longer necessary, but I told him that it was really nice that they were trying to accommodate this unexpected request.
So, it seems that things worked out after all. I tried calling Vera back the next day to see whether the passengers enjoyed the food prepared by Schmoozer’s, but I was told that Vera was off this week and that no one else could answer my question.
Even though it looks like things worked out all right, I still have to wonder: Would someone get on board a train for two and a half days expecting there to be kosher meals available – if they hadn’t advised the rail line in advance of their needs?
Or, is it possible that Via Rail had been advised of the requests for kosher meals and somehow simply forgot to get them ready? I’m not sure I’ll ever find out the answers to those questions.
This all does raise the question though why is it so difficult to have at least one facility in Winnipeg where kosher diners can go on a Sunday for a meal? If Schmoozer’s is closed – as is the Garden Café at the Simkin Centre, along with the Gwen Secter Centre (which does serve kosher meals on weekdays), then there is absolutely nowhere anyone can go for a kosher meal. Sure, it’s the law of supply and demand, but considering that there isn’t a kosher butcher shop left in Winnipeg and there isn’t a single kosher restaurant open on Sunday (at least not while Shmoozers is closed), it should be a point of concern to leaders in our community who like to brag about how vibrant Winnipeg’s Jewish community is.
Yes, it’s vibrant, but a core element of Jewish identification – namely eating kosher, has certainly been relegated to a very low priority by our community leaders.
But, a big shout out to everyone who tried to help out in this situation: to Alla Golinkin, to whoever it was to whom I spoke at the Simkin Centre, and especially to Maxine Shuster at Schmoozers for putting together the meals that I assume made their way to the passengers on board that Via Rail train.

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