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Former Winnipegger Dr. Meir Kryger takes an impressive turn to fiction with “The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake”

Meir Kryger edited 1
Dr. Meir Kryger
“The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake”

By BERNIE BELLAN In the mid-1980s a young Dr. Meir Kryger was beginning to establish his reputation as one of the pre-eminent experts in the area of sleep disorders. Having moved to Winnipeg to take up a position at St. Boniface Hospital (where he was to establish Canada’s first sleep lab devoted entirely to researching sleep disorders and was the first doctor to describe a case of sleep apnea in Canada) Kryger also somehow found the time to begin working on a novel – which, for various reasons, he just couldn’t complete.

Eventually though, in 2020 Kryger did publish that novel which, appropriately enough (given his career’s major primary focus) was titled “The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake”. As Kryger wrote to me in a recent email, “While I was still in Winnipeg, I wrote a novel that I never did anything thing with because my medical career had priority. When COVID hit, I published it on Amazon.”

Now, you might expect that after taking more than 35 years to complete his first novel, Kryger was not exactly sitting on an incipient blockbuster that people would really enjoy – but you would be wrong.
If anything, “The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake” is a first-rate mystery that moves at a whirlwind pace and which, if it had been promoted by a major publishing house rather than being self published would probably have received considerable renown by now.

I couldn’t help but think that in the past eight months we’ve published reviews of two other novels by Canadian Jewish doctors (“Prairie Sonata, by Sandra Shefrin Rubin, and “Lost Immunity”, by Daniel Kalla), along with a book of poetry (“Tablet Fragments”, by Tamar Rubin). All of these books have gone on to receive widespread critical acclaim and, in some cases, have either won awards or been nominated for them.
That doctors can also be talented writers should come as no surprise. What I wonder though is how a practicing physician can find the time to write for pleasure, given how busy most of them are – and how polished the end products have turned out to be. (As a writer of non-fiction in these pages – although some readers may say that what I actually produce would best be described as fiction, I can attest to how one has to force oneself to sit down and write – on top of freeing oneself from all distractions: no easy task.)

But, as Meir Kryger explained in an email to me, Covid afforded him the opportunity to finish something that he had set aside many years before – and after he had already authored many other books of non-fiction, all to do with the subject of sleep.
I asked him how long he actually spent writing “The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake”? He answered: “I did many drafts of the book, some handwritten (which I still have). Hundreds of hours.”

So, what’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake” all about? It tells the story of a doctor (naturally) by the name of Sam Moroz, who finds himself enmeshed in a plot involving oil drilling in the Arctic. The book opens up with Moroz falling from the sky on to the Arctic ice – certainly a riveting beginning to what unfolds as a complex mystery involving various subplots, including an elaborate investment scheme, life among the Inuit, marital betrayal, a trip to Las Vegas, followed by a rafting trip on the Colorado River, Swiss bankers, French gastronomy…need I go on?
The plot moves back and forth in time – a device that we’ve come to expect in good mystery novels, as we gradually begin to understand just how it is that Moroz ended up falling from the sky in that opening scene. Through the course of the novel Moroz befriends an Inuit hunter by the name of Pauloosie.

I asked Kryger though, whether in his final draft, he had thought of changing his references to “Indians” in the novel? Although the term would certainly have been acceptable in the 1980s, I’m not so sure that he would escape criticism in our contemporary age of liberal “cancel culture” .
Here is how he responded: “The word “Indian” appears about 35 times in the book. That was the term in common usage in the 1980s. Even government agencies used that word. The book was reviewed by an aboriginal professor at U of M who had no problems with the book. Most of the readers have been Americans: The term “American Indian” is widely used in the US.”
(That’s all well and good, Meir, but in an age when using the wrong term can lead to being pilloried by certain groups, I just don’t know how that would go over with the agents of political correctness.)

I also wondered though whether Kryger had ever thought of updating some other references in the novel to make it more accessible to younger readers. After all, reading about characters using payphones does seem somewhat anachronistic. So, I asked him whether he had thought about revising the book to make it more contemporary?
His answer was: “I did think of updating it, but the events and context are early 80s. I suppose I could have modeled Kian (the novel’s primary villain) as an internet tycoon (rather than an oil baron, which is how he is depicted). Maybe for the sequel?” (By the way, I did suggest to Kryger that he should bring back Sam Moroz in another novel, which is why he referred to writing a sequel – apparently an idea he’s contemplating).
Something else about “The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake” that might especially appeal to Winnipeg readers is that some of the action does take place in this city, although the descriptions of some of the seedier parts of Winnipeg are not exactly flattering. Kryger does delve into some interesting historical references though when he writes about the way Inuit suffering from tuberculosis and other maladies were administered to by well meaning White doctors. In his description of Pauloosie’s father’s treatment for TB, he reminded me of a story we published in our paper by Susan Turner about how her uncle, Dr. Earl Hershfield, became the leading expert on the treatment of that disease among the Inuit. (You can read that story on our website at http://jewishpostandnews.ca/8-features/608-dr-earl-hershfield-and-inuit-bobbie-suluk-connecting-over-time.)

In my email correspondence with Kryger, I suggested to him that he has the makings of another Dan Brown (author of “The Da Vinci Code”) in the way he provides the reader with so much interesting information as the action moves quickly from one locale to another while the hero attempts to solve a complicated mystery.
Kryger said though that he was inspired more by Charles Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers”. (I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read that one, but now my curiosity is piqued.)
The painful truth for a writer, however, no matter how good they may be, is that it’s very rare for a book to gain any sort of acclaim unless it’s picked up by a major publisher. Kryger says that he doesn’t have a literary agent, but if Amazon reviews are any indication, readers of “The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake” are overwhelmingly positive in their responses to this book.
Comments on Amazon (which is where the book can be purchased) range from “a real page turner” to “a well written travelogue”. And, although there aren’t a huge number of ratings, it does score an impressive 4.9 out of 5 in customer reviews.
For Winnipeggers who knew Meir Kryger when he, his wife, Barbara, daughter Shelley, and sons Michael and Steven, lived here until he took up a new position in 2011 at Yale University, I thought it might be interesting to catch up with where they’ve all ended up, so I asked Kryger to give a summary of where they all are these days.
Here’s what he wrote: “Shelley is a math teacher in NYC. Michael, my middle son is a doctor in charge of a spinal cord unit in Pennsylvania. Steven, my youngest son works in the financial industry. Barbara was a consultant in HR (career development) for APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) until about 4 years ago.

“We are all vaccinated and well.”

“The Man Who Couldn’t Stay Awake” is available on paperback or in Kindle format from Amazon.

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Remis Lecture Group at Gwen Secter Centre attracts large crowds to hear from two well-known speakers

Mayor Scott Gillingham speaking to the Remis Lecture group at the Gwen Secter Centre Thursday, May 16

By BERNIE BELLAN On two successive Thursdays in May (May 16 and 23), the usual fairly small number of attendees at the Remis Lecture Group luncheons more than doubled in size as large numbers of guests came to hear two well-known speakers: Mayor Scott Gillingham (on May 16); and Doctors Manitoba President Dr. Michael Boroditsky (on May 23).

The Remis group is open to anyone to attend, but anyone who is not a regular member of the group is asked to notify in advance that they will be attending by calling 204-291-4362.

I thought it might be interesting to provide readers with snapshots of what both Mayor Gillingham and Dr. Boroditsky had to say, despite my writing for a Jewish newspaper (and website) and trying to think desperately how I could tie in either speaker to a Jewish theme. How about if I mention that the mayor said he really enjoyed the kosher meal provided by the Gwen Secter Centre, which featured kugel as the main dish?

In a separate article I’ll write about Dr. Boroditsky’s talk. (I have posted about his having said that a new association of Manitoba Jewish physicians has been formed. You can read that article at https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/jewish-physicians-in-manitoba-form-association-in-response-to-antisemitism/: )

Scott Gillingham began his remarks by telling the audience that he was born and raised in Brandon, where he honed his skills as a very good hockey player. First elected to Winnipeg City Council in 2014 and reelected in 2018, in 2022 he ran for mayor.

Readers might remember that former mayor Glen Murray had entered that race and was, at first, considered the heavy favourite to win the election.

Gillingham told this amusing story about election night, which was October 26, 2022: Apparently CTV News had called the election in Murray’s favour shortly after the polls had closed at 8:00 pm.

But, as events transpired, CTV was quite wrong, and it wasn’t long before Gillingham took the lead for good. As he noted to the Remis group, “By 8:30 I had lost and won the election all within a half hour.”

Gillingham explained to the audience of 38 that, as this year is the 150th anniversary of Winnipeg’s incorporation as a city, he wanted to give them a brief history of the city.

The first mayor of the city was Francis Cornish, Gillingham noted, elected by a total of 398 people who voted in our city’s very first election. The Gillingham family’s own history of settlement in Manitoba began in 1907, he said, when the first Gillinghams arrived from England, “and headed as far west as they could go until they ran out of money.”

The key event in Winnipeg’s history, he suggested, came when businessman J.H Ashdown convinced the federal government of the day to route the first trans-Canada railway through Winnipeg rather than Selkirk. Ashdown was instrumental in Winnipeg’s quickly building a bridge across the Red River, which turned out to be decisive in the government’s eventual decision. “That kind of vision and action built the city that we love,” Gillingham suggested.

Continuing on the theme of building upon that which has been laid down already by visionaries in the city’s past, the mayor said: “The fortunate thing for me is stepping into this role has afforded me the opportunity to inherit what’s already in place.”

For that, Gillingham thanked the many generations of entire families that have contributed so much to “the health and welfare of this city. Yes, we have challenges,” he admitted… “we have struggles, we have potholes,” but we still have a great city, he insisted.

He pointed to two specific projects in Winnipeg’s history that came about as the result of great vision and determination: the building of the gravity-fed aqueduct from Shoal Lake and of the Winnipeg Floodway. Gillingham also noted former Mayor Stephen Juba’s role in the building of City Hall in 1962 as another example of vision, as was the construction of the Manitoba Legislative Building in an earlier era.

“As we look back over these past 150 years,” Gillingham said, “we realize there’s a lot to inspire us.”

Turning to some of the more immediate problems that continue to fester here (as they do in almost all major urban centres), the mayor admitted “we don’t have enough housing…I’ve challenged our staff to approve 8,000 units of housing in 2024.” (He added that, as of the day he was speaking, 3,500 units had already been approved, so the goal of 8,000 was well within reach.)

He noted, as well, that new census figures for Winnipeg are about to be disclosed “next month” – which means they may already be out by the time this is read, and the anticipated fairly large increase in Winnipeg’s population is only going to add more pressure to build more housing.

As Gillingham put it, “I love my kids, but I don’t want them to live with me forever.”

The mayor also referred to some of the improvements in technology that are underway in the delivery of certain services to the public. He referred specifically to an enhancement to 911 service that will allow anyone calling that number to send a photo to the 911 operator, which should lead to a much better understanding of what type of emergency situation is being talked about. (By the way, Gillingham noted, the very first 999 service – which was the antecedent of the current 911 service, began in Winnipeg, under Mayor Juba, in 1959.)

Gillingham spoke of the need to challenge the Chamber of Commerce to come up “with an actionable set of recommendations which Winnipeg should focus on.”

He noted, as well, that in meeting with business leaders throughout North America, he has learned that they are specifically “interested in Winnipeg – and not Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, or Calgary” and each time he’s asked them “what it is they’re looking for and how we can provide it in Winnipeg?” Later in his talk he returned to this topic and elaborated on what it is that business leaders are looking for, saying they’re looking for “skilled labour and are we connected to markets?” As well, he noted, many are looking for “green energy and a quality of life for their employees” which, he suggested, Winnipeg has in abundance, with “world class arts, pro sports, universities, a diverse population, and cottage country within an hour and a half.”

At that point the mayor began to field questions from the audience. The first question posed was “Whether, in concentrating on growth for the future, are the needs of the inner city being ignored?”

Gillingham answered that there is currently a major investment in housing in the downtown. “There is $122 million in federal funding” earmarked for downtown housing, he said, of which “$30 million has already been received – which will lead to 600 new units of housing downtown.” He added that there will also be “new spray pads in the north end” this year.

The mayor also noted the creation of a new “concierge service” for anyone wanting to build something, whereby if “you call one number you can correlate all the housing requirements,” rather than having to contact a number of different city departments.

He also mentioned the next “round of funding” from the federal government, which “will focus on transportation infrastructure for rapid transit.”

Someone asked Gillingham to define what the term “affordable housing” actually means?

The mayor answered that it would be “80% of the market rate,” so that if housing is renting for $1,000 then $800 would be affordable. He pointed to new housing that will be going up where the old Public Safety Building once stood. “It will include units for less than $1,000 a month,” he said. “If a builder can include at least six units of affordable housing we’ll give them money to offer those,” he added.

Another question was about the Arlington Bridge and what will happen to it?

The mayor answered that “we’re waiting for a consultant’s report.”

I posed a question about cycling, noting that both the mayor and I are ardent cyclists, but for anyone who wants to take their bike downtown, it is extremely difficult to find a secure are in which to leave it. I suggested that the city ought to take one of the many vacant lots downtown and build a secure (above ground) compound, in which cyclists could leave their bikes. I even proposed to the mayor that it could be called “Gillingham’s Island.” (For anyone under a certain age that reference might be totally lost, but lucky for me the Remis group – and the mayor, are of sufficient age to have got the joke.)

Gillingham did address the issue of bike thefts in the city (and I just had another bike stolen not too long ago), saying that anyone can register their bike for free by going to 529garage.com. It would help police in locating the owner of a stolen bike if it’s recovered.)

The final questions were about Portage and Main. The first questioner wondered why this time around the mayor was in favour of opening up Portage and Main whereas in 2018 he was opposed?

Gillingham responded that “something happened between the plebiscite (whether to open Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic) in 2018 and today that’s shifted people’s attitudes.”

He was also asked “When you open Portage and Main will you be closing the concourse?”

The answer was “No, more information is needed.”

Finally, someone wondered whether the skywalk system could be extended to connect the west side of Portage Avenue to the east side – and thus to the skywalk system which connects east of Main Street.

Gillingham said that “We’re open to the conversation. The only date we have in mind is the reopening of the street at street level.”

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Features

Connecting the Dots: Ari Posner- Meet Ari Posner

Ari Z. Posner, son of Barry and Bebe on the left and Ari P. Posner, son of Gerry and Sherna with the cap on the right

By GERRY POSNER I suppose we are not the only family to have inter-related connections. At least, not in the old days of the shtetl. What I do know is that finding my way through these family relationships took me years to figure out and understand. Recently, the dots got connected once again.

It all started (at least as far back as I can go) when around 1905, one Isaac Posner married one Kayla Shulman. They were living at that time in the same shtetl or at least close to the same shtetl of what was then known as Propoisk (now Slavgorod) in present day Belarus. From this marriage emerged three children: a daughter, Lillian Posner – later Romalis;l a son, Samuel L. Posner; and another son, Solomon Posner. That was simple enough. As it turned out, Issac Posner was an older brother of my grandfather, Herman Posner. Isaac’s wife, Kayla, was the sister of my other grandfather, Harry Shulman. Even that was not terribly complicated. In short, my father’s uncle Issac, married my mother’s aunt Kayla. That marriage linked the Posners to the Shulmans in Round 1.

When Isaac and Kayla’s kids married, a son, Sol, married a woman from Iowa City Iowa, named Rhea Markovitz. Not long after, in December, 1937 a son of Herman Posner (my grandfather) – Samuel R. Posner, (my father), married a woman named Rhea Shulman ( my mother) also from Iowa City, Iowa. She was a daughter to Harry and Anna Shulman of Iowa City. Thus, in Iowa City there were two first cousins – Rhea Shulman and Rhea Markovitz, born less than a year apart and both of whom later married men from Winnipeg, both with the initials SP – one Sol Posner and one Sam Posner. Of course, the marriage of my mother, a Shulman, to my father, a Posner, created Round 2 of the Posners and the Shulmans joining together. Are you still with me?

When, in the course of time, Sol and Rhea and Sam and Rhea began to have children, they created a relationship for their children in what might be considered by some to be almost incestuous. Rhea and Sol had two sons, Barry and Craig (of blessed memory), both of whom were and are likely still known to many readers to this day. My parents had Linda, my brother Michael, and me. We were, and still remain, cousins to Barry to this day. I was, and still am related to Barry and Craig in no less than three ways. Why? First of all, Barry’s father Sol was a first cousin to my father Sam. Secondly, Barry’s father was a first cousin to my mother Rhea. Thirdly, Barry’s mother Rhea was a first cousin to my mother Rhea. So the ties are deep. Confusing as well.

Of course, what solidified these roots even further was the fact that Sam and Rhea, my parents, and Sol and Rhea, Barry and Craig’s parents, all lived for the rest of their lives in Winnipeg. So, there were two S. Posners – three in fact, as Sol had a brother, Samuel L., a pharmacist. But, let’s not get sidetracked. The two Rheas were very close and I suspect there had to be much confusion about these two women with the same name and almost the same age. Moreover, the two families shared similar experiences each summer. That was because Rhea Posner – Barry and Craig’s mother, took her kids to Iowa City to spend part of the holidays with her parents, while my mother – Rhea, would also take my siblings and me to visit her parents in Iowa City, Iowa. My cousin Craig and I were the same age (born one month apart ) and hence spent much time together, both in Winnipeg and Iowa City. I never could quite get the picture as to why I saw him in both locations. All I knew was that he was my cousin.

Well, we all grew up with this similar history and genetic connections. When Barry married the former Bebe Melmed, three kids followed. The eldest son was Ari Z. Posner, who grew up in Montreal – where Barry and Bebe lived. When I married Sherna Bernbaum, we also had three kids, the eldest of whom was Ari P. Posner. The fact that these boys had the same name – Ari, was more of a fluke as they were not named for the same person. Oddly, (or maybe not given the past history) Ari Z’s middle name is Zvi, the same name as my son, only in the case of my son, Zvi is his Hebrew middle name. Ari Z. is about 5 years older than Ari P. That difference is about the age difference between Barry and me.

Recently, and to my delight, my son Ari had a good reason to go to L.A. to receive a music award and, to my greater delight, he expressed an interest in seeing the other Ari, whom he had never met. L.A. is where the other Ari Posner resides. As it turns out, their names were not the only dot that connected them. Both have made a career in the arts, Ari Z has done it in writing, creating and producing for TV primarily – and has been very successful in his field. Ari P. is a composer. He is not that far removed from the other Ari since he often writes music for TV in the US and Canada.

I think of grandfather Herman Posner and his brother Isaac. Would they not be amazed at this connection? Or better yet, what would my great-grandfather Shmerya and wife Yudasha have to say about two of their descendants now – approximately 170 years after their births, meeting and reinforcing the family ties. As much as so much has changed, this little bit of Posner history is the same.

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Features

New website for Israelis interested in moving to Canada

By BERNIE BELLAN A new website, titled “Orvrim to Canada” (https://www.ovrimtocanada.com/ovrim-en) has been receiving hundreds of thousands of visits, according to Michal Harel, operator of the website.
In an email sent to jewishpostandnews.ca Michal explained the reasons for her having started the website:
“In response to the October 7th events, a group of friends and I, all Israeli-Canadian immigrants, came together to launch a new website supporting Israelis relocating to Canada. “Our website, https://www.ovrimtocanada.com/, offers a comprehensive platform featuring:

  • Step-by-step guides for starting the immigration process
  • Settlement support and guidance
  • Community connections and networking opportunities
  • Business relocation assistance and expert advice
  • Personal blog sharing immigrants’ experiences and insights

“With over 200,000 visitors and media coverage from prominent Israeli TV channels and newspapers, our website has already made a significant impact in many lives.”
A quick look at the website shows that it contains a wealth of information, almost all in Hebrew, but with an English version that gives an overview of what the website is all about.
The English version also contains a link to a Jerusalem Post story, published this past February, titled “Tired of war? Canada grants multi-year visas to Israelis” (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/article-787914#google_vignette) That story not only explains the requirements involved for anyone interested in moving to Canada from Israel, it gives a detailed breakdown of the costs one should expect to encounter.

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