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Former Winnipegger Eileen Sever finds previously unknown cousin in Ukraine

Posner art 
Donner family circa 1094

By GERRY POSNER

Many of us who have roots in Canada can trace our origins to Eastern Europe. It does not matter which country our ancestors started from in Europe – the story is the same in one way or another. One venturous soul makes his or her way and gradually, the rest follow, sometimes over a period of years.

And often, for a variety of reasons, one sibling chooses to remain behind in the old country. The contact between those in America and those back in Russia, for example, is not easy, but it exists until it doesn’t. War, Communist regimes and ultimately the passage of the older generations usually triggered the end of the letters. With the end of that minimum contact, the names of the family that stayed behind are lost and thus a family relationship is over -unless and until…

Eileen Sever, a former Winnipeg resident living in Los Angeles and a descendant of the Donner family, recently was able to re-establish a family relationship that had been lost for over 115 years. It only happened because of two key parts – a diary and technology. Eileen, whose cousins include Shell relatives in Winnipeg and about whom a story was written in 2019 in the Jewish Post & News, made the happy discovery of a branch in Russia that had almost been forgotten.

The story began long ago and it revolves around Eileen’s grandfather, Elisha, and his twin sister, Tanya Donner. The pogroms were in full force and the Donner family decided to move out of Nikolaev in Ukraine. The family was a large one – 17 children, of whom 11 made it into adulthood. Of the 11 children, 10 were ready to leave Ukraine, but Tanya, already married by 1904 and living in what is known as Kherson with children, could not depart with the family. The way Eileen tells it is that, in 1904, her great- grandfather Aaron Donner, the man who had fathered all of these 17 children, went to Kherson to say goodbye to his daughter Tanya and her family. He recorded his trip in his diary – all in Yiddish. That was a good move, genealogically speaking.
Sadly, like so many other families, the details of the Donner (sometimes spelled Doner) family history were not discussed much in the family once they arrived in Canada. The grandparents had died at a time when Eileen and her cousins were too young to inquire about their origins. There were no pictures or letters of the Kherson relatives either. In short, it was as if the family left behind had vanished. This is a story familiar to many Jewish families.

Now, Eileen as it turned out, was well positioned to delve into a genealogical pursuit of her family. In 1998, after retirement, she began a 20 year stint at the Los Angeles Public Library, History and Genealogy Department. As a hobby, she started to collect family history. She recalled seeing the diary of her great-grandfather as a youngster and she wondered whatever had happened to that diary. Well, one of her cousins, former Winnipegger Arthur Donner, had in fact located it and had it translated from Yiddish into readable English. And, there was the story relating to Elisha’s sister Tanya left behind in Ukraine and the farewell visit by the great-grandfather, Aaron. Her married name as revealed by the diary was Yablonsky.

It could have ended there. However, a group of people working with Eileen in the Genealogy Department decided to have a DNA test completed for them by Ancestry.com and their results were then uploaded or at least delivered to MyHeritage.com, headquartered in Israel. Eileen was skeptical about this whole process but, lo and behold, it turned out a cousin was discovered in Poland. Eileen still remained dubious, but reluctantly emailed this supposed cousin, asking if the cousin was a Yablonsky. The answer came almost immediately. This supposed Polish relative, whose name, it turned out, was Sasha, was a grandchild of Tanya Yablonsky.

Tanya, though separated from her family in Canada, had still managed to survive – and continue to have children. Ultimately, Tanya had over 200 descendants. Only one person did not make it through the wars, the Gulag and indeed the Russian revolution. The family was spread out through St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Israel and, as Eileen was to discover: Poland. It turned out that Tanya lived until 1959 and Sasha had memories of sitting on his great-grandmother’s lap, listening to her tell him about her father, Aaron Donner. Sasha even provided Eileen with a family tree and, with the facility of Facebook, Eileen was able to connect with various branches of that side of the family. The diary is now being translated into Russian.

What is one to make of this story? To me it is all about the value of keeping a diary and as well, the beauty of DNA testing. There are many critics of the public access to DNA results, but in this case, what can be said for sure, is that the family ties were never “Severed” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) – all due to Aaron Donner’s diary and DNA.

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Features

The Fraught Future of Jewish Studies

By Henry Srebrnik Between 1969, when the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) was founded by forty-seven scholars in Boston, and now, the field of Jewish studies has enjoyed a meteoric expansion. The association, as David Biale, Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at the University of California, Davis, has noted in the winter 2024 issue of the Jewish Review of Books (JRB), it has some 1,800 members, and programs or individual positions exist at virtually every major North American university.
Benefiting from the postwar diminishment of antisemitism and the assimilation of Jews to American society, the scholarly study of the Jews found homes in university departments such as history, religious studies, and comparative literature.
Could that golden age have come to an end on October 7, 2023? “The sudden explosion of anti-Israelism, with its close cousin, antisemitism, has rendered the position of Jewish studies precarious.” It is too soon to know for sure, he states, “but it is hard to avoid the suspicion that something fundamental shifted on that Black Sabbath and its aftermath, not only in Israel but here in America.”
Jewish Studies programs at American (and Canadian) universities, with seed money provided by Jewish philanthropists, sprang up after the 1967 Six-Day War. And at first its faculty were “pro-Israel.” But Jewish communities never had control of these programs. And as the initial cohort of academics retired, their replacements were different – because the hiring process was, of course, largely in the hands of non-Jewish faculty in the humanities. So the successful candidates were more in line with the new zeitgeist of “interrogating” the “Zionist narrative” and giving prominence to non- or anti-Zionist perspectives among American Jews.
This was inevitable. Even the AJS has moved in this direction. (I am a member and have given papers at AJS conferences.) These programs and departments are, in the final analysis, at best “neutral” and agnostic on the Middle East and Israel.
Daniel B. Schwartz is a professor of history and Judaic studies at George Washington University in Washington, DC. In that same issue of the JRB, he recounted that on Oct. 9, a statement from the Executive Committee of the AJS arrived in his inbox. The heading of the email read simply, “Statement from the AJS Executive Committee.”
The statement was about the events of the previous weekend, but the email’s content-free subject line turned out to be symptomatic of what followed. “The members of the AJS Executive Committee,” it said, “express deep sorrow for the loss of life and destruction caused by the horrific violence in Israel over the weekend. We send comfort to our members there and our members with families and friends in the region who are suffering.” In a statement by the AJS, why word “Jews” was nowhere to be found.
“That we have come to the point where the AJS has to resort to such anodyne language,” he asserted, “is truly mind-boggling to me, and frankly shameful.” Why did the half-dozen distinguished scholars who form the Executive Committee of the AJS “feel obligated to obfuscate about the terrible events to which they were ostensibly responding?”
No wonder then, as Mikhal Dekel, Professor of English and the director of the Rifkind Center for the Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York, remarked, “For some of my Jewish colleagues, Israel and Israelis have crossed a threshold to become objects of hatred and disgust that mountains of intellectualized and reasoned essays cannot conceal. These emotions were on display on the very day of October 7, even before a single Israeli soldier entered Gaza.” Decades of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and other anti-Israel activism “around me hadn’t prepared me for that.”
Certainly the place of Jewish and Israeli-related courses in the wider world of the humanities will decline dramatically, as “anti-Zionism” takes hold across higher education. For example, Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told us in the February issue of Fathom, a British publication, that “after nearly two decades of trying, the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting finally succeeded in putting this academic group on record opposing Israel.”
The MLA represents about twenty thousand North American literature and foreign language faculty and graduate students. “This time they were riding a wave of anti-Zionist hostility that has swept the academy since Hamas wantonly slaughtered over 1,200 Israelis and foreign visitors in the largest antisemitic murder spree since the Holocaust.”
Nelson reported that at one MLA meeting, “when a member from Haifa referenced Hamas’s sexual violence there was reportedly audible hissing among the anti-Zionist members attending. Was it unacceptable to impugn the character of Hamas terrorists? Were some MLA members on board with Hamas denials?”
A recent trend has seen Jewish academics in Jewish Studies programs at universities like Berkely, Brown, Dartmouth, Emory, Harvard and elsewhere publish widely noticed books that are, at best, “non-Zionist” and in fact sympathetic to the naqba narrative of Arab-Jewish relations during and after the formation of Israel. But why should we be surprised? They are embedded in institutions where the “woke” Diversity-Equity-Inclusion ideology now prevails.
The new book by historian Geoffrey Levin, assistant professor of Middle Eastern and Jewish studies at Emory University in Atlanta, “Our Palestine Question: Israel and American Jewish Dissent, 1948-1978,” is one such work. He writes sympathetically about an early, formative era before American Jewish institutions had unequivocally embraced Zionism.
“The No-State Solution: A Jewish Manifesto” by Daniel Boyarin, the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, aims to drive a wedge between the “nation” and the “state,” and “recover a robust sense of nationalism that does not involve sovereignty.”
“The Necessity of Exile: Essays from a Distance” by Shaul Magid, the Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth, calls for “recentering” Judaism over nationalism and “challenges us to consider the price of diminishing or even erasing the exilic character of Jewish life.”
Derek Penslar, an historian at Harvard, last year published “Zionism: An Emotional State,” which described the situation in the West Bank as apartheid, even though over 90 per cent of Palestinians there are governed not by Israel but by the Palestinian Authority. The point of calling Israel an apartheid regime is to suggest that it must go the way of white-led South Africa.
They are among a spate of books dealing with the history of Jewish dissent over Israel and Zionism, including “The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism” by Marjorie N. Feld, and “Unsettled: American Jews and the Movement for Justice in Palestine” by Oren Kroll-Zeldin.
A cold khamsim is blowing across Jewish Studies in academia.
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, PEI.
 

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Features

A Positive Outlook for Communities as the Canadian iGaming Industry Prepares for a Banner Year

Since the implementation of Bill C-227, the Gaming Control Act in 2021, Canada’s online gambling scene has undergone a dramatic transformation. Legalization has unlocked heaps of previously untapped potential and paved the way for a banner year for the Canadian iGaming industry. This June, the Canadian Gambling Summit for 2024 promises an optimistic journey through the exciting prospects unfolding for players, operators, and the Canadian economy as a whole.

The Growth of Canadian iGaming has Sparked Optimism

Gone are the days of ambiguity and uncertainty; a clear legal framework has provided a healthy foundation for stability and growth. This newfound confidence has unlocked the immense potential of the Canadian iGaming market, attracting established operators and nurturing innovative local talent.

Players have already been enjoying the arrival of a regulated environment, which offers enhanced security and responsible gaming measures. Large numbers of gamblers can now play at a casino online for real money that operates on Canadian soil, much to the benefit of the local economy.

Many of the best-rated platforms available today allow Canadian players to engage with sites that offer a wide range of modern payment methods, reliable games and lucrative bonuses with exceptionally efficient payout speeds. The introduction of new features on these sites also gives players peace of mind that their safety is being prioritized.

The positive momentum continues to build as Canadian operators prepare for the Canadian Gambling Summit, which will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto from the 18th to the 20th of June, 2024. Anticipation for the event has created ripples of excitement throughout the local industry and bolstered a shared belief that 2024 will be a landmark year for the industry as a whole.

When Industries Thrive, Communities Flourish: Exploring the Positive Impacts of Financial Success

A healthy industry isn’t just good for its bottom line; it can be a powerful mechanism for positive change within local economies and communities. When any local industry experiences a period of financial growth and stability, the ripples of its success extend far beyond boardrooms and factories. These benefits reach individuals and families and can uplift the very fabric of local life. Here’s how the thriving iGaming industry is already benefiting many communities in and around Canada:

Job Creation and Increased Spending

When industries are able to grow and expand, this success often translates into more employment opportunities, higher wages and improved job security for residents. This increased income can then lead to greater spending power which boosts a range of local businesses like restaurants, shops, service providers and entertainment venues. This creates a virtuous cycle, as local businesses benefiting from increased consumer spending can themselves hire more employees, further strengthening the local economy.

Infrastructure Development and Public Services

A financially secure industry often means increased tax revenue for local governments. This influx allows for investments in vital infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, public transportation and, perhaps most importantly, schools. Additionally, it strengthens funding for essential public services such as healthcare, emergency response and social programs, leading to a higher quality of life for all Canadian residents.

Community Investment and Philanthropy

Many successful industries will often choose to reinvest in the communities that support them. Recently, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg stated that the surplus money they currently hold will be used in various ways that will ultimately benefit local communities in some way. Often, community investments will go beyond financial support and foster a lasting sense of pride, collaboration and shared success between an industry and its community.

Education and Skills Development

Recognizing the need for a skilled workforce to sustain its success, a thriving industry will generally partner with educational institutions to develop targeted training programs and internships. This gives local residents the skills and qualifications needed to secure future jobs within the industry, closing the skills gap and creating a pipeline of talent for future growth.

Attracting New Businesses and Talent

The positive buzz surrounding a successful industry can attract new businesses and talent to the area. This diversification is likely to strengthen the local economy and spark new innovation. In addition, increased numbers of skilled professionals raises the overall talent pool for other industries, greatly benefiting all businesses in the local area.

Since the implementation of Bill C-227, the Gaming Control Act in 2021, Canada’s online gambling scene has undergone a dramatic transformation. Legalization has unlocked heaps of previously untapped potential and paved the way for a banner year for the Canadian iGaming industry. This June, the Canadian Gambling Summit for 2024 promises an optimistic journey through the exciting prospects unfolding for players, operators, and the Canadian economy as a whole.

The Growth of Canadian iGaming has Sparked Optimism

Gone are the days of ambiguity and uncertainty; a clear legal framework has provided a healthy foundation for stability and growth. This newfound confidence has unlocked the immense potential of the Canadian iGaming market, attracting established operators and nurturing innovative local talent.

Players have already been enjoying the arrival of a regulated environment, which offers enhanced security and responsible gaming measures. Large numbers of gamblers can now play at a casino online for real money that operates on Canadian soil, much to the benefit of the local economy.

Many of the best-rated platforms available today allow Canadian players to engage with sites that offer a wide range of modern payment methods, reliable games and lucrative bonuses with exceptionally efficient payout speeds. The introduction of new features on these sites also gives players peace of mind that their safety is being prioritized.

The positive momentum continues to build as Canadian operators prepare for the Canadian Gambling Summit, which will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto from the 18th to the 20th of June, 2024. Anticipation for the event has created ripples of excitement throughout the local industry and bolstered a shared belief that 2024 will be a landmark year for the industry as a whole.

When Industries Thrive, Communities Flourish: Exploring the Positive Impacts of Financial Success

A healthy industry isn’t just good for its bottom line; it can be a powerful mechanism for positive change within local economies and communities. When any local industry experiences a period of financial growth and stability, the ripples of its success extend far beyond boardrooms and factories. These benefits reach individuals and families and can uplift the very fabric of local life. Here’s how the thriving iGaming industry is already benefiting many communities in and around Canada:

Job Creation and Increased Spending

When industries are able to grow and expand, this success often translates into more employment opportunities, higher wages and improved job security for residents. This increased income can then lead to greater spending power which boosts a range of local businesses like restaurants, shops, service providers and entertainment venues. This creates a virtuous cycle, as local businesses benefiting from increased consumer spending can themselves hire more employees, further strengthening the local economy.

Infrastructure Development and Public Services

A financially secure industry often means increased tax revenue for local governments. This influx allows for investments in vital infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, public transportation and, perhaps most importantly, schools. Additionally, it strengthens funding for essential public services such as healthcare, emergency response and social programs, leading to a higher quality of life for all Canadian residents.

Community Investment and Philanthropy

Many successful industries will often choose to reinvest in the communities that support them. Recently, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg stated that the surplus money they currently hold will be used in various ways that will ultimately benefit local communities in some way. Often, community investments will go beyond financial support and foster a lasting sense of pride, collaboration and shared success between an industry and its community.

Education and Skills Development

Recognizing the need for a skilled workforce to sustain its success, a thriving industry will generally partner with educational institutions to develop targeted training programs and internships. This gives local residents the skills and qualifications needed to secure future jobs within the industry, closing the skills gap and creating a pipeline of talent for future growth.

Attracting New Businesses and Talent

The positive buzz surrounding a successful industry can attract new businesses and talent to the area. This diversification is likely to strengthen the local economy and spark new innovation. In addition, increased numbers of skilled professionals raises the overall talent pool for other industries, greatly benefiting all businesses in the local area.

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Features

Life in Israel four months after October seventh

Orly & Solly Dreman

By ORLY DREMAN

(Special to the JP&N) Feb. 1, 2024

In every news broadcast that we hear that “The IDF spokesman is permitted to announce”… then every person in Israel sits down, holds their breath and waits to hear the names of the soldiers fallen in action that day. This causes deep sadness to every family in Israel. For example, I found out the son of my T.V technician was killed and my handyman’s son was seriously injured. Death in Israel is so personal.

Our synagogue recently mourned twenty seven year old Inbar Heiman who was kidnapped by Hamas from the Nova music nature party on October seventh and was murdered in captivity. She was a gifted young woman filled with love and compassion. She was a creative artist that was supposed to enter her senior year at university this academic year. We had prayed and wished that she would return until her family received the tragic news of her death.

When we made personal medical visits to the Hadassah hospital, we often heard helicopters overhead bringing in wounded soldiers from Gaza. In the surgery department we saw a reserve soldier being released after six weeks in the hospital. His wife and newborn baby were with him. The department had a touching farewell gathering with Israeli flags, music and cakes. This is how every soldier who leaves the hospital is treated. More than fourteen thousand civilians and soldiers were hospitalized since October seventh with most of the injuries being in the hands and legs, burns, head and eye injuries.

We seldom are in the mood to go to a restaurant these days, but if we do, such outings are accompanied by guilt feelings. Is it right to go when our people are suffering?- the hostages are starving. We all wear the metal disc that says “Bring Them Home now- Our hearts are captured in Gaza”. They occupy our thoughts pervasively. Some of the hostages have suffered untreated gunshot wounds and the hygiene conditions are poor, many of them not showering for four months, sitting thirty meters under the ground in dark tunnels, with no electricity and suffering from extreme malnutrition. Some of them have diseases like Celiac, Asthma, Colitis, Diabetes, Fibromialgia, heart diseases and allergies. They are getting no medications and time is running out for them. Twenty five of them have already perished. What sort of civil society will we be if we abandon them?

Whole families are recruited for combat duty in different areas of the country. It might be a brother and a sister fighting in Gaza or a father in Judea and Samaria while another brother is fighting on the Lebanese border. If you ask soldiers who have lost their siblings in combat if they wish to go back to fight after the shiva, they do not hesitate, even though it is so hard on the parents. This demonstrates the dedication of Israeli citizens and their wish to complete the task of exterminating the Hamas, while at the same time knowing their family member did not die in vain. The grief is intergenerational and we are even acquainted with grandparents whose grandchildren are in combat and they are given the opportunity to go to workshops that help them with their anxiety.

In a Knesset Committee it was recently reported That many survivors from the Nova party have taken their own lives. Others continue to experience the trauma of the horrific events. They cannot sleep nor eat. Many were sexually abused and even though they were not murdered they continue to experience the pain- the sights, voices- cries for help and the fear. They are in a sense also fighters who awaken to a new existence everyday and continue to fight for their existence.

At the military cemeteries there is one funeral process after another and the families are asked to leave the site to make room to prepare for the next funeral. Wounded soldiers arrive in ambulances, on hospital beds or wheelchairs in order to eulogize their fallen comrades.

The reservists who return home after months of combat are having troubles adjusting because this war, like the War of Independence, is very meaningful. It is the most justified war our homeland has encountered. Upon their return there is a big downfall in physical and mental energy. A stranger cannot understand this. These soldiers were disconnected from normal civilian routine for a long time and they had difficult and intimate experiences with their combat mates. They have lost friends and did not have time to mourn. They must release the stress they were exposed to. They are back in body but not always in spirit. They also might be recruited again in the near future to the southern or the northern front, the war is not over. Many men who were injured worry about their future fertility and sexual functioning.

They entertain such existential thoughts as would it be better that I am killed in action before I have children and leave no descendants, or losing my life and leaving behind orphans. Dozens of children remain orphaned from both parents. They also have witnessed their family members being murdered and their homes burned down. Years ago, Solly treated and did a follow up on a family where both parents were murdered in a terrorist attack. Even though the children were adopted by loving relatives they suffered from survivor guilt and this expressed itself in such phenomena as dropping out of school, turning into juvenile delinquents and having trouble in intimate relations.

The evacuees from the south and the north are dispersed in hundreds of hotels in the center of the country. Hence, they have no permanent home, have no privacy and many have no work, nothing to do for months on end and experience feelings of powerlessness. Some pupils are not capable of returning to their temporary schools because of anxieties, depression and fear. Some teenagers have turned to drugs and alcohol which increases violence and vandalism. For them school is experienced as a waste of time. Their friends were murdered, some still have relatives in captivity and everything is falling apart. They also experience sleep disruptions and are in no mood to study. For them life is a living hell. Some families are moved from city to city several times. The children do not have friends in the new locations and they feel lonely and express a lack of social support.

In the realm of parenting many mothers even those who were NOT directly exposed to the dramatic events reported that their children cry more (eighty three percent). Others say the children have difficulties sleeping (seventy three percent), have concentration problems (fifty four percent) and many children are developing eating disorders. In sixty percent the anxiety of the children is so high it hurts functioning. For example, they are often afraid to leave the house. Other disturbances were reported such as bed-wetting, insisting on sleeping with their parents and acts of anger and aggression.

We, as Israelis are also concerned with our Jewish brethren who are experiencing thousands of antisemitic incidents, higher than the number of all incidents in the last decade. There are many Jews in the diaspora who are considering emigration to Israel after experiencing antisemitic events such as seeing their synagogue, Hebrew school, kosher butcher and other Jewish businesses being stoned and burned. For them Israel is their safest haven.

On a more optimistic note the Jewish people have prevailed over thousands of years despite terrible events. In spite of the uncertainty not everything is lost. We are united and strong. The soldiers are full of motivation and good values. I firmly believe that if we are patient and persist, the Jewish people and the state of Israel will prevail.

Orly Dreman is a 10th generation Israeli. Her cousin, Ruvi Rivlin, was a former president of Israel. Orly’s father was a diplomat who served both in North America and in Europe.
By profession Orly is an English teacher. She has dealt with children suffering from ADD.
Since childhood, Orly has been involved in voluntary work with the disabled, the challenged, new immigrants, the elderly and others. 

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