HomeFeaturesJewish Federation GrowWinnipeg director Dalia Szpiro revels in opportunity...

Jewish Federation GrowWinnipeg director Dalia Szpiro revels in opportunity to meet other new immigrants, experience different cultures

By MYRON LOVE “One of the things I most enjoy about my work is getting to know families from different countries and cultures,” observes Dalia Szpiro, the director of our Jewish Federation’s GrowWinnipeg initiative. “Having all of these new families here really adds to the vibrancy of our community.”
It was just over 20 years ago that the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg established the GrowWinnipeg initiative to try to stabilize and increase our city’s declining Jewish population. While the initiative also focused on keeping young Jews in Winnipeg and persuading former Winnipeggers to return, the program has seen its greatest success in attracting new immigrants.
And who better to lead such a program and smooth the way for newcomers here than Szpiro herself who, with her husband, Eduardo Borovich, arrived here from their home in Montevideo, Uruguay. They were among the first newcomers to respond to the GrowWinnipeg initiative.
“We weren’t planning on leaving Uruguay,” Szpiro recalls. “But, at the time, we were dealing with a troubled economy in the region. Eduardo learned about the Winnipeg Jewish community’s efforts to recruit new families.”
Dalia and Eduardo and their first-born, Yael (Vanessa, their younger daughter, was born here) arrived in what was to become their new home in September 2002. “When we got off the plane,” Szpiro recounts, “we were all bundled up for the cold. Much to our surprise, people were wearing T-shirts and shorts. It was 20 degrees.”
She recalls the unknown situation that the family initially encountered. “This was before Google and Facebook,” Szpiro observes. “Families who are coming now are much better informed. But the community embraced us and we soon felt right at home.”
Both Dalia and Eduardo quickly found jobs here – he as an accountant working for RBC, and she as assistant to Evelyn Hecht, GrowWinnipeg’s original director.
“Evelyn was a joy to work with,” Szpiro says. “I learned through her the generosity, openness and welcoming spirit that our Jewish community has. Her door was always open. Evelyn is an inspiring role model for me. We remain close friends.”
When Hecht retired in 2006, Szpiro ( who was trained as a psychologist) became her obvious successor.
As Szpiro notes, while the initial thrust in the program was aimed at attracting Jewish families from South America – specifically Argentina, in recent years, the majority of Jewish families have come from Israel. As well, it makes sense that many of the Israeli families that have come here have recent Eastern European ancestry since they are already familiar with life in a winter climate.
In more recent years though families from Brazil, Mexico, and Turkey have applied through the GrownWinnipeg initiative and became part of our community.
“What we offer as a community to newcomers is unique,” Szpiro points out. “One of the requirements to apply for permanent residency is an exploratory visit to Manitoba. We have a great number of volunteers who connect with the exploratory visitors and their families. We work to build contacts between prospective newcomers and members of the community. We try to match new families with people with similar backgrounds. They start to build their network before moving here, so when they move here they feel at home. Candidates are connected to all our organizations and services, including JCFS, Rady JCC, Gray Academy, synagogues, professional regulatory bodies, and other relevant contacts.”
Naturally, the pandemic lockdowns put a pause on immigration due to the restrictions on travellign to Canada. “We worked hard during that time to keep up contacts with prospective immigrants,” Szpiro says. “We arranged all of our meetings online. But the number of exploratory visits really decreased.”
While the numbers are increasing again, she further reports, “we understand all the efforts that a candidate must make to come in an exploratory visit to Manitoba. The cost of flights is up and the provincial government requirements are more demanding. Applicants are required to pass English-language tests. It costs more money and takes longer to prepare”.
More documentation is also required – which also costs more money.
Further, priority is given to those applicants who qualify for an occupation where workers are in demand.
Szpiro reports that GrowWinnipeg’s goal this year is to receive 40 exploratory visitors, then increase to 60 and to 75 the following two years. “We hope to continue increasing the number of candidates that are able to come on exploratory visits,” Szpiro says. “While most of our new families continue to be coming from Israel, we are also getting a lot of inquiries from Mexico, Brazil Argentina, Turkey, Hungary, South Africa, Colombia, Ukraine and Russia.”
As for her and her family, Dalia and Eduardo are satisfied that they made the right move. Vanessa is now a student at Gray Academy while (Gray Academy graduate) Yael is now working for Scotia Bank after earning a business degree from the Asper School of Business.
“They love it here,” says Szpiro of her daughters. Both are involved in our community and in the general community.
“Winnipeg not only offers a lot for families but also to young adults. There are so many opportunities for them.”
Szpiro adds with pride that both daughters enjoy being involved. Yael is already playing a leading role in the community as a board member and Chair of the Federation’s Genesis YWG, a training ground for future community leaders. Vanessa has been a volunteer for different initiatives, including community events and CJA, where she is part of the executive committee for TAP (Teens and Philanthropy). She is also active in BBYO.

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