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My memories of Peretz Shul

By KINZEY POSEN It was a late Friday afternoon at Peretz Shul in 1964 or so. A good friend of mine at the time whose Yiddish name was Moishe said, “That’s it! I’m not coming back to school on Monday, I’m out of here!” Ok, as an 11 year old, he might have said it in a slightly different way. It was the first day of school in September and we were just about to go home. “Sure you are Moishe, I’m sure you’ll be back on Monday,” I told him.

Grade one 150 dpi

 

Kinzey’s Grade 1 Peretz School class circa 1960
(Thanks to Sandy Shefrin for helping with identifying almost everyone; comments supplied by Kinzey)
Bottom Row crosslegged, left to right: Arthur Greenspan, unidentified, Matthew Levin (a.ka. Moishe in the story)
Second Row (l-r): Paula Wolfman, Rosa Scyzgiel, Shirley Starek, Myra Miller, Faye Golubchuk, Ruthie Rosenzweig,, Honey Leah Berman, Marcie Fleisher
Third Row (l-r): Diane McKay, Lucy Baumel, Janice Goldberg, Howard Kaplan, Sandy Shefrin, Heather Wallace, Pammy Zimmer (Kinzey’s wife, Shayla Fink’s first cousin, a beautiful person (alev hasholem)
Top row (l-r): Sidney Lieber, Martin (Kinzey) Posen, Sheldon Weidman, Harvey Zahn, Harvey Koffman (my first cousin) , Sidney Shoib, Morris Glimcher, Shawn Zell, Miss (Claire) Nelko (who is now Claire Breslaw)

Come Monday, true to his word, my friend did not come back. He had entered an alternate dimension it seemed; he was finished with Peretz Shul! Unheard of! Impossible! How did he do it? Moishe’s act of sedition was a reaction to the Yiddish teacher we had been blessed with that year and he was done. All of us in the class were in awe and Moishe, no worse for wear, having left the school, went on to become a respected ambassador for Canada’s Foreign Service.
A little while back, Bernie asked me to write about Peretz Shul from a different perspective: My own, as a student. I have often wondered why this institution. for those of us who went there, lives so large in our memories. Full disclosure: My grandmother Katya Posen Z’l, nee Gurarie, was one of the founders of Peretz Shul and a lifelong member of the Muter Farein – the women’s organization that helped establish the kindergarten and supported the school.

My father, Abe Posen, attended the school as did his sister, my aunt, Goldie Zuidema Z”l. My dad often told me stories of how various teachers at Peretz used to rent one of the rooms in their house on Burrows. To put it mildly, our family was steeped in Peretzness.
My era began in 1957 when I attended nursery school and then, kindergarten. To this day, I can still smell the matches when our teacher lit the Shabbat candles on Friday and we laid out our little mats to have a nap on. Being a socialist school for the most part, you would think Shabbat would not have been part of the school experience, but I have so many great reminiscences of those two years from making little coloured paper rings several metres long, to receiving the right colour star if we behaved. I loved getting those silver and gold ones alongside my name on the wall – wonderful, warm memories.
Our principal in those early days was Chaver Herstein – an imposing man with a wonderful head of hair and a bit of a temper. We called all our teachers by either “chaver” or “chaverteh” which, in this context, translated to “comrade”. We also called them Leher or Leheren – teacher in Yiddish. Our school was located at 601 Aikins, between Inkster and Polson Avenues. How do I remember the address? Early on as soon as we could write, we always wrote the address at the top of the left corner of the sheet of paper. Now, the building is a health community centre. Once we entered Grade One, our days were separated into half day Yiddish and half day English classes.

Grade One for me – and I am sure for my classmates, was a truly seminal experience. Pushed out of the warm bosom of kindergarten, Grade One meant getting down to serious work. Reading, see Dick run, see Jane run, see Dick and Jane run, writing, singing and my own personal challenge………arithmetic. Our Yiddish teacher, Miss Nelko, was the most beautiful woman who genuinely cared about her students. We loved her and she laid the groundwork for us learning Yiddish and how to be little menches and menchettes. Many years later, Shayla and I received a call about playing a wedding for an older couple. They came over to our house one evening and as we planned the event, it occurred to me that I knew who this woman was: My beloved Miss Nelko, some 40 years later. What a reunion it was!

Our English teacher, on the other hand, had a different style of teaching that could be best described, as adversarial. I renamed her Tyrannosaurus Rex and the invisible scars are still with me. Her approach to learning arithmetic was to say the least, extremely challenging. I was one of those kids who learned math in a different way and in those days, kids such as myself fell through the cracks and we fell deeply. All I remember is after a short explanation of one plus one equals two, etc., we all had to stand up by the blackboard as T Rex wrote a problem on the board. We could not sit down unless we put our hands up and answered correctly. Guess who was often the last kid standing? Me, of course, and I eventually memorized it all so I could finally sit down.
Another time, T Rex distributed to each of us a sheet of paper for some writing project. She gave me what we called at the time “grade one” paper. It’s where the lines were printed with one bold line and two lighter lines and then another bold line. It also had big wood chips in it. I noticed that she was also giving out what we called “grade two” paper. These were all symmetrical bold lines and I wanted one. When she finished giving them out, she asked if everyone received one and me, being me, said, “I didn’t.” My six-year-old brain conveniently forgot that my desk was in the front row and I had scrunched up the grade one paper into a ball and cleverly thought she wouldn’t see it in the wood support for the desk.
As I put my hand up and told her I didn’t get one, she approached my desk in a threatening way, reached into the desk support and said, “What is this?” I was fully chastised, and T Rex bellowed, “You will only get grade one paper for the rest of the year.”
The reality was, in those days, especially in the context of a parochial school, you sometimes had people teaching who were not trained and did not have the skills to do the job. Not only that, more than a few were survivors of the Holocaust and we eventually learned that they experienced terrible horrors in the camps and ghettos.
That being said, I had several wonderful teachers, whose voices to this day still reverberate in my head and I often reflect about their ability to connect and elevate the students.

Mrs. Gold, Mrs. Brooks and Pascal Fishman were some of them. Chaver Fishman came to us from Buenos Aires and was one of our Yiddish teachers. He had a great capacity to see potential in students and encourage them. Another of our teachers, Mrs. Wallace, taught us English and her daughter was in our class for years. The family wasn’t Jewish, but Heather my classmate, spoke Yiddish like a pro. I remember one of our later Yiddish teachers, Mrs. Korman, taught us “Zol Nit Keynmol” the Warsaw Ghetto Song, and led us in a procession to St. John’s Park in the spring, while we sang that song and others.
The year at Peretz Schul was highlighted by two major events. The annual essay contest in Yiddish and English, and the graduation, which took place towards the end of June. For each of those occasions, the auditorium would be absolutely packed and very hot. As students, we often escaped outside to cool off in the lane and we could hear what was going on by the open side doors.

The cultural offerings at Peretz were in my opinion, outstanding. We were taught so many great songs, we acted in plays and we created art. Jewish holidays were celebrated with a Yiddishe taam (Yiddish flavour). Since my Hebrew name was Mordechai/Motel, I always got the part of Mordechai in the Purim play. The music component was delivered by Chaver Bronstein or Mr. Brownstone as he was known at Talmud Torah. His classes were always held in the auditorium, where he’d stand by his easel flipping the song sheets written in Yiddish and we’d follow the words as he used his pointer. Contrary to the Talmud Torah choir experience, he never gave us names or hit us. After he retired, Mrs. Udow took over and when I hoped to join the choir, she said, “Modechai, your voice is changing, perhaps another time.”
After the principal Chaver Herstein retired, Mr. Heilik who was previously at the Calgary Peretz Shul became our new principal. He was an interesting man and because of my ‘occasional’ naughty behaviour, I got to know him a little better than most students. He was an artist. His medium was oil painting and I remember, on one occasion, we were taken out of our class and brought to the auditorium. When we arrived, we saw that all four walls had been covered with his paintings. There were dozens of them. It was a full-blown exhibition of his work.
I bring this up because I became the class artist at Peretz and my teachers often ‘commissioned’ me to draw and colour huge murals in the hallway of the school. This gave me the opportunity to get out of class. Chaver Heilik would always come out of his office to check out my work. My artistry was far below his level, but he was always encouraging and interested in what I was doing.

In my day, we all graduated from Grade Seven and you had the choice of continuing in what was called Mittel Shul. These classes were held after 4 o’clock, after you finished English school. No one in my class went to Mittel Shul and we felt sorry for those who did as they arrived at four, just as we were leaving.
For me, and I’m sure others, the experience of attending Peretz Shul, wasn’t truly appreciated until after we graduated. The real world out there wasn’t as warm and friendly as it was at 601 Aikins. I do know that the school gave me the education that my Baba and other founders were hoping to achieve: an ability to speak Yiddish, a love for the language, Jewish history known as Yiddishe geshicteh and above all, an appreciation for the Jewish people and our incredibly rich journey. I also had my Peretz Shul family, the 12 or so students in my class that I spent 35 hours a week with for nine years. We all take something different away from the experience, but I can guarantee you, many of us, including my friend Moishe the ambassador, will always carry Peretz Shul memories with us for the rest of our lives.

Post script:
Ed. note: It didn’t take me too long to figure out who the “Moishe” was to whom Kinzey refers in his article. I was actually friends myself with “Moishe”, although I knew him better as Matthew Levin.
Matthew was always very independent-minded – even as a kid. That being said, he went on to an illustrious career in Canada’s diplomatic service. Among other posts he held, he was Canada’s Ambassador to Columbia, Cuba, and most recently Spain.
It was while he was Ambassador to Cuba that Matthew, along with his wife, Rosealba, played an instrumental role in helping Cuban Jews emigrate to Israel (since Israel and Cuba did not have diplomatic relations).
When I read Kinzey’s story I decided to send it to Matthew – before I outed him as the “Moishe” in the story. Matthew was pleasantly surprised to see that Kinzey mentioned him in a story and even further that he referred to him as “Moishe”.
In my email to Matthew I mentioned that the last time I had attempted to contact him was when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister and Matthew was Canada’s Ambassador to Cuba. At the time, some low level functionaries in what is known as Global Affairs Canada interceded and said that I would not be able to communicate directly with Matthew. Instead, I was told, I could submit any questions that I had to Global Affairs, they would vet them (no doubt looking for anything that might potentially embarrass the government, such as asking about Matthew’s boyhood years in Winnipeg).
So, when I reached out to Matthew – again, this time after reading Kinzey’s piece, I said that I didn’t know whether he would even receive my email since I suspected “apparatchiks” in the government would see it first – and probably attempt to prevent me from communicating with him directly – again.
I was surprised then, to receive a very warm response from Matthew – in which he explained that he is no longer under the supervision of government “apparatchiks”.
Here’s what Matthew Levin wrote to me, in part:
Wonderful to hear from you! I’m so glad you made the effort to reach out.

I finished my posting to Spain a couple of months ago and am now back in Ottawa and transitioning to retirement. So no more apparatchiks.

First of all, I hope you’re well and coping successfully with these strange times.

Your lovely message brings back all sorts of very fond memories. It’s a long time since anyone called me Moishe (often shortened to Moish back then). I never saw most of my Peretz Shul classmates after I left the school, as Kinzey recalls, at the start of Grade 5 (a long story). Kinzey was one of the very few I did see occasionally, including a few times when he was playing with Finjan. But most of the others I completely lost touch with. Now I sometimes wonder what has become of many of them. It’s really heartwarming to think that Kinzey (Martin at the time and I believe he was Mordechai in Yiddish, or maybe Mendel) remembered me as he was writing this story. Since you and I and our group of friends never called each other by our Yiddish names I’m surprised, but delighted, that you thought of me when you saw this reference to a Moishe.
Thanks so much for sending along Kinzey’s story. I’m sending you this reply before having read it, because I didn’t want to delay getting back to you, but I’ll certainly read it with great interest and undoubtedly pleasure. I really feel honoured and delighted to be included. If you’re in touch with Kinzey, please thank him and give him a big hug – virtual of course for now – from me.

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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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