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Sandra Caplan’s Jewish Journey

Recently we received an email from Sandra Caplan from her Florida wintertime home. Sandra told us that she had given a talk to her synagogue sisterhood about her life and wondered whether we might be interested in reprinting it.
Sandra’s life followed a path that would be familiar to many Winnipeg Jews (both present and former). So we thought it would be interesting to reprint the story of Sandra’s life here:

The following document, titled My Jewish Journey, was presented to the Sisterhood of Congregation B’nai Israel on March 10th, 2024. I hosted a brunch at my condo in St. Petersburg and spoke of “My Jewish Journey,” the current Rosh Chodesh topic. I am sending a copy of this to my family so that they will have a better understanding of my life. I wrote this in two sessions without an outline. The words flowed from my heart to my brain, my fingers and then to the written page. Please don’t fact find!! 

Sandra with her late husband Barry

I had two photos that I always bring with me. One is of Barry and me, the other of my family on my eightieth birthday.  I also had an atlas so I could show the Floridians where Winnipeg is located. Now on to my story. 
   The following document, titled My Jewish Journey, was presented to the Sisterhood of Congregation B’nai Israel on May 10th, 2024. I hosted a brunch at my condo in St. Petersburg and spoke of My Jewish Journey, the current Rosh Chodesh topic. I am sending a copy of this to my family so that they will have a better understanding of my life. I wrote this in two sessions without an outline. The words flowed from my heart to my brain, my fingers and then to the written page. Please don’t fact find!!  I had two photos that I always bring with me. One is of Barry and me, the other of my family on my eightieth birthday.  I also had an atlas so I could show the Floridians where Winnipeg is located. Now on to my story. 
   
                                        MY JEWISH JOURNEY 
I am a Snowbird and live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Before I speak of My Jewish Journey, I would like to give you a few facts about Winnipeg. It is in the center of Canada and is 2200 miles northwest of St. Petersburg  and 500 northwest of Minneapolis. It is a prairie province, and the terrain is flat. The winters are so cold that we often plug our cars into an electric outlet, so that the engine doesn’t freeze. A mild day in the winter would be considered 0 F and a cold day 20 degrees below that.  The population in Winnipeg is approximately 750,000 people. 
Winnipeg has a Jewish population of about 8,000 people. However, in the 1930’s it was about 20,000. Many young people now leave for what they consider cities with more advantages, such as Toronto, Vancouver and many US cities. Also, families are now smaller. My Mother came from a family of seven and my father from a family of five. Winnipeg has been actively involved in promoting Winnipeg to the Argentinian Jewish community and now has a large group in our community. We also have a large French Canadian, Aboriginal and Filipina presence. 
Growing up I always considered that Winnipeg had two areas that the Jewish people lived in-the north end and the south end. I was born in 1939 and lived in the north end. My first recollection is living in a duplex owned by my paternal grandparents who were born in Europe. I was told that the railway line at one point in time ended in Winnipeg and that is why so many Jewish immigrants settled there. Another reason was that there was a homestead plan offered in Manitoba through which new immigrants would be given a plot of land for free if they developed the land. As it turned out the winters were harsh, and the land was inhospitable. The Jewish immigrants were not necessarily experienced in farming and once settled gave up the concept. They turned to commerce and a large percentage of Manitoba’s small towns had Jewish owned general and other stores. 
My father was born in Pinsk, Poland. In Winnipeg he became a furrier after high school. My mother was born in Winnipeg and opened a dress shop, Sandra’s, after I was born. 
As a young child living on Flora Ave. In the early 1940’s, every house on our street was occupied by Jewish residents. At that time there were about eleven small Orthodox synagogues in the north end. I remember sitting in the balcony at the synagogue with my mother. It was a block from our home. My mother’s parents lived about 10 minutes from our home on Selkirk Ave. My grandmother was a milliner, and her shop was at the front of her home.  When my paternal grandparents passed away, the house was sold, and we moved to the south end of the city. I was 5 and after that point can recall much of my Jewish Journey. 
In 1945 the south end was considered an upscale area. By this time my father had a men and ladies clothing shop in the Time Bldg. on Portage Ave. My mother still had her shop, Sandra’s. Our family grew with the addition of my brother Frederick (Fred). 

clockwise from top left: Sandra’ sister Marcia, Sandra, Sandra’s brother Fred, and her mother


Our home on Oxford Street had several Jewish families. The school that I attended for grade one had very few Jewish kids. It was at the time that my parents decided it was time for my Jewish education to begin. There was not a synagogue in the area, but there was talk of the Shaarey Zedek, which we belonged to moving to the south end. So, as I entered grade two, my Jewish education began, and I attended after school Hebrew classes on Mondays and Wednesdays.  The other 2 days were for the students in grades four to six. The classes were held in the basement of a home in the area.  
My recollections of those days are quite clear. The kosher butcher delivered twice a week. Since my parents both worked, we had a housekeeper who was an excellent cook. On Friday nights we often had company for dinner. I was Jewish, went to Hebrew school had a strong sense of my religion, but attended the synagogue only on the High Holidays and celebrated other important holidays such as Pesach and of course, Chanukah.  

Sandra (left) with her sister-in-law Susan Caplan


In 1949 my sister Marcia was born. In 1950 my father won the Irish Sweepstake. It was a grand sum of $39,500.00. I tried to translate it to today’s dollar. My thinking was that our home at that time cost $12,500.00. We could have bought 3 homes. That large home today of 4 bedrooms, a den and a finished basement could be worth $800,000. So, I estimate it was like winning  $2, 400.000.00 today. With this fortune my father bought property on Portage Ave and built Fredric’s, a large store that sold ladies and men’s wear, sportswear, lingerie, had tuxedo rentals and had a bridal shop on the mezzanine floor. 
It was about this time that the synagogue in the south end of town opened. It was a beautiful building on the river. I was able to attend Hebrew school here. It was a gathering place for Jewish children. I was a brownie and a girl scout, and both these activities were at the synagogue. 
At that time the synagogue was the center of my Jewish and social life. In 1952 I had a Bat Mitzvah. This was a new ceremony at the conservative Shaarey  Zedek  synagogue. It was held on a Friday night. The Bat Mitzvah celebrant wore a loose, blue satin mid length long sleeved gown. It had a round collar and a white bow at the collar. I recall standing in front of the ark and reciting a prayer that started—O God and God of my Fathers. With grateful heart I stand before thee—. I also recited a haftorah which began-Vah yishlach Shlomo el Hiram laimor. Atah yadatah—. Obviously, I rehearsed this many times so that sixty-one years later I can still remember a small portion. After the service there was a reception in the social hall. We had party sandwiches, a Winnipeg specialty and favorite to this day, dainties as referred to by non Winnipeggers as squares and cookies and luscious cakes and cookies. Winnipeg Bar and Bat Mitzvah tables are well known in Canadian Jewish circles as are our baking is renowned. I can even remember several gifts that I received. A glass duck with a filling of bubble bath and a small wooden chest filled with note paper and envelopes. I still have that chest today. It was a glorious and happy celebration and did not end my Hebrew studies. 
I continued going to Hebrew school until I was confirmed at the age of fifteen. For that ceremony I received a white leatherbound prayer book for the High Holidays which I still have today. When I was a teenager, I sang in the synagogue choir on Shabbat and the High Holidays. Our synagogue had a choir loft which was curtained and on the second floor behind the ark. We had about 20 members led by a choir master. 
In Winnipeg in 1956 you could enter University after grade eleven, which I chose to do. So, I was sixteen when I enrolled at the University of Manitoba. Everyone with a few exceptions stayed at home to go to university. In those days we had one Jewish sorority, Iota Alpha Pi which I joined and became the president of in my second year of university. We also had 3 Jewish fraternities known as the Sammies, Zebes and Apes. I took Commerce but did not get my BCom because at the end of my third year I got my MRS. 
So, this takes me to dating years in Winnipeg.  My friends and I would never think of going out with anyone but a Jewish boy. We all married Jewish boys and married very young. I was nineteen when I married Barry who was a doctor and twenty-six years old. We had a large wedding at the Shaarey Zedek the synagogue that my family attended. Looking back, I feel that I was very young, unworldly leaving my parents to go to Los Angels where Barry would be a resident. I was a young girl in a new and different world! It was a challenge. Our Jewish life as we knew it was at a standstill. I had one Aunt and a few cousins that we could visit and we knew one couple from Winnipeg. There was no time to celebrate holidays and no one to really celebrate with.  
California, however, was a nice place to live. We had no Winnipeg winters to deal with but also had no family to be with. Four years passed quickly, especially since we had two children. A daughter Susan who was born in 1962 and a son Bruce born in 1963. I also was fortunate to work at AT&T for 3 years.  
Although as I previously said we felt like we had lost some of our Jewishness, a Bris was a ceremony that was very important to us. It was up to Barry to make the arrangements. He spoke to some of the Jewish attending doctors at the hospital. He got the name of a mohel and told my mother, who had come to help me, that the mohel had a request. The baby was to wear a cap and gown. I had no knowledge of Brises and my mother thought this was a little odd. However, we were in the United States. Traditions could be different. When Bruce was 4 days old a cousin came to babysit while my mother and I went shopping for a cap and gown. We found Christening gowns and other outfits for babies. Nothing was suitable for a Bris. I heard of a store in Long Beach that perhaps could help us in our search. I had never been to Long Beach but with directions managed to find the store. We found what we thought was a perfect outfit. It was a white cotton Carters gown that was tied at the bottom with a matching bonnet that was tied under the baby’s neck. The day of the Bris arrived and we met the Mohel. His first question to Barry was “did you bring my cap and gown from the hospital”. As an excited father Barry was so happy to find a Mohel he heard only the cap and gown and assumed it was for the baby. Fortunately, we lived a few minutes from the hospital and Barry was able to ge the cap and gown for the Mohel. Later the Mohel remarked that he thought the baby’s outfit was a little strange. Our first, but certainly not our last adventure with our son. 
In 1963 we returned to Winipeg and a whole new Jewish Journey for me was established. Barry had a very large, observant family on his maternal and paternal side. So, I became immersed in all the Jewish culture of his family. My side of the family was small, and we were not as close as the Caplan/Stall family. I was twenty-three. A mother of two, naive, inexperienced and the product of a sheltered life. How did I survive? I guess that necessity was a factor. We adapted to life in the city, made friends, and carried on. The Caplan family belonged to the synagogue in the north end of town. My family belonged to the synagogue in the south end. Until our daughter Susan was twelve, we went to Rosh Pina with the Caplans. One incident that I clearly remember took place on the High Holidays in about 1969. We never joined the synagogue as Barry’s parents looked after our High Holiday tickets and with Barry’s work schedule as a Urologist who was on call every third weekend and every third of fourth night, he was not able to commit to going to shule. To get back to the holiday service the Rabbi spoke about membership in the synagogue and its importance in Jewish life. I felt he was looking directly at me as he made this appeal. On the way home I said to Barry that we must join the synagogue. It is a priority in our lives. As Susan’s Bat Mitzvah approached, I had a problem. Our children attended Ramah day school but lessons for your Bar /Bat Mitzvah and the ceremony, took place at the synagogue that you belonged to. In my mind I had no choice. To drive twice a week to the north end when it could be very cold, icy streets and a huge distance of a half hour was beyond my scope of reality. So, we joined the south end Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Our son Bruce had his Bar Mitzvah in 1976 at the Shaarey Zedek and our son David  who was born in 1971 completed this cycle. 
While raising my family I was involved in Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women. I became president of the chapters that I belonged to and was actively involved in both. I also volunteered at the Shaarey Zedek in a lunch program for seniors. Being in shule, whether as a volunteer or at a service or program was always an important part of my life. When my husband Barry retired in December 1999 we started coming to St. Petersburg for the winter. One of our first projects was to find a conservative synagogue. How fortunate we were to discover CBI.When we got home that spring, we started going to service every Saturday and this continued until Barry’s passing. I continued to attend until Covid and the two-year remodeling of our synagogue began. Our renovations are almost complete, and my family and I will be able to return to our beloved Shaarey Zedek for the holidays this year and I will return to my weekly Saturdays at shule. 
Jewish holidays are a special time in our family. Last Rosh Hashanah my daughter Susan and I continued the family tradition of a luncheon on the first day of the holiday. This was held at her home. How wonderful that first to fourth cousins, machatunim and those close to the family gather to enjoy this holiday. I have been in touch with a cousin in Winnipeg to check on the first Seder for this year. My children are coming to Winnipeg from Vancouver, and we look forward to enjoying the Seder with the extended family again. This year we will probably have thirty attending but often there are many more.  
When I speak of the synagogue and the importance of it in our family life, I cannot help but think of the day of Barry’s passing. I came into his hospital room and his first word was shule. I immediately called the synagogue, spoke to Rabbi Green and within a half hour he was at Barry’s bedside, singing and reciting prayers. How fortunate we are to have a religion and a life that makes us feel involved, loved and able to pass away in what we would consider a dignified and peaceful manner. As I write these words tears stream down my face and I realize how fortunate I am to have been born Jewish. 
I truly feel that I could end my Jewish Journey here, but life goes on after the loss of loved ones. For six and a half years I have been a widow. My friends hate that word, but I can’t say that I am alone. That is not true. I have a wonderful family, friends and a full life. I come to Florida for the winter, I can travel with my daughter, I visit my children and grandchildren in Vancouver, I enjoy the cultural life in my two favorite cities and much more.  
I feel that life has been good to me. I have three children, six grandchildren, many friends, good health and the ability to enjoy life. I have truly been blessed. 

family photo taken October 11, 2019
BACK ROW L – R: Sheri Winters, Bruce Caplan, Sandra Caplan, Susan Billinkoff, David Caplan, Cindy Switzer
Front Row  L – R:   Asher Billinkoff, Maia Caplan, Annie Caplan, Layla Switzer-Caplan, Max Switzer Caplan, Jordan Billinkoff

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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Features

Reflections on 2 Winnipeg synagogues: While one is being radically transformed, one is just trying to stave off closure

Shaarey Zedek (top)/ House of Ashkenazie (bottom)

By BERNIE BELLAN My reports on this website about wo different Winnipeg synagogues and how they’re both attempting to change with the times might serve as a reminder to readers how much of a vital role synagogues used to play in the lives of Winnipeg Jews.
In December 2021 I wrote about a proposal to repurpose the Ashkenazie synagogue into a synagogue/museum. Writing that story got me to thinking about the history of Winnipeg synagogues in general, so I also wrote an article in which I listed all the synagogues that ever existed north of the CPR tracks.
There were 34 of them! (You can read both stories in our Dec. 8, 2021 issue. Simply enter the words Dec. 8, 2021 in our “search archive” searchbox.)

Now, while various synagogues either completely folded or merged with other synagogues over the years, there can be no doubt that it was the synagogue that played the central role in the lives of most Jewish Winnipeggers for years in this city.
I don’t think I have to tell you that the situation is completely different these days. There are very few synagogues left in Winnipeg and what few synagogues we do have are clamouring for members.
There’s nothing particularly surprising about that, given that churches, as well, have seen a huge decrease in popularity in recent years. (Mosques, on the other hand, are showing robust growth – in Winnipeg, as well as other areas in Canada.)

We’ve recently seen the relocation of the Etz Chayim congregation to new south end quarters and, while the assessment of most members with whom I’ve talked is that it’s a very nice building, it doesn’t quite have the feel of a synagogue.
As for the Shaarey Zedek, it’s a huge unknown whether the renovation project that is slated to be completed in August (according to congregation president Neil Duboff, but perhaps a little bit later, as there are always unforeseen delays in an undertaking as massive as the complete overhaul of Winnipeg’s largest synagogue entails), will lead to a rush of new members joining the Shaarey Zedek congregation. Or, to be more realistic: Will it lead to many of those who have abandoned the Shaarey Zedek, especially since Covid, rejoining?

The demographics of Winnipeg’s Jewish community don’t portend a large increase in synagogue membership going forward. Our community isn’t growing and, by and large, new arrivals to Winnipeg’s Jewish community haven’t shown much interest in becoming synagogue members. (I do note that the Etz Chayim has been somewhat successful in attracting new immigrant families, but the numbers are relatively small as a proportion of our overall Jewish community.)
As I note in my article about the Shaarey Zedek, one would expect that there will be an initial flurry of interest in seeing what the renovated synagogue is like – and with a gorgeous new event centre it is likely to become the go-to venue once again for life cycle events, such as weddings and bar or bat mitzvahs, at least for the first year. Many of those celebrations have been occurring outside of a synagogue setting, however, and it’s hard to see how, other than the Shaarey Zedek becoming the “in” venue for a period of time, that initial rush of event bookings that are likely to occur there will continue in the long run. There is just too much interest in trying to make a life cycle event unique that will work against any one venue becoming the favoured destination for more than a short period of time, especially as people compete with one another for inventiveness.

But, what of the rather interesting proposal I’ve also written about in my article on the home page here, about the proposal to turn the Ashkenazie synagogue into a combination synagogue/museum?
In theory, it’s a great idea – but realistically, how many people are going to be willing to head down to a part of town that is, to put it euphemistically, not as safe as one might like? I’ve generally shied away from dwelling on how scary whole parts of Winnipeg are now in which to venture forth. I’ll leave it for the Winnipeg Free Press to scare the bejesus out of most of us with its daily reports of break-ins, stabbings, assaults – and all too frequent murders, in this lovely city. I don’t need to add to your fear – unless you’re like many readers who have informed me they simply stopped taking the Free Press – and shy away completely from established media sources. (I’m always curious which news sources those readers now rely upon? I hope that it’s not simply the internet because, for all its faults, the Free Press is still by far the best news source in this town.)

I recall going on a Jane’s Walk a few years back, led by Zach Fleisher, that was made up of visits to some north end hallmarks that once played – and in some cases, still do play vital roles within our Jewish community.
It began at the site of the old CPR train station, which is where so many of our ancestors first arrived when they came to Winnipeg. We then proceeded to Joe Zuken Park in Point Douglas (which has no particular significance for the Jewish community other than it is located in an area that was once teeming with new Jewish arrivals), then on to the Chesed Shel Emes, Gunn’s Bakery, the Ashkenazie synagogue, and finally the former Talmud Torah on Charles Street.

Ashkenazie interior


Ever since then I’ve wanted to revisit that particular walk. At each point along the way we learned so much about our community’s history. And, as someone who hadn’t often been back to the Ashkenazie since my childhood, I marvelled at how beautiful it still was. It was because of that visit to the Ashkenzie, where the late Saul Spitz gave us such an interesting description of the synagogue’s history, that I would love to see Dr. Yosel Minuk’s imaginative proposal for redeveloping that grand old building at least be given the opportunity to move beyond total dismissal by the powers that be. All that it would take is a few former members of the Ashkenazie who may have moved elsewhere (or perhaps their children or grandchildren), and who might have the means to help in the synagogue’s redevelopment brought to life for that proposal to have a chance of succeeding.

And isn’t that how so many projects within our Jewish community have attained their goals? Perhaps the most vivid example in recent memory was BB Camp’s capital campaign, which succeeded in raising over $6 million five and a half years ago – largely as a result of BB Camp alumni from all over North America contributing to the cause.
While the Ashkenazie might have relatively very few former members left around the world, I know that when former Winnipeggers return to Winnipeg for a visit, very often they check out their former haunts in the North End. There is still a huge sentimental attachment to the North End on the part of so many ex-Winnipeggers (which they have often passed on to their children and grandchildren). Perhaps if they were to realize how perilous the situation is for the Ashkenazie they might step up to help preserve that grand old edifice. After all – they’ve lost Kelekis Restaurant and the North End Sals. What other shrines do they have left to visit on the way to check out the homes where they (or their parents) grew up?

One final note – and this has to do with Israel’s war in Gaza – a recent article in Haaretz delves into Netanyahu’s long, complicated, and “symbiotic” relationship with Hamas, according to the author of a new book about that relationship. (In one of the most surprising aspects of that article, it says that Yahya Sinwar, Israel’s arch enemy and the one man almost every Israeli would like to see dead, sent a note to Netanyahu in 2022 “that read ‘calculated risk’ – in Hebrew.” By the way, the author of the book doesn’t pretend to understand what exactly Sinwar meant by that cryptic note.)
One other part of that article, however, does more to explain how so many Israelis who might have considered themselves leftists or centrists prior to October 7 have now swung so far in the opposite direction to the point perhaps that we in the diaspora might now fully appreciate how hell bent so many Israelis are on wiping out Hamas.
The author of the book referred to in the Haaretz article is someone by the name of Adam Raz. According to information given about him at the beginning of the article, Raz is determinedly leftist in his political viewpoint – and so, apparently, was his mother – until October 7.
Here’s how Raz describes an encounter he had with his mother the day of October 7: “The day of the horrific events of October 7,Israeli political historian and author Adam Raz had a big fight with his mother. A longtime leftist and devoted Meretz voter, she surprised him with her harsh reaction. ‘She said: “They should pour gasoline all over Gaza and blow it up,” ‘ recounts Raz, whose work deals with political theory, the Israeli-Arab conflict and the nuclear arms race. ‘I realized that I needed to delve into the psyche that made even left-wing Israelis think this way.’
I wonder, more than seven months after the October 7 massacre, how many Israelis still hold that attitude? I ask that, not because I think I know the answer, but because I honestly don’t – yet it’s never really explored in all the analyses of what’s happening in Israel, is it? And it is crucial to understanding why so many Israelis say “to hell with the rest of the world. If we have to, we’ll go it alone.”

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Women’s Endowment Fund celebrates 50 years of giving

Women who spoke at the Jewish Foundation Women's Endowment evening (Read the names of all the speakers in the article.)

By MYRON LOVE For the past 30 years, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba’s Women’s Endowment Fund (WEF) has been giving back to the community.  It has been the tradition of the foundation over these last many years to host an annual fundraising luncheon in the spring.
This year, however, in a departure from past practice – and in celebration of this most significant anniversary –  the foundation – instead of a lunch, decided to give back to the givers by hosting a social evening for the founders, long time supporters, former and current  committee members of the Women’s Endowment Fund.
On Thursday, May 9, about 100 women gathered at the Pavillion at Assiniboine Park for a short program of speeches and an evening of shmoozing and reminiscing over a light meal and refreshments.

Speakers at the Jewish Foundation Womern’s Endowment evening
front row (l-r): Katie Hall Hursh – Board Member, Health Sciences Centre Foundation, Lt. Governor Anita Neville, Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud – CEO, Siloam Mission
back row (l-r): Dr. Sharon Goszer-Tritt – JFM Board Member, Chair of the Women’s Endowment Fund Grants Committee, Chloë McComb – JFM Board Member, Former Chair of the Women’s Endowment Fund Grants Committee, Women’s Endowment Fund Builder (2013), Karyn Lazareck – Former JFM Board Member, Women’s Endowment Fund Founder (1994) and Builder (2013), Leah Leibl – Emcee, Women’s Endowment Fund Grants Committee Member, Becky Chisick – Executive Director, Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre


The formal part of the evening began with congratulations and comments from Lieutenant-Governor, Anita Neville, a long time Jewish Foundation supporter, who commented on the impact of the WEF on women and girls across Canada. 
“The power of giving is so important,” she said.  ‘The Women’s Endowment Fund brings together women in our Jewish community with a  shared passion for giving back.  Congratulations to all of you who continue to contribute to our community.”
Karyn Lazareck was among the founding members of the Women’s Endowment Fund.   “As we mark the 30th anniversary, I am reminded of the incredible journey that we have embarked upon,” she said.
“Back in1994, when we first conceived of the Women’s Endowment Fund,  we were driven by a desire to make a difference,” she recalled.  “We were inspired by the words of former Winnipegger Susan Weidman Schneider, the editor of Lilith Magazine, who challenged us to confront the historical lack of collective support among women for women’s causes. We set out to reshape the philanthropic landscape in Manitoba.”
Lazareck described “a diverse group of volunteers, from various organizations, united by a common goal to develop a space where women could make their own philanthropic choices.
“With the support of the Jewish Foundation,” she continued, “we paved a pathway to independence, establishing a women’s endowment fund driven entirely by women for women.”
The first challenge, she recalled, was raising the initial $5,000.  The initial requirement for the 50 founding members was $100 donation.
“We exceeded our target,” she recounted. “We were able to launch our endowment with $21,000 from 148 women.
“It took time for the concept of building an endowment to gain traction, but we persisted, buoyed by the unwavering support of the foundation and our growing community of women.”   
As to the state of the fund today, Dr. Sharon Goszer-Tritt, the Chair of the Women’s Endowment Fund grants committee, reported that the fund currently stands at over $2.2 million  “That $1,000 in grants that we were able to distribute in our first year has now reached more than  $101,000 a year,” she noted. “Our new goal is to grow the fund to $3 million and, from what we have seen already, I feel optimistic that we will do so.”
In illustrating the range of organizations – both in the Jewish and general communities, that the fund contributes to, Goszer-Tritt introduced  representatives of three of those recipient organizations to speak about the impact the WEF donations have had on their operations.  Among the three were: The Jewish Post’s new publisher, Becky Chisick, in her concurrent  role as executive director of the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre;  Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud,  Siloam Mission’s Chief Executive Officer; and Katie Hall Hursh,  a member of the board of directors of the Health Sciences Centre Foundation.
Hursh spoke at some length spoke about the HSC’s  new laparoscopic surgery  capabilitiy – partially funded by a grant from the Women’s Endowment Fund – which allows for much more rapid recovery from surgeries such as treatment for endometriosis, which effects the uterus – causing pain and making it more difficult for a woman to get pregnant. The laparoscopic equipment is one benefit of the HSCF current campaign to acquire new technology and state-of-the-art equipment to use in emergency gynecological surgeries at the Women’s Hospital.
Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud spoke of the work of Siloam Mission in building social housing. She also thanked the Women’s Endowment Fund for a grant to Siloam to buy new women’s undergarments and feminine hygiene products.
Becky Chisick related that the Gwen Secter Centre received a grant from the fund to pay for CPR and First Aid courses designed especially for older women.
She also spoke about the positive impact of Gwen Secter programming on seniors in our community.
Representing the younger generation of Women’s Endowment fund committee members was Chloe McComb, daughter-in-law of founder Karyn Lazareck.  McComb, who is also now also a member of the Jewish Foundation’s Board of Directors, spoke about how inspiring she has found it to be a part of the community of female philanthropists – and of being a witness to the “remarkable growth and impact” of the Women’s Endowment Fund.  
McComb noted that, from her perspective as a member of the grants committee, she has seen firsthand the persistent need for funding. “One common challenge that we have come across has been the need for funding for ongoing initiatives,” she said.  “In particular, small non-profits with very specific needs were not able to apply for funding because the WEF, like many other granting agencies, only provide one-time funding.
“I am happy tonight to share that we have changed our granting criteria to ensure that support remains available for those who need it. By allowing organizations to apply for grants for ongoing programs, we ensure that organizations in Manitoba supporting women and girls always have a place to go.”
The final word went to Karyn Lazareck.
“The Women’s Endowment Fund,” she observed,” symbolizes a shift in mindset, a departure from the status quo.  And, as we look to the future, let us remember that the fund is inclusive of all women.  While it may have been initiated by a group of Jewish women, its scope knows no bounds.  It is a place for all women who seek to give back to their community and uplift the lives of women and children.
“Our Fund is a testament to the power of collective action and a beacon of hope for future generations of women in Manitoba.”

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