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Two former Winnipeggers see short stories published

Avra Love/Marcus Spiegel

By BERNIE BELLAN It’s not easy for a writer to obtain recognition. How’s that for a cliché?

As someone who’s on the receiving end of numerous requests from publishers’ agents or often writers themselves, asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing a particular book or story, or perhaps interviewing the author, I know how difficult it is to get noticed in a world where tens of thousands of new titles appear every year.
But, as I’ve noted many times in this paper, I often try to go out of my way to help publicize new works by local Jewish writers or writers who may have come from Winnipeg but now live elsewhere – which seems to be a common pattern for writers in this city i.e., leave Winnipeg and hope to carve out a writing career somewhere else.

I’ve decided to profile the works of two young writers, both former Winnipeggers, and both of whom, interestingly enough, have chosen the short story genre as the primary form in which they are hoping to establish themselves.
By choosing to focus on two short story writers at the same time, my hope is that it might provide inspiration for other writers who may have thought at one time or another that perhaps they’d like to try their hand at writing a short story – with the hope of having it published. It’s certainly not an easy challenge to undertake, but the gratification that comes with finally seeing a work of yours published might make following up that initial accomplishment worth repeating.

Both writers, about whom I’m writing, as it turns out, are very close in age. Avra Love is 38, while Marcus Spiegel is 37, but when I asked either of them whether they knew one another, the answer was “no.”
The similarities don’t end there. Both studied English and Philosophy at university and both have worked as teachers – which is a natural, I suppose for a writer, and both have chosen to write fiction, although Marcus Spiegel tells me that he has also written some non-fiction.
And, while Avra Love is relatively new to the game, having just published an anthology of her stories, titled “Into the Junk Drawer and Other Stories,” Marcus Spiegel has had a number of his short stories published in American literary journals, one of which has just recently been awarded a very major prize.

Marcus says that he first began writing short stories when he was around 16, but it was only when “he was around 26 or 27” that he was “really inspired to be a writer.” Avra says that her first interest in writing was poetry, but she also tried her hand at writing “skits, young adult fiction, and children’s books.”
As for their Winnipeg backgrounds, it turns out that I’m well acquainted with both Avra’s and Marcus’s parents. Avra, as you might have guessed, is the daughter of Myron and Symma Love, while Marcus is the son of Jeff and Esther Spiegel.
Marcus, by the way, was brought to my attention by his in-laws, Neta and Yair Bourlas (who happen to live across the street from me). It was when I was talking with them one day that they mentioned they have a son-in-law who had recently been awarded a major award for a short story he had written. Marcus was one of 65 writers whose works were published recently in a very prestigious annual anthology of short stories, essays, and poems, known as “The Pushcart Prize” Series. Marcus’s story appears in the XLVI edition for the year 2022.

While Avra’s collection of short stories has only recently been published, she says that she has another collection of short stories which she’s hoping to publish soon, along with “a handful of children’s books awaiting illustrations.” She adds that “I would like to challenge myself to a longer piece, but haven’t hit upon the right idea just yet.”
Both Marcus and Avra like to use their imaginations to create scenarios that might seem somewhat implausible to the reader, but which draw upon experiences that they might have witnessed in some way or either read about or saw somewhere.

Marcus Spiegel’s award-winning short story, titled “A Tale of Two Trolls,” was first published in the Santa Monica Review, which is a national literary journal sponsored by Santa Monica College.
He says though that it took him quite a long time to be comfortable writing in a more contemporary style that would be accessible to readers. Prior to that realization, he notes, he was writing in a more “classical” style.
Just as Avra experimented with different genres before settling into short story writing, Marcus also tried his hand at poetry and writing a novel which, he says, “I guess turned into a novella.”

It’s easy for a writer starting out to be distracted by more mundane concerns, such as making a living – which is hardly something that anyone can expect to do writing short stories until you’ve achieved a certain level of success. As Avra Love notes, the process of writing is rewarding in itself: “Over the last year, I’ve begun trying to pen concepts without worrying so much about a traditional plotline. These stories have been a way to pay tribute to people in my life, to explore abstracts and metaphor, and to have fun with common expressions. Because they are so succinct, it is relatively quick to put them to page, in addition to being cathartic.”

As for the financial rewards associated with writing short stories, let’s be honest: No one starting out is likely to make much money doing that. Avra says she’s “been teaching since 2013, adding she’s “taught and tutored in all ages and subjects, worked in early child care, and done some editing work, as well.”

Both Avra and Marcus are married. (Marcus’s wife, Yarden, by the way, is also a teacher.) Marcus’s career has been somewhat eclectic, however. When they were both in their twenties, he says that he and Yarden spent quite a bit of time traveling. They actually ended up in South Korea for almost five years (from 2011-16), where they both had intended to teach English.
While Yarden did work as a teacher, Marcus says that because of bureaucratic red tape he wasn’t actually able to work as a teacher in Korea. Instead, he began working as an editor for a Korean woman who would give him things that had been translated from Korean to English and, as he says, “I would correct things for her and polish them.”
When Marcus and Yarden returned to Toronto, while Yarden acquired a teaching degree and began teaching full time, Marcus says that he began “picking up assignments” here and there.
In recent years he’s been submitting stories to various literary journals. Marcus says that he would typically send a story simultaneously to a number of different journals, with the hope that one of them would publish it.

Such was the case with “A Tale of Two Trolls,” which is quite an amusing read. It tells the story of two misfits named Yuri and Winch, who are both college dropouts. They have a YouTube show and podcast, and they purport to be “alt-right” activists, but their primary ambition in the story is to exact retribution on a former professor of Yuri’s by the name of Badendorf. It’s all quite deranged – and hilarious, especially when Winch dresses up as a frog wielding a samurai sword as he prepares to attack Professor Badendorf.
The story should appeal to young readers as it’s laced with all sorts of references to contemporary tropes having to do with the internet, but it would also certainly appeal to older readers as well who would get a kick out of how awkward Yuri and Winch are – Yuri especially when he happens to run into a former female friend by the name of Hannah while he’s prowling the halls of his former college. His desperate attempt to make small talk with Hannah while eating vegetables – to impress her (and which is something he hasn’t done in ages prior to that day) is quite hilarious.
It’s easy to see how such a terrific story would garner a major literary prize but, unfortunately, unless you’re able to pick up a copy of the Santa Monica Review from Spring, 2020, or you manage to acquire a copy of the 2022 edition of the Pushcart Prize anthology you won’t find “A Tale of Two Trolls” anywhere on the internet. However, the Pushcart Prize XLVI is available for order at McNally Robinson, Chapter’s, and Amazon.
That story sprang from Marcus’s imagination, but you can see how he fastened on to themes that are pervasive in an internet dominated world, especially the alienation from society and loneliness that so many people feel.

As for Avra’s writing, she too has a satirical bent in many of her stories. She notes that her “inspiration has come from a variety of sources. The more satirical ones are often based on personal experiences and observations; some ideas relate to people that I’ve known; still others occurred to me as I contemplated symbols around me (maps, flowers, the diversity of confections!) or when a certain phrase crossed my mind (heart of diamonds, opportunity knocks…).”
And, while Marcus has enjoyed some success in having a few of his short stories published, he admits that having his name become more familiar to readers is a challenge. “I have a primitive website,” he says ( 
As well, his interests are quite eclectic. A recent non-fiction story of his, he says, was titled “Century of the Hoax”, which he describes as a “history of hoaxes, from the 19th century to the present…and how they evolved into ‘misinformation’.”
In the fall, Marcus will have another piece published in Boulevard, which has published some of America’s top writers over the years. “It’s actually about professional wrestling, of all things,” he notes.

Avra Love tells me that “Into the Junk Drawer” is available on Amazon and in the Kindle Store, in paperback, hardcopy, and e-book formats.” She adds that she’s “currently looking into getting the book into the Chapters/Indigo store… but have yet to receive confirmation. Finally, one can order the book directly from Avra herself at or from her parents at
And, while being profiled in The Jewish Post & News might not be a surefire path to recognition for a writer, the way things work these days is that one thing can lead to another, perhaps in a painstaking manner, but eventually if you’re willing to keep at it, you might begin to attract a following. 
But, after having communicated with both Avra Love and Marcus Spiegel, one realizes that writing is its own reward. It can be painfully difficult to sit down day after day – as Stephen King says a dedicated writer must force oneself to do (and as Méira Cook noted in our last issue she demands of herself as well), but once you’ve completed what you’ve set out to do, there’s a pride in having accomplished that task – whether or not what you’ve written is read by a great many others.

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A Jewish Perspective on the Hidden Gems of Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Nestled along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Nuevo Vallarta and its neighboring city, Puerto Vallarta, have become popular destinations for travelers seeking sun, sea and cultural experiences. For Jewish travelers, exploring these cities offers a unique blend of relaxation and discovery; from pristine beaches to vibrant local culture, here’s a perspective on the hidden gems these destinations offer.

Traveling to Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Barceló Puerto Vallarta: A Tranquil Haven

Among the myriad of accommodations in the region, the Barceló Occidental Nuevo Vallarta (with bookings at stands out as a serene retreat. Situated on Mismaloya Beach, this resort combines traditional Mexican architecture with modern amenities. Its all-inclusive packages cater to families, couples and solo travelers, providing an ideal base for exploring both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta.

Exploring Nuevo Vallarta

Embracing Nature at El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary, located a short drive from Nuevo Vallarta. This sanctuary not only preserves native wildlife but also offers educational tours that delve into the region’s ecosystem. For Jewish travelers, it provides an opportunity to connect with nature while appreciating Mexico’s biodiversity.

Cultural Insight at the Marina Vallarta

The Marina Vallarta, known for its upscale ambiance and waterfront dining, offers a glimpse into local life. Jewish travelers can explore boutique shops and art galleries while enjoying a variety of international cuisines. The marina’s lively atmosphere during sunset, with boats bobbing gently in the marina and street performers entertaining passersby, creates a memorable experience.

Discovering Puerto Vallarta

Historic Exploration in the Zona Romántica

Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romántica, also known as Old Vallarta, beckons history buffs and culture seekers. Cobblestone streets wind through quaint neighborhoods lined with colorful colonial architecture. Jewish travelers can visit the Zona Romántica’s eclectic art galleries, boutique cafes and the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Artistic Marvels at the Malecón

A stroll along the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s oceanfront promenade, reveals a treasure trove of sculptures and open-air art installations. From the whimsical Seahorse sculpture to the thought-provoking Millennium sculpture series, each artwork tells a story of Mexico’s artistic spirit. Jewish travelers can engage with local artists and appreciate the vibrant cultural tapestry that defines Puerto Vallarta.

Culinary Delights

Savoring Kosher-Friendly Cuisine

While kosher options are limited in Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta, some restaurants and resorts offer kosher-friendly menus upon request. The culinary scene in both cities blends traditional Mexican flavors with international influences, ensuring there is something to satisfy every palate. Jewish travelers can indulge in fresh seafood ceviche, traditional tacos al pastor and refreshing aguas frescas while soaking in the coastal ambiance.

Community Engagement

Connecting with Local Jewish Communities

For Jewish travelers interested in community engagement, both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta host small Jewish communities. Synagogues and Jewish community centers welcome visitors seeking spiritual connection and cultural exchange. Engaging with local Jewish communities provides a deeper understanding of Mexican-Jewish heritage and fosters meaningful connections across cultures.

Final Note

Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta offer Jewish travelers a blend of relaxation, cultural exploration and natural beauty. Whether basking in the sun on pristine beaches, exploring historic neighborhoods or savoring culinary delights, these cities provide a rich tapestry of experiences. With accommodations like the Barceló Puerto Vallarta offering comfort and convenience, travelers can immerse themselves in Mexico’s Pacific coast while appreciating its hidden gems from a unique perspective.

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Gambling Statistics Shine Light on Canadian Gambling Culture

Explore pivotal statistics that highlight Canada’s gambling culture. Get a concise overview of the trends shaping the nation’s betting landscape.

Canada’s gambling culture is as diverse as its landscape, and recent statistics shed light on this thriving sector. From coast to coast, Canadians engage in various forms of betting, each with its own set of trends and numbers. This article delves into the data, uncovering the patterns and preferences defining gambling nationwide.

Canadian Gambling Statistics

User penetration refers to the percentage of consumers engaging with a product or service beyond the expected audience. Despite a 47% decline in 2023, the online gambling industry is projected to expand.

By 2027, it’s forecasted that the gambling market will cater to 20.38 million individuals. This trend suggests an increasing preference among Canadians for online gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar casinos.

The industry boasted a 97% return on investment in 2022, outperforming land-based casinos, which only saw a 61% return. With the rising interest in online betting, Canada’s online casino industry is experiencing the highest user penetration rate.

What Is the Average Expenditure on Gambling by Canadians?

Many enjoy the thrill of the occasional game of chance. The fact that you can retain all of your earnings, as there are no taxes on gambling profits in Canada, adds to the allure of gambling. In Canada, winnings are subject to taxation only for professional gamblers with a sustained winning streak.

In recent years, the trend toward online casinos has changed. The pandemic-induced closures of land-based casinos accelerated this change. It’s a profitable industry, as 60% of Canadians say they spend money gambling each month.

Canadian gambling statistics:

  • Six out of ten Canadians have gambled.
  • The monthly average expenditure for gaming and gambling in Canada is $6.75.
  • A month’s worth of gaming expenses is reported by 63% of males and 57% of women.
  • According to 73% of Canadians, gambling-related issues have gotten worse in their region.

The Increasing Attraction to Online Casino Gambling in Canada

An increasing number of Canadians are using online casinos, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. They offer various benefits regular casinos do not and are more convenient. Over time, land-based casinos’ revenue has decreased due to the growing popularity of online gambling sites.

The pandemic shutdowns accelerated the drop. For instance, the land-based casinos in Alberta no longer make as much money as they once did. Consequently, the Albertan government opened an online casino, and other governments quickly adopted similar strategies.

Casino Games at Online Casinos in Canada

Online casinos in Canada offer various games that cater to different preferences. Some of the most popular casino games at Canadian online casinos include:

  • Slots: These are the most common and varied, with themes ranging from classic fruit machines to the latest online slot games with advanced graphics and features.
  • Table Games: Classics like blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat are available in multiple variations.
  • Live Dealer Games: These provide an immersive experience, allowing players to interact with real dealers and other players in real time.
  • Video Poker: A favourite for many, combining elements of slots and poker in a unique format.
  • Progressive Jackpots: Games that offer the chance to win life-changing sums of money with a single spin.
  • Canadian Legalities for Online Gambling Sites
  • Casinos are legal in Canada, but each province and territory has the authority to establish its gaming regulations and issue online gambling website licences. Saskatchewan is the only province that does not host multiple online gaming sites.
  • Authorities in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba issue licences without a specific requirement, but these online casinos must operate exclusively within their respective provincial borders. Online gaming sites seeking to operate beyond these borders need a special agreement.
  • In Canada, only land-based casinos face penalties; foreign operators can only function by obtaining local licenses. Although offshore casinos cannot legally target Canadian players, they can accept them.
  • Statistics on Gambling Addiction in Canada
  • While the majority of gamblers do so without experiencing issues, there are hazards and health issues associated with it for some people. Because of this, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) carries out studies and creates resources aimed at assisting Canadians in making wise decisions regarding their gambling, both generally and, in particular, high-risk scenarios, like when they’re using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Here are some key statistics on gambling addiction in Canada for the year 2024:
  • 64.5% of Canadians aged 15 or older actively participated in gambling activities within the past year.
  • 1.6% of Canadian gamblers, representing approximately 304,400 individuals, face moderate-to-severe gambling addiction risks.
  • Canadian males reported higher gambling participation and addiction risks compared to females.
  • Indigenous Canadians showed a higher tendency to gamble (72.4%) and experienced greater susceptibility to gambling problems (4.5%) than non-Indigenous people.
  • In Canada, responsible gambling is promoted through various programs and initiatives, ensuring that individuals engage in betting activities within their means and maintain control. The emphasis is on providing resources and support to prevent gambling addiction and encourage safe, enjoyable gaming experiences.
  • Reflecting on Canada’s Responsible Gambling Journey
  • The statistics we’ve explored offer a revealing glimpse into Canada’s gambling culture, highlighting both the widespread appeal and the responsible practices of Canadian bettors. As the industry evolves, it reflects the country’s commitment to balancing entertainment with economic benefit and social responsibility. The future of gambling in Canada seems poised to be driven by informed choices and a clear understanding of the risks and rewards involved.
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Caesars Windsor Reduces Operating Hours for Sports Betting Counter

Sports betting has rapidly evolved into a major attraction, drawing a diverse audience ranging from casual participants to dedicated enthusiasts, and its popularity is only increasing with the proliferation of online platforms. In particular, Canada has seen a notable rise in sports betting activities since the legalization of single-event sports betting in August 2021, which opened doors to a multitude of betting avenues, both in physical locations and online. 

The shift towards online sportsbooks has been especially significant, marking a notable change in the landscape of sports betting. Given the expansive range of online sportsbooks available to Canadians, experts like Neil Roarty provide critical reviews and comparisons that guide bettors through the complex array of online options. These sites delve into the nuances of each platform, evaluating everything from user interface and betting options to the perks and security features they offer (source:  

Despite the rising trend in online betting, traditional sportsbooks like those in casinos are adjusting to the new landscape. Caesars Windsor, for instance, has recently made significant changes to its sports betting services. Initially projected to increase job opportunities and enhance visitor footfall, thereby boosting various service-related positions within the casino, the reality has somewhat shifted. 

The casino’s CEO, Kevin Laforet, had expressed optimism at the sportsbook’s inauguration in January 2023, citing anticipated growth in employment opportunities due to expected higher traffic. This optimism was rooted in the broader economic benefits typically associated with casino expansions, such as increased employment for local and migrant communities including roles like dealers, bartenders, and security staff.

However, recent developments have seen Caesars Windsor recalibrating its approach to sports betting. According to a spokesperson from the casino, after a detailed review of betting trends at their facility, adjustments were necessary to align the sportsbook’s operations with actual guest preferences and patterns. 

As a result, the sportsbook has scaled back its operating hours to 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day, which has led to minor staffing changes. Importantly, all affected staff members have been retained, and the sportsbook continues to operate during peak times, especially during significant sporting events, with kiosk betting available 24/7.

Jessica Welman, editor of the Canadian Gaming Business, remarks on the overwhelming preference for online sports gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. The convenience of placing bets via a smartphone or computer is a significant draw for many, enhancing the accessibility and appeal of online betting. 

Welman further noted that the market for online betting in Ontario has expanded consistently each quarter since its legalization, highlighting a robust growth trajectory that underscores the market’s potential.

However, the relationship between online gambling and its impact on physical casino revenues is complex and not well-documented. Sports betting reporter Greg Warren pointed out that most casinos do not specifically track how much of their revenue comes from sports betting as opposed to other gambling activities, which muddles the ability to analyze precise trends. 

Yet, experiences from the United States suggest that both in-person and online sportsbooks can experience growth simultaneously, indicating a synergistic relationship rather than a competitive one. According to Warren, the distinct experiences offered by online platforms and physical sportsbooks mean they can coexist and cater to different preferences.

Welman supports this view, suggesting that despite the convenience of online options, there is an enduring appeal for the physical experience of in-person betting. She argues that brick-and-mortar casinos provide a unique atmosphere that can’t be replicated online, serving as a draw for those who prefer the tangible excitement of a live betting environment. 

In line with its diverse offerings, Caesars Entertainment also maintains an online gaming app, which complements its physical sportsbook operations. This app is designed to offer users a seamless integration between the convenience of digital betting and the engaging atmosphere of in-person wagering. 

While specific details on the app’s impact on the casino’s overall business were not disclosed, it represents an integral part of Caesars’ strategy to bridge the gap between traditional and digital gambling experiences. This dual approach not only caters to a broader range of consumer preferences but also positions Caesars to capitalize on the growing trend of mobile and online betting.

As the landscape of sports betting continues to evolve, the interaction between online and in-person gambling platforms will undoubtedly remain a key area of focus for industry observers and participants alike. By maintaining a strong presence in both arenas, Caesars is well-equipped to adapt to changing consumer habits and technological advancements that have seen real money online casinos cornering many gambling markets worldwide, ensuring that it remains at the forefront of the gambling industry. 

This strategic integration highlights the potential for more synchronized growth and innovation within the gambling sector, shaping the future of how sports betting is experienced across different platforms.

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