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Haskel Greenfield (left), Coordinator, Judaic Studies Program; and Jeffrey Taylor, Dean of Arts, University of Manitoba

By BERNIE BELLAN
Elsewhere on this website, we have a story about a new $100,000 donation made to the University of Manitoba by MaryAnn Lippay Kanee (https://jewishpostandnews.ca/local/3027-judaic-studies-program-at-university-of-manitoba-to-receive-100-000-donation-from-maryann-lippay-kanee). The donation will be used to create a new endowment fund in support of the Judaic Studies program at the university. Since first reporting that donation, I have spent a fair bit of time trying to understand just what is the current state of the Judaic Studies program, and what are its future prospects.
To that end I have been in contact with a number of individuals, all of whom have some connection to the Judaic Studies program to one extent or another, beginning with Prof. Haskel Greenfield, who has been the coordinator of the program for over six years now (even though Haskel is a professor in the anthropology department and does not teach any courses that are part of the Judaic Studies program).
I was also in touch with Marla Aronovitch, Director of Operations & Grants at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba; Prof. Jeffrey Taylor, Dean of Arts at the University of Manitoba; Dr. Jody Perrun, who is teaching a course at the U of M this year titled “The History of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust” (which had been taught in previous years by Catherine Chatterley); Retired Prof. Lionel Steiman (who, along with his brothers, recently made a substantial contribution to the Jewish Foundation in support of Yiddish language instruction in Winnipeg and who has long been involved with the Judaic Studies program; and MaryAnn Lippay Kanee herself.

 

 

 

 

Why so many different individuals, you might ask yourself? The answer is that I’ve been well aware for quite some time that the Judaic Studies program has been in real trouble, both because of insufficient funding and because courses that were being offered in the program were not attracting many students. I wanted to get a better idea what individuals who have been grappling with the problem – in some case for many years, think ought to be done to put the program on solid ground.
In fact, it’s been many years since Judaic Studies at the U of M had a high profile in Winnipeg’s Jewish community. In 1989 it was dropped as a program altogether (more about this below).
This problem of attempting to find outside donors to sustain the Judaic Studies program is a longstanding one. We have published many articles over the years describing the difficult position in which Judaic Studies has continually found itself with respect to finances.
Yet, when I began to think about how I would approach writing this article, the thought did occur to me to ask: Just what is the “Judaic Studies” program at the U of M? Here is some background:

What was originally known as “The Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies” actually began at the University of Manitoba in 1950. At the time, it was the first program of its kind in Canada.
The department thrived for many years, especially under the direction of the late Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, who was head of the department from 1964-75. All the years that Near Eastern and Judaic Studies was its own department, it had control over who was able to teach in the department and what courses it could offer.
At one time, the department actually boasted three full-time faculty members dedicated to the curriculum, providing support for students wishing to pursue a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.

In the 1980s, however, as Allan Levine described quite well in his seminal history of the Jews of Manitoba, “Coming of Age: A History of the Jews in Manitoba”, the program fell on hard times.
“In 1989,” Levine wrote, “the University of Manitoba suspended its Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies….” which had “offered courses in Hebrew language and literature, religion, Jewish history, Yiddish conversation, Middle Eastern studies, and, starting in September 1973, the Holocaust, then a relatively new field of academic inquiry. Enrollment remained steady with about two hundred mainly Jewish students signing up each year.
“As the Jewish population declined in Winnipeg, the decline was echoed in the department.
“Unlike (Rabbi Neal) Rose”, (who had been head of the three-man department) Moshe “Nahir (who took over the role from Rose, who was squeezed out of his role by Nahir and Rabbi Moshe Stern because Rose had yet to finish his doctorate), did not have a high profile in the community...
“In 1989, Nahir, who was by now also teaching in the Department of Linguistics, informed the Dean of Arts, John Findlay, that he no longer wanted to be the head of the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies.
“Findlay accepted Nahir’s resignation, but instead of seeking another head, decided to suspend the department...The dean told him (Nahir) that financial support for the program - about $50,000 - from the Jewish community might alter the situation. Nahir pursued this avenue, but got nowhere for, by this time, the WJCC (Winnipeg Jewish Community Council) was focusing on the (Asper) campus and the Judaic Studies Department was a casualty.”

With Nahir’s retirement, Hebrew language classes ceased to be taught at the U of M. By then, all of the faculty position had been reassigned to other departments (e.g. religion, history) so that Judaic Studies no longer had any dedicated faculty to service the program or students. All of the newly hired faculty who were supposed to be teaching in Judaic Studies had, in fact, been assigned to other departments where they were assigned to teach courses that were usually not related to Judaic Studies.

Since then, both because of insufficient funding and the loss of all dedicated faculty to other departments, the program has struggled.
It has been a long and slow climb out of the hole. It began with the resuscitation of Yiddish language classes, beginning again in 2001, through the efforts of Rosemarie Findlay, who is an instructor in the German program at the U of M . The Yiddish classes were taught for many years by Rachela Secter.
But, in reality, Judaic Studies actually disappeared from the University of Manitoba – until 2009, when it was revived as an inter-departmental program (not a department), with Ben Baader of the history department serving as its coordinator. What this meant is that it no longer controlled its own faculty positions and could not offer much in the way of class variety.
Funds were initially raised with the help of the Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust at the Jewish Foundation (which has continued to help support the teaching of Yiddish culture and language each year) to bring a university-level Yiddish and Hebrew Language instructor on a teaching fellowship (Dr. Itay Zutra), who continues to teach in the program as a sessional instructor.

When Haskel Greenfield took over as coordinator in 2013, he met with the Dean of the Faculty of Arts (Jeffrey Taylor), who said that he could only provide minimal support (one six credit course in Hebrew language/year, plus one in Arabic language). Greenfield met with the directors of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba and stressed the need for greater financial resources that would be needed in order to put the program on solid footing.
According to Greenfield, “the Federation was unwilling to step forward and help, while the Foundation began to help by making some connections with potential donors.” Greenfield, Ben Baader and a committee of concerned citizens (a.k.a. Friends of Judaic and Yiddish Studies at the University of Manitoba) have has been pursuing the goal of putting the Judaic Studies program on solid ground ever since by raising enough funds each year in the local community. But, the dilemma faced by Greenfield, he say, “is that the university itself is not willing to inject any new money into the program.”
Dean Taylor offered this explanation for the university’s position vis-à-vis the Judaic Studies program: “Endowments/financial contributions are crucial to the survival of smaller programs where the enrolments on their own do not justify the offering of some courses. This is particularly true with language/culture courses and programs attached to historically well-established communities (Icelandic, Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, for example), where there is apparently declining interest among later generations in learning these languages. The Icelandic program, for example, has a significant endowment that funds a full-time instructor, some sessional instructors, and other activities; we would not be able to offer Icelandic courses without it. A Judaic Studies endowment would allow us to continue to offer courses in, for example, Yiddish and Hebrew that we would not necessarily otherwise offer because of low enrolments.”
Thus, the dilemma for Judaic Studies has been the same as it was in 1989, when it was disbanded: In order just to survive as a program – never mind grow, it will need outside funding.
Haskel Greenfield and his committee of supporters haves spent countless hours attempting to procure outside funding and, to a certain extent, there has been some money donated to the program through the Jewish Foundation, which has a “Judaic Studies & Cultural Programming Fund”.
Most recently, funds were established at the Jewish Foundation ($10,000 flat year), along with a recent $25,000 donation from members of the Steiman family, including brothers Lionel, Gary, and Rodney Steiman), with the specific intention of helping to sustain Hebrew, Yiddish and Jewish content courses taught directly through the University of Manitoba in the Judaic Studies Program at the University of Manitoba.

As Lionel Steiman explained to me in an email, the “Kanee gift is not the only recent significant endowment established to support Judaic Studies at the U of M. In fact, the first such endowment ($10,000) was established there over a year ago by an anonymous donor through the efforts of Professor Rosemarie Finlay, of the U of M’s Germanic and Slavic Languages Department. That endowment is specifically dedicated to support the Yiddish course.
“For years it (the Yiddish course) had been funded privately through the efforts of our community group, the ‘Committee for the Preservation of Yiddish Language and Culture’, of which Rosemarie is a member (now known as the Committee for the Support of Judaic Studies at the University of Manitoba).
“Over the past couple of years our committee also met frequently with Rob Berkowits of the Jewish Foundation (Rob is now the executive director of the Rady JCC). He encouraged us to focus on the Jewish Foundation as a place for endowments to support our cause. So, earlier this year, my brothers Gary, Rodney, and I made a gift of $25,000 to the Jewish Foundation to establish the ‘Hersch Leib (Louis) Steiman Fund for University Yiddish and Judaic Studies’- https://www.jewishfoundation.org/hersch-leib-steiman-fund.

In addition, the Asper Foundation has been supporting the Judaic Studies Program with annual allotments (this year it was $13,000) to pay for a single six credit course each year for the past two years. Haskell Greenfield says: “We are hopeful that their support will continue into the future.”
At the same time though, I had to admit to Greenfield that I was more than a little confused as to which courses at the University of Manitoba were actually part of what Dean Taylor referred in his email to me as part of the Judaic Studies “core program”.
The university’s website does have one page devoted to describing the Judaic Studies program, but it lists a fair number of courses that are not being offered this year. So, I asked Greenfield if he could help me to better understand just which courses are being offered by the program, and whether certain other courses that are listed on the university’s website as belonging to the Judaic Studies program actually belong to the program.
I noted, for instance, that in an article we published in the August 21 issue of this paper, we listed the following courses as being offered by the Judaic Studies program: “Modern Hebrew Literature; Hebrew 1; Contemporary Israel; and Love Death & Afterlives.”
Yet, the university’s website also listed the following courses: “Representations of the Holocaust; History of Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; German and German-Jewish History, 1618 to the Present; Contemporary Israel; Hebrew Bible”, and two different courses in Arabic.
What about all those courses, I wondered? Are they part of Judaic Studies, I asked Greenfield. And what about the Yiddish courses? Why weren’t any listed on the Judaic Studies webpage?

Greenfield responded:
“Yiddish is offered every other year”, “Representations of the Holocaust” is also offered every other year, while other courses listed on the university’s webpage for Judaic Studies are offered by other departments and can be used as credits toward a Minor in Judaic Studies. (There are other courses not listed on the university’s Judaic Studies webpage that can be taken as part of a Minor in Judaic Studies, including some courses taught by Tami Jacoby in Political Studies: “Middle East Politics” and “Terrorism and International Relations”.)
As for the course on the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, until this year it had been taught by Catherine Chatterley, but this year it is being taught by Jody Perrun, who also teaches the same course at the University of Winnipeg.
As for the Arabic courses, the problem with offering those courses is the same as offering other courses in Judaic Studies: Money – or the lack thereof. As Haskel Greenfield explained, “the Arabic-speaking community will also have to create an endowment to ensure the regular teaching of Arabic language courses. There is lots of demand for such courses, but only minimal support in the Dean’s office of the Faculty of Arts – they support one six credit course each year, the same as they do for Hebrew language courses.”
As Dean Taylor noted quite clearly in his email to me, however, the onus is on the Jewish community ((and, as Greenfield noted, the Arabic-speaking community also), to come up with funding for courses that would be of interest to members of the two respective communities.

And, that’s where MaryAnn Lappay Kanee stepped in and took a major step toward putting the Judaic Studies program back on to really solid ground again.
I asked MaryAnn what led her to make her donation to the Judaic Studies program?
She told me that she “had been in contact with Brooke Karlaftis” (who is a Donor Relations Officer at the University of Manitoba), toward the purpose of adding to endowments that had already been created at the university in the names of her late husband Stephen’s parents, Florence and Sol Kanee.
Those endowments “weren’t generating much income,” MaryAnn explained, however, and she wanted to create something that would honour, not only her late husband, but the entire Kanee family.
As MaryAnn notes on a webpage that has now been created to which anyone can contribute to the “Judaic Studies Endowment Fund”, “I think of this as honoring all of the Winnipeg community. Like so many others, Stephen’s grandparents, Rose and Sam Kanee, came with nothing but their dreams and hard work and helped create the fabric of this community that now holds us in its comforting embrace.”
MaryAnn told me that she didn’t actually think of Judaic Studies per se when she was first put in touch with Brooke Karlaftis, but she asked Brooke: “Can you give me an idea where I might allocate the donation that I’d like to make?”
According to MaryAnn, Brooke told her, “I’m going to send you a whole package of things you might want to consider.” Brooke also said, “Let me tell you about Judaic Studies”.
When I pointed out to MaryAnn that the Judaic Studies program had been reduced considerably by the University of Manitoba, she responded, “In defense of universities in the early 90s, they dismantled all the language programs, consolidated them, and put them into different programs” (which is what happened with the Judaic Studies program at the U of M).
By making a donation of $100,000 to this new endowment fund, it is MaryAnn’s hope that others, too, will follow, and contribute to a fund that “will be used to support instruction and courses based in the Judaic Studies Program that relate to the languages of the Jewish People (e.g. Hebrew, Yiddish, etc.) and courses with Jewish content. “

As Haskell Greenfield noted, however, with the new funds that have been raised in support of the Judaic Studies program, it “seems like we have raised a lot of money. Yet, it is only a beginning. The funds collected until now in the various endowments will only pay for a single six credit course that would be taught by a sessional lecturer. To be able to hire a full-time faculty member at the Assistant Professor level would require an endowment base of $2-3,000,000 since an endowment only generates 4% income each year.”
As Greenfield also says on the website that has been created to which anyone can add to the new endowment fund (give.umanitoba.ca/judaicstudies), “We in the Winnipeg Jewish community heavily support a Jewish-oriented educational system until the end of high school through Gray Academy of Jewish Education - where all of my four children have gone. If we want our children to be able to continue to learn and enrich their Jewish identity on the university level, we must have a vibrant Judaic Studies Program at the University of Manitoba. If we as a program don’t exist, we will be a much poorer university society and we will be doing a disservice to the next generation of students. If the Jewish community does not step up and support the program, it will disappear in time. MaryAnn Kanee and other donors have provided the foundation for the Judaic Studies Program to thrive again. But, we need the help of others in the community to complete the task. Anyone interested in supporting the program can contact Prof. Haskel Greenfield or go to the university website (give.umanitoba.ca/judaicstudies) to make a donation.”

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