Some observations about Jewish organizations within our community

Bernie new pic edited 1By BERNIE BELLAN Quite often I’m asked by individuals who the audience for our paper is? I try to be as honest as possible in describing the audience for our print newspaper as predominantly older, which is generally the case for all print media. When it comes to our website, however, as much as there are analytics available, it’s much more difficult to know who exactly is looking at our website (which receives an average of 10,000 hits a month). What I have found quite interesting, however, is learning that the majority of individuals who look at our website are doing so on a mobile device, such as an iPhone or iPad.


Since I myself prefer to read other publications on an iPad rather than a desktop computer – and I’m also a senior, I don’t know to what extent I can extrapolate from that the degree to which other seniors also prefer reading news sites on an iPad to reading them on a desktop computer. But, I’m sure that just as print media such as this newspaper will eventually go the way of the dodo bird, so too will reading on a desktop computer.

Speaking of seniors though, there are two articles on our website now that  take a look at two issues that have quite a bit to do with the senior component of our Jewish population – although, since so many ostensibly “Jewish” organizations now cater to a clientele that is heavily non-Jewish, perhaps it would be a mistake to say that those issues are “Jewish” issues.
The first story to which I’m referring is the shift in allocations by the Budget and Allocations Committee of the Jewish Federation from some organizations that had consistently received either the same allocations as previous years or, as was often the case, received increases in those allocations.


In my story about Jewish Federation allocations, I note that two organizations: the Gwen Secter Centre and Jewish Child and Family Service, are going to be receiving increases in their allocations, while Gray Academy is going to be receiving a reduced allocation – for the first time in seven years.
When I asked Faye Rosenberg Cohen, Chief Planning and Allocations Officer for the Jewish Federation, whether there was a particular reason for the fairly noticeable shift in allocations to those three agencies, Faye did not respond with a direct explanation. As you can see if you read her full response in the article, she gives what I would describe as a standard bureaucratic answer, saying in part, “We try to approach each year with fresh eyes, not with a focus on last year.”
Hmm. Is there more to this than what Faye says in her answer? Further, there is nothing in the actual report of the Budget and Allocations Committee that would offer any sort of an explanation for the shift in funding. Interestingly, while almost every one of the beneficiary agencies of the Federation requested more money than they were given by the committee (except for Camp Massad, which received exactly what it was asking for), Gray Academy will be receiving $96,000 less than what it had requested – and $26,000 less than what it received last year. I’d sure like to know the reasons for that, although judging by Faye’s vague response, I don’t think I’m going to find out.

I mentioned that there is another story which also pertains specifically to seniors, and that’s our story about the WRHA’s report about an unannounced visit by a five-person inspection team to the Simkin Centre. As I note in the headline for that story, the Simkin Centre received generally glowing reviews from the inspection team, although one might question the methodology involved in producing its report. How were the ten residents who were asked to offer opinions about the centre selected, for instance?
Still, given what a bad rap so many personal care homes have been receiving ever since Covid first emerged, the report’s findings can certainly be considered quite positive news for the Simkin Centre. Again though – and perhaps readers will become tired of me harping on the issue of food at the Simkin Centre, the one question asked of residents that drew the most negative comments had to do with the food there. At this point though, given the escalating costs of food everywhere, combined with the piddling increase in food budgets that were granted to personal care homes by the provincial government in 2021, it comes as no surprise that the quality and “diversity” of the food at the Simkin Centre is being called into question by some of the people who live there.

The inspection report filed by the WRHA about the Simkin Centre raises another interesting point, however, and it’s one about which I’ve been writing for some time. As so many of the Jewish organizations within our community are catering to constituencies that have a heavy non-Jewish component, to what extent can we rightfully say that the identities of many organizations are only nominally “Jewish?”
The Rady JCC, for instance, has become focused on the athletic and recreational component of its service. There is nothing particularly “Jewish” about almost all of the programs it offers. A large part of the cultural programming that it used to offer has either disappeared (in no small part due to a loss of interest by seniors in attending in-person events), or else it’s shifted over to the Gwen Secter Centre, which has been doing a great job in providing outdoor entertainment during the summer months and cultural programming the rest of the year.
At the same time I wonder about another section from the Budget and Allocations Committee report, when it refers to all the challenges that have been facing Jewish Child and Family Service in recent times, noting that “They currently serve about 5000 people each year. Federation funds work not supported by other sources include the rapidly growing caseload of seniors, addiction recovery supports, mental health services and a new and growing crisis in teen mental health.”
I’ve asked Al Benarroch about that 5,000 figure before. Heck, I doubt that there are more than 12,000 Jews in all of Winnipeg (and even that is probably on the high side, but we’ll have to wait until November for StatsCan to finally release information about ethnic groups in Canada.) Al has explained though that JCFS serves a very wide constituency, including many non-Jewish clients.

The point that I’m trying to make – and have been trying to make for some years now, is that the lines between operating as a “Jewish” organization and something other than that are becoming increasingly blurred.
By the same token, in an article that appear in this week's print issue about that ugly incident at the Kotel where haredi youths disrupted a bar mitzvah and went so far as to rip up Jewish prayer books – if you can believe it, Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s antisemitism monitor, labeled what happened as “antisemitic.” Again, the very meaning of the term “Jewish” is now becoming increasingly unclear. When supposedly devout Jews can attack other Jews, call them “Nazis” and “Christians”, and rip up their prayer books, can we really say that we belong to the same group?
Thus, I very much wonder whether the Rady JCC (which, by the way, stands for “Jewish Community Centre” in case you’ve forgotten), much like the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, which morphed into the less identifiably Jewish “WJT”, has become more brand-friendly by toning down the “Jewish” in its name?


Look, I’m not saying whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing when an organization’s Jewish identity is diluted to the point where non-Jews feel totally comfortable either in belonging to that organization or using its services, I’m just asking readers to recognize how much our society is evolving when that’s become the new norm. Nowadays, questions about one’s identity have far less to do with ethnic or religious affiliation, and much more to do with which groups you identify most strongly.
I think we’ve all witnessed the fissures that have torn Western societies apart in recent years – whether they have to do with vaccinations against Covid here in Canada or, as the debate is currently raging in the US shows: whether a woman has the right to determine control over her own body, or whether anyone has the right to own a gun. Is there a Jewish point of view on any of those issues? To a certain extent, there is on the issue of abortion, but as an article in a recent issue of this paper showed, even within the Orthodox Jewish community there is no firm consensus on that issue.
What we need to do is recognize that our Jewish community here has morphed into a much less recognizably “Jewish” community in the traditional sense of how we used to define “Jewish.” To pretend otherwise is to ignore the reality of the trends that have been sweeping all aspects of society, including our own Jewish community in Winnipeg.