TIBERIAS, Israel — In a year when Israel has seen more immigrants move to the country from former Soviet republics than any other year over the last decade, there was plenty to discuss, worry about and celebrate at a major gathering of such Jews at Israel’s only lakeside city, Tiberias.
On the first weekend in December, over 1,200 Jews with roots in the former Soviet Union gathered at a resort hotel overlooking the Sea of Galilee for a weekend of Israeli and Jewish culture, food, music, dancing and comedy. Organized by Limmud FSU Israel’s team of more than 150 volunteers from a wide range of ages, the conference was held in a mix of Hebrew and Russian.
Through the first 10 months of 2022, over 47,330 immigrants have moved to Israel from former Soviet republics, with over 14,000 coming from Ukraine and over 30,000 from Russia. That’s about double the number of immigrants to Israel from former Soviet countries in 2019, the year before the pandemic limited immigration. Over 80% of all immigrants to Israel this year hail from formerly Soviet countries.
Osik Akselrud, regional director for Hillel International in Central Asia and Southeastern Europe and Limmud FSU Ukraine chair, said this is a particularly dark time for Jews in the former Soviet Union. With Russia’s war against Ukraine now in its 10th month, those remaining in Ukraine face the prospect of a freezing, dark winter without electricity.
“We are having a very hard time,” Akselrud said. “We feel part of the Limmud FSU family and are grateful for everything you’re doing for us, especially during these dramatic times. It’s like a breath of fresh air for all Ukrainians. Thank you for standing with us.”
Limmud FSU organizes Jewish learning festivals the world over for Jews with roots in the former Soviet Union.
The Tiberias event was held just a week before a scheduled Limmud FSU seminar in Warsaw, which took place Dec. 8-10. That gathering was focused on Ukrainian Jews still living in Ukraine as well as those who have fled to Europe and Israel to escape the war in their country. In March, Limmud FSU will hold another milestone conference: the first ever in Germany, another hub of refuge for Ukrainian Jews.
“The situation is devastating, and sadly it’s not getting better,” Matthew Bronfman, chairman of Limmud FSU, said of the war in Ukraine. “Berlin has been a desire of ours for more than a decade, and now with the recent influx of refugees there from war-torn regions, it’s amazing that we’ll be able to make it a reality for next March.”
Among the prominent speakers at the December conference were Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s outgoing finance minister and a native of the former Soviet republic of Moldova; Elkayim Rubinstein, former vice president of Israel’s Supreme Court; Ze’ev Elkin, Israel’s outgoing minister of Jerusalem affairs and minister of housing and construction; Eliezer Shkedi, former commander of the Israel Air Force from 2004 to 2008; Amir Avivi, founder & CEO of Israel’s Defense & Security Forum, a movement of Israeli security personnel advocating for Israel’s security needs; Rabbi Jonathan Porath, who recounted the story of his lifetime of experiences with Soviet and post-Soviet Jews spanning over 50 years; and Ephraim Lapid, former senior intelligence officer in the Israel Defense Forces.
Lapid spoke of Israel’s essential role as a safe haven for Jews everywhere.
“If you’re Christian and you’re in trouble, can you come to Italy, a Christian nation, and say you want citizenship? Of course not. If you’re Muslim, can you go to Saudi Arabia and get automatic citizenship? It doesn’t exist,” Lapid said. “Israel is the only country in the world where Jews receive shelter, both physically and spiritually.”
Limmud FSU’s founder, Chaim Chesler, thanked the 150 volunteers who organized the Tiberias event and noted that more than 80,000 people have participated in Limmud FSU programs since 2005.
“Sandra Cahn and I created Limmud FSU nearly 18 years ago,” Chesler said. “Who would believe that after 18 years we’d continue to flourish and educate Jews now in 12 countries?”
Highlights of the weekend festival included performances of Hebrew and Yiddish hits by singer Vladi Blayberg and violinist Sanya Kroitor; a concert by Stas Gavrilov’s 10-piece Klezmerband; a master class given by Ukrainian ballerina Valeriya Kholodova; and a Russian-language standup comedy routine by Ilya Axelrod.
Special recognition was extended to world-famous Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, whose life mission has been to bring Nazi war criminals and their French collaborators to justice. The two received a sustained standing ovation following the screening of a short documentary film on the 76,000 French Jews who were deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War II; only 3,000 survived.
“I was a child during the Holocaust, and escaped arrest because my father built a hiding place in our house,” said Klarsfeld, 87. “When the Germans came, he opened the door and sacrificed himself, but we were hidden behind a false wall. They looked for us but didn’t find us. After the war, I devoted my life to tracking Nazi criminals and helping the State of Israel.”
Among Limmud FSU Israel’s key supporters are the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, Nativ – Prime Minister’s Office, Genesis Philanthropy Group, the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet LeIsrael, the World Zionist Organization, UJA-Federation of New York and philanthropists Diane Wohl and Bill Hess.
Speakers also touched on Israeli politics on the eve of what’s expected to be the swearing-in of a new right-wing government headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rubinstein, who served as Israel’s attorney general from 1997 to 2003, urged the new government not to weaken the country’s Supreme Court, which he called “a defender of human and civil rights” — particularly when it comes to gender issues, issues of religion and state and equity between Jews and Arabs.
“The ability to petition decisions straight to the Supreme Court has made it a strategic asset of the State of Israel, and I’m concerned about ideas to curb the court’s powers,” Rubinstein said. “I hope the politicians understand that while the court may make mistakes and be criticized, there’s a difference between criticism and undermining the court’s work.”
Shkedi, who spent several years as El Al’s CEO after leaving the Israel Air Force, stressed the importance of Jewish unity and urged for an end to political infighting.
“You can think one way and me another, but that doesn’t mean I’m the only one who’s right,” he said. “The priority for Israel now is learning how to live together. This is our biggest mission.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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