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Condoms and tikkun olam: An Orthodox woman strives to aid sex workers in Prague

PRAGUE (JTA) — Not long after she puts away her silver Shabbat candlesticks and home-baked challah, Yael Schoultz walks through a cavernous hallway, and up a set of gray concrete stairs. Past a door, she finds a group of heavily made-up women in red and black G-strings and spike heels, listlessly beckoning men for sex in return for cash.

Schoultz, 43, spotted about 30 women at the Prague brothel floating from room to room in various states of undress — negligees, see-through bras — with accents as varied as their lipstick shades. Some are smiling, some appear bored as they play games on their phones, others are trying to woo potential clients with a simple, “Come have a good time, come to my room.”

It’s a typical Saturday night post-Shabbat routine for Schoultz, an Orthodox Jewish South African who recently launched L’Chaim, an organization dedicated to helping sex workers in the Czech Republic.

Schoultz and her colleagues engage the women with friendly banter about health and the weather, careful not to interrupt those with customers. The L’Chaim volunteers collectively carry a few hundred free condoms along with high-end soaps and hand-crafted bracelets.

“The girls always ask for extras for their friends,” Schoultz said.

Schoultz, who has been visiting Czech brothels since she moved to Prague in 2011, is not a mere purveyor of gifts. Her goal is to establish a rapport with the women she meets so that they can leave the business of sex work if they so wish. And her Jewish faith is a core driver of Schoultz’s quest to provide a better life for the sex workers.

“Some of the women have been trafficked,” she explained, referring to the term governments and human rights advocates use to describe a contemporary form of slavery. “There are girls who were tied up for days and raped, even by the police. Some might seem to be in the brothel voluntarily, but not really, because they owe a lot of money on a debt and feel sex work is only way they can pay it back.”

Dressed in black from head to toe, in what a fashion magazine might describe as modest goth, Schoultz is a veteran of global anti-trafficking efforts. A few decades ago, while teaching English in South Korea, Schoultz volunteered for an organization that was trying to stop the trafficking of North Korean women to China. At the same time, she was getting a master’s in theology and wanted to move to Europe to get her doctorate, which was possible at Prague’s Charles University.

“When I got to the Czech Republic, I started looking for people who were working on the trafficking issue and found three women: a Catholic nun and two Protestant missionaries. All of them were in their 60s,” Schoultz said.

Schoultz asked if she could join them in their visits to brothels.

“I just went in and started talking to women, about really anything. Language wasn’t a barrier because most sex workers speak English,” she recalled. “But it was a bit weird walking into these places with a nun in full habit.”

After a few months Schoultz began to feel uncomfortable — not with the sex workers, but with her philanthropic colleagues’ proselytizing and “religious agenda.”

“I wasn’t interested in giving out Virgin Mary medallions,” she said.

Schoultz, who teaches English at an international school in Prague, started her own informal volunteer group to help sex workers in 2012, while also embarking on a deeply personal Jewish journey.

Although she believes her father has “Jewish ancestry,” Schoultz was brought up in a Protestant home. Still, she long maintained a deep interest and connection to Judaism which intensified when she pursued her studies in theology. For several years, she regularly attended Orthodox services at 13th-century Old New Synagogue and volunteered for the Prague Jewish Community’s social services department before completing an Orthodox conversion in 2020 with Israeli rabbi David Bohbot. She has now begun her master’s degree in Jewish Studies at the Ashkenazium in Budapest, a division of the secular Milton Friedman University operated by the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

“From the beginning when I knew I wanted to make the conversion, Orthodox Judaism was something I agreed with theologically, it is where I felt most comfortable,” said Shoultz, who describes herself as Modern Orthodox.

Rabbi Dohbot praised Schoultz’s dedication. “This work she does is noble, and isn’t that what most big religions are based on? Showing love and respect for others?” he said.

Schoultz completed an Orthodox conversion to Judaism in 2020. (Courtesy of Schoultz)

Last year, Schoultz achieved another transitional milestone: obtaining Czech government recognition of L’Chaim as a registered nonprofit.

Although L’Chaim is a secular organization, Schoultz sees her work through the lens of tikkun olam, the rabbinical command to repair the world.

“I feel like as a Jewish person, you’re supposed to bring light to the world,” said Schoultz. “And the sex industry is very dark, because even if you choose to be a sex worker, it’s not a job that anybody really enjoys as the customers are often drunk or abusive.”

“It might sound strange, but I feel very connected to Hashem when I am in the brothel, because he is there for me, and for these women too,” she added, using the preferred Orthodox Hebrew term for god.

Schoultz’s co-volunteers, who are mostly not Jewish, are aware of her commitment to the faith.

“After Yael started getting serious about Judaism, she found her path, she was more complete and found her purpose,” said Natalia Synelnykova, who worked with Schoultz to launch L’Chaim. “Everyone would say that their friends are unique, but I have rarely met someone who is so human-centered as Yael, and that is definitely linked to how she sees Judaism.”

Schoultz named her new organization L’Chaim — to life, in Hebrew — as a message to those she seeks to help.

“We want the women in the brothels to have a life because a lot of them feel like they don’t have any life, like they’re barely making it,” she said.

There are about 100 brothels in Prague, according to media reports, and roughly 13,0000 sex workers in the Czech Republic, of which about half are thought to be single mothers. Although sex work is legal, pimping is not, so the brothels operate in a murky legal area that legislators have been trying to address for decades.

Once a hotspot for human trafficking, today the Czech Republic has a relatively low rate of human sex slavery according to government statistics. But Schoultz said the numbers are misleading.

“No one really knows how many trafficked women there are in the country,” she said.

A U.S. State Department report praised the Czech Republic’s efforts to limit trafficking but also noted that the country is more focused on prosecutions of criminals rather than on helping victims. Their stories stay with Schoultz.

“I meet many Nigerian women who may not be locked up in a room, but they are locked up by Juju,” she said, referring to a form of “black magic” that some Nigerian traffickers reportedly use to scare women into prostitution.

She also counsels “Romanian girls who are initially romanced by men that turn out to be traffickers.” A man will have many women he calls “wives,” and each one has a baby with him, “The women give him all their money to support the baby who he keeps as a form of collateral in Romania,” Schoultz said.

(Shoultz turned down JTA’s request for contacts of sex workers she has helped, noting that this would violate L’Chaim’s promise of confidentiality).

The Czech Republic’s leading anti-trafficking organization, La Strada, takes a different orientation towards sex work than L’Chaim, focusing on it more as a legitimate profession that should be organized and regulated.

“We believe women are fully able to decide for themselves if they want to be sex workers and our goal is to provide safety for those who do so, to help them organize, fight stigma and have the rights of all other workers,” said Marketa Hronkova, La Strada’s director. La Strada defines trafficking strictly as those who are physically coerced or blackmailed into providing labor.

Hronkova said there are many sex workers who choose their profession willingly and that it is patronizing and often damaging when those who say they want to help focus exclusively on “pushing women to exit a path they have chosen, as if they have no minds of their own.”

The alternative to sex work, for a single mother, can often put her in an even worse financial situation, she noted. “Our goal is to make sex work safe, not to get women to stop doing it,” said Hromkova.

Concerning L’Chaim, she said as long as its aim was listening to women, and not making them feel ashamed, it could be helpful. La Strada already cooperates with another Czech organization, Pleasure Without Risk, which maintains a neutral stance towards sex work and provides women with access to testing for sexually transmitted diseases as well as counseling.

L’Chaim’s goal, Schoultz explained, is to identify who might be trafficked and provide them with the confidence and practical resources to rebuild their lives. But since getting access to the women requires earning the trust of brothel owners and managers, L’Chaim doesn’t advertise itself as an anti-trafficking group.

“We show up as providing support to women in prostitution, that gets us in the door,” she reflected. L’Chaim has about a dozen volunteers.

It can take Schoultz six months of relationship building before she finds out what brought the client into sex work.

“We start by talking about her kids, talking about her dogs,” said Schoultz “and eventually their stories come out, many involving abuse, trauma and mental health problems.”

She estimated that at the 13 or so brothels she regularly visits in Prague and Brno, at least half the sex workers were not there on a fully voluntary basis.

In the future, Schoultz hopes to create trafficking awareness campaigns and help the customers of sex workers recognize the signs that a woman is working against her will.

The brothel owners are not always pleasant to deal with, Scholtz acknowledged.

“At one place an owner came behind me and kissed my neck on the back of my neck. It was really creepy,” she said.

And despite her modest dress, or tznius, in keeping with her Orthodox values, she said she was pursued by a brothel customer to participate in “group sex.” She fended him off calmly by explaining that she “offered services, but not those kinds of services.”


The post Condoms and tikkun olam: An Orthodox woman strives to aid sex workers in Prague appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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