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For 5 days, an endangered seal became a celebrity on an Israeli beach. Locals want her back.



JAFFA, Israel (JTA) — For most of the past week, Israel’s latest unlikely celebrity lounged on the Jaffa beach, drawing throngs of onlookers, constant media attention and round-the-clock protection from the government as she sunbathed and slept the day away. 

Then early on Tuesday afternoon, the unwitting star named Yulia — a rare 6-foot species of seal weighing hundreds of pounds who has traveled the eastern Mediterranean — waded into the water and swam away. She left no sign of whether she would ever return.

Her departure has left some local residents bereft and others hopeful that she may find a safer home than a bare beach with little shelter, other animals and litter. News of her departure spread quickly through the area’s social media and WhatsApp groups, one of which had even changed its name from “Friends of Jaffa” to “Friends of Yulia.” 

“Of course I know she’s not smiling, but her lips are formed in a way that makes her look like she is. She’s so utterly calm — even while a million people are watching her,” said Jaffa resident Aya Zaken, who added that she was “deeply sad” that Yulia had returned to sea. 

Seeing the mammal for the first time was a “much more moving” experience than she had expected, Zaken said — partly because of the seal’s size but also because of the effect she had on onlookers. 

“When faced with her, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm, like a deep meditation,” Zaken said. “The feeling that this is so much bigger than me or my troubles.”

Yulia, who was given her name by a local boy who first discovered her, arrived on Jaffa’s beach on Friday. She had since been the subject of 24-hour surveillance both by the press and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which had sent volunteers to keep watch and ensure that the crowds of people who have gathered since her arrival didn’t disturb her. 

Yulia is a Mediterranean monk seal, one of roughly 600-700 left in the world, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, though other estimates put the number even lower. The species is classified as endangered. 

Yulia was listless and shaking when she first arrived on Israeli shores, and experts were worried that she was ill. But when Turkish researchers at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, received images of Yulia, they recognized her as a monk seal they had already seen, named Tugra, who is known to have a penchant for both swimming great lengths and napping for extraordinarily long stretches of time. She is over 20 years old and has a reputation for traveling, having been spotted as far off as Greece and Turkey. 

“On the one hand, I’m on such a high, I haven’t slept in days,” said Mia Elasar, who has been researching monk seals for 30 years. “As a child I heard that there were once far more seals here; and now, to see one in real life, it’s a legend that has come alive.” 

Elasar is the founder of the Delphis Association, an Israeli nonprofit for marine mammals that has partnered with the IUCN on a joint project for the protection of monk seals. She said Yulia’s (or Tugra’s)  globetrotting isn’t the only reason for her extreme fatigue. When she arrived in Jaffa, she was spotted with large bite marks in two areas of her body. According to Elasar’s Turkish colleagues, those marks were not present at her last sighting in 2019, off the coast of Lebanon. She was also shedding her fur, a process that requires a lot of energy. 

“I worry for her here,” Elasar said. “It makes more sense for her to go back.”

Onlookers view Yulia from a distance. (Deborah Danan)

Some Jaffa residents agreed that the beach — with its crowds, dogs and considerable volume of garbage — wasn’t the best place for their beloved guest. Elasar added that Israel lacks the resources to give Yulia the protection she needs. To provide a more permanent home for her and her fellow seals, she said, authorities would need to build caves along the shoreline where the marine animals could rest. 

“I think it is for the best,” said Dan, a resident of Jaffa who declined to give his last name. “It was probably a matter of time until someone would potentially harm her or ‘adopt’ her to live in a bath or aquarium, or even try to eat her.”  

In the end, Yulia apparently felt the same way. After 48 hours of sleeping following her arrival, she finally went back to sea. Over the ensuing two days, she was in and out of the water, until, on Tuesday, she left for the longest stretch yet. She was spotted swimming opposite the nearby Jaffa port on Wednesday morning, which gives optimists reason to believe that she will yet return.

“I very much want her to come back,” said Arnon Pinchuk, 14, who came with some of his classmates to see Yulia on Wednesday morning, only to learn that she had left. 

Pinchuk was one of only 18 students from the Kehila Democratic School in Jaffa to take the trip. Asked why the rest of his 103-student class did not come along for the adventure, Pinchuk answered, “Because they’re losers who prefer being on their phones.”

Jaffa has a diverse population of Jews, Christians and Muslims and, for many of the residents, Yulia’s arrival was a unifying event. That was especially the case amid recent events in the country, which range from civil strife over a proposed overhaul of Israel’s judiciary to the recent five-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Yulia got to Jaffa near the end of that round of fighting. 

“She came at a time when people need quiet and solidarity and unity and happiness,” Zaken said. “I hope she gathers her strength and comes back and tells us all how awesome we are.”

Along with locals, Yulia attracted a gaggle of photographers who have spent hours training their lenses on her. Yehiel Lamesh, an amateur photographer, traveled from the southern port city of Ashdod to visit Yulia, and said, “I would go around the world to see such a creature, so of course I would come here.”

To Ziv Binunski, a cameraman for Israel’s Channel 12 News, Yulia’s sojourn was a welcome respite from his other assignments, which include capturing rocket fire over the Gaza border, as well as the anti-government protests roiling the country. 

On Wednesday morning, he stood on the beach, hoping to catch her return. 

“It’s such a different experience, being connected to the sea and to nature,” he said, “and to be dependent on the whims of animals, and not humans.”

The post For 5 days, an endangered seal became a celebrity on an Israeli beach. Locals want her back. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

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Local News

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.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

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.)

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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.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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