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For many Jewish teens, COVID broke the synagogue habit

This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — Jordy Levy, 18, remembers sitting at the table with his family, enjoying a relaxed Shabbat dinner at his Atlanta home during the pandemic. There was no hassle of getting dressed up, no schlep to synagogue, just hanging out and spending time with his family. In the background, a Facebook livestream of his congregation’s Friday night services played. 

This is a scene that has become largely familiar over the course of the pandemic. COVID-19 forced many synagogues to close their doors and move their services and programs to virtual platforms. Many synagogues saw overall engagement grow as a result of this shift.

And yet for many Jewish teens, Levy’s experience was the exception. The technology, which in some ways made connecting with synagogues more convenient, caused a loss of connection among teens that has lingered even now that most congregations are back in person.

“I know a lot of kids just stopped going to synagogue outright because with COVID-19 they were so used to not going,” said Jill Mankosky, 18, a member of the Conservative Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia. “This year when the High Holiday services were in person again, I noticed a lot of my classmates who would have been there previously pre-COVID-19 were just not there anymore.”

Congregations are now at a crossroads, determining which direction they want to move in next as the world slowly transitions away from the pandemic. 

“Return back to normal is a bad way to phrase it because there is really no normal,” said Maya Kamenske, 16, a member of Agudas Achim.

Especially for Conservative congregations like Kamenske’s, the switch to online prayer was a significant one. In 2001, the Conservative movement’s Jewish law committee prohibited counting someone participating in an online manner towards the prayer quorum, or minyan needed for communal prayer. Virtual services initially breached this decision, although the ruling was soon amended to allow virtual Shabbat services during the pandemic

Teens Jaqui Drobnis, left, and Max Gordon, right, lead a Tu Bishvat seder with a group of first graders at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia. (Courtesy of Chaya Silver)

Virtual services increased accessibility by making it simpler for people who would otherwise struggle to be at the congregation to still participate. For example, Jonah Golbus, 17, said that there were times when he was unable to find a ride to his synagogue, Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California. Now, he does not have to worry about that. Virtual services allow people more flexibility for participation, and can be squeezed more easily into schedules. 

“Having [online] High Holiday services as an option for those who [either] can’t or don’t feel up to coming in person is a really good addition that I’m glad we’ve kept,” said Mankosky. “I’m hoping it continues because, for example, when I’m in college, I can’t come back for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, but I’d still like to attend the services of [my] synagogue. Having an option to do them on Zoom from my dorm or something would be really helpful.”

Many synagogues saw a definite spike in participation and engagement of their members overall after implementing virtual services made participation simpler. This was not the case for teen programs, though. Many teens interviewed for this article reported that engagement dropped when it went digital. 

Kira Rodriguez, a senior in high school and member of the Rodef Sholom congregation, tried to stay involved after Rodef Sholom went virtual, and attended a number of virtual activities for the first few months. Eventually, it just became too much.

“I was just so mentally exhausted from always being on Zoom,” said Rodriguez. “I couldn’t take another two hours of it [for the teen activities].”

Golbus, who struggled to find rides to Rodef Sholom, said that he was never really engaged on Zoom, so he did not attend any of the virtual programming during the pandemic. Now that he has friends who are in-person again, he has become more active in his congregation. Still, the events look different than they used to. 

“It’s not as crowded as it used to be,” said Golbus. “There’s less people I know, so there’s less of an incentive on my end to go to these [activities].” He said that it is just less of a habit to go to temple now than it used to be before the pandemic, even if people are slowly reverting back to how it was.

The pandemic-related loss of in-person interactions damaged teens’ social connections within their congregations. While some teens returned to their congregations as they began to open back up, others never did. 

Mankosky also blames the decline in participation to her and her peers starting high school and becoming increasingly busy. What is normally a period fraught with change for teens became, in many instances, even more challenging as COVID-19 took its toll. She is not alone in feeling more disconnected from her peers.

Teens from Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California enjoyed a kayaking trip as a way to spend time together outdoors. (Courtesy of Rudy Brandt)

“I remember there was a really communal aspect to the congregation before. My religious school class [and I] were really really close. We often invited each other to our birthday parties outside of religious school, even though most of us didn’t even go to class together,“ said Jacob Bensen, 15, about Agudas Achim. ”It was almost like having a second family.” Now, he says, this has fallen to the wayside as the class has mostly lost touch since COVID-19. Most people haven’t put in the effort to reconnect since returning in-person. 

Mila Einspruch, 16, had a different experience with Zoom during the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, she said that she was on the track towards dropping all involvement with her congregation, Temple Sinai, in Oakland, California. With virtual school, Einspruch was unable to hang out with people as she had before. Her Reform congregation had a monthly Zoom club for eighth graders aimed at engaging and conversing. It was such an enjoyable experience that she became more involved in her congregation after it opened back up.

Yet even for those like Einspruch who returned, the community still feels different than it used to.

“Now, everything’s a little bit more fragmented,” said Einspruch. “The biggest thing that’s blocking people from coming [to temple] is just [that] those [social] connections are gone.”

Despite all of this, Rodriguez saw a spike in attendance following COVID-19 at her Reform congregation, Rodef Shalom, as there was a lot of initial excitement to be back in the building together. She said that faded within a couple of months as the initial novelty wore off. Now, there are odd gaps in ages between the teens. There are few freshmen and sophomores that show up, whereas the upperclassmen, like herself, are more likely to participate in activities. A few teens weighed in on why this is happening.

“It feels like there’s this gap of time where I would have started to get more involved after eighth grade into freshman year where there’s this transition of becoming older and going to those activities [beyond religious school], but then that’s when COVID-19 hit for me,” said Adina Golbus, 17, belongs to Rodef Sholom with her brother Jonah. “COVID-19 I think had a part in [me not going to as many activities] because it kind of prevented that transition period.”

All of the trips and activities planned to ease this transition were canceled, exacerbating the rate at which teens stopped being active members in their congregations. Einspruch had a similar experience with the lack of structure. 

“Straight out of our bar and bat mitzvahs, there would have been some scaffolding and structure [to motivate teens] to join the teen program,” Einspruch said. COVID-19 dismantled that.

However, Rodriguez said that the number of middle schoolers, particularly seventh graders, has shot up. Einspruch saw the same at Temple Sinai. Neither could point to a reason for the engagement.

Rudy Brandt, the director of youth engagement at Congregation Rodef Sholom, said that the pandemic was particularly tough for teens, so her goal was to design a no-pressure model of youth engagement where teens were able to engage when and how they wanted. To do this, she offered activities across the spectrum, from Get Out the Vote efforts on Zoom to movie conversations to cooking. Much of this is still the case even in-person. 

Rodriguez, who also belongs to the Rodef Sholom congregation, said that these programs were particularly successful with the younger teens, and could be a part of why there were so many of them. Despite this, the revamped programming has not seen the same effects with the older kids. In an attempt to communicate and connect more with teens, Brandt and her colleagues have grown their social media footprints. 

“[It’s] just kind of meeting teens where they are, trying to put, you know, what’s happening in our spaces in their faces via social media,” Brandt said.

This greater presence has been somewhat successful at encouraging teens to participate in their various youth programs. 

“There have been some events that I didn’t go to when I saw [the posts on social media] it was like, I kind of wish I went to that. Maybe I’ll go to the next one,” said Golbus. 

Rodef Sholom is not the only congregation that has changed their youth programs to see more engagement. Chaya Silver, the youth director at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Va., is currently working on developing a hybrid program for the religious school at her congregation, with the goal of making it more inclusive and flexible for students and their families. 

The post For many Jewish teens, COVID broke the synagogue habit 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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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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