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Sicily’s Jews have their first rabbi in 500 years. Italy’s Jewish establishment won’t accept them.

CATANIA, Italy (JTA) — Rabbi Gilberto Ventura believes his synagogue has the most beautiful view in the world. Located in the tower of a century-old castle on the slopes of Mt. Etna in the eastern Sicilian city of Catania, the synagogue is wedged between a snow-capped volcano and the sun-kissed Mediterranean sea.

The 49-year-old Brazil-born rabbi also thinks his congregation is one of the most unique in the world. It’s made up mainly of Bnei Anusim — descendants of Jews forced to hide their religious practice and convert to Catholicism after the Spanish Inquisition of 1492. Before that infamous decree, Sicily was home to tens of thousands of Jews.

The synagogue, which was first inaugurated last fall, is the result of decades of grassroots efforts by those descendants in Catania to find each other and forge a sense of community that had been lacking for centuries.

Hiring a full-time rabbi was the last piece of the puzzle, and Ventura, who has a long history of working with communities of Bnei Anusim in Brazil, was a natural candidate. He arrived in Catania in January.

“I really believe that the future Judaism in the world, especially in some places like Italy and, of course, Brazil, is connected to the Bnei Anusim, and the need to embrace the Bnei Anusim,” Ventura said.

But in an ongoing point of frustration, the formal organization representing Italian Jewry, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), does not recognize them as Jews.

“In the case of Catania, this strange Jewish community hasn’t passed all the steps the law requires,” said Giulio Di Segni, the vice president of UCEI.

He was referring to the fact that the community did not seek UCEI’s permission before establishing themselves under the name “Jewish community of Catania.” Per Italian law, UCEI has a monopoly on acknowledging and establishing Jewish communal life in Italy — including authority over who can use the term “Jewish community of” in formal ways.

“UCEI can’t accept this because it is too easy,” he added. “We are not against their synagogue or their way of prayer, but they cannot use the name ‘Jewish community of Catania.’”

The rooftop of the Castello Leucatia, where the community meets, has a large menorah and a view of the Mediterranean. (David I. Klein)

Catania’s Jewish community members told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency a variety of stories about their Jewish backgrounds. Some came from families that always outwardly identified as Jewish. Others identified the source of family traditions practiced by parents and grandparents who — as descendants of Jews who faced persecution for practicing Judaism — still felt the need to hide aspects of their Jewishness from the public eye.

In the midst of questions about their ancestry, the majority of the Jewish community members have undergone Orthodox conversions. But that hasn’t led to their acceptance.

Benito Triolo, president of the Catania Jewish community, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he first came to Judaism at the age of 40, thanks to the insight of a Jewish friend in Palermo, Sicily’s capital and most populous city. Working together, they established a Charter of Sicilian Jewry, which aimed to identify and highlight the Jewish heritage of neighborhoods across the island.

While working on that project, Triolo came closer to his own Jewish heritage, and after years of study, he completed an Orthodox conversion through a rabbi in Miami 25 years ago.

Another community member, who was born Alessandro Scuderi but today goes by the name of Yoram Nathan, first felt drawn to Judaism as a child watching news of the Six-Day War in 1967. At first, he was laughed at by other members of his family — except his grandmother, who happened to have a tradition of lighting eight candles in early winter and baking flat unleavened bread around Easter time.

Decades of study later, Scuderi also completed a formal conversion to Judaism before an Orthodox rabbinic court, or beit din.

Others had more straightforward backgrounds.

“I was born in a Jewish family,” said David Scibilia, the community’s secretary. “Frankly speaking, we were not hiding or deep in the shadows in this part of the country.”

Scibilia said that his father explained to him that he was a Jew as early as the age of four. Within their own home, they observed holidays and kept Shabbat — no easy task since Italian schools at the time of his childhood in the 1970s had class on Saturdays. He did not eat meat until he was an adult and was able to acquire kosher meat.

He said that his family had maintained their Jewish identity since the days of the Inquisition and married amongst a small group of other similar families.

“I was a Jew, but not part of any community,” Scibilia said. “Just my family was my community.”

An aerial view of the city of Catania shows the Mt. Etna volcano in the background, Jan. 28, 28, 2022. (Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images)

Scibilia explained that once he had a child of his own, he realized he did not want her to have the same lonely Jewish experience. But when he reached out to UCEI, he said he found the proverbial door to organized Jewish life shut. Earning membership in Jewish community organizations across Western Europe involves a strict vetting process, and many groups require applicants to prove their mothers’ Jewishness according to varying standards.

Scibilia’s experience was echoed by Jews outside of the community in Catania and across Italy’s south who talked to JTA — a feeling of neglect or rejection by UCEI for those who fall outside of the norms of Italian Judaism.

UCEI currently recognizes 19 Jewish communities across northern Italy and just one in the south, in Naples, which has jurisdiction over the rest of the southern half of the peninsula and the island of Sicily. The organization recognizes around 28,000 Jews in total across the country.

Scibilia noted that despite his Jewish upbringing, he has multiple certificates of conversion from Orthodox rabbis. The first came from a beit din of American rabbis from who traveled to Syracuse, Sicily, to assess Scibilia and others like him in Sicily. His second comes from the conversion court of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which is known for its exacting Orthodox standards.

Both were rejected by Italy’s own Orthodox rabbinate, and he was forced to stand before another rabbinic court in Italy.

“I have at this moment — don’t start to laugh — three documents that prove that I am a Jew, two Ketubah [marriage contracts] for my wedding, and so on, again and again and again,” Scibilia said.

Others’ experiences in the region have been even more fraught, he said.

“The problem in Italy, that if you try to study with any rabbi here, you can study for 20 years, maybe you can die even before you reach the end of the tunnel,” he said. “From my point of view, they are playing with the spirituality of these people.”

In a statement last year, UCEI called the the Catanians “a phantom ‘Jewish community’” and accused them of “misleading the local institutions and deluding believers and sympathizers into adhering to traditional religious rites, never actually recognized or authorized by the Italian rabbinical authority.”

“Between UCEI and the Italian republic is an agreement signed in ‘87,” Di Segni said. “This law means everything about Jewish communities in Italy is through the Union Jewish community in Italy (UCEI).”

Noemi Di Segni, shown in Rome in 2017, is president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy. (Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images)

Triolo said he isn’t too concerned about UCEI’s recognition.

“Ours is a process of refounding old communities that existed as early as 200 and up to 1492,” Triolo said. “Our recognition is already in our history. At that time the UCEI did not exist. We were there and we simply returned!”

No one knows when Jews first arrived in Sicily, but the Talmud tells a story that claims Rabbi Akiva, a well-known early rabbinic sage, visited the island in the early second century and told of a small Jewish community in Syracuse. Some historians believe the Roman writer Caecilius Calactinus — who was born in a town near Messina in the first century B.C.E — to have been of Jewish origin.

All agree that over the course of history, Sicily’s Jews watched as the island was traded between Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and half a dozen other empires. The narrative has also long been that Jewish life there ended five centuries ago, under Spanish rule.

The Spanish empire’s Jews suffered the same fate as Jews from the Iberian peninsula, who would become known to the world as Sephardim when they were expelled in 1492.

The descendents of Spain — and Sicily — spread throughout the world, establishing communities in North Africa, throughout the Ottoman empire, in the Netherlands and ultimately the British Isles and North America, as it was believed that Judaism faded away in their homelands.

Catania’s Jews disagree, arguing that many Jews practiced their religion over the centuries, in secret.

Triolo and others in the community formally inaugurated their synagogue in October. It was furnished with Torah scrolls donated by the Ohev Sholom synagogue in Washington, D.C.

The synagogue is situated in the tower of the Castello Luecatia, an early 20th-century structure built by a merchant believed to be of Jewish origin. The building was granted to the community by the city’s municipality.

“So they had the people, they had a synagogue, but they needed somebody to teach,” Ventura said.

The community meets in the Castello Luecatia, an early 20th-century structure built by a merchant believed to be of Jewish origin. (David I. Klein)

Ventura, who is Orthodox, may be the island’s first permanent working rabbi in over 500 years, but it’s not his first time working with Bnei Anusim.

Back in his native Brazil, Ventura was the leader of the Synagogue Without Borders, an organization through which he served 15 communities in Brazil’s north that were made up of descendants of Jews who came with the first Portuguese colonists to South America and who ultimately had to hide their identity as the Inquisition spread to the New World.

His work there put him in conflict with Brazil’s Jewish establishment, too. But Ventura is unfazed.

In Brazil, he founded synagogues and summer camps and built mikvahs and yeshivas across the country’s north. Since 2015, he has facilitated the conversion of hundreds of Bnei Anusim, bringing them back into the fold of mainstream Orthodox Judaism.

“I am a teacher since I was 21 years old,” he said. “Now I am 49, along with my wife. It’s one of the things we love to do, and know how to do. To teach Jewish philosophy, to teach Torah, to teach Tanakh, to teach the story of the Jews in Brazil, and now we are starting to teach the story of the Jews in Italy, the story of the Inquisition etcetera.”

In Castello Leucatia, he leads Shabbat services with the energy of a gospel preacher, pausing between prayers to explain a verse, teach a new tune, welcome latecomers, or simply to allow the congregation to talk.

Catania community members are shown at a recent gathering. (David I. Klein)

“This is what’s most important,” he remarked during one such lull on a recent Friday night. “That they get to talk and be a community.”

Ventura had organized a Shabbat event for other Jews across Italy — from Naples to Turin  — who shared his belief that the future of Judaism was in communities like the one in Catania.

“Our point of view of Judaism is that we have to be a part of society, we don’t have to insulate ourselves, we believe that Judaism has a lot to contribute to society,” Ventura said. “In Brazil, we have a lot of connections with people from the periphery, in the favela and other communities, immigrants, Indians, etcetera. So that is something we want to establish here, to teach the people a Judaism that brings good things to the wider society.”

Ventura isn’t the only one working with such communities in southern Italy. Across the Strait of Messina, Jewish life has also been on the rise in Calabria — the toe of Italy’s boot — thanks to an American-born rabbi named Barbara Aiello.

Aiello, though raised in Pittsburgh, is of Calabrian descent. She returned to the land of her ancestors in the early 2000s and began working with the Bnei Anusim there, ultimately establishing a synagogue called Ner Tamid del Sud, meaning “eternal light of the south.”

“Until now, nobody took care of Judaism in the south of Italy,” Scibilia said while looking out at the Mediterranean from the terrace of Castello Leucatia.

The post Sicily’s Jews have their first rabbi in 500 years. Italy’s Jewish establishment won’t accept them. 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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