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Standing on Albania’s Jew Street, I learned firsthand the country’s lifesaving culture of hospitality

BERAT, Albania (JTA) — Stone paths wind through the Ottoman-style houses built into the hillside of Berat, Albania. They lead to an imposing 13th-century castle at the peak — the top priority for most visitors to this 60,000-person town 90 minutes south of the capital, Tirana. I had other plans.

Albanians take pride in their ancient code of “besa,” which translates to “keep the promise” and leads them to prioritize guests and religion in their homes. For Albanian Jews or those who fled there from elsewhere in the Balkan Peninsula as German forces advanced during World War II, it promised safe harbor with Albanian families and even throughout entire towns. Albania is the only country in Europe whose Jewish population grew during the war.

Berat’s Solomoni Museum explains this history and that of earlier Jews in the area. At least, so I hear: Under the stone arches off the plaza, I found only locked doors.

Some people collect souvenir spoons or Starbucks city mugs when they travel, others collect memories. I collect fragments of Jewish identity. Planning this trip to Albania with friends, I insisted on a stop in Berat to see the small museum and wasn’t about to give up.

“I’ll call her,” offered the woman behind the desk at the Ethnographic Museum across the street. “Her” referred to the caretaker, the widow of the Orthodox Christian professor who started the museum — Albania’s only one dedicated to Jewish history — as a passion project funded by his pension. After Simon Vrusho’s death in 2019, the museum closed until a French-Albanian businessman heard the story and donated funds for it to reopen in a larger, permanent location.

But the call ended with bad news: The caretaker was sick, and the museum would remain closed. I grimaced. Seeing my reaction, the Ethnographic Museum docent did what all Albanians do — anything she could to make me feel better, to make sure I enjoyed my stay in her town. In this moment, that meant explaining everything she knew about Jews in Albania.

A view of the exterior of the Solomoni Museum, the country’s only museum about its Jewish history. (Naomi Tomky)

Jews first arrived in the country as Roman captives, almost 2,000 years ago. But the first major wave, especially to Berat, came from Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition. The Ottoman Empire, which ruled the area at the time, offered nominal religious freedom.

This month, the country’s prime minister announced plans to open a museum in Tirana dedicated to the stories of Albanian citizens who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust, when the country was occupied by both fascist Italy and later Nazi Germany. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, has recognized at least 75 Albanians as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews.

“You can see the street where the Jews lived,” the docent noted. I perked up and jotted down her directions.

Six blocks away, I found a simple black plaque with white lettering, barely the size of my forearm and posted high on a white brick wall. It read, “Rruga Hebrentje.” I stared at it. Two millennia of Jewish history in the country, and one closed museum forced me to take heart in a little sign saying “Jew Street.”

A sign in Berat, Albania, reads Rruga Hebrentje, or Jew Street. (Naomi Tomky)

Jews have company in this razing of history: The brutal post-World War II communist regime of dictator Enver Hoxha shuttered all religious institutions in 1967, declaring Albania the world’s first atheist state. His forces destroyed more than 2,000 mosques, churches and other sacred buildings, arresting priests, clerics and imams, many of whom disappeared forever into labor camps and hidden graves. “Religion is the opium of the people,” Hoxha wrote, quoting Karl Marx.

It felt selfish to pout about the lack of Jewish history when so much religion, so many people and huge swaths of Albanian culture had been so recently and violently erased. I joined my friends to explore Berat’s exceptions to the wanton destruction, starting at the Sultan’s Mosque, which dates to the 15th century and boasts an intricately carved wooden ceiling. We expected to admire just the outside, since our guidebook said the doors opened only around Friday prayer.

But as we stared at the somewhat ordinary façade, a friendly gentleman chatted us up. He spoke Albanian, Greek and a bit of Italian, the last of which proved useful at matching up to our Spanish and French. He told us a little about the mosque and the casual styles of observance by most Albanian Muslims, but we only realized he worked there when he invited us inside, retrieving a key when we responded with excitement.

We marveled at the green, red and gold ceiling, illuminated by a round chandelier. He asked if we wanted to climb up the minaret, warning us about the ascent. Narrower than the width of my hips, the tightly coiled spiral of 94 stairs featured a layer of dust and cobwebs that stuck to our bare feet. But at the top, swallowing my fear of heights, confined spaces and bugs, I reaped the reward: a 360-degree view of the “thousand windows” that give the town its nickname, flanking both banks of the Osumi River, and the double eagle of Albania’s red flag flying proudly above it all from the castle.

A view of the ceiling inside the Sultans Mosque in Berat. (Naomi Tomky)

Back on the ground, we thanked the man profusely and dropped donations in the box outside the mosque door as we prepared to say goodbye. Instead, he led us across the square to another building – the Halveti Tekke, or Teqe. Light flowed through the high stained-glass windows onto the walls of the 700-year-old gathering place belonging to the mystic order of Sufi Muslims called Bektashi. Chains hung from the ornate gold-leaf-decorated ceiling over a space where, according to our new friend, the bektashi, or dervishes, used to perform their whirling rituals.

“You want to go up?” he asked my friend’s eight-year-old daughter. She nodded excitedly, and he tossed her a ring of keys, pointing the way to the balcony. As she climbed the stairs, I noticed a pair of six-pointed stars framing the main doorway, a reminder of my original mission, even if they were likely not Stars of David.

But if I felt sad about missing out on the Jewish museum, I was heartened by what I did receive: a first-hand lesson on Albania’s life-saving culture of hospitality.


The post Standing on Albania’s Jew Street, I learned firsthand the country’s lifesaving culture of hospitality 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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