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The Conservative movement youth group was already struggling. Then came COVID.

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) — Weeks before United Synagogue Youth’s International Convention in December 2021, Alexa Johnson picked out some of the exciting seminars she wanted to attend. It would be her first big USY event and the current high school sophomore was excited to visit Washington, D.C. from her home in Los Angeles.

But then the Omicron variant hit and the event was canceled. She was disappointed but figured she would go the following year. Then she learned that there would be no 2022 convention and she started questioning her affiliation with the national organization. Why should she stay affiliated with the Conservative movement youth group if they failed to provide her with engaging programming? 

“I just feel there really hasn’t been enough programming as a whole,” said Johnson, who was looking forward to meeting other Conservative Jewish teens like her. Overall the programming dissatisfaction from her and other members of the 35-person chapter at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center started after the pandemic. “We just feel like it’s really hard to get people involved because there isn’t much programming at a regional or international level that people want to go to or look fun to them,” said Johnson.

United Synagogue Youth serves almost 8,250 Jewish youth from 3rd to 12th grade as the primary Conservative youth group since its founding in 1951. Through local, regional and international events, generations of Jews have participated in USY, but for some, this may be the end of the road for their involvement.

For decades now, Conservative Judaism has seen their numbers fall as members flock to other denominations like Reform and the United States becomes increasingly less religious. In the 1950s and 1960s, Conservative Judaism — which, despite its name, is a centrist movement between more liberal Reform and the traditionalist Orthodoxy — was the largest Jewish denomination. Now, only 15% of American Jews identify as Conservative, according to the Pew Research Center.

With Conservative numbers on the decline, United Synagogue Youth is struggling to stay on its feet. Julie Marder, the interim senior director of teen engagement, was open about the organization’s membership struggles. “Coming out of the pandemic, numbers just weren’t where they used to be,” Marder said. “They were lower than we can continue to sustain.” 

While the membership decline predated the pandemic, COVID undid a lot of their work to gain back members. 

Stacey Glazer, associate director of synagogue support, who also oversees the southwest region of USY, said that the southwest region was successfully building up their membership pre-pandemic, but once COVID hit, the region’s progress was erased. 

A staff shortage also led to reduced international and regional programming across the organization. As of publication, there were seven events listed for the 15 regions

The challenges the staff face turn into frustration and disappointment for the teenage members.

Dan Lehavi, a high school senior who serves on the USY board of his Los Angeles synagogue and on the Far West Regional General Board, witnesses the changes firsthand. He said in 2018 and 2019, his region filled a banquet hall for the annual regional convention, but coming back after the pandemic, the group could fit into a much smaller room. “They did their best to make it a memorable weekend as possible, but it just doesn’t have the same energy when there are so few people,” said Lehavi.

As someone who has grown up with USY, Lehavi is disappointed by the decline in attendance and engagement. “It’s just really sad,” Lehavi said. “Generally, I think that USY has been an invaluable resource for the Conservative movement as a whole. I hope that the future of the Conservative movement is a lot brighter than the present.” 

Despite serving a large Jewish community spanning across southern California, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, and more, the region did not organize many region-wide events. During the last school year, Far West offered five events, including a regional dance that was canceled due to low registration. This year, Far West is currently only offering one regional event, in partnership with the Southwestern region. The region hopes to announce another region-wide event later in the year.

“It has just made our chapter not feel like a USY chapter,” said Samuel Svonkin, a member of Far West USY from Los Angeles. “I don’t feel like we have any connection to USY itself.” Svonkin said that regional programming lacks a pull for his fellow members and the association with USY doesn’t attract teens. 

Svonkin has been a member of USY since he was 13. He grew up with teens at his synagogue going to USY events and making friends and great memories. Now, he feels like his generation is being ignored. “I feel like they’re not focusing on what their youth want. And they’re instead trying to make something that works well for them. I think they’re struggling as a result of their own incompetence of looking at what teens actually want,” he said.

USY staff acknowledge that there are fewer events overall but say they are working to improve the teen experience. Glazer, associate director of synagogue support, who also oversees the southwest region of USY, suggests that Svonkin reach out to a local staff person. “If we don’t, we don’t hear from the teens —which, at the end of the day, this is who we’re here to serve — then it’s hard to know what they want,” she said. 

In previous years, USY’s Marder said, there was no need to heavily advertise regional and international events; teens would just attend with their synagogues naturally. But now, “We can’t just build a regional convention and assume that people are going to come because we created it. We need to take a step back and start doing more local programming and support the chapters and help them build. Then we can build the bigger programs,” said Marder. Attracting more attendees is not an easy fix, but Marder and the rest of USY are working to build the best programs that they can create. 

As they continue to regroup, USY is working towards supporting congregations in teen engagement and rebuilding the pipeline to USY. “That means redesigning and rethinking how we are running our regional and international programs to build up to the large programs that we once had,” Marder said. “We want to do it with excellence. To not just throw a program out there to throw out a program. That we are creati

This year, in place of an international convention, USY offered three different summits: a Heschel Summit at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, a Civil Rights Journey based in Alabama and Georgia, and a Teen Climate Activism Retreat set in Maryland. Stacey Glazer wants USY’s events like these summits to focus on what young Jewish teens are interested in, whether that is religion or social justice. 

Teens from Pinwheel USY, the Pacific Northwest Region of the Conservative movement youth group, attend an event in July 2022. (Via Facebook)

In addition to these three retreats, USY planned on hosting a Teen Leadership Summit in Denver, but the event was canceled. Glazer did not have an answer as to why the summit was canceled. 

Focusing on what teens are interested in proved to be successful for USY. Last December, the official Instagram account reported that the Civil Rights Journey only had seven spots left, four days before the registration deadline. Moreover, over 1,200 teens participated in regional or international programming, according to an Instagram post summarizing some of USY’s successes in the second half of 2022.

On top of rethinking the way USY creates programs, last year, USY also cut membership fees for its individual members, a cost that was absorbed by the synagogue. Synagogues now pay just one fee to have all of its members be associated with the national organization. “I think we had some pretty good success with [cutting fees]  this year,” Marder said. USY would not provide specifics to JTA but did say the organization is not losing money because of the pay structure change. 

At the end of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s fiscal year in 2022, the parent organization of USY reported that they collected a little over $6.3 million in membership dues, around a $45,000 increase from 2021. But that is still a drop from 2019, when United Synagogue  collected over $7 million dollars in membership fees. Despite a recent increase in collected membership fees, the organization did see a stark decline in membership fees between 2019 and 2022, according to published figures. 

Nevertheless, Glazer provided statistics that show membership growing. In March of 2018, USY recorded 5,138 members from 3rd grade to 12th grade. In June of 2020, USY recorded 4,408 members across those same demographics. From 2020 to their members now, they recorded an increase of about 3800 members as they now record having over 8,200 members. 

Membership numbers are on the rise, but USY is having struggles with staff shortages, a large cause of reduced programming. Marder said that of the 12 regional staff members, only eight work full-time. With 15 active regions, supporting each region equally is a challenge. For regional overnight events this year, many nearby regions combined their events so more attention from staff and youth leaders could be put into the events.

Rather than hiring more staff, Stacey Glazer said that the organization wanted to work with the staff they have and “maybe come up with a new structure where we’re using each of our employees to the best benefit to USY as a whole,” said Glazer. She also said that the lack of staff is not because of financial pressures, but because they are working on restructuring the ways they function as a staff. And Glazer acknowledged that they will eventually need to hire more staff.

Additionally, Marder said that there are fewer full-time chapter directors at synagogues. During the pandemic, when Jewish organizations like synagogues were cutting staff, youth departments were heavily affected. Marder said that synagogues with chapter directors task them with other youth-related jobs as well.

The time USY is taking to rebuild may be causing the Far West region to struggle, but not all regions are dragging behind. Sigal Judd, a teen member of the Central Region — which encompasses parts of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia — was excited about the current status and future of her region. “We have really grown in the past few years and have had many more events to keep the people coming,” said Judd. 

For Jewish teenagers who do not attend Jewish high schools, finding connections with other Jewish youth can be hard. Judd is grateful for the relationships USY gives her. “I am lucky to have these friendships from [Central Region USY] and a pen pal from the Far West region. I love being a part of the Jewish community through USY and growing my Jewish identity surrounded by kids like me,” she said.


The post The Conservative movement youth group was already struggling. Then came COVID. 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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