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The Dominican Republic was a haven for Jews fleeing the Nazis. A museum project could tell that story.

SOSUA, Dominican Republic (JTA) — Sitting inside a small wood-frame shul just around the corner from Playa Alicia, where tourists sip rum punch while watching catamarans glide by, Joe Benjamin recounted one of the most uplifting but often forgotten stories of Jewish survival during the Holocaust.

“I was bar mitzvahed right here,” he said, pointing to a podium at the front of the sanctuary in La Sinagoga de Sosua. It was built in the early 1940s to meet the spiritual needs of about 750 German and Austrian Jews.

At the time, the Dominican Republic was the only country in the world that offered asylum to large numbers of Jewish refugees, earning the moniker “tropical Zion.”

Benjamin, 82, is president of the Jewish community of Sosua and one of only four surviving second-generation Jews remaining in this touristy beach town on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. His parents were part of the unconventional colony of Jewish immigrants who established an agricultural settlement between 1940-47 on an abandoned banana plantation overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

“When I talk about that, I get goosebumps,” Benjamin said. “This is a distinction that the Dominican Republic has. It was the only country that opened its doors to Jews.”

Joe Benjamin, president of the Jewish Community of Sosua, inside the sanctuary of La Sinagoga. (Dan Fellner)

At the 1938 Evian Conference in France, attended by representatives of 32 countries to address the problem of German and Austrian Jewish refugees wanting to flee Nazi persecution, the Dominican Republic announced it would accept up to 100,000 Jewish refugees. About 5,000 visas were issued but fewer than 1,000 Jews ultimately were able to reach the country, which is located on the same island as Haiti, about 800 miles southeast of Miami. 

Benjamin was born in 1941 in Shanghai, the only other place besides the Dominican Republic that accepted large numbers of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Shanghai, then a divided city not under the control of a single government, did not require a visa to enter. About 20,000 Jewish refugees immigrated there, including Benjamin’s parents, who fled Nazi Germany in 1939.

In 1947, with a civil war raging in China, Benjamin’s father realized the country “was getting a little difficult” and looked for another place to raise his two children.

“I think my father read it in a newspaper – there was a Jewish refugee colony in the Dominican Republic,” he says. “My father had no idea where that was, but he said, ‘I’m going there.’” 

Benjamin’s family took a ship from China to San Francisco, a train to Miami, and then flew into Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital city. At that time, the city was officially called Ciudad Trujillo after the country’s dictator, Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. 

Photos of some of the 750 Jewish refugees who settled in Sosua in the 1940s on display at the Gregorio Luperon International Airport in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. (Dan Fellner)

Historians suggest the Dominican dictator’s motives in accepting large numbers of Jewish refugees at a time when so many other countries — including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom — turned their backs were fueled more by opportunism than altruism. It’s believed that Trujillo wanted to improve his reputation on the world stage following the 1937 massacre of an estimated 20,000 Black Haitians by Dominican troops. Furthermore, Trujillo liked the idea of allowing a crop of mostly educated immigrants who would “whiten” the country’s population.

“He was a cruel dictator,” Benjamin said of Trujillo. “But it’s not for me to judge. Because for us, he saved our lives. If you’re drowning and someone throws you a rope, you hold on to it. You don’t start asking his motive. You just hold on.”

In 1947, Benjamin was among the last group of Jewish refugees to arrive in Sosua, one of about 10 families known by the other colonists as the “Shanghai group.” The Sosua settlement was run by an organization called the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA) that was funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York.

“DORSA would give you 10 cows, a mule, a horse and a cart,” said Benjamin. “My father by profession was a cabinet-maker. He thought he was going to do that here. But there was no market for that. So he dedicated himself to farming.”

Benjamin said conditions in Sosua were “primitive” and a difficult transition for many settlers who had been city-dwellers in Europe. Still, he spoke fondly of a childhood in which he was relatively insulated from the horrors that befell so many other Jewish children his age. 

“We had enough to eat,” he says. “We enjoyed the beach. And I went to a Jewish school.”

La Sinagoga de Sosua in the Dominican Republic served the spiritual needs of the Jewish refugees who found a safe haven in Sosua during the Holocaust. It’s now open only for the high holidays. (Dan Fellner)

The school, originally called Escuela Cristobal Colon, opened in 1940 in a barracks and was attended by Jewish children as well as the children of Dominican farm workers. The school still exists and is now called the Colegio Luis Hess, named after Luis Hess, one of the Jewish settlers. Hess taught at the school for 33 years and lived in Sosua until his death in 2010 at the age of 101.    

While the children attended school, men worked on farms and women cooked dinner for their families, who ate communal style. Beds were lined with mosquito netting to prevent malaria. As men greatly outnumbered women — Trujillo did not allow single Jewish women to enter the country — intermarriage was common.      

Over time, the agriculture venture failed and DORSA instead decided to promote a beef and dairy cooperative, Productos Sosua, which ultimately proved successful. 

After finishing high school, Benjamin moved to Pittsburgh to attend college (he’s an engineer who once built and flew his own airplane), got married and started a family. After 17 years in the United States, he decided in 1976 to return to the Dominican Republic, where he became an executive with Productos Sosua. He worked there until he retired in 2004, when the firm was sold to a Mexican company.

“All my life I talked about Sosua as my home,” he said. “I like it here. Everybody knows me.”

A street mural recognizes Sosua’s Jewish history on the main road connecting Sosua with Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. (Dan Fellner)

Today, Sosua is vastly changed from the sleepy town in which Benjamin was raised. In 1979, an international airport opened in Puerto Plata, just a 15-minute drive to the west. Sosua morphed into a congested tourist destination known for its golden-sand beaches and water sports. It also became a hub of the Dominican sex tourism industry. 

Most of Sosua’s Jewish population immigrated to the United States by the early 1980s. Benjamin estimates that only 30-40 Jews remain in Sosua, most of whom are not religiously observant. As a result, the synagogue hasn’t been able to financially sustain a permanent rabbi for more than 20 years. Services are held only on the high holidays, when a rabbi is flown in from Miami. 

Benjamin says a group of seven Jews chips in about $2,500 a month to pay for security and other operating expenses. 

“It’s very hard to get the Jews here to pay,” he said. “When we bring in the rabbi, we try to charge something. But we don’t get any people if we charge.”

Next to the synagogue is a small museum called the Museo Judio de Sosua, which offers a window into the town’s Jewish roots. Five years ago, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo donated $80,000 to the museum to preserve and digitize its archives. However, the museum, which is badly in need of repairs, has been closed for the past year. 

The Museo Judio de Sosua, which tells the story of the Jewish refugees who found a safe haven in the Dominican Republic during the Holocaust. The museum is closed while the community waits for funding to reopen it. (Dan Fellner)

Benjamin has been in discussions with the Dominican government in hopes it will soon finance a major renovation of the museum that would include an exhibition hall big enough to accommodate 100 people for events. Benjamin says he is optimistic the project, which has a price-tag approaching $1 million, will be green-lighted by the government. 

“They are very positive about it because it could become a tourist attraction,” he says, noting that Puerto Plata and nearby Amber Cove have become popular port-stops on Caribbean cruises originating in Florida. “If it comes to fruition, it will be in the next year. Because if they don’t do it by then, the government changes. And the next government never continues what the previous government started.”

Otherwise, there are only a few remnants of Jewish life in Sosua for visitors to see. In Parque Mirador overlooking the Atlantic, there is a white cement-block star of David, built to honor the Jewish refugees. About 70 Jews, including Benjamin’s parents, are buried in a Jewish cemetery about a five-minute drive south of the synagogue. 

The main street connecting Sosua with Puerto Plata has a street mural depicting the town’s history that features a large star of David right above a scuba-diver. And two of the most prominent streets in Sosua — Dr. Rosen and David Stern — still bear the names of two of the colony’s Jewish founders. 

Dr. Rosen Street in downtown Sosua is named after Joseph Rosen, one of the founders of the Dominican Republic Settlement Association. (Dan Fellner)

There had been an exhibition about Sosua’s Jewish colony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York but it closed several years ago. All the more reason, Benjamin says, that the Sosua museum reopens as soon as possible so that the story of the Jews who found a Caribbean cocoon to ride out the Holocaust isn’t forgotten. 

“Look at what’s happening in the world — there is a rise in antisemitism,” he said. “It’s very important that our history is documented. It will also be a place where Dominican schoolchildren can come and learn about Judaism.” 

With the museum closed, the only place in the area to see photos of the Jewish settlers on public display is the departure lounge in Puerto Plata’s airport. Next to a Dominican band serenading travelers with meringue music, there is a display of pictures showing the colonists riding horses, tilling the fields, attending school and praying in La Sinagoga. 

“When they came here, the Jews found no antisemitism at all in this country,” said Benjamin. “They were as free as anybody. They had a wonderful life.” 

The post The Dominican Republic was a haven for Jews fleeing the Nazis. A museum project could tell that story. 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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