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‘There was no time to sleep’: 4 Jews reflect on a year of helping Ukrainians at war

(JTA) — In the months after Russian tanks rolled into her country last February, the music largely stopped for Elizaveta Sherstuk.

The founder of a Jewish choral ensemble called Aviv in her hometown of Sumy, in the northeastern flank of Ukraine, Sherstuk had to put singing aside in favor of her day job and personal mission: delivering aid to Jews in Sumy.

“There was no time to sleep,” Sherstuk recalled to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently. “All my team members worked the same, 24/7.”

A year later, Sherstuk is still hustling as the Sumy director of Hesed, a network of welfare centers serving needy Jews in the former Soviet bloc. But she has also begun teaching music classes again, too — with performances sometimes held in bomb shelters.

Catch up on all of JTA’s Ukraine war coverage from the last year here.

Sherstuk’s story reflects the ways that Russia’s war on Ukraine has affected Jews in Ukraine and beyond. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands, left even more in peril and fundamentally altered the landscape and population of Ukraine, forcing millions to flee as refugees.

But the war has also mobilized the networks of Jewish aid and welfare groups across Europe, leading to a Jewish organizational response on a massive scale not seen in decades. And Ukrainian Jews who have remained in the country have recalibrated their lives and communities for wartime.

Here are four stories about Jews who stepped in and stepped up to help, and a taste of the on-the-ground situations they found themselves in.

‘I was needed there’

Enrique Ginzburg, second from right, is shown with Ukrainian doctors in Lviv. (Courtesy of Ginzburg)

Since nearly drowning at 23, Dr. Enrique Ginzburg has felt he “had to pay back” for the extra years of life he was granted.

Now 65, the professor of surgery at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine and its trauma division has lent his critical care expertise in Haiti, Argentina, Kurdistan and Iraq, in various emergency situations. But until last year, he had never been to a war zone.

The Cuba native felt drawn to Ukraine because his grandfather is from Kyiv, while his grandmother is from nearby eastern Poland. So early on in the conflict, he called Dr. Aaron Epstein, an old friend and the founder of the nonprofit Global Surgical and Medical Supply Group.

“Get yourself a flak jacket, a helmet, a gas mask and come on over,” Ginzburg said Epstein told him.

He has been to Ukraine twice under the nonprofit’s auspices, last April and July. Ginzburg’s explanation for why he flew across the world to put himself in danger: “I was needed,” he said.

His base was an emergency hospital in Lviv, a city located west enough that it became a major refugee hub. He consulted with front-line Ukrainian physicians, many of them young and inexperienced, and hospital administrators, watching the doctors in action. He also visited patients in hospital wards and helped to treat gunshot wounds and assorted combat injuries.

Ginzburg’s bags were packed with meaningful supplies. Some had been requested by his Ukrainian colleagues for medical use, mostly specialized catheters. But he also brought tefillin, the phylacteries used by Jews in their morning prayers. Ginzburg, who studied in a yeshiva while young but no longer considers himself Orthodox, wrapped them every day while in Ukraine.

Even though Lviv was far from the fighting, he could hear air raid sirens and the explosion of the Russian missiles, sometimes feeling the earth shake. When intelligence reports warned Ginzburg’s medical team of impending missile attacks, they sought refuge in safe houses.

“Today,” he told the Miami Herald last June, “I was calling my life insurance [company] because I have young sons and my wife, so I’m trying to make sure I have good coverage.”

By the end of his trips, Ginzburg lost count of the number of doctors he helped train and the number of patients he saw. “I’m sure it’s hundreds.” He plans to make a third trip sometime this year.

‘This is our new reality’

Karina Sokolowska is the director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s activities in Poland. (Courtesy of the JDC)

As the director of the JDC, or the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, in Poland, Karina Sokolowska has heard countless harrowing stories over the past year. But one sticks out in her memory.

It involved an elderly Ukrainian couple she met at the Poland-Ukraine border in late spring. The husband was in a wheelchair, and Sokolowska helped push him — back towards Ukraine. They had spent three months in a shelter in Poland but eventually “realized we cannot go looking for jobs, we cannot restart our lives. We are too old,” the woman said.

“If they are to die, they’d rather die back home,” Sokolowska said. “It’s a story of hopelessness. They are so vulnerable.”

Last year, about 8 million Ukrainian refugees made their way to Poland, the bordering country that accepted the most refugees. Early on in the conflict, Sokolowska contacted and visited Jewish communities throughout Poland, investigating the availability of places where the soon-to-be-homeless refugees could be housed. She also traveled to some of the border crossings where the Ukrainians entered, to arrange transportation to venues in Poland and to oversee the conditions in which the refugees would begin their new lives.

Later she would help with, among other things: arranging legal advice for the people who arrived with few identification documents; lining up medical care and drugs; finding them short- and long-term housing; connecting them to psychological counseling; providing kosher meals; and even caring for the refugees’ pets (“dogs and cats with no documents”).

According to JDC statistics, the organization “provided essential supplies and care” to 43,000 Jews in Ukraine and “aided 22,000+ people” there with “winter survival needs … more than double the amount served in previous years.” The welfare organization also claimed to provide “life-saving services” to more than 40,000 refugees in Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and other European locations. It also helped evacuate about 13,000 Jews from Ukraine. (Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen recently said 15,000 Ukrainian Jews in total have immigrated to Israel since the start of the war.)

Karina Sokolowska, JDC director for Poland and Scandinavia sits in her office down the hall from a hotline room, in early March 2022. (Toby Axelrod)

At the height of the refugee flood, Sokolowska said her monthly JDC budget ballooned to more than what she previously spent in an entire year. Her office went from having a few employees to over 20. The amount of sleep she got decreased in tandem; she started taking sleeping pills to get rest when she could.

“This is our new reality” in Poland, she says of the JDC work with Ukrainian refugees. “This is our life now.”

Sokolowska, the granddaughter of Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors, became active in Jewish life during college, when a classmate heard her pronouncing some German words with a Yiddish accent and persuaded her to lead the Polish Union of Jewish Students. As JDC director for Scandinavian countries in addition to Poland, she typically organizes educational conferences and helps Jewish families learn about traditions they had not learned while growing up in the communist era.

Today, her sense of optimism has been ground down.

“Everything changed when war came to Ukraine — there is less hope,” Sokolowska said. “It’s a totally new everything. Every aspect of our life changed. Our hope for this to be over soon is going down, down, down. Nothing will change.”

‘It could [have been] me’

Tom and Darlynn Fellman volunteered in Krakow in October 2022. (Courtesy of Tom Fellman)

Sometime in the late 1890s, Harry Fellman, about 20 years old, left his home in Ukraine. According to family legend, he was a sharpshooter in the Ukrainian army and was about to be sent into active combat. Instead, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Omaha, Nebraska, where he became a peddler.

His grandson Tom Fellman — whose middle name is Harry — doesn’t know all the 120-year-old details, but he knows that he is grateful that Harry Fellman decided to leave Ukraine when he did.

“It could [have been] me, if my grandparents had not left when they did,” said Fellman, a successful real estate developer and philanthropist in Omaha.

In October, at 78 years old, Fellman made the reverse trip across the Atlantic to pitch in to the relief effort. He also wanted to pay what he sees as a debt to the memory of his late grandfather and to help the current generation of Ukrainian Jews.

He and his wife Darlynn served as volunteers for a week at the Krakow Jewish community center, joining hundreds (possibly thousands) of volunteers from overseas who have gone to Poland and the other nations in the region over the last year to participate in humanitarian programs on behalf of the millions of Ukrainian refugees. Fellman worked nine hours a day with a half-dozen fellow foreign volunteers in the basement of the community center, transferring the contents of “big, big” sacks of items like potatoes and sugar into small containers to be distributed to refugees in the building’s first-floor food pantry. His wife spent her time in an art therapy program that was set up for the refugee mothers and children to raise their spirits.

Fellman is “not particularly religious” but supports “anything Jewish.” In 1986, he accompanied a rescue mission plane of Soviet Jews headed to Israel. “It was the most rewarding experience of my life,” he recalled.

Fellman says he plans to return to Poland, in June, for the JCC’s annual fundraising bike ride from Auschwitz to Krakow.

What did his friends think of his septuagenarian volunteer stint? “They thought it was cool,” he said. “But none of them are going too.”

‘Everything was a risk’

Elizaveta Sherstuk runs a branch of Hesed, a network of welfare centers, in Sumy, Ukraine. (Courtesy of Sherstuk)

Sherstuk’s parents would have sent their daughter to a Jewish school in her early years if they had had the option. But Jewish education was not permitted In Sumy during the final years of communist rule in the Soviet republic. Sherstuk was exposed to Jewish life only at home.

Her parents infused her with a Jewish identity, she said, and her grandparents used to talk and sing songs in Yiddish. That inspired Sherstuk’s first career as a singer and a music teacher, during which she founded Aviv and took it on tour throughout the region singing traditional Jewish songs. Later, she became the director of Sumy’s branch of the JDC-funded Hesed network.

Sumy, an industrial city with a population of 300,000 before the war situated only 30 miles from the Russian border, was one of Russia’s first targets. In the days before the pending invasion, Sherstuk stockpiled food, which was certain to become scarce in case of war, and arranged bus transportation to safer parts of the country for hundreds of vulnerable civilians, mostly the elderly and disabled. The bus plan fell through for safety issues.

As the bombing started, it became dangerous for members of the local 1,000-member Jewish community, many of them elderly, to venture outside of their apartments. Sherstuk, working out of a bomb shelter, assisted by a Hesed network of volunteers, coordinated food and medicine deliveries.

The situation grew more dire, and she coordinated the Jewish community’s participation in a brief humanitarian corridor evacuation of vulnerable civilians that the Russians permitted. She communicated with Sumy residents mostly by smartphones provided by the JDC — the Russian attacks had cut the landlines — and accompanied the busloads of Sumy Jews to western Ukraine. Some of them eventually moved on to Israel, Germany, or other nearby countries, she said.

Sherstuk stayed in western Ukraine for a while (“The humanitarian corridors are only for one-way trips,” she noted), moving from place to place, keeping in touch with the Jews of Sumy and waiting for Ukraine’s army to make the trip back safe. But Sumy, like many Ukrainian cities, has come under frequent Russian rocket attack.

“Everything was a risk,” she said. “We were following whatever our hearts told us to do. We had to save people. I was the one who had to do it.”

Last May, Sherstuk was among 12 men and women (and the sole one from the Diaspora) who lit a torch at the start of Israel’s Independence Day in a government ceremony on Mount Herzl. During two weeks in Israel, she spent some time with members of her family, and held a series of meetings with JDC officials, government ministers and donors. “It was not a vacation,” she said.

After going back to Sumy, at the suggestions of her choral group members and fellow Sumy residents, she organized concerts in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ukrainian and Russian — some in person, some in a bomb shelter in the city’s central square, some online. She has now resumed her music classes, too, and it has all boosted morale. “I [teach] all the time,” she said.


The post ‘There was no time to sleep’: 4 Jews reflect on a year of helping Ukrainians at war 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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