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By MYRON LOVE Israel has a refugee problem – a problem which Winnipeg writer Sharon Chisvin and her daughter, Samara Carroll, in Toronto, are trying in their own small way to alleviate (for the sake of the refugees).


Carroll is graduating from the University of Toronto this spring with a Master’s degree in Social Work. In 2013, she spent some time in Israel working for ASSAF, an aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, with a special emphasis on refugees immigrating from Sudan and Eritrea in east Africa.
In recent years, tens of thousands of refugees have flooded into southern Israel, many of them to escape violence and oppression in their home countries - countries such as Sudan and Eritrea. The refugees faced torture, rape and murder getting to Israel.
Most Western countries are struggling with the problem of illegal immigration and/or large numbers of refugees. For Israel, there is an added complication in that, as the world’s only Jewish homeland, Israel is set up primarily to absorb Jewish immigration and Jewish refugees.
While the country has taken in some small numbers of non-Jewish refugees - some Vietnamese Boat People in the 1970s, for example, the numbers coming from east Africa are a different matter.
Sharon Chisvin notes that, while many private Israeli citizens and non-profit Israeli organizations are helping the refugees, the Israeli Government has been alternately repatriating some of them (back to south Sudan, in some cases, after South Sudan won independence a couple of years ago), incarcerating some in open air detention facilities in the Negev, or simply ignoring the refugees who lack any legal status in Israel and thus have no access to government benefits or services or jobs.
Chisvin notes that some Eritrean refugees approached Samara - while she was working at ASSAF – for help. On returning to Toronto, she arranged for an Eritrean young man to come to Toronto (although he hasn’t actually arrived yet). She did this with the help of an agency that is serving as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder.
Sharon has taken it upon herself to try to bring a Christian Eritrean couple from Israel to Winnipeg.
“I feel that as a Canadian and a Jew, I should try to help this couple,” she says. “I feel strongly about this. So I am walking the walk.”
She notes that the couple – who met in Israel – have been living in Tel Aviv for seven years. Although the wife is earning some money as a translator (she is fluent in Hebrew, Arabic English and Tigrinya, the language of Eritrea) and the husband works as a cleaner, they have no legal status in Israel and can be deported at any time.
Over the past few months, Chisvin has been learning the ropes when it comes to sponsoring refugees in Canada. “I have made a few calls and have had meetings with some people,” she says modestly.
A sponsor, she notes, has to establish a bank account with a minimum amount of money in place to tide the refugee over his or her first year in Canada.
She quickly learned that the majority of sponsoring organizations are church groups. “The first question I was asked by most churches I called was whether or not I was a member,” she says.
She was able to get support from the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land as the Sponsorship Agreement Holder through its Crossed Hands Refugee Committee, which operates out of St. Matthews Maryland Anglican Church.
In the Jewish community, she received a sympathetic ear from Bob Freedman, the former executive directly of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. She further reports that the Jewish Child and Family Service has signed on as a co-sponsor.
“This is a unique situation,” notes Al Benarroch, the JCFS executive director. “Sharon is a private citizen and a member of our community working for a cause. It’s a beautiful thing she is doing. Our board agreed to support Sharon’s initiative in a secondary role through our expertise in resettlement.
“This is a feel good project.”
Chisvin reports that she has raised half of the $18,000 she needs thanks to contributions from friends and acquaintances and a generous donation from the Asper Foundation.
As to how long it will take for the Eritrean couple to receive Canadian government approval to come here - well, Chisvin notes, that process can take up to three years.
Anyone interested in supporting this initiative can contact Chisvin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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On Sunday, March 8, close to 50 family members and friends of Fanny Mock gathered at the Rosh Pina Coop to celebrate her 100th birthday.
“It was very nice” says the newly-minted centenarian of the party.
Her daughters, Elaine Mock and Sally Levy, were in from Toronto. (Her daughter, Diane Lamirande, and her son, Harvey, live in Winnipeg.)  There were also video greetings from grandson Grayson Levy and his family in Israel.
Her youngest sister (and only surviving sibling), Marsha Garfinkle, sent greetings from Vancouver where,  coincidentally, she was celebrating her own 90th birthday at the same time. (The sisters share a birthday.)
Although Fanny Mock has seen a lot of change over the past 100 years, she prefers to focus on the future, not the past. “What’s past is past,” she says. “It’s just wonderful to still be alive.”
The former Fanny Gerb grew up in Mezirich in Poland (the ancestral home town of many members of our community). She came to Winnipeg in 1932, at the age of 18, to follow her father, Yankel Gerb (the original family name was Gorbach), and older sister, Clara Katz. Her mother, Henya, and the rest of the family (two brothers, Max and Sol Gerb and another sister, Shirley Baron) came in 1937.
Her father was a carpenter but, Mock, remembers, it was tough making a go of it in the 1930s. “Wages were low,” she recalls. “But, at least, things cost a lot less.”
After spending a few months learning English, she found work at Dobbs Factory making ski caps. She worked there for just a few years – until the arrival of her first-born, Sally, in 1937. She had met her husband, Eddy, through some neighbours and married a couple of years before.
While Eddy worked for the railroad for over 30 years, Fanny stayed home and raised the children. Their first home was on Aberdeen, then Pritchard Avenue. After many years, they moved to Garden City.
“I didn’t like Garden City,” she says. “Fifty years ago, the transportation there was terrible.”
So she and Eddy bought a home on St. Anthony, where she lived for 38 years (Eddy died in 1987). She moved into the Rosh Pina Coop eight years ago.
After the children had grown, Fanny did work for ten years for her brothers, Max and Saul Gerb, who operated Imperial Leather.
She was also long active in the community, in particular with B’nai Brith. She was a founder of the Yiddish-speaking H. Leivick B’nai Brith Lodge and is the oldest living member of the organization (formerly known as B’nai Brith Women). She was twice honoured by BBW as “Woman of the Year”.
Fanny has enjoyed remarkably good health. She continues to liveindependently (although she is still recovering from a broken hip she suffered last fall which put her in hospital for three months). Her mind and memory are still clear. She shows little of the effects of aging. She still reads a lot and, as recently as three years ago, she was able to fly to Toronto to see her grandson and family who were visiting from Israel.
In addition to her four children, she has several grandchildren and a great-granddaughter in Montreal.
While she says that she can’t foresee the future, Fanny Mock is looking forward to what her second century will bring. “Whatever happens, happens,” she says philosophically.

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