• Print

By BERNIE BELLAN

There’s usually a mix of activities going on within our Jewish community that should provide something for just about anyone who has even the slightest connection to the community.


What I’ve noticed over the years though is that the biggest activities all have to do with fundraising – no big surprise really. It’s too bad though that  not very often can you attend a fundraising activity that also provides some intellectual stimulation. Perhaps the annual Kanee lecture, put on by the Jewish Heritage Centre, fits that description. At least the fundraising component of that event is lessened in favour of the intellectual aspect.
This past week’s Kavod Awards  didn’t focus entirely on fundraising, but when it came to doling out the major awards, they were all given to individuals who had achieved notable success in raising money. The first part of the evening, however, devoted to the handing out of “Shem Tov” awards, as has been the case in the past, cited individuals who had volunteered their time in ways that didn’t involve fundraising.
I was struck though  by the remarks made by Baillie Chisick, who was the recipient of the Harry Silverberg Award given for youthful achievement. Baillie spoke of how much she enjoys fundraising, mentioning that it’s something that’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.
Now, while it must be exceptional for someone in her thirties to be so devoted to fundraising, it got me to wondering about another theme that was mentioned several times during the Kavod Awards, which is how much of a contribution to the community so many other people in Baillie’s age bracket are making. How do you quantify that, I wonder?
Is it merely a willingness to donate to the CJA? Baillie mentioned that she and others working with her in the most recent CJA campaign had been able to recruit 129 new donors to the ranks of the CJA donor rolls. It would be nice though if the Jewish  community could also recognize the efforts of young people who have been making significant contributions to various causes, but perhaps not identifiable Jewish causes. (I suppose Myron Love fulfills that role in his regular column to a certain extent, doesn’t he?)
*****
Elsewhere in this issue we have an article reporting on some new findings from the Pew Research Centre about the state of American Jewry. You may recall that the Pew Centre has issued some fascinating reports about American Jews in recent years, including one a few years back which indicated  that young American Jews were far less committed to the ideas that were traditionally associated with being Jewish, such as attending synagogue, a deep concern for Israel, adhering to Jewish customs and the like. Instead, we learned that young American Jews were more concerned with social causes, especially environmentalism and lessening inequality.
I wondered, therefore, whether Baillie Chisick and her friends who also volunteered during this year’s CJA campaign are part of a dwindling group among young Jews whose members are committed to Jewish causes.
I suppose it would be all but impossible to answer that question without resorting to some sort of survey within our Jewish population here. In the past I’ve written about the need to do a comprehensive survey of Winnipeg’s Jewish community, but that was in connection with the controversy that had developed over what the actual size of our community was. That, in turn, was provoked by an article written by Uriel Heilman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, who wondered why Winnipeg had become such a popular destination for Israelis (particularly Israelis of Russian background).
Heilman told me that he thought our community should conduct a survey ascertaining, among other things, just how many of those immigrants who had come here had remained in Winnipeg.
At the same time I think it would be wise to add some questions about Jewish identity to such a survey; however, since no one at the Federation has ever said that such a survey should or will be conducted, this is all speculative.

*****
This leads me though to wonder again about the future of the Gray Academy. Readers may recall that in the fall of 2014 we reported on the precipitous drop in the number of students at that school – from 600 last school year to 510 this school year. Various reasons were advanced to explain that drop, but whatever the reasons, it came as a shock to learn that the student population had dropped by such a huge number.
Since that time I have heard various possible explanations advanced as to why there was such a significant number of departures from the Gray Academy.  For one, I was told, 40 students left the city with their families when one or another parent took advantage of a job opportunity elsewhere.
But, there were other reasons suggested for students’ leaving, although none of them were all that new. Some said it was because of the tuition burden – but that has always been the case, hasn’t it? Other students left to go to other private schools, but again, there’s nothing new in that. Several parents mentioned the presence of “cliques” at Gray Academy for their children’s leaving, but what school doesn’t have cliques, especially among adolescents?
The Gray Academy will be seeing quite a new look in its administration next year, but it should be noted that the retirements of Head of School Rory Paul and Principal Hart Sera had been planned long before the realization that 90 students had left the school this past September.
There is one other point that needs to be considered arising from the Gray Academy situation – and it’s one that I’ve raised before: According to the National Household Survey of 2011, there were only 1,430 Jewish children (up to the age 15) residing in Winnipeg in 2011, at least according to religious affiliation. (There was no comparable analysis available for individuals who identified as Jewish by ethnicity.) Thus, the potential pool of students for who might attend the Gray Academy is also considerably smaller than it used to be. Again – we need some systematic demographic analysis of where we’re at in 2015. Based on what’s already happened at the Gray Academy in terms of enrolment this past year, along with what I have been arguing is the shrinking of Winnipeg’s Jewish population, not its growing, the likelihood is that the number of students attending that school is going to be shrinking, not expanding.
*****
Speaking of shrinkage – the ongoing saga of the Gwen Secter Centre took another unexpected turn for the worse recently when the members of the Rosh Pina Housing Co-op voted not to let the members of Gwen Secter use the co-op as their new home. While no one at Gwen Secter was all that happy over the prospect of moving into the Rosh Pina Housing Co-op, at least it provided members with a continued north end home. Now that plan, too, has been dashed.
It’s less than  a year now before the National Council of Jewish Women says it’s going to sell the current home of the Gwen Secter Centre. As much as I haven’t been writing continually about this story of late, by no means does it mean that the story has disappeared from my mind.
Again, this community continues to congratulate itself on its prodigious fundraising ability  - and Winnipeg’s Jewish community does  amaze others as it “punches above its weight”, so to speak. Yet, what good does it do to keep on boasting of “leaving a legacy” to future generations when institutions right now are in crisis mode, and it’s not for a lack of funds. (Neither Gray Academy nor Gwen Secter Centre’s current troubles can be blamed on a shortage of funds. Both situations can be traced to changing demographics.)
*****
One final note: The Winnipeg School Division has announced that Sir William Osler School is about to revert to being an early years school – once again, for Grades 1-3, in an attempt to resolve overcrowding at La Verendrye School. Two years ago I wrote a series of articles asking why Osler School couldn’t be used as the site for a daycare? (In that case I was suggesting that the Rady JCC might locate its second daycare there.) At that time I was told that under no circumstances could Osler School house a daycare as it was being used exclusively for the teaching of English as an Additional Language.
When I suggested that there was still unused capacity within the school and, that with a little tweaking of classroom utilization, it could certainly accommodate a daycare, I was told that was an impossibility.
Well, lo and behold, the Winnipeg School  Division has, in all its wisdom, decided that Osler School is not needed for EAL after all. (To be fair, I was told that all EAL classes will now be consolidated in one location on Portage Avenue.) Still, one wonders whether it would have been all that difficult to accommodate a daycare two years ago in Osler School, or whether, with only three grades moving into that school, there might not be room for a daycare there now.
Of course though, when it comes to bureaucratic inertia and obfuscation, nobody beats the Winnipeg School Division.