• Print


There were two big news stories this past week within the Jewish community: The decision not to pursue the merger of the Etz Chayim and Shaarey Zedek congregations; and the likely rescue of the Gwen Secter Centre from having to leave its current, longtime home on Main Street. 

Myron Love has a comprehensive story about the failure of the merger talks between the Shaarey Zedek and the Etz Chayim on page 1, while I have a brief story on the same page about what appears to be great news about the Gwen Secter Centre. The Gwen Secter story is still a developing story as we write this, however, but we hope to have definitive good news by the time our next issue is published.
There are other stories we’ve been working on in the meantime though, and they have to do with money – or the lack thereof. The one story, which you can read about on page 2 of this issue relates to the CJA campaign’s falling somewhat short of reaching its goal this past year. The other story, however, is one that’s had me intrigued for quite some time, but about which we haven’t heard anything.
That story relates to the financial impact resulting from the drastic reduction in the number of students at the Gray Academy this past school year (90 students altogether). While there would have been a certain fall off in the amount of revenue collected from tuition, there would also have been a concomitant reduction in the amount of money coming from the Provincial Department of Education. A spokesperson for the Province informed me that the amount of funding for independent schools this past year was $5,214 per student. That translates to almost $470,000 less in funding from the provincial government than would have been received the previous year by the Gray Academy.
When you combine that with the decreased amount available from tuition fees, the Gray Academy had to have taken an enormous hit to its finances thsi past school year. While I can well understand the reluctance of anyone associated with the Gray Academy to talk openly about finances, I did ask Head of School Rory Paul whether there were or are going to be major reductions to staffing levels or programming as a result.
Rory responded that, “With respect to staffing, while there has been attrition through teacher retirement, personal leave and the closure of one Junior Kindergarten class, overall no current teaching staff has been laid off from their current position.  In fact, I have had to hire 1.5 teachers to fill the number of teachers required for next year.”
I was somewhat astonished that the school was able to absorb what must have been a huge financial hit without having to institute major reductions either in staffing or programming, so I asked Rory how that was possible.
Rory responded: “We have already taken the big hit and we have survived by using our reserve fund.  We are on solid ground going into next year.”
I wrote to Rory in response: “Ah - so you dipped into a reserve fund. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to disclose for how much?”
Rory responded: “We dipped because we couldn’t plan for the loss of revenue because as you recall of the 50 students who moved from Winnipeg about half of them left over the summer so we didn’t find out until September.  It was too late by that time to cut additional staff as they had been hired to new contracts.
“All of that is well behind us.  We have the appropriate number of staff for next year, the exodus from Winnipeg has stopped, and we are set to replenish the reserve fund.  Like all businesses you have a reserve fund for rainy days.  We had a rainy day and now the sun is shining again and no, we don’t need to talk about how much reserve was spent.”
It may be uncomfortable for some to discuss the Gray Academy’s financial situation within the pages of this newspaper but, similar to other stories that we’ve covered over the years, as much as we remain staunch supporters of the Gray Academy, we are an independent newspaper and would not be doing our jobs if we didn’t ask the hard questions.

In the same way, much as community leaders may be reluctant to talk about some of the factors that led to a reduction in the amount that the Combined Jewish Appeal raised this past year, there is one aspect of that reduction which stands out in particular, and that is the decision of some key donors not to contribute to the campaign at all.
In my story about the CJA’s falling somewhat short of the mark in reaching its goal, I quoted Adam Bronstone, Jewish Federation CEO who, in referring to these key donors, commented: “There were a couple of top donors that reduced this year for family reasons.
“There were some other donors who didn’t give at all. The concerns they had were not, I would say, with the Federation. It was not about how we do business. It was not about our agencies. It was very particular to those specific donors.”
This is somewhat perplexing. Some key donors from past years decide not to give to the CJA this past year, yet their decisions had nothing to do with the Jewish Federation? I suppose  that the names of those donors won’t be readily apparent until the Federation releases its annual report on the campaign in the fall. Then, by comparing names from that report with names from previous reports it should be quite clear who it is that decided not to contribute to the CJA this past year - or, who cut back their donations substantially.
Now, while the Jewish Federation does an excellent job of attempting to include all members of the community in its outreach efforts, one of the hallmarks of the Combined Jewish Appeal is that, over the years, it has strived to broaden its base of donors. One of the problems of modern Western societies is that too many individuals have been removed from the taxpayer rolls – either by not having enough income to require paying income tax, or by being able to use various tax avoidance schemes to be able to avoid paying either any significant amount of income tax or any tax at all, in come cases. Not only does this contribute to governments having less revenue, it also leads to a sense of indifference on the part of many individuals to the general welfare of society as a whole.
In the same way, while contributing to the CJA is entirely voluntary, by giving to the annual campaign it is reasonable to expect that donors feel more of a stake in the welfare of the general Jewish community, and more of a sense of belonging. That is why it is such a testament to the efforts of individuals like Baillie Chisick, who played such a major role in adding so many young donors to the ranks of CJA contributors this past year. It doesn’t matter what the size of a donation was; by making a donation those individuals signified their desire to be included among the ranks of the community.
But, if someone had been a major donor in the past, i.e. a donation above $18,000, as much as Adam Bronstone might insist that the decisions of those donors not to contribute this past year had nothing to do with the Federation, it’s awfully difficult to accept that without some reservation. While we don’t delve into the internal affairs of individual donors, it surely must lead to some serious speculation among a great many others as to what led to those decisions not to contribute to the CJA.

On a final note, as is my custom, there are several corrections that need to be made to previous stories in The Jewish Post & News:
Most serious among these is an apology I need to make to Tracy Kasner Greaves over a mistake I made in reporting on the Kavod Awards in our last issue. I mistakenly referred to Tracy in what I really intended to be a light-hearted reference, when I said the Kavod Awards M.C., David Kroft, had stood up at one point to indicate that a particular speaker might want to wind things up. It wasn’t Tracy and, not to compound the error, I won’t mention who it was. I actually thought it was pretty funny at the time; I was waiting for David to turn on some music á la Academy Awards.

I’ve been asked to remind anyone thinking of attending the JNF Gala on June 17 to note that the start time is 7:30 pm, not 8:00 pm – and to remember that the gala will take place at the Regent Street Casino this year.

Finally, in a previous issue, we ran a picture of some young boys (including this writer) who were “ping pong” champions at the YMHA in 1964. One of the winners was identified as Murray Gilfix. (That was actually how the picture was captioned by the YMHA way back then.) I have since learned that the boy in the picture was actually Murray’s twin brother, Perry. To think: For 51 years that picture, in whatever dusty archive it may have been located, had the wrong Gilfix brother identified. Only when the mistake was repeated in the JP&N was the mistake noted and the record set straight.