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shaarey zedekBy MYRON LOVE
Shaarey Zedek, our community’s oldest and largest congregation, seems to be undergoing a renaissance. Not only has Shabbat attendance been on the rise over the past year – as a result of the congregation streamlining the service – but, according to Ian Staniloff, the congregation’s executive director, this past yom tov was the best attended yom tov service in the ten years that he has been serving as executive director.

“We were almost sold out,” he reports. “We had well over 1,000 for the morning service (The capacity is about 1,300.) and between 500 and 600 for the afternoon service.”
(The Shaarey Zedek has been offering two services for yom tov for many decades.)
He adds that the family service attracted between 30 and 50 kids. “We had a number of new families for the family service,” he says. “Everyone seemed to be enjoying the service.”
Just as the Shaarey Zedek leadership shortened the regular Shabbat service, so too did they modify the Yom Tov services. That was one draw for many people. To sweeten the pot, the congregation advertised 50% discounts on yom tov seats for former members who had not renewed their memberships for several years. The offer also applied to first-time attendees.
New rabbis Anibal Maas and Matthew Leibl have also proven to be successful at drawing new congregants over the past year. As well, it has been suggested by others in the synagogue community that a number of people may have chosen to attend services at the Shaarey Zedek to participate in popular Senior Rabbi Allan Green’s last yom tov in Winnipeg. (Green is stepping down next spring – after almost 30 years in Winnipeg,  when he and his wife, Chaia, will be leaving the community.)
Staniloff reports that Rabbi Green led the Yom Kippur service while the younger rabbis presided over the Rosh Hashonah services.
“We were very pleased how everything turned out for yom tov,” Staniloff says. “Our biggest problem was parking. That is something we will deal with.”
Jonathan Buchwald, the executive director of Congregation Etz Chayim, our community’s largest north Winnipeg synagogue, reports that yom tov services attracted about 900 this year, down just slightly from last year.
Buchwald adds that Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose were back in Winnipeg to lead their usual “Family of Roses” yom tov services in the lower level of Etz Chayim. That service numbered about 70.
In general, south end congregations had better attendance than their more north end counterparts. Temple Shalom also reported an uptick in attendance. The number of people at peak was slightly over 200, 133 of whom were non-members.
“Our rabbi (Bill Tepper) was a good draw,” says Ruthie Maman, the Reform congregation’s office manager.
Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue High Holiday Committee Chair Dr. Allen Kraut reports that attendance at the Orthodox shul was down slightly, but that the 300-seat sanctuary was still fairly full.
Rabbi Avroham Altein, our community’s senior Lubavitch leader, notes that the Lubavitch Centre was full to capacity. “We had a good mix of local people and newcomers to the community,” he says. “It was a nice atmosphere.”
(The Lubavitch Centre does not charge membership fees.)
Barb Findley, spiritual care co-director at the Simkin Centre extended care home, reports that the yom tov services there were also filled close to capacity. “We had to use our two overflow rooms,” she says. “Some of our residents had four or five family members with them at the service. We were very pleased with the attendance.”
(Shabbat and Yom tov services at the Simkin Centre are led by Steven Hyman.)
At Shir Tikvah, a yom tov-only congregation that holds service at the Viscount Gort Hotel, the numbers were down somewhat. “We were packed for the first day of yom tov,” says congregation president Sharon Bronstone, but down a little after that.”
The five north end congregations (other than Etz Chayim) – including the Ashkenazie, Chevra Mishnayes, and Talmud Torah/Bet Jacob all had decreases in attendance while the Chavurat Tefilah was on par with last year. In total, the four congregations plus Rabbi Yitschok Charytan’s service in his home recorded less than 250 worshippers among them.
“A lot of people bought seats for yom tov but didn’t attend for whatever reason,” says Chevra Mishnayes president Marshall Kneller.
Still farther north, Camp Massad holds one day of services for Rosh Hashonah at the Beach Shul (which is on Camp Massad’s campsite). Executive director Daniel Sprintz reports attendance of just over 100.
“We expected a lower attendance this year,” he says. “A number of our people wanted to go the Shaarey Zedek for Rabbi Green’s last yom tov.”