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Brandon Stern

 
THE WINNIPEG JEWISH COMMUNITY: AN OUTSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE

By Brandon Stern, New Jersey, Exclusive to the Winnipeg Jewish Review

[Editor's note: Brandon has written this piece especially for our readership]

I made my first ever trip to Canada this past summer to visit a good friend [Avi Posen] that I had met while studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Before I left I told my friends about this and instantly they replied "have fun in Toronto and Montreal, you're going to love it." I responded to them by saying "I'm not going to Toronto nor Montreal, but Winnipeg." They appeared to be deep in thought for a second and finally blurted out "where is that?" This is the attitude that I left Newark Liberty International Airport with. I expected a small Canadian town with a struggling Jewish Community, but much to my astonishment I found the opposite to be true.

My friend and I began the tour of Winnipeg and its Jewish Community literally minutes after I landed. The first event on the agenda was the Winnipeg Jewish Community Center, or the “Campus,” as everyone calls it. I was shocked to see a massive complex that was at least twice the size of the JCC that I attend back home. I entered as a guest and used the weight room, pool, school, and cafeteria. We then proceeded to tour the museum. We even had the chance to take a dunk in the Mikve! The concentration of an entire Jewish Communities’ needs was very inspiring to see. It gave me a sense of how close and tight-knit the Winnipeg Jewish Community must be. As an ardent Zionist I was touched to see the Israeli flag hanging in the center of the campus. I began to notice the intimate connection Winnipeg has with the State of Israel and more specifically with the town on Kiryat Shmona.

I had some background knowledge of Winnipeg from my friend, but one does not truly understand a place until one has been there and seen it with his own eyes. This is definitely true of my experience with the Winnipeg Jewish Community. From the Campus we went back to my friend’s house and I received a very warm reception from his family. I had not seen them since  we had met in the beautiful, Israeli coastal town of Netanya and I was very happy to see them. We ate dinner and caught up before going back out into town. On the way into town we went slightly out of our way to check out the local Synagogues. I saw Shaarey Zedek, Chabad, Etz Chayim and Herzliya. I even had the opportunity to spend Shabbat in Winnipeg’s North End, which to my understanding used to be the heart of the Jewish Community. We spent a lovely Shabbat with my friend’s grandparents. We discussed Judaism, Hebrew, Israel and the Winnipeg Jewish Community. I met a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces at this North End Synagogue who gave me an abridged history of the Winnipeg Jewish Community. He even told me a story of a young, Jewish fellow from the U.S who enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War Two. This served as a great introduction to Winnipeg Jewish history.

Briefly I attended an unveiling at the Jewish Cemetery which gave me a glimpse at how far back the history of Jews in Winnipeg goes. As a student of history this was fascinating to me and I made sure to appreciate the glimpse into history I was being given.

One of the final stops on my Jewish tour of Winnipeg was Camp Massad in Winnipeg Beach. We had a great time playing basketball and discussing my friend’s involvement at the camp. After that we went to Gimli to see Lake Winnipeg, which is larger than the entirety of the state I currently live in, and then proceeded to enjoy the hot tub and pool of a local hotel.

Aside from visiting official Jewish sites I was able to meet and hang out with many of the friends of the guy I was visiting. We talked about the usual topics that Jewish college students talk about such as Israel, girls, sports and school, probably in that order. I ran into some other friends that I had met in Israel, some on purpose and some by accident, but I was happy to see all of them none the less. The fact that I ran into so many people that I had met previously in Israel reinforced my conviction that this community has deep and long lasting ties with the Jewish State.
I grew up a thirty minute drive away from the thriving Jewish Communities of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Lakewood yet seeing Winnipeg and its Jewish sites left me deeply impressed. This Jewish Community of roughly 15,000 members has managed to set up comprehensive Jewish programming and education while also showing tremendous support for the State of Israel. I believe the communities’ most impressive accomplishments include the program it provides for Jewish high school students from Winnipeg to study in Kiryat Shmona as well as the establishing of the Campus, which stands out in my mind as one of the largest Jewish Community Centers I have ever visited. In addition to this, the warmth and hospitality that I experienced from my friend and his family as well as from the Jewish Community as a whole provided me with much optimism about the future of Jews in Winnipeg.

Upon returning to the U.S the same friends who didn’t know where Winnipeg was asked me how my trip was. I was responded with “next time you go to Canada, forget Toronto man, and go to Winnipeg.”

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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