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Marjorie and Morley Blankstein. June 2002, 50th Wedding Anniversary


Israel Asper


Sheldon Berney


Bob Freedman


Rose and Max Rady
Jewish Heritage Centre

 
HOW THE RADY JCC CAME INTO BEING-INTERVIEW WITH MARJORIE BLANKSTEIN

by Rhonda Spivak, November 22, 2019

Marjorie Blankstein, the daughter of Rose & Max Rady , the namesake of the Rady JCC was president of the Winnipeg Jewish community Council [WJCC] in 1986-1987. She remembers the late 1980's and the challenges the Jewish community was facing, including "decrease in enrollment in Jewish schools and at the YMHA, and decrease in population, with physical facilities deteriorating." (Editor’s note:In fact, Winnipeg's Jewish population had declined by 18% between 1971-1991.)
 
Bob Freedman, who became WJCC's executive director in 1986 told the Winnipeg Jewish Review in an earlier interview  that he took the job "on the understanding  that  I would be given the flexibility to do what was needed to move the community forward," and reverse these downward trends.
 
One of the first things Freedman did was fly to  New York at his own expense to meet with the Council of Jewish Federations. They suggested Freedman contact a social demographer then working at Brandeis University, Gary Tobin who was an expert on planning for Jewish communities in North America. Tobin came to Winnipeg, learned about the community, examined the organizational structures  and convened a meeting with community leadership.
 
As Blankstein remembers "He [Tobin] said you have two choices. One is to do nothing and things will continue downwards, or you can do something and work for positive change. We decided to do something."
 
As Allan Levine wrote in  Coming of Age: A History of the Jewish People of Manitoba the construction of the Asper Jewish Community Campus was "a pipe dream in 1987, but a reality a decade later."
 
Bob Freedman approached approached Marjorie Blankstein to become Chair of the WJCC's Long Range planning committee, which she accepted.
 
Next, Touche Ross Management (now Deloitte) conducted a feasibility study which cost $115,000 and in the spring of 1988 it prepared a report which recommended the development of a central  Jewish campus--which was to house a Jewish school, a fitness and cultural centre, and office space for most other Jewish organizations.
 
The WJCC board approved the proposal for a campus and  Morley Blankstein volunteered Marjorie to become chair of the fundraising committee. Marjorie Blankstein recruited Sheldon Berney, "who played an invaluable role in bringing the Campus to life."  As Levine wrote in Coming of Age,
 
" Initially, Berney sought counsel from his friends to ensure the project was viable, because he had no intention of failing."
 
Freedman, Blankstein, Berney and several other WJCC members visited Jewish community centres in the Unites States, one of which was in Kansas City. The Kansas City Centre had a day school attached to it, which was a feature they liked. "We didn't decide to include the school in the Campus until the principal of the school called and said he thought it would be  a good idea if we included the school," says Blankstein.
 
When the old Fort Osborne Barracks of Tuxedo Avenue  became available, it seemed to be a good fit for the community, since the Jewish population was shifting to the South end.

Milton Shorr, of Development Consultants Inc in New York, who came highly recommended, was hired to give an assessment regarding the potential success of a capital campaign to raise money to build the Doncaster campus.

The sum that was ultimately raised was $28 million, a significant accomplishment given the economic climate of the 1990's. ( The YMHA property on Hargrave was disposed of several years after the opening of the new Campus).
 
As Blankstein recalls, "I remember the community meeting we had at Glendale Golf and Country Club in July.It was not the best time for such a meeting. We had an EXCELLENT attendance!. I think there was only one person who did not agree with our plans moving forward. What was so important was our community & its commitment. I still remember the calls I made for contributions. I was warmly received & treated so well!"
 
Blankstein and  Freedman  put together " a dog and pony show," and spoke to every Jewish organization and group about the project.
In 1997, the new Rady Jewish Community Centre opened on 123 Doncaster as part of the Asper Jewish Community Campus. Marjorie and Morley Blankstein made a donation of one million in honour of her parents, to bring the Rady JCC into existence.The Campus Board set $2 million as the price required for a donor to receive naming rights to the complete institution. Israel(Izzy) and Ruth (Babs) Asper donated $2 million and received the naming rights and also received two seats on the Campus Board. (Allan Levine in Coming of Age quotes Harold Buchwald as saying,"When I told Izzy that other major donors , such as Marjorie and Morely Blankstein were making a donation of one million in honour of her parents, Max and Rose Rady, a light bulb went off in his head. And he decided, too, to make a donation in the name of his and Bab's parents-as well as all of the Jewish pioneers of Manitoba").

Blankstein, aged 90, has been a member of the Rady JCC since its inception and over the years has attended many programs.

On the 18th anniversary of the Rady JCC in 2015  Blankstein gave remarks to mark the occasion. “I am sure that Mom and Dad would be watching and smiling from up above,”she said.   She  noted that her parents would be very pleased to know that the Rady JCC  is “so welcoming and  inclusive, with people of all races and creeds and  all ages, from tots to seniors, using this great facility."

Blankstein recalls that at the sod-turning ceremony  for the Doncaster Campus ,Rabbi Green blew the shofar. “He said a shofar is beautiful.  But it’s what you put into it that’s more beautiful. ” Similarly, Blankstein notes that the campus building is very handsome, “but it’s what goes on inside that is so very important.”

"What goes on inside the Rady JCC is due to the staff, the Board of Directors, volunteers and members who all make it happen," Blankstein says.
 
Today the Rady JCC is a pillar of the community. It is very involved in running day care programs.  In 2006 it took over operation of the Kaufman Early Years Centre from the Aleph Bet Enrichment Centre which had been responsible for the day care program when the Asper Campus opened in 1997. In 2016 an additional 48 day care spaces were added with the opening of the Ruth and David Asper Early Learning Centre. The Rady JCC also runs an after-school program at Brock Corydon School.

Additionally, the Rady JCC runs children's summer camps,offers aquatics programs, has a state of the art fitness centre, offers programs for seniors and newcomers, and runs a gamut of cultural programs ( In December  2012, The  Asper Foundation and the Rady JCC announced the creation of the Babs Asper Centre for Cultural Arts at the Rady JCC in memory of  Ruth “Babs” Asper.)
 
Blankstein looks back with pride. "It's worked out very well," she says.
 
[Editor's note: I asked Marjorie Blankstein about her memories of the YMHA on Hargrave. " I remember going swimming as an adult," she replied, adding that " My dad went  Sunday mornings to the shvitz."]

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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