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Elliot Leven


By Elliot Leven

I certainly don’t want to play into the myth that all Jews are rich, least of all in Winnipeg. As the Jewish Child and Family Service often reminds us, many Winnipeg Jews struggle with poverty or near-poverty. I think it would be fair to say, though, that the average Winnipeg Jew is a lot richer today that in 1940 or 1950.

With more money often comes materialism. I have a sinking feeling that the Winnipeg Jewish community is much more materialist today than it was a couple generations ago.

I attended the Talmud Torah and Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate on Matheson Avenue from 1967-1979. Certainly at the collegiate level, we always used to complain about the building, its age, its lack of a proper gym, its tiny library, its lack of any industrial arts (shops) facilities, and similar problems. Yet, despite the small, aging building, we got a first rate education and we never lacked for school spirit.

The Jewish schools on Doncaster Street are, in every material way, far superior to the old schools on Matheson Avenue.  Not only are they spacious and modern, but they are located under the same roof as a modern fitness facility, a quality cafeteria, a museum, a good Jewish library, and various Jewish organizations. 

Does that mean that the students on Doncaster have better school spirit or are getting a better Jewish education that the students on Matheson used to? 
Frankly, I doubt it.  I will concede, however, that having a large, modern building does no harm to our students.
What bothers me more than changing buildings is changing values.  I don’t pretend to have any scientific data on this, but I have a strong sense that Winnipeg Jews today are just a lot more concerned with material possessions and with conspicuous consumption than they were a couple generations ago. 

At one time, maybe three or four Winnipeg Jewish families owned luxury cars.  Try this: go to the parking lot  of any major synagogue in Winnipeg during a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and count the number of luxury vehicles (including high-end SUVs). 

I’m not saying it’s a sin to squander money on an expensive vehicle but, in a world in which a billion people are hungry, it’s no mitzvah either!

I challenge my Winnipeg Jewish readers to look at their family budgets and give an honest answer to this question: how much money do I spend on unnecessary indulgences?  If it’s more than a small amount, I believe I have made my point. 

So if you happen to earn (or inherit) more money than you actually need, what should you do?  The traditional Jewish answer would be: give the excess to tzedakah.  The Jewish Child and Family Service could sure use more donations to assist those struggling with poverty.  There are many charities that help desperately poor children around the world.  Sponsor a foster child in the developing world.  I bet more Winnipeg Jewish families have flat-screen televisions than foster children!

I sense that Jewish youth are more idealistic than their parents in some ways.  Many youth are very idealistic about environmental issues, which is certainly a positive development.  Perhaps the pendulum will begin to swing back, and the next generation of Jewish Winnipeggers will be less materialistic than the current generation.  It remains to be seen.

Elliot Leven is a Winnipeg lawyer.

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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