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by Rhonda J. Prepes October 10, 2013

The Winnipeg Jewish Review received the following statement from Etz Chayim re: possible merger with Shaarey Zedek:

Due to the aging demographic issues that are becoming more significant and common across North America,  Congregation Etz Chayim is in the process of developing a future plan for the continuity and vibrancy of our Shul.  It is our understanding that Shaarey Zedek is going through a similar process.

One of the options we are investigating as part of this process is to determine the feasibility of a partnership/amalgamation with Shaarey Zedek.  It is also just one of the options that SZ is investigating as well.

This investigation involves looking into what areas the two congregations might have in common, what areas would need bridging and in essence what a combined congregation might look like.

We want to make it very clear that neither party has made a commitment to amalgamate.  At this very preliminary stage it is an investigation not a negotiation.  

Upon completion of this investigation, We will be reporting back to our membership the findings of this and the other options that are part of this future planning process.


Jonathan Buchwald
Executive Director
Congregation Etz Chayim

Following the statement, the Winnipeg Jewish Review spoke with Jonathan Buchwald, Executive Director of Congregation Etz Chayim  on October 8 to examine the  options Etz Chayim is facing regarding its future.

“Both synagogues are undertaking, for their own planning purposes, and strategic planning, and to protect their futures … a process of what the next steps are in order to engage more Jews and unaffiliated and get them connected to synagogue. The process considers a number of alternatives looking to having a scenario where both congregations join forces is one possibility… but at this point, it is investigative it’s not a negotiation,” Buchwald said

In the Sept. – Nov. 2013 Etz Chayim bulletin, in the president’s message, Dina Granove, Board President said, “The Future Planning Committee has been extremely busy. The results of the survey (of our members), conducted last November, showed no strong direction for the future regarding the location and make-up of our shul. At the time of the survey, 53% of the membership lived south. Relocating (the synagogue) to the south end was supported strongly by 54% of the respondents. An amalgamation (between Etz Chayim and Shaarey Zedek) was supported by 46%. As a result the committee’s mandate is to prepare three options for consideration for the future.

  1. Staying in our present location and fixing up our building.
  2. Finding a proper location in the south end of Winnipeg and renovating or building a suitable facility for our Congregation Etz Chayim (CEC) family.
  3. Forming a new combined congregation of Conservative Judaism with Congregation Etz Chayim and Congregation Shaarey Zedek members joining together.

The WJR asked Jonathan Buchwald, Executive Director Congregation Etz Chayim, to expand on the information given in Granove’s statement.

Buchwald said, “The members were surveyed about what they envisioned for the future in terms location, staying as a single congregation or joining forces with a like-minded congregation, etc. The results were not overwhelming conclusive. So the Future Planning Committee was then tasked with looking at various alternatives” as Granove mentioned in the President’s message.

“The fact is that, (we) along with the Shaarey Zedek are looking at the future, looking at the future of Conservative Judaism realizing what the demographics are showing, and deciding what we are going to do. One option is to see if joining forces with the other conservative synagogue is feasible.”

“In our own future planning, we are looking at two other options. One is to stay in our present location and do some major renovations to our 60 year old building. Another option is looking at another location in the city, most likely in the south end, to find a facility to house our congregation on our own. The last option is to do nothing, but in this case doing nothing is not really an option.”

Buchwald told the WJR that membership is currently at 540 family units at Etz Chayim with an older age demographic. 64% of members are in the 60+ age range. Of those, 41% were 70+ and 17% were 80+. 47% of members live north and are generally older. 53% of members live south and they are the majority of younger families. About 150 people attend Saturday morning services on a non-simcha day. And Etz Chayim has about 10-15 Bar/Bat Mitzvahs a year although it varies from year-to-year.

Buchwald says, “Membership is stable. People that leave the synagogue for one reason or another (other than death) are offset by those that are joining the synagogue. What we aren’t replacing are those people who are passing away (approximately 25 members per year).”

In regards to moving south on their own, WJR asked Buchwald whether Etz Chayim has looked at land in the south end yet. Buchwald answered, “I can’t answer at this point because we have not reported to the congregation the findings yet. This is going to happen at some point. I imagine there will be some discussion at the Annual General Meeting (October 29, 2013 at 7 p.m.) .… a progress report as to what the FPC is moving along with some of their findings. But before the congregation is (made) aware, I can’t provide the details of what the FPC investigation is until our membership has been informed.” 

“(Our goal) is to strengthen the internal core and heart of the shul and to provide programming and services that the community needs regardless of where it is located.”

“We would try to grow the membership from the unaffiliated. We are not looking to attract members from anyone who is currently going to another synagogue.”


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