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Brent Schachter

Dina Granove

UPDATE ON MERGER TALKS BETWEEN SZ AND ETZ CHAYIM - Each congregation wants to maintain its own brand

by Rhonda Spivak, October 7, 2014








Lawyer Jack London, who is the facilitator for merger talks between Shaarey Zedek and Etz Chayim congregations told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that having acted as a facilitator three other times for mergers that have taken place over the years in the Jewish community, "There is always one key issue that must be solved in order for a merger to take place."




London said that in this case, "The issue is BRAND. Each congregation wants to maintain its own brand." 



As London explained that means that  both Shaarey Zedek and Etz chayim congregations want to maintain  their own brand of service,  and the desired result is  to ensure that each individual congregant would  feel equally at home in a new community shul  as he or she currently does.



In response, the WJR said, "You mean you are talking about two services in the community shul?"



London answered, "Yes"


The WJR asked , “You mean two services as the same time ?"


London answered, "That is an architectural issue."



The Winnipeg Jewish Review has learned from two reliable sources that the idea of Etz Chayim's congregation moving into the current Shaarey Zedek building and renovating it following a merger is not on the table--it is a non-starter as is the idea of Shaaarey Zedek moving to Etz Chayim's location.



Bob Freedman has been acting for both congregations to work on a proposal to the Asper campus Corporation for a new synagogue building on the campus site. Freedman said he is currently working with John Petersmeyer, the lead architect of the Campus who has also been retained by work on the building proposal. 




The WJR's conversation above with London took place  on Yom Kippur day  at Shaarey Zedek following the address made by Shaarey Zedek  President Bent Schachter on Kol Nidre Eve regarding a possible merger between the congregations, which was very similar to the address published by Schachter in the Rosh Hashanah edition of  the Shofar, the  synagogue's newsletter.





After noting that the Shaarey Zedek congregation "continues to shrink in size and we must be concerned about the future," Schachter wrote in the Shofar, "This is the reason we are engaged in detailed discussions with Congregation Etz Chayim regarding uniting.  We have defined the ritual and other issues that need to be sorted out and have found that there is a strong mutual base on which we might move forward.  We know that we need to revitalize our congregations, and we are working energetically to find a common way forward."




It is clear that Schachter in his message to SZ's congregation is hinting at two services when he wrote:



The Basic tenets and principles of a new combined congregation should include one membership, one administration, one Board, one standard for Kashrut, one catering experience, one cemetery community managing several cemeteries, one location (but engaging the north end community), and one constitution that enshrines the choice of  a traditional prayer experience and values, while at the same time, offering a more liberal religious experience.[emphasis added] There would be one Kohel with multiple rabbinic clergy to provide engagement, ritual, life cycle experiences and education. We would have one congregation that recognizes and respects diversity within One Community.



Schachter outlines the process that is to take place:


The two congregations hope to go forward with a united proposal for a community synagogue that could provide cost efficiency, new revenue opportunities, and a host of community synergies, including a broader, deeper and more comprehensive interaction within One Community.




None of this is certain to occur, but both board leaderships are working hard to make this vision a reality in time. We are currently looking at available dates to engage our congregants in a detailed update and an opportunity to have some conversation about Shaarey Zedek's future and future plans and the options we are contemplating."




Dina Granove, President of Etz Chayim in her Yom Kippur address spoke of the fact that there are three options, which her Board has entertained over the last two years.As she said,




"Option 1 - is to determine if we could, and if we should stay in our present location. Our beautiful building is in dire need of repair and enhancement…..



"Option 2 - moving Congregation Etz Chayim to a new or renovated site in the south end of Winnipeg…….



Option 3 - is to unite Congregation Etz Chayim with Congregation Shaarey Zedek, both of which are strong now, but suffer from the same future concerns and issues. By uniting our organizations into one new shul, we could consolidate in some areas and yet continue to offer multiple services - from Etz Chayim's traditional style to Shaarey Zedek's liberal style, to Junior Congregation, to a Family alternative service and with the potential to develop other expressions of spirituality. By pooling our resources we can strengthen our program to our current members, as well as, expand our program to reach out and attract some of the many Winnipeg Jews who are unaffiliated with synagogue life."




 A while ago the Asper Campus alerted all organizations that the plan was to re-develop the property on and around 139 Tuxedo, the white building that is now derelict behind the playing field of Gray Academy. The Winnipeg Jewish Review has learned from sources that when this 139 Tuxedo was in use, the Asper Campus received substantial rental income. Now that the white building is no longer in use, there have been discussions by  the  Asper Campus Board with respect to the option of putting revenue property on this site ( to make up for the loss of income.)



“A shul on the Campus site wouldn’t be close to any housing development, if there were one,“ said Freedman, but would be closer to the Asper Campus.




The Asper Campus Corporation, under the Presidency of Ben Cohen initially had asked to receive proposals for the development of the campus site on and around 139 Tuxedo by October 31.




The Winnipeg Jewish Review has learned that the Asper Campus Corporation was asked by both the Rady JCC and the Gray Academy, the two largest tenants of the Campus both of whom have with potential space needs in the future, to put the request for proposal on hold for a few months. They did this in order for the community to look at all the overall space needs that will be required in future. In other words, they want to ensure that the Asper Campus Corporation does not lease part of the campus site to others and find out after the fact that the Jewish community needed this space. As a result of the request by the Rady JCC and Gray Academy, the Asper Campus has agreed to extend the Request for Proposals regarding the remaining unused property on the campus site until February 2015.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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