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Harvey Cohen
photo by Kinneret Rifkind

Kim Benarroch
photo by Kinneret Rifkind

Martin Lockshin
photo by Kinneret Rifkind


by Harvey Cohen, March 24, 2011

Readers of the Winnipeg Jewish Review will be interested to  know that we have had an independent or partnership Minyan running for about the last 6 years. We have a group that meets about once a month to hold a modern orthodox service that maximizes the involvement of women.
Our group has ranged from 45 to 65 on average over the different seasons, with ages ranging from 1 to 92, and a pretty even balance of men and women. We’re a pretty diverse group with all manner of affiliations including no formal affiliation and diverse Jewish backgrounds. There was one time when we could count amongst the people in attendance more than 27 languages, since we are a mix of Canadian born, South American, Israeli, Moroccan, and others.

How did it all start? It all started with Shaul and Florence Wachsstock and Mike and Kim Benarroch who invited a group to come on a Friday night to the Wachsstocks home to daven kabbalat shabbat and learn together. When we were finished and delighted with the warmth of our davening and the accessibility of the learning, it occurred to several people at the same moment that the next time we gathered we should eat dinner together too. We moved to our home for the next time, because it was a bigger space, and we've been meeting here ever since. 
We modelled after Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem under Shaul and Florence's guidance. We try to take turns leading and push the participation of women within the halachic study and boundaries that the foudners of Shira Chadasha established through serious study before they began. So on Friday night when we gather, women sometimes lead Kabbalat Shabbat, Kiddush, or lead the learning One of our challenges is having enough women who are capable of leading services and interested in the traditional model. Men and women sit separately for davening.
We usually start by singing Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday with Carlebach music. Then someone leads the learning, and one of the men leads Maariv. Then while we sing Shalom Aleichem & Eshet Hayal, we set out the tables, and someone – man or woman leads the kiddush. We wash, make hamotzi, singing tunes while we wait for the bread to pass around. After a kosher home made dinner to which we all contribute with either food from a kosher kitchen or sharing a purchased item, we sing and bench birkat hamazon.
We take turns leading the davening and the learning, encouraging new leaders to come forward. This last Shabbat we also held a Shabbat morning service where a woman was gabbai, and women read Torah, came up for Aliyot, including the Haftarah, and led the various prayers for Israel, etc. Everyone has something special to contribute.
Rabbi Martin Lockshin, one of the founders of the Toronto Partnership Minyanim,  was our scholar in residence this last Shabbat. Dr. Lockshin also presented at Limmud Winnipeg on Sunday and spoke at the University of Manitoba on Monday. We had a wonderful weekend!
We  have new people join us all the time. If someone is interested in trying out a Friday evening with us, they are welcome to contact us at [email protected].

Editor’s note: On a personal note, I am pleased to share with readers that my family has participated in the partnership Minyan at the home of Faye Rosenberg Cohen and Harvey Cohen and it is truly a special experience, which I would recommend to anyone who may be interested.
I  also had the opportunity to meet Martin Lockshin, a Professor of Jewish Studies and Hebrew at York University, and a founder of the partnership Minyan in Toronto when he was in Winnipeg for Limmud. He said that he was “very impressed” with the partnership Minyan in Winnipeg. Lochshin, whose father was a Winnipegger, said that in Toronto, there are three partnership Minyan’s which each draw about 50 people. These partnership Minyans in Toronto began “about two years ago,” he noted.
He said he  was struck by the fact that he found that in Winnipeg’s partnership Minyan women felt very comfortable in participating, and reading form the Torah, possibly even more so than they in partnership Minyans in Toronto. Also, in Toronto, the Minyan is not held in a private home, but rather in “rented space” which is something that makes the partnership Minyan here so unique and remarkable. It gives people the opportunity to eat a meal together, and then socialize afterward, which Lockshin said he enjoyed.
We also spoke about the state of Jewish education in Toronto. “There are fewer jobs teaching in Jewish schools than there used to be,” Lockshin said. “Boutique [Jewish] schools are doing well,” but “very large day schools are having difficulty attracting the numbers that they used to,” particularly after “the financial crash.”
Laura Wiseman, the co-ordinator of the Jewish teacher education program was also at Limmud to recruit potential students who want to become Jewish Teachers. “Right now there are between 15-20 students in the program”, said Lockshin but we want “25-30.”  
At Limmud, Lockshin spoke to about 40 people on the topic “Beyond the Letter of the Law.”
He said, “I argued that.. ..Judaism recognizes the idea that aside from observing laws, there are ethical principals” and that there is a requirement ‘to be a mensch,’ and ‘compassionate,” in addition to fulfilling the letter of the law.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.