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Faye Rosenberg-Cohen, Planning Director of Jewish Federation of Winnipeg



by Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng., April 4, 2011

Faye Rosenberg Cohen, Planning Director of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, raised this complex question in her discussion session at Limmud Winnipeg on March 13, 2011. And it deserves more consideration than the one hour permitted that day.

With trends showing decreasing connectedness to Jewish community institutions; and increasing rates of intermarriage and assimilation, what will keep the Winnipeg Jewish community vibrant ten or twenty years from now?

The changing trends in our community precipitated the need to proactively meet these challenges in order  to provide a dynamic environment for the Winnipeg Jewish community to thrive in the future.

In 2007 the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg undertook a review of community needs through extensive consultations to give direction to future initiatives. Feedback was gathered from the community and from organizations on the priorities in the community.  (See Jewish Federation of Winnipeg Strategic Review Report at )

Through these consultations the Federation concluded that the key to adaption for the Jewish community of Winnipeg will be the ability to work together to meet the goal of connecting the vast majority of Jews with Jewish life, including our most vulnerable.

Recommendations for the future direction of our community to ensure a vibrant connected Winnipeg Jewish community for now and for the future were based on the belief that collaboration is central to success.

Collaboration means a “partnership among organizations” to initiate inclusive, creative programs that will engage our community members.

Jewish society worldwide and in Winnipeg is quite different than it was a generation ago.
- There is a shift in Jewish communities in North America away from institutional membership and towards individual expressions of spirituality.
- Interest in large institutional congregations wanes as grassroots Judaism grows.
- Affordability is becoming a determinant of Jewish involvement.
- About 16,000 Jews live in Winnipeg of whom 13,000 identify Judaism as their religion.
- 3500 immigrants have arrived in our community since 2001, with approximately 85% retention.
- The intermarriage rate in 2001 was 62.5% for adults less than 30 years of age.
- Less than 50% of elementary school age children receive some sort of Jewish education. The number drops to less than 20% for high school age children.
- There are more than 3,000 30-45 year olds and even a greater number in the next youngest age group. Young adults of child bearing age are a significant group.
- 12.4% of Winnipeg Jews live below the poverty line.
- 40% of Winnipeg Jews are in households in the middle income range.
- Winnipeg has 10 synagogues, 3 or 4 which have full or part time rabbis with about 5,000 participants for the High Holidays.

The review put forward 7 strategic priorities:
1. The Youth Initiative – Critical to a vibrant Jewish community of the future are young people actively involved in the Jewish community and planning to stay in Winnipeg.
2. Jewish Engagement – Provide innovative gateways for Jews to connect.
3. Jewish Education – Provide ways for Jews to deepen their Jewish commitment in a variety of expressions of Judaism.
4. Communications – Use marketing and communication strategies to create community connection. Provide lots of ways to communicate everyone’s programs to everyone in the community.
5. Poverty Reduction – Raise awareness and foster inclusion for those of differing economic circumstances.
6. Population Growth – Improve the demographics through immigration.
7. The Federation – Fulfill the needs of the community for the future.

If we want to be sure that we are a Jewish community in the future, rather than a group of Jews living in Winnipeg, a renewed commitment to strengthening and celebrating Jewish identity is required. The bottom line is to connect more Jews to more of Jewish life with priorities on engaging youth and families and caring for our most vulnerable. Programs need to be inclusive, accessible, and affordable to be capable of strengthening Jewish identity through Jewish practice, traditions, culture, music, Israel and spiritually.

Without a connection to Jewish roots, there can be no connection to Jewish community. One who does not feel proud of their Jewish heritage or attracted to Jewish culture or tradition is unlikely to be attracted to fundraising for or participating in Jewish community organizations. It is critical to our community’s future that each individual be empowered to connect with that part of Jewish life that strengthens them.

The Federation’s role is to nurture community partnerships, encourage collaboration, and support new programs. Understanding that the world has changed and that the Federation has a role in furthering the adaption of our community to new realities, what are we hoping the community will look like in the future?

VIBRANT – throbbing with life and activity, lively, growing and diverse
CONNECTED – joined to one another, to the organized Jewish community and to Israel
JEWISH – accepting of our rich cultural and religious diversity, inclusive of all streams of Judaism
COMMUNITY – unwavering in our support for the State of Israel and in our commitment to care for each other

In a follow-up document the Jewish Engagement Strategy, June 2010 (not on Jewish Federation website yet), it is suggested that a centre for Jewish Engagement be established - a virtual centre with skilled staff and definite purpose but no walls. It is inherently a source for collaboration and innovation, a focal point for communities of practice in connecting more Jews to more of Jewish life. With a goal of bringing more Jewish life to the community, the Jewish Engagement staff of Federation now works with other organizations, agencies, synagogues, Israel based organizations and community groups.

Synagogues are key partners and collaborators in these initiatives and are also venues for programs. The Rady Jewish Community Centre is a key partner in outreach programming and broad based Jewish adult education. The Gray Academy of Jewish Education is now developing its mandate in Jewish education beyond day school and planning to reach out to the parent body and beyond. Jewish Child and Family Service reaches out to the most vulnerable in our community and facilitates access to Jewish life for clients of all ages and family types. For each program, partners will be identified to extend the reach of the Jewish Engagement Strategy and the partners into the Jewish community.

There have already been many successful collaborative programs offered in Winnipeg:
- Teen Shabbat dinners and joint programs with synagogue youth and Machon Madrichim “Together Under One Roof”
- Shabbat Across Winnipeg - Events were held throughout the city at venues with every religious affiliation from secular humanist groups, to Reform, to conservative, to orthodox and Chabad, taking part. The events were also open to all different age groups. Some were for senior citizens, some for young adults and some for families. There were over 500 participants in Shabbat dinners at 8 venues.
- Bring a Friend to Shul Shabbat – The fourth one will take place on April 16, 2011
- PJ Library Jewish Bedtime Stories & Songs for Families - The PJ Library program supports families in their Jewish journey by sending Jewish-content books and music to children 6 months to 6 years. Subscribe at
- PJ Library “book clubs” are reading Jewish books to Jewish children in public book stores like Chapters as well as in the Jewish community’s Kaufman Silverberg Library along with other PJ Library programs for families with young children.
- Pesach in the Matzah Aisle – a public space program to make contact with less connected Jews who are shopping for Matzah on April 10 and April 17 this year
- Machon Madrichim – a two-year Jewish leadership development program that develops leadership skills, enabling teens (15-17) to plan and deliver youth activities
- Jewish in the coffee shop – Latte and Learning at Starbuck’s, conversations about Israel, and more Jewish conversation in casual, public settings with time to socialize give teens time to meet and schmooze with other Jewish teens, in partnership with NCSY.
- The Florence Melton Adult Mini-School – enrolling adults in an intensive two-year Jewish studies program
- Limmud – a festival of Jewish learning driven by volunteers with a philosophy that every Jew is a learner and anyone can be a teacher attracted 350 participants at Winnipeg’s first conference this year. See
- Yom Ha’atzmaut Celebration – Engaging community organizations and volunteers in planning annual community wide celebrations. This event attracted 1700 people last year. This year’s party is expected to be bigger and better on May 10, 2011.
- The Israeli Artist Series offered by the Rady JCC
- Grow Winnipeg Immigration Strategy - continues to promote immigration to Winnipeg and develop new sources in South Florida, South America and South Africa

For more information on Jewish engagement programs contact the Jewish Engagement Co-ordinator, Avi Posen at [email protected]

As Faye Rosenberg Cohen said when she concluded her Limmud session, “We must build on the connectivity that already exists. We need people to take ownership of their history and of their future. It’s time for a whole new set of people to launch a whole bunch of new Jewish programs, activities and traditions. This is an opportunity. It’s a very bright future.” 

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