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No explanation why the Deputy Premier’s assurance to Chabad Rabbi was disregarded by inspectors

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The Manitoba government reversed course this week, restoring Chanukah candles and Menorahs to the approved list for the in-store sales. Seemingly, no one knew Menorahs had been banned – or by whom. (Photo: JFW Facebook)

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The day after TheJ.ca reported about the Pallister government ordering Manitoba retailers to remove Chanukah candles from in-store sales shelves, the Premier himself took part in a press conference to announce the ban was reversed, without actually mentioning the candles.

As detailed in our breaking news story on Monday, Chanukah Candles Grinched By Manitoba COVID Health Order Enforcers, on Dec. 4 Jewish shoppers at major chains discovered that “COVID Inspectors” enforcing Public Health Orders had forced the removal of the candles from open sale.

We had exclusively reported, this ban occurred despite the assurances of Deputy Premier Heather Stefanson. She had told Rabbi Avrohom Altein, Executive Director of the Chabad-Lubavitch in Winnipeg, that the candles would be designated an essential item. Stefanson is MLA for the Chabad headquarters location, as well as the Asper Jewish campus where the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg resides.

On December 8 Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin presented an extension of Stay at Home restrictions to fight the pandemic, and presented a notable adjustment: 

A seasonal change to the order will also be included to allow for the sale of holiday decorations such as garlands and ornaments, and religious items like menorahs and candles.”

Rabbi Altein told TheJ.ca he was relieved Chanukah candles would once again become readily available, but was also surprised that Dr. Roussin had in effect admitted that menorahs had also been snared in the prohibition.

“I did not speak (to Stefanson) about menorahs because I didn’t think about it at the time. They needed the Jewish community to explain to them the importance and centrality to Chanukah of lighting candles. I am grateful the government responded.”

Within two hours of learning of the ban at the outset of the controversy, Dr. Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights, wrote a direct plea to Dr. Roussin and Cameron Friesen, Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living. In a letter entitled “Chanukah candles are essential items to Winnipeg’s Jewish Community”, he said:

“We have learned that both Sobey’s and Superstore have been ordered to pull Chanukah candles for in-person sale as of yesterday, as they have been declared “non-essential” according to store staff due to current retail restrictions.  People are quite upset and insulted as this directly impacts their right to practice their religious traditions.”

Gerrard continued to lay out the case on behalf of the Jews of Winnipeg:  “The use of these styles of candles is a mandatory commandment – essential – for Jews to fulfill the obligations of the Chanukah holiday for 8 nights during their holiday which begins on Thursday December 10th… Not every Jewish Manitoban, especially seniors, has access to the internet, a credit card or a vehicle, so curbside pick-up would still limit access to this religious article for many Jews.”

Gerrard has represented the constituency, which has about a 9% Jewish population, since 1999. He urged Dr. Roussin and Minister Freisen to “please announce immediately to retailers that they are not forbidden to sell articles that are of religious significance to Manitobans, such as Chanukah Candles.”

James Tietsma, PC MLA for Radisson, was provided a link to our story and asked to look into it, and he responded with support for the Jewish community. “I agree that Chanukah candles should be available for sale – this sounds like an issue with inconsistent enforcement.”

Tietsma, considered a good friend to the Jewish community and himself a devout Christian, seemed unaware that his own government had banned the open sale of religiously significant items (although inadvertently, he was correct about enforcement, as some stores were never stopped by COVID Inspectors from selling Chanukah candles).

TheJ.ca did not receive a response from Minister Stefanson to our messages and emails before the deadline.

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Prior to the policy change, Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia congregation had sharp words for the attempt by bureaucrats to stifle Jewish observance.

“Thanks for this Marty. I am currently in Israel so not up to date on this issue. Quite sad that the government would put stumbling blocks on a two thousand year custom practiced by Jews around the world. The lighting of Chanukah candles is harmless and so very significant for the Jewish people. This is a huge invasion of our religious rights with absolutely no scientific proof that it could increase Covid.”

“But we Jews have survived much worse. Every store in Winnipeg under government instructions can ban the sale of Chanukah candles. But trust me Jews will light.”

The modern Orthodox Rabbi told TheJ.ca, before the ban was reversed, “I suggest that every Jew in Winnipeg buy tea candles and use them to light the Chanukah lights. Let’s bring a little light to counter this dark decision.”

As any Bar Mitzvah boy knows, it’s one thing to substitute for Chanukah candles as Rabbi Benarroch suggests. It’s a lot less easy to substitute for the menorah which holds the burning candles.

A Progressive Conservative MLA, James Tietsma, disagreed with his government’s policy forbidding in-store sale of Chanukah candles.

Rabbi Anibal Mass of the Congregation Shaarey Zedek synagogue told Thej.ca, I am happy to know that people are voicing their concerns.” But he shared Benarroch’s guarded view of how this restriction on Jewish liberties in Manitoba was approved:

“The inconsistency by allowing the sale of items related to other faiths and upcoming celebrations but not Candles for the lighting of the Chanukiah is distressing and brings to question the rationale behind the decision. It is my understanding that today the government officially reversed the decision and candles will be available for purchase in-store so we can all feel mutual respect as we try to find a way to celebrate our respective holidays and stay safe.”

The only Rabbi reached by TheJ.ca who declined comment was Rabbi Kliel Rose of the conservative Congregation Eitz Chaim, who responded prior to the edict being reversed: “Thanks for reaching out to me. With all due respect I’m going to pass on your invitation at this time.”

Rabbi Kliel is a board member of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, which suddenly emerged Tuesday evening on Facebook with their own version of events that some community members found just a little too convenient and suspiciously timed. 

Marty Gold is the Editor-in -Chief of TheJ.ca. Known for investigative reporting, he has specialized in covering municipal and provincial politics, and a wide range of sports and entertainment, in newspapers, magazines, online, and on his first love, radio. His business and consulting experience includes live events and sales, workplace safety, documentary productions, PR, and telecommunications in Vancouver, Los Angeles and across Canada, and as a contestant on CBC-TV Dragons Den.

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We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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