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The grassroots and an opposition MLA did all the work, but Federation tries to hog the glory and flatter the government

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The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, led by CEO Elaine Goldstine and Public Relations director Adam Levy, failed to inform the community of any specific action they took to change government policy about the sale of religious articles (Photo: JFW)

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

As we 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 Tuxedo riding where Chabad, the Rady Jewish Community Center, and many Jewish families and businesses are located.

The depth of concern in the community was expressed by Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, leader of the AdasYeshurun Herzlia synagogue: “Quite sad that the government would put stumbling blocks on a two thousand year custom practiced by Jews around the world.”

Bennaroch then struck to the core of the issue for the Winnipeg community.

“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.”

The day after our story appeared – and while we continued what has become a 30 day fight to get press credentials so that the questions of the Jewish community can be posed at press conferences with Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin – an extension of Stay at Home restrictions to fight the pandemic was announced by them.

The extension of restrictions into January also 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.”

Although the announcement was made around 1.30 pm on Tuesday, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg did not break their silence on the entire controversy – which started the previous Friday morning – until just after 6 pm when the Facebook page announced:

“It was recently brought to our attention that due to the current public health orders, Chanukah candles are currently not available for purchase without using online ordering/curbside pickup in stores that would normally stock them on their shelves.” the post said, claiming “we have been in close contact with government representatives about this issue.”

Federation then attempted to take credit for the government announcement, ignoring the role of the grassroots outcry, and the letter sent by Dr. Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights, before sundown Friday.

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Those actions, taken while the official community leadership stumbled out of the gate, started substantial pressure on the health minister five days before the Federation said a word, and led to the restoration of Jewish religious liberties in Manitoba.

But, not according to Federation CEO Elaine Goldstine, who conveniently issued a community bulletin on the eve of Chanukah as we went to press.

“Last week, it came to my attention that community members were not able to find Chanukah candles on some store shelves. As some community members may not have the ability to order them through online means or curbside pickup, we approached government representatives about this issue.”

If Goldstine is to be believed, that means that unlike TheJ.ca and community members who swung into action with calls, emails, and discussions with store managers to address community concerns, Goldstine made no attempt to publicly quell the distress of the community.

In Federation’s version, she has not identified who in government was contacted and the nature of the discussions – nor what assurances she received that this type of regulatory overreach wouldn’t happen again. And it’s not like she hasn’t been asked – on Monday afternoon in preparation of our latest story we emailed Goldstine asking “what the Federation has done for the community thus far, such as which Ministers or health department officials were contacted, or stores spoken with, about his important matter.”

Her bulletin continued, “As a result, it was announced on Tuesday that their sale will be reinstated for off-the-shelf purchase, as well as online and curbside pickup, but not until Saturday.”

A keen-eyed reader drew to our attention the apparent self-serving timing of the Facebook post, which came less than an hour before their poorly advertised Annual General Meeting. There was no mention that the AGM was taking place an hour following the announcement.

Liberal MLA Dr. Jon Gerrard wrote a letter within hours of learning of the Chanukah candle sales ban, insisting the Pallister government designate religious articles as “essential items” under the Public Health Orders.

Federation officials have conveniently ignored Rabbi Altein’s experience that a government assurance from Stefanson can fall through the cracks, and the implications of that failure for the community. Numerous emails and messages to Goldstine and public relations director Adam Levy for this story went unanswered, as they have since September when TheJ.ca repeated a request for a sit-down interview with Federation president Joel Lazer.

Questions now loom for Lazer as readers wonder how the Manitoba government could have banned a “religious necessity” without consultation with his Federation, which claims to ably represent the Jewish community of Manitoba in government relations.

While the Federation seemingly lacks any interest in learning who exactly ordered menorahs be banned from open sale, some of their donors who were in touch with TheJ.ca feel quite the opposite. They are demanding accountability for the original government decision, and for Federation’s silence for five days, as our community, which was already on edge because of COVID deaths among our seniors, and the inability to hold congregations, felt threatened by a government edict.

In this year’s Miracle of Chanukah, it appears that modern-day Macabbees like Rabbi Altein, who had the foresight to reach out to the government ahead of time, took action to protect the Jewish community, while the self-proclaimed leadership sat silently for days while claiming to take actions they needed to keep secret.

The refusal by Federation staff to answer media inquiries leaves many unresolved questions as to the Federation’s true leadership role, if any, in the Pallister government policy decision to relax restrictions on Chanukah.

As one former donor told us, “the Federation’s sole role is to raise funds to distribute to their beneficiary agencies. They are not community leaders; they are community fund raisers.”

Ron East is an educator, community leader and public speaker. He’s spent a decade teaching in the Jewish and public school systems and spent a significant amount of time in various leadership roles in the not-for-profit sector including Executive Director of Football Manitoba and the Manitoba chapter of CFHU. Ron has published numerous newsletters, award winning magazines and online publications and is currently the Publishing Director of TheJ.Ca.

 
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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!

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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