views updated May 08 2018


WINNIPEG , capital of Manitoba, Canada, the province's largest city and the center of Jewish life in the province. In 2001 Winnipeg's 14,765 Jews constituted only 2.2 percent of the city's population of 661,730. However, they also constituted fully 97 percent of all Jews in Manitoba. In 1881 there were only 23 Jews in Winnipeg. That number grew to 1,164 in 1901 and reached a high of 19,376 in 1961 before beginning a gradual decennial decline to less than 15,000 in 2001. Winnipeg has also dropped in size from third to eighth place among Canadian cities, while the city's Jewish population dropped from third to fourth place among Canadian Jewish communities behind Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Jewish congregational life began early in Winnipeg's history. In 1883, after the first influx of Jews from Russia, an attempt was made to establish a single congregation in Winnipeg, but disagreements between the earlier Jewish residents and recently arrived and more Orthodox immigrants prevented agreement. In 1887 a Manitoba Free Press church survey found "three congregations of the Hebrew faith" but no synagogue building and suggested that if united, "the Hebrews would form a congregation of respectable numbers, and … soon possess a building creditable to themselves and to the city." In 1889 unity was achieved and Shaarey Zedek, the first synagogue, was founded, but a group favoring a "sefardishe minhag" soon started the Rosh Pina synagogue.

In the 1960s Winnipeg had 12 synagogues plus the Chesed Shel Emes funeral home. The two largest congregations, Shaarey Zedek in the city's south end and Rosh Pina in the north end, were Conservative; the others were Orthodox and all but one in the north end, where most Jews then lived. In 1965 the Reform Temple Shalom was opened in the south end, and in 1976 a new conservative synagogue, Beth Israel, opened in the north. By the end of the century the majority of Winnipeg Jews had moved from the north end to the south end. Declining membership forced a merger of the three largest north end congregations: Rosh Pina, B'nai Abraham, and Beth Israel, to form Etz Chayim on the premises of Rosh Pina. In 2005 Winnipeg had nine synagogues, six in the north end, including a Lubavitch Center with north and south end branches.

In 1883, Beth El religious school opened, teaching Bible and Jewish history in English to 50 students; a year later Russian newcomers opened a ḥeder, with 12 students instructed in Yiddish. In 1902 a King Edward Talmud Torah, named for the new British monarch, opened next to the synagogue. The B'nai Zion Congregational Hebrew School opened in 1906. Five years later the two schools united with 250 students, and in 1913 a new Talmud Torah building was opened, doubling as a Jewish community center.

Secular Jewish life also flourished in Winnipeg. In 1914 Labor Zionists and Socialists opened the Yiddish Radical School, renamed after I.L. Peretz in 1915. By 1921 the more radical Arbeiter Ring Yiddish school was established, and at one point Winnipeg had five Yiddish secular schools. In 1919 the Peretz School Muter Farein opened the first kindergarten in the city and a year later started a Jewish day school, possibly the first of its kind in North America. By 1963 the I.L. Peretz Folk School was the only remaining Yiddish secular school and in 1983 it merged with the Talmud Torah, which by then had north and south branches, and also operated the Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. In 1997 the Talmud Torah north and south branches were closed and Jewish education in Winnipeg became consolidated in the Gray Academy at the Asper Jewish Community Campus, opened that year in the south end on the bank of the Assiniboine River. The Herzliah Congregation operates Ohr Hatorah, an Orthodox elementary day school.

There has also been a longstanding Jewish presence on campus. In 1915, a Menorah Society was formed at Winnipeg's University of Manitoba. It sponsored varied Jewish campus activities, including annual Jewish theater productions such as an English-language version of Shalom Aleichem's It's Hard to Be a Jew. In response to accusations that the university maintained quotas on Jewish and other minority enrollment in the Medical School, in 1943 the Avukah Zionist Society undertook to investigate. By the end of 1944 they succeeded in exposing the quota system and forced an end to the system. During World War ii, Hillel organized on campus and helped initiate Jewish studies courses in 1950–51. By 1964 the University of Manitoba established the first Judaic Studies Department in Canada, headed by Rabbi Zalman Schachter, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement. In 1989 the department was disbanded, just as Jewish Studies departments were growing in other Canadian universities.

Winnipeg's Jewish community has been characterized by vibrant organizational life. By 1900 *landsmannshaften and benevolent societies were growing, and the Winnipeg Zionist Society had 100 members. In 1909 B'nai B'rith was established and United Hebrew Charities was organized. Concern that United Hebrew Charities was controlled by Jews in the city's south end led to formation of the North End Relief Society, but the two groups joined forces in 1914. That year Winnipeg and the farm settlement in Lipton, Saskatchewan, became the first two communities in Canada to collect funds for Jewish war relief. In 1915 the Western Jewish Fund for the Relief of War Sufferers was established, and in 1916 Winnipeg hosted a conference of 18 western centers that called for the establishment of a Canadian Jewish Congress. A year later Winnipeg hosted the 15th national convention of the Canadian Zionist Federation, and in 1919 a delegation of 20 Winnipeg Jews participated in Montreal meetings organizing the Canadian Jewish Congress.

By 1920 Winnipeg had a Jewish Orphanage and Children's Aid Society, an Old Folks Home, a ymha Center, and a Jewish Immigrant Aid Society and, by the mid-1920s, the Orphanage, the Old Folks Home, and Hebrew Relief became beneficiaries of centralized fundraising by the Federated Budget Board, and in 1938 a Jewish Welfare Fund was established to raise funds for Jewish schools and social agencies. In the 1950s a new ymha Community Center was built which housed the Welfare Fund, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Zionist Organization regional offices. In the 1960s, the Winnipeg Congress Council had representatives of every local Jewish organization, and Congress Western Region Council had members in Beausejour, Brandon, Dauphin, and Portage la Prairie. The Welfare Fund, Congress and the Zionist organization jointly ran the Combined Jewish Appeal for local, national, Israeli, and overseas agencies. During the 1967 Six-Day War crisis, Winnipeg played an exemplary role in the national Israeli Emergency Campaign.

In 1973 the Welfare Fund and the cj Congress office merged to form the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council – later the Jewish Federation/Combined Jewish Appeal. In 1997 the Asper Jewish Community Campus was opened in three remodeled Winnipeg heritage buildings on the south bank of the Assiniboine River. The campus houses the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, the Rady Community Centre, successor to the ymha; the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, including the Jewish Historical Society and Archives, the Marion and Ed Vickar Jewish Musem and the Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre; the Kaufman-Silverberg Library, the Berney Theatre and offices of Federation / cja, Jewish Foundation of Manitoba (founded 1964), Jewish Child and Family Services, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, B'nai B'rith, and Winnipeg Zionist Initiative. Winnipeg North has a thriving Gwen Secter Senior Centre sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women and a Na'amat Hall (Pioneer Women), which is also used by United Jewish Peoples Order for public forums and a Yiddish Mameloshen group. The Sholem Aleichem Community runs a Sunday school and sponsors secular holiday events.

Concerned with the gradual decline in Winnipeg's Jewish population, in the late 1990s the Jewish Federation started "Grow Winnipeg," a program of outreach to Jews, especially in Latin America. By 2005 this program had brought 168 South American Jewish families to Winnipeg, comprising 482 individuals. The total number of new arrivals was 564 families, comprising nearly 1,500 individuals, including people from Argentina, Russia, and Israel. These newcomers receive special community services and their presence is reflected in the publication of columns in Russian and Spanish, as well as Hebrew and Yiddish, in the Jewish Post and News. For most of the 20th century Winnipeg was served by three Jewish papers, the Yiddish-language Israelite Press (Yiddishe Vort) founded in 1917, which became bilingual before it ceased publication in 1981, and the English language Jewish Post founded in 1925 and Western Jewish News founded a year later. The two English language papers merged in 1987.

Very conscious of its history, the Winnipeg Jewish community has been a leader in archival and museum preservation and in celebrating community history. The local Archives Committee was instrumental in organizing both the Canadian Jewish Congress Archives Committee and the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada. In 1972 the Jewish Historical Society mounted an exhibit entitled "Journey Into Our Heritage," exploring the history of the Jews of Western Canada. It ran for six months at the Manitoba Museum, toured Canada, and was exhibited at the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv.

Jews in Winnipeg have also made a prominent contribution to the larger community. Perhaps nowhere is this more true that in the legal system. Samuel *Freedman was the first Jew named to the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench (qb) and later to the Court of Appeal, serving as Manitoba Chief Justice in 1971–83; Israel Nitikman was appointed a judge to the Court of the QB in 1962. In 1967 Roy Matas was appointed a judge to that court and was elevated six years later to the Court of Appeal. In 2005 the Manitoba Court of Appeal had three Jewish judges, the Court of Queen's Bench had seven Jewish judges out of 40, and there were also seven Jews on the Provincial Court.


A. Chiel, The Jews in Manitoba: A Social History (1961).

[Abraham Arnold (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 29 2018

Winnipeg Capital of Manitoba, Canada, at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers, in the s of the province. Founded (1812) by the Hudson's Bay Company, the town came under the control of the Canadian government in 1870. It grew after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (1882), and is now the major city of the Canadian prairies. It has one of the world's largest wheat markets and vast flour mills, grain elevators and food-processing plants. Pop. (2001) 626,685.