November 26, 2010
Connecting vibrant leaders
Sandra Finkelstein and Einat Menashe are so passionate about making a difference in the Winnipeg Jewish community that they have formed JPEG, a group dedicated to creating social programs for young adults, aged 25 to 35. The first JPEG event, Fall into Shabbat, was a dinner for 50 that took place at the end of October and was hosted by the Whyteridge Community Centre.
Speaker for the evening was Michael Soberman, who serves as director of national next-generation initiatives for UIA Federations Canada. From Soberman’s perspective, young adults are “uniquely placed to be the builders of the future Jewish community. And, if they see the value, they’ll build a vibrant community that’s relevant to them and their peers,” he told participants.
Soberman said his top message to young adults is, “Don’t be bystanders in building in Jewish community – get involved and help to shape a community that speaks to you and that you’ll want to be part of.”
Event co-chair Finkelstein said, “Like Michael says, young adults will be willing to be part of a Jewish community built with their own hands. Times are different now. We don’t practise like people used to. If we want a vibrant Jewish community, we must change it to fit modern times. Jewish values don’t change, but the way they’re expressed does.”
Soberman, who is educated as a lawyer and teacher, works within the Jewish community, where he feels he can directly make a difference. He has traveled to every continent, working in fundraising, community development and informal Jewish education.
In his travels, Soberman said, “I’ve always made a point of connecting with Jewish communities. Certainly my solitary Shabbat in Antarctica was a highlight, but also Havdalah in Morroco and in Mumbai were both memorable and taught me important themes that underline why it’s so gratifying to be part of the Jewish community.”
At Fall into Shabbat, Soberman discussed the challenges of being Jewish today. “This group has so many choices, and they’ll only choose Jewish if they see the value in being a part of the community.”
Committee co-chairs Menashe and Finkelstein are self-described “best friends.” Last year, the duo enrolled in Club Fed, a JPEG leadership development course. When they learned that the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg was interested in supporting new community initiatives, Menashe said, “We thought it would be nice to have more social events for Jewish people in our age group ... and [we were] inspired to organize a Shabbat dinner.”
The first dinner they organized was held at Finkelstein’s house and drew 30-plus people. This led to the forming of their new group, JEW-ish, which was later re-named JPEG.
Menashe is a second-year University of Manitoba student. Originally from Israel, she moved to Canada five years ago and then, last September, she moved to Winnipeg to study environmental design.
“We originally chose the name JEW-ish for our group to emphasize including all kinds of Jewish Winnipeggers in coming out to social events,” said Menashe. “We just want Jews to come together, closer to the community, and have fun.”
Finkelstein is originally from Argentina. She lived in Israel for six years before coming to Winnipeg. In Israel, she joined the Israel Defence Forces, completing her two-year service. During this time, her parents and brothers moved to Winnipeg, where she later joined them.
A recent University of Winnipeg graduate, Finkelstein did a double major in criminal justice and psychology, and is next planning to do a master’s in psychology. Aside from her work with JPEG, Finkelstein is volunteering with a synagogue, the Winnipeg police service and Klinic Community Health Centre.
Fall into Shabbat “connected Jews in our age group,” said Menashe. “I feel like these young people are my extended family. When I came to Winnipeg, I wished there were more events for people my age, and I think others feel the same.”
Of Soberman, Finkelstein said, “I love how he takes everyday events and connects them to Jewish life. Many people don’t realize how many Jewish values we use in everyday life, and it’s really nice to have someone remind us that in every single thing we do, there’s something Jewish-related.”
Looking ahead, Menashe said, “I hope that, together, we’ll define the future of our Jewish community, as soon we’ll be in charge of keeping it alive.” Finkelstein added, “We want everyone to be part of this. It’s our community and we have to build it.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.