WINNIPEG — Jewish immigrant merchants played a prominent role in the founding and economic development in the early days of Winkler and Morden in southwestern Manitoba, about an hour’s drive southwest of Winnipeg.
Now, more than 50 years since the last Jewish family left the area and more than 20 years since Milton Rabinovitch closed the last Jewish-owned business in Winkler, a wavelet of Israeli immigration is creating a new Jewish community in the economically booming region.
Within the past year, four Israeli families have settled in Winkler and one in Morden and more are on the way.
“Winkler now has the largest Jewish community in southwestern Manitoba,” joked Dima Elyason.
The Elyason family – Dima, his wife, Evgenya, 15-year-old Daniel and 11-year-old Alis – came from Sderot, the southern Israel community that has taken the brunt of missile fire from Gaza over the past few years.
“We are used to living in a smaller city,” said Dima Elyason, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine when was he 19 to go to school. “Winkler is nice. There is no rocket fire.
”We see Magen Davids on some of the buildings in Winkler that used to be Jewish-owned.”
Two of the other three Israeli families in Winkler, he says, come from Haifa the third from Jerusalem. The Israeli family in Morden is from Ramat Gan.
In Sderot, Dima Elyason was an assistant manager in a department store. Evgenya was a hospital lab technician.
The Elyasons and the other Israeli families came to Winkler and Morden over the past year through the auspices of immigration counsellor Adele Dyck and her company, Star 7.
“We didn’t recruit the Israeli families,” Dyck said. “They contact us and we just try to find a way to assist them in their desire to come to Manitoba. I have been in Israel a few times meeting the families that had contacted us and trying to understand why they would like to leave. I find their skills and willingness to learn amazing. Manitoba can only gain by welcoming these families in to our province.”
The Elyasons learned about Star 7 from Israeli friends who came to Canada four or five years ago. “We spoke to Star 7’s manager about our interest in coming to Canada,” Dima Elyason said. “She came to meet us in Jerusalem.”
Dima Elyason came to Winkler seven months ago. The rest of the family came in August. While Evgenya is looking forward to working in the district hospital (located between Winkler and Morden), the other Israelis are working for either Meridian Industries in Winkler or Décor Cabinets in Morden.
“We are getting a lot of help from the people here,” Elyason said. “Winkler is a religious city. The people are proud to have Israelis living here. A lot of people have told us that they think it is a miracle to have some of the Chosen People here. People have been very friendly.”
Daniel Elyason added that kids in school are very interested in what he tells them about life in Israel. He conceded that school has been a bit difficult, because his English isn’t that good yet.
He said he’d like eventually to study business in university and operate his own computer company one day.
Eleven-year-old Alis is already taking skating lessons.
Dima said the Israeli families always get together on Shabbat.
“We don’t want to lose our traditions or our language,” he said. “”Our children speak Hebrew among themselves.”
The Israeli families were looking forward to celebrating Chanukah together.
He said he and Evgenya have Israeli friends in Winnipeg and have visited the Asper Jewish Community Campus there a couple of times.
The family has also visited other areas of Manitoba and even has travelled as far afield as Banff.
“We would like to see Churchill one day,” Dima said.