On July 1, lifelong Winnipegger Allan Finkel will assume his new role as the spiritual leader of Temple Shalom, the community’s 50-year-old Reform congregation. With Rabbi Finkel, who will be ordained on June 21, at the helm, the city’s four major shuls will all have rabbis with strong Winnipeg roots.
Finkel is replacing Rabbi Bill Tepper, who has served as the congregation’s part-time rabbi, flying in from Toronto, where he is a teacher at Holy Blossom, twice a month since 2016.
Winnipeg’s three other major congregations – the Orthodox Adas Yeshuru Herzlia and the Conservative Shaarey Zedek and Etz Chayim – have home-grown rabbis, as well. Chabad also has a rabbi from Winnipeg, while the remaining smaller congregations don’t have their own rabbis.
“I have received a wonderful welcome from my rabbinical colleagues in the community,” says the 64-year-old Rabbi Finkel. “We don’t feel a sense of competition. It is a positive feature that we all grew up here and have a sense of the rhythms of the community.”
Rabbi Finkel studied with Rabbi Steven Blane at the Jewish Spiritual Learning Institute in New York. The Winnipeg-born son of Holocaust survivors has worked as a lawyer and in the non-profit sector. For the past 21 years, he has served as an appeals commissioner for the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba.
He also has an extensive record of involvement in the Jewish community.
Originally from a traditional, Orthodox-leaning background, he began attending services at Temple Shalom in 1990 and became more involved with the synagogue over the years. “Our cantor, Len Udow, began encouraging me to consider becoming a rabbi over a year ago,” Finkel says. “My family also supported the idea.”
He points out that Rabbi Blane’s program concentrates on the practical aspects of being a rabbi. “Those of us who took the course already have a strong Judaic education,” he says. “Many people apply, but very few are accepted.”
Over the years, Temple Shalom’s membership has held steady at about 100 families. “Our community’s roots are largely in eastern Europe,” he points out.
“This is reflected in a more conservative outlook. On the other hand, there are a growing number of unaffiliated Jews in Winnipeg. I think there is a great opportunity to grow our congregation.”
The trend of hiring homegrown rabbis started around four years ago, when the Adas Yeshurun congregation hired Rabbi Yossi Benarroch, the son of the late Shlomo Benarroch, who worked for many years as a local mohel and shochet. Originally from Tangiers, the Benarroch family came to Winnipeg when Yossi and his twin brother Yamin, who works as a rabbi in Montreal, were very young.
Rabbi Benarroch is a graduate of the University of Manitoba, Touro College and Mercaz Harav Yesas. He was ordained as a rabbi at Jerusalem’s Machon Harry Fischel. He served for many years as a congregational rabbi in Vancouver, before he and his family made aliyah. He currently divides his time between Jerusalem, where he works at the Midreshet Eshel Seminary for Sephardic Women in Jerusalem, and Winnipeg, where some of his family still lives.
Last fall, Congregation Etz Chayim hired Rabbi Kliel Rose, the third son of Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose, who were fixtures of the community for many years, prior to their move to St. Louis two years ago.
For years, Neal Rose was a professor of Judaic studies at the University of Manitoba. He also served as the spiritual leader of the Rosh Pina, which merged with some other synagogues to form Etz Chayim, as well as at congregations in Miami Beach, Fla., Nashville and, most recently, Edmonton.
When the Shaarey Zedek’s longtime Rabbi Alan Green announced his intention to retire in 2017, the congregation looked internally for a replacement. The synagogue’s two cantors, Anibal Mass and Matthew Leibl, were enrolled in Rabbi Blane’s yearlong program.
Rabbi Mass is originally from Argentina and had been a cantor at the Shaarey Zedek since 2003. Rabbi Leibl is a former sportscaster who grew up in the congregation and had been hazzan sheni since 2010.