Michael Spivak is a prime example of the positive impact Russian-Israeli immigration is having on Winnipeg’s Jewish community.
Spivak, who came to the city from Israel in 2005, wears many hats.
A computer engineer by day, he’s also a published author in Russian of four books – one on his experience in the IDF, a second detailing his grandparents’ survival in Ukraine during the Holocaust, the third a fantasy novel and the fourth about male-female relationships – as well as the editor of a Winnipeg-based Russian-language newspaper, the deputy editor of a Russian-language literary journal called The New World that’s published in Toronto, and a volunteer at the Manitoba Immigrant Centre.
His proudest accomplishment though has been founding Erudite, a Winnipeg chess club for children ages five to 15, in 2011, which has become the pre-eminent kids chess club in the city.
Spivak said he began playing chess in his native Siberia when he was six years old and was briefly a chess master. In Israel, where he lived for 11 years, he taught chess privately.
“The man who hired me as editor of the paper saw that I played chess,” he said. “He asked me if I was willing to teach a chess group.”
Erudite began with seven students and now averages 30 to 40 students a year, Spivak said. The club meets weekly at the south Winnipeg offices of the Russian-language newspaper. More than half the students are Jewish, many of them from Israel. Classes are conducted in both Russian and English.
He said club members are divided among beginners, a middle group and an advanced group whose members rank among the top 50 players in the province.
Spivak said he organizes two tournaments a year for his Erudite students. In November, Spivak invited international master chess player and University of Manitoba math professor Irwin Lipnowski to challenge the top Erudite players. Lipnowksi was a member of both the Canadian Pan Am chess team in 1974 and the 1976 Canadian Olympic chess team.
Lipnowksi and his equally gifted chess-playing son, Sam, are participating in the December tournament.
Spivak said his goal for Erudite is to produce the best chess players in Manitoba. Since 2012, he said, Erudite members have six first-place finishes in different categories in provincial competitions, 10 second-place finishes and three third-place showings.
Last year, Spivak was invited to enter a Canadian team in the World Games of Young Compatriots in Sochi. One catch is that the team members – aged 12 to 15 – had to speak Russian.
For a variety of reasons, Spivak said, he was unable to attract young Russian-speaking chess players from other cities. He ended up taking a team from Erudite.
Despite having to start the tournament by facing off against Russian and Israel teams, the strong favourites to win, the Winnipeg group finished a respectable 13th out of 26 teams that entered.