Wednesday 13 August 2014

West Island Jewish Community Centre to shut its doors October 31

News that  the Board of Directors of the YM-YWHA Jewish Community Centres of Montreal (the Y) has voted to close the West Island Jewish Community Centre (WIJCC) as of October 31 has been met with great dismay and some opposition.

A shot of some people exercising at the WIJCC this week.
 “Facing a demographic shift of the West Island Jewish Community, declining membership of our intended target market, numerous competing fitness facilities and competitive early childhood education programs, the Y considered a number of scenarios vis-√†-vis the long-term viability of our WIJCC,”  YM-YWHA president Joel Shalit wrote in a message. “Together with Federation CJA, we carefully weighed our options and in the end, the Board arrived at this difficult conclusion.”

Scenes like this will soon be a thing of the past at the WIJCC.

Some members are not accepting the decision. Pat Libling and some friends have launched a petition that members are signing. “We are also hoping many in the community will do so as well,” she says. “The support has been strong  we hope to reverse the closing. The decision was made without consulting the Y members and we are requesting a meeting with the executive.  The last thing we want is a Jewish institute closing on the West Island.

Shalit said he, too, has heard from some disgruntled Y members.  “The closure is, indeed, unfortunate,” he said. “It is a decision I wish the Y did not have to make.   Membership at the WIJCC has dropped from approximately 550 to 450 members over the past couple of years.

Joel Shalit

The WIJCC opened in 1986, moved to its current location in the Montreal borough of Pierrefonds in 1997, and expanded in 1999, with support from the Y Board, the Montreal Jewish Community and Federation CJA.  Even with the closure, the   West Island CPE du Y daycare will continue to operate.

 Steve Rothstein, a member of the WIJCC and a former board member,   expressed his deep regret over the news. “I am very upset, “ he said. “I have enjoyed the community environment of the Y and have built friendships with many members. The major problem is the location and hours of operations. It should be near Sources Boulevard, March√© de la Ouest, the Civic Center or near one of the synagogues  or at the CJA. The current location adds extra travel time and is out of the way. It also should be  every day,  with the exception of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What is nice is that everyone who works out at the facility knows everyone. It is a much more friendly atmosphere than almost any other gym in the West Island.”

Rabbi Zeitz (right) and his wife Charlotte.,
  Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz, the pioneer of the West Island Jewish community and rabbi emeritus at Congregation Beth Tikvah, Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz, is concerned as well. “I am truly saddened that a long time partner of ours in the West Island Jewish Community is closing its doors,” he  remarked. “Having started in our building, they went on independently to provide significant service to the broader Jewish Community. I think this gives cause to all Institutions to re-evaluate and consider how they are relating to the changing needs of the Jewish Community and how better to meet those needs. We are ready to reach out to assist those disenfranchised  by this closing in any way possible.”

Steven Slimovitch, national legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada and a long time West Island resident, calls the decision “most unfortunate,  whether justified or not. It is essential that the Jewish community living in the West Island have a "Jewish home" and not simply be left to fend for itself.”   

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Montrealers Hamamdjian and O'Hara-Byrne head the CTV National News bureau in London

LONDON - There is a distinct Montreal flavour at the CTV bureau here in London, England, with Ben O’Hara-Byrne and Daniele Hamamdjian serving as the national network’s team on the ground.

Ben O'Hara Byrne and Daniele Hamamdjian at the CTV London bureau.

I got to know both of these  native Montrealers as they were cutting their teeth in the business, Hamamdjian at the local CTV newsroom then known as Pulse and O’Hara-Byrne with Global. Hamamdjian joined CTV National News in 2009. She recently covered Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa,  the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and the crisis in Ukraine. While previously assigned to the Ottawa Bureau, she travelled with the Prime Minister’s office numerous times, including to the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Korea in March, 2012; the G8 Summit in France in 2011 and Northern Ireland in 2013; Afghanistan for the Prime Minister’s final visit to the troops before the pullout; and the annual trip to the Arctic, tracing Canada's international diplomatic efforts.

Hamamdjian began on-air reporting for CTV Montreal in 2006. A Concordia University journalism graduate, she actually began her career as general assignment reporter at the Santa Monica Daily Press in California. Born in Cairo, Egypt,  she lived in Los Angeles before immigrating to Montreal with her family in the late 1980s and settling in Laval. She speaks French, English, and is conversational in Arabic and Italian.

O’Hara-Byrne moved to London after a stint as CTV’s Beijing Bureau Chief. He spent three years covering stories across China, including the visits of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, and the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square. He has also reported from Afghanistan, Libya, North Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Russia. Winner of an RTNDA award in 2007 for Best Network Spot News for the Conrad Black Verdict (Global), O’Hara-Byrne was also a 2007 Gemini Award co-nominee for Best Reportage.  He grew up in Mile End, right around the corner from the St. Viateur Bagel factory and lived in Outremont through his teens. “I finished high school at Royal West Academy and I credit my time there, the teachers I had and friends I made, for kick starting what has been a very interesting journey through life so far,” he says. 

Hamamdjian says she still pinches herself when she walks through the streets of London. “I ask myself ‘how did I get here?’ and then I realize how really fortunate I am,” she told  me. “I love Montreal, but when they say that London is the center of the world culturally and financially they are not kidding. It is impossible not to have something to do and see here.”

I would agree with Daniele on that point. We were there for a week and did not accomplish anywhere near the number of stops we had planned.

As for O’Hara-Byrne, he says “the posting in London is really a wish come true. The CTV bureau here is responsible for all of Europe so that offers a endless supply of fascinating and challenging stories, everything from the battlefields of past wars to ongoing conflicts in places such as Ukraine. On days off, the city itself is always fascinating, as the saying goes, bored of London, bored of life.”
After working out of Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto and Ottawa,  O’Hara-Byrne  accepted the fact that moving around would be part of the job. “ But I had no idea when I decided to apply for a correspondent's position in Beijing in 2008 that I'd still be abroad in 2014,” he says. 

“I really enjoyed the China assignment. So much is changing so quickly there and elsewhere in Asia. I also met my wife in Beijing, so it was a life-changing time. It’s always difficult to pack up and move to yet another new city, but London is its own reward.
Because of the centrality of London, Hamamdjian and O’Hara-Byrne never know when the call will come for them to hop on the plane and go to any location around the globe.  “I love what I do,” Hamamdjian says. “ The bottom line is you are in this business because you love to tell stories. For stories like the Ukraine, you never have much warning. Pack your bag and you are off.”

Hamamdjian’s family still resides in Laval and she was back home recently for a brief visit.

During her time at the CTV Ottawa bureau, Hamamdjian clearly impressed her superiors. She was part of the first international reporting team on the ground in Haiti after the devastating earthquake that rocked the country in 2010, and she also travelled to Guantanamo Bay in August 2010 to report on the Omar Khadr case. “Guantanamo Bay was probably the strangest place I have ever been to,” she says.

Hamamdjian’s coverage of international affairs is balanced by the Canadian stories she has covered, including the 2011 Federal Election. Her coverage of the Attawapiskat housing crisis in 2011 led to testimonies of alleged rampant sex abuse in Attawapiskat and native communities across the country. And then there is the Nigel Wright coup. Wright was the chief of staff to Prime Minister Harper and got in very hot water when he handed over a personal cheque of $90,000 to disgraced Senator Mike Duffy to try and get the latter out of a jam. He ultimately was forced out of the job because of this. Nobody seemed able to corner Wright for an interview. When Hamamdjian found out that Wright took his daily jog at 4:30 a.m. she decided on a stake out. “He was not too happy to see us and I had to run after him,” she says. “Everyone knows that you do not run away from a camera. It does not look good. So he stopped and gave me the interview.”