Gustavo Zentner is leading a new Winnipeg office for CIJA—which cites an increase in antisemitism as the reason for doing it now

Gustavo Zentner, CIJA vice-president for Manitoba and Saskatchewan

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is opening an office in Winnipeg to serve those Manitoba and Saskatchewan in response to concerns about rising antisemitism.

The office, which is being created in collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, will be led by Gustavo Zentner, past president of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. He will serve as CIJA’s vice-president for Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The creation of the office was made possible by support from local donors, including the Asper Foundation.

For Jeff Lieberman, CEO of the federation, the new office is needed because of the spike in antisemitism in the province since Oct. 7.

Lieberman was unable to cite current statistics, but the federation has received many reports about bullying and intimidation of Jews on university campuses, hate on social media, plus the general anxiety many local Jews feel about things said at the pro-Palestinian protests in the city, he said.

“People in the Jewish community are feeling insecure and threatened,” he said, adding calls about antisemitism have overwhelmed the Federation.

“We’ve done a decent job of dealing with it, but we have a small staff,” he said. “It’s taking a lot of our time away from other things. The addition of a full-time person will take a lot of stress off our shoulders.”

The Winnipeg Police Service was unable to provide statistics on hate crimes in the city by The CJN’s deadline.

The idea for the office came from members of the local Jewish community, who also offered to put up the funds.

“We saw an urgent need emerging and felt compelled to support efforts to ensure the entire community has the knowledge and tools to address these issues,” said Asper Foundation president Anita Wortzman.

CIJA was open to the idea when approached by the Federation, said president and CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel. The office will be one of five in Canada, joining others in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

“Winnipeg has historically always been an important centre of Jewish life in Canada,” he said, noting that the city has produced many national leaders for the Canadian Jewish community.

Having an office there has been on CIJA’s radar for some time, he said, “but other priorities and imperatives took precedence.”

That has now been corrected, and the organization looks forward to having “a robust presence” in Winnipeg, he said.

Koffler Fogel is pleased that Zentner has accepted the role in Winnipeg. “For him, there’s no learning curve, he can hit the road running,” he said. “He knows the environment and the stakeholders. He’s ideal for this and we are delighted to have him on our team.”

Zentner said he was honoured to help create the new CIJA office in Winnipeg, adding that he looks forward to engaging with people and organizations in the community.

“For me, it’s about attentive listening for deep understanding and building bridges,” he said.

According to CIJA, there are between 16,000 to 17,000 Jews in Manitoba, and about 5,000 in Saskatchewan.