From the Editor: Observations from these strange days

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

Just over six weeks ago, on Thursday, March 12, I left the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin office at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC), knowing I’d be working from home the next day but hoping I’d be back at my desk at the beginning of the following week.

The SJCC was closing temporarily because of suspicion that a member who had been at the centre had been exposed to COVID-19. The person was being tested and we expected to return to the office quickly if the person did not have the virus. And while that person’s test was negative, by that Monday, March 16, everything had changed – virtually everywhere.

Schools, most businesses, libraries, community centres and houses of worship – any place where people normally gather – all closed their doors that week. All cultural and sporting events were postponed or cancelled and everyone was asked to remain at home as much as possible and to observe physical distancing from other people in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of the spread of this novel coronavirus.

I expect it will still be some time before life begins to return to normal – or to whatever will be the “new normal.”

And while it has been inspiring to see our community come together in solidarity to take care of each other while remaining physically distant (documented in numerous Bulletin stories and columns), the loss of our way of life – even if temporary – has been difficult.

For me, it has been hard not being able to zip into Montreal for regular visits with my mother (who turns 92 next month) – although we talk daily on the phone. This Passover was the first time that we weren’t together as a family on seder nights.

But much more difficult has been witnessing the staggering loss of life to COVID-19 – here in Ottawa, across the country and around the world. It became personal when three people I knew in the U.S. died from it. Much closer to home, Norma Moscovitz, the mother of my friend and fellow Bulletin columnist Jason Moscovitz, was one of numerous residents of the Maimonides Geriatric Centre, the largest historically-Jewish long-term care home in Montreal, who died from COVID-19 this week. To Jason and his family, and to all families who have lost loved ones to this pandemic, I send my deepest condolences – and know that I speak for virtually all Bulletin readers in doing so.

Long-term homes have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 with more than half the deaths in Ontario and Quebec, and in may other locations, occurring in such centres. Thankfully, there have not been cases at Hillel Lodge, the Jewish community’s long-term care home in Ottawa. Strict measures, introduced early on at the Lodge, seem to have kept the disease at bay there.

The COVID-19 crisis and the economic uncertainty that came with it has taken a heavy toll on so many enterprises and Jewish community newspapers – struggling to remain viable in the digital age – have not been immune. As I announced in my previous column, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin has had to temporarily suspend our print edition until we can return to some semblance of normal activity. We continue, though, to use this website as a forum for columns and news reports. Please visit the site regularly for new content or like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for updates and links when new content is posted.

Although we are maintaining our online presence and plan to return in print as soon as possible, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN), which had editions serving Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two largest Jewish communities, was not so lucky.

“Unfortunately, we too have become a victim of COVID-19,” wrote Elizabeth Wolfe, president of the CJN board,” in an announcement online on April 2 (and published in its final edition, April 9). “Already struggling, we are not able to sustain the enterprise in an environment of almost complete economic shut down. It is with deep sadness that we announce the closure of our beloved CJN, both in print and online.”

This was actually the second time the CJN has announced it was shutting down. The paper previously announced its closure in 2013, but found a way to restructure and move forward following an outcry from the community. But while the paper was able to hang on for almost seven more years, “The CJN suffered from a pre-existing condition and has been felled by COVID-19,” wrote Wolfe.

While I started in journalism as a music critic at the Montreal Gazette, my career in Jewish community journalism began as a freelance CJN reporter and feature writer in Montreal about 30 years ago. Even after moving to Ottawa to work at the Bulletin, I remained a weekly reader of the Montreal edition – and an occasional reader of the Toronto edition as well. So, my connection to the paper runs deep and as both a reader and a Jewish community journalist, it pains me greatly to see Canada’s two largest Jewish communities be without a newspaper.

I’ve seen some speculation from several writers connected to the CJN that “a new CJN” may be launched in the months ahead – perhaps as an online publication. I hope that’s the case. Jewish community newspapers have a long and rich tradition – the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, for example has been serving our community for almost 83 years – and are vital to our communities.

As we continue to navigate through this pandemic and these strange days, please stay safe and stay well.

Shabbat Shalom.