By TOBY SALTZMAN
If there’s a silver lining in getting short notice to vacate the premises of the Museum of Jewish Montreal, it’s gaining the time to wait out the economic devastation of the COVID pandemic and conserve resources to reopen when the time is right.
That’s according to Zev Moses, the museum’s founder and executive director, who received word last month that he must vacate the premises by June 30 because the unit housing the museum has been sold.
The owner of the museum’s “perfect location” – a storefront at the corner of Saint Laurent Boulevard and Duluth Avenue West, in the heart of Montreal’s historic Jewish neighbourhood – has sold the space to its upstairs tenant, Kanva Architecture Inc., for expansion to street level.
Founded in 2010, as the Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal, it offered popular walking tours of historic Jewish neighbourhoods, online exhibits, an oral history collection, and public programing and exhibitions.
In 2016, it opened the 1,200 square-foot storefront space that houses a gallery, boutique, office, and a popular café, Fletchers – Espace Culinaire.
When Moses conceptualized the museum a decade ago, the 26-year-old with a master’s degree in city planning felt inspired to map the history of Montreal’s Jewish community with an online, interactive site that would be enriched by locals who would share stories of their immigrant beginnings.
Moses’ passion was to bridge places in the city’s history with their impact on peoples’ identities. Many locals were eager to participate, and added family details and images to the virtual collection.
As the site’s popularity grew, Moses assembled a team to create a brick-and-mortar museum that would expand the focus beyond Montreal’s Jewish past, to its future.
“As a new not-for-profit, it took a lot of work to gain the trust of the community, donors, and the city to say that you are going to represent the Jewish community in this way,” Moses told the CJR.
Over time, the museum evolved to a meaningful space for volunteers and young people, mainly college age to mid-30s.
“Suddenly we found young people who did not attend synagogue or the JCC, who had literally fallen off the Jewish institutional map, who were making this their second home,” Moses said. “The museum touched the lives of hundreds of young people in a deeper way by offering micro-grants and running three fellowships annually dedicated to research.”
Uniquely without a permanent collection, the museum hosted events focusing on Jewish culture, including concerts, film screenings, education, and culinary heritage affairs.
With six weeks’ notice to vacate the historic space, the museum will refocus online.
“The truth is, it’s not clear that gathering here was even going to be a possibility over the pandemic months. So, it’s kind of a silver lining that we can wait it out,” Moses offered. “We want to reopen within the year. We’re hoping to build a Jewish arts and culture eco-system for Montreal that inspires young people to create the next generation of Jewish life and culture here.”
As for a new physical location, Moses said the museum will need community support to find a new place suitable for social distancing guidelines.