As CJAD Radio in Montreal marks 75 years in operation, I’ve had the opportunity to look back some 60-plus years to when I broke into the broadcasting scene.
I began on a part-time basis while at university in 1957 and never looked back. I became a newswriter, and was promoted to the first fulltime on-the-scene reporter, with a radio-equipped car I used to cover any and all events, from fires to floods to disasters and politicians.
I was not the first Jew to sign on with CJAD. In fact, Lee Fortune from Ottawa had been a mid-afternoon fixture before leaving for the CBC, but he was not as identifiable as I, for I did not change my name as many broadcasters, even Gentiles, did in those days.
But did being Jewish carry any advantage or disadvantage?
Truthfully, I never did notice if ethnicity or religion was a disadvantage, but it did prove beneficial in dealing with leaders of the Jewish community, who sometimes saw me as someone with an entrée to government.
And while, over more than 25 years, I did interview two Israeli prime ministers – Golda Meir and Menachem Begin – as well as Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, among hundreds of leading personalities, I think what stood out the most was my ability to bring together Montreal’s Jewish leadership and Montreal’s civic leaders for an important community undertaking. And it gave me great satisfaction.
It dates back to the 1960’s, when there was a pressing need for seniors’ housing in the Jewish community. One day, I received a telephone call from Gordon Brown, who asked me to a meeting with other ranking officers of Allied Jewish Community Services, the predecessor to Federation CJA.
There was a piece of land owned by the community in the Cote-des-Neiges/Snowdon area which was suitable for the project, but the civil servants did not like the project. It would be to the rear of housing along Cote Ste. Catherine Road, and the proposed height adjacent to those two-storey homes was an obstacle.
So I spoke to the then Chairman of the Montreal Executive Committee, Lucien Saulnier, and arranged for him to receive Brown to discuss the issue. The meeting was obviously fruitful. Today, the two Bronfman buildings for seniors north of Cote Ste. Catherine Road between Westbury and Lemieux are visible testimonials to that effort, not as high as originally proposed, but still most satisfactory at the time to meet community needs.
By the mid-1960s, my workload had evolved. As a reporter with a regular weekly program featuring Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau and Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, I added a supervisory position in news. So, CJAD management agreed to hire, first Rick Leckner, and later, Peter Shurman, also as reporters. We became known as the J.M.S., or Jewish Mobile Squad.
I can safely say that the CJAD reputation for news coverage was second to none in Montreal in those years due to the three of us, and especially during difficult times, culminating in the October Crisis in 1970.
I eventually moved to Ottawa for 10 years, heading our news network, building a new radio station, and coming back to Montreal to be President of Standard Sound Systems; Leckner took over CJAD helicopter traffic duties; while Shurman moved into management, ending up for a time as head of the radio division for the parent company, Standard Broadcasting in Toronto.
I was considered a pioneer, and as a result, was named to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Other Jewish voices have come and gone over the years at CJAD, but we had laid the foundation
Sidney Margles is a retired award-winning broadcaster whose career dates back to the 1950s. He was based primarily in Montreal but spent 10 years in Ottawa and could be heard over the years on many Canadian radio stations through Standard Broadcast News, a service that no longer exists. He has written the history of Canadian news broadcasting between 1960 and 2000 for the Canadian Communications Foundation and is a member of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
MONTREAL—An ex-Hasidic couple has failed to get a court to declare that the Quebec government and the community in which they were raised violated their rights to a proper education.
Justice Martin Castonguay of Quebec Superior Court dismissed their motion for a declaratory judgment that the schools in their former Tosh community in Boisbriand, north of Montreal, broke the law in denying secular studies to them and other children in the community.
Furthermore, Yochonon Lowen, 43, and Clara Wasserstein, 42, alleged that the province failed in its obligations by tolerating the situation, which they say has changed little since they were in school.
In a 42-page decision issued on Dec. 3, Castonguay said the court could not issue a declaratory judgment because the evidence showed the Tosh community today, by and large, is seeing that its children, aged six to 16, follow the province’s mandatory curriculum, either in its schools or through homeschooling supervised by the local public school board.
Additionally, the judge did not declare illegal the religious schools many children continue to attend fulltime, as the motion had requested.
Castonguay, however, acknowledged that the couple had been harmed by having almost no secular education, particularly true in the case of Lowen. The couple, who left the Tosh community in 2007, testified that they could not find employment and were ill-equipped to live in broader society afterward.
The court “wishes to express its deepest empathy with regard to the plaintiffs for what they suffered before and after their departure from the Tosh community,” the judge wrote.
The couple was not seeking damages. They said they were pursuing the action primarily for the sake of Hasidic children today, both Tosh and those in other communities in Montreal, who they believe are still not getting the education prescribed by law.
The landmark case was heard in February over seven days during which numerous witnesses testified, although no one from the Tosh community took the stand.
It was the first legal challenge to Quebec’s efforts over the past 15 years to resolve the problem of Hasidic and other haredi communities that traditionally give their children an almost exclusively religious education, often in schools or by teachers who are unlicensed by the province.
Lowen, for example, testified he was taught only a little English and math; Wasserstein, as was typical for girls, received somewhat more but little past elementary school.
Both emerged from the community unable to read and write English and with no knowledge of French, let alone subjects like science or history.
The litigation was undertaken in the public interest by the firm Trudel Johnston & Lespérance, which has represented the couple since they filed the motion more than four years ago.
The legal team called the decision a moral victory.
“The judgment confirms that the plaintiffs, like all the children in their community at the time, did not receive the education to which they were entitled under the law,” it said in a statement.
While the judgment does point to progress since the proceedings were launched, the lawyers note it also “criticizes Tosh community leaders for resisting government efforts to educate the children of their community.” Established in Boisbriand in the 1960s, Tosh has over 3,000 followers today.
The progress has come about mainly with the passage of legislation in 2017 that more strictly enforces school attendance, and subsequent regulations on homeschooling standards. As the court heard in the case of Tosh, it also involved the intervention of the Youth Protection Department, in addition to repeated attempts by education department officials.
Today, more than 830 Tosh children are enrolled in homeschooling overseen by the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board, the court heard. “This is a victory for these children who receive more education than their parents did,” stated the couple’s law firm.
Their clients are considering an appeal, they said.
In addition to the Attorney-General of Quebec, the motion named as defendants La Grande Séminaire Rabbinique de Montréal, five Tosh schools, and the community’s leader, Rabbi Elimelech Lowy.
That Lowen and Wasserstein finally had their day in court was a victory in itself. Their motion was first filed in May 2016, alleging the named defendants were violating the Education Act, the Act Respecting Private Education, the Charter of the French Language, and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
The defendants tried to have it dismissed, but a Superior Court judge ruled in May 2017 that the issue was of sufficient public interest to be heard.
Among the witnesses for the defence was Avraham Ekstein, a Satmar Hasid from Montreal and head of the Jewish Association for Homeschooling, who testified that Hasidic communities are conforming to the law while maintaining adherence to their religious beliefs.
He defended the traditional education as being a valuable preparation for secular life, pointing to the fact that he is a chartered accountant.
Prosecution witness Shulem Deen of Brooklyn, N.Y., a 46-year-old former Hasid, said these communities do not give children an adequate secular education today. He is the author of the 2015 memoir All Who Go Do Not Return.
MONTREAL—Jews from around the world are migrating to the United Arab Emirates and will increasingly make their home there with the normalization of relations between that Gulf state and Israel, says the community’s Montreal-born chief rabbi.
“I expect the number to balloon dramatically and quickly,” said Rabbi Yehuda Sarna in a webinar hosted by McGill Hillel and Princeton Hillel on Nov. 22.
Rabbi Sarna was appointed chief rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates after it was established early last year, and said to be the first organized Jewish community in the Arabian peninsula in centuries.
The council is the official representative to the UAE government, responsible for the community’s religious and educational needs.
Rabbi Sarna, 42, has been a chaplain at New York University and executive director of its Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life for 18 years. Since 2006, he’s had a high profile in interfaith activity, especially with Muslims. He helped establish an NYU campus in Abu Dhabi 10 years ago along with NYU Muslim chaplain, Imam Khalid Latif.
Rabbi Sarna returned every year to interview high schools students from abroad for the four-year undergraduate program. His role grew into “negotiating mutual respect” between “the Arab host culture” and the Western educational institution, a quasi-diplomatic role that earned him the regime’s trust.
As chief rabbi, he does not live in the UAE but visits regularly, pandemic restrictions permitting. The Jewish Council, based in Dubai, has over 100 active members. Rabbi Sarna estimates about 1,000 Jews live throughout the country today.
They come from North America, South America, Europe, Israel and elsewhere, he said.
“They are moving there for, number one, economic opportunity and, number two, for safety, because of antisemitism in Western democracies…And they are establishing themselves there, marrying, raising families. They see a future in an Arab country,” he said.
They have resident status that allows them to work, but gaining citizenship is more difficult, he said.
A temporary resident active in the Council is Canada’s Ambassador to the UAE, Marcy Grossman, a Montreal native like Rabbi Sarna, appointed in October 2019.
Rabbi Sarna said the distinctive Emirati culture explains why Jews would choose to settle and feel welcome in the UAE.
“Deep in the Emirati DNA is a kind of radical hospitality…The Emiratis were a Bedouin people. They knew about desert living and opened the proverbial tent to those who wanted to be with them. You see the modern manifestation of that in the airports, the hotels.”
It wasn’t always that way, he acknowledges. Ten years ago, the few Jews living there were a “private community,” if not exactly a clandestine one, he said. They would meet homes for prayer in Dubai and instruct their children not to tell classmates they were Jewish.
“All that changed overnight on Aug. 13, 2020,” Rabbi Sarna said, with the Abraham Accords signed by Israel, the UAE and the United States. “People stepped out of the shadows.”
But change was underway before that. The UAE declared 2019 the Year of Tolerance. It invited Pope Francis to the country and opened a multi-faith complex containing a mosque, church and synagogue, he noted.
Rabbi Sarna celebrated this Rosh Hashanah with the community at the spectacular Atlantis, The Palm resort in Dubai. He hopes to return at Hanukkah and host a party inviting the diplomatic corps as well.
In October Lebanese-born Elie Abadie became the Jewish Council’s in-resident rabbi, arriving from New York. The Council is now applying for World Jewish Congress affiliation.
“Rabbi Abadie and I are sharing spiritual and diplomatic roles,” Rabbi Sarna explained. “We have different backgrounds – Ashkenazi and Sephardi – and connect to different people, both locally and internationally.”
Of the accords, Rabbi Sarna commented, “the UAE took the great leap to full normalization, not incremental and with no conditions. By all accounts, this will be a very warm peace.”
Rabbi Sarna thinks a “demystification” of Israel has taken place among the Emirati people. “My sense is that there has been a normalization of disagreement…Israel is now seen like other countries. They may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but that does not mean they should not have diplomatic relations.”
After the pandemic, Rabbi Sarna expects that hundreds of thousands of Israelis will annually flock to the UAE, which has directed its hotels to provide kosher food. He hopes that Israelis will respect the culture of the country and not regard it as their “playground.”
Rabbi Sarna is concerned that Israel finds a way to equally welcome Emirati tourists and not subject them to the strictures often imposed on Arabs and Muslims arriving in the country.
Rabbi Sarna graduated from Hebrew Academy in Cote Saint-Luc, where he was inspired by one of his teachers, Montreal Chief Rabbi Avraham Dovid Niznik. He left Montreal to study at Yeshivat Har Etzion on the West Bank, before entering Yeshiva University in New York. He maintains strong ties to Montreal, where his parents live.
Asked if Montreal influenced what he is doing today, Rabbi Sarna replied, “Growing up in Montreal, in a bilingual, multicultural society, gave me a very interesting understanding of different cultures. I’m very grateful.”
MONTREAL—To many, “Father John” was the Montreal Jewish community’s priest. Some even respectfully called him “Rabbi Walsh.”
All considered him a mensch – and a beloved one.
That’s been abundantly clear, given the outpouring of sadness, gratitude and, as he would have wished it, humorous reminiscing since Father John Walsh’s death at age 78 on Nov. 9.
Surely this was the first time in its century-long history that Paperman’s funeral home listed a Catholic priest among the funerals, with links to the interreligious memorial planned for him and to his favourite cause, the Nazareth Community, which serves the homeless.
The Paperman family said it “mourns the loss of a compassionate leader, a bridge builder and a dear friend” to the community. The scores of condolences on the website concurred.
“He endeared himself to Jewish Montrealers, who considered him one of their own,” tweeted Eta Yudin, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec.
In a nod to Father Walsh’s Irish heritage, one synagogue’s cantor sang Danny Boy at the Shabbat service after the priest’s death.
His longtime friend and collaborator Rabbi Michael Whitman of Congregation Adath Israel, posted a “secret” on social media: “The rabbis of Montreal knew that Father Walsh was much more popular in the Jewish community than any of us.”
Over the decades, Father Walsh had a bond with the community that went beyond interfaith dialogue, a term he avoided. He was not an emissary of the Catholic Church; he acted on his own volition. This was personal, even visceral.
Everyone has spoken of his genuine love and interest in each person, whoever they were. But Judaism and the Jewish people were the strongest among his ties to other religious and cultural groups.
He joked that with his initials – his full name was John Emmett Walsh – predestined him to a kinship with Jews.
His goodwill was constant in good times and bad, said Rabbi Whitman. Whenever there was an act of antisemitism in the world, he immediately called to express his solidarity.
As Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom put it at an interreligious memorial on Nov. 14, “those in interfaith work build relationships on theology or policy, but Father John built relationships for the relationship; nothing got in the middle.”
The memorial, which was webcast from a funeral home due to pandemic restrictions on gatherings, preceded Father Walsh’s funeral Mass, also invitation-only, on Nov. 16.
After studies in Rome, Father Walsh continued his education in theology and scripture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He learned Hebrew and his command of the language delighted Jewish audiences.
His ministry in Montreal spanned close to 50 years until his retirement from St. John Brebeuf Parish in LaSalle a decade ago. After that, he devoted even more time to what was dear to his heart.
In 2012, he, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, and Imam Zijad Delic, created a blog called Faith Blender. Each clergyman offered his perspective on current issues or common human dilemmas. Their goal, as the site points out, was not to convert anyone, but rather to share their respective traditions.
Father Walsh died of a heart attack as he was about to officiate at a funeral. He had been well and active until then. Just a few days before, he was feted by the Nazareth Community, with which he was associated for 40 years, when its newest shelter, a home for young men, was named “John’s House.”
Israeli Consul General David Levy made a donation on behalf of his country, to which Father Walsh remained faithful. Cantor Gideon Zelermyer of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim sang on that occasion, as he did at the interreligious service.
Zelermyer had been friends with Father Walsh since the young American cantor came to Montreal some 20 years ago. This was not a polite acquaintance, but a deep relationship that extended to Zelermyer’s entire family.
He recalled the first time Father Walsh was a guest at his home for a Passover seder. The priest apologized that he had forgotten his kippah. Zelermyer’s young son quickly fetched one. “It was a red velvet one. A big smile came on John’s face and he exclaimed, ‘Hah, a promotion!’” alluding to the headwear of Catholic cardinals.
Zelermyer concluded the memorial with Come Healing and If it Be Your Will, two spiritual songs by Leonard Cohen.
There were official tributes as well. Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of CIJA-Quebec, stated that his close friend “brought Montreal together. His sincerity and love were powerful forces that helped shape the life of the city.” Federation CJA CEO Yair Szlak commented that Walsh “embodied the spirit of tikun olam. A mensch to the core, he will be deeply missed by Jewish Montrealers…”
When he was honoured with the Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Distinguished Community Service Award in 2012, Father Walsh explained what motivated him. “My work in interfaith [dialogue] is to change humanity. If we can all reclaim that together, then we can make a better world. Yes, there will be differences. We need to say: How can we become better human beings?”
MONTREAL—Less than a month after declaring it was COVID-free, Maimonides Geriatric Centre is trying to contain a serious outbreak among residents, as well as staff and outside caregivers.
On Nov. 17, the long-term care institution reported that 26 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, and that three have died since the start of the second wave.
In addition, 16 staff have been infected, as well as six registered caregivers. The latter are either family members or private personal support workers permitted to regularly visit a resident, under strict conditions. Maimonides says five other caregivers earlier tested positive, but have recovered.
All infected staff remain at home.
Maimonides, a 380-bed facility in Cote Saint-Luc, was hard hit by COVID in the spring and summer. According to government statistics, a third of the residents contracted the illness and 39 died during that period.
The virus appears to be spreading rapidly. On Nov. 13, Maimonides reported that 16 residents and 11 staff had tested positive, and no deaths were announced.
The positive residents, all from the second and third floors, have been moved to a sealed-off ward occupying half of the uppermost seventh floor.
All residents who were cared for by the 16 infected staff members, who worked on the second, third, fourth and sixth floors, have been placed in isolation elsewhere while they await their test results. Also isolated are those residents who were tended by the 11 infected caregivers, who were present in various units.
Five wings on the second to sixth floors are now designated “warm zones” for precautionary isolation where only essential medical appointments are permitted and all other services and activities considered non-essential are on hold.
“We are currently looking at different strategies for minimizing the introduction by caregivers of the virus into our facility,” states the public message, signed by Maimonides co-chiefs Dr. Jack Gaiptman and Dr. Kris MacMahon, and site coordinator Jennifer Clarke. On-site testing for caregivers is now available three days a week.
The first case of a resident contracting COVID in the second wave was reported on Nov. 4, and was traced to a staff member who had tested positive. On Oct. 31, Maimonides reported that three staff members had been found positive, and other staff with whom they had been in contact were being tested.
That was just 12 days after the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents at Maimonides and the Jewish Eldercare Centre.
This regional health authority, which administers the institutions, said that the “hot zones” at both facilities would therefore be made available for outside COVID-positive patients who are medically stable but require more care than is available where they live, such as seniors’ residences, or who are not strong enough to go home after hospitalization.
These patients would be from the geographical territory this CIUSSS oversees.
To date, no such patients have been admitted.
Eldercare, a 380-bed institution in the Cote-des-Neiges district, is also dealing with a new COVID outbreak. It was hit even harder in the first wave than Maimonides, suffering a rash of cases and deaths from the beginning of the pandemic in March.
On Oct. 31, families of Eldercare residents were advised that one resident and two employees on the fourth floor of its Hope pavilion had tested positive by attending physician Dr. Mark Karanofsky.
Days later, that had grown to four residents and seven staff on the same floor.
All infected residents are confined to the hot zone and attended by staff working only with them, said Karanofsky. The presence of “COVID agents” was increased to ensure sanitary practices were being followed by staff and registered caregivers.
On Nov. 2, Karanofsky reported that he had tested positive after showing symptoms of a cough and headache.
He said the last time he was in the Eldercare building was Oct. 27 and that he had always worn a mask and face shield when he was with a resident.
In his latest communication on Nov. 17, Karanofsky said there were eight active cases among residents and two among staff, all from the Hope pavilion’s fourth floor. Having isolated for two weeks, he said he had been cleared to return to work.
Over the past few weeks throughout Quebec, there has been a spike in COVID cases in long-term care centres. Maimonides and Eldercare are now on the government’s watch list, ranked in the yellow zone below the more serious orange and red zones.
Among private seniors’ residences which provide intermediate care, the government has placed the kosher Le Waldorf in Cote Saint-Luc in the yellow category after nine residents, or five per cent of the total, came down with the illness. Two deaths are recorded.
A rare cache of historic documents from Canada’s storied Hart family, among the first Jews to settle in what became Canada, is coming up for auction on Nov. 12 in New York.
The 60 legal documents to go under the hammer of the Brooklyn auction house Kestenbaum & Company relate to Aaron Hart, who arrived in Quebec in 1760, and his four sons, Moses, Ezekiel, Benjamin and Alexander.
Aaron Hart settled in Trois-Rivières and became a wealthy businessman, starting in fur trading and expanding to real estate and a wholesale store. He helped found the Shearith Israel synagogue (now the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue) in Montreal in 1768.
His son Ezekiel was notably elected three times to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, from 1807 to 1809, but was prevented from taking the seat because the oath of office included the phrase “on the true faith of a Christian.”
The manuscripts, in English and French, date from 1790 to 1805 and concern lawsuits, in which the Harts were generally plaintiffs, and a dispute between Ezekiel and his brothers over extra payments from his father’s estate. The auction house estimates they will fetch between $8,000 and $12,000 (U.S.)
“This collection serves as a veritable treasure trove of information on the Hart family, who can arguably be described as the first Jewish family to really establish roots in Canada,” Massye Kestenbaum, a cataloguer for the auction house, said in an email to the CJR.
The collection is unusual because few documents from this era in Canadian Jewish history have surfaced, Kestenbaum said.
“Despite the important roles many Jews assumed in Canada once the British took control, there is a startling paucity of scholarship on the Canadian Jewry during this period,” he related. “Part of that is simply due to there not being an overwhelming number of primary sources on the subject matter, especially this early in the history of Canadian Jewry.”
The documents, which are in a “generally good condition,” were originally in the care of Judge James Reid (1769-1848), the Hart family’s lawyer. They then passed to Robert Deveaux Woodruff Band (1927-2013), a collector of things related to Canadian history, Kestenbaum said.
The auction house has sold a few other Canadian Jewish artifacts over the years but none dating as far back as the Hart papers, Kestenbaum said.
Canadian institutions and private collectors have expressed interest in the collection. But unfortunately, the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives in Montreal won’t be bidding on the materials, said Janice Rosen, archives director.
“We don’t have purchasing budgets,” she said. “Obviously, $12,000 U.S. isn’t going to happen.”
While the archives have photocopies of some documents from the Hart family, “we have very little original information that goes back that far,” she said.
It is hard to tell how significant the papers are, she said. “Maybe they won’t tell us a lot of new things, but if [there’s] a will, it may be interesting.”
Ultimately, the best place for the documents is a government-run archives, where they can be properly preserved and made available to researchers, Rosen said.
Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, which oversees the Jacob M. Lowy collection of rare Judaica and Hebraica, said in a statement that it is aware of the upcoming sale, but “as in all such cases, LAC will not be commenting publicly on whether it intends to take part in the auction or not.”
MONTREAL—The long awaited court challenge to Quebec’s controversial secularism law got underway in Montreal’s Palais de Justice Nov. 2 with a young Muslim woman who wears a hijab testifying that her plans to teach in the public system have been dashed, making her feel excluded and inferior.
Bill 21, which became law in June 2019, prohibits public employees deemed to represent state authority from displaying religious symbols while on the job. These include police officers, judges, Crown prosecutors and other government lawyers, prison guards and – most widely questioned – teachers and principals in public elementary and high schools.
Ichrak Nourel Hak, the first witness at the trial, which is expected to last several weeks, had just graduated from the University of Montreal and was hoping to begin her career in a public school when the legislation came into effect. She is now teaching in the private sector, which is not subject to the law. That includes Jewish day schools.
The trial, held in Quebec Superior Court, combines four separate lawsuits against Bill 21, officially entitled “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State.”
It was high on the agenda of the Coalition Avenir Québec which was elected with a solid majority in October 2018. The new government quickly shepherded it through the legislative process, despite sustained outcry from minority and human rights groups, legal experts, and the opposition Liberal Party.
Premier Francois Legault described the bill as a “moderate” resolution of the acrimonious debate over “reasonable accommodation” of religious practices in the public sphere. Polls have shown that a majority of Quebecers agree with him.
All four lawsuits seek the law’s annulment on constitutional grounds but will offer differing legal arguments on why it violates fundamental rights. These have to be complex because the law includes the constitutional notwithstanding clause, which allows the government to override guarantees of religious liberty and equality, including between men and women, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
All of the complainants charge that the law is discriminatory against those whose religious belief requires them to wear such symbols. In practical terms, the greatest impact is on Muslim women.
The law does not specifically name what constitutes a religious symbol but the minister responsible has said it should be commonly understood to mean headwear or jewelry. The law applies to all religions, not only minorities.
Public employees who wore such symbols before the law was adopted are “grandfathered,” but only as long as they stay in the same job description.
Hak is the lead plaintiff for the first lawsuit, launched by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU). The others were filed by the English Montreal School Board; the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, a teachers’ union; and three teachers – two Muslim, one Roman Catholic who wear religious symbols – who are backed by an interfaith and intercultural coalition.
Gregory Bordan, lawyer for the three teachers and an observant Jew, will argue that the relevant rights were entrenched long before the 1982 Canadian constitution, back even to Confederation in 1867.
Whatever the decision, experts believe it will be appealed and, eventually, taken to the Supreme Court of Canada – a process that could take years.
Last year, a Superior Court judge rejected a request by the Muslim council and CCLU for an injunction against parts of the law with the most direct affect on individuals until their case goes to trial. That decision was upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal in December.
In the current trial, the court did grant intervener status to a pro-secularist group that believes the law does not go far enough.
In the debate before the federal election last October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa might intervene in the court challenge, but that has not happened.
During public hearings in the spring of 2019, the Lord Reading Law Society vigorously opposed the bill saying it would create a “state religion” that imposes neutrality and deprive individuals of their fundamental rights and freedoms.
This association of Jewish lawyers believes the bill contravenes the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Canada is a party.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec termed the bill “a disproportionate attack” on basic rights, including equality of opportunity for employment, and urged that, at the minimum, teachers not be subject to it.
It also found the bill’s wording ambiguous, leaving too much discretion in the hands of administrators of public institutions in how it is applied.
B’nai Brith Canada urged the entire law be scrapped, saying it “contributes to the divisions that already exist in Quebec society” and “advocates a militant form of laicity to the detriment of religious individuals and communities that cannot be justified.”
The organization feared that hateful acts against minorities would increase.
Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. The weather is getting colder and COVID rates across the country are on the rise. We’ll soon be spending much more time indoors.
However, it’s not all gloom and doom. It’ll be Zoom and more Zoom.
This technology has become quite the lifesaver during this pandemic. Thanks to Zoom, I participate in a study group with a rabbi. I attend Kabbalat Shabbat services at a synagogue in Long Island, N.Y. I listen to U.S. political lectures, and I take all kinds of cooking classes, some with top international chefs.
I’m looking forward to attending Building the Jewish & Cookbook at 2 p.m. on Nov. 8., a virtual cooking workshop hosted by the Miles Nadal JCC and The Wandering Chew, a non-profit group that embraces Montreal’s Jewish food cultures and traditions.
Lysette’s Mock Chopped Liver is a Mexican take on chopped liver that uses avocado as the base and mixes in hardboiled eggs, caramelized onions, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Massafan is an Iranian-Jewish recipe for flourless cookies that are often eaten at Passover.
This week, the late Norene Gilletz, Canada’s Queen of Kosher Cuisine was posthumously inducted into the Taste Canada Hall of Fame. Taste Canada honours food writers, and cookbook authors.
To mark this bittersweet but special occasion, I am including a recipe for Hoisin Sesame Chicken from Gilletz’s last book, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory. Co-written with the late Edward Wein, The Brain Boosting Diet was on the long list of nominations for a Taste-Canada Award in the category of Health and Special Diet Cookbooks.
Kat Romanow promotes Montreal’s Jewish food traditions
The Wandering Chew’s Kat Romanow, director of food programming for the Museum of Jewish Montreal, says her pizza workshop for MNJCC’s Jewish& Cookbook program (Nov. 8) “marries her Italian and Jewish background.”
Romanow grew up in a close-knit Italian-Ukrainian home and was raised Roman Catholic. While doing a master’s degree in Jewish studies, she specialized in food traditions. She later converted to Judaism.
Romanow’s maternal great-grandfather, an Italian immigrant, founded the Carona Bakery in 1932 and built homes for his family next door to the bakery in Montreal’s east end.
“When the bakery was in operation it was a meeting place for the whole family living on the street,” she recalled.
The bakery, known for its Pizza Napoletana, closed in 1995. Romanow said she, her mother and grandmother were able to recreate the pizza recipe for a home-kitchen oven. She also adapted the recipe by substituting shortening for lard. This recipe will be sent to participants in MNJCC workshop.
Romanow suggested that the dough be prepared in advance because it takes 1½ hours to rise.
Romanow founded The Wandering Chew with Sydney Warshaw in 2013. “We both have a deep love of Jewish food,” she said. “Our mission is to share the diversity of Jewish stories through food.”
The pair runs cooking workshops, food events, and cookbook launches. “We were doing it all in person prior to the pandemic. Now we have moved on line. We are meeting our mission through our events and the recipe collection on the website.”
2 eggs 1 white onion, finely diced 2 avocados Juice of ½ lemon Canola oil Salt & pepper, to taste
Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Leave the eggs in the covered pot for 8 minutes, until hard-boiled. Drain and run the eggs under cold water. Peel and chop the hard-boiled eggs into half-inch pieces.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Cook the onions until caramelized, about 8–10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Mash the avocados until smooth and mix in the onions, eggs and lemon juice.
Season generously with salt and pepper. Serve with rye bread or tortilla chips.
MASSAFAN The Wandering Chew
1 cup (250 ml) almond flour 1/3 cup (100 ml) sugar 1 egg white ½ tsp (2 ml) ground cardamom Rosewater
Mix the ground almonds, sugar and cardamom together until evenly combined.
Mix the egg white into the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until the dough comes together. This will take around 1–2 minutes. Wet your hands with rose water and shape into stars. Continue to wet your hands with a little rose water to shape each cookie.
If freezing, place the baking sheet in the freezer until the cookies are frozen and then place the cookies in a single layer in a freezer bag.
Bake the cookies for 8–10 minutes until light golden brown. To bake from frozen, bake the cookies for 10–12 minutes until light golden brown. Yields 12 star-shaped cookies
HOISIN SESAME CHICKEN Norene Gilletz
6 boneless, skinless single chicken breasts (or 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs) Freshly ground black pepper ¼ cup (60 ml) hoisin sauce 1 tbsp (15 ml) apricot preserves (reduced-sugar or all-fruit) 1 tbsp (15 ml) minced garlic 1 tbsp (15 ml) orange juice ¼ cup (60 ml) sesame seeds
Place the chicken on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with pepper on both sides.
In a medium bowl, combine the hoisin sauce, apricot preserves, garlic, and orange juice; mix well.
Brush the sauce evenly over chicken on both sides, then sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Let marinate for 30 minutes or refrigerate, covered, for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Bake, uncovered, for 20–25 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a fork. Serve hot or cold.
Grilled hoisin sesame chicken: Prepare and marinate the chicken as directed in Steps 1–3. Preheat the barbecue to medium-high. Grill the chicken over indirect heat for 4–6 minutes per side, or until the juices run clear and grill marks appear. (If using a two-sided indoor grill, spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place the chicken on the grill and close the lid. Total grilling time will be 4–6 minutes.)
Sheet pan dinner: Make a double batch of the sauce mixture in a large bowl. Add assorted sliced vegetables (e.g., 2 onions, 2 red or yellow bell peppers, 1 zucchini, or 2 cups (500 ml) mushrooms) and mix well. Spread out in a single layer on the same baking sheet as the chicken. Bake, uncovered, for 20–25 minutes, stirring the vegetables once or twice.
Leonard Cohen rarely gave candid interviews and he also managed to avoid media scrutiny. He was a man of mystery cloaked in bohemianism.
Generations of fans of the brilliant Montreal-born poet, novelist and singer-songwriter have been touched by his interesting mind and his penetrating song lyrics for decades. They’ve connected to him, sometimes deeply, yet know little about him.
A new Cohen biography, Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years, published by Simon & Schuster Canada, reveals more about Cohen’s personal and professional life than previous biographies do. At nearly 500 pages long, it will certainly satisfy the inquisitive.
This is the first volume of Michael Posner’s series about Cohen. Posner, a former writer for the Globe and Mail, interviewed more than 500 of Cohen’s friends, associates, one-time lovers, and acquaintances, and gathered enough material for three books. The second volume is due in the fall of 2021, with a third to be released in the fall of 2022.
They are oral biographies, made up of brief excerpts from the interviews Posner conducted, with some quotes from Cohen himself. Posner doesn’t vouch for the accuracy of those memories that often come into conflict. Was it Cohen who gave LSD to the 15-year-old son of his muse, Marianne Ihlen, or was it the boy’s father? From the accounts in the book, it was probably not Cohen, but we’ll never know for sure.
In his introduction to volume one, Posner writes that one of the virtues of oral biography is that “everyone gets to take the stand, and the jurors – readers – decide whose version of the truth they endorse.”
The book opens with chapters about Cohen’s family and his youth in Montreal during the 1940s and ‘50s – he was born in 1934 – and ends in 1969, by the time he’d achieved minor stardom as a songwriter and singer.
Cohen’s grandfather, Lyon Cohen, was president of Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where the extended Cohen family filled two rows during services. About Judaism, Cohen said: “What I missed in the tradition was that nobody ever spoke to me about methods, about meditations. I was hungry as a young man – I wanted to go into a system a little more thoroughly. I wanted to be exposed to a different kind of mind.”
What Cohen found lacking in Judaism was the seed that propelled him on a lifelong spiritual search, from Scientology to Zen Buddhism. Then at the end of his life, the search brought Cohen back full circle, to Judaism.
The most influential woman in Cohen’s life was his mother, Masha. Cohen’s longtime friend, fellow poet Irving Layton, paints a picture of Masha as a stereotypical, domineering Jewish mother, commenting that “her eroticism was directed at Leonard.” Linda Clark attributed his inability to make a full commitment to a woman to Masha, because part of Cohen heart always belonged to her.
But Cohen had a huge appetite for sex. Deadly charming, he was frequently on the prowl and seduced many women. “A friend of mine once asked me if Leonard had ever hit on me,” Cheryl Sourkes says. “I said no. She said, ‘We must be the only two women in Montreal [that he didn’t hit on].’” Many worshipful women were drawn to Cohen, too, attracted to him like metal filings to a magnet, recalls Max Layton, Irving Layton’s son.
Some readers may be troubled by the sexism of Cohen’s generation of men and his younger, artistically inclined male followers, who got easy access to the women around Cohen. “The men around him were treated to the women, whether they were married men or not,” recalls Carol Zemel. “It was one of the ways he held men in his thrall – there were always women around. If he wasn’t sleeping with them, he shared them.”
In 1960, Cohen moved to the Greek Island of Hydra, where he lived with Marianne over a period of seven years, when he wasn’t in Montreal or New York City. Hydra was an artists’ colony and, being the 1960s, sexual freedom was blowing in the wind. But freedom didn’t necessarily make for happiness. “Relationships were unraveling. Everyone was sleeping with everyone else,” says Aviva Layton, Irving Layton’s wife. “Open marriages. It really was a painful, emotionally dangerous time.”
Drugs were easily available on Hydra and Cohen indulged in several, including cannabis, hashish, LSD and amphetamines. Always a hard worker, drugs didn’t stand in the way of his creative output, maybe even enhanced his work.
Several books of Cohen’s poems were published in the 1960s: The Spice Box of Earth in 1961; Flowers for Hitler in 1964, and Parasites of Heaven in 1966. His semi-autobiographical novel, The Favourite Game, came out in 1963, and a second novel, Beautiful Losers, was published in 1966.
The critic Leslie Fiedler said Beautiful Losers was either one of the best or worst novels he’d ever read – he wasn’t sure which.
Critic Myra Bloom wrote that Beautiful Losers’ “experimental form, along with its critique of history, religion and other metanarratives, make it a perfect object lesson in Canadian postmodernism.” But she added that “lately, though, the book has started to resemble a how-to guide for writers who want to tank their literary careers.”
Sales were poor for Beautiful Losers, so Cohen decided to become a singer-songwriter. But it was not just for the money, Barry Wexler, a Canadian writer and producer and friend of Cohen’s for 50 years, maintains: “Leonard never thought he’d be spoken of in the same breath as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings – or even first-rate poets like Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, and Allen Ginsberg,” Wexler said. “He knew he was good, but didn’t think he was great. That, in part, is why he applied his talent to song. There, a minor poet – no small thing in itself – could become a major lyricist.”
The release of Cohen’s first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967, foreshadowed the kind of chart success he would go on to achieve. The album, which included Cohen’s signature song, Suzanne, reached No. 83 on the Billboard 200 and peaked at No. 13 on the UK Albums Chart. Cohen had made it to the bottom rung of stardom.
Cohen wasn’t a good singer, but by 1967, that no longer mattered, after a folksinger with a whiny voice, Bob Dylan, had paved the way for Cohen to become successful singing his own songs. Audiences were beginning to appreciate what songwriters bring to performances of their own material.
Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years is a detailed account of Cohen’s fascinating early life and career. For serious Cohen fans, it’s a page-tuner.
MONTREAL—The surge in COVID in Quebec is affecting the Montreal Jewish community no less seriously than the rest of the population.
The impact of a record number of new cases in the province is clearly seen in Jewish schools. Hebrew Academy is the second day school that has had to close temporarily because of an outbreak of the coronavirus, and Akiva School was added to the rapidly growing list of schools in Quebec that have cases.
Hebrew Academy switched both its elementary and high school to online learning at home until Oct. 19 after “a number” of people at the school tested positive, the administration informed parents.
Hebrew Academy, located in Cote St. Luc, said it took the decision “preventatively” in collaboration with the Montreal public health department, and will reassess the situation after the 14-day shutdown.
After three infected students were found at Akiva, an elementary school in Westmount next door to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, two classes were sent home to learn remotely for the quarantine period. Head of School Rabbi Eric Grossman told the school community that the source of the outbreak is “directly linked to community spread (not school spread).”
Herzliah High School was the first Jewish school to record positive cases, and had to close on Sept. 17 for two weeks when the number grew to at least 15 students and one teacher. It was the first school in Quebec to have to take that measure.
Other schools that have had confirmed cases are Talmud Torah, Beth Rivkah Academy, Solomon Schechter Academy, and Yechiva Yavné, as well as the Yaldei School for children with special needs.
As of Oct. 10, the independent website covidecolesquebec.org listed 941 schools in the province that had at least one confirmed COVID case since the start of the school year.
There are other indications that the incidence of COVID is rising in Montreal’s Jewish community, which remains under the province’s highest alert until at least Oct. 28. This trend is despite strenuous efforts to adhere to COVID containment regulations, which was especially challenging over the three-week High Holiday period.
Cote St. Luc, a city of 34,000, the majority Jewish, is being red-flagged by the Montreal public health department after new cases went from 45 between Sept. 22-28, to 63 from Sept. 29-Oct. 5, even though it has been probably the most pro-active municipality since the outset of the pandemic.
Citing the many older residents, numerous religious and long-term care institutions, and residential density, Cote St. Luc’s city council declared a state of emergency in March and, in June, was the first jurisdiction in the province to require face coverings in indoor public spaces and to reduce gatherings to 10.
Mayor Mitchell Brownstein is now asking Quebec to permit the city to extend the mask regulation to common areas of apartments and condominiums.
The borough of Outremont currently has the highest per capita number of COVID cases on the island of Montreal, and public health officials say they are working closely with the Hasidic community that lives there to ensure adherence to the rules.
However, the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec, which stresses compliance with government guidelines, thinks the uptick in the last few weeks only parallels what is happening in Montreal as a whole and can’t be termed an outbreak.
COVID has been brought under control in the two major Jewish nursing homes. Jewish Eldercare Centre had an outbreak in March and April of over 50 cases.
Maimonides Geriatric Centre, starting in April, would see a third of its 380 residents contract the virus and 39 die from it. It was one of the facilities that the Canadian Armed Forces was sent to this summer to ease the staff shortage.
The personal devastation of COVID is recounted by acclaimed cellist Denis Brott, who continues to recover from a near-fatal bout. His first public performance after 3-1/2 months of rehabilitation was at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, where he played the Max Bruch melody on Kol Nidre.
He spoke then for the first time about his ordeal. After returning to Montreal in mid-March from concerts in Europe, Brott, 69, became extremely ill. He spent 45 days in hospital – 32 of them on a ventilator in an induced coma.
He suffered complications involving the kidneys and liver.
By his release on May 4, he had lost 25 kilos, and could barely stand, let alone walk. He had nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps worst of all, severe neuropathy in his hands prevented him from playing his instrument.
To get to where he could again perform the beloved Yom Kippur prayer “took resolve I did not know I had,” said the founder and artistic director of the annual Montreal Chamber Music Festival. “…Losing what I love and finding it again has been somewhat miraculous.”
MONTREAL—Police broke up a large gathering prohibited under COVID public health rules in the Hasidic Tosh community north of Montreal during a Simchat Torah celebration the evening of Oct. 10.
One person was arrested obstructing a police officer and 16 citations of more than $1,500 each for public health violations were issued as a result of the intervention at a synagogue in Kiryas Tosh, an enclave of over 3,000 in the municipality of Boisbriand, in Quebec’s lower Laurentians.
The area is in the “red zone,” the province’s highest alert level, and houses of worship are limited to 25 socially-distanced people at a time.
In response to notification from neighbours, and at the request of the Laurentian public health department, the regional police force of Thérèse-de Blainville, reinforced by the provincial Sureté du Québec, went to the synagogue. They found about 400 people for a festive conclusion of the High Holidays.
According to news reports, the police asked the organizers to have the building vacated. The departures attracted hundreds more community members to the scene on the street, possibly up to 1,000. Many wore masks, but physical distancing was not strictly observed.
The man arrested was later released.
The incident was denounced by the umbrella Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec. In a statement, the Montreal-based body said it “greatly regrets what happened in Boisbriand. It should not have taken place. These were not the instructions given to the leadership of the community. We ask that the protocols be respected.”
The council had attempted to head off such a gathering earlier in the day, without success, for reasons unclear.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec also deplored the event on Twitter.
“The Jewish community appeals once again to the Boisbriand community to fully conform to the health directives…Numerous Jewish institutions in Montreal have done everything possible to conform and, in numerous cases, surpassed the directives and recommendations in the fight against COVID. We ask the leaders of the Tosh community to follow our example and see that their members conform to all directives…for the well-being of their community and the greater public.”
At an Oct. 13 press conference, Health Minister Christian Dubé commended the police for how they handled a “delicate” situation.
“I believe that our police did an incredible work” in dispersing people, Dubé said. “It was done correctly and succeeded in avoiding the worst because there may be infections there but it could have been still worse.”
He said it appeared that people from outside Quebec were among those at the gathering.
Premier Francois Legault also lauded the police for how they acted and the citizens who brought the situation to the authorities’ attention.
The entire Tosh community was placed under a month-long quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic in March. The measure was requested by its leaders after an outbreak, which was attributed to members returning from New York, where they had participated in Purim celebrations.
Eventually, 70 community members tested positive, but none required hospitalization.
Meanwhile, users of Facebook in Outremont, home of the majority of Quebec’s Hasidim, are receiving ads sponsored by a group called Démocratie Outremont that “wrongly target, blame and shame” Hasidim for an increase in COVID cases, tweeted Sarah Dorner, who is active in promoting intercultural harmony in the area.
MONTREAL – Attendance at Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur services will be much smaller than even the reduced level planned by synagogues after the Quebec government raised the COVID alert level for the city.
Hours before Rosh Hashanah ended on Sept. 20, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that the island of Montreal would be designated “orange,” the second-highest precaution under the province’s colour-coded system.
For houses of worship, that means a maximum of 25 people indoors and outdoors, slashed from the previous socially-distanced 250.
The great majority of Montreal congregations are Orthodox, and do not have the option of using digital technology during the holidays.
Mainstream Orthodox synagogues had already kept the number of worshipers at any one time to below the limit by holding Rosh Hashanah services both indoors and outside, often multiple times and for shorter durations. Children were even barred at some synagogues.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Cote Saint-Luc told the CJR that Yom Kippur services there will be further dispersed to comply with the new cutoff of 25.
However, he finds it “deeply disturbing” that houses of worship are subject to the same restrictions as any public gathering when movie theatres can still admit up to 250 people and bars remain open with only slightly reduced hours.
“The synagogues have gone above and beyond the regulations to ensure a safe environment, which took many hours of planning. We have doubled and even tripled the prescribed measures, done everything possible, with the advice of medical experts,’’ said Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec.
“I’m not saying this is an infringement on freedom of religion, but its exercise is protected, whereas going to a bar or a movie is not a right.”
At his shul, only 120 people were permitted in the 750-seat sanctuary and 150 in a tent outdoors that has a capacity of 800.
Similarly, at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Montreal’s largest synagogue, only a tenth of the nearly 2,000-seat sanctuary was occupied.
And though it is not mandatory once people are seated, the synagogues require masks to be worn at all times – indoors and out.
Stricter measures were not a complete surprise. Since late August, the daily increase in confirmed COVID cases in the province has risen to levels not seen since May.
Houses of worship, which were closed in March, were allowed on June 22 to reopen with a maximum of 50 people, which was increased to 250 on Aug. 3.
Most, however, either held services outdoors or with very limited numbers indoors, up to Rosh Hashanah.
Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said last week that she had met with Jewish community leaders to urge adherence to the protocols over the holidays.
On Sept.17, a day before erev Rosh Hashanah, Federation CJA sent out an “Update for the High Holidays” outlining “recommendations’’ to the community from public health authorities. These included limiting indoor events to 50, whether in synagogues or community or rented halls, and requesting that people over 70 not attend.
“Although implementing these recommendations requires an adjustment in our plans, we must acknowledge that the virus is still among us, and that we must do everything we can to protect the health and well-being of our neighbours, family and friends, as well as ourselves,” stated Federation president Gail Adelson-Marcovitz.
One synagogue did cancel its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for the first time in its 56-year history. Congregation Beth Tikvah, a large Orthodox synagogue in Dollard-des-Ormeaux on the West Island, had planned to have indoor and outdoor services.
But Rabbi Mark Fishman decided even this was too risky. He posted on Beth Tikvah’s Facebook page: “The upswing is empirically significant and growing in the Jewish community necessitating the closure of a major Jewish school and creating an atmosphere of anxiety and fear amongst parents in all the other schools, including HFS (its affiliated Hebrew Foundation School).
“The upswing in cases in the Jewish community once again has become the focus of the media and is putting the reputation of our community at risk.”
Herzliah High School was closed on Sept. 17 for two weeks at the behest of the public health department. At least 15 students and one staff member tested positive for COVID, an outbreak attributed to community transmission, likely a bar mitzvah.
In making the decision, authorities also noted an uptick of less than five to 11 cases the previous week in Cote Saint-Luc, where many from the school live or have contacts.
The suburb, which is majority Jewish, is making municipal property such as parks and parking lots available to congregations or groups of individuals for outdoor holiday services.
Herzliah was the first school in Quebec to close, but a second in Quebec City has since been shuttered.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders are also imploring members to adhere strictly to government rules. The Jewish Community Council of Montreal (Vaad Ha’ir) has sent out advisories.
Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, director of the NDG Chabad Centre, is pointing to his own example to drive the message home. He contracted COVID and, although relatively young, was “out of commission for six weeks.”
MONTREAL—The COVID pandemic has forced the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) to abandon plans for a new multimillion-dollar premises, but says the project is still going forward.
In her annual report, outgoing president Dorothy Zalcman Howard said the MHM had found “an ideal location” to build a much larger museum and “achieved unprecedented success in obtaining funding commitments…The dream was about to be transformed into reality when COVID struck, and our board faced the difficult decision of stepping back from the brink and reshaping the vision.”
But she stressed that a new museum remains a top priority. “I invite you to stay tuned for good news in the future,” Zalcman Howard stated.
In 2018, the MHM announced plans to relocate and expand, leaving the Federation CJA building that was its home since it was founded in 1979.
The Azrieli Foundation pledged to underwrite a third of the cost, up to $15 million.
Zalcman Howard did not specify where that ideal location was, but the museum had said it wanted to move downtown in order to reach a wider audience.
The only one of its kind in Canada, the museum was receiving an ever-increasing number of visitors and demand for its educational services, necessitating the ambitious expansion.
A study by an independent consulting firm supported the project’s feasibility.
The work of the MHM remains more important than ever, as “Holocaust diminishment has taken root and awareness is declining,” Zalcman Howard told the MHM’s annual general meeting, held virtually Sept. 14.
Completing her two-year term as president, she assured: “Our future is vibrant and secure.”
MHM communications director Sarah Fogg later told CJR, “We are actively looking for a new location and have explored three excellent possibilities since April. We are definitely confident we will find a great site.”
The pandemic forced the MHM to close from mid-March until its reopening, with restrictions, on July 6. Despite this curtailment, Zalcman Howard reported that the facility reached hundreds of thousands of people over the previous 12 months, including 20,000 visitors, 9,750 of those students. More than 8,700 attended some 55 events organized by the MHM and 19 Holocaust survivors told their stories to some 12,500 people before the shutdown.
The MHM now has 13,405 items in its collection, the majority donated by local survivors or their descendants, as well as 858 videotaped survivor testimonies.
Following the shutdown, the museum’s already multi-faceted online and digital presence was further enhanced and attracted even more users, Zalcman Howard related.
Executive director Daniel Amar said the website and virtual exhibits had 116,000 visitors, while videos on YouTube of survivors’ testimonies were viewed 198,000 times, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.
The MHM produces pedagogical materials and runs teacher training programs. Over 35,000 visits to the educational pages on its site were recorded, traffic that did not stop while the schools were closed.
Zalcman Howard hailed the fact that her successor, Richard Schnurbach, is the first grandchild of survivors to serve as president of the MHM.
Three new members named to the board of directors reflect the MHM’s aim of attracting a more diverse public. Yasmine Abdelfadel is a founding member of Mémoires & Dialogue, a group fostering rapprochement among Jews and Arabs of North African origin; Widia Larivière is an Indigenous rights activist; while Denis Marion, a former senior political aide to Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois members, is mayor of Massueville, a town near Sorel-Tracy. He lived in Israel in the late 1980s, earning a master’s degree in political science at Hebrew University.
Jennifer Carter, chair of the museum committee and University of Quebec at Montreal museology professor, is vice-president.
The latest virtual exhibit produced by the MHM is “Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory,” portraits by Marie-Blanche Fourcade and Eszter Andor of 30 Montreal survivors who were photographed at home with objects that hold precious memories.
The annual meeting began with a memorial to the 60 survivors who died in the past year, conducted by Cantor Hank Topas and Rabbi Mark Fishman of Congregation Beth Tikvah.
Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. This week, I was thrilled to meet Marcy Goldman, the Montreal-based master baker and author of the iconic cookbook, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.
Originally published in 1998, it was the first cookbook completely devoted to traditional Jewish baking recipes.
My interview with Goldman was well-timed. A week before Rosh Hashanah, she generously shared two of her most popular holiday recipes, Moist and Majestic New Year’s Honey Cake and Shofar Apple Tart.
Goldman has been baking since she was seven or eight years old, she said in a telephone interview from her home in Montreal. “I was so intrigued by the challenge…Baking ignited a passion that has stayed with me.”
She graduated from McGill University with a degree in English literature, but followed her passion and went on to get a pastry chef diploma from the prestigious l’Hotellerie et Tourisme du Quebec in Montreal.
Before earning the accreditation, Goldman started her baking career as an independent specialty cake supplier for cafes and restaurants. “I was baking at home, hawking carrot and cheesecakes,” she recalled.
She even rented a bakery for a time, but said the work was not sustainable once she became pregnant. That’s when she went back to school.
She said wanted to become a food journalist, a career she launched with a story about Montreal bagels for the New York Times. That article led to host of assignments for prestigious U.S. and Canadian publications, such as The Washington Post, Bon Appétit Magazine, Food and Wine, the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and the Montreal Gazette.
Goldman started her popular Web site, BetterBaking.com, in 1997. A year later A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking was published by Doubleday.
Her Caramel Matzah Crunch was lauded as “legendary” by the late food maven, Norene Gilletz.
Goldman has since written 10 other cookbooks. Her latest, The Newish Jewish Cookbook, was published in 2019. This collection of traditional Jewish recipes can be purchased on Amazon or Betterbaking.com. All her cookbooks are available as digital editions.
Goldman said her recipe for Majestic New Years Honey Cake below took years to perfect. It’s “extra moist and sweet and as good on the day of baking as it is days later. In fact, it’s even better as it ages. I went through many variations and tasting sessions until I was satisfied with this definitive cake.”
To round off holiday desserts I was given a recipe for komish from Pamela Permack. Komish, Permack’s signature dessert, is similar to mandelbrot, or Jewish biscotti.
Permack made a batch of komish for her grandson’s (my great nephew’s) bris. She gave me the leftovers as well as her recipe.
MOIST AND MAJESTIC NEW YEAR’S HONEY CAKE
3½ cups (875 ml) all-purpose flour 1 tbsp (30 ml) baking powder 1 tsp (5 ml) baking soda ½ tsp (2 ml) salt 1 tbsp (15 ml) cinnamon ½ tsp (2 ml) cloves ¼ tsp (1 ml) allspice 1 cup (250 ml) oil 1 cup (250 ml) honey 1½ (375 ml) cups white sugar ½ cup (125 ml) brown sugar 3 eggs 1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract 1 cup (250 ml) warm coffee or strong tea 3/4 cup (375 ml) orange juice ¼ cup (60 ml) rye or whisky* ½ cup (125 ml) slivered or sliced almonds, optional
*If you prefer not to use whisky, replace it with orange juice or coffee.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch (15-cm) angel-food cake pan with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper. Place the cake pan on that (this prevents the bottom from browning too quickly).
In a large bowl or large food processor, blend the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the centre, and add the oil, honey, white and brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice and rye or whisky. Blend well, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom. This is a thin batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top of the cake evenly with almonds. Place the cake pan on the baking sheet.
Bake in the prepared oven for 55–65 minutes, or/ and until the cake tests done, that is, it springs back when you gently touch the cake centre. If the cake seems done but still seems a bit wobbly in the centre, lower the oven temperature and give it 10–20 more minutes. It is very important to give the cake the proper amount of baking time.
Let the cake stand 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Makes 8–10 servings
SHOFAR APPLE TART
2 cups (500 ml) all purpose flour 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar ½ tsp (2 ml) salt, 6 oz (200 ml) unsalted butter, shortening *or unsalted margarine, in small chunks, 3–6 tbsp (45-90 ml) cold water
5–7 large apples (such as McIntosh or Golden Delicious), peeled, cored, and diced, 2 tbsp (30 ml) unsalted butter or margarine, in small pieces, optional, 3/4 cup (210 ml) sugar 1 tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice ¼ tsp (1 ml) cinnamon Pinch of cloves ¼ cup (60 ml) honey
1 egg 2 tbsp (30 ml) water sugar for sprinkling
*If using shortening, use half butter flavoured and half neutral
For the dough: In a food processor, mix the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter (or shortening or margarine) in chunks and pulse to produce a coarse, crumbly mixture. Add the water and pulse to make a mass or shaggy dough about 30–60 seconds, drizzling in a bit more water if required to make dough hold together.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few seconds. Form into a disk, wrap well and chill for 30–45 minutes.
Prepare apples: Place them in a large bowl and toss them with the sugar and butter.
Prepare egg wash: In a small bowl combine the egg and water, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 10–12 inch circle. Transfer it to the baking sheet by folding in the quarters and unfolding it onto the baking sheet. Fill the dough with apples to within 2 inches (5 cm) of the edge. Fold this border inwards and press gently onto the fruit. Brush the border with egg wash and sprinkle on the sugar.
Alternatively, use a 12-inch tart or quiche pan and place the dough in the pan and proceed as above for a more refined, less rustic crostata.
Place the tart or crostata on a baking sheet and bake until the apples are oozing juices and the coloured and exposed pastry is medium brown, about 35–50 minutes. Take the tart/crostata out of the oven and drizzle in the honey into the apples.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be made a day ahead. Makes 8–10 servings
KOMISH Pamela Permack
3 eggs 1 cup (250 ml) sugar 1 cup (250 ml) oil 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla 3 cups (750 ml) flour, divided ½ tsp (2 ml) salt 2 tsp (2 ml) baking powder 2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon 1½ cups (750 ml) chocolate chips Additional oil for brushing
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a 9 x 13-inch (18 x 26-cm) baking pan with parchment paper.
Place the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla in a large bowl or in a stand mixer. Beat together with an electric hand beater or stand mixer. Incorporate 1 cup (250 ml) flour and beat.
Incorporate by hand the remaining 2 cups (500 ml) flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add the chocolate chips.
Divide the dough into three logs. Brush the tops with oil and place them in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove the logs from the oven. Slice them in 1-inch (2 cm) slices. Turn off the oven and return the slices into the oven for 45 minutes. Makes 24–36 slices.
Sept. 22 2 p.m.: On Lox and Life: The Forward is sponsoring a conversation about all-things-appetizing with Len Berk, the last Jewish lox slicer at Zabar’s, and Melissa Clark, the New York Times food writer and cookbook author. This talk will be moderated by Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of the Forwardhttps://forward.com/culture/452758/september-22-on-lox-and-life/
MONTREAL – Dark since March, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts stage will light up again before the end of the year.
The Segal will present American playwright Glen Berger’s one-man drama Underneath the Lintel in December in its main theatre, marking the opening of a season that is expected to be a mix of live and online programming.
This is a co-production with Theatre du Nouveau Monde (TNM), the Segal’s first collaboration with the venerable Montreal theatre, and the French section of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
The downtown TNM presents the play in French translation as Zebrina: Une piece a conviction in September. The same actor, Emmanuel Schwartz, and director, Francois Girard, headline both productions. Girard is a distinguished Quebec cultural figure, best known as the director of such films as The Red Violin, an Academy Award winner, and last year’s Holocaust-themed The Song of Names.
Segal artistic director Lisa Rubin said between about 65 and 95 people can be accommodated in the 300-seat main theatre to comply with Quebec’s physical distancing directives. The exact number at each performance will be based on how many patrons come from the same household and can sit together, she explained.
An online option will also be offered. The dates of the run are still to be determined, but Rubin expects tickets to go on sale in October.
The Segal had to abruptly cut short the last season midway through the musical The Times They are A Changin’ on March 12 when the government banned indoor gatherings of over 250 people. That directive presaged the province’s full-scale lockdown announced two days later.
There were two plays remaining in the 2019-2020 subscription series, including the acclaimed Oslo in its Montreal English-language premiere.
On top of that, Rubin was just about to announce the six-play lineup for the coming season that would have started this fall, which was abandoned due to the uncertainty of the times.
On Aug. 3, the government gave the green light to performance venues to host audiences of up to 250 people, seated at least 1.5 metres apart.
French theatres in Montreal, unlike most English ones in Canada, are mounting new seasons, and that proved fortuitous for the Segal, Rubin said.
There is Jewish content in Underneath the Lintel and TNM’s artistic director Lorraine Pintal contacted the Segal for guidance on handling it.
Since its premiere in 2001 in Los Angeles, Underneath the Lintel has been produced widely, sometimes stirring controversy. The sole character, a Dutch librarian, goes on an international quest to solve the mystery of a travel guide, returned anonymously – 113 years overdue. The legend of the Wandering Jew, commonly viewed as a figment of Christian anti-Semitism, is woven into the unfolding story.
From there quickly grew the idea of staging the play in its original English at the Segal.
The shutdown has been devastating for the Segal and the many people who rely on it for their livelihood, but Rubin assured that its survival is not in jeopardy.
She said over 100 contracts with actors, crew and others involved with the cancelled season had to be broken, and the Segal’s own staff has been reduced to a “small team.”
Federation CJA, of which the Segal is an agency, withdrew its funding, a decision Rubin accepts was necessary in order to reallocate resources to the community’s most pressing needs during the pandemic crisis.
The Segal continues to receive money from the three levels of government, but that amounts to less than $200,000. It has an endowment that will help see it through to better times, said Rubin, but support from donors and patrons is still crucial.
She made clear that the Segal family is not going to bail out the centre.
“Their job is done; they are not going to rescue us. It’s up to the community and our audience now.”
For now, Rubin is focused on getting the Segal physically ready to welcome back its audience after a long “intermission.” Although all safety precautions will be in place, she promises that theatre-going in the age of COVID can be fun.
“This has been devastating for the cultural sector. There is no precedent for what we are going through,” she said. “We are writing our own script for this.”
Jewish musicians often changed their first and/or surnames, as did Pauline Lightstone, born in Montreal to Jewish parents who immigrated to Canada from Russia and Poland. Her family name was Lichtenstein.
The soon-to-be Canadian prima donna began singing at an early age. After studying at McGill University’s Royal Victoria College with Clara Lichtenstein (no relation), she received a grant in 1902 from the college’s patron, Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona) to attend the Conservatoire de Paris, where she studied voice with Edmond Duvernoy. Collections Canada notes that she adopted her new stage name, Donalda, to honour her patron.
According to Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Donalda’s artistic career burgeoned following a successful 1904 debut singing composer Jules Massenet’s opera Manon in Nice, France. In 1905 she sang the roles of Conception in Maurice Ravel’s L’heure espagnole and Ah-joe in Franco Leoni’s L’Oracolo for Queen Victoria at London’s Covent Garden, and at the Opera de la Monnaie in Brussels. In a Verdi opera, she sang with tenor Enrico Caruso in 1906.
That same year, she sang at the Montreal Arena with her husband, baritone Paul Seveilhac, and then joined the Oscar Hammerstein-founded Manhattan Opera House. But she yearned to return to Europe in 1907 to perform in Paris and London.
But she longed for Canada and chose to remain in Montreal as the First World War began, singing in a variety of music halls and concerts, including appearances in New York and Boston. She organized the Donalda Sunday Afternoon Concerts, with proceeds supporting various war charities.
She married her second husband, Mischa Leon, in 1918, after returning to Paris.
A Museum of Jewish Montreal review noted, “From 1922 on, she devoted herself to teaching voice. Twenty years later, in 1942, she founded the Opera Guild of Montreal, which staged the first Canadian performances of many operas. Among the first women to promote opera, Donalda made an exceptional contribution to the development of the arts in Canada. In so doing, she helped promote both the country and the Jewish community worldwide.”
As president and artistic director of the Opera Guild of Montreal until 1969, Pauline Donalda was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967 “for her contribution to the arts, especially opera, as a singer and founder of the Guild.”
David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner at tcgpr.com and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.
MONTREAL—Jewish day school officials here say they have put in place all of the measures required under Quebec’s COVID back-to-school plan, and even exceeded them – but only within the limits of the law.
In an online discussion Aug. 25 organized by the Communaute Sepharade Unifiee du Quebec as part of the annual Festival Sefarad de Montreal, officials offered assurances that their schools are ready to provide a safe environment for students and staff when they open after being closed since mid-March.
The schools are members of the Association of Jewish Day Schools (AJDS), an independent body funded by member schools.
A key point of divergence between some of the Jewish schools and the government’s plan, unveiled on Aug. 10, was the wearing of masks. The plan stipulates that masks must be worn by students in grade 5 and up at all times in the school’s common areas, such as corridors. Wearing them in the classroom, however, is optional.
Some schools had wanted to make masks obligatory in the classroom or for younger children as well, as a few non-Jewish private schools in Montreal said they would. In reaction, the government was firm: That neither private nor public schools have the legal authority to impose measures beyond the public health directives.
The AJDS-affiliated schools, which open as early as Aug. 27, are now “strongly recommending” that students cover their faces while in class.
The discussion, moderated by journalist Elias Levy and conducted in French, heard that some schools have also implemented such extra precautions as Plexiglas shields between desks and air purifiers in classrooms. At least one school will be doing temperature checks.
The Quebec plan does not require social distancing in the classroom. Students in each class are expected to be a “bubble”’ that stays together, with teachers moving between classrooms.
Connecting to the Zoom conference were: AJDS executive director Sidney Benudiz; Lucienne Azoulay, director of Academie Yechiva Yavne; Laura Segall, Hebrew Academy’s head of school; Jennifer Benoualid, principal of Solomon Schechter Academy; Alexandra Obadia, president of Talmud Torah/Herzliah High School; and Esther Krauze, president of Ecole Maimonide.
Another AJDS affiliate, Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools/Bialik High School, which did not take part in the panel, had to retract a message it sent to parents that all students from kindergarten and up would be required to wear masks in class after the government made clear that no school could make such a decision.
Under the province’s plan, all students must go to school fulltime this fall, at least up to grade 9. For the two senior years, schools may opt for a combination of in-school and distance learning, as long as students are in class at least 50 per cent of the time.
The sole exemption is for medical reasons, either the child’s or a member of their household, and that must be certified by a doctor according to strict criteria the government has defined. A group of Quebec parents who want the choice of online learning extended to all students has launched a legal challenge to the government, led by constitutional lawyer Julius Grey.
About 150 doctors and scientists with school-aged kids have also issued an open letter to Premier Francois Legault criticizing the plan as inadequate to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, and urging masks and social distancing in class.
The government has not yielded to this criticism, insisting its plan meets the current advice of health and educational experts, but is open to modification if the situation changes. On Aug. 25, Health Minister Christian Dube described COVID as under control in the province, which now has an average of 80 new cases confirmed daily.
The panelists acknowledged considerable concern exists among their schools’ parents, but the number that have secured exemptions for their children is relatively small.
Benoualid said Solomon Schechter, which is has elementary grades only, has 10 out of an enrolment of 450, while Obadia said Talmud Torah/Herzliah, which has 650 students, has 20 that are exempted.
All of the officials affirmed that their schools are well prepared to provide a full education online to these students, as well as any others who may have to stay home for an extended period, citing the experience they gained this spring.
Benudiz noted that the member schools, under AJDS’s guidance, rallied when they were ordered to close in March to develop distance learning platforms, and quickly put them in place. This combination of real-time instruction by teachers and online materials available proved to be successful, said Benudiz, who applauded the co-operation that continues among the schools.
The schools have now installed cameras in classrooms that will enable students at home to follow along with their peers and even interact.
The schools have closed their cafeterias, and lunches will be eaten in the classroom. The Orthodox schools are using the cafeterias and other repurposed spaces for socially-distanced prayers.
The panelists were definite that their schools would be able to cope well should they have to shut down again due to a second wave of COVID, saying they could pivot within 24 hours to remote instruction.
The other AJDS members are: Akiva School and Hebrew Foundation School, both elementary; and Beth Jacob School, which has elementary and secondary levels.
* A previous version of this story stated that the Association of Jewish Day Schools (AJDS) is a Federation CJA agency. In fact, it is an independent body funded by member schools. The CJR regrets the error.
Comment le Centre Chabad et le Centre Hillel envisagent-ils la rentrée universitaire 2020-2021 à l’Université de Montréal (UdeM) ? Appréhendent-ils ce retour en classe qui se déroulera cette année sous le sceau de l’exceptionnalité ?
Le Centre Hillel a été pendant trente ans le principal foyer et lieu de rencontre des étudiants juifs francophones de Montréal.
Cette institution s’est notoirement distinguée par son dynamisme, son souci permanent de défendre la cause d’Israël sur les campus universitaires francophones de Montréal et la qualité de ses programmes culturels et sociorécréatifs.
Le Centre Hillel a fermé ses portes en 2014.
La bâtisse qui l’a abrité pendant trois décennies, sise au 5325, rue Gatineau (au coin de la rue Jean-Brillant), était depuis 1984 la propriété de la Fédération CJA.
Le Centre Chabad de l’Université de l’UdeM, fondé en 2014 par le Rabbin Shlomo Banon et son épouse, Matti, a acquis celle-ci en septembre 2019 pour la somme de 605 000$. Un prix bien en dessous de sa valeur monétaire réelle, estimée à environ 900 000$, dans un marché immobilier en pleine effervescence.
À l’instar du Centre Hillel, le Centre Chabad est reconnu aussi comme un groupe affilié à l’UdeM.
Il a entrepris récemment une campagne de financement. Objectif : 400 000$, qui serviront à défrayer les coûts de rénovation d’une bâtisse vétuste dont la structure est en très mauvais état.
Des rénovations majeures sont urgentes: la toiture en déliquescence a été réparée, l’aménagement intérieur requiert d’importants travaux de construction, six dortoirs, qui hébergeront des étudiants, seront aménagés…
« La Fédération CJA de Montréal a été très réceptive à notre ardent souhait d’acquérir l’immeuble qui a abrité jadis le Centre Hillel. Cette institution fédérative a compris l’importance de recréer un foyer pour les étudiants juifs de l’UdeM situé à proximité de cette institution universitaire. Nous considérons notre engagement dans cette noble cause communautaire comme une Mitzvah. Beaucoup d’étudiants juifs de l’UdeM, particulièrement ceux venant de l’étranger, se sentent souvent seuls. Le Centre Chabad est pour eux un foyer et un repère identitaire fort. Notre philosophie est basée sur l’adage « A home away from home » (« Une maison loin de la maison »). Nous voulons que les étudiants de l’étranger que nous accueillons se sentent comme chez eux », explique en entrevue le Rabbin Shlomo Banon, fondateur et directeur du Centre Chabad de l’UdeM.
En pleine pandémie de la COVID-19, le retour en classe pose un sérieux casse-tête aux administrateurs des écoles, des cégeps et des universités. Les différentes facultés de l’UdeM ont prévu un enseignement hybride : quelques cours seulement seront donnés en classe, la majorité seront dispensés en ligne.
Cette réalité incontournable ne risque-t-elle pas d’avoir cet automne une incidence négative sur la fréquentation du Centre Chabad de l’UdeM?
« Au contraire. La pire chose pour la santé mentale d’un étudiant est de passer la journée entière chez lui. Nous l’avons vu récemment. Le confinement a provoqué de grands ravages, particulièrement au niveau émotionnel et psychologique. Le Centre Chabad de l’UdeM sera une vraie bouffée d’oxygène pour des étudiants astreints à suivre leurs cours universitaires depuis leur domicile. Nous allons aménager l’espace de nos lieux en appliquant d’une manière pointilleuse toutes les directives émises par les autorités de santé publique du Québec : mesures d’hygiène, distanciation sociale de deux mètres… Nous serons en mesure d’accueillir quotidiennement 40 à 60 étudiants tout en respectant rigoureusement les mesures sanitaires recommandées. Ces jeunes pourront étudier dans un cadre sécuritaire, chaleureux et convivial tout en bénéficiant de repas savoureux casher proposés par notre cafétéria et d’un réseau Wifi superpuissant », précise le Rabbin Shlomo Banon.
Combien d’étudiants juifs fréquentent l’UdeM?
« D’après les données établies en 2018 par le Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA): 850. Un bon nombre d’entre eux sont des étudiants étrangers majoritairement originaires de France. Il y a aussi des Belges, des Suisses et des Marocains. Mais chaque année, il y a de plus en plus d’étudiants ashkénazes anglophones qui poursuivent leurs études dans les facultés de droit et de médecine de l’UdeM. J’estime que cette année environ 1000 étudiants juifs fréquenteront cette université francophone », souligne le Rabbin Shlomo Banon.
Le Centre Hillel est-il toujours actif sur le campus de l’UdeM?
« Absolument. Bien que la branche du Centre Hillel fasse désormais partie intégrante du Hillel Center localisé au centre-ville de Montréal, nous continuons à être présents dans les principaux campus francophones, et particulièrement à l’UdeM. Force est de reconnaître que le début de cette nouvelle année universitaire s’annonce un peu plus compliquée, la majorité des cours devant être dispensés en ligne. En temps normal, nous tenons des tables d’information et organisons des conférences sur le campus. Cependant, nous n’allons pas chômer pour autant. Nous comptons offrir des activités virtuelles, par exemple une rencontre chaque semaine avec un invité de marque », nous a dit Sol Felsztyna, étudiante en éducation à l’UdeM et coprésidente du Centre Hillel dans cette université.
Y a-t-il une rivalité entre le Chabad et le Centre Hillel à l’UdeM?
« Pas du tout. Il n’y a aucune rivalité mais une complémentarité, répond sur un ton rassurant Jordan Ohana, étudiant en comptabilité à l’École des HEC et coprésident du Centre Hillel de l’UdeM. Le Centre Chabad dessert essentiellement les étudiants juifs francophones de l’étranger poursuivant leurs études à l’UdeM. Il leur offre divers services, notamment religieux et sociaux. Nous souhaitons collaborer étroitement avec le Chabad afin de proposer des activités conjointes aux étudiants juifs de l’UdeM. L’union de nos forces vives sera certainement un grand atout pour nos deux institutions. »
La défense d’Israël sur le campus de l’UdeM est-elle une priorité pour le Chabad et le Centre Hillel?
Alexandre Ohayon, étudiant en économie à l’UdeM et président de la branche du Chabad dans cette université, Sol Felsztyna et Jordan Ohana, coprésidents du Centre Hillel de l’UdeM, sont foncièrement d’accord sur un point : les aspects les plus hideux du conflit israélo-palestinien n’ont pas été importés sur le campus de l’UdeM. Les relations entre étudiants juifs et musulmans dans cette université sont respectueuses et harmonieuses. L’atmosphère est tout autre que celle qui règne dans les campus de l’Université Concordia et de l’Université McGill. Les frictions sont très rares, même pendant la Semaine de l’apartheid israélien organisée annuellement par les étudiants propalestiniens.
« Le Chabad de l’UdeM est très sensible à la question de l’antisémitisme et du BDS, campagne de boycott, de désinvestissements économiques et de sanctions prônés par les détracteurs d’Israël. Nous voulons éviter à tout prix les confrontations. La vocation du Centre Chabad est essentiellement spirituelle. Mais nous sommes pro-Israël et contre le BDS à 1000%. Nous tablons plutôt sur un dialogue constructif. Nous sensibilisons les étudiants juifs à la question de l’antisémitisme et de l’antisionisme. Nous les encourageons à répondre aux critiques d’Israël avec des arguments fondés et sensés rappelant la légitimité de l’État juif et la justesse de sa cause plutôt qu’en brandissant des drapeaux d’Israël. Nous militons en faveur d’Israël d’une manière intelligente et pacifique. »
Sol Felsztyna abonde dans le même sens.
« Il n’a jamais été question de capituler face à la propagande palestinienne. Par contre, nous nous escrimons à rappeler aux étudiants non-juifs, susceptibles d’être séduits par la rhétorique propalestinienne trompeuse, qu’Israël ne se limite pas à une armée et à des soldats combattant des terroristes palestiniens. Israël, c’est aussi une démocratie vibrante, une société très créative, une économie très performante, portée par le high-tech, une littérature et un cinéma qui rayonnent dans le monde entier… Nous voulons promouvoir dans les campus une image positive, et non réactive, d’Israël. Une image autre que politique ou militaire de ce petit pays remarquable: ses réalisations gigantesques dans les domaines des sciences, de la médecine, de l’agriculture, des arts, de la littérature, du cinéma… Les étudiants non-juifs apprécient beaucoup plus ces facettes, malheureusement fort méconnues, d’Israël. »
MONTREAL—The bold, red sign looming over St. Laurent Boulevard that immortalized a poor Romanian-Jewish immigrant for generations will soon disappear with the closure of the eponymous Moishes restaurant, which has been at the same location since it opened in 1938.
The landmark is one of Montreal’s oldest and most famous dining establishments.
A casualty of the pandemic and possibly the vision of the upscale steakhouse’s new owners, Moishes will rise again someday, somewhere, promises its manager Lenny Lighter, son of Moishe. But if it does, the restaurant’s legion of devotees know it will never be the same.
Lighter and his brother Larry, who took over the eatery from their father, sold Moishes to the Sportscene group, a company that most notably owns the Cage aux Sports chain of resto-bars, in December 2018. Lenny stayed on as manager.
Like all restaurants, Moishes had been closed since March when the province went into lockdown. The Quebec government gave Montreal restaurants the green light to reopen on June 22, and patrons grew nervous as the weeks passed but no word came on when they could sink their teeth again into one of Moishes’ “charbroiled, dry-aged” strip loins, with sides like chopped liver and matzoh ball soup.
On July 8, a website post revealed that the owners were “still evaluating our options,” but the tone was upbeat. Then, this month, Lighter made known that Moishes was “on hiatus” indefinitely. Although it had not been public, Moishes’ lease was expiring at the end of this year and the owners had concrete plans to move the restaurant downtown, to Victoria Square.
Lighter explained the move would breathe new life into the venerable institution; moving it closer to offices and hotels, where it would attract more workers and tourists.
Sportscene was about to make a $5 million investment in the new premises and construction was set to begin Aug. 1, Lighter said, but when COVID hit and the restaurant industry went into a tailspin, it was felt it “would not make sense” to go ahead with the project.
Lighter said the “intent” remains that Moishes returns, but that will depend on the course of the pandemic and the economy.
According to legend, Moishe Lighter, who immigrated to Montreal in the 1920s, was a busboy who won the restaurant in a poker game. It was originally called Romanian Paradise, and was situated in the heart of the immigrant Jewish district, now known as the Plateau Mont-Royal.
The name was changed to Moishe’s around the beginning of the Second World War (the apostrophe was dropped in the 1970s to conform to Bill 101, Quebec’s French language charter.)
In its early decades, the clientele was largely Jewish. Traditional Eastern European fare was kept on the menu right up to the present day, although there was no pretense of being “kosher style,” as shrimp cocktail and lobster rolls were gradually added.
Also preserved over the decades was the ambience. Moishes was upstairs, removed from the bustle of the gritty “Main.” Patrons entered an elegant Old World dining room, with chandeliers and starched white table linen, subdued lighting, and hushed tones. Formally attired waiters were attentive but discreet. Many of the staff worked there for decades; at least one server clocked over 50 years. And Lenny and/or Larry were always on site seeing that diners were happy.
Their father’s black-and-white photo remained the logo, over the cursive Moishes signature.
For certain families, Friday night Shabbat dinner at Moishes was a long-running tradition. Eiran Harris, a volunteer in the Jewish Public Library archives for many years, said he made sure to conserve an old menu someone donated to its holdings because he recognized that the restaurant was a piece of Montreal Jewish history.
Plenty of celebrities ate there over that history: Hollywood actors, sports personalities, politicians. A Polish cardinal named Karol Wojtyla reportedly had a satisfying meal under Lighter’s watch during a Canadian visit in 1969. Wojtyla later became Pope John Paul II.
In 2012, Forbes magazine rated Moishes among the top 10 steakhouses in the world, just one of the numerous accolades the restaurant has received from the media and industry.
Writer Mordecai Richler was a frequent patron, apparently drawn as much to the Scotch as the steak. He made oblique references to a Moishes-like eatery in his novels.
Troubadour Leonard Cohen also came often when he was in town. Cohen, who died in 2016, maintained a home nearby.
Lighter recalled that Cohen, whom he considered a friend, preferred the lamb chops, accompanied by a red Bordeaux.
This was borne out with the posthumous publication in 2018 of The Flame, a collection of Cohen’s previously unpublished poems and lyrics that he had compiled as a final work. One of the pieces, entitled “Lambchops,” dated 2006, opens with the lines: “Thinking of those lambchops of Moishe’s the other night.” Fittingly, his family held a wake for Cohen at Moishes.
Moishes’ heyday was probably in the 1970s when expense accounts received little scrutiny, liquid lunches were de rigueur, and red meat was considered healthy.
Retired accountant turned thriller writer Robert Landori recalled that for several years, he took the manager of his bank to Moishes at least once a week mid-day.
“He was an aficionado of steak and Scotch – always two, and then back to work. What I remember most is our waiter; he knew everybody, he remembered what we ate and drank, how I liked my steak. We won’t see the like of Moishes again.”
MONTREAL – The Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM), evicted from its premises in June, has resumed some of its popular walking tours through historic Jewish neighbourhoods, keeping alive its real-life presence while it assesses its future.
Led by trained guides, the family-friendly tours focus on little-known stories about Jewish life and intriguing personalities in the Plateau Mont-Royal and Mile End districts of yesteryear. COVID precautions are observed: Everyone must wear a mask and keep a safe distance.
Founder and executive director Zev Moses says MJM is using the “shocking” loss of its physical location as a time to review its mission, and he is “cautiously optimistic” MJM will have a new home by next year.
Since 2016, MJM had occupied a street-level storefront at the corner of St. Laurent Boulevard and Duluth Street, in the heart of what had been the Jewish immigrant district, and today’s trendy Plateau. The former industrial building was originally the Vineberg garment factory, dating to 1912.
MJM was preparing to reopen after being locked down since mid-March, when it received notice in May from a new landlord that the space was going to be leased to another tenant and that the museum would have to vacate by June 30, Moses said.
The timing was especially painful because MJM, which began as a virtual conception, was looking forward to its 10th anniversary celebration this year.
“We hope to have (a new place) by next spring, there’s a good possibility, but it will depend on where the pandemic and economy goes,” he said.
Moses, a rabbi’s son who holds a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania, started MJM as an online portal where users could connect to Montreal Jewish history and culture interactively. Its signature feature was “mapping” key Jewish sites and linking them to people and events. The site also archives personal stories of the Montreal Jewish past.
In a reversal of the societal direction, Moses expanded into bricks and mortar, a gamble he said paid off and allowed MJM to reach a far broader audience, both in the Jewish community and general population.
Despite the name, MJM was never strictly a “museum,” and only in the past few years has been holding exhibitions by independent Canadian Jewish artists and rescuing artifacts of disappearing Jewish landmarks, like shop signs.
Rather, Moses conceived of MJM as a hub where Jews of all ages and identities could gather, and non-Jews would feel comfortable dropping in and learning a little about what Jews are all about.
Moses was particularly keen to showcase the diversity of the Montreal Jewish community and how it is an integral part of the city’s history and character.
A big draw was Fletcher’s, the food counter where modern twists on various ethnic Jewish cuisines could be sampled, as well as musical programs – typically informal klezmer performances by young artists. MJM strived to be a good neighbour, taking part in the Plateau’s festivals and forming ties with area community groups.
Moses said MJM was especially successful in attracting Jews under age 35 who might otherwise not be involved with community life, and in changing ill-informed images about Jews among Quebecers.
“It really had become a second home for many,” he said. So much so, that at about 1,200 square feet, including office space, MJM’s location was getting too small anyway, said Moses.
Those are his prime selling points as he seeks support for MJM’s continuation.
“If there is a silver lining, this has given us time to re-conceive what we will look like post-pandemic,” he said.
The walking tours, now in their ninth season, have been a major source of income, but with tourism down drastically, it would not have made sense to run the usual schedule this season, Moses noted, even if MJM was still open. Nevertheless, he felt it worthwhile to offer a limited number and is pleased to see Montrealers joining them.
“Why not take a walk with an expert and learn something you didn’t know about your city?” he asked. “These neighbourhoods today are very popular with students and families, but most don’t know the stories that are hidden in their own backyards.”
Three different tours are available, scheduled Tuesdays through Sundays. Bookings may be made at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“’Bubble tours” are also offered for private groups of up to eight family members or friends. In the coming months, MJM plans to launch virtual tours as well. Meanwhile, a variety of online programming is set to resume, after a summer break, at the end of August.
Between 55-60 percent of MJM’s revenue has come from private donors, perhaps six to seven percent of that from Federation CJA or the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, Moses said.
About 30 per cent was self-generating through rentals of the space, ticket sales, and the food counter’s receipts. The rest was government funding.
Moses said all nine permanent staff members have been retained, but in the summer, the number employed normally swells to about 30.