Rare Hart Family Documents to be Auctioned

Nov. 9, 2020

By LILA SARICK

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.”

Letter to the Editor: Bill 21 Mocks Canada’s Democracy

November 9, 2020

Dear Editor:

Re: “Quebec’s Secularism Law Finally Goes to Court, Nov. 4, 2020”

Quebec’s trouble with Bill 21—the “Secularism Law”—provides an ample demonstration about why ‘Notwithstanding’ clauses are overtly dangerous to parliamentary democracies. For one thing, the clauses ultimately cater to selfish provincial Premiers looking to steamroll unpopular legislation for purely selfish motives in contravention of human and Charter rights. Consider Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s justification for the law: it prevents feuding over “reasonable accommodation practices” in the public arena. Perhaps the apparent discomfort over religious accommodations has to do with the fact that Quebec, a largely Roman Catholic Christian society, is uncomfortable with providing accommodation for neighboring religions. If this is true, it bears stating that the Church hosts many races, cultures, and ethnicities, laity and ordained.

Quebeckers remember the power the Church once held in previous centuries. But the atheistic practices of Mr. Legault and his government should not be used to silence religious expression in the public arena, hence the Constitutional quandaries. The unpopular notwithstanding clauses prove that democracy, even in Canada, is a relative term.

Sincerely,
Christopher-Michael Mansour
Barrie, ON 

Letter to the Editor, November 2, 2020

Dear Editor:

It is nice that Erin O’Toole pledges close ties to the Jewish community (New Tory Leader Pledges Close Ties to Jewish Community, CJR, Oct. 30)

Unfortunately, his pledge does not apply to the Jewish community in Quebec. In Quebec, he says and does nothing about the fact the Quebec government practices discrimination against all minorities in the province, which includes the Jewish community.

If you would like, I can send you specifics on how the Quebec government practices discrimination against all minorities in the province.

Hy London
Montreal

Families Protest Possible Admission of COVID Patients to Nursing Homes

Oct. 28, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Families of residents of the long-term care institutions Maimonides Geriatric Centre and Jewish Eldercare Centre, which were hard-hit by COVID this spring and summer, are pleading with health officials to halt a plan to admit outside patients with the virus to recuperate in those facilities.

Jewish Edlercare

“My initial reaction was, ‘What are they thinking?’” Helen Adam, president of the users’ committee at Maimonides, told the CJR. At the outbreak’s worst, one-third of Maimonides’s 380 residents were infected and 39 would die, in addition to the staff members who tested positive. It took reinforcement by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and then the Red Cross to get the situation under control.

Eldercare had an even more difficult time from the outset of the pandemic in March, and lost more residents.

On Oct. 19, CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the government health agency that administers Maimonides and Eldercare, informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents and that the “hot zones” at both sites would, if necessary, accommodate certain people with the virus who live in the geographic territory served by the CIUSSS.

The email, signed by Barbra Gold, director of the CIUSSS’s Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors, states that these beds would be for “COVID-positive patients who are medically stable (do not require hospitalization) but require a greater level of care than what is being offered at their current locations, such as private seniors’ residences, intermediate resources or those recovered in hospital who are not strong enough to go home.”

To date, no such transfers have been made and Gold noted that “every effort” is being made to keep such patients where they are. She added, “We are confident that this approach will not compromise the health and well-being of our residents and is in the best interest of the community we serve.”

Adam said families are flabbergasted that after waging such a lengthy battle to contain the virus – which included stopping visits for months and moving residents to different rooms and makeshift spaces to separate the infected from those who were not – the two institutions are now being opened to ill people from the community.

At Maimonides, the hot zone is located in part of the uppermost seventh floor. Adam said she is fearful that staff will inevitably move to other areas of the building despite the best intentions.

“I think Quebec has gone out of its mind. They try one thing one week and another the next. Now it looks like they are setting us up as an adjunct to the hospitals. People are so scared and confused,” said Adam.

Asked by the CJR to respond, the CIUSSS emailed a statement that those with COVID will be moved “only as a last resort” and with extra precautions.

“If and when any COVID-positive individuals arrive at the facility, they will not come into contact with uninfected residents. They will be put into designated hot zones that are separated by permanent walls from the other residents and the other units,” it said.

“They and the staff who care for them will also use designated elevators that will be unavailable to other residents and personnel. As well, they will receive care from dedicated members of the staff—in other words, the COVID-positive person or their health care provider should not have any contact with the other residents, caregivers or health care teams at Maimonides or Jewish Eldercare.”

West-Central Montreal adds that, “like every CIUSSS throughout the province, we are required to provide residents in our area with emergency spaces in a non-traditional site, such as a long-term care centre.”

This is not reassuring to Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier. The retired high school teacher is afraid of another COVID outbreak and has little confidence in the institution’s ability to deal with it.

“This is supposed to be our home, not a hospital,” she said, still traumatized by the upheaval that took place earlier this year. “We’ve already been through hell. I don’t want to live in a war zone again.”

In a letter to Premier Francois Legault, the users’ committee says a “highly vulnerable population” is being put at risk and suggests an alternative. “There are many virtually empty hotels, who would probably welcome the work. Why not use them?

“We appeal to you M. Legault to rethink this directive.”

The committee has also reached out to the Conseil pour la protection des malades, a group defending the rights of users of the health care system.

Adam’s mother, who lived for six years at Maimonides, died in May, but not of COVID. Adam thinks many residents’ passing, including her mother’s, was due to the loneliness and stress caused by the pandemic restrictions. She did not see her mother in person from mid-March until just before her death when she was allowed to visit on compassionate grounds.

She does not want that to happen again to any other residents or their relatives.

By the official count, more than 6,100 people in Quebec have died of COVID, the great majority of them residents of nursing homes or seniors’ facilities.

Second COVID Wave Hits Montreal Jewish Community

Oct. 15, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

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.

A six-storey mural paying tribute to health-care workers during the COVID crisis was inaugurated at the Jewish General Hospital in September, with support from the consular corps in Montreal, including Israel. (CIUSSS West-Central Montreal photo)

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.”

Minister Optimistic About Canada-Israel Trade Relationship

Oct. 14, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Mary Ng is bullish on Israel, and says she has her reasons.

Not only has the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) seen the value of trade between the two countries triple – nudging $2 billion in 2018 – but the recently revised agreement puts both nations on surer footing in a changing business environment.

CIFTA came into force in 1997, and Ng, Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade since 2018, calls the deal “heartwarming” because it was first free trade agreement Canada signed with a partner outside North America.

Minister Mary Ng

That, Ng said, “says a lot about the Canada-Israel relationship.”

In 2018, the two nations updated the agreement to provide better access to each other’s markets, but also to include terms for gender equality, corporate responsibility, and environmental and labour protections, among other modernizing provisions.

Other new provisions are aimed at reducing red tape for businesses, increasing transparency in regulatory matters, and establishing mechanisms for resolving disputes over non-tariff barriers.

Ng granted the CJR an interview on the recent first anniversary of the modernized agreement having taken effect.

She emphasized that the revised CIFTA will benefit female-owned and small businesses in both countries, and that it also addresses corporate social responsibility.

“These are areas that really are important to both countries, and the modernized trade agreement lends itself to work that is a lot more inclusive than ever before,” Ng said.

With the COVID pandemic, it’s even more important, she said.

“You can’t use COVID as an excuse to stop trading and to look inward. In fact, we need to make sure there are multilateral trading systems [that] continue to work for our economy and people, and that we do have to make a deliberate effort to ensure that those systems are working for our businesses.”

Neither is it just about removing tariffs, she added.

“Israel is known to be a start-up nation and there are incredible innovations and great companies [there]. Canada has done a lot of investing in innovative start-up companies, so this agreement really provides an opportunity for those kinds of synergies.”

Indeed, science and technology are “significant drivers of the Israeli economy,” notes a federal government website profiling business opportunities in the Jewish state. Canada, Ontario and Quebec maintain active science and innovation agreements with Israel, providing more than $13 million in annual funding for research and technology commercialization, it adds.

From 2016 to 2018, Canada’s top merchandise exports to Israel were aircraft and parts; industrial machinery; precious stones and metals; electrical and electronic equipment; and scientific and precision instruments.

In the same period, this country’s leading merchandise imports from Israel were, in order of value, industrial machinery; electrical and electronic equipment; scientific and precision instruments; pharmaceutical products; and precious stones and metals.

In tourism, Canada welcomed 68,053 visitors from Israel in 2018, while in 2016, nearly 100,000 Canadians travelled to Israel, according to the government website.

The website adds that the best opportunities for Canadian investors are in the following Israeli sectors: Aerospace and defence; agriculture and agri-food; clean technologies; education; information and communications technologies; and health and life sciences.

Under the modernized CIFTA, nearly all Canadian agriculture, agri-food, and fish and seafood exports to Israel benefit from preferential tariff treatment.

Asked to name a Canadian success story in the bilateral relationship, Ng mentioned LED Roadway Lighting Ltd. in Halifax, a Canadian-owned and operated clean technology company that designs and manufactures energy-efficient LED streetlights and adaptive control solutions.

“Thanks to CIFTA,” said Ng, the company has sold more than 10,000 smart street lights to Israel – from Ashdod to Tel Aviv – 2,000 of which are connected to a wireless network that can be controlled remotely. The Canadian company’s products also light airport runways in Israel, she added.

It’s a “tangible example that demonstrates the real business environment.”

Another example, Ng noted, is SodaStream, an Israeli success story globally. Canada is the company’s fourth-largest market in the world, and last year, it opened a plant in Mississauga, Ont., where spent carbonators are recharged, creating about two dozen jobs.

When it comes to trade, Ng said she takes the long view.

“I tend to always talk about trade agreements as being infinite,” she said, “of helping businesses grow, and that growth leads to jobs, and jobs lead to prosperity.”

*     *     *

On Oct. 12, Ng spoke with Amir Peretz, Israel’s Minister of the Economy and Industry.

According to a news release from Global Affairs Canada, the two discussed the ongoing collaboration between Canada and Israel in response to COVID, including efforts to support economic recovery for workers and businesses in both countries.

“The ministers exchanged views on how to deepen the Canada-Israel trade partnership, which is led by engagement in science, technology and innovation and strengthened by the modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA),” the statement read.

Ng highlighted CIFTA’s potential to advance the Canada-Israel partnership in the years ahead and reviewed ongoing joint work in implementing parts of the agreement that will ensure that the benefits of trade are more widely shared by people in the two countries. These include strong provisions on gender and small businesses, as well as high standards for labour and the environment.

Ng also “emphasized Canada and Israel’s steadfast friendship, as well as Canada’s continued commitment to strengthening all aspects of the relationship while supporting deeper trade ties, economic recovery, and growth in both countries.”

Editorial: Jewish Jurists Serve to Remind Us of Justice

Sept. 23, 2020 – As Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement approaches, we turn our minds to justice – appropriate, given the recent death of the legendary Jewish American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Ginsburg was a wisp of a woman but whose heart was Olympian and whose soul burned fiercely on behalf of those less fortunate, especially women who have, for much of the past century, been treated like second class citizens in the United States. Her decisions were wise, pointed, and filled with the juice of needed change and progress.

Justice has always played a central role in Judaism. Great Jewish biblical heroes, prophets, and philosophers have pointed to the key Jewish precept, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” It appears initially in the Book of Deuteronomy and is part of a set of regulations that bestow on the Jewish people a code of moral behaviour.

Why is the word “justice” repeated twice? The Torah is a very precise book. Each word has been measured for meaning and argued over by great rabbis over many centuries. Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation comes from the most broadly respected rabbi of the 11th century, Rashi, who explains that not only must judges make wise decisions, which accounts for the first “tzedek,” but, as importantly, those in a position of choosing judges must also choose wisely, referring to the second “tzedek.” This gives the people comfort knowing that the courts of justice are populated by good and decent people making judicious decisions.

There is another, more modern interpretation. Some believe the second cry of “justice-tzedek” emphasizes the Jewish values of treating the stranger fairly, feeding the poor, and extending love to our neighbours despite our differences.

In North America, Jewish men and women have figured prominently in the choice of judges. To our great fortune and that of society in general, these Jews have embraced their Jewish values of pursuing justice.

Undoubtedly, “Notorious RBG,” as Ginsburg came to be known, was one of many such Jewish jurists who graced courtrooms in the United States and Canada and did so with a Jewish heart. They were perhaps not as well-known, but certainly as deserving.

From Tillie Taylor, Saskatchewan’s first female Jewish magistrate; to Nathaniel Nemetz, former Chief Justice of British Columbia; to Samuel Freedman, Chief Justice of Manitoba. All three played a key role in the jurisprudence of western Canada.

On the east coast, Constance Glube was the first Jewish woman appointed Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.

In Quebec, where antisemitism was more prevalent than elsewhere in Canada, Jews nonetheless held senior judicial positions: Alan Gold was Chief Justice of Quebec’s Superior Court, and Harry Batshaw and Herbert Marx held sway as a Quebec Superior Court justices (Marx had also been Quebec’s justice minister.)

Ontario also saw the appointment of many Jews to the bench, including Charles Dubin as Chief Justice of Ontario; John I. Laskin, a justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario and a former legal counsel to Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC); and Sydney Harris, a judge of the Ontario Provincial Court and former national president of CJC.

Today’s Ontario bench features another past president and legal counsel of CJC, Edward Morgan; Justice Katherine Feldman; Justice Paul Perell; and recently appointed Justice Edward Prutschi.

And of course, Canada’s Supreme Court has been positively influenced by some of Canada’s most eminent jurists. Bora Laskin also a former chair of CJC’s legal committee was, famously, the first Jewish Canadian to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Others on the land’s highest court were Rosalie Abella, the first Jewish woman to reach Canada’s high court, as well as Morris Fish, Michael Moldaver, and Marshall Rothstein.

Each of these jurists not only upheld the highest legal ethics, but did so as proud Jews who were raised with the understanding that in the Jewish tradition, justice and atonement are the highest ideals.

We at the Canadian Jewish Record are proud of those in our community who are lights unto the nation. As we encounter a very special, socially-distant Yom Kippur, may we all be judged for our good deeds. And may those we hurt either by deed or word forgive us.

COVID Cases Confirmed at Montreal Jewish School

Sept. 14, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Less than two weeks after opening, Talmud Torah and Herzliah High School are contending with three confirmed cases of COVID, the first Montreal Jewish day schools known to be affected by the virus.

Two positive cases at Herzliah were listed on the privately run website covidecolesquebec.com on Sept. 7, and one case at its elementary Talmud Torah on Sept. 10.

The school issued the following statement to CJR: “As one of the many schools in Quebec with COVID-19 cases, Azrieli Schools Talmud Torah/Herzliah is working in close collaboration with Quebec Public Health and following their directives to manage the situation.

“We are in constant communication with all our stakeholders and continue to stress the critical importance of appropriate health and safety measures to contain the spread of the virus, including hand hygiene, physical distancing and mask wearing,” the statement continued.

“We remain committed to delivering high quality education while ensuring the health and safety of our students, teachers, staff and families.”

Brigitte Fortin, the school’s director of strategic marketing and communication, did not respond to further questions from CJR.

It is not known whether the three cases are students or staff, or whether anyone other than those who have tested positive has had to go into isolation.

Talmud Torah has about 200 students and Herzliah 450. Both began the school year on Aug. 27.

Herzliah, which is located in a new building opened two years ago, is on the Jewish Community Campus, the seat of Federation CJA and its affiliates. The high school is the campus’s southern anchor and is physically connected to the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA by an enclosed passageway.

The Y has been closed since March and its projected reopening is Sept. 30.

Talmud Torah remains in the building vacated by Herzliah, a block away.

The Quebec government plan requires all students in grades 5 and up to wear face coverings while in common areas of the school, but masks in the classroom or for younger children is optional.

Schools can recommend mask wearing beyond the government requirements, as  Jewish schools are doing, but they do not have the legal authority to impose it, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has said.

According to information on the Santé Québec website, when a case is confirmed at a school, all staff, students and parents are to be notified. Public health authorities will determine, with the administration, what “close contacts” the affected person has had at the school. If the risk to others is deemed to be high enough, those contacts will have to go into isolation for 14 days as well.

Covid Écoles Québec was created by Montreal IT specialist and parent Olivier Drouin after the government initially refused to make publicly available data on COVID cases in schools.

The government subsequently did make such information available on the Santé Québec site, but its running tally of affected schools lagged well behind Drouin’s and, on Sept. 10, the government  took down the web page – temporarily, it’s been stated – to make adjustments to the data collection system.

(Talmud Torah and Herzliah never appeared on the official list, which was far shorter than the unofficial one and, for reasons unexplained, from which English schools were mostly missing.)

As of Sept. 11, covidecolesquebec.com had compiled 226 schools with at least one confirmed case of COVID since Sept. 1 based on verified reports from parents or staff. There are approximately 3,100 schools in the province from pre-schools to adult training centres that qualify for the count.

Segal Centre to Resume Live Performances After ‘Intermission’

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Dark since March, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts stage will light up again before the end of the year.

Segal Centre

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.”

B’nai Brith Hails Justice for Alleged Neo-Nazi

Sept. 2, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—B’nai Brith Canada is welcoming the news that a court date has been set for an alleged Montreal-based promoter of white supremacy, almost two years after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Gabriel Sohier Chaput, 33, was identified in media reports as having been one of the most prolific propagandists for racist ideology in North America, notably through the U.S.-based far-right site Daily Stormer, under the pseudonym Zeiger.

Gabriel Chaput

The Montreal Gazette reported on Aug. 28 that Chaput faces one charge of willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group in 2016, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

Chaput’s lawyer made a brief appearance in Quebec Court in Montreal this month, when a court date was set for Nov. 24.

Montreal police issued the warrant for Chaput on Oct. 30, 2018, when they indicated his whereabouts were unknown. He was alleged to have engaged in hate speech and attempted to recruit others to his cause.

It was a Gazette investigation, published in May 2018, that provided evidence that Chaput and Zeiger were the same person.

Chaput’s last known address was in Montreal’s Rosemont-La Petite Patrie borough, and he had worked as a computer consultant. Chaput disappeared after the newspaper’s series, and police believed he might have left the country.

Chaput had been on the radar of Montreal anti-fascist activists, who identified him from a Vice News documentary from a 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., which he attended.

Following the Gazette articles, B’nai Brith filed a complaint with the Montreal police hate crimes unit. The organization characterizes Chaput as having been “one of the internet’s leading neo-Nazi influencers.”

The Gazette detailed how Chaput tried to recruit other people to his cause through his own encrypted social media platforms and in-person in Montreal at various venues.

“We are pleased that the wheels of justice have begun turning,” stated B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn in a press release. “Dangerous incitement must face criminal consequences. Working to incite hatred and violence against fellow citizens is utterly abhorrent and has no place in Canadian society…What (Chaput) did must not be taken lightly in the eyes of the law.”

* See related story today, Defence Minister Pledges Action on Racists in Military

Montreal Jewish Schools Say They’re Ready

Aug. 27, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

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.

Physical Museum of Jewish Montreal Will Return, Director Assures

Aug. 25, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

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 tours@imjm.ca.

“’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.

Qu’est-ce qu’être Sépharade dans l’Israël d’aujourd’hui?

Par ELIAS LEVY

En 2017, la présentation du documentaire The Ancestral Sin — Le péché ancestral —, réalisé par David Deri, à la télévision israélienne avait suscité un immense tollé. 

En 2019, un autre documentaire sulfureux, Ma’abarot — Camps de transit —, œuvre de la réalisatrice Dina Ziv-Riklis, présenté aussi en début de soirée par une chaîne de télévision israélienne à une heure de forte cote d’écoute, a relancé la polémique houleuse, qui s’était atténuée au fil des années, sur la condition des Sépharades dans l’Israël naissant des années 50 et 60.

Ces deux documentaires-chocs, présentés respectivement dans le cadre des éditions 2019 et 2020 du Festival du cinéma israélien de Montréal (FCIM), évoquent les déboires des immigrants sépharades, majoritairement originaires du Maroc, arrivés en Israël à partir de la fin des années 50. Ces derniers furent victimes d’une discrimination éhontée de la part des bureaucrates de l’Agence juive.

Ce chapitre sombre de l’histoire d’Israël a exhumé des réminiscences que beaucoup de Sépharades avaient enfouies. Les deux documentaires les ont fait rejaillir avec force.

Quel est l’état réel du séphardisme dans la société israélienne d’aujourd’hui ? Y a-t-il toujours une « Question sépharade » dans l’Israël de 2020?

Quatre fins connaisseurs de l’histoire mouvementée des Mizrahim d’Israël nous ont livré leurs vues sur cette question épineuse.

Pour le journaliste israélien Daniel Bensimon, soixante-douze ans après la création de l’État d’Israël, force est de constater que la « Question sépharade », que certains pensaient révolue, est toujours vivace.

Ex-éditorialiste au quotidien de gauche, Haaretz, et ancien député du Parti travailliste à la Knesset, Daniel Bensimon est l’auteur de plusieurs livres remarqués sur la société israélienne et les villes de développement du sud d’Israël. Il est le récipiendaire du plus prestigieux prix de journalisme décerné en Israël, le Sokolov Prize, l’équivalent du prix Pulitzer américain.

« Des documentaires tels que The Ancestral Sin et Ma’abarot sont des œuvres décapantes réalisées par des Sépharades de la troisième génération qui s’escriment à réhabiliter l’honneur bafoué de leurs grands-parents et parents par un establishment ashkénaze arrogant qui les méprisait profondément. Ces derniers étaient considérés comme des êtres illettrés provenant d’un monde arabe moyenâgeux. Ces Mizrahim de la troisième génération sont en colère. Ils se battent pour que la cruelle vérité ayant trait à la condition de leurs aînés dans l’Israël des années 50, 60 et 70 soit enfin dévoilée à la nouvelle génération de Sabras. Au Québec, votre devise est « Je me souviens ». Les Sépharades d’Israël ont fait aussi leur aussi cet a », nous a dit Daniel Bensimon au cours d’une conversation à bâtons rompus sur l’identité sépharade dans l’Israël de la deuxième décade du XXIe siècle.

Pour l’écrivain et éducateur Ami Bouganim, le séphardisme israélien a été instrumentalisé à des fins politiques par des politiciens sépharades et ashkénazes en quête de visibilité ou de légitimité. 

Né dans la ville portuaire marocaine d’Essaouira (Mogador), cet essayiste, romancier et philosophe, qui vit à Netanya depuis 1970, est l’intellectuel sépharade israélien qui a le mieux retracé le déracinement de la communauté juive marocaine d’Israël qui a fait son Aliya dans les années 50 et 60.

« En Israël, le séphardisme ne sait plus ce qu’il est. Il s’est empêtré dans la controverse orientale, où il a gagné en pugnacité politique ce qu’il a perdu en charme littéraire. Je ne connais pas de définition du séphardisme. Les documentaires The Ancestral Sin et Ma’abarot ont secoué les consciences dans la société israélienne. Mais, en réalité, ces deux documentaires ne nous apprennent rien de nouveau. On a gratté de nouveau les blessures, mais sans éclairer lez zones d’ombre qui perdurent. Toutes les archives sur cette question ont déjà été épluchées par des chercheurs. Regrettablement, ces documentaires ont été exploités par des journalistes et des politiciens à des fins politiques ou idéologiques. »

D’après l’historien israélien Michel Abitbol, en Israël, la « Question sépharade » s’est muée au fil des ans en une « Question sociale ».

Professeur émérite de l’Université hébraïque de Jérusalem (UHJ), ex-directeur de l’Institut Ben-Zvi, affilié à l’UHJ — institution de recherche spécialisée dans l’étude de l’histoire des communautés sépharades et orientales — et ancien directeur pédagogique auprès du ministère de l’Éducation d’Israël, Michel Abitbol est un spécialiste reconnu de l’histoire du judaïsme marocain, des Juifs du monde arabe et du conflit israélo-arabe.

« En Israël, les Sépharades reviennent de très loin. Depuis les années 50, ils ont accompli des progrès énormes sur les plans social et politique. Ils se sont frayés une place des plus honorables dans les principaux secteurs de la société israélienne: la politique —un bon nombre de députés de la Knesset sont Sépharades—, les affaires, l’armée — de nombreux hauts gradés de Tsahal, dont plusieurs chefs d’État-major, sont d’origine sépharade —, la culture, les arts, la musique, la gastronomie… Aujourd’hui, l’enjeu majeur n’est plus la séphardité mais les inégalités sociales de plus en plus criantes dans l’Israël de 2020, souligne-t-il. Ces écarts sociaux accentuent la pauvreté et la paupérisation des couches sociales les plus vulnérables, particulièrement dans les villes de développement du Sud d’Israël peuplées majoritairement de Sépharades originaires du Maroc. Il est vrai par contre que des écarts entre Sépharades et Ashkénazes perdurent aux niveaux scolaire et universitaire, par exemple en ce qui a trait au nombre de bacheliers et de diplômés universitaires de deuxième et troisième cycles. Mais, on ne peut plus parler, comme c’était le cas dans les années 50 et 60, d’un racisme systémique institutionnalisé à l’encontre des communautés sépharades. »

Le tiers du nouveau gouvernement d’union nationale dirigé par Benyamin Netanyahou, soit dix ministres, est composé de Sépharades d’origine marocaine.

Selon le célèbre historien israélien Tom Segev, qui consacre dans son dernier livre — A State at Any Cost. The Life of David Ben-Gurion (Farar, Straus and Giroux Publisher, New York, 2019) — des pages passionnantes aux relations tendues qui ont toujours prévalu entre le père fondateur de l’État d’Israël, David Ben Gourion, et les communautés orientales, bien qu’elle soit moins aiguë que dans les années 60, 70 et 80, la « Question sépharade » subsiste toujours en Israël.

« Soixante-douze ans après la fondation d’Israël, la « Question sépharade » n’a pas encore été résolue. Nous le constatons aujourd’hui dans l’attitude raciste adoptée par beaucoup d’Israéliens à l’égard des Juifs éthiopiens, qui sont confrontés à des épreuves aussi ignominieuses, et même pires, que celles que les Juifs originaires du Maroc ont subies lors de leur Aliya dans les années 50, 60. Chose certaine: ce problème, qui date de l’époque de Ben Gourion, n’est pas à la veille d’être dénoué. »


Elias Levy
Elias Levy