Air Transat brings the Israel experience a lot closer

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Celebrating Air Transat service to Tel Aviv with Robert Presser, Glenn J. Nashen and Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman

A whole lot of Quebecers are about to get an incredible experience travelling directly to Israel aboard Air Transat. The Montreal-based airline kicked off its Trudeau to Ben Gurion non-stop service as a sort of birthday bash, marking its 30 years in business and highlighting Montreal’s 375th anniversary. 150 years of Canadian federation, as well as 100 years of Federation CJA.

The event took place in the ultra-modern Montreal Science Centre at the Old Port. There was an interesting mix of politicos, business leaders, young entrepreneurs and community who’s who. English, French and Hebrew-speaking, Kosher or not, young and less young, the audience reflected the multicultural, hip crowd of would-be travelers that Air Transat is targeting.

Airline prez Jean-Marc Eustache, lead off the formalities by saying that they weren’t looking to become mere transporters. The airline’s strategy is to build travel experiences with local partners in Israel to offer excursions, lodging and tours to meet the needs of Quebec couples, families and singles alike. And, publicity will soon begin to promote Montreal and Quebec as a hot tourist destination for Israelis.

Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman was beaming with excitement at the prospect of tens of thousands of Quebecers seeking a taste of Israel. Whether it’s for the food, the wine or the music, for exploring or for religious travel, Israel has it all, said the coolest diplomat Israel has sent to Montreal in modern times. The Israeli Consul for Tourism, Uri Steinberg, said that the relationship between Israel and Air Transat would flourish, like a romance, as they become closer and closer, falling in love with one another. Quebecers will love Israel, he said.

Glenn J. Nashen, Sandy Sparkman and Robert Presser at the Air Transat kickoff of bi-weekly direct service between Montreal to Tel Aviv

Montreal City Councillor and Executive Committee member Lionel Perez said that Montrealers will benefit from being five or six hours closer thanks to the direct flights and that Israelis will come in large numbers to enjoy Montreal’s flair, sites and culture. And we have great religious sites to share with them such as the St. Joseph’s Oratory, the Notre Dame Cathedral and eventually a downtown Expos stadium!

The Transat folks created a true Israeli atmosphere, raffling off two free flights for two to Israel, serving spicy, tasty hors d’ouevres and five kinds of humus provided by Alan Serour of Beso Catering. A 5-piece orchestra belted out Klezmer tunes and Israeli wine flowed freely.

Glenn J. Nashen and CSUQ President Henri Elbaz discussing their next trip to Israel aboard Air Transat

It was great to see my old JGH boss Henri Elbaz and his physician wife Dr. Sandy, CIJA chief Eta Yudin, Senator Marc Gold, Hamsptead Mayor Bill Steinberg and his wife Doris, Outremont City Councillor Mindy Pollak, Israel Day Rally impresario Amos Sochaczevski, Israeli commuter-in-chief Dado Ben Brit, community activists Sandy Sparkman and Robert Presser and former news anchor Pascale Dery. CSL Insurance and Travel Professional Ruth Cohen will be plugging Air Transat service from her Cavendish Mall headquarters,

Good luck to Air Transat in finally bringing back direct service to Ben Gurion airport after a decades long gap. Here’s to falling in love with Israel!

Canada’s oldest Jewish community welcomes new addition – a history museum

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‘The third most spoken language in the city for 50 years was Yiddish’

Focusing on the Jewish impact on the city’s culture, the Montreal institution covers Leonard Cohen, art, landmarks — and even cuisine

April 16, 2017, 3:59 am 1
Zev Moses, director of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

MONTREAL — Canada’s oldest Jewish community is commemorating its heritage with a newly-opened museum just outside Montreal’s historic Jewish Mile End neighborhood.

Housed in a former Jewish garment factory, the small Museum of Jewish Montreal distinguishes itself from other Jewish museums in Canada by not focusing on the Holocaust but on local Jewish history.

“One of my inspirations was looking out of the window,” says Zev Moses, the museum’s director. “I saw a building that looked like a synagogue that was converted into apartments. I googled it and there was no information about it. Eventually, I found out it was a synagogue but no one had put Montreal Jewish landmarks on a map.”

So Moses, who was 26 years old at the time and had a degree in city planning, decided to do just that.

The Museum of Jewish Montreal started out as a digital project, dots on a map representing Montreal’s old Jewish landmarks. For instance, Moses says there were at least 90 synagogues that had been converted to other uses.

‘One of my inspirations was looking out of the window’

Later, the museum began to offer walking tours, and finally last summer — with support from the government of Canada, the city of Montreal, and the Jewish community — established itself in a permanent physical space.

Visitors can find temporary exhibits and a cafe that serves surprising Jewish foods, such as gefilte fish sandwiches on challah bread. There is also a bookstore, with novels by Jewish authors set in Montreal, and works of nonfiction about the city’s oldest Yiddish newspaper or the smoked meat sandwiches from the famous Schwartz’s deli located just down the block. It is the only non-religious Jewish bookstore in Montreal, Moses says.

A view of the street from inside the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

A view of the street from inside the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

One of the recent exhibits featured old photos of Montreal synagogues next to pictures of what these buildings became: apartment blocks, churches and cultural centers. One former synagogue houses the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada; others have been reincarnated as a Greek Orthodox church, a Vietnamese Buddhist temple and a private high school called “College Francais.” The school looks like a modern building, but on closer inspection Hebrew writing can still be seen in a semi-circle above the front entrance.

‘This is the stuff on the tour where people are really shocked’

“People walk by it all the time and don’t notice anything. But when we tell them to look up, they see the writing,” says Magdalene Klassen, a researcher at the museum. “This is the stuff on the tour where people are really shocked.”

The building where the museum is located is itself linked to the city’s Jewish heritage. Originally known as the Vineberg building (it was built by Abraham Vineberg in 1912), it was a garment factory that employed mostly Jewish workers. The owner thought he was a good boss because he let his Jewish workers take Saturdays off instead of Sundays, Klassen says, but the workers still hungered for higher wages.

Montreal’s Jewish history

Moses, who has lived in Montreal since he was a child, knows all about the city’s Jewish history.

Canadian Jewish history began when Montreal’s first Jews arrived in around 1760, after the British conquest. Until that time, French Catholics did not allow Jews to settle in New France, Moses says. These first Jewish settlers were English-speaking Sephardic merchants, who established Montreal’s first synagogue at the end of the 18th century.

Leonard Cohen during a concert in Ramat Gan, Israel, September 24, 2009. (Marko / Flash90)

Leonard Cohen during a concert in Ramat Gan, Israel, September 24, 2009. (Marko / Flash90)

Leonard Cohen during a concert in Ramat Gan, Israel, September 24, 2009. (Marko / Flash90)

But the largest wave of Jewish migration to Canada took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Jews began arriving from the Russian empire and Eastern Europe. Famous Montreal citizen Leonard Cohen‘s mother, for example, was a Lithuanian Jew of Russian descent, who immigrated to Canada in 1927.

Most of these new immigrants settled in the working-class Plateau neighborhood of Montreal, renting cold-water apartments along Saint-Lawrence Boulevard, also known as The Main (street), because it divides Montreal into east and west. English-speakers generally lived on the west side and French speakers on the east. Addresses in the city are counted from the Saint-Lawrence Boulevard.

“Because the city was divided between the French Catholics and the English Protestants, and the Jews lived in-between, they were able to maintain their culture and the Yiddish language much longer than other Jewish communities in North America,” Moses says. “The third most spoken language in the city for 50 years was Yiddish.”

Illustrative: a Jewish boy in Montreal. (photo credit: David Ouellette/JTA)

Illustrative: a Jewish boy in Montreal. (photo credit: David Ouellette/JTA)

In fact, Yiddish is still the mother tongue of about 15,000 Montreal Jews — the Hassidim, including the Belz, Satmar, Vizhnitz and Skver dynasties, as well as the Tosh (or Tash), a Hungarian dynasty entirely based in Canada with a village just north of Montreal.

However, after World War II, as the Montreal Jewish community prospered, Jews began moving away from the Plateau neighborhood to other parts of Montreal. And then, with the Quebec independence movement gaining strength, many left the French-speaking province altogether. Some settled in Toronto, which is now home to the largest Jewish community in Canada.

Jewish Montreal today

Nowadays the Jewish community of Montreal is stable, with a population of about 90,000, Moses says. French-speaking Moroccan Jews who immigrated to Montreal in the 1960s number around 25,000, and the rest are Ashkenazi, mostly English-speakers.

In recent decades, Montreal also welcomed Jews from the former Soviet Union, France and Argentina, Moses adds.

Book for sale in the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

Book for sale in the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

Meanwhile, the Plateau neighborhood has become one of the hippest areas to live in Montreal, with cafes and restaurants offering varied international cuisine. And while the Jewish community has moved, the neighborhood is still famous for its Jewish food — the Montreal bagels, which are baked in ovens right in front of the customers and sold when they’re still warm; the poppy seed pastries; cheese-filled blintzes; and the smoked meat sandwiches served with a pickle on the side.

Not to be outdone, the Museum’s café, Fletchers, prides itself on using the city’s rich Jewish culinary heritage to create unique dishes. For instance, they sell a cookie based on a recipe from an Iraqi Jewish Montrealer — there are said to be a few thousand Iraqi Jews living in Montreal. The cookie is made with almond flour, cardamom and rosewater and is kosher for Passover, says Kat Romanow, who is in charge of the menu.

The cafe also offers the traditional bagel with a twist — Moroccan-spiced lox.

The menu at Fletcher's, the Jewish fusion cafe inside the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

The menu at Fletcher’s, the Jewish fusion cafe inside the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

“We’re taking a very Ashkenazi dish — bagels and lox — and putting a Moroccan spice mix on the fish, marrying the two largest Jewish communities in Montreal,” Moses says.

And then there is the gefilte fish sandwich.

The gefilte fish is pan-fried and served warm with a horseradish sauce, accompanied by a carrot and parsley salad on challah. Moses says that the sandwich does not contain any of the either loved or reviled fish jelly.

“I was like, ‘No way it’s going to sell,’ but it’s probably our most popular dish,” admits Moses.

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Commemoration, Sunday, April 23, 7:30 PM

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Holocaust survivors invite Montrealers to participate in the Yom Hashoah commemoration to remember the victims of the Shoah, honour the survivors and consider how we can learn from the Holocaust as we look to the future.

The commemoration will include poems and short readings in English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish, as well as songs performed by a Jewish children’s Choir. This years’ theme is Reflections on the Holocaust – Carrying on the Legacy.

 

Mimouna night in CSL

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Joe and Dolly Gabbay open their Cote Saint-Luc home, and sweet table, to friends and neighbours to celebrate the Minouna, April 18, 2017

Mimouna is a three century old North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marking the return to eating chametz (leavened foods), which are forbidden throughout the week of Passover.

The celebration begins after nightfall on the last day of Passover. In many communities, non-Jewish neighbours sell chametz back to Jewish families as a beginning of the celebration. Moroccan and Algerian Jews throw open their homes to visitors, after setting out a lavish spread of traditional holiday cakes and sweetmeats. One of the holiday favorites is Mofletta. The table is also laid with various symbols of luck and fertility, with an emphasis on the number “5,” such as five pieces of gold jewelry or five beans arranged on a leaf of pastry. The repetition of the number five references the five-fingered hamsa amulet common in both Jewish and Muslim North African and Middle Eastern communities from pre-modern times. Typically all those in attendance at a Mimouna celebration are sprinkled with a mint sprig or other green dipped in milk, symbolizing good fortune and new beginnings.

And such was the case in many homes across Cote Saint-Luc on Tuesday night. Our night out began after 10:00PM at the home of Joe and Dolly Gabbay. They welcomed my wife, Judy, and me, with open arms, along with our friends, Mayor Mitchell and Elaine Brownstein, MP Anthony Housefather and Councillor Sidney Benizri.

Joe explained that a whole fish is traditionally placed on the table to symbolize fertility and good fortune while many of the sweet pastries were prepared well before the Passover holiday, frozen and symbolically sold, as not to posses chametz during the holiday.

It wasn’t long before the Gabbay home was filled with people including our D’Arcy McGee MNA, David Birnbaum as well former MNAs from the same riding, Lawrence Bergman and Judge Herbert Marx. Israeli Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman was also in attendance.

Mitchell Brownstein, Lawrence Bergman, David Bergman, Herbert Marx and Glenn J. Nashen (Apr. 18, 2017)

It is customary to spend a little time visiting the host family’s home before moving on to other homes. After a beautiful spread at the Gabbay home, including Moroccan pastries, Mofletta, coucous, cheeses, fruit and smoked salmon, wine and spirits it was time to move on for the next late night visit.

A wonderful welcome and magnificent display in the Gabbay dining room. Many thanks to Joe and Dolly for their warm hospitality.

Our group of friends traveled down the block to the beautiful home of Lison Benarroch  who greeted us in traditional attire to a lavish presentation. The renowned business woman transformed her dining room into an opulent display of North African inspired sweets, nuts, candies and fruit. As if that weren’t enough there was sushi, lox, wonderful cheeses of all sorts and fresh baked loaves of bread.

Judy Hagshi, Lison Benarroch and Elaine Brownstein

There was an endless stream of well-wishers who kept arriving to Lison’s lovely home. Strangers and friends alike mingled easily offering greetings of Tarbukh, May you have good luck.

The generous array of fruits, nuts and sweets at the Benarroch home for Mimouna

 

Even the sushi adorned the Mimouna display at Lison Benarroch’s gorgeous home

 

A whole fish on green leaves, symbolizing fertility and prosperity at the Benarroch home

As we were heading out yet another former politician walked in, none other than Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and MP for Mount Royal Irwin Cotler and his wife Ariella.

Former and current Members of Parliament for Mount Royal, Irwin Cotler and Anthony Housefather, along with Ariella Cotler

 

Chantal Bekhor is one famous Cote Saint-Lucer after competing for Top Prize in the cookie category on Food Network Canada‘s Recipe to Riches.

Bekhor, is a food sensation, who first introduced Canada to her family’s traditional recipe for the Mahbooz Date Biscuit, a typical Iraqi Jewish dessert.  She was featured by the Montreal Gazette as well.

Chantal Bekhor, the most famous baker in Cote Saint-Luc

The former JPPS English and math teacher is a dynamic and affable hostess along with her business partner and husband Emanuel Castiel. They opened their home to hundreds of friends during the Mimouna to some incredible pastries, cakes, chocolate bark, truffles, Iraqi delights, and more, all home made of course. While the  judges on Recipe to Riches said they loved the Mahbooz treat, calling it, “Exotic, versatile, ” I can attest to the fact that her baking is even so much more.

Judy Hagshi, Glenn J. Nashen, Anthony Housefather, Emanuel Castiel, Chantal Bekhor, Mitchell and Elaine Brownstein among the friends and family at the Mimouna celebration in the Bekhor-Castiel home

My wife is a big fan of Chantal’s food. Indeed my girls and Judy cheered Chantal on a few years back on her television debut, not just because of my wife’s common Sephardi roots, but because the Mahbooz date-filled cookie looked absolutely delicious and a treat that would be appreciated by a large number of Cote Saint-Lucers to be sure, as well as Canadians in general.

Thank you Chantal and Emanuel for such generous hospitality and for an absolutely delicious assortment of treats. My sugar level and calorie intake reached an all time one night high but I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Tonight I am so pleased to have been reacquainted with such friendly and welcoming Cote Saint-Lucers such as the Gabbays, Benarrochs and Bekhor-Castiels.

On behalf of my family and my great friends Mitchell and Elaine Brownstein, Anthony Housefather and Sidney Benizri, thank you so much for your hospitality, and sharing your Mimouna with us. We are blessed to live in such an amazing community in Cote Saint-Luc – a vibrant, rich and caring community, a wonderful multicultural family.

I wish you all Tarbukh, success and good luck.  And now, my treadmill awaits!

 

Happy Passover – Celebrate freedom

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Passover is a celebration of spring, of birth and rebirth, of a journey from slavery to freedom, and of taking responsibility for yourself, the community, and the world.

On Passover, all Jews are encouraged to direct their thoughts toward the source of Jewish identity and the centrality of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem in Jewish life, as highlighted throughout the text of the Haggadah, which actually closes with the prayer to return next year to a rebuilt Jerusalem. It also encourages us to reinforce our commitment to maintaining a stable and secure Jewish state for ourselves and future generations.

Passover also carries a universal message of freedom for all, from the ravage of war, from starvation and famine from all sorts of oppresion. It’s a message of social justice – of doing the right thing, to one another, for one another, for mankind

This is a Passover card from ORT Cuba (courtesy of Jacob Kincler) that the tiny Jewish Cuban community sends around the world.  The unity of the Jewish People for thousands of years is remarkable.  That a community such as theirs, in Cuba, continues to celebrate freedom, isn’t ironic at all.  It is typical of Jewish communities everywhere, even for those who rights and liberties pale in comparison to ours here in Canada.

Years ago I served as chair of the Cuban Jewry Task force at Canadian Jewish Congress.  Their community relies upon Canadian Jews, as well as those in Mexico, Venezuela and elsewhere to maintain their Jewish lifeline.  Their determination and resilience should serve as an inspiration to all. This is most meaningful to my family, having visited the Cuban Jewish community just weeks ago.

Passover is also a special holiday for the entire Nashen (Nachshen) Family as the namesake of our clan, Nachshon Ben Aminadav, a Prince of the Tribe of Judah, was the first to enter the waters during the Splitting of the Red Sea.

From my family to yours, Happy Passover. May you find freedom in your lives and your community and may it spread to all people around the world. Chag Sameach. 

Elimination of Mont-Royal perversely penalizes natural communities

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By: Anthony Housefather, M.P. for Mount-Royal

Published in The Suburban, Mar 22, 2017
I want to express my gratitude to the Cote Des Neiges/NDG Borough Council, the Cote Saint-Luc City Council, The Town of Mount Royal town council and the Hampstead town council for their leadership on this important issue opposing the proposed electoral map changes. I join with them and our MNAs Pierre Arcand and David Birnbaum on a matter that negatively impacts the population I represent at the federal level as well as other minority communities in Quebec.

The Director General of Elections has produced a map that unfairly penalizes everyone living on the island of Montreal by eliminating a riding on the island while preserving rural ridings with much smaller populations. This means that a vote on the island is worth less than a vote in other parts of the province. The situation is exacerbated by the choice of ridings they are eliminating. The decision to eliminate the provincial riding of Mont-Royal effectively makes the most diverse riding in the province disappear. Its merger with Outremont creates a riding of almost 57,000 voters, approximately twice the population of the smallest rural riding. More importantly it disproportionately and negatively impacts English speaking cultural communities including but not limited to the Filipino and Bangladeshi communities who wielded important influence in Mont-Royal and now are split between D’Arcy McGee and the newly created Mont-Royal/Outremont riding. Perversely the size of the territory added to D’Arcy McGee now also makes that riding one of the most heavily populated ridings in the province and negatively impacts the Jewish community and the entire English speaking community whose voices are diluted by the added territory. This is not even to address the unfair split of the Hassidic community between the new Mont-Royal-Outremont and Mercier ridings and the unfair split of the Greek community in Laval.
Why natural communities, especially minority language and cultural communities were so disregarded in the new map proposed by the Quebec Director General of Elections is puzzling and somewhat shocking and I want to join my voice to those of my own constituents and others who are denouncing this in the strongest terms. As there appears to be no means other than a court challenge to undo the perverse and negative effects of the electoral map I want to congratulate Beryl Wajsman the editor of the Suburban newspaper who has been raising funds for such a challenge. I pledge to make a personal financial contribution to any such challenge and ask those who can afford to do so to join me in doing so. Our voices are not lost if we join together to fight.

Anthony Housefather,MP

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Thank you to our ever-present Member of Parliament for taking a strong position and effectively communicating (as he always does) right across the region.

WWII story of love and loss has roots in CSL

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She gave him hope. He gave her a promise.

When I first read about the film by Naomi Jaye entitled, The Pin, all I knew was that it was a unique cinematic production given that it was recorded in Yiddish. I did not know that it was a Canadian funded film nor that there were any connections to Cote Saint-Luc. But I knew enough that I though a copy ought to be purchased for the Cote Saint-Luc Public Library. All it took was one quick call to Chief Librarian Janine West.

The copy arrived and I was fortunate to be the first to withdraw the DVD from the massive film collection. And last Sunday I popped some popcorn and cranked up the DVD player so that my parents, son and I could sit down to our first inter-generational Yiddish movie, thankfully with English subtitles. I must say, I was impressed how much Yiddish I actually understood, so a big shout out to JPPS and the late principals Yaacov Zipper, Leib Tencer and Nachum Wilchesky, not to forget so many famous teachers like leren (teacher, miss)) Rose, leren Chava, leren Laya, lerer (teacher, Mr.) Shwartzberg and of course the world-famous Yiddishist from 1970s Bialik High School, Aaron Lansky.

The Pin is a wonderful story about two young people who experience love and loss while in hiding in the same barn during the horrible days of WWII. After a life of regret, the young man, now old, is faced with an opportunity for redemption.

This touching romance in Yiddish is a universal story of love and devotion over the years.

The film starts are Grisha Pasternak and Milda Gecaite.

What caught my attention though was something quite obscure. In one of the final scenes, when the main protagonists were running to jump on a passing train I noticed that an old, faded logo of CP Rail was noticeable on the aging boxcar. At that point I realized there was a Canadian connection and the film must have been shot here. As the credits rolled I noticed that funding by the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts supported this film.

Final credits also acknowledged a Montreal Yiddish initiative and thanks were offered to Cote Saint-Luc natives Jack Wolofsky and his daughter Sandy.

In the audio clip below, Naomi Jaye, director of The Pin, shares the story behind this 2013 film. The Pin is the first Yiddish-language film (with English subtitles) to be shot in Canada, and the second in North America in over 70 years.

 

 

The Pin was nominated for Best Foreign Romance Trailer in the Golden Trailer Awards in 2014.

The Pin (85 minutes) is available on loan, free of charge to members of the Cote Saint-Luc Public Library under filing code DVD FOR P645.

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