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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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British magazine spotlights Jewish Montreal

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MONTREAL — A British Jewish magazine devotes a section of its latest issue to the Montreal Jewish community, offering a glowing picture of its preservation of its traditions and contribution to the city as a whole.

Jewish Renaissance: Quarterly Magazine of Jewish Culture, published in London, trumpets on its front cover: “Jews of Montreal/Why such a vibrant culture?”

The 12-page section’s opening page is a reproduction of one of the late Montreal artist Sam Borenstein’s colourful tableaux of the city’s working-class neighbourhoods.

The lead article by University of Ottawa Canadian literature professor Seymour Mayne, director of its Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program, attempts to explain why Montreal became the home for such a remarkable flowering of Jewish culture.

He attributes much of that to Jewish immigrants finding themselves the “third solitude,” outside the French-English divide.

Barry Lazar provides a history of the Jews in Quebec from the 1760 British conquest to the present, as well as a portrait of the old Jewish district around The Main, and its current revitalization.

Jack Jedwab, director of the Association for Canadian Studies, is interviewed by the magazine’s editor, Janet Levin, about the community’s demographics.

He estimates that Montreal now has 85,000 Jews: 35,000 Canadian Ashkenazim, 20,000 Sephardim, 15,000 haredim, 10,000 Israelis and 5,000 recent Russian immigrants.

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim’s British-born music director Stephen Glass, who has been living in Montreal for 23 years, is also interviewed. He extols the community’s strong sense of Jewish identification (“there’s no cowering and no apologetics”), but rues how rapidly the community is aging.

Montreal native Rebecca Margolis, an associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s Vered program, writes about the history of Yiddish in Montreal, and there are interviews with teachers at Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools, where Yiddish is an integral part of the curriculum.

Elsewhere, there are pieces about klezmer/hip hop musician Josh Dolgin, Jewish radio, films about Jewish Montreal, and Montreal Jewish poets.

Filmmaker Joyce Borenstein recalls her father Sam Borenstein (1908-1969), and Gazette columnist Bill Brownstein pens a paean to Montreal’s Jewish delis.

Editor Levin comments in her foreword: “That this traditional community is not inward- or backward-looking must, I feel, have something to do with the multiculturalism that has been part of Canadian society for so long, a national recognition, perhaps aided by [poet] A.M. Klein, that the maintenance of alternative cultural traditions is not backwardness and need not be divisive.”

She suggests that the United Kingdom, engaged as it is in a multiculturalism vs. assimilation debate today, could learn something from Montreal.

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