A peculiar white building stands tall on a quiet street in Montreal. Inside, everything seems perfectly in place. Black and white photographs of all the local mayors are neatly aligned on the left wall and on the other side, a table is set up with several brochures advertising upcoming community events. Further into the building there’s a laminated Charter of Rights and Freedoms hanging on the right, and a Canadian and Quebec flag sway on the pole against the back wall. It is exactly what one would expect to see in a Montreal borough hall. Yet amidst all this there is something unexpected, something unusual; a female Hasidic borough councillor dressed in modest attire is going about her business, chatting with her colleagues in fluent French.
Her name is Mindy Pollak. She grew up in Montreal and attended a local all-girls Hasidic school. Her background is just like thousands of other Hasidic women in the community. Running for borough councillor was the last thing Mindy ever expected to do, but in 2011 her life took an unexpected turn.
“A Hasidic shul on the street I grew up on ran into some trouble when some non-Hasidic locals attempted to stop it from renovating and expanding,” Pollak explained in a CJN interview.
Her non-Jewish neighbour got involved when she realized that all the anger and hate was due to a divide and lack of communication between the local Hasidim and their neighbours. Together, Pollak and her neighbour, Leila Marshy founded the organization called Friends of Hutchison. Its mission is to open dialogue and help build bridges between different communities.
The first step following the creation of Friends of Hutchison was to organize a public meeting, open to Hasidim and non-Jews alike. Everyone was welcome to share their thoughts, concerns and ideas.
“After several moments it became clear that the ignorance and lack of dialogue among the different Montreal communities was causing unnecessary rift. Prior to that meeting, there had never been a forum to sit down together and actually listen to each other,” Pollak remarked.
When the leaders from Projet Montréal, a progressive Montreal political party, asked Pollak to run for borough councillor, she was surprised. However, after much deliberation and family support, she went for it. Following a vigorous campaign, Mindy Pollak was elected the new borough councillor of the Claue-Ryan district in the heart of Montreal.
Her backstory, which has culminated in a borough councillor position, is extraordinary.
“The endless opportunity to help people is what attracted me to this job in the fist place. There was a void to be filled, so I got involved. All I wanted was to make a difference,“ she said with passion evident in her voice.
Pollak’s dedication to the people in her borough is astounding. Whether it is regarding intricate issues such as passing new by-laws, or simply helping an individual apply for a permit, Pollak is there to support her community.
Above all, the politician has markedly changed things for the Hasidic community. Ever since she has been elected, the atmosphere among non-jewish politicians has changed drastically. The Hasidic community is very well represented in the political sphere.
“I attribute these changes to my colleagues’ open-mindedness and willingness to listen to different viewpoints. Ever since I became elected, the Hasidic community’s needs are respected and considered,” Pollak admits proudly.
“Last Chanukah, during the monthly council meeting, doughnuts were available for citizens and council members. Obviously it wasn’t about the doughnuts (though they were delicious!), it was the fact that a Jewish holiday was publicly acknowledged at an Outremont council meeting.”
Whenever she is asked about her future career plans, Pollak responds with the same few words: ”As long as there’s still work to do here, I’m not going anywhere!” Answered like a true public servant.