MONTREAL — Zev Moses is only 27 years old, but by the end of the year he will be launching a local project that, according to him, is unprecedented in terms of its 21st-century ambition and scope.
Called the Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal (IMJM), the museum is described on its temporary promotional website – at www.imjm.ca – as both an “online and outdoor museum.”
The museum will use its website as well as mobile technology to “make the heritage of places and events, people and stories of the community engaging and easily accessible anywhere.”
But that dry description belies the importance of what Moses, who holds a master’s degree in urban planning, is actually up to.
What he is out to do is to put on the IMJM website – which is to be fully bilingual – a first-ever complete “mapping” of Montreal Jewish history and to incorporate onto the site as many personal images, stories, anecdotes, songs, films and narrations that would come from an ongoing – and potentially unlimited – flow of material from the Jewish community and general public.
That would also be incorporated onto the “outdoor” part of the museum, which would make it possible, when using a mobile device such as an iPhone, to walk through the city, enter an address through a specialized application, and be presented with an audio and visual display of that particular place’s Jewish history and significance.
That application, Moses indicated, could include anything from Moishe’s Restaurant and the Monument Nationale theatre to the Jewish community campus or older structures that formerly served or now operate as synagogues, Jewish restaurants, old folks homes, and places of literary and historic significance.
But it could also include, for example, your bubbie’s personal account of what it was like to go to a Jewish play at the Monument Nationale decades ago. Information would pop up like “bubbles” on the mobile device’s screen.
By example, “where we’re sitting,” said Moses in a recent interview in a café at the corner of historic St. Lawrence Boulevard and Duluth Street, “the Keneder Adler [newspaper] was across the street. The Globe Theatre was one street down. But you would not necessarily know this.”
Moses emphasized that the project, which coincides with the 250th anniversary year of Montreal Jewry, is not meant to nostalgically capture the heyday of a community sometimes described as being in decline. Quite to the contrary, he sees the IMJM project – and the Jewish community – as evolving and dynamic.
“This is actually an exciting time for our community as new groups, grassroots initiatives and projects are beginning to sprout and re-engage Jews that were formerly disconnected,” Moses said.
“Montreal has become a very attractive place to move for people from around Canada, the United States and elsewhere who work in creative industries, the arts, and entrepreneurial pursuits.”
The IMJM home page states that the museum is being created “at a crucial point for our community… Young people are returning to our neighbourhoods of their immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents.
“Many members of older generations seek to share their memories and stories with their children and grandchildren. Our community looks to tell our unique story to our neighbours in Montreal and throughout the world.”
Moses was actually one of those Americans attracted here. Originally from New York City – his maternal grandmother was a Montrealer – he was and remains captivated by Montreal and its Jewish community.
Moses got the idea for an interactive museum in July 2009, when he came across a building on Hotel de Ville Street.
Because of its unique shape, “like Noah’s ark,” Moses recalled, “I knew it was once a synagogue, but there were no outward signs”
Going online, Moses started to look for some type of historic map of Jewish Montreal, but had no luck.
Eventually, he found out the structure was the old Beth Yehudah Congregation that was one day to merge with the Shomrim Laboker.
“There was nothing easily accessible,” Moses said, “so I thought, ‘Why not have a website and something you could use at a mobile location?’ I don’t like the term ‘virtual museum’ because it is much more than that. You will have the website, and you will the ‘outdoor’ museum, where you will be able to find information.”
Moses’ last months have been spent securing financing for the project and, after that, engaging five researchers to work on compiling a massive database, divided into categories ranging from religion and leisure to business, politics, the arts and education.
“Don’t forget, we are identifying and mapping thousands of people, places and events since 1750,” Moses said. “One of the things we are focusing on is the diversity of the community and the way we identify as Jews,” Moses said. “In many ways, we are a community of communities.”
The primary source of financial backing for the project has come in the form of a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, but it also won fast approval from Norman Ravvin, head of the Concordia Institute for Jewish Studies. Material for the database has come from a number of sources so far, including the Canadian Jewish Congress and Jewish Public Library archives, local historian Joe King and Naomi Freeman.
Ultimately, however, the long-term success of the IMJM, Moses stressed, will depend on grassroots support and the “collective memory” of the Jewish community.
It is they, Moses said, who can provide the IMJM with the essential personal ephemera and the support it needs to survive and to make it unique.
To contact Moses, e-mail [email protected].