Facing a New Wave of French Canadian Nationalism, Quebec’s Jews Stand Their Ground
Rather than follow previous generations to Ontario, Montreal’s young Jews are saying ‘non’ to the Parti Québécois
Montreal eventually began to attract even those who had left. Henri Hadida, a 58-year-old photographer at the vernissage, moved with his English-speaking Ashkenazi wife and their two young children 125 miles west to Ottawa, Ontario, in 1991. “All of a sudden, here’s a political movement that’s going to threaten my way of living,” Hadida told me. “It was very reminiscent of what happened in Germany after the war.” But Hadida returned to Montreal in 2006, once his children had grown, lured by the tacit understanding between the city’s Jews and Francophone nationalists—a peace that has now been violated. “What’s occurred with the charter debate,” Luciano Del Negro, CIJA’s vice president for Quebec, told me, “is that this understanding was broken and the community felt it was coming under assault.”
So, the city’s Jews are fighting back. The city’s Jewish General Hospital has said it would flat out defy the charter without seeking an exemption, and community organizations, like the Federation CJA, have been unified in their condemnations of the law. Last month, someone vandalized posters outside the PQ’s offices in Longeuil north of Montreal with swastikas and the words “Don’t touch my kippah” and “Drainville out”—a reference to Bernard Drainville, the minister for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship who drafted the charter.
Zev Moses explained to me that the Jewish community, less insular than it was even two decades ago, has shed its protectionist, “circle-the-wagons” mentality. Having grown up under Bill 101, younger Anglophone Jews are more attuned to French language and Francophone culture. And French-speaking Sephardi Jews, who first arrived in droves from the Muslim world following Israel’s Six Day War in 1967, now comprise nearly a quarter of the community. While numbers are imprecise, hundreds of Jews—fleeing another brand of secular anti-Semitism—are believed to have emigrated from France in recent years.
When I met with Moses he rattled off a list of renewal programs that have cropped up in the last five years, from The Wandering Chew, a pop-up supper club that hosts ethnic Jewish theme nights, to Le Mood, a French riff on the Jewish learning conference Limmud. Last month, Moses said, more than 2,000 people attended a pop-up exhibit for his museum. Jewish life is undergoing a “mini-cultural renaissance,” he said, and won’t easily be unsettled.
The morning after the Cégep exhibition I met Tamara Kramer, the 37-year-old editor of an “alternative” online Jewish magazine called Shtetl, at a café in Mile End, blocks from Wilensky’s and the St-Viateur bagel shop, both longstanding pillars of Montreal’s Jewish food scene. Young, secular Jews have flooded back into the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, and a Hasidic population encroaches from adjacent Outremont. A friend of mine who lives in the Mile End, but grew up in the heavily Jewish suburb of Côte Saint-Luc, recently recalled her grandmother’s joking disapproval of moving back into an area from which her husband worked so hard to escape.
Kramer, who was in high school during the 1995 referendum, acknowledges that Anglophones—Jews among them—could ultimately respond to a PQ resurgence with their feet. But the likelihood of that happening, in her opinion, is low. Recent polls show that fewer than 40 percent of Québécois say they would vote “yes” in a referendum, and Marois has steadfastly tried to keep the issue far from the campaign trail. “It’s less dark,” Kramer said, comparing this election to the mid-1990s. And the charter, she argues, while a huge and potentially decisive wedge issue, is more provocative than practical. “It feels like theater,” she said, “like: Here [the PQ] goes, trying to get a rise out of us again.”
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