Long live Québec and Lag B’Omer! – LaPresse

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Lag Beomer 2014

Below is an English translation of a piece published this past Saturday in the print edition of the LaPresse. But first I would like to quote 3 other Jeanne Mance residents who emailed us regarding the Lag B’Omer event.

James Bassil – JM resident:
“…it’s always nice to see life and vibrancy on the street, and it allowed me to discover a festive side to my Hassidic neighbours that I hadn’t seen before. Lots of babies and kids on the street having fun, which is always nice…”

Danièle M. – JM resident:
“…I want to thank you for the good public relations work you have done with the two letters that you distributed to mailboxes. In the 23 years living in the area, this is the first time I see an effort on the Hasidic community to inform us about an event… I appreciated the fact that the music was stopped at 23h and fire off at 23:15. In addition, around 0:15, everything was already picked up and the street was clean. You have been remarkably efficient!”

Saidet P. – JM resident:
“…I love the diversity of our neighborhood and I hope and I dream of a reconciliation between the residents and I hope that with this gesture will be a start to have a more harmonious relations and exchanges between all of us.”

Long live Québec and Lag B’Omer! – LaPresse, May 24, 2014

Natasha DeCruz:

LaPresse, May 24, 2014

LaPresse, May 24, 2014

On a Saturday night in May, Jeanne-Mance Street was the site of the Jewish festival of Lag B’Omer. We are deep in the heart of Mile End, a neighbourhood that moves to the rhythm of its diverse cultures, religions, languages and customs every day of the year. The Mile End of Mordechai Richler and Wilensky’s. A neighbourhood coveted by so many Francophone artists who have chosen to live side by side with us Anglophones as well as Italians, Portuguese, and Hassidic Jews.

That Saturday night, City workers were busy setting up metal gates around the site for a big bonfire to commemorate the passing of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who lived in the 2nd century of the Common Era. He was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the “Kabbalah,” and is the author of the core Kabbalistic text, the “Zohar.”

Jewish girls in their long velvet dresses ran up and down the sidewalks, waiting for the sun to set, the end of the Sabbath, and the lighting of the bonfire in the middle of the street.

While my friends and family made themselves comfortable on our front porch, a few Hassidic women who live on my street came to make sure their celebration was not disturbing us. The son of a friend was somewhat sceptical as he watched several City workers setting up the equipment for the event: “I wonder who’s paying for all this.” But this young math student, intelligent and above all logical, could not refute the argument that was presented by another friend: “They (Hassidim Jews) pay taxes just like us, and never take advantage of all our events (St-Jean Baptiste, the Santa Claus Parade and Montreal’s many summertime festivals). For once this is for them!”

I’ve been living in Mile End for nearly 20 years, on a street that is overwhelmingly Hassidic. My husband and I are Anglophones of immigrant parents who came to Canada from three different continents. Our three sons have had the opportunity to grow up on the street where they are a minority, which has given them a lesson in tolerance, non-judgment and the realization that not everyone lives like us nor aspires to be like us. Over the years, they have heard denigrating comments about their Jewish neighbours, but they have always known how to respond (in English and in French) with arguments that reflect the values of a truly democratic and pluralistic society.

After the collapse of the Parti Québécois, that Saturday night, for the first time in a long time, I was proud to be a Quebecer. That night, if only for a brief moment, and at a distance, we had the privilege to share in the celebrations of our Hassidic neighbours. What we saw, beneath a sparkling canopy of stars, was nothing short of pure joy. In my front yard, a Hassidic man and a young hipster danced together, each holding a little boy’s hands.

Admittedly, we were a little sad to see only men dancing. But then, as women of different cultures, the best we can do is observe one another through the lens of our personal values. Hassidic women are free to evolve at their own pace and in their own way. We too are free to observe them and to examine our own lifestyles and beliefs.

Madame Marois, you should have been there. Except that, in a Québec where Lag B’Omer is celebrated and shared by all, there is no place for you. In fact, as that glorious bonfire burned bright and joyful, I would have loved to throw your Charter of Values into the flames.

Natasha DeCruz is a freelance translator and journalist. She has taught English as a second language at the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, and was a regular contributor to a CKUT radio show on issues related to motherhood. She lives in Mile-End with her husband and three beautiful boys.

Images of the event (photo credits: James Bassil, Zvi Hershkovitz) :

5 comments (3 comments in English, 2 comments in French)

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Please Note: Comments on each post match the posts language so that the conversation flows smoothly.

  1. Eric
    June 1, 2014

    Woah! What a contrast with Pierre Lacerte’s perceptions about Lag b’Omer!

  2. Gordon Martin
    June 1, 2014

    Fortunately there’s only one Pierre Lacerte!

  3. Kim Vincent
    May 6, 2015

    Wow ! I love this article and I love living side by side with such a fun and kind community ! Kim Vincent