Who has the monopoly over “separatism”?

Lire cet article en français "Qui détient le monopole du “séparatisme” ?"

I wrote this as an open-letter to the editor of the Outremont Express (July 20, 2011).

In a letter in the Outremont Express (07-06-11), Mariclaude Ouimet, writes: “Let’s not forget that the Hasidim are ultra-Orthodox, and follow strict rules of life with a strong commitment to social separatism.” She then goes on to explain how we teach our children not to interact with the rest of society, how we have built separate schools, separate kosher butchers and fish stores.

Reading her words, it becomes clear that the underlying issues of the conflict is not about what the Hassidim do, but rather who we are. All other issues just emerge from that, from our being outsiders – “les autres” – who stubbornly refuse to integrate. That justifies the labeling of everything we do as “illegal” – and if it’s not illegal yet, well, then, by-laws should quickly be drafted in order to make it illegal. And then comes the best part: One goes to the media and trumpets the Hasidim’s disregard the laws.

A few questions for M. Ouimet about separatism:

Who more than the Quebecois know how important preserving a culture is?

Who more than Quebecois understand the importance of “strict rules” to enforce a “holy tongue”?

Who more than the Quebecois understand the value of teaching children how they are distinct in their own way?

Isn’t Jewish culture – which predates that of the Quebecois by thousands of years – worth preserving? Do you expect us to “integrate” and just abandon our religion?

We respect your culture, we aren’t demanding that anyone change their way of life. Why can’t you you respect our choice to preserve our heritage?

Yes, there are real issues about parking, noise and traffic. But only when you begin to see us not as malicious outsiders but neighbors will you come to understand that the issues are simply the natural outcome of a young and energetic community nestled in between an older and more established one. And when that happens, we will surely be able to work out all issues through understanding and dialogue.

And of course we Hasidim need to start doing a better job explaining ourselves

Cheskie Weiss

An Outremont Hasid



11 comments (6 comments in English, 5 comments in French)

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  1. Brenda Gewurz
    April 2, 2012

    Excellant article! I think it is a big step forward that you have started a dialoque with your neighbours for better understanding. It would be even better if it was in French, but as we are approaching Pesach, it is already Dayenu, enough to start.
    Kol HaKavod and a happy and Kasher peasch.

  2. Cameron Skene
    April 2, 2012

    I can’t see why you can’t just be left alone. Live and let live, without the harassment from complaints about municipal zoning laws that masquerade an obvious and active bigotry.
    I can walk down any street in Mile End and write down dozens of infractions. I don’t need to have a meeting about each, either.
    As a 20-year resident of the area, I apologize that you feel forced to appeal to bigots. You’re upstanding, G-d-fearing neighbors with families, running your own affairs. I hope you don’t have to suffer this BS any longer than you have to – hopefully they’ll all move back to the burbs.

  3. Outremont Immigrant
    April 5, 2012

    I’m an immigrant and I live, happily and peacefully, in Outremont among many Hassidim, each of whom is more welcoming and kind than the majority of separatists I’ve encountered. I work hard; except for the occasional parking ticket, I respect the law; speak and write fluent French; send my children to French school; and I love the many wonderful qualities that make this province French but not as much as I love my many friends who are proud French Quebeckers inside a united Canada. There is nothing I can ever do to please the separatists, who will never be satisfied with my many happy efforts to speak/write French. What they seek is nothing short of all of us “others” somehow changing our genetic make-up so they can turn back the clock to a magical time that never existed in the past, where only French Quebeckers lived here.

    On a somewhat not unrelated note, I worry about the financial ramifications of this stubborn social engineering.

    I’m not Jewish, but I say “shalom” to one and all who live here in beautiful Outremont.

  4. isaac alt
    April 6, 2012

    Why can’t the Borough of Outremont take an example from other Municipalities who have a substantial Jewish presence among their population? I refer to Hampstead or Cote St. Luc where the City Council and the population in general celebrate Jewish festivities together as a community. When was the last time the Mayor of Outremont was invited to a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony. I have never seen one Israeli flag flying on the streets to celebrate Israel Independance Day.
    It is truly a shame that the number and percentage of Jewish families living in Outremont are totally ignored by City Council. Surely the percentage of Tax Dollars received from Jewish homeowners are welcome.

  5. Irene
    April 8, 2012

    I applaud your genuine words. This is a great start! I believe that the problem here is that many people want to vilify the hassidics because they don’t understand the culture and the customs. You are misunderstood like Muslims, Hindus, and many other religions. You are criticized for keeping your distance because you’re discreet, for eating kosher food because as the journal de Montreal would describe it is inhumane and for teaching your kids religion and hebrew courses in Jewish school.

    Your women seem to be happy taking care of your kids, so who are we to criticize you for not respecting their freedom of expression. I strongly believe that if people are happy, they should be allowed to make any decision they want to make, even wearing a niqab if they wish! People don’t understand cultures, religions and the respect of customs. I don’t think anyone should be allowed to disturb your peaceful religious celebrations or target you on the very few holy celebrations. Who cares if you want to celebrate Purim? In the respect of differences, you should be allowed to do it as you wish. The mayor should give you special permits for your trucks because she respects you as a taxpayer, as a person and as an integral part of our mile end and outremont community. Noone should have the right to slowly drive you away from our loving neighborhood!!!!!

    More people support you than you think. I am a non practicing muslim who got very upset when some neighbor dropped a pamphlet at my door asking me to stop the synagogue expansion. I was deeply offended that some prejudiced person would do that! Who has this kind of time and obsession? I was more upset when I realized that the hassidics community wasn’t doing anything to fight back. I was receiving calls and mailing from the opposition who was trying to win my vote. I voted for the expansion because I respect people who want to preserve their culture in these modern times. You need to better inform your neighbors of your side or you will end up losing again. Ms. Celine forget does not represent us. If you need help with petitions to get city permits, we will be happy to help you. Just initiate the conversation please!!!!

  6. Mat
    April 30, 2012

    Thank you for this blog. It is great to get all opinions.
    If Québécois car easily understand the wish to preserve a culture, they can understandably not wish for dozens of different culture to come here wishing to preserve their own cultures. Most Québécois want a melting pot process, in which all newcomers would merge into the Quebecois identity and therefore create with them a new Quebecois identity. I see that at this point your readers seem to share your opinions, it may be good to have different point of views.